Experience Wye: Wye Downs (and ups)
Stats: 16.4 miles (26.4 km) with 440 metres of climbing
This route links together a fabulous collection of off-road rights of way and quiet country lanes, to provide a lovely exploration of the countryside to the south-east of Wye village.
In dry conditions a gravel or hybrid bike would be ideal, but a hardtail mountain bike might serve you better in damp conditions.
With stunning far-reaching views from on top of the Wye Downs, to lovely woodland tracks and quiet villages, plus a thrilling descent back off the Downs, there is also the opportunity to step back in time to marvel at how this land was farmed.
This is one of three routes starting from the Cycling UK EXPERIENCE hub in Wye.
The Garden of England
Our ride heads eastwards out of Wye, past the school and nurseries and straight out into the countryside. Kent is widely known as ‘The Garden of England’ and it’s not just the lush green countryside that is full of flora and fauna; here there are commercial nurseries across the county, busy growing plants in this ideal location.
Due to the wide range of habitats in the area, there is a rich variety of plant and animal species, and a number of organisations that exist to help conserve this beautiful landscape and the wildlife which live within it. With more than 60 nature reserves managed by Kent Wildlife Trust, and a significant number of internationally important sites that are home to rare species of orchid, it certainly deserves its title.
The Wye Crown
A steep hill shortly awaits you, where a tough off-road route option is available for those who wish, or an easier road option will preserve your legs for the day ahead.
Up on the Wye Downs, a little detour along the field edges delivers you to some absolutely stunning views over Wye and beyond. Just past the gate, along the footpath to the north of the kissing gate, is the Wye Crown, cut into the chalk of the North Downs above the village. The origins of the Wye Crown go back over a hundred years to the early twentieth century when Wye was home to a thriving agricultural college. Keen to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the college’s principal came up with the idea of carving a crown into the hillside above the village.
Tommy J. Young, the college’s lecturer in Surveying used the vantage point from the fields below to guide a team of students armed with flags to mark out the symmetrical shape, taken from an 1887 florin (an old British coin).
Once marked out, it took 35 students over four days to move 7,000 barrow loads of turf, soil and chalk to create it. Illuminated by 1,500 fairy lights, the King was able to view the spectacle from nearby Eastwell Manor and in 1937 electric lights were used for the coronation of King George VI.
Back on track, a lovely sheltered byway leads you north, down off the back of the hillside, and then between hedgerows and farmland, on some lovely quiet trails. Keep an eye out for horses around the blind bends. After climbing a track, you join some quiet country lanes which lead you to the village of Hastingleigh, which existed prior to the Domesday Book.
It was most probably on the travellers' route from the continent and Dover for well over a thousand years, and although now grown a little larger, is still just a small community of around 100 houses which rests on top of the North Downs. The local pub, The Bowl Inn, dates back to 1740, and is still doing good business today, with local ales, cider, and wood fired pizza on offer. If you’re not quite ready for a refreshment stop yet though, just a little further on is a small green with benches by the village pond, and information boards for you to pause at along your journey instead.
Church of St Mary the Virgin
Leaving the village behind, you join a lovely tree-lined byway trail which descends from the village, the sunlight piercing through the leaves to provide a flickering dappled light as you go.
Back at a road, the route continues ahead left, but the church of St Mary the Virgin is situated in a beautiful quiet valley to the right if you wish to visit. Worship is recorded from 1293 but there was probably a church here prior to 1066, and it is still well kept today, with a florally decorated interior and fine pieces of craftsmanship from local sculptor Michael Rust and artist Gordon Davis.
Your journey now joins the North Downs Way, a historic track, tracing the ancient routes of pilgrims from Farnham in Surrey, to Canterbury and the White Cliffs of Dover.
This ancient trail was once only available to walkers, but now a cycling and horse friendly version, designed by Cycling UK, allows you to journey between the points. It’s not long before you leave this trail though, descending the steep escarpment on a tree-lined bridleway for a thrilling descent to the flatter terrain at the foot of the Downs to the south of Wye.
There is the option here to head back along the road to Wye, following beneath the Downs, but our journey continues onwards, and backwards in time if you decide to delve into the past at the Agricultural Museum. This Grade I listed barn and Grade II listed Oast house, tucked away below the North Downs in the small village of Brook, provides a unique museum with an impressive collection of Kent related agricultural objects. Now owned and run by the Wye Rural Museum Trust, which was formed in 1996 to take over the ownership of the museum buildings. You can explore and learn about the history, buildings and collections, no doubt leaving you in awe and admiration for those who produced food so long ago.
Continuing along with your own journey through this agricultural land, with good byways and country lanes, it is relatively easy going across this flatter land beneath the Downs, to Hinxhill. Passing through the Hinxhill Estate, and past the lovely St Mary´s church, which is thought to have been a chapel of ease for pilgrims between Hastings and Canterbury, your journey now continues along single-track roads, and part of the National Cycle Network route 18.
This flatter land provides a nice gentle end to the day, with easy navigation following the NCN signposts, as you wind your way back along the quiet lanes, enjoying the cruise back into Wye. Although small, Wye feels quite big and buzzing after the tranquility of the countryside, but it’s a joy to watch and join in with once you return, especially with a drink and some food while sat in the Tickled Trout’s pub garden by the babbling river.
The development of these routes has been funded through EXPERIENCE, a €23.3 million project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, €16 million) through the Interreg VA France (Channel) England Programme 2014-2020, boosting visitor numbers in six pilot regions across England and France. This project will harness the experiential tourism trend to extend the season (October – March), generating 20 million new off-season visitors spending €1 billion across the Channel region by June 2023.