Walking has become my escape, a way of life, an antidote to a city that is always ‘on’, a city where slow is not an option. Wandering - whether to work, up a hill or along the coast, is something taken for granted by those who can do it, and longed for by those that can’t. It is the simplest form of transportation, a way of slowing down, taking every step as it comes, and is a counterbalance to the decline in how much we experience nature in our day to day lives. Walking, to me, is just the most wonderful way one can spend time.
Earling Kagge, who is the nearest thing to royalty in the walking world, once observed...
I have walked much of the UK over the past few years. It has brought me both pleasure and a realisation that you don’t need to travel halfway around the world to appreciate the benefits of nature or to feel like you are on an adventure. I am passionate about debunking the perception, in London and beyond, that accessing nature is difficult and expensive, neither of which needs to be true. I co-founded Vespucci Adventures to share that passion. In the UK we are blessed with some of the most breath-taking areas of countryside in the world. Some of these are out of reach from London in a day, but what many don’t realise is that the Cotswolds, Chilterns, South Downs, North Downs, Surrey Hills, Kent Downs, North Wessex Downs and the High Weald, to name a few, are all within 90 minutes of our capital.
I have curated an assortment of my favourite day walks, easily accessible from London, in the hope of inspiring people to get outside this spring. Each walk also has a supporting digital OS Maps route to help you navigate your way through nature.
The Ridgeway - Tring, Hertfordshire
1. The Ridgeway - Tring, Hertfordshire
The Ridgeway walk
Getting there: London Euston to Tring (38mins)
Walking distance: 11.1km
Walking time: 3hrs 45mins
It always amazes me that the Chilterns Hills are only a little over half an hour from Central London. These hills are rich in nature: expect wonderful green views and an abundance of wildlife. The fact that this is one of the best places in the UK to see butterflies says it all.
The walk up to the Ivinghoe Beacon provides outstanding views to the south. This walk also features parts of the Ashridge Estate, now owned by the National Trust. The woodlands are filled with bluebells in spring, a sight not to be missed. There is a well positioned coffee shop next to the Bridgewater Monument towards the later stages of the walk, if you are in need of a pitstop. After your coffee it is a short walk to Aldbury. The Greyhound, a classic village pub, is a good option for a well earned, post-walk drink.
Surrey Hills - Guildford, Surrey
2. Head for the Surrey Hills / Guildford, Surrey
Surrey Hills walk
Getting there: London Waterloo to Guildford (32mins)
Walking distance: 17km
Walking time: 4hrs 30mins
Like many other Londoners, I often find myself packed onto the tube like a tinned sardine. It is at such moments that I dream of places with green landscapes, places with fresh air. Now I have to be honest, Guildford never used to be a place that flew into my mind at such times. However, this all changed after being shown this walk by a friend a few years back.
Exiting the station, you quickly find yourself pottering peacefully alongside the River Wey. The walk then heads through the mysterious Chantry Woods and up to St Martha’s Church, on the North Downs. The church is home to the grave of pianist and actress, Yvonne Arnaud, and all I’d say is that she has quite some view from up there. Further wandering through spectacular woodland and sandy heathlands takes you to the Drummond Arms, a great pub with the sound of the stream running through the garden.
The Poet Stone & The Ashford Hangers - Petersfield, Hampshire
3. The Poet Stone & The Ashford Hangers - Petersfield, Hampshire
The Poet Stone & The Ashford Hangers walk
Getting there: London Waterloo to Petersfield (1hr 2mins)
Getting back: Liss to London Waterloo (1hr 10mins)
Walking distance: 11.4km
Walking time: 3hrs
This walk boasts an epic 60-mile view atop the ‘Shoulder of Mutton’ hill, as well as a literary connection: the monolith known as ‘The Poet’s Stone’ is dedicated to local hero and poet Edward Thomas.
During this wonderful excursion through Hampshire’s finest countryside, you will find yourself wandering through hangers and woodlands straight out of a Lewis Carroll story. The Hawkley Inn, featured on the route, is a personal favourite and the perfect place for a mid-walk drink. The jaunt ends at Liss Station, where you can catch a direct train back to Petersfield or London.
