Installed earlier this year is the last sculpture providing a wonderful new artistic twist to a walking route within Kent - although if you want to experience it in its entirety, you’ll need to skip over the border to Surrey, where it begins. A joint venture led by Kent Downs AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in partnership with Surrey Hills Arts, the North Downs Way Art Trail is a glorious open-air gallery along one of the most popular walking trails in the country. Says the team behind it, ‘It gives people even more reason to head out into the countryside on foot, on two wheels or on horseback.’

At the trail’s heart are nine sculptures – three in Surrey, six in Kent - installed in stages between 2020 and 2023. The final installation, Coppice Oratory in King’s Wood near Godmersham here in Kent, was unveiled in March of this year.

Explains Kathryn Hearnden of Kent Down AONB, ‘Each installation reflects the natural characteristics of its locations, incorporating sustainable local material in the designs, such as apple crates and coppiced wood, as well as local stories, poems, and designs from the surrounding communities. They have a dual function as both sculptural seats where people can rest and soak up the scenery, and as monuments celebrating local communities and heritage.’

The trail was created with around £150,000-worth of support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme for the Kent Downs AONB. It aims to encourage more people to experience the beauty and history of the North Downs Way, an area that stretches across 153 miles, from Farnham in Surrey to Dover in Kent, and incorporates the historic Pilgrims’ Way, as used by millions of pilgrims, ancient and modern.

Great British Life: Try your hand at bushcraft as part of a Kent Downs AONB experience Alex HareTry your hand at bushcraft as part of a Kent Downs AONB experience Alex Hare

Says Kathryn, ‘It’s quite a stretch, so we’ve created mini-itineraries for each public sculpture on the art trail – viewable on the Kent Downs AONB website - to make it easy for people to visit the artworks and enjoy experiences in the surrounding areas on a day out, with interesting facts related to the sites and ideas for where to eat and drink. We’ve also got a dedicated team of North Downs Way Ambassadors, who are on hand on request to lead tours and creative walks featuring key sculptures. Some are happy to give up their time to share the trail with people, some charge for tours as part of walking businesses they may run - but either way, they're all passionate about the trail!’

Peter Morris, North Downs Way National Trail Manager, agrees that you don’t have to do the whole thing or be especially fit to experience the trail. ‘It can be explored in sections, and you don’t need to be a die-hard rambler or hiking enthusiast to enjoy it!’ Mini itineraries for each public sculpture on the art trail have been created (viewable on the Kent Downs AONB website) to make it easy for people to visit the artworks and enjoy experiences in the surrounding areas on a day out. North Downs Way ambassadors are also on hand on request to lead tours and creative walks of key sculptures.

Peter is also enthusiastic about the trail’s potential to attract a new sort of visitor: ‘We’ve created an open-air gallery for the public, which has been designed to add to the overall experience of our national trail and promote its special characteristics, whilst also bringing art to an audience who might not normally step into a typical museum space. 

Great British Life: Try your hand at spoon carving as part of a Kent Downs AONB experienceTry your hand at spoon carving as part of a Kent Downs AONB experience

And then of course there’s the fact that Nature herself ensures the trail is constantly changing: ‘We encourage visitors to enjoy the landscape, the art works, and surrounding areas all year round and to enjoy the new perspectives that the different seasons bring.’

As if any more incentive were needed to visit the trail, 30 newly developed sustainable, natural, tourism experiences near the trail and in the Kent Downs AONB have been launched for people to enjoy – at Walderchain Wood in the beautiful Elham Valley, for instance, you could discover what it was like to be a traditional woodsman, immersing yourself in the culture, myth and folklore around Kent’s ancient Great Oak trees. Or how about taking a photography course, sketching, mindfulness, turning your hand to a spot of wooden-spoon carving or learning about organic farming? All these experiences and more are on offer, with prices starting from £25 per person for a three-hour family mini survival adventure in the woods of Kent Downs AONB.

