If, when someone says ‘Chilterns’, you think ‘Firehouse’, it’s possible you need to get out of central London for a bit, and go for a nice long hike. Thankfully, only a short journey away from the city – or even within the reaches of greater London – are a host of trails, routes, and treks which will make your urban cares melt away, as you take in the clean air, wonderful sense of stillness, and the fact that, yes, those were nettles that you just walked through.
So throw off your weekday trappings, throw on some walking boots, and put your best foot forward. With this as your guide, finding a place to go for a satisfying hike near London is a walk in the park (or other, indeterminate, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
The Chess Valley Walk
Reason alone to ride the venerable, mysterious, Metropolitan line all the way out to ‘Rickmansworth’ – for it’s there that the Chess Valley walk kicks off, right where the River Chess meets the River Colne. It’s truly pleasant walk through the Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire countryside, which takes in woodland glades and open fields, as well as a nature reserve called Saratt Bottom (grow up) as you trace the path of the River Chess. It’s also a pleasing level of difficulty, which is to say, enough to justify an indulgent lunch along the way – possibly at Saratt Bottom’s local, the Cock Inn (oh come on) which is, genuinely, known for its sausage (at this point they must know what they’re doing).
Length: 10 miles | Starting point: Rickmansworth Station | More info
If you like your countryside picturesque, your views pastoral and your hill climbs moderate, then the Amersham Circular Walk is for you. You’ll stroll into the Misbourne valley via the village of Chalfont St Giles – home to some splendid pubs, including the sensationally-named Merlin’s Cave. If you want to treat yourself to the (even more) scenic route, take a detour via the Hodgemoor Woods – home to outstanding bluebells in the spring, and a population of unreasonably adorable muntjac deer (google them immediately) all year round. And for triple points – join the nearby Chess Valley Walk and keep going!
Length: 9 miles | Starting point: Amersham station | More info
The Box Hill Hike
Beautiful? Yup! Satisfying? Absolutely. Challenging? You betcha. With eight miles of steep climbs, difficult descents and plenty of steps, the Box Hill Hike isn’t for the faint of heart or frail of ankle – but it’s absolutely worth it. En route, you’ll take in Broadwood’s Folly, a flint tower built by piano manufacturer Thomas Broadwood in the 1800s, you’ll cross the ‘Mickleham Gallops’, atop the Mickleham Downs, and then you’ll navigate a vertiginous chalky path down to the valley below. It’s a truly satisfying march – even more so if you stop for a (well-earned) rest at the Running Horses pub along the way – and it has a London postcode.
Length: 8 miles | Starting point: Box Hill Shepherd’s Hut, KT20 7LB | More info & maps
The Epping Forest Oak Trail
With 8000 acres of ancient woodland, Epping Forest in Essex is both beautiful to explore and – happily – an incredibly accessible hike from London, sitting at the end of the Central line. There are a plethora of walks to choose from, but the Oak Trail is a very good bet to get going with. Verdant fields? Check. Lush forests? Check. Ambresbury Banks, the remains of an Iron Age Hill fort? Check. A particularly photogenic gnarly-looking dead tree? You get the picture – it’s a satisfying, adventurous trek, which really does give good ‘trail’. And if, as is entirely possibly, hiking the Oak Trail merely your ignites your desire for further Epping Forest experiences, then the Grand Epping Forest Circular Walk – all 15.7 miles of it – is yours to conquer.
Length: 6.6 miles | Starting point: Theydon Bois Underground Station | More info & maps
Addington Hills View Walk
A seven-mile looping trail, the Addington Hill, Shirley Heath and Foxes Wood circular is a truly satisfying hike in south London. Located in Upper Shirley, Croydon, it’s a little less rural and remote than other hikes, but the walk takes you through some beautiful winding heathland en route to your final destination: the Addington Hills viewpoint. Built in 1963 by Alderman Basil Monk, the viewing platform looks out across the city, revealing a panorama of Croydon, all of South London, the Thames and beyond – the rest of the capital stretching out before you, from an angle that one very rarely gets to see it. Well worth the hike, and surely (Shirley?) one of the finest viewpoints over London.
