|Between Waltham Abbey and Wellington Hill, with Epping Forest in the distance: actually one of the closest points to central London on the London Countryway.|
The London Countryway is a 350 km orbital walking trail around London. The route never actually enters Greater London but runs through the countryside of neighbouring counties. The surroundings are hugely varied, ranging from dead flat fens to rugged chalk hills, rich in cultural and heritage interest and an outstanding showcase for London's protected green belt. The trail is easily walked as a series of day walks from London using public transport.
The route includes:
- Three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Chilterns, Kent Downs, Surrey Hills)
- Two National Nature Reserves (Broxbourne Woods, Chobham Common)
- Two Community Forests (Thames Chase, Watling Chase)
- A Regional Park (Lee Valley)
- Two contrasting stretches of the river Thames (Maidenhead and Tilbury)
- Three historic canals (Basingstoke Canal, Lee Navigation, Wey Navigation) and the New River
- Windsor Great Park and Castle
- The National Trust village of West Wycombe
- Roman Verulamium
- Epping Forest
- ...and numerous other lesser known but fascinating green spaces, nature reserves and heritage sites
Links to route commentaries and descriptionsNote numbers in brackets refer to the original running order of the sections: see below.
- Gravesend to Sole Street, 9.5 km (17b) Description ¦ Commentary
Gravesend to Sole Street Original route via Wrotham Road 8.8 km (17b) ¦ Description ¦ Commentary
- Sole Street to Borough Green 18 km (18) Description ¦ Commentary
- Borough Green to Riverhill and Sevenoaks 14.4 km (19a) Description ¦ Commentary
- Riverhill to Hurst Green or Oxted 21.5 km (19b/20) Description ¦ Commentary
- Hurst Green or Oxted to Merstham 17km (21) Description ¦ Commentary
- Merstham to Dorking or Boxhill & Westhumble 17.5 km (22) Description ¦ Commentary
- Dorking or Boxhill & Westhumble to Horsley 17 km (1) Description ¦ Commentary
- Horsley to West Byfleet 15.5 km (2) Description ¦ Commentary
- West Byfleet to Sunningdale 15 km (3) Description ¦ Commentary
- Sunningdale to Windsor 15.6 km (4) Description ¦ Commentary
- Windsor to Marlow 23 km (5) Description ¦ Commentary
- Marlow to West Wycombe and High Wycombe 19.5 km (6) Description ¦ Commentary
- West Wycombe to Great Missenden 14 km (7) Description ¦ Commentary
- Great Missenden to Ashley Green and Berkhamsted 17.5 km (8) Description ¦ Commentary
- Ashley Green to Kings Langley 15 km (9) Description ¦ Commentary
- Kings Langley to St Albans 12 km (10) Description ¦ Commentary
- St Albans to Welham Green 19 km (11) Description ¦ Commentary
St Albans to Welham Green alternative route via Alban Way 12 km (11a)
Description ¦ Commentary
- Welham Green to Broxbourne 20 km (12) Description ¦ Commentary
- Broxbourne to Epping 21.5 km (13) Description | Commentary
Broxbourne to Theydon Bois 1981 alternative 20 km (13) Description ¦ Commentary
- Epping to Brentwood 23 km (14/15a) Description | Commentary
Theydon Bois to Brentwood 1981 alternative 22.5 km (14/15a) Description ¦ Commentary
- Brentwood to West Horndon 9 km (15b) Description ¦ Commentary
- West Horndon to Gravesend 25 km (16/17a) Description ¦ Commentary
West Horndon to Gravesend alternative route via Tilbury Town 18.5 km (16/17a) | Description | Commentary
More about the route
Starting on the south bank of the Thames in the east at Gravesend, the trail runs clockwise via Sevenoaks, Reigate, Dorking, Woking, Windsor and parallel to the Thames again to cross it at Marlow. It continues via West Wycombe, St Albans, Broxbourne and Brentwood to Tilbury where it completes the circuit using the ferry to Gravesend.
The Countryway passes through five shire counties -- Kent, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex -- plus Windsor and Maidenhead unitary authority in the former county of Berkshire and Thurrock unitary authority, formerly in Essex.
The trail approaches as close as 300 m to the Greater London boundary at Harrow Bridge near Bulphan, and runs as far as 22 km distant from it at West Wycombe. At its closest point to central London at Waltham Abbey it runs 21 km from Charing Cross as the crow flies; at its furthest point at West Wycombe, 49.5 km.
The route crosses or uses sections of numerous other trails including European Path E2, the North Downs Way and Thames Path National Trails, Saxon Shore Way, Wealdway, Greensand Way, Vanguard Way, Three Castles Path, Chiltern Way, South Bucks Way, Hertfordshire Way, Watling Chase Trail, New River Path, Lea Valley Path and Forest Way. Some of these and other trails link it to the London Loop and the Walk London strategic network: at Waltham Abbey it's only around 2 km from the Loop.
The trail is designed so it can be walked easily as a series of day walks using public transport. It's divided into 22 sections, most around 15-20 km. Nearly all these start or finish at or within easy walking distance of stations with frequent (at least hourly) direct rail services to central London terminals, or in a couple of cases with good connecting services. Three stations are further away from trailheads, with a choice of walking or catching reasonably frequent local buses, though these may not run, or run infrequently, on Sundays. It's usually possible to split sections into shorter lengths using additional rail and bus connections.
The London Countryway is an unofficial trail that isn't signed in its own right but uses existing paths and access. It was originally devised in the late 1970s by Keith Chesterton, who published a guidebook in 1979. The second and so far most recent edition of this appeared in 1981 and is long out of print, so the Countyway is something of a lost London orbital route, predating the London Loop by almost two decades.
This site contains what to the best of my knowledge is the first complete guide to the route published for well over 30 years. It largely follows the route as described in the 1981 guidebook, with many of the paths much improved since that book was published. I've made occasional diversions, sometimes out of necessity but more often out of preference or to explore paths and access that are new or improved in the intervening years. The main differences are:
- Chesterton describes the route as starting and finishing at Box Hill near Dorking but for reasons explained in the text I have chosen to start and finish at Gravesend (as the route is circular you could choose to start and finish at any point).
- Chesterton's route follows main roads through Gravesend and Brentwood. I've worked out more interesting alternatives using back streets and green spaces, including a much improved route from Gravesend to Sole Street via the new Jeskyns woodland and the village of Cobham.
- The section starting at St Albans originally finished at Brookmans Park. A path towards the end of this section has since been diverted so I found it more convenient to finish instead at Welham Green, a station on the same line opened since the book was published.
- The original route ran via Epping but the second edition of the guide in 1981 diverts the route via Theydon Bois to avoid construction works on the M25 motorway. As these have long since been completed, I've restored the route via Epping as the recommended choice, but also described the Theydon Bois alternative.
- I've changed the start and finish points of some sections to avoid now-difficult transport connections and to align to the changed start point.
- Where sections finish at bus stops, I've given detailed descriptions of alternative walking routes to the nearest station.