Walking with the ancients
To the west of London, in Buckinghamshire, lies an 540 acres of ancient woodland which is – intriguingly – managed and owned by the City of London, about 25 miles away.
It’s called Burnham Beeches, and was secured for the recreation of Londoners in 1880.
For over 130 years, Londoners and locals have been enjoying this beautiful, serene woodland teeming with natural wonders.
The area has been used for many films, including Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and the Princess Bride.
Here you’ll find gnarled, ancient trees…
…including the Druid’s Oak, reported to be “at least 800 years old”
“…the first thing you notice is the stillness. Crackling branches and crushed leaves underfoot are at times the only things that break that unreal silence, other times it is the whispering, the murmuring which builds in the deep dark places.”
– In The Chime Hours; Burnham Beeches The Whispering Woods
Its ancient connections have given the area a somewhat ‘mysterious’ reputation. Infamous conspiracy theorist David Icke claimed that Burnham Beeches was where his contact witnessed British Prime Minister Ted Heath shapeshift into a reptilian during a ritual in the early 1970s! [source]
The reserve is a haven for wildlife.
…Including a great variety of fungi:
…and of course, the pollard trees provide a home for many creatures, birds and insects:
Walking in Burnham Beeches
“I can’t think that Burnham Beeches won’t suit everyone. It’s a brilliant place to come with dogs, kids, bikes, balls and extended families. Romantic couples can ooh and ahh at the water’s edge and snog behind the trees. Exhausted parents can tank up on caffeine and let their kids roam free. Ramblers can walk for hours in the 375 hectares and not get bored.”
– Muddy Stilettos: A beautiful walk in Burnham Beeches
- City of London: Burnham Beeches maps and trails (1 to 5 miles)
- Beeches Way: Saturday Walkers’ Club (17 miles: can be split into 2 shorter walks)
- Time Out Book of Country Walks: Book 1 Walk 40 Gerrards Cross to Cookham (9.6 miles)
Getting to Burnham Beeches
By public transport you can take a train from Marylebone to Beaconsfield OR from Paddington to Slough (both about 30 minutes). Then catch a bus to Farnham Common (this takes about 15 minutes from Beaconsfield, or 30 minutes from Slough).
City of London Burnham Beeches official website: getting to us
By car, it’s about 50 minutes drive from central London, according to the AA journey planner.
“Autumn is possibly the best time to visit, so I just about got in with time to spare. Lovely scrunchy beech leaves underfoot, with a scattering of nuts (and mud) beneath, form a matted carpet of brown. So long as you’ve not come in your best trainers, it’s a delight. The main access is from the east, a short walk from the long village of Farnham Common, where a large car park awaits more Bucks-style visitors.”
– Diamond Geezer, Beyond London 10 (South Bucks)
“We visited another new place today for a family walk – Burnham Beeches. What a great woods this is for families. There was so much to keep Little Miss A’s interest. I can’t believe we were out for 3 hours!”
– Mummy on a Budget: Family Walk at Burnham Beeches
If you’ve got an urge to hug a tree, this is the place to go:
Estuaries, Islands and Industry
Ever been walking around the Essex Estuaries?
The Essex Estuaries is a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC), particularly due to its open coast mudflats and sandbanks.
The SAC stretches from Wivenhoe, down around the Essex coast round East and West Mersea, to Southend-on-Sea / Leigh-on-Sea, where there is also some great walking in the nearby country parks and on the islands.
From London Liverpool Street you can catch a train to:
- Wivenhoe (1 hr 15)
- Clacton-on-Sea (1 hr 30)
- North Fambridge (55 minutes)
- Burnham-on-Crouch (1 hr 6)
And from Fenchurch Street you can catch a train to:
- Leigh on Sea (47 minutes)
- Benfleet (43 minutes)
Here are some of the main highlights of the Essex Estuaries and Coast:
1. Hadleigh Country Park and Two Tree Island
Reached from Leigh-on-Sea, a short walk takes you to Hadleigh Country Park and the distinctive castle (some say it’s haunted).
