With spring almost upon us here in London, now is the perfect time to get out and about exploring the countryside around the capital.
For all London’s urban sprawl, it’s actually surprisingly easily to escape the tangle of roads and buildings inside the M25 ring road and enjoy the sanctuary of fresh air and rolling hills.
From south of the river, the South and North Downs, the Surrey Hills and the High Weald can all be reached in around an hour and a half by car, depending on where you start your walk, while those living in the north of the city can easily access the Chilterns and the Lee Valley in a similar time frame.
There are plenty of train options too to rural stations from all the London transit hubs if, like me, you have an Oyster card instead of a set of wheels.
A favourite spot to the south west for walkers and cyclists alike is the famous Box Hill, whose steep slopes featured in the Olympic road race in 2012.
The hill is named after the ancient box woodland found on its slopes rather than its shape and there are lots of pleasant walking trails surrounding the summit. At some 224m high it’s definitely worth the slog to the top for stunning views across the South Downs.
It’s just one of numerous 200-metre-plus tops in the region where you can soak up sweeping vistas, with other popular lookout points including Colley Hill and Reigate Hill.
No walk in the countryside would be complete without a stop at a traditional country pub for either a hearty lunch or a post-hike refresher (or both!) – especially if you’re going to summon up the energy for those climbs.
Luckily, there are a host of pub options in this part of the world, which makes inserting a beer stop into your plans a piece of cake. Indeed, many walking guides and routes include a real ale and a roast break as part of a Sunday ramble, so you don’t even have to do the hard work with the OS map.
One of my favourites is the Cat Inn in West Hoathly among the rolling hills of West Sussex, which can be taken in as part of alongside the Bluebell Railway. If you check the train timetable you can plan you walk to coincide with the passing of a traditional steam engine.
Walk this way
There are also plenty of longer distance rambles on offer for those with designs on a trip lasting more than a day, including the North Downs Way, which stretches some 150 miles from Farnham in Surrey to the white cliffs of Dover in Kent.
Of course, these long distance ways can be broken up into day trips, weekend hikes and longer endeavours to match the amount of time you have available, and the footpaths are usually well marked for fairly easy navigation.
For more on walking around London visit the National Trust website which has a host of downloadable hikes.
Photo by robsw18