From seaside strolls along white cliffs to beautiful woodland treks, here are the best walks within easy reach of London
Walking seems to be having a bit of a moment in 2021. Granted, a boredom-induced stomp around the local park may have been one of the few social activities available to us for the first few months of the year, but it seems that after months of being cooped up at home we’ve all gained a new appreciation of the joys of a stroll in the great outdoors. And while London is of course chock-full of excellent walks, now that we’re allowed out of the capital again you may well have your sights set on something a little further afield. From a seaside stroll along the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters to a ramble through the stunning ancient woodland of Epping Forest, dust off your boots and head out on one of these ace countryside walks near London. And if you’re feeling a little thirsty, why not plan a stop at one of these brilliant pub gardens too?
1. Goring Gap and the Thames Path
Length: 5 miles
Start: Goring & Streatley station (trains from London Paddington)
End: Pangbourne (trains to London Paddington)
If you’re in the mood for a gentle rural amble, this stretch of the 184-mile Thames Path is far from boring. It starts in the pretty Oxfordshire village of Goring, where the Thames Valley is squeezed to its narrowest point by the Berkshire Downs and tree-blanketed Chilterns. The footpath (waymarked with acorn symbols) follows the curve of the river as it flows south, winding past wildflower meadows, woods and the Hartslock Nature Reserve, which is home to red kites and rare orchids.
Post-walk pub: Pangbourne’s picturesque seventeenth-century inn The Swan (Shooters Hill, RG8 7DU) serves gastro grub these days. Bag a table on the riverside terrace or keep toasty by one of its open fires.
Length: 6.6 miles
Start and end: near Theydon Bois station (Central line)
Get lost in ancient woods just outside the city. Marked sporadically with green-labelled posts, Essex’s Oak Trail takes walkers across the M25 towards 6,000-acre Epping Forest’s secluded northern realms, where gnarled beeches have grown massive crowns. You also pass a deer sanctuary and Iron Age earthworks – legend has it that Boudicca battled the Romans here. It’s a thoroughly lovely ramble.
Post-walk pub: The Queen Victoria (Coppice Row, CM16 7ES) by Theydon Green looks like a proper country pub and has ales from Hertfordshire brewer McMullen.
3. Box Hill
Length: 6.8 miles
Start and end: Box Hill and Westhumble station (trains from London Victoria)
Admire this famous beauty spot’s glorious views, then escape the crowds on Juniper Top and Bottom. But first you’ve got to hop across the River Mole’s 17 stepping stones and climb 272 steps to the top of Box Hill, where the trail begins. The endorphins are definitely pumping by the time you reach Juniper Bottom – maybe that’s how it got the nickname “Happy Valley”.
Post-walk pub: The cavernous Tree on Box Hill has an enticing menu and huge beer garden, or sample a glass of Juniper Hill at Denbies Winerie, which is only a mile down the road.
4. The Kentish Coast
Length: 9.8 miles
Start: Ramsgate (trains from St Pancras International, Charing Cross and London Victoria)
End: Margate (trains from St Pancras International, Charing Cross and London Victoria)
Fill your lungs with salty sea air on this ramble around the Kentish coast, which takes in the three historic coastal towns of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate via several other scenic and less populated bays. Following the Thanet Coastal Path, you’ll be able to choose between walking along the top of the chalk cliffs or the promenades at beach level. You’ll also pass plenty of former smugglers’ caves that are great for rock pooling and fossil hunting, and there are beachside cafes dotted along the route at regular intervals.
Post-walk pub: Quench your thirst with a pint of Kentish Kölsch, the signature brew at Xylo, a microbrewery and taproom with spectacular views over Margate Sands.
5. Chess Valley in the Chilterns
Length: 9.9 miles
Start: Chorleywood station (Metropolitan, trains from London Marylebone)
End: Chesham station (Metropolitan Line)
As far as we know, Chess Valley in the Chiltern Hills isn’t home to any chess masters, but it did used to produce a lot of watercress, fed by its sparkling chalk stream. This bucolic walk follows the river, wending through rolling meadows, woods carpeted in dainty yellow celandines, and the chocolate-box villages of Latimer and Chenies (which has had several cameos in Midsomer Murders).
