Kent Downs AONB

Godmesham Park - Kent Downs AONB, Kent, England
Kent Downs AONB ©

Kent Downs – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is located in the county of Kent in the south east of England . The area was first designated a AONB back in 1968, the area covers 878 square kilometres covering the length of the county from close to the Surrey border to the south coast. The area is well known for its scenic countryside, woodland and provides a range of landscapes and is rich in wildlife habitats.

The local population of approx 93,000 live primarily in historic small villages located across the countryside. The AONB covers a relatively large area starting from the area next to the Surrey border going across the county of Kent to the south coast up to the white cliffs of Dover. The area is of national importance for nature conservation and includes of Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Character Areas and Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Currently the area includes the second highest proportion of ancient woodland in England.

The area includes a number of special qualities including the chalk ridge known for its dry valleys and dip slope that are of great importance for wildlife. The greensand ridge is seen in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks and supports woodlands and heathlands. The area includes traditional Kentish orchards and hop gardens that are becoming ever rarer in the county. The area includes the North Downs known for its historic military legacy and archaeological remains, whilst the AONB includes a number of impressive historic parklands including Chartwell and Knole.

The main industries in the AONB include mixed farming, agriculture and tourism, there are a number of scenic villages and small towns located in the AONB including Westerham, Elham and Chilham.

The area is popular for horse riding, wildlife watching, day trippers, walkers and cyclists with a range of routes to explore. Visitors can enjoy many scenic landscapes across the county, enjoying the great outdoors, scenic beauty and benefit from the peace and tranquillity.

Quick Facts

Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty:

Year of Designation: 1968

Population: 93,000 (approx)

Size in square kilometres: 878

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): 38
National Character Areas: 3
Highest Point: Toy's Hill at 820.2 feet (250 metres)
Main Settlements close by: Dover, Sevenoaks, Maidstone, Ashford and Folkestone.
Located in: Kent.


Kent Downs AONB is located across the county of Kent, covering approx 23% of the land in the county. The AONB provides a place that is ideal as a countryside retreat with its scenic natural beauty, away from the traffic and noise of the towns and cities. The AONB area itself is relatively sparsely populated compared to other areas of the built up south east of England. The area includes a number of traditional small villages and hamlets showcasing local history and cultural heritage.

The Kent Downs have a long history and are of national importance for its landscape, ecology, geology and wildlife. Within the actual AONB area there are no large cities or towns, there are a number of smaller towns, villages and settlements with larger towns such as Sevenoaks located in the AONB area but excluded from it. Towns such as Sevenoaks, Dover, Maidstone, Ashford and Folkestone provide convenient places from which visitors can tour the AONB areas. The commercial development in the AONB area has been limited in order to protect, conserve and preserve the landscape and its special qualities providing a place for visitors to see primarily unspoilt countryside, rural and coastal landscapes and scenery.

The location in the south east of England means the AONB is assessable from across southern England including the south east and south west of England, the Midlands and southern Wales. From London the area is one hour by car, from Cardiff it is 3 hours to 3 hours 30 minutes, from Birmingham it is approx 3 hours away. From these regions the AONB is assessable as a day trip, short break or longer break destination. From Liverpool, Manchester and much of northern England the area is 5 hours to 6 hours 30 minutes by car.

Tourist Information Centres are located at various locations close by to the Kent Downs. The TICs are based in Dover, Ashford, Maidstone, Canterbury, Folkestone, Tonbridge, Faversham, Rochester, Gravesend, Swanley and Edenbridge located close by to the Kent Downs. The visitor centres provides visitors with information, help, advice and tips on the AONB area and the surrounding areas in Kent. Each of the centres has knowledgeable staff that can provide useful local knowledge on local attractions, places of interest, things to see and do, along with local advice and tips. A visit to the tourist information centres provides a good first port of call for visitors helping to better plan and organise trips in and around the local area.

Local Accommodation includes a choice of both historic and contemporary hotels, B & B’s, Guest Houses, Self Catering houses, camping facilities and cottages. Local accommodation is available in the villages of Newnham, Chilham, Thurnham and Detling. There is accommodation available in the nearby towns of Sevenoaks, Maidstone, Ashford, Dover, Folkestone and the city of Canterbury all of which are located conveniently close by to the AONB, providing good access to local facilities and accommodation from which to explore the AONB and the local areas.

Within the Kent Downs AONB visitors can explore a number of charming, small historic towns, villages and hamlets that retain their charm and character. History and tradition have been well preserved in many of the towns and village offering visitors an insight in to local culture. There are a number of local attractions and places of interest for visitors to discover here.