Richmond park walk
4. Richmond Park & The Isabella Plantation - Richmond, London
Richmond Park & The Isabella Plantation walk
Getting there: Central London to Richmond Station (30mins)
Walking distance: 13km
Walking time: 3hrs 30mins
Home to 2,500 acres of parkland, Richmond is London’s biggest park. Enjoy vast open green space, the sounds of nature and the ever impressive Red and Fallow Deer, all of which blend to create the special feel of Richmond Park.
Large enough to get lost in, it is the one place in London you can really leave the urban sphere behind and enjoy open skies above your head. The Isabella Plantation, a 40-acre woodland garden, is not to be missed, especially in spring. The deer are amazing to see in person - they don’t seem to mind you being there a whole lot; the males are particularly impressive, but give them their space. The ancient trees and the wildlife in the park are what make it so spectacular and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Nothing is more beautiful than a sunrise across Richmond Park - if you can get here in the morning, you’ll never forget it.
Firle Beacon walk
5. Firle Beacon - South Downs
Firle Beacon walk
Getting here: London Victoria to Southease Station (1hr 20mins)
Getting back: Glynde to London Victoria (1hr 32mins)
Walking distance: 13.8km
Walking time: 3hrs 30mins
This classic British walk offers outstanding panoramic views thanks to the combination of flat, fertile clay vales intersected by the Downs, which snake pleasingly across the landscape. It is a short and punchy walk, ideal for those wishing to feel that intangible thrill of liberation when looking upon only the most spectacular of rural vistas.
The view from Firle Beacon, featured in the photo above, is as British as it gets. The Beanstalk Café, famous for its cake and for being situated in the back garden of the owner’s house, is wonderful. In terms of pubs, The Ram Inn in Firle proper is a great way to reminisce about the views enjoyed earlier on in the day.
6. Epping Forest - Epping, Essex
Epping Forest walk
Getting there: London Liverpool Street to Chingford (27mins)
Getting back: Theydon Bois to London Liverpool Street (36mins)
Walking distance: 12.7km
Walking time: 3hrs
If life has got a bit too much and you are need of a top-up of nature, a little day escape to Epping Forest really is for you. To get to this former royal forest, start your journey from Liverpool Street station and catch the overground service to Chingford, right on the edge of the Forest. You will be spending the next few hours making your way through its ancient woodland.
I normally stop for a drink and some lunch in the Victoria Tavern, in Loughton. There is an option to call it a day here, if you have had one too many: Loughton tube station is just down the road. However, we recommend you carry on as the second half of the walk takes you north through an amazing stretch of forest to Theydon Bois, which is on the Central Line.
7. Margate to Broadstairs - Kent
Margate to Broadstairs walk
Getting there: London St Pancras International to Margate (1hr 32mins)
Getting back: Broadstairs to London St Pancras International (1hr 20mins)
Walking distance: 10.7km
Walking time: 2hrs 30mins
Margate has certainly been going through a resurgence in popularity over the past few years. Formerly a small fishing village, this town on the Kent coast now plays host to the Turner Contemporary Gallery and is once again becoming a hot spot for Londoners in need of an escape for the weekend.
This walk takes you along Kent coast from Margate to Broadstairs, taking in Walpole Bathing Pool, Botany Bay and some breathtaking coastal scenery. This is a great walk for anyone who enjoys a bit of art, a stroll or a swim - or a combination thereof!
8. Jurassic Coast - Corfe Castle, Dorset
Jurassic Coast walk
Getting there: London Waterloo to Corfe Castle, via Wareham. (2hrs 30mins)
Walking distance: 19.1km
Walking time: 5hrs
Ok, so this walk is only just possible to do in a day if travelling from and to London, (so not within the 90min commute time I promised above!) but to be honest I couldn’t omit it from the list. It is too good! The Jurassic coast has to be one of the most unique seaside experiences in Europe. Millions of years of erosion have resulted in one of the most rugged, beautiful and geologically fascinating walking routes our island has to offer.
Starting and finishing at the site of the epic ruins of Corfe Castle, one of the most iconic survivors of the Civil War in the 17th century, this walk contains all the elements for a great day out. Parts of this route are exposed and quite remote. No matter what conditions are thrown at you, this will be a memorable experience. One word of advice: don’t go light on the waterproofs.
Spring is one of the best times to be outside, so start planning your weekend escape from the big city and find some fresh air!