“We arrived at the Castle just as it was getting dark and found a spot below the fortress a bit out of the way. It almost goes without saying that this is a very atmospheric and cool place to have an overnight adventure. I personally also loved the view over the estuary, the refineries on Canvey Island and even the Kent coast.”– Jason Webber, Microadventure at Hadleigh Castle
Nearby Two Tree Island, a 640 acre nature reserve, can easily be visited on a walk to Hadleigh.
- Hadleigh Castle & Chalkwell Oaze (5.5 miles)
- Saturday Walkers’ Club: Hadleigh Castle Country Park (3.5 miles)
2. River Crouch
From Burnham-on-Crouch, North Fambridge or South Woodham Ferrers you can explore the tidal River Crouch.
This is definitely one for you if you like peace and quiet; most walkers report seeing nobody on their visit.
“To my left are marshes, covered in uniform green vegetation. They stretch almost as far as the eye can see. Beyond is a small sliver of shining sea and the distant glimpse of an occasional big cargo ship. To my right is a grassy track running parallel to the sea bank, then a watery culvert and then farmland – flat and featureless. I see nobody.”
– Ruth’s Coastal Walk: Tillingham Marshes to Burnham on Crouch
“We labour up the lower and upper slopes of The Cliff and from the crest, looking west, Essex stretches flatly in the direction from which we have travelled. We can see perhaps – who knows – as far as Billericay? Even Warley? To the south, the glamorous skyline of the Southend Megapolis exudes all manner of promise.”
– The Essex Coast: North Fambridge to Burnham on Crouch
3. Colne Estuary & Wivenhoe
“The Colne Valley is the Stour’s quieter, less illustrious cousin. You won’t find coach parties here unless the satnav’s faulty. You will find dreamy villages of half-timbered tearooms and tottering 18th-century cottages painted pink, baby blue and cream, as if Barbara Cartland’s been let loose with the Dulux.”
– Guardian Let’s Move to the Colne
- Wivenhoe Trail (5 miles)
- Essex Walks: Wivenhoe circular (3 miles)
- Time Out Book of Country Walks, Volume 1 Walk 30: Wivenhoe Circular (9.2 miles)
4. Canvey Island
Canvey Island is just south of Hadleigh Country Park, accessed from Benfleet station.
A walk around it is an intriguing mix of coastal beauty, sea defences, and heavy industry.
“…the best thing of all is always the quality of light. The Thames estuary is a very special place, especially in the afternoon and evening; I don’t have words to describe it, but it never disappoints.”
– Peter Cameron: A Walk around Canvey Island
“Just past the Yacht Club on the eastern end of Canvey and you can walk out onto the salt marsh and follow a ‘footpath’ to Canvey Point, the most easterly point… Not knowing the tide tables, I turned back at the warning barrier. There is a fine view east to Southend Pier and the river looks huge as it meets the North Sea. It was also the first point on my journey that smelt like the seaside, a distinctly salty tang in the air.”
– More Ambler than Rambler: Walking the Essex Coast: Canvey Island
5. Broomway & Foulness
The Broomway is a notorious tidal path along the Maplin sands to Foulness and is one of the most dangerous paths in Britain.
The path used to be marked with large posts (‘brooms’) but now can only be followed by a compass reading.
As the path disappears under the tide, which rushes in extremely fast, the route is incredibly dangerous and it had caught out many a walker with tragic consequences.
“…the experience of the walk was quite like nothing else I have experienced in this country. A huge sky, the vastness and unchanging nature of the environment around us, the trudge through the wet sand which could get somewhat hard going, as well as the sense that this was slightly on the edge, and the sad knowledge that many had perished out here.”