Post-walk pub: The George & Dragon is an unpretentious old coaching inn on the High Street with a log fire, real ales and giant burgers.
6. Sussex’s Devil’s Dyke
Length: 10.1 miles
Start: Hassocks (trains from London Bridge, Blackfriars, St Pancras International and London Victoria)
End: Upper Beeding (bus to Burgess Hill or Shoreham-by-Sea on Sundays, then train to London Victoria)
Join the kite-flyers and hang gliders and marvel at the view from Devil’s Dyke – arguably the finest in the South East. You’ll appreciate it all the more after walking up three steep hills to get there on this spectacular stage of the 109-mile South Downs Way (which has an awful lot of ups, too). It passes through National Trust-owned Saddlescombe Farm, where caravan cafe The Wildflour serves afternoon tea and slabs of homemade cake.
Post-walk pub: Upper Beeding’s The Rising Sun is a favourite with locals (who call it “The Riser”) thanks to its welcoming staff, decent beers, hearty portions and garden.
Length: 13.2 miles
Start and end: Marlow (trains from London Paddington, changing at Maidenhead)
The Thames isn’t all grey, muddy stretches of water surrounded by industrial landscape. This circular route takes in a good chunk of picturesque countryside around the quaint Georgian village of Marlow in Buckinghamshire. You’ll find pleasant meadows, wooded hills and overhanging trees along a lazy, tranquil section of the river, passing plenty of historic pubs and historic manor houses along the way.
Post-walk pub: Tom Kerridge’s The Hand & Flowers is the only pub in the UK to boast two Michelin stars. Stop by the bar for a cracking selection of draught beers, bar snacks and signature cocktails including an aged negroni and a duck fat-washed old fashioned (sounds dubious, but you know it’ll taste amazing.)
8. A South Downs ridge and Seaford Head
Length: 14.3 miles
Start: Glynde (trains from Victoria)
End: Seaford (trains to Victoria)
If you’ve already done the classic Seven Sisters clifftop walk (see below) or can’t face all those hills, this is a long but lovely alternative. Largely following the South Downs Way, the route snakes along a ridge and a river valley, before curving round Seaford Head – which looks across to the Seven Sisters’ rippling white bluffs. Refuel on posh grub at The George Inn, a 14th-century pub in the old smuggling village of Alfriston.
Post-walk pub: There are always 10 real ales on tap at old-school boozer The Wellington, including South Downs brewery Long Man’s award-winning malty bitter.
9. Hertfordshire’s Ashridge Estate
Length: 16 miles
Start and end: Near Tring station (trains from London Euston)
The woodland around Ashridge is known for the magnificent blankets of bluebells that appear in early summer, but a circular walk around the boundaries of the sprawling estate takes in plenty more – from England’s oldest footpath at Ridgeway to the ancient Chiltern beechwoods and the Grade II-listed Bridgewater Monument.
Post-walk pub: Nestled in the Aldbury valley, the aptly named Valiant Trooper is a quintessential English country pub with a lovely beer garden, traditional grub and a fine selection of ales and cider.
10. The Seven Sisters and the Eastern Downs
Length: 19 miles
Start and end: Eastbourne (trains from Victoria station)
This loop of the South Downs Way ticks a lot of boxes: hilltop panoramas, woodland, a meandering river, a pebble beach and a rollercoaster cliff hike.
The trail climbs inland on day one, passing Jevington (the birthplace of banoffee pie) and ending at Alfriston village. Here, you’ll find plenty of places to rest your head. Flop in front of a roaring fire at Wingrove House, an elegant B&B with an excellent restaurant and doubles from £100 per night. On the second day, it tackles the breathtaking (in every sense) Seven Sisters. You can hunt for fossils at Birling Gap before conquering the infamous finale: Beachy Head.
Post-walk pub: Beer shop Bottle Grove has a tap room and a brilliant selection of craft beers from local breweries like Cloak and Dagger and Brighton Bier.