Seven Beautiful Countryside Walks and Day-Trip Hikes Near London

Stretch out your lockdown legs among some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery. Hike across the Seven Sisters cliffs, wander along the Thames Path or escape the crowds on the routes less trodden – all of these trails are within a short train (or underground) journey from London, perfect for a day trip.

There are some great walks in and around London, but after months of lockdown, we want to stretch out our legs a little farther afield. Escaping the Big Smoke needn't involve a long-haul flight, however. These walking routes - each of them fun, free, green and great for physical and mental health - will have you chugging lungfuls of country air in an hour or so of hopping on the train.

Stomping across showstopping cliffs, castles and bluebell woods to lesser-visited trails, we've found the pathways to suit those into rambling woodland walks and coastal strolls as well as more challenging hikes.

The best day-trip hikes and walks within an hour of London, plus directions

Seaford to Eastbourne

East Sussex

Best for: dramatic coastal views and killer calves

The rollercoaster of coastal trails, this route takes you up and over (and up and over again, and again) the chalky white cliffs of the Seven Sisters to the seaside resort of Eastbourne. En route, pass through Cuckmere Haven, hunt for fossils at the Birling Gap (it can get a little busy here in warmer climes, but the National Trust shop and café are great for a loo break and refuel) and stop for a photo-op of the candy-striped lighthouse at Beachy Head. For a longer, all-day trek, try the route in reverse and follow the coast to Brighton.

Distance: 30km

How to get there: Catch the trains from London Victoria to Brighton and then on to Seaford, about 90 minutes. The direct return train journey from Eastbourne to London Victoria takes roughly the same time.

Oak Trail, Epping Forest

Essex

Best for: spotting deer and tracing the footsteps of a Celtic queen

Fringing London's northeast, just across the steely surge of the M25, the 6,000-acre ancient woods of Epping Forest are threaded with markered trails that lead walkers past clusters of gnarled oaks and beaches, long-horn cows grazing on open farmland, a sanctuary for rare Muntjac deer and the Iron Age earthworks of Loughton Camp - word on the street is that this was once the stomping ground of Queen Boudica.

Distance: 11km

How to get there: Catch the Central Line to Theydon Bois.

Henley Circular

Oxfordshire

Best for: the Thames and tea rooms

Starting in Henley (of Henley Regatta fame), follow the Thames towpath past the neoclassical folly of Temple Island to the 250m footbridge over the weir at Hambleden Mill - keep your eye out for canoeists below. Take a pit-stop in one of the many tea rooms in shortbread-tin Hambleden before venturing through the Great Wood to the village of Fawley and returning along the Oxfordshire Way. Want to work up an appetite? Make a day of it and tack on an extra 7km (about an hour and a half) from Hambleden to Marlow for a well-deserved lunch at the two-Michelin-starred Hand and Flowers.

Distance: 16km

How to get there: Ride the train from Paddington Station to Henley-on-Thames, changing at Twyford. Journey time is just over an hour.

Chess Valley

Chilterns

Best for: an easy riverside stroll

Trace the River Chess from Rickmansworth to Chesham (or vice versa). This is a Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and it shows: kingfishers linger around the supernaturally clear chalk stream and the greenery is very… green. Along the well-marked route, sights to tick off include a Roman farmstead at Latimer, the 13th-century Chenies Manor frequented by Elizabeth I and Sarratt's watercress bed - the last of its kind in the Chilterns.

Distance: 16km

How to get there: Both Rickmansworth and Chesham stations are served by the Metropolitan Line. For a shorter amble, access the walk from Chalfont & Latimer or Chorleywood underground stations.

Tring to Wendover

Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire

Best for: spotting bluebells in spring

A lot of us have caught on to the beauty of Tring and its neighbours, especially between April and May when a periwinkle carpet of bluebells unfurls. Forever the contrarian, we're sidestepping the popular Tring Circular, a beautiful but busy route across the Chiltern escarpment and Ivinghoe Beacon to Ashridge Estate and Dockey Wood in favour of this linear route. Pass twitchers on the tree-lined banks of the Grand Union Canal before climbing through Wendover Woods - the Chilterns' highest point. Replenish blood-sugar levels at Rumsey's Chocolaterie on Wendover High Street before catching the train home.

Distance: 21km

How to get there: The train from London Euston to Tring takes around 40 minutes.

Hever to Leigh

Kent

Best for: castles and escaping coastal crowds

Don't get us wrong, the Kentish Riviera is beautiful, whether you're rubbing shoulders with the cool kids of Margate, discovering artistic Deal or knocking back oysters in Whitstable. But the so-called "garden of England" is ripe with walking trails beyond its coastal enclaves. This route takes in the 15th-century Hever Castle, where a young Anne Boleyn was courted by Henry VIII, and 17th-century Chiddingstone along with a slew of stately homes, churches, half-timbered chocolate-box villages and the like. Be warned: the Medway Valley is known to flood in extreme rain; plan your jaunt during a more dry spell.

Distance: 14km

How to get there: Trains from London Bridge to Henver take around 40 minutes. The return journey from Leigh is a bit more tricky; either take a westbound train to London Bridge via Edenbridge and Redhill or catch an eastbound service and change at Tonbridge for Charing Cross.

Cookham to Maidenhead

Berkshire

Best for: country meets culture

Head west from the town of Cookham, passing the former home of painter Stanley Spencer (a nearby gallery is dedicated to him) to Bisham Woods. This is Wind in the Willows territory; author Kenneth Grahame said that Mole, Ratty et al. lived on Winter Hill, which you'll climb before descending back to Cookham for rotisserie chicken at The Kings Arms. From here, the Thames Path leads you to Maidenhead, but if you're anything like us, you'll be tempted to stop over in the Grade I-listed and somewhat debaucherous Cliveden House which you pass en route.

Distance: 17km

How to get there: Trains run from Paddington via Maidenhead to Cookham in less than an hour. Return journeys from Maidenhead take around 45 minutes.

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