Getting out of the city for a countryside walk has long been a
pastime of stressed Londoners looking for a release. Swapping the concrete
jungle for the open air is fantastic way to spend the day or weekend, with
many excellent walking areas less than an hour away from the capital. Below are five of our favourites brought to us by our friends at Dirty Wknd, with accompanying pub
recommendations – a vital component of the countryside walk!
1.Leith Hill Tower Walk, Surrey
Leith Hill is the highest point in the Southeast, and the views from the tower are well worth the visit alone. It so happens that the area around also provides some of the best walking in the South East. You can summit Leith (it’s a moderate walk) from many different angles but we recommend starting in the pretty village of Holmwood, where there's plenty of parking and which you can reach by train from Victoria in an hour. Head northwest to the village of Coldharbour and then onto Leith Hill to climb to the top. Follow the public footpath and signs for the tower and you can’t go too far wrong. The tower is £2 to go up (free for National Trust members) and has a refreshment stand selling tea and cake. The views are great from the ground, but for two quid it’s worth heading up - you can see the channel on a clear day! If you have time, walk north up the Greensand Way to the hidden Tillingbourne waterfall before looping back to Coldharbour and The Plough Inn for lunch. After lunch it is a short walk back to Holmwood Station and the train home.
2. Epping Forest & High Beach, Essex
East London is not always known for its greenery (and no, mojitos don’t count!), but Epping Forest is a playground for active adults looking for a taste of the countryside just outside the city. Easily accessible on the Central Line or overground from Liverpool Street, Epping is is a real and very ancient forest, and from Loughton station you can walk north into the heart of it on any number of well-signposted trails. However, if you’re tree-spotting you might want to head for the High Beach area, where there are some of the best examples of oak, beech and and silver birch after which you can stop in at the Kings Oak Hotel for lunch and a pint, or make use of the excellent café next door. Once you’ve had your fill of the forest, it’s just a short walk back to the tube/train station for the ride back into town.
3. Hever Castle Walk, Kent
Hever Castle is famous for its amazing castle and grounds, but the surrounding area is also a beautiful place to walk. The childhood home of Anne Boleyn is just 40 minutes from London by train and from the castle you can head east around the lake part of the River Eden, before circling back around the castle and into the grounds, before walking the mile of so back towards Hever Station, stopping at The Henry VIII – a 17th-century coaching inn that's untouched on the outside but serves a thoroughly modern menu within.
4. The Chilterns, Buckinghamshire
Just thirty minutes from central London, The Chilterns has long been a playground for well-heeled Londoners. Henry VIII used the area to indulge his passions of walking and hunting, and was often entertained at Chenies Manor near Amersham. The lure of walking in the hills and valleys of the Chilterns is as strong today as it was then – and, with multiple walking routes and welcoming country pubs, it’s easy to see why. We recommend taking the train or tube to Amersham, from where you can pick up the River Misbourne, heading up to Little Missenden (or Great Missenden if you want a longer walk, and want to visit the Roald Dahl Museum). Loop back to Amersham via Hyde Heath and stop at The Crown on Amersham High Street for lunch. The pub serves excellent food, and was made famous as the pub where Hugh Grant meets Andie Macdowell in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’.
5. The Box Hill Hike, Surrey
Box Hill has the honour of being the most famous and easily accessible hill in Surrey, and is also one of the best areas for a weekend walk just outside of London. Trains to Box Hill & Westhumble or Dorking run very regularly from London Waterloo, and a plethora of cyclists and walkers mean that the area is very well signposted. Not only that, but the famous view out over Surrey is breathtaking every time. Start out at Box Hill & Westhumble station and cross over the A25 (using the underpass) and then set off up the steep ascent of the hill (just behind the Mercure Hotel). Once at the top of the hill follow the red signposts for the Box Hill Hike which takes you on a 5km loop ending up at the viewing platform. You can then either head to the fantastic National Trust café for hot drinks and bacon sandwiches, or head back down the hill to the pub, where the excellent Running Horses in Mickleham has a great menu, as does the The Stepping Stones next to Box Hill station.
Dirty Wknd run guided walks and bike rides all over the Southeast - check them out the next time you need to blow the cobwebs away!