This is hands-down one of the prettiest London day hikes I’ve organised. Quaint Tudor villages, historic churches, forests and castles combine with a gentle ambling pace that offers a slice of quintessential English countryside.
With Mt Snowdon literally on our doorstep, it seemed only right to pay its summit a visit on a trip to Snowdonia National Park. But with a dizzying array of paths to choose from, we went on the advice of our B&B hosts and chose the Rhyd Ddu path to the summit. And it was a wise choice, as getting there was turned out to be as adventurous as summiting Snowdon itself….
Once a popular route used since prehistoric times by shepherds and merchants, today The Ridgeway National Trail is traversed by hikers, families and their furry friends – and Londoners. With only a 40-minute train ride between the trail and London Euston station, this 87-mile route features some calf-burning hills, panoramic countryside scenery, and plenty of stops for ice cream and pints – enough to make city dwellers satisfied they have left the Big Smoke.
Yosemite is one of those places that you can spend years exploring, learn every mountain name and walk every path like a grizzly ol’ mountaineer, and still find something new to discover. Each season transforms the park into a different world, making it an easy place to return to year after year.
My first visit to Yosemite was during the spring, with the snow running off the mountains and the waterfalls tumbling at full throttle. With only a day to explore this expansive park however, I knew we had to find a walk that enabled us to see as much of Yosemite’s landscapes as possible. After spending a hefty amount of time deliberating whether to chuck it all in and become a forest ranger, I used all of my self-restraint and common sense, and decided to go with our second plan: walk the Valley Loop Trail.
Measuring just under 12 miles in total, the Yosemite Valley Loop Trails follows the park’s old wagon trails, incorporating the main features of the valley in the process. While the trail is available to hike year-round it really comes into its own in the spring, where the snow run-off from the mountains supercharges the waterfalls in the valley. Continue reading
Get your weekend cultural fix and dose of healthy exercise in one go with The Line, London’s first contemporary art walk. With works by artists such as Damien Hirst, gin distilleries to explore and pubs to wet the whistle by canals, all located within this east London walk, one might be mistaken to think they had walked in on a hipster’s paradise.
The Line begins near the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and meanders through the canals and the Meridian line to North Greenwich. Dotted along the way are intriguing works of art, such as this stony-faced chap:
As any outdoor-loving Londoner knows, it can be hard to escape into the outdoors from the city, particularly when you’re reliant on public transport.
So when I found a website with loads of day hikes, all within easy reach of a London train station, I knew I had to share the joy.
After spending Saturday night filling up on excellent wine and generous portions of steak and triple-cooked chips and dark chocolate and salted caramel cake at The Bell Inn in nearby Willersey, we awoke slightly groggy, in need of a good breakfast and long walk to revive us. In what I liked to think was a stroke of good planning but more likely luck, the Cotswold Way ran right past our hotel, and was our route of choice for the day. This national trail, running for approximately 100 miles between Bath and Chipping Campden, takes in the Cotswolds’ most postcard-perfect villages and landscape, and so we eagerly wolfed down bacon sandwiches and started on the trail.
In another stroke of good fortune, the weather was cool and misty, a small respite against hiking up hills with hangover sweats. After slipping and sliding our way up Fish Hill, we sped past Tillbury Hollow, normally an excellent picnic site in good weather, and continued onwards.
The terrain was invariably flat farmland on this portion of the Cotswold Way, but with those dry stone walls iconic to the Cotswold region lining the walk and a random abandoned Cotswold cottage thrown in for good measure, the walk had a romantic, ‘old English’ feel you would expect.
Eventually we reached Dover’s Hill, home of the original English Olympic Games and the rather painful sport of ‘shin-kicking’ (I don’t understand it either). The National Trust spot is a natural amphitheatre with a Roman vineyard nestled away in its landscape, making it an ideal spot to rest.
But not for too long, as Chipping Campden is only a mile or so away, and arguably the quaintest of all the Cotswold villages we had seen so far.
Having reached Chipping Campden in breakneck speed, we decided that four miles wasn’t enough hiking, and with the day still early trotted off to the tourist information board for recommendations of nearby hikes.
It was quite good we did really, as otherwise we would not have discovered what was one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever taken in southern England: The Heart of England Way.
Measuring 100 miles in distance, the Heart of England Way links the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Staffordshire, with the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Gloucestershire, and a healthy amount of mileage in rural Warwickshire thrown in for good measure. Encompassing remote English villages off the track of the main Cotswold Way, to dramatic hillscapes and historic monuments, the Heart of England Way is an excellent choice for hikers wanting a varied scenery, or lots of stopping points for food and drink.
