This circular walk, which starts in the village of Wye, follows parts of the Way, and takes in a hornbeam and oak woodland, an exhilarating amble along a chalk escarpment and the ancient chalk grassland Wye Downs National Nature Reserve. It is a perfect hike for a summer's day as the fauna and flora that flourish here are at their most bountiful. Some less used tracks are explored, too, and it's not a route on which to wear shorts, unless you happen to enjoy the playful lick of stinging nettles.
Start at Wye's parish church of St Martin and St Gregory, which dates from around 1200, the flint walls and square tower of which are typical of the Kentish style of church architecture. Swifts flit around the tower and wagtails dart through the undergrowth. Follow the North Downs Way sign diagonally across the churchyard to reach Wye College, an agricultural academy, which was originally a seminary, founded in 1428 by Archbishop Kempe. Take the hedge-lined track and turn right to reach, and then cross, a road. Keep ahead, with the Kempe Centre and glasshouses on your left. Pass through a gate and head along the track, ignoring the Stour Valley Walk that bears off to the left. Soon you see Wye Crown on the glassy flank up to your right. Carved in June 1902 by Wye College students to mark the coronation of Edward VII, the crown is one of 25 remaining hill carvings in England. The path heads uphill, past fields with poppies, and enters woodland. Upon leaving the canopy, turn right uphill along a small lane. After 200 yards, bear right following the North Downs Way signpost to reach Wye Crown and the chalk escarpment with striking views down into the Stour Valley. Wye church is already surprisingly distant. A millennium stone informs you that you are 170 metres above sea level and 58 minutes east of the Greenwich Meridian.
Bear left along the ridge, picking up the exhilarating path as a fence joins from the left. Pass through a gate and, 200 yards further on, turn left by a yellow arrow signpost on a stump through a gate into a crop field. Shuffle through a rickety wooden gate the other side to enter Collyerhill Wood. If you are here on a bright summer's day, you are lucky indeed: though this path is short, it is a magical place, where sunlight flickers through the boughs of ivy-mantled trees. Look out for red campion – and keep your ears open for birdsong not always easily heard in England: here there are treecreepers, nuthatches, blackcaps, spotted flycatchers and even nightingales.
The path emerges into daylight with Coombe Manor ahead and bears right along the edge of the woods. Follow this track for 800 yards and bear left as it swings uphill with a farm on the right. Climb two stiles – the first is well hidden. Follow the path through a gate as it rises gently uphill above the farm buildings. Eventually, you must look for a stile in the top left-hand corner of a field in front of a house. Then take a stile to the right, cross Stoakes Cottage drive and keep straight ahead along a narrow enclosed track with a house on either side. The path drops downhill and loops around to the left before becoming somewhat indistinct as it reaches a stile leading to a road – but you'll need to negotiate the nettles first.
Turn right along the road and when the road bears left keep ahead, following the footpath sign. This hollow lane was originally used to move animals and a series of these paths ran to the market towns of Ashford and Canterbury. It is bounded by remnants of hawthorn hedging which contain many wildflowers. The path leaves the woods and follows a field edge. Where the woodland peters out, be sure to take the path along the edge of the right-hand field, which leads to the Devil's Kneading Trough Restaurant.
Leave through the car park and cross the road to enter Wye National Nature Reserve, said to host 28 species of butterfly, 400 plants, including 19 species of orchid and 90 bird species. The dominant feature is the Devil's Kneading Trough, a dramatic scarp face, formed after the last ice age, when torrents of meltwater cascaded down the slopes, eroding the chalk and forming steep-sided valleys known as coombes. The path to the trough passes through two kissing gates and then bears right, following a sign for a rather nondescript concrete millstone with a magnificent panorama.
The path then makes a break for the valley, following a series of steps downhill to reach a road. At the bottom, turn right and look for a signposted path off to the left. From here, it is an easy stroll of 40 minutes back to Wye along well-marked field tracks and paths. On the way, you will pass a hop garden, which may serve as an inspiration for finishing the walk with a drink at the Tickled Trout, a pub on the banks of the Stour by Wye railway station. Fringed by reeds and willows and dabbling ducks, it is every inch the English country idyll.
GIVE ME THE FACTS
Distance: Six miles.
Time: Three hours.
Wye can be reached by direct Southeastern trains from London or via Ashford, (0845 000 2222; www.setrains.co.uk).
Journeys take one hour, 35 minutes. An off-peak day return ticket costs £20.20.
A version of this walk can be found on www.nationaltrails.gov.uk.
Click on North Downs Way and then on News.
Map: OS Explorer 137, Ashford, Headcorn, Chilham and Wye.