Advice for Overseas visitors
The south east of England offers excellent territory for country walking, and the Saturday Walkers Club website www.walkingclub.org.uk has many free walks ready prepared for you to try out. In particular Kent and East Sussex – the counties of England that face France and Belgium - offer beautiful countryside, ancient villages, historic sites and traditional villages, all linked by a dense network of public footpaths
The South East of England is one of the most beautiful parts of England and has many areas of pleasantly hilly countryside – for example the North Downs and Weald – where the terrain is a mixture of woodland and pasture, and modern large-scale agriculture has been kept at bay. In places there are also orchards, or open “downland” – a very English type of hilly grassland. On the coast, you can find the famous white cliffs – both at Dover and near Eastbourne - and other fine coastal scenery
Walking is on public footpaths that cross fields, pass through farmyards, and sometimes even take you through the estates of large country houses. These ancient “rights of way” have been jealously guarded by English people over the centuries, and today allow you to get a much more intimate view of the countryside than is possible in many other parts of the world.
The area has plenty of historical interest – churches, castles, ancient aristocratic houses which are often open to the public, and peaceful, unspoilt villages. Nature lovers will find plenty of birdsong and wildflowers in spring and summer, and one can also sometimes see wild deer and other wildlife.
The English weather lives up to its unpredictable reputation. It can be cool in summer or sunny in winter, and forecasting it in advance is almost always difficult. At any time of the year it is a good idea to bring a rain jacket. But temperatures are rarely extreme – typically 6-10 degrees in winter, 18-25 degrees in summer, and t he south east corner of England in fact gets much less rain than the west of the country.
For up to the date weather forcasts see the BBC website www.bbc.co.uk/weather
When to come
There is something to see all the year round in the countryside of the south east, but it is particularly beautiful in spring and early summer when woods, fields and roadside verges have fine displays of wildflowers. Later summer also has its particular flowers, and the more adventurous can swim in the sea on some of our walks (sea temperature is about 18 degrees by mid August). For the best autumn colours late October and early November are the best time, and while the countryside is at its most bare in winter, crisp sunny days can bring their own beauty. Lack of foliage also open up some views that are hidden in summer.
This website has more than 350 walks in the south east of England, all starting and finishing at a railway station. For many walks, complete and detailed directions are provided, meaning you do not even have to have a map to follow the walk. If you are more technologically-minded, or if you do not have enough English to understand our written directions, many walks are also available as a GPX download – look for the GPX button at the top of the home page for that walk.
To find the walks on our website, see the ‘Walks’ section at the top of the menu on the left-hand side of the website. Click on "300+ Walks" in the drop-down menu and you will get a list of all our walks, which you can sort by region or alphabetically using the arrows next to the column headings. Nearly all the walks have directions for you to print off, though some are described as ‘map-led’ – that is they suggest a route you can follow using a map, and provide some brief pointers - and usually also a GPX file - to help you do that. Note that "Book 1" or "Book 2" in the numbering of a walk refers to the two volumes of Time Out Country Walks near London, authored by SWC walkers, where these walks originated - but these books are now out of print: full directions for all these walks are now on our site.
Food and drink
Nearly all the walks on this website have a traditional English pub as a lunch stop. Many of these are historic buildings which still retain many ancient features. These days nearly all pubs serve food, and you may well be surprised by the high standard of the cooking, even in small rural pubs. Most will also have a good selection wines by the glass or the bottle, as well as traditional English beers.
Once at the pub, you will find some almost exactly like restaurants, with table service, but in most you order your food and drinks at the bar, but it is then brought to your table. Many pubs have gardens where you can eat outside in summer, and despite the unpredictable weather you will find this is very popular with the English.
Many of our walks also feature a traditional English tea room near the end, serving not just hot drinks but also home-made cakes. In those cases where a tea room is not possible, there is a pub stop for tea instead. Usually these will not serve cakes, but both tea and coffee is available. Nearly all of them also serve food in the evenings, enabling you to end your day with a rural meal.