We embarked on the eight-mile stretch of the trail between Chipping Campden and Moreton-in-Marsh, stopping in Blockley to refuel. Almost immediately on the trail, we were led through achingly beautiful English hamlets and gently rolling hillsides. The small village of Broad Campden in particular was so serene and picturesque I had to stop for a few minutes and appreciate the view. With its thatched-roof cottages, regal manor house and fields dotted with flocks of grazing sheep, it so perfectly encompassed the Cotswold stereotype I had expected on our trip.
The scenery only improved the further we journeyed on the trail. Woodland and farm fields gradually changed into small villages, and in the hilly village of Blockley the lovely folk at the adorable Blockley Village Shop and Cafe gladly refilled our water bottles for us.
Our journey continued on through more forests and villages, until we reached our final destination, Moreton-in-Marsh, managing to catch the train with two minutes to spare!
Breakdown of our weekend in the Cotswolds:
Return train tickets from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh for two: £52.00
Bus fare to Broadway for two: £6.20
Two nights, including breakfast, at the Farncombe Conference Centre in a double superior room: £115.00
If you are interested in trying the walks out for yourself, we used the Pathfinder Guides’ The Cotswolds Walks for our first hike to Broadway Tower, and the National Trails‘ website for information on The Cotswold Way. For the Heart of England Way, it is listed on the Ordnance Survey EXPLORER maps, but is also clearly signposted on the route. Otherwise, The Heart of England Way guidebook is available on its website. PLEASE NOTE, the Heart of England Way does NOT pass through Moreton-in-Marsh, it ends in Bourton-on-the-Hill. To follow our route, follow the signposts for the Heart of England until just after Blockley, then follow signage for The Monarch’s Way.
Have you done any of these trails? Tell me about your experiences below!
Box Hill is undoubtedly one of the easiest countryside areas for Londoners to escape to for a good day’s hike. Owned and managed by the National Trust, the area has a good selection of trails, panoramic views of the South Downs and enough follies to keep the walk interesting if woodland scenery is not necessarily your thing. Not to mention, it is only half an hour’s train ride from London Bridge.
However, Box Hill can be a little tricky to find if you don’t drive. When disembarking from Boxhill & Westhumble station, go past the School for Church Organists and head towards the T junction. Taking the subway to the other side of the road that is located on the left, follow the signs towards the car park for the National Trust Boxhill car park.
It’ll soon become apparent that Boxhill is a fun hike as soon as you reach the start of the trail: STEPPING STONES! Obviously it took a loooong time for the novelty to even slightly wear off….
Enjoy hopping around on the stones for as long as you can though, as the trail right after the stones is steep and winding.
However it is all worth it once you reach the top, with views stretching for 25 miles across the South Downs at the Salomon Memorial. Dedicated to the city financier Leopold Salomon who bought 230 acres of Box Hill and donated it to the National Trust in 1914, today Box Hill is known as a place of inspiration for British writers, as well as a few eccentric characters.
Purchase any snacks or drinks here, but be prepared to queue – Boxhill, and in particular the National Trust cafe, is a popular rest spot.
Follow the trail towards Broadwood’s Tower, stopping to take a gander at the tree-stump Stonehenge on the left and the various wildflowers and butterflies that inhabit the area. The word ‘tower’ might be stretching things a bit when describing Broadwood. Back in the day, when ruined castle remains and prehistoric monuments were the latest fashion trends, rich Victorians with time on their hands would build what are called ‘follies’, or faux-historical buildings and ruins with no real purpose other than to sit there and look pretty and entertain guests on walks around the rich Victorian’s property. Luckily nature stepped in and made Broadwood folly even more impressive.
After reaching the summit of a vast number of steps up the Mickleham Downs, take a lunch stop in the absurdly picturesque village of Mickleham. Complete with an ancient church, quaint pub and homes with lots of character, not to mention a private school that could easily pass for Hogwarts, this area is ideal for a pub lunch or picnic before attacking another steep section of the trail (keep an eye out for the ponies!).
The narrow path of overhanging branches and haphazard tree roots might make you feel like you’ve walked off the path, but continue onwards and you’ll suddenly walk onto a wide open plain. The Mickleham Gallops is home to a Bronze Age hoard and barrow, and an old Roman road nearby. It is also home to enormous oak trees.
Continue following the path towards Headley Heath, where there are more achingly-cute English homes than Pinterest can take.
The path eventually arrives full circle back to Salomon’s Memorial. Before heading back towards the car park and stepping stones however (tempting, I know) walk to the right of the National Trust cafe and there visitors can see one of the more truly bizarre sites in the UK.
One of 13 forts to line the North Downs, the Box Hill Fort was originally built in 1889 as a ‘mobilisation centre’ as a part of the London Defence Scheme. With the threat of continental invasion fresh in the minds of Victorian military strategists, the scheme was created to defend London as the last great bastion of the British Empire. Box Hill Fort however never saw battle, and today it is mainly used as an elaborate house for bats.
For more information and trail directions, please download this map here.