by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:15th September 2020

Discover Kent’s delightful market towns and villages, rolling hills and ancient inns

The Kent Downs stretch from the White Cliffs of Dover on the eastern shoreline to the Surrey borders west of the county. This charming part of Kent is perfect for a scenic road trip and exploring the picturesque villages across the North Downs.

The North Downs driving route that we’ve chosen weaves its way across undulating scenery, through quaint half-timbered villages and shadows the ancient footsteps along the Pilgrims Way.

This area of the Kent Downs is also referred to as the North Downs. Along with the High Weald in the south, this picturesque region has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty due to its distinctive character and exceptional landscape.

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Gary and I live in Kent and treasure the fact that we have the North Downs on our doorstep. What’s wonderful is that just a short hop off the key routes through Kent, you enter peaceful lanes, serene countryside, and orchards weighed down with apples and cherries.

We chose a circular driving route that can be easily accessed from the M20 (jct. 8). Selecting a few historic villages in and around the Downs and slightly to the north, the Medieval Market Town of Faversham.

Golden rolled hay bales in a field in north Kent under a blue sky
Open farmland around Oare in Kent

The entire route of the road trip is only around 40 miles (65.5km). However, you will undoubtedly be jumping out to stroll around the delightful villages and historic lanes. Even better, why not make a weekend of it and stay overnight at one of the ancient inns in Faversham?

There are so many lovely walks in this region of Kent, the Stour Valley Walk starts in Lenham.

The route for our Kent Road Trip

We'll be discovering the following;
You can click on the link to jump to the section, and to return, just click on the title.
The first stop on our North Downs road trip is to the quaint village of Hollingbourne, as you arrive don’t be put off by the pillory, they’re a friendly bunch here, honestly.
The village sign for Hollingbourne etched on a pillory, commissioned in 2010
Hollingbourne pillory village sign

Heading into Hollingbourne, Kent, you first enter Eyhorne Street which is a picturesque little hamlet south of Hollingbourne. You must definitely park up and stroll around here it is so quaint, with half-timbered homes and delicately planted English country gardens.

Eyhorne Street alone has over 25 listed buildings, along with two pubs, a cute village shop and café serving the community and a babbling brook at the end of the lane.

Homes on Eyhorne Street in Hollingbourne, Kent
Eyhorne Street, Hollingbourne
Jumping back in the car for the short hop north to Upper Street is the village of Hollingbourne.
The view down Upper Street in Hollingbourne from the Dirty Habit pub & restaurant
Looking down Upper Street, Hollingbourne
Hollingbourne may appear reasonably small; however, it’s full of character and has some beautiful historic cottages. You also won’t fail to miss the Elizabethan Hollingbourne Manor, which takes pride of place.
A close-up of an old lantern hanging from a half-timbered building on Upper Street, Hollingbourne
Centuries of history

The Pilgrims Way and the North Downs Way winds through the north of the village, which is why this first stop is perfect for your Kent Downs scenic drive. Hollingbourne can also trace its roots back to 1086, as it appears in the Domesday Book as Hoilingeborde.

Hollingbourne also has a lovely flint church, take a little wander around the churchyard at the rear and enjoy the far-stretching views of the Kent countryside beyond.

Gravestones in front of All Saints Church in Hollingbourne, Kent
All Saints Church, Hollingbourne

Leeds Castle

Just nearby Hollingbourne is the magnificent moated Leeds Castle. There is so much to see and do at Leeds Castle, you’ll probably want to dedicate a whole day to it.

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We head on to our second destination of our Kent Downs road trip which is just 6 miles (9km) east is the charming Market Village of Lenham.

Along with Hollingbourne, Lenham is also mentioned in Domesday Book, and it was granted its original Market Charter by King John in 1206.

The crossroads at Lenham village square in Kent featuring historic buildings including the Red Lion pub
The crossroads at Lenham village square

Daily life in Lenham revolves around the delightful village square, where you can park free of charge. Locals are coming and going, popping into the bakery, florist or the bustling Post Office, it really has a lived-in feel.
Several half-timbered listed buildings encircle the square, you can sit at one of the many benches or pop into a tearoom and watch the world go by.

Tables and chairs outside the half-timbered Cornerhouse Café in Lenham
Cornerhouse Café, Lenham
Lenham also has a couple of historic pubs in the square. The Red Lion which dates from the 14th-century and the Dog and Bear which was originally built in 1602. This inn is also a hotel and was visited by Queen Anne in 1704, her coat of arms stands pride of place above the entrance.
The 17th-century Dog and Bear Hotel in Lenham, that was once a coaching inn on this historic road.
17th-century Dog and Bear Hotel, Lenham
Just on the edge of the square and opposite the Sweeney Todd Barbershop is the rag-stone and flint St Mary’s Church. Additionally, to be found on the edge of the village square is an unusual little chapel. Initially built in the 18th-century as a workhouse mortuary, in the 19th-century it became the parish gaol and then in the mid-20th-century was used as an air-raid shelter.