Though maps are not necessary to follow most of our walks (except ‘Map-led’ ones: see ‘Our Walks’ above), they can be a useful companion to have on the walks. The best maps for walking in the UK are the Explorer maps of the Ordnance Survey (the official government mapping agency). These not only give details of every field boundary and building: they also clearly mark using green dotted lines all rights of way – that is public footpaths that are open to anyone to use – as well as ‘Access Land’ – areas where the public may roam freely
When using our written directions there may be some words you are not familiar with. Here are a few:
- Stile - wooden steps to enable a footpath to cross a fence
- Squeezegate - a stile that opens in the centre to allow the walker through
- Bridleway - a path that can also be used by horses and bicycles
- Byway - a track that can be used by cars and motorcycles
- Lane - a small country road
- Drive/driveway - a private road or track leading to a house
- Pylon/mini-pylon - towers carrying electricity lines
- Hedge/hedgerow - Line of bushes or low trees separating one field from another
- Fieldgate - a gate wide enough for a car or tractor to pass through it
- Kissing gate - a type of gate designed for walkers only
Getting to the walks
All the walks on this website start and finish at railway stations, so we particularly recommend travelling by this method. The walk directions give details of the trains you have to get from London, but you can get information on trains from any point in south east England by using the National Rail website www.nationalrail.co.uk. Note that there is a different timetable for weekdays (Monday to Friday), Saturdays and Sundays, with Sundays having a more limited service than other days of the week. When checking train times, make sure that none of the options listed has a bus symbol against it, which is a sign of a replacement bus to get around weekend engineering works. Such services are best avoided.
If doing a day walk, the cheapest ticket is an off-peak day return, which is valid anytime at weekends or on public holidays, but only after 9.30 or 10.00 Monday to Friday. If you are in a group of three you can save money by asking for a Groupsave ticket, which allows three to travel for the price of two. For families various discounts are available, but you would need to ask at a ticket office about these.
If you are planning a longer stay in the south east, or to do more than one visits in a year, it can be cheaper to buy a Network Card, which costs £30 for a year and gives you 30 percent discounts on train tickets off-peak. From Monday to Friday there is a £13 minimum fare on these cards, however, so for a short visit they are probably not worthwhile.
It is possible to park at the start of most of our walks, but note that not all of them return to the same starting point. If you are travelling by car, it is therefore best to choose a walk with the word ‘circular’ in the title. However, on many (though not all) other walks it is relatively easy to get from the end of the walk to the beginning by train, and the walk directions often give details of how to do this.
1) Starting from Ashford, Dover, Canterbury, Folkestone or Rye
If you are coming over from France or Belgium by Eurostar or cross-channel ferry, Ashford and Dover are convenient points of entry into the UK. Ashford International is a stop on Eurostar trains from Paris, Lille and Brussels, though only two or three trains a day call there. P&O ferry services from Calais to Dover still allow foot passengers.
Neither Ashford or Dover is particularly attractive to stay in, however. Ashford is a perfectly pleasant town, but has little of interest to tourists, and Dover, despite having a scenic location and an imposing castle, is a somewhat rundown, and not particularly cheerful at night.
Alternative places to stay in the area include Canterbury – heavily touristed but a charming historic town; Folkestone – a pleasant seaside resort, especially if you stay the area known as The Leas; and Rye – a pretty hilltop town surrounded by the flatlands of Romney Marsh.
From all of these places you can conveniently reach the walks below. Train times are given from Ashford, as this is a key rail junction, but Ashford itself can be reached by train from Canterbury in 20 minutes, Dover in 25 minutes and Rye in 25 minutes.
- Staplehurst to Headcorn or Cranbrook – 12.8km to 15.2km
17 minutes by train from Ashford – two trains an hour
This walk passes through absolutely typical English countryside, and is particularly recommended in late April or early May, when has good displays of wildflowers. In particular the walk passes a fine bluebell wood, one of the great natural spectacles of the English countyside – where the whole woodland floor is carpetted with purple-blue flowers. Both lunch and tea are in pretty ancient villages, and on the Cranbrook option you can visit the historic gardens of Sissinghurst.
- Pluckley Circular – 11km to 17.5km
6 minutes by train from Ashford
Flatter and with more arable fields than many of our walks, this is nevertheless a charming excursion around a very characteristic corner of Kent. On the way you pass through apple orchards – particularly pretty in late April when they are in flower – and past a pub that is reputed to be haunted with ghosts.
