The best hikes near London that you shouldn`t miss
When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life, as Dr. Johnson said, but it is nice to have a break now and then. Luckily, the capital is surrounded by fantastic options for a tramp through the countryside, taking in the seaside, green valleys, diverse wildlife, historic regions and forests. Whether you travel by car or public transport, it’s easy to find great hikes near London.
And while the countryside around London is not the most jaw-dropping in the UK—there is plenty of heart-swelling beauty and grandeur. As someone who’s lived in London for more than 20 years and regularly escapes for a day hiking in the countryside, where I clear my head and get some much-needed exercise, I can vouch for that. From the Sussex Coastline to a forest on London’s fringes, here are the walks near London that will make you forget your troubles, at least for a day.
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1. The North Downs: Stride along the Pilgrim's Way
The North Downs, which stretch from rural Surrey down to the Kentish Coast near Dover, offer a host of superb walks within easy distance of London. One of the best is the five-mile stretch along the ancient Pilgrim’s Way between Otford and Wrotham in North Kent.
There, you`ll find amazing views and delightful English villages, complete with cricket pitches, centuries-old churches and, perhaps most importantly, pubs. The award-winning and historic Bull Hotel, which has existed in various forms since the 14th century, is the perfect place to finish your walk in Wrotham.
2. Romney Marsh: Step into another world
Much of the South East of England is classic rolling countryside, but Romney Marsh is quite different. There’s an otherworldly feel to this salt marsh, which squats in the south-western corner of Kent, spilling over into Sussex, that makes it unforgettable.
It’s pancake-flat, with landmarks that stand out for miles–from the looming monstrousness of Dungeness Power Station to the still-extant shepherds huts, where shepherds used to shelter at night whilst watching their flocks. As you might expect, it’s a very quiet and calm place, with the possible exception of The Pilot Inn, where excellent fish and chips draw crowds from miles around.
3. Seven Sisters: Climb high above England's iconic cliffs
Like the equally famous but less beautiful White Cliffs of Dover, 50 miles to the east along the coast, the Seven Sisters have brilliant white chalk cliff faces. Due to the way the cliffs rise and fall and snake this way and that, much of this magnificence is visible from land.
A 14-mile walk between Seaford and Eastbourne takes in the Cuckmere River, undulating countryside, pebbly beaches and, of course, views of those blinding white cliffs. Walkers should stay well away from the cliff edges and from the bases of the cliffs. Although the cliffs are beautiful, chalk is very brittle and major cliff falls can happen at any time.
4. Dunstable Downs: Explore a landscape rich in history
There are many reasons to visit Dunstable Downs, from history to wildlife and the remarkable views over the surrounding countryside. This is a place where you can follow ancient drovers’ paths–once used to bring wildstock to market–and gaze on a series of neolithic barrows, or burial mounds.
If you’re lucky, you might spot a Red Kite, probably the most attractive of all of Britain’s birds of prey, soaring above the chalk grasslands. And, weather permitting, you should certainly be able to enjoy the view from the top of the Downs over the Vale of Aylesbury.
5. The Thames Path: Follow the route of England's most famous river
The Thames is most famous as London’s great waterway, of course, but it meanders for miles and miles through English countryside, towns and villages before it reaches the capital. One section that’s within easy travelling distance of London is between Henley and Marlow, immediately to the west of the city in the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
Henley, famous for its annual rowing regatta, is the epitome of elegance while Marlow sits in one of the Thames’ most beautiful stretches, where the 12th-century Bisham Church, 19th-century suspension bridge and the delights of Higginson Park provide much for walkers to see and enjoy.
6. Margate: Investigate Britain's Seaside Story
Margate is dominated by Dreamland, a vintage theme park, an unfortunate high-rise block of flats and its marvellous sandy beach, around which are arrayed a variety of hotels, bars and restaurants. This East Kent seaside resort has enjoyed fluctuating fortunes over the past half-century, but it’s now very much back in fashion, and a perfect spot for a walk.
Alighting at Margate Station, you can head due east, along the beach and through Margate’s suburbs, past historic bathing pools and other remnants of its pre-war glory. Venture a little further and one of England’s most glorious beaches, at Botany Bay, awaits you. Enjoy a dip, the sand and chalk stacks before rewarding yourself with an ice cream.
7. Chess Valley: Hike from tube to tube
Can it really be possible to catch a tube train out into the open country? With the remarkable Metropolitan Line, yes it is. Chesham, which lies at the northern end of the Chess Valley walk, is the most distant of all Underground stations, lying more than 25 miles from Charing Cross, while the southern end is served by Rickmansworth. Located in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the walk follows the gentle, meandering Chess, a chalk stream, through a landscape rich in wildlife and history.