London Countryway

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 descriptions

Note numbers in brackets refer to the original running order of the sections: see below.
  1. Gravesend to Sole Street, 9.5 km (17b) Description ¦ Commentary
    Gravesend to Sole Street Original route via Nash Street 9.5 km (17b) ¦  Description ¦ Commentary
  2. Sole Street to Borough Green 18 km (18) Description ¦ Commentary
  3. Borough Green to Riverhill and Sevenoaks 14.4 km (19a) Description ¦ Commentary
  4. Riverhill to Hurst Green or Oxted 21.5 km (19b/20) Description ¦ Commentary
  5. Hurst Green or Oxted to Merstham 17km (21) Description ¦ Commentary
  6. Merstham to Dorking or Boxhill & Westhumble 17.5 km (22) Description ¦ Commentary
  7. Dorking or Boxhill & Westhumble to Horsley 17 km (1) Description ¦ Commentary
  8. Horsley to West Byfleet 15.5 km (2) Description ¦ Commentary
  9. West Byfleet to Sunningdale 15 km (3) Description ¦ Commentary
  10. Sunningdale to Windsor 15.6 km (4) Description ¦ Commentary
  11. Windsor to Marlow 23 km (5) Description ¦ Commentary
  12. Marlow to West Wycombe and High Wycombe 19.5 km (6) Description ¦ Commentary
  13. West Wycombe to Great Missenden 14 km (7) Description ¦ Commentary
  14. Great Missenden to Ashley Green and Berkhamsted 17.5 km (8) Description ¦ Commentary
  15. Ashley Green to Kings Langley 15 km (9) Description ¦ Commentary
  16. Kings Langley to St Albans 12 km (10) Description ¦ Commentary
  17. 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
  18. Welham Green to Broxbourne 20 km (12) Description ¦ Commentary
  19. Broxbourne to Epping 21.5 km (13) Description | Commentary
    Broxbourne to Theydon Bois 1981 alternative 20 km (13) Description ¦ Commentary
  20. Epping to Brentwood 23 km (14/15a) Description | Commentary
    Theydon Bois to Brentwood 1981 alternative 22.5 km (14/15a) Description ¦ Commentary
  21. Brentwood to West Horndon 9 km (15b) Description ¦ Commentary
  22. 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
View the route on Google Maps


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.


22 comments:

Jeffers15 said...

This is great stuff Des. I was out walking today and thinking that London needed a circular route outside the M25 and now (with some help from LDWA member Dave Williams) I've found it. Being based in the South East I have done most of the southern bits in the guise of other long distance paths but everything from Horsely would be new and exciting. I will consult my walking chums.

Regards

Jeff Lock

Des de Moor said...

You're very welcome, Jeff. Hope you enjoy the route. Please get in touch if you find any problem with the descriptions. Des

Julian Glover said...

Hi Des

having just completed and blogged about the London LOOP, I've just be recommended the London Countryway by a reader and come across your site.

Looks like a very interesting walk, so I'll take a more in-depth view of the pages at a later date, but I'm so glad to find you have provided this resource. Thanks!

Cheers

Jules

Des de Moor said...

Thanks Jules. Hope you find the pages useful. I've done things the other way round and am now in the midst of covering the Loop. Happy walking!

Thom Aikman said...

Des. Normally follow you for beer postings in London. Now pleased to have found your London Countryway route. Have done the Loop and Ring twice so looking for another long distance route closer to home. Just back from walking in Picos de Europa, so now have project to take me up to end of year.
Thom

Des de Moor said...

Thanks, Thom. Hope it's useful -- let me know how you get on! The Countryway is more of a challenge than the Loop and the Ring, very much a country route, with some surprisingly stiff climbs in the North Downs and Chilterns. Need to rewalk it myself at some point but still writing up the Loop, which I've just completed for the third time.

Thom Aikman said...

I will start from Windsor next week, my nearest start point. Ease of access overrides the desire to start at Gravesend. Eventually, nicer to end the final leg at Windsor than Gravesend. The main issue will be the cost of a lot of single tickets to the various start and from the end points. I am well used to the Chilterns and the Downs environment. I will feedback any navigation issues, if that's OK.

Des de Moor said...

Enjoy it Thom. Personally I loved finishing at Gravesend, there's just something about the Thames estuary and the two forts and the ferry ride are a treat, but it's not to everyone's taste. Yep the tickets thing is a pain, although there are sometimes ways round it -- bear in mind that walk up return tickets are valid via "any reasonable route" and you can break your journey. For example between Gravesend and Sole Street a return to Rochester would almost certainly be cheaper than two singles.

Thom Aikman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thom Aikman said...

Hi Des
Yesterday, I completed the London Countryway at Windsor Bridge. I finally met my objective of looping London 3 times (incl Loop and Ring for a second time) this year. Ultimately, I used the M25 to get round the route and used buses/tubes/trains to get back to my start point.

In the end an hugely enjoyable adventure, boosted with some fine autumnal weather. This did cause plenty of navigation issues in wooded and forested areas with a deep carpet of leaves covering paths.

Generally, I used your notes and the googlemap route to guide me, with some support from my online OS mapping. There were some minor typos in the notes which became apparent soon enough. I did take some time to get used to your concise writing style. As expected the landscape in places has changed since your started writing in 2009. Some road walking was now on quite busy roads. All's well in the end though and I followed your stages as described.

I loved the walking in the Chilterns, Thames Valley and North Downs. Less so, areas such as Herts and Essex, where there was too much walking across and around ploughed fields. one of the downside of walking the route in autumn.

Thanks again reviving the route and the time and effort in writing the notes.

Highly enjoyable

Plans for next year is walking the Wainwright Coast to Coast in June.


Thom Aikman

Thom Aikman said...

Des
Just a note regarding the Horsley - West Byfleet section
<< Go past a stile along a track between hedges (Wharf Lane), crossing
a footbridge over the Wey and, a few paces further, reaching a T-junction with the
towpath of the River Wey Navigation. European Path E2 joins here from the left.>>

The footbridge sadly no longer exists. There is a detour which I missed before I reached the river Wey and the missing bridge. A council official notice at the river states that there is neither funds nor easy access to replace it. However, there is a white bridge to the right on private golf course land which crosses the river and gets back on route. The note advises you not to trespass on private land.

Dick Bowman said...

Also making my way round - using your notes to plot a route onto OS maps. What's gratifying is how there seems to be something unexpected on every stage, and the variety (started at Gravesend, reached Windsor).

Finding this much more interesting than London Loop.

Thanks for the effort put into the route descriptions.

Des de Moor said...

Thanks for the update Thom. I've also done some googling and note this is a known problem. Have you reported it to the Ramblers via ramblers.org.uk? I'm sure they know about it already but the more people are on the case, the better. I'll add a note to the commentary.

Glad you're enjoying the walk, Dick. I wouldn't say the Countryway is either better or worse than the Loop, just different. Inevitably as it's further out, it's much more rural. But the Countryway also has its constant surprises, as I've been rediscovering in walking it for the third time