Length: 4.4 miles | Starting point: CR0 5HQ
Green Chain Walk
Less ‘a walk’ than a series of walks, and less ‘a series of walks’ than a love letter to South London – the Green Chain Walk extends to 50 miles in total, and is divided into 11 sections for those people (ie. quite literally everyone) who doesn’t fancy tackling it in one ludicrous go. It begins in Thamesmead, and ends in Nunhead Cemetery. Along the way, you’ll have taken in Crystal Palace Park, with its iconic dinosaurs, the Bostall Woods (once the haunt of highwaymen), the eerily beautiful Thames Barrier, and the utterly weird but strangely wonderful Severndroog Castle (that’s right, there’s a place in London called ‘Severndroog Castle’).
Length: 50 miles in total | Starting point: Thamesmead | Map & more info
If you’ve got access to a car, get down to Kent for this hike about 80 minutes from London. Take in the sights of the Garden of England as you explore Toys Hill, an area so beautiful it inspired Octavia Hill (not a hill) to set up the National Trust in 1895. ‘Picturesque’ is an overused phrase, but it’s difficult to avoid it when describing the joys of romping through Ide Hill – the highest village in Kent – and stopping off at Emmetts Garden, a hillside meadow on an Edwardian Estate which, on a sunny day, lends itself to some 11/10 picnicking.
Length: Up to 4 miles | Starting point: Brasted, Westerham TN16 1QG | More info
The Devil’s Punch Bowl
Hindhead’s utterly distinctive landmark, the Devil’s Punch Bowl offers spectacular views of the Surrey hills, whichever way you choose to walk by, round, or near it. For those seeking a true challenge, take on Roam 639; you’ll journey to the base of the Punch Bowl, up Gibbett Hill and past the Sailor’s Stone (which commemorates the spot a sailor was murdered by three highwaymen), and past the remains of the Temple of the Four Winds, a lodge built in the early 1900s by Irish shipbuilder Viscount Pirrie. The hike – often tricky, sometimes muddy – is also designed as a reminder to be grateful for the ability to enjoy physical exercise; the trail was devised in memory of three local residents whose lives were affected by muscular dystrophy, and ‘Roam 639’ is a reference to the 639 muscles in the human body, as well as a nod to the length of the hike.
Length: 6.39 miles | Starting point: Devil’s Punch Bowl car park, GU26 6AB | More info & maps
Seven Sisters Hike
Nope, not a whistle-stop tour of Haringey and South Tottenham – instead, hop on the train from Victoria and leap off at Seaford, ready for one of the Southeast’s truly great hikes. It’s a blockbuster cliff-top march, accompanied by fairly stunning views of the iconic Seven Sisters cliffs throughout. You’ll probably want lunch at the warm and welcoming Cuckmere Inn, before you make your way up the highest of the Seven Sisters, Haven Brow, and eventually make it to Eastbourne Pier. You’ll also be traversing beaches, meaning there’s wild swimming to be had, too, during the summer (or winter, for that matter, if you’ve kept up your Wim Hof). It’s a toughie, but it’s also – perhaps uniquely, for an experience involving Eastbourne – totally exhilarating.
Length: 14 miles | Starting point: Seaford | More info – the route’s well signposted so you can get by without a map
Ramsgate To Margate
Fancy a slice of the finest beachfront in Thanet? Course you do. You’ll be journeying via Broadstairs on this coastal trek, which is best made at low-tide, allowing you to stroll along a number of flat, sandy beaches, whilst taking in gorgeous views of the channel. Among the highlights is the beautiful, secluded, Botany Bay, with its dramatic chalk stacks, rockpools, and beautiful clear water – and finishing up in Margate means that there’s all the fun of the fair to be had at Dreamland, as well as vintage shops, the Turner contemporary art gallery and plenty of restaurants to explore. All that’s left is to plop onto the train that takes you directly back to St. Pancras. A hike that’s easy, satisfying, and close to London – win-win, really.
Length: 9.8 miles | Starting point: Harbour Parade, Ramsgate, CT11 8LN | More info here
Like escaping from the city? Check out these great day trips from London