A nice walk to a great pub: The Tyler’s Kiln, Canterbury, Kent | Holidays in Kent

Jhe path passes through starry blankets of wood anemones and the trees are full of birdsong. I can make out the insistent chirping of spangles and the distant cry of a green woodpecker. Three minutes after getting off the bus outside Tyler’s Kiln pub, I’m already walking through Blean, 11 square miles of mostly ancient woodland just north of Canterbury. It is one of the largest wooded areas in South East England and I am currently following part of the 25 mile Big Blean Walk, the marker of which has an image of a brown and orange heather fritillary. 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 woods and nature reserves.

The Blean Wildart Trail is one mile long.

There is also a lot of human history here: medieval pottery, a disused railway line, a salt path, an organic art trail. The woods are constantly changing. More recently, an ambitious rewilding project introduced grazing animals, including bison. Kent Wildlife Trust appointed the UK’s first bison rangers last year. A low mossy embankment and ditch to my left, parallel to the path, is part of the Radfall, an old herdsman’s road. Archaeological studies suggest that this wooded track below was used for driving 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 towards the coast and south towards Canterbury, both at three miles.

Totem poles and tunnels of living willows dot the mile-long Wildart Trail. There is a huge face carved into a chestnut trunk and an empty wooden frame to showcase three slender silver birch trees. Exmoor ponies, pigs and longhorn cattle will soon roam through these trees, with the bison area nearby.

Cosmus and St Damien Chapel in the village of Blean.
Cosmus and St Damien Chapel in the village of Blean.

As I walk through Clowes Wood, there is a change in atmosphere. Oaks and aspens, wood sorrel and cuckoo flowers are replaced by silent rows of dense pines, originally planted for timber. They are gradually cleared, giving off a strong smell of resin, to make room for native species.

The Crab and Winkle Trail runs through Clowes Wood between Whitstable and Canterbury. This seven-mile bike path roughly follows the route of the railroad line that once connected the two towns. Opened in 1830, it was one of Britain’s first railways; 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 flowering in Blean Woods
Flowering Ragged robin in Blean Woods.

I cross the sandy path before plunging back into the pines on a winding path through a dark and hushed forest. The silence here is so deep that even the rustle of a squirrel is startling. Emerging again into the deciduous trees, the birdsong returns as if from a switch, and I see a small bird, a creeper, swooping down on a lichen-covered trunk.

Walking through the fields now, beside a stream, I pass huge orchards with neat rows of trees. They are foaming with flowers and the woods beyond are full of bluebells. Later they will smell of summer honeysuckle. There are anemones, strewn like fallen snow under the bare branches of tall oaks, and creeping purple periwinkles and singing robins in the treetops. This area is a National Nature Reserve covering over 1,000 acres and managed by the RSPB. Colored arrows mark several trails through moorland and woodland and I follow the longest black arrow trail which runs along streams and peaceful clearings.

Entrance to the Saint-Cosme and Saint-Damien church in the village of Blean
A lantern in the village of Blean.

The Battle of Bossenden Wood took place less than a mile to the west in 1838. This deadly skirmish involved a group of disgruntled local laborers led by John Thom, a Cornish liquor merchant, who called himself Sir William Percy Honeywood Courtenay, Knight of Malta. He made crude speeches about aristocracy and the Archbishop of Canterbury, campaigned for social justice, and was killed by soldiers in a clearing in the woods with eight of his followers.

The little flint-walled chapel of Saints Cosimo and Damian stands further in the fields. A nearby sign indicates that these ancient paths were part of the salt route, used to transport salt from medieval pans over the Seasalter marshes. It’s less than a mile from here to the pub. Surrounded by countryside, Tyler’s Kiln is surprisingly accessible to walkers without a car. Canterbury West station is two miles away, accessible by high-speed trains from London St Pancras in under an hour (advance tickets from £13 each way). Bus number 5 from Canterbury to Whitstable stops outside the pub.

A Red Admiral in the Blean Woods.
A Red Admiral in Blean. The woods are also home to rarer species such as the heather fritillary.

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 Crown, where Thomas Becket’s shrine was established in 1220, 50 after his murder.

Tyler’s Kiln makes an ideal base for a varied break: there’s the cathedral a short walk south, the seaside a few miles north and acres of ancient woodland just a stone’s throw away.

Google map of the route

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Begin Tyler’s Oven, Tyler Hill, near Canterbury, Kent
Distance 9½ miles
Time 5 hours
Total ascent 161 meters
Difficulty moderate

The bar

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

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

The restaurant, upstairs, is packed with cheerful mid-week diners, and my meal is sprinkled with thoughtful details: a delicate amuse-bouche of stone bass and grapefruit, tangy shallot butter with warm homemade bread and a cool, sharp ball. of green apple sorbet with spiced grape soufflé. There is a dedicated vegetarian menu. The pub menu includes staples like house fish tart (£12.95) and fish and chips, with vegetarian options such as cauliflower dal with coconut yoghurt (£11. £95).

Renovations include nods to Tyler Hill’s pottery past: there’s a giant kiln-style brick fireplace with two chimneys below. The all-weather garden has heated seating and a raining water feature in a fish pond.

Bar served at Tyler's Kiln pub in Tyler Hill
Meals at Tyler’s Kiln are served with “careful detail”.

Around Christmas there is a big bright screen. “We like to make it the most Christmas pub in Kent,” says Allister. Local drinks include sparkling from Brabourne Vineyard on the edge of the Kent Downs, Gadds bitters from Ramsgate and gins from Chatham Dockyard.

Stay

Right next to the pub, Hambrook House (double room from just £90) has just opened as a boutique hotel. The maximalist decor in each of the six bedrooms shifts from geometric bronze and blue to wood paneling, tapestry and four-poster bed. Up a spiral staircase, a cabin-themed attic bedroom features twinkling branches. Alternatively, in Canterbury, rooms at Cathedral Lodge (doubles from £105 B&B) have free entry to the cathedral.

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