The Royal Parks: Trafalgar Square to Lancaster Gate
Distance and difficulty 4.5km; easy
Minimum duration 1hr 15min
Many visitors to London are unaware how far the parks at the heart of the city extend. This route takes you from the centre of London – Trafalgar Square – to Green Park, St James’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. You’ll cross a couple of roads, but otherwise can enjoy uninterrupted greenery all the way.
These parks are designated “royal”, along with four other London green spaces, because they are hereditary possessions of the monarchy, whose city hangout – Buckingham Palace – you pass en route.
Most of the eight parks, including spacious Hyde Park and neighbouring Kensington Gardens, are former royal hunting grounds, though the origin of Green Park was as a swampy burial place for lepers in the Middle Ages, and St James’s Park was a zoo under James I in the early 1600s.
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Walthamstow Marshes: Hackney to Walthamstow
Distance and difficulty 13.75km; easy–moderate
Minimum duration 3hr 15min
Hackney and Walthamstow are both vibrant and densely populated boroughs. But if you think these two areas are all grit and no green spaces, you’re in for a big surprise.
This route cuts a green slice from Hackney Central to the heart of Walthamstow, linking three waterways – the Regent’s Canal, Hertford Union Canal and River Lee Navigation – and taking you to the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and through the sweeping open spaces of the Hackney and Walthamstow marshes.
The walk is bookended by two hugely contrasting markets: genteel “farmers’ style” Broadway Market, on Saturdays, where you can grab a coffee and put together an excellent picnic for the walk, and the sensory overload that is Walthamstow Market (Tues–Sat), Europe’s longest, with a continuous colourful kilometre of stalls piled high with cheap clothes and homeware.
Walthamstow village even provides a secluded pub for a post-walk pint: the inviting Nag’s Head. With flat terrain and no stiles, this is a good option for bikes and prams.
Guildford and the North Downs: Guildford to Compton and back
Distance and difficulty 9.75km; moderate
Minimum duration 2hr 20min
This circular route takes you from the leafy fringes of the handsome county town of Guildford, through gentle North Downs countryside to the village of Compton. Here you can see the Arts and Crafts Watts Gallery. Dedicated to the work of G.F. Watts, it’s a wonderful showcase for his paintings and sculpture, and has the advantage of an appealing tearoom, housed in what was the building’s pottery.
This tiny village is also home to the Watts Chapel, its interior designed by Watts’ wife Mary in a unique fusion of the homespun and the visionary. From Compton, the route loops through Loseley Park and the hamlet of Littleton, back to the edge of Guildford.
The Pilgrims’ Way: Charing to Chilham and Canterbury
Distance and difficulty day one: 17.5km; day two: 11.5km; moderate
Minimum duration: two days
This two-day walk covers a particularly attractive stretch of the Pilgrims’ Way, and takes you to the goal of the pilgrims – the magnificent cathedral itself. The walk begins at Charing in Kent, leading through lovely woods and farmland to Chilham, an idyllic village where you can stay overnight, before continuing on to Canterbury the next day. You can do either day of this walk on its own, but the most rewarding day in terms of landscape is the first.
This is fine, abundant countryside, especially appealing in April – when Chaucer set his tales and when the fruit trees are covered in blossom – or in late summer and early autumn, when you can scrump for apples and pears.