Where to stay in Lenham

-Well of course it has to be the  The Dog and Bear Hotel.  They offer cosy, stylish bedrooms, open fireplaces & local seasonal fare in their traditional restaurant.
A picturesque street view of Faversham Road in Lenham with it's historic Red Brick buildings and the 18th-century mortuary
A picturesque street view of Faversham Road in Lenham
The picturesque village of Lenham is full of character, and you leave feeling that you’ve experienced a little of village life.

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".

You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.

Jumping back in the car, we’re off to the historic village of Charing. Nestled at the foot of the North Downs with the Pilgrims Way passing through en-route to Canterbury.

This little village really surprised me, as we’ve often driven close by; however, not really had a stroll around.

A lookup The High Street in Charing, Kent with its historic building and red tiles roofs
The High Street in Charing, Kent

Incredibly Charing has the remains of an ancient Archbishops Palace, which dates back to the 13th–century, located adjacent to the Church of St Peter and St Paul.
The remains of the palace are now part of a farmhouse and privately owned, nonetheless in its heyday it was visited by a number of Royals, including Henry VII and Henry VIII. They stayed on several occasions. It became the property of the Crown during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1545.

The flint wall of the Archbishop's Palace with the clock-tower of St Peter and St Paul's Church in the background.
Archbishops Palace and Church of St Peter and St Paul, Charing
The charming village of Charing is extremely attractive, with the majority of the historic buildings located along The High Street. A lovely mixture of well-maintained timber-framed dwellings, elegant double-fronted homes and quaint cottages, many dating from 16th-century.
The Archbishop's Palace next to St Peter and St Paul's Church from across the village green in Charing, Kent
Charing village green, with Archbishops Palace beyond
In Charing, you may not find an old traditional pub anymore. Still, it now has a micropub, a village store, family butchers and a large village green where you could have a picnic. Take a peek at the commemorative paving stone and garden for the Charing’s VC recipient Corporal Frederick George Coppins.
Looking down from York House in the High Street in Charing with its half-timbered and pastel-coloured buildings.
South down Charing High Street
There was free parking in the village.

Escape for a few days

Are you looking for that ‘perfick’ holiday hideaway to relax in while you discover the Garden of England?

After a day exploring the Kent coast and its many historic castles enjoy one of the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

We now head to the north of the Kent Downs to the picture-postcard village of Chilham. It really is like stepping onto a movie set, you’ll undoubtedly see why some of Agatha Christie’s productions are filmed here.
The Street in Chilham, Kent with its pretty half-timbered buildings
Timber fronted houses in The Street, Chilham

Chilham is extremely pretty, historic timber-fronted homes, wisteria clambering around leaded windows and brimming hanging baskets clinging to the red-brick walls.

Chilham is quite a small village which makes it even more appealing if there weren’t the signs of modern-day life you would believe you were lost in another era.

Half-timbered homes line the road up Taylors Hill in Chilham, Kent
Taylors Hill, Chilham
The White Horse Pub, at the end of a row of Half-timbered homes, on the edge of The Street, in the centre of Chilham.
Charming homes in the village of Chilham
At one end of the village square, is Chilham Castle Gardens which can be visited on selected days. However just strolling around the historic lanes, popping into a tearoom or enjoying local ale, it’s a beautiful place to visit.
A pretty little house behind a white picket fence, with Chilham's church clock tower in the background.
Picturesque cottage with St. Mary’s Church beyond in Chilham

Have a tranquil wander around St. Mary’s Church and grounds, there’s even a little path that has been created out of old headstones. The church’s stained-glass windows and monuments have earned it a place in Simon Jenkins’s “A Thousand Best Churches”.

Parking is limited in Chilham village square; however, there is a large free car park which is only a 5-minutes’ walk from the square.

Our Kent road trips

If you’ve fallen in love with the county of Kent, we’ve created a few road trips around the “Garden of England” that we believe you will enjoy too.
Continuing on our North Downs scenic road trip we’re now en-route to the Market Town of Faversham. Winding our way across the Kent Downs passing lush landscape and weighed down apple orchards. This region of Kent is renowned for its fruit of cherries and apples.
The view of the Faversham Creek at high tide from New Bridge
Faversham Creek

If you know anything about Faversham, then it’s probably that it is home to Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame. You’ll see their inns throughout this historic town.

In the heart of Faversham in Market Place is the eye-catching collonaded Guildhall, it’s beautiful. On market days, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, this part of town is bustling with visitors buying local crafts and produce.

