A great walk to a great pub: The Tyler’s Kiln, Canterbury, Kent |  knows holidays

A great walk to a great pub: The Tyler’s Kiln, Canterbury, Kent | knows holidays

A great walk to a great pub: The Tyler’s Kiln, Canterbury, Kent |  knows holidays

tThe trail runs through star blankets of forest anemones and the trees are full of birdsong. I recognize the persistent chirping of chiffchaves and the distant wail of a green woodpecker. Three minutes after getting off the bus in front of Tyler’s Kiln pub, I’m already walking through Blean, 18 square miles of mostly old woodland just north of Canterbury. It is one of the largest areas of woodland in South East England and I am currently following part of the 40 mile Big Blean Walk, the marking of which has an image of a brown and orange moor nacre. The Blean is one of the best places to see these rare butterflies, and Tyler’s Kiln is at the heart of this complex of forests and nature reserves.

The Wildart trail continues for a mile.
The Blean Wildart trail takes a mile.

There is also a lot of human history here: medieval pottery, a disused railway, a salt road, an organic art trail. The forest is always changing. Recently, an ambitious rewilding project has been launched to introduce grazing animals, including bison. Kent Wildlife Trust appointed the UK’s first bison rangers last year. A low mossy bank and ditch to my left, parallel to the trail, are part of the Radfall, an old drover’s route. Archaeological research suggests that this sunken forest path was used to herd pigs, and the banks were there to prevent the animals from eating the young coppice shoots on either side. Two arrows on a wooden marker point north to the coast and south to Canterbury, both three miles away.

Totem poles and tunnels of living willow trees are scattered along the miles of Wildart trail. There is a huge face carved into a sweet chestnut trunk and an empty wooden frame to show three slender silver birch trees. Exmoor ponies, pigs and longhorn beetles will soon be roaming these trees, with the bison area close by.

Cosmus and St Damian chapel in the village of Blean.
Cosmus and St Damian chapel in the village of Blean.

When I step into Clowes Wood, the atmosphere changes. The oak and aspen, wood sorrel and cuckoo flowers are replaced by quiet rows of dense pines, originally planted for wood. They are gradually cleared and produce a powerful resin smell to make way for native species.

The Crab and Winkle path passes through Clowes Wood on its way from Whitstable to Canterbury. This seven-mile bike path roughly follows the line of the railroad that once connected the two cities. Opened in 1830, it was one of the first railways in Britain; George Stephenson was the engineer when construction began in 1825, before his son Robert took over. The last train ran in the 1950s and the cycle path opened almost half a century later.

Ragged Robin blooms in Blean Woods
Ragged robin blooming in Blean Woods.

I cross the sandy trail before plunging back into the pine trees on a winding path through dark, muted forest. The silence here is so deep that even the rustle of a squirrel startles. Resurfacing in deciduous trees, the birdsong returns as if through a switch, and I see a small bird, a treecreeper, scrambling up a lichen-covered trunk.

As I now walk through fields, along a stream, I pass huge orchards with neat rows of trees. They froth with blossoms and the woods beyond are full of hyacinths. Later they will smell like summer honeysuckle. There are anemones, scattered like fallen snow under the bare branches of tall oaks, and creeping purple periwinkle and robin singing in the treetops. This area is a National Nature Reserve stretching over 1,000 hectares and managed by the RSPB. Colored arrows mark different paths through heath and forest and I follow the longest black arrow path along streams and peaceful clearings.

Entrance to St. Cosmus and St. Damian Church in Blean . Village
A lantern in the village of Blean.

The Battle of Bossenden Wood was fought less than a mile to the west in 1838. This deadly skirmish involved a group of disaffected local workers, led by John Thom, a liquor merchant originally from Cornwall who called himself Sir William Percy Honeywood Courtenay, Knight of Malta. He gave crude speeches about the aristocracy and the Archbishop of Canterbury, campaigned for social justice and was murdered by soldiers in a clearing in the woods along with eight of his followers.

The small flint-walled chapel of Saints Cosmus and Damian stands alone in the fields beyond. A sign nearby indicates that these ancient paths were part of the Salt Way, which was used to transport salt from medieval pans on the Seasalter Marshes. It’s less than a mile from here to the pub. Surrounded by countryside, Tyler’s Kiln is surprisingly accessible to car-free walkers. Canterbury West station is 2 miles away and can be reached by high speed trains from London St Pancras in less than an hour (advance tickets from £13 each way). The No 5 bus from Canterbury to Whitstable stops outside the pub.

A Red Admiral in Blean Woods.
A red admiral in Blean. The forests here are also home to rarer species, such as the heather nacre.

Tyler’s Kiln takes its name from the medieval tile industry that flourished here, using local clay and firewood. Tyler Hill ceramics have been found in France and Germany, and decorated floor tiles made here can be seen in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral and the Corona, where Thomas Becket’s shrine was established in 1220, 50 years after his assassination.

The Tyler’s Kiln is an ideal base for a varied holiday: there’s the cathedral a short stroll to the south, the coast a few miles to the north and acres of ancient woodland on the doorstep.

Google map of the route

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Get started Tyler’s Kiln, Tyler Hill, near Canterbury, Kent
Distance 9½ miles
Time 5 hours
Total increase 161 meters
difficulty level moderate

The pub

Exterior of Tyler's Kiln pub in Tyler Hill
The Tyler’s Kiln reopened in March.

Tyler’s Kiln reopened in March 2022 after being closed for 17 months. Allister Collins, who lives on site, bought it 10 years ago. It is now run by Kathton House, a restaurant that has moved here from nearby Sturry.

The restaurant area, on the top floor, is full of cheerful mid-week dinners, and my meal is laced with careful detail: a delicate rock bass and grapefruit appetizer, a tangy shallot butter with warm home-baked bread, and a crisp, tart scoop of green apple sorbet with spiced raisin souffle . There is a special vegetarian menu. The pub menu includes staples such as homemade fish pie (£12.95) and fish and chips, with vegetarian options such as cauliflower dal with coconut yogurt (£11.95).

The renovations include nods to Tyler Hill’s pottery past: there’s a giant brick kiln-style chimney with two fireplaces underneath. The all-weather garden has heated seating and a water feature that rains down into a fish pond.

Sea bass served at Tyler's Kiln pub in Tyler Hill
Meals at Tyler’s Kiln are served with ‘careful details’.

Around Christmas there is a large light screen. “We like to make it Kent’s most Christmassy pub,” says Allister. Locally produced drinks include bubbly from Brabourne Vineyard on the edge of the Kent Downs, Gadds bitters from Ramsgate and Chatham Dockyard gins.

Stay

Besides the pub, Hambrook House (doubles from £90 for rooms only) has just opened as a boutique hotel. The maximalist decor in each of the six bedrooms ranges from geometric bronze and blue to wood paneling, tapestries and a four-poster bed. Up a spiral staircase, a treehouse-themed attic room has sparkling branches. Alternatively, in Canterbury, the rooms at the Cathedral Lodge (doubles from £105 B&B), have free entry to the Cathedral.