Local Towns & Villages include Westerham, is a town located 6 miles west of Sevenoaks. The historic town includes the highest number of listed buildings in the Kent Downs AONB with close to 80 listed buildings located on the High Street. There has been a settlement in the area all the way back to pre-Roman times, the charming town includes a number of antique shops, tea shops and restaurants. Other attractions include the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin, inside there are a number of memorials to well known past residents along with a hanging lamp dedicated to former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill and a striking 14th century circular staircase.

Chilham is a village located 40 miles east of Sevenoaks, it is known as being one of the most scenic villages in the Kent Downs AONB. The village includes a historic square and includes a number of small lanes located close by that are lined with Jacobean and Tudor houses. The village includes a number of well preserved roads and a number of listed buildings helping ensure the village maintains its historic charm and character. Local amenities include pubs, restaurant and a tea shop where visitors can get hot and cold foods and refreshments.

Local attractions include Chilham Castle a manor house dating back to the 17th century, the imposing Jacobean house has been restored in recent years by its owners and the surrounding gardens once designed by Capability Brown are open to the public to visit. From the village there are a umber of walks available including along the Stour Valley Walk and the North Downs Way. From Mountain Street visitors can follow the road up to Kings Wood, an ancient woodland that includes a wide range of fauna, flora and trees.

Elham is a picturesque village located 50 miles east of Sevenoaks. The scenic village is home to over 40 listed buildings and has a long history of settlement with evidence of settlements dating back to the Bronze Age and Roman times. The village includes a number of historic buildings dating back to the medieval and Tudor periods. Local attractions include the Church of St Mary, a Grade I listed building along with a umber of timber framed houses dating back to the 15th to 17th centuries. Local amenities include pubs and a restaurant.

The White Cliffs of Dover are located in the port of Dover approx 60 miles east of Sevenoaks at the eastern end of the Kent Downs AONB. The white cliffs of Dover are among the best known and most recognisable natural features in England. The cliffs have been synonymous with freedom and hope over time and offer visitors to the UK a great sight as they cross the Channel. There are a number of cliff top paths offering a number of walks in the area where visitors can see a range of fauna and flora. The White Cliffs Visitor Centre includes local information, gifts including souvenirs and mementos along with a range of refreshments and light lunches.

The South Foreland Lighthouse is a Victorian lighthouse that is famous for being the worlds first to display an electric light. Visitors that climb to the top an enjoy some wonderful views to the French coast. There is a tea room where visitors can sit back and relax with a soothing cup of tea.

Knole is a historic house located next to Sevenoaks. The house is located in a 1,000 acre deer park, it has remained essentially unchanged for over 300 years offering visitors a great insight into history. Home to the Sackville family, the state rooms are among the highlights of any visit here, they are preserved as they would have been in the 18th century. The historic house is home to a number of impressive collections including Royal Stuart furniture, tapestries and paintings. The park is the only remaining medieval deer park in the county of Kent supporting herds of deer. The house is one of the finest stately homes in the UK.

Chartwell is a historic manor house located 7 miles to the west of Sevenoaks in Kent. The manor house is synonymous with former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, who lived at the house for over 40 years. Set in a scenic location the house provides visitors with some splendid views over the Weald. Inside visitors can see memorabilia relating to Sir Winston Churchill including paintings, photos and artefacts. The house is managed by the National Trust and is a popular attraction for admirers of the former prime minister and those interested in history and culture.

The rooms in the house have been kept in a way that closely resembles the way it was when Sir Winston Churchill lived here, with pictures, personal items, maps and books adding to the sense of history. The Terraced Hillside Gardens are a highlight of any visit here, whist Lady Churchill's Golden Rose Avenue and Rose Garden also provide scenic gardens and a great place to enjoy a leisurely stroll in wonderful surroundings.

The Heritage Coast re included within the Kent Downs AONB, these include the South Foreland Heritage Coast and the Dover Folkestone Heritage Coast. The coasts have been designated as such in recognition of the unspoilt natural beauty and landscape and are integral to the AONB. The South Foreland Heritage Coast include St Margaret's at Cliffe, known for its inspiring landscape and scenic countryside. It is also famous for being the closest part of England to France located just 21 miles from France. There are a number of walks and footpaths for visitors to explore here.

The Dover Folkestone Heritage Coat includes Samphire Hoe Nature Reserve, the 35 hectare site was created from chalk mar dug to make the Channel Tunnel. Here visitors can find a beautiful location along with birds, wildflowers, picnics, walks and some peace and tranquillity. The areas close by include the port of Dover and the famous White Cliffs along with Folkestone and its seaside attractions.

