Sometimes the busyness of London Town can get a bit much, and there’s nothing better to blow the cobwebs away than going on one of the South East’s best country walks and surrounding yourself with the rolling green hills of England – followed of course by a pit stop in a local pub. Here’s a rundown of the ten best country walks within easy reach of London:
1. Egham to Runnymede Countryside Loop
This picturesque ramble will take you on a journey through ancient woodlands and wildflower meadows to explore the birthplace of the Magna Carta – an 800-year-old royal charter of rights that lays claim to being one of the most famous documents in the world. The route itself is relatively easy – just three-and-a-half miles in length – and dogs are more than welcome for pooch and owner bonding time. As you wander, you’ll get to soak up Instagrammable views of the River Thames and Langham Pond, and may be able to spot woodpeckers, deer, kestrels and hares along the way. Once you’ve finished your walk, grab a pint or two in the The Crown pub which handily has a roaring fire and is just a stone’s throw away from Egham station.
How to get there: Fast trains will get you to Egham from London Waterloo in just 37 minutes – slower trains will take around 57 minutes.
2. Bridgewater Monument to Ivinghoe Beacon Trail
On this charming trail, you’ll get the chance to explore the Ashridge Estate – an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in Hertfordshire known for its rolling chalk hills, wildlife-rich meadows and 5,000 acres of woodland. You’ll start at the Bridgewater Monument – a Grade II* listed column built in honour of the third Duke of Bridgewater who once lived at the Ashridge House country estate. Continuing along The Ridgeway – Britain’s oldest road – you’ll enjoy panoramic views of Pitstone Hill and the surrounding countryside before you make your way to the Ivinghoe Beacon. A prominent hill and Buckinghamshire landmark, this is a great spot to tuck into a picnic or a mug of tea before you head back to the walk’s starting point.
How to get there: The closest stations to the Ashridge Estate are Tring and Berkhamsted, and both are served by trains from London Euston in around 30 to 60 minutes. From either station, you can hop in a taxi which should take around 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Oak Trail in Epping Forest
At just over 6,000 acres, Epping Forest holds the title of being the largest open space in London, stretching from Manor Park in East London to just north of Epping in Essex. The Oak Trail is one of the favourite walks to do here, and for good reason. Starting and ending at Theydon Bois tube station, you’ll follow a six-and-a-half-mile-long undulating trail through enchanting woodland to Bell Common in Epping, where you can grab a pint or a glass of vino at the Forest Gate pub. Continuing to Ambresbury Banks – the remains of an Iron Age hill fort – you’ll end up near the Deer Sanctuary where you may be able to spot rutting fallow deer during the mating season.
How to get there: The Oak Trail starts and ends at Theydon Bois, a tube stop in zone 6 which is served by regular Central Line trains.
4. Donnington Castle Loop from Newbury
The market town of Newbury is famous for its racecourse, but there are also plenty of lovely walks you can do in the surrounding Berkshire Downs. You’ll begin with a meander along the Kennet and Avon canal, which links Newbury all the way to Bristol. On this entry in the best country walks within easy reach of London, you’ll pass by Newbury Lock – a Grade II listed structure constructed all the way back in 1796 –and may be able to spot kingfishers, herons, red kites and buzzards as you go. You’ll then hike up to the ruins of Donnington Castle which was built as a military gatehouse during the late 14th century and from where you can enjoy charming views of Newbury, Wash Common and Enbourne. Before hopping back on the train, make sure you have a tipple or two in the Lock, Stock and Barrel which overlooks the canal and working weir.
How to get there: Direct trains will get you from London Paddington to Newbury in around 50 minutes. If direct trains aren’t running, you can easily change at Reading.
5. The Box Hill Hike
A slightly more challenging walk, the views from the top of Box Hill definitely cement this as being one of the best country walks within easy reach of London. You’ll be walking for about eight miles and will be undertaking steep climbs, descents into deep valleys and plenty of steps throughout the course of the circular route. The trail covers much of the Box Hill Estate and offers some fantastic viewpoints from where you can see much of the Surrey Hills AONB. Post-walk, replenish your energy with a pint and a hefty burger in The Stepping Stones gastropub, situated just a couple of minutes’ walk from Box Hill and Westhumble station.