- Chilham to Canterbury – 17.7km
16-21 minutes by train from Ashford – three trains an hour
A classic walk that passes through apple orchards and woods to end up in the historic city of Canterbury, with its famous cathedral and many fine tea shops
- Wye Circular
6 minutes by train from Arundel – one train an hour
An excellent introduction to the North Downs, a hilly region that stretches across south east England. The walk climbs up to an escarpment for a fine view, and then carries on through fields, woods and along tracks to a remote church, and an equally remote lunch pub
- Ham Street to Appledore – 13.7km to 18.3km
14 minutes by train from Ashford – two trains an hour
An interesting exploration of the flat former marshland of Romney Marsh, taking in a stretch of the Military Canal built to repel a possible invasion by Napoleon, and the gentle hills behind. Tea is in the very pretty ancient village of Appledore
- Winchelsea to Hastings – 20.3km to 22.5km
30 minutes by train from Ashford – one train every two hours
This is one of the favourite walks of the Saturday Walker’s Club, starting at a remote station platform surrounded by fields, and walking up a quiet valley to a pub perched on a hill top. In the afternoon you walk down across fields full of sheep to the sea, and then there is a dramatic – and very hilly – coastal section, before the walk ends in the seaside town of Hastings. An option to this walk allows you to start in Rye which has a more frequent train service, and to take in the fascinating village of Winchelsea, which was once a medieval city.
- Folkestone to Dover - 14.5km.
15 minutess by train from Ashford – two trains an hour
This walk starts in the attractive seaside town of Folkestone and then goes along the top of the famous White Cliffs of Dover
- Sandling to Folkestone – 11km
11 minutes by train from Ashford – one train an hour
A walk that takes in a disused railway line, a typical English village, a castle, some fine hilly downland, and then descends to the sea for the final stretch into Folkestone
2) Walks near Gatwick
Of the four London airports, Gatwick is the best situated for walkers. Its railway station is a key hub, with short railway journeys to many attractive places.
- Balcombe Circular – 16km to 20.2km
10 minutes by train from Gatwick – one train an hour
You will not believe that this quiet paradise of woods and hills is so close to Gatwick Airport. Certainly you are not aware of it on these two lovely walks, which are a wonderful introduction to the Weald, the band of hilly country that stretches across the heart of the south east.
- Arundel to Amberley – 18.8km
50 minutes by train from Gatwick – two trains an hour
This walk starts in a beautiful ancient town, dominated by Arundel Castle which has been in continuous occupation by the Dukes of Norfolk since the 11th century. You cross its grounds, descend to a typical pub and village for lunch, and then cross a stretch of the South Downs to tea in a remote village
- Hassocks to Lewes – 18km
18-25 minutes by train from Gatwick – four trains an hour
A classic ridge way along the escarpment of the South Downs, with fine views all the way, and a finish in one of the south of England’s most charming ancient towns
- Dorking to Reigate – 12.5km
22 minutes by train from Gatwick – one train an hour
An easy walk across gently undulating fields that passes through a series of pretty English villages, with the escarpment of the North Downs providing scenic interest to the north
3) Walks from London
If you are staying in London, then you can choose from the full range of walks on our website, nearly all of which are designed to be done in a day by train from London (the exception being some walks in Wales and Norfolk, which require a longer stay).
Here are a few of our favourites. Transport details for these can be found in the relevant walk documents.
- Hever to Leigh – 14km
This walk really is the best of the south east: lovely scenery, two ancient villages, two castles, a historic house dating back to the 16th century, and very traditional pubs and tea rooms
- Henley Circular – 16km
A varied walk in the upper Thames Valley, following the river to lunch in an ancient village, and the returning over the hills to one of the most pleasant towns in the south east.
- Edenbridge to Westerham – 11.4km to 17.3km
As well as taking in a beautiful escarpment with fine views, and the former home of Winston Churchill, this is an excellent walk on which to see bluebells – one of the great natural spectacles of the English countryside – in late April and early May
- Boxhill to Leatherhead – 11.5km
A strenuous walk across wooded and not so wooded hills just to the south of London, whose fine views and top quality pubs make it a favourite day out.