Farmers Markets can be found both in the AONB and the surrounding areas, the markets offer a range of local produce at competitive prices. The fresh produce and products include a range of goods that are rarely ever seen in supermarkets. Among the products on offer are fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, cakes, jams and much more. Some markets include a choice of gifts, and garden plants. The markets have a fun, friendly atmosphere allowing visitors to pick up a bargain and help local farmers and the economy. There are markets in Sevenoaks, Ashford, Folkestone, Deal and Westerham among others.

Bough Beech Nature Reserve is located just under 6 miles south west of Sevenoaks. Bough Beech includes ancient woodlands and reservoir making it one of the foremost places for bird-watching enthusiasts in southern England. The reservoir attracts a range of birds and aquatic life and the nearby fields, streams and woodlands provide support for the eco system here.

The visitor centre is housed inside a historic building dating back to the 19th century, inside visitors can see displays showcasing the history and wildlife of the area. The wildlife is mainly concentrated in the northern part of the reservoir with over 60 breeding species identified and over 200 species recorded at Bough Beech since 1970. The other parts of the reservoir are used by both anglers and a sailing club.

Walking is a popular activity in the AONB and surrounding areas, there are a number of popular walks in the area for visitors to try. The Kent Downs offers walkers a choice landscapes and terrain, walks include the North Downs Way, a national trail that is 142 miles in length beginning in Farnham in Surrey and ending at Dover in Kent. The trail goes through some of the finest countryside and landscapes in the Kent Downs. There are a number of other local walks and circular walks providing a great way for visitors to see local heritage, culture, villages, wildlife and landscape.

Cycling provides a cost effective and fun way to explore the Kent Downs AONB and the surrounding areas in an environmentally friendly way whilst getting fit and seeing a number of local attractions and places of interest up close. The area has plenty to offer cyclists of all abilities, with miles of small country lanes and national routes. Four National Cycle Network (NCN) routes go through the area, Route 1 from Dover to Greenwich, Route 2 Dover along the south coast heading west, Route 17 Rochester to Maidstone and Route 18 Canterbury to Tunbridge Wells.

Visitors to the Kent Downs AONB in the south east of England will find a quiet scenic haven with plenty of open spaces and countryside. There is a varied landscape in the AONB including a number of historic small local towns, villages and hamlets. The area is known for its rural character and natural beauty making it ideal for visitors after a tranquil and scenic getaway.

How to Get There

Kent Downs AONB is accessible by both car and public transport.

By Car:

The town of Sevenoaks in Kent located next to the AONB area and provides a convenient located from which to explore the area with a choice of accommodation and local amenities. Located approx 35 miles from central London. From London, take the A201, then the A2, then the A20. Then take the M25 (S) towards Gatwick Airport, then take the A21 towards Sevenoaks, then take the A25 and A224 that goes to Sevenoaks.. The approx journey time is 1 hours 15 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes depending on traffic and time of day.

By Train:

The train station at Sevenoaks has regular services from London Charing Cross and London Blackfriars stations. The approx journey time is 35 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes hours depending on time of day, service and connections.

By Bus/Coach:

There are regular buses available from London Victoria Coach station to Sevenoaks. The approx journey time is approx 1 hours 10 minutes depending on time of day, connections and traffic. Coach services to Tunbridge Wells are provided by services are provided by National Express.

Contact Details

Kent Downs AONB
West Barn
Penstock Hall Farm
Canterbury Road
East Brabourne
TN25 5LL

Telephone: +44 (0)1303 815170

Website: Kent Downs AONB


For Local Search and Directions see: Kent Downs (AONB) Map

Tips & Other Considerations

The weather and climate can be unpredictable, there can be elements of all four seasons in one day. Ensure you check the weather forecast before you travel and have the correct clothing and footwear including comfortable walking shoes, fleece, raincoat and umbrella.

Follow travel advice and remain alert, vigilant and aware of your belongings at all times especially your wallet/purse and valuables and ensure they are hidden away from public view. If you have a bag try to use a shoulder bag with a good quality, strong strap, that is put across your shoulder not on your shoulder making it more difficult for anyone to take your bag.

If you are travelling by car to the Kent Downs AONB ensure you are well prepared with maps and Sat Nav to aid your journey, particularly if you are not familiar with the local area and roads. Use the journey planner for door to door directions. Check traffic updates before you travel.

If you are looking for car parking in and around the AONB, ensure you fully understand the rules, regulations & charges for car parks and street parking. The rules & regulations can be complex & confusing if you are unclear, it is wise not to park there.

If you are travelling by public transport, check for service updates prior to beginning your journey for any delays, disruption or cancellations to services that may impact on your journey. Ensure you have the service timetables for the trains, trams, buses and coaches. Remember when the last services are and ensure you make it to the train/bus/coach stops well in time to avoid missing the service.

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