To find out more about the North Downs Way Art Trail, see /

To find out more about accompanying activities, see


The Kent Downs AONB team whets our walking appetite with a look at just three of the works here in Kent:

Great British Life: Coppice Oratory (c) Kathryn HearndenCoppice Oratory (c) Kathryn Hearnden

The Coppice Oratory Tchonova + La Roi, Godmersham

A space composed of hundreds of sweet chestnut coppice poles grown in ancient King’s Wood, the natural variations of each chestnut pole, as found in the forest, are celebrated for their differences. The poles have come together one by one to form a place of rest and mark the first sighting of Canterbury Cathedral along the ancient Pilgrim’s Way.

Great British Life: Feel Our Voice (c) Kent Downs AONB photographer David LoveladyFeel Our Voice (c) Kent Downs AONB photographer David Lovelady

Feel Our Voice

by Kezia Cole, Chilham

The artist made her own short pilgrimage to the site, mapping a sensory journey en route. Using wood recycled from local apple crates, she’s created a laser-cut bench that allows light to filter through the piece and whose contours echo words of local people – the sort of words they’d say while sitting on the bench and admiring a panoramic view that includes orchards, farmhouses and oast houses. It’s a lovely spot for contemplation and conversation.

Great British Life: Sedile Francigena Credit: David LoveladySedile Francigena Credit: David Lovelady

Sedile Francigena

by Polysemic! at Womenswold

Located on the Via Francigena – the ancient road that eventually leads Pilgrims to Rome - Sedile is the Latin word for bench. The base is created from local materials, lime mortar, stone and flints from houses and churches, with the top – an amazing piece of engineering - originally being made from a high-tech precision-cut paper product. It differs from the other sculptures in that it isn’t specific to the location where it is installed and tells the story of the entire route, across the English Channel to different countries, with hugely fluctuating topography and landscape. It makes you consider the enormity of the journey and the potential for adventure and learning on the way. It’s also a very visual and tactile piece – it draws you in to touch, sit on, and take in the views across Barham Downs.

Great British Life: After the Black Gold (c) Alex Hare PhotographyAfter the Black Gold (c) Alex Hare Photography

After the Black Gold

by Channel, Womanswold

This sculpture takes its inspiration from the local mining heritage of Woolage village, built in 1912 to home miners and workers associated with nearby Snowdown Colliery. The piece is purposely simple, it takes the form of a timber structure supporting two lean-to roof pitches which together provide shelter for a bench. The sculpture is oriented on the axis towards the old colliery, both to draw a connection to the site’s history and to benefit from the existing view of it.

Great British Life: Monumenta Romana Photo: David LoveladyMonumenta Romana Photo: David Lovelady

Monumenta Romana

by Charles Holland Architects at Shepherdswell

You’ll find this piece on the edge of the Waldershare Estate opposite a never-completed Belvedere, an early 17th-century Palladian folly designed by Lord Burlington, currently a near ruin. Made as an open-frame dome using timber recycled from flooring, barrels and sea groins and surrounded by an octagonal seat, it gives walkers 360-degree views of the surrounding and serves as re-imagining of the cupola that was originally intended to go on the roof of the Belvedere.

Great British Life: We Are All Winners Photo: David LoveladyWe Are All Winners Photo: David Lovelady

We are all Winners

by Alma Tischlerwood at Dover

The last sculpture on the trail and on Dover’s seafront, appropriately it forms a winner’s podium in the shape of a bench with the engraved words in Latin translating as “we are all winners”. It was purposefully designed to allow those with wheelchairs, mobility scooters and prams to engage with the sculpture - the gap in the podium ensures space for all. The overall look is elegant and in keeping with the surroundings, but also subtly references the humorous concept of the start/finish line – making it a great photo opportunity for more than just North Downs Way walkers. On the side facing the city, the symbol of a pilgrim is engraved and covered with gold leaf.