The sun is coming out and the weather is warming up here in London, and G and I are more than ready for it! We got our hiking shoes out recently and took our very first trek of the year, and it really reminded us of how much we enjoy getting outdoors and exploring outside the city.
Day trips from London are some of our favourite weekend activities and you’ll usually find us hitting the trails at least one day a week. We had so many great experiences last summer, we thought we’d share our top 3 favourite hikes close to London so you can start planning on getting outdoors this spring/summer too!
1.Mole Gap Trail
Length: 10 miles
Duration: 4-5 hours
This hike starts in Leatherhead, a 45-minute train ride from London (you can catch a train at Waterloo Station or Victoria Station), and meanders along River Mole before ending in Dorking. What’s unique, and fun, about this trail is that it starts out as a sort of treasure hunt where you follow silver arrows until you reach the trail. However, these can be located anywhere, from the sidewalk, to the walls, to being partially hidden by plants or trees, so you’ve got to have a sharp eye!
To start your hunt, exit Leatherhead station and take a right. You should find a park at the end of the block and you’ll want to cross the park, angling left. You should see a sort of sculpture/work of art directly in your path.
At the foot of the sculpture is your first silver arrow! These dot the town, pointing you in the direction you should be going in order to hit the Mole Gap Trail. Some of these are a bit hard to find, but it was a lot of fun searching for them as it made us feel like we were on a scavenger hunt!
Once you get on the trail it’s pretty straight-forward. At one point in the hike you will find that the path deviates into two. On the right it will enter a woody area, and on the left it will go past some farms and horse corrals. Both paths will lead you to Dorking, but if you take a left you’ll have a chance to pop into a pub for a drink. Going left also means a shorter walk to Dorking.
It’s not a true British hike unless you stop in to a local tavern to wet your whistle, right? Once you get closer to Dorking make sure to detour to The Running Horses pub. It’s a popular place, but it serves great food (both vegetarian and non) and has a varied selection of local beers on tap. It’s also a relaxing joint for getting out of the sun and celebrating the near-completion of your hike!
If you continue down the road a little past The Running Horses, you should find the entrance to Denbies Wine Estate. Entry is free, so go ahead and wander in past the rows of grapevines and inside where you can sample and buy some local wine. Denbies is famous for its white wine as, an employee explained to us, the local weather isn’t good for red. You’re close to Dorking station (another 15-17 minute walk) at this point, so go ahead and buy a bottle before continuing on your way!
2.Chess Valley Trail
Length: 8.5 miles
Time: 3-4 hours
If you’re looking for something a little more lowkey with absolutely gorgeous scenery, then you should try one of our all time favourite hikes: the Chess Valley Trail! This circular hike begins and ends at Chorleywood underground station and is probably the least strenuous of the three mentioned here.
Once you exit Chorleywood Station, look across the street. You should see a set of stairs leading up to a parking lot. Climb those stairs and walk through the parking lot, angling to the right. This should lead you out onto a road with pubs and houses on one side and a large lawn on the other. Turn left. You should be walking with the buildings on your left and the green on your right. This path kind of edges to the right a bit, but if you follow it you’ll find Chorleywood House Estate. Enter the Estate and continue straight ahead. You’ll find yourself on a path that eventually forks, the Chess Valley Trail is on the right.
While there are markers along the trail directing you where to go, we discovered that there’s quite a few trails that intersect at times which can make staying on the correct one a little tricky. Just make sure that you’re always following the arrows marked “Chess Valley Walk” and you should be okay. But don’t be afraid of getting lost either. This area has some of the most stunning English countryside we’ve seen yet and it’s a lot of fun to meander along.
Just a heads up: you should happen upon a river pretty early on in your hike, but if you’ve been walking for an hour and haven’t hit a river it might mean you’re on the wrong path. Be sure to keep Google Maps handy in case this happens.
Finish your hike by treating yourself to a sandwich and a pint at Chorleywood’s local pub, The Rose and Crown. This sits opposite the Chorleywood Common and is a great place to replenish all the energy you used up on your hike. We loved the hearty local fare!
3. Hastings Circular Walk
Length: 6 miles
Duration: 2-3 hours
Not only does the Hastings Circular Walk offer plenty of diverse scenery, you’ll literally feel like you’ve stepped into another world (or onto the set for Jurassic Park)! This coastal walk is lots of fun to do and most of it takes places on an elevated trail so you get stunning sea views too. Hastings is the farthest-flung of all the hikes we’ve mentioned here—it takes around 1 hour & 45 minutes on the train from London Bridge.
Once you arrive, there’s some fun activities to do in Hastings (which turns out is a pretty popular place) and one of them is Hastings Castle, an 11th century ruin with loads of history behind it. But if you’d rather head straight to the trail just ask at the train station for directions to the funicular. This is one way to get up and down from where the trail begins and will cost you £3.00 for a return ticket. If you’re feeling up for a challenge, how about climbing the 100+ steps to the top instead?
The entryway for these stairs are down a narrow alley just before you hit the funicular station. So, if you’re walking toward the funicular with it on your left, the stairs should be on your left just before. If you have trouble finding them don’t be shy about asking around, we discovered that people are quite friendly and ready to lend a hand.
There’s nothing too confusing about this trail as it’s clearly marked and easy to follow. Take note that at times there might be detours as parts of the trail can become dangerous due to their proximity to the cliffside overlooking the ocean. In these cases there will still be plenty of signs directing you where to go, so it’s hard to get lost!
Hastings is a bit more touristy than what we’re used to experiencing for our hikes so you won’t be at a loss to find places to eat and drink in this busy town. If you like fish, fish and chips are a big deal here and they’ll be served in a paper cone that you can take on the go. There’s tons of pubs around and you can’t go wrong with any of them, so pop in to a few to celebrate climbing all those stairs and completing the hike!
Do you enjoy hiking? What are some of your favourite trails?