How to get there: Box Hill and Westhumble is the closest station, which is served by two trains an hour from London Waterloo and one train an hour from London Victoria.
6. Jane Austen Circular Walk
Fans of novelist Jane Austen should look no further than this pleasant ramble around the chocolate box village of Chawton in Hampshire. Her old stomping ground, this was where she spent the last eight years of her life and wrote six of her most famous novels – Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The Grade II* listed house is now a quaint little museum which you can visit, and there are plenty of pubs and cafés for you to while away the hours in between walking through peaceful meadows, pastures and woodlands.
How to get there: Alton is the closest station to the start of the walk – from London Waterloo it will take around 75 minutes. From the station, you’ll need to walk or get a bus to Chawton where the trail begins.
7. Bodiam Castle Walk
An easy five mile amble, this scenic amble starts and ends at Bodiam Castle– a 14th century moated castle constructed in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge as both a manor house and a defensive fortress against French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War. It’s one of Britain’s most famous and evocative castles, characterised by soaring turrets, beautiful grounds and an extensive moat – all ripe for the old Instagram feed. Once you’ve sufficiently explored, you can then follow a circular route through open fields past country farms and along the River Rother.
How to get there: Bodiam Castle is located deep within the English countryside, so you’re best bringing your own set of wheels to get here. Depending on where you’re based in London, a drive should take around 60–90 minutes. The 349 bus from Hawhurst is also an option if you can’t drive.
8. Chess Valley in the Chilterns
The Chess Valley has some of the most attractive scenery in the whole of the Chilterns AONB, and this ten mile walk will give you the chance to see the majority of it on a lovely day trip. Throughout the duration of the route – which easily earns its place in this list of the best country walks close to London – you’ll discover the site of a Roman farm-villa at Latimer, the 13th century Chenies Manor – which was visited by both King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I – and the only commercial watercress farm left in the Chilterns at Sarratt. You may also be able to spot water voles, kingfishers and brown trout along the way.
How to get there: You can reach the Chess Valley Walk from either Rickmansworth or Chesham stations – both are served by the Metropolitan Line.
9. Hever to Leigh Walk
Another castle walk here – this time in the ‘Garden of England’, Kent. You’ll start in the charming town of Hever, where you’ll be able to explore its namesake castle. The childhood home of Anne Boleyn, this magnificent spot is famous for its manicured gardens and Tudor interior which are both well worth a visit. Post history lesson, you can begin your walk along one of the region’s best country walks. As you wander along the nine mile route, you’ll pass Chiddingstone Castle – a historic manor house which doubles as a museum of Egyptian, Stuart and Jacobean artefacts – the Penhurst Place stately home and the National Trust-owned village of Chiddingstone.
How to get there: Trains to Hever leave London Bridge Mondays through to Saturdays and take around 45 minutes. On Sundays, you’ll need to change at East Croydon or Oxted. Returning from Leigh, you can either take a westbound train via Edenbridge and Redhill to London Bridge or an eastbound train via Tonbridge to Charing Cross.
10. Seaford to Eastbourne
This one is a definite contender for being one of the best country walks within easy reach of London. Starting in the town of Seaford, you’ll traverse the 14 or so miles to Eastbourne, soaking up magnificent views of the iconic Seven Sisters cliffs as you go. Along the way, you’ll pass through nature reserves and the area of Cuckmere Haven whose beach and cottages featured in the blockbusters Robin Hood and Atonement. Continuing along the route, you’ll walk across Beachy Head – Britain’s highest chalk sea cliff – where you’ll be able to view its landmark red and white striped lighthouse. If you’re feeling like you can brave the chilly waters of the English Channel, there are numerous spots to take a dip along the way, and once you’ve arrived in Eastbourne, there are cafés and pubs aplenty for a drink or bite to eat.
How to get there: Seaford can easily be reached by train but you’ll need to change at Lewes. Trains from Eastbourne go direct to London Victoria – you’re best getting a Day Saver ticket via National Rail so you can access the whole of the East Sussex region.