– Ramblers, Paul Carter: The most perilous path
“Yes, it was undoubtedly dangerous, and parts of it more dangerous than others, full of unexploded bombs and forbidding command towers. The shifting sea and the land bore little correlation to one another. The striking thing though was its unearthly beauty, particularly later in the day when the tide went fully out. The sky and sea mirrored one another, and the people walking were also mirrored. When we first looked over the rise, people were exercising their dogs on the shimmering surface, and it seemed as though they were walking on water.”
– Helen Callaghan: The most dangerous road in Britain
10 Must See London Walking Maps
Here are ten of the best and most interesting maps to help you get the most of walking in and around London.
1. London’s Walking Routes (Transport for London)
This is a great place to start: this map immediately gives you a great visual idea of how the major walking trails fit together across London.
You can click through to get detailed maps for any of the specific trails too.
2. Walker’s Tube Map (Londonist)
Londonist have come up with a fantastic twist on the major walking trails and created a Walker’s Tube Map, which shows 13 of the most prominent walking routes in a familiar tube map style.
This is particularly great for seeing how the various routes interlink.
Not only that but they’ve created a great intro video explaining major routes, too.
3. Walking Times Between Tube Stations (Transport for London)
Prompted by various unofficial versions over the years, TfL finally produced their own map showing walking times between tube stations.
“A TfL spokeswoman said: ‘What we have seen is that people are desperate for this sort of thing, so we have created it. We focused on central London, zones 1 and 2, and based the times on our journey planner.’ [Evening Standard]
4. Calories burned walking between tube stations (Treated)
“It probably isn’t news to most people, especially to those who live in the capital, that strike action recently resulted in some sections of the London Underground temporarily closing… It was when the demonstration was in full swing that we started to wonder how many calories someone might burn if, for instance, they decided to swap certain legs of their journey for a walking commute.” [Treated: Get Fit with our calorie busting tube map]
5. When it’s quicker to walk between tube stations (Rodcorp)
“For some journeys it’s really not worth getting on the tube: it takes a long time, and costs you money. Sometimes it’s quicker and easier to walk… One of the very few weaknesses of the standard tube map is that its distortion of geography (a very successful attempt to present the different stations and lines more clearly) sometimes means that it’s not clear when the tube trip is unnecessary… But here’s a slightly altered map showing which stations are an arbitrary and as-the-crow-flies 500 metres apart from each other (there are many more stations 600, 700+ metres from each other” [RodCorp: London Tube Map with Walklines: sometimes it’s quicker to walk]
6. London’s Green Spaces & Parks (Greater London National Park City)
A beautiful map showing just how green London is: great to see how the various walking routes visit the green spaces, or just to get ideas. Click through, save the image and then zoom in to see the detail.
“Londoners share a very long and proud tradition of protecting and enjoying our natural and cultural heritage. Friends of parks, town planners, the Royal Family, the Corporation of London, the Greater London Authority, conservationists, councils, government departments, developers, builders, charities, campaigners, allotment keepers and generations of millions of gardeners – all continue to contribute to making our capital one of the greenest cities in the world for its size.” [Greater London National Park City Campaign]
7. Waterways Sound Map (I M Rawes / London Sound Survey)
A fantastic and fun representation of London’s rivers and waterways in its own right, but click through and you can actually listen to recordings from each ‘stop’ on the waterway.
“An auditory tribute to Harry Beck’s Underground map, the skeleton which has long lent shape to the city in the minds of Londoners. Here sounds were collected from along London’s canals and lesser rivers.” [Sound Survey]
8. Topographic map of London (Topographic-map.com)
You want hills? Want high ground? This map will show you where it is.
9. Mount London ‘Peaks’ (Tom Chivers & Martin Kratz)
A map showing the ‘peaks’ written about in the book Mount London: Ascents in the Vertical City.
Not necessarily all green spaces, these are an interesting mixture of London high places, hills and viewpoints.
Click on a pin and you can read a snippet from the book!
10. Walking the Tube Lines – GPS logs (London Photo Project)
This map shows the GPS logs from walking the tube lines above ground. You can click through to see the individual tube line maps – it’s a fascinating insight into what walking the tube lines is like above ground.
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