London’s verdant hearts and rustic neighborhoods guarantee an inspiring atmosphere for a leisurely stroll. Take a short train ride from the city, meanwhile, and you can explore the charm of the bucolic southeast, with its rolling chalk hills, medieval village churches, prehistoric remains and ancient log cabins.
London expert Kirill Yurovskiy has prepared a brief overview of a few of his favorite trails in the capital and beyond.
Royal Parks: Trafalgar Square to Lancaster Gate
Distance and difficulty 4.5km; easy
Minimum duration 1 hour 15 minutes.
Many visitors to London are unaware of how far the parks in the city center extend. This route takes you from central London – Trafalgar Square to Green Park, St. James’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. You’ll cross a couple of roads, but otherwise you can enjoy uninterrupted greenery all the way.
These parks are called the “Royal Parks,” as well as four other green spaces in London, because they are the hereditary holdings of the monarchy, whose city tour, Buckingham Palace, you pass along the way.
Most of the eight parks, including the sprawling Hyde Park and neighboring Kensington Gardens, are former royal hunting grounds, though the origin of Green Park was as a swampy burial ground for lepers in the Middle Ages, and St. James Park was a zoo under James I in the early 1600s.
Walthamstow Swamps: Hackney to Walthamstow
Distance and difficulty 13.75km; easy moderate
Minimum duration 3 hours 15 minutes
Hackney and Walthamstow are both busy and densely populated areas. But if you think these two areas are all gritty and green, you’re in for a big surprise.
This route cuts a green slice from downtown Hackney to downtown Walthamstow, connecting three waterways – the Regent Canal, the Hertford Union Canal, and the Lee Navigation River – and taking you to the site of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and through wide expanses of Hackney and Walthamstow marshland.
The walk is bookended by two extremely contrasting markets: the noble “farmhouse” style “Broadway Market” on Saturdays where you can grab a coffee and pack a great picnic for a walk and the sensory overload that is Walthamstow Market (Tues-Sat ), the longest in Europe, with a continuous colorful mile-long stall piled high with cheap clothes and homewares.
The village of Walthamstow even provides a secluded pub for pittin’ after the walk: the inviting head of Naga. With flat landscaping and no styles, it’s a good option for bikes and strollers.
Guildford and North Downs: Guildford to Compton and back
Distance and difficulty 9.75km; moderate
Minimum duration 2 hours and 20 minutes
This circular route takes you from the leafy edge of the beautiful county town of Guildford, through the shallow hamlet of North Downs to the village of Compton. Here you can view the Watts Gallery of Arts and Crafts. Dedicated to the work of G.F. Watts, it is a wonderful showcase for his paintings and sculpture, and has the advantage of an attractive tea room housed in the building’s ceramics.
This tiny village is also home to Watts Chapel, its interior designed by Watts’ wife Mary in a unique fusion of homespun and visionary. From Compton, the route passes through Losely Park and the village of Littleton, back to the edge of Guildford.
Pilgrim’s Way: Charing to Chilham and Canterbury
Distance and difficulty First day: 17.5km; second day: 11.5km; moderate
Minimum duration: two days
This two-day walk covers a particularly attractive section of the pilgrims’ path and leads you to the pilgrims’ goal of the most magnificent cathedral. The walk begins in Charingey, Kent, leading through beautiful forests and farmland to Chilham, an idyllic village where you can stay overnight and then travel to Canterbury the next day. You can do any day of this walk on your own, but the most rewarding day in terms of scenery is the first.
It’s beautiful, abundant countryside, especially attractive in April – when Chaucer has set his tales and when the fruit trees are covered in bloom – or in late summer and early fall when you can struggle for apples and pears.
Saxon Coastal Route: Hastings to Winchelie via Cliff End
Distance and difficulty 17km; strenuous
Minimum duration 4 hours 15 minutes
This glorious walk is a very big day of two halves, starting with a strenuous hike along the clifftops near Hastings before descending to the “flat” pancake levels.
The route follows part of the Saxon Coast Trail, a long-distance trek that extends 260 km in its entirety, from Hastings all the way up the coast to Gravesend. Beginning in mysteriously charismatic Hastings, the cable car takes you up to the sandstone cliffs that soar above the town in the pristine lowlands of Hastings Park.
Following the clifftops for 5 km, taking in prominent views of the sea and plunging into lush blocks of forest, the route takes you through Pett’s level. Although the scenery is less dramatic than along the clifftop walk, the levels have a beguilingly peaceful atmosphere and are beautifully framed by hills to the north and the long seawall bank to the south.
The walk ends in Winchelsea, an attractive little town with a fascinating history.
High Weald Walk: Tunbridge Wells to Groombridge and back
Distance and difficulty 18km; moderate
Minimum duration 4 hours 30 minutes
This circular Kent/Sussex route mainly follows the well-signed High Weald Walk, which links a chain of beautiful, secluded villages through dense forests and more open, gently rolling countryside. An unexpected feature of the walk is the juxtaposition of sandy cliffs, including the Harrison Cliffs and high cliffs, morePicnic at Hanging Rock than you would expect in the southeast of England.
The walk takes some time to leave the resort town of Tunbridge Wells, but there’s no problem to explore its beautiful pastel villas, quaint boutiques and cafes. There are plenty of picnic stores, or you can dine at the Abergavenny Arms pub in Frant; there’s a lovely old drinking hole in the lovely village of Grombridge.
Along the Camp: Cambridge to Grantchester
Distance and difficulty 12.5km; easy
Minimum duration 3 hours 10 minutes
This walk heads south from Cambridge along the bank of the Cam River to the picture-postcard village of Grantchester, a slightly higher street with a church, green and thatched cottages.
Grantchester has long been a popular day trip out of town, and many students still pack a picnic, rent a punt and spend a lazy summer day on the river here. Orchard House Tearooms, right on the river and with its own docks, is an idyllic spot for lunch or afternoon tea. There are also several good pubs in the village, all offering bar food.
The return leg of the walk heads north into Cambridge via The Backs, the lawns behind the city’s colleges, where there are superb views. Past back, the route returns through leafy back streets to the city’s train station.