The view of the 17th-century Guildhall in the centre of Market Place in Faversham in Kent
The 17th-century Guildhall in Faversham
Take a stroll along the lanes leading off of this charming square, the architecture down West Street, and Court Street is impressive. With the timbered framed dwellings, you’ll be feeling like you stepped back into Dickensian times.
A view down the Court Street in Faversham, looking towards the Guildhall
Court Street in Faversham
One area not to miss while visiting Faversham is Standard Quay, located along the side of the Creek. Amble along Abbey Street which is full of pastel-coloured homes and prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, an ancient Abbey once stood.
A bright red pillar box stands on the quaint Abbey Street in Faversham
Abbey Street in Faversham

Turn left into Abbey Road, and you’re greeted with old sailing barges, Victorian Warehouses and ancient granaries.

You can still appreciate how this quayside would have looked many years ago. However, nowadays you’ll find a local fishmonger, butchers, cafes, restaurants and plenty of antiques and curios to rummage through.

Historic boats moored up on Faversham Creek at Standard Quay
Standard Quay, Faversham
Faversham is an ideal location to stay overnight, park up and enjoy the delights of one or two of Shepherd Neame’s seasonal ales.

Where to stay in Faversham

- The Sun Inn - If a historic stay is what you are after, then the 14th-century Sun Inn is for you. Inglenook fireplaces, charming courtyard garden and cask ales from the local Shepherd Neame brewery.
- The Judds Folly Hotel - This comfortable hotel is located 5-minutes’ drive from Faversham in peaceful off-road surroundings. An on-site restaurant is available and also free parking.

The next stop on the itinerary of our Kent road trip is Oare, just slightly north of Faversham and one close to my heart. Oare is where some of my relatives are from and have lived for many, many years.

Oare is a tiny place, and if you love nature, particularly birdlife and picturesque riverside walks, you’ll love it here.

The shoreline at Oare Marshes Nature Reserve in Kent
Tranquil stroll along The Swale in Oare, Kent

Oare Marshes which is a 176-acre Nature Reserve, is owned by Kent Wildlife Trust and is an important migratory route for many birds. It’s pretty popular for twitchers too.

The landscape in Oare is amazing, you don’t need to be a birdwatcher to appreciate a stroll around Oare and Faversham Creek.

The pathway leading along the Saxon Shore Way at the Oare Marshes Nature Reserve in Kent
A picturesque riverside walk in Oare all year round
Oare is also home to a delightful 13th-century church of St Peter, and along with Faversham, Oare played a significant role during the 19th-century in producing gun powder and explosives.

Walks and Trails around the Kent Downs

If you want to explore more of the Kent Downs (AONB) or Pilgrims Way, either on foot or cycling here are the trails to pick up.

Why not pick up an Ordnance Survey map, or better still download the OS Map app to help you explore the countryside.

Leaving Oare, we are now looping back towards Hollingbourne where we started our North Downs picturesque drive. However, there is one more village we’ve chosen to stop at in the heart of the Kent Downs, and that’s Newnham.
Charming cottages, with the spire of Saint Peter and Paul Church in the background, in Newnham, Kent
Charming cottages in Newnham, Kent and Saint Peter and Paul Church
Quiet village life in Newnham revolves around the attractive 12th-century flint church of Saint Peter and Paul, with its charming traditional lychgate. Then just a short hop across the street, there’s the George Inn which has been welcoming locals since 1718. Yep, you guessed it’s a Shepherd Neame pub.
A large, half-timbered, home in Newnham, Kent
Timber-framed homes in Newnham, Kent

Newnham is a delightful little village with over 1,000 years of history. In centuries gone by, villagers would have been born, lived and worked all their lives in this one location. With so many orchards and acres of farmland around the residents wouldn’t have needed to travel too far for work.

I love visiting Kent villages like Newnham, as although there isn’t a specific reason to lure you in, it is just so pleasant admiring the historic architecture. Dotted through The Street are timber-framed dwellings, weatherboarded homes and quaint cottages with traditional English country gardens.

The imaculate 18th-century Calico House in Newnham, Kent
18th-century Calico House in Newnham

One home to look out for is the Jacobean Calico House, with its striking red and white plasterwork, which resembled the calico fabric colours during early 18th-century.
Just outside Newnham is Doddington Place and Gardens. You’ll need to book your visit in advance to visit their lovely attractive landscaped gardens.

It’s now just 8 miles (13km) south-west back to Hollingbourne, winding your way through narrow country lanes and passing by grazing sheep fields, via the Ringlestone Road.

The video of our Kentish road trip

Come on a little tour with us

We have created a little YouTube video of our tour. Why not take a look?

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