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


The path runs through starry blankets of wood anemones and the trees are full of birdsong. I can pick out the insistent cheeping of chiffchaffs and the distant yaffling of a green woodpecker. Three minutes after stepping off the bus outside the Tyler’s Kiln pub, I’m already striding through Blean, 11 square miles of mostly ancient woodland just north of Canterbury. It’s one of south-east England’s largest areas of woodland and I’m currently following part of the 25-mile Big Blean Walk, whose waymark has a picture of a brown and orange heath fritillary. The Blean is one of the best places to see these rare butterflies, and the Tyler’s Kiln is at the heart of this complex of woods and nature reserves.

The Wildart trail goes on for one mile.
The Blean Wildart trail goes on for one mile.

There’s lots of human history here, too: medieval pottery, a disused railway line, a salt way, an organic art trail. The woods are always changing. Most recently, an ambitious rewilding project is introducing grazing animals, including bison. Kent Wildlife Trust appointed the UK’s first bison rangers last year. A low mossy bank and ditch on my left, running parallel with the path, are part of the Radfall, an old drovers’ route. Archeological surveys suggest this sunken woodland track was used to drive pigs, and the banks were there to stop the animals eating the young coppice shoots 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 are dotted around the mile-long Wildart trail. There’s a huge face carved into a sweet chestnut trunk and an empty wooden frame to showcase three slender silver birch trees. Exmoor ponies, pigs and longhorn cattle will soon be roaming through these trees, with the bison area nearby.

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

As I cross into Clowes Wood, there’s a change of atmosphere. The oaks and aspens, wood sorrel and cuckoo flowers are replaced by silent rows of dense pines, originally planted for timber. They are gradually being cleared, producing a powerful smell of resin, to make way for native species.

The Crab and Winkle trail runs through Clowes Wood on its way from Whitstable to Canterbury. This seven-mile cycle path roughly follows the route of the railway line that once linked the two towns. Opening in 1830, it was one of the first railways in Britain; George Stephenson was the engineer when construction started in 1825, before his son Robert took over. The last train ran in the 1950s and the cycleway opened nearly half a century later.

Ragged Robin flowering in Blean Woods
Ragged robin flowering in Blean Woods.

I cross the sandy-surfaced trail before plunging back into the pine trees on a winding path through dark, muffled forest. The silence here is so deep that even the rustle of a squirrel is startling. Emerging into deciduous trees again, birdsong returns as if by a switch, and I spot a small bird, a treecreeper, scurrying up one lichen-covered trunk.

Walking through fields now, beside a stream, I pass huge orchards with neat rows of trees. They are frothing with blossom and the woods beyond are full of bluebells. Later, they will smell of summer honeysuckle. There are anemones, scattered like fallen snow under the bare branches of tall oaks, and creeping purple periwinkles and robins singing in the treetops. This area is a national nature reserve spreading over more than 1,000 acres and managed by the RSPB. Coloured arrows mark out several trails through heath and woodland and I follow the longest, black-arrowed, trail past streams and peaceful clearings.

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

The Battle of Bossenden Wood was fought less than a mile west in 1838. This deadly skirmish involved a group of discontented local labourers led by John Thom, a drink merchant originally from Cornwall, who called himself Sir William Percy Honeywood Courtenay, Knight of Malta. He made rude speeches about the aristocracy and the archbishop of Canterbury, campaigned for social justice, and was killed by soldiers in a clearing in the woods along with eight of his followers.

The little flint-walled chapel of Saints Cosmus and Damian stands on its own in the fields further on. A board nearby points out that these ancient paths were part of the Salt Way, used to carry salt from medieval pans on the Seasalter marshes. It’s less than a mile from here to the pub. Surrounded by countryside, the Tyler’s Kiln is surprisingly accessible for car-free walkers. Canterbury West station is two miles away, reached by high-speed trains from London St Pancras in under 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 woods here are also home to rarer species such as the heath fritillary.

The 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 Canterbury Cathedral’s crypt and the Corona, where the shrine of Thomas Becket was established in 1220, 50 years after his murder.

The Tyler’s Kiln makes an ideal base for a varied break: there is the cathedral a short walk south, the seaside a few miles north, and acres of ancient woods on the doorstep.

Google map of the route

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Start The Tyler’s Kiln, Tyler Hill, near Canterbury, Kent
Distance 9½ miles
Time 5 hours
Total ascent 161 metres
Difficulty moderate

The pub

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

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

The restaurant area, on an upper level, is full of happy midweek diners and my meal is peppered with careful details: a delicate amuse-bouche of stone bass and grapefruit, a tangy shallot butter with warm homemade bread, and a fresh, sharp scoop of green-apple sorbet with spiced raisin souffle. There is a dedicated vegetarian menu. The pub menu includes staples like homemade fish pie (£12.95) and fish and chips, with veggie options such as cauliflower dal with coconut yoghurt (£11.95).

The renovations include nods to Tyler Hill’s pottery-making past: there’s a giant kiln-style brick chimney with two fireplaces under it. The all-weather garden has heated seating and a water feature that rains 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’s a big light display. “We like to make it the most Christmassy pub in Kent,” Allister says. Locally sourced drinks include fizz from Brabourne Vineyard on the edge of the Kent Downs, Gadds bitter from Ramsgate, and Chatham Dockyard gins.


Next door to the pub, Hambrook House (doubles from £90 room-only) has just opened as a boutique hotel. The maximalist decor in each of six bedrooms veers from geometric bronze and blue to wood panels, tapestry and a four-poster bed. Up a spiral staircase, a treehouse-themed attic room sports sparkling branches. Alternatively, in Canterbury, rooms at Cathedral Lodge (doubles from £105 B&B), come with free entry to the cathedral.