For A Fortnight Away
NORTH DOWNS WAY
Running from Farnham in Surrey to the white cliffs of you-know-where in Kent, the 153-mile North Downs Way spans not just one but two AONBs – a pretty remarkable effort for a trail that’s so close to London. Like its sister in the South Downs, it follows a chain of gentle chalky hills, passing through ancient countryside to emerge on top of some magnificent coastal cliffs. An old pilgrimage route, the North Downs Way is a long one, but easily broken down into stages. As its name suggests, the Surrey Hills section is a little more challenging than the Kent Downs AONB, but the rewards of both are great.
Best For: Official Areas Of Natural Beauty
A few years back, Lonely Planet included the Thames Path in its 1,000 Ultimate Adventures and identified it as the second-best urban walk in the world (apparently only Rio de Janeiro’s has a better one). Starting at the river’s source in the Cotswolds, the 184-mile route follows the waterway through Oxford, Henley and Windsor then on into the capital, where it becomes a highlights reel of some of the city’s finest sights, taking you through maritime Greenwich and right out to the Thames Flood Barrier. Great transport links mean you don’t have to do the whole thing in one go – Henley is a decent stopping-off point if you’ve only got a week to spare and want to do either the big city section or retreat more quietly into the river’s more rural early stages.
Best For: World-class riverside rambling
For A Full-On Career Break
SOUTH WEST COAST PATH
At 630 miles, the South West Coast Path is England’s longest national trail, starting in Minehead, then passing through Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. Thanks to its beginnings as a path for the Coastguard to track smugglers in isolated coves, it stays faithful to the coast all the way to Poole Harbour. The average time to complete it end to end is around eight weeks, but if you’re a record-breaking ultra-runner you might be able to do it in around ten days. There are, of course, plenty of ways to break this monster up, including a 47-mile option from Clovelly to Tintagel known as the ‘Path of Legends’. Now schools have gone back, the south-west is quieter again and autumn is a good time to explore it.
Best For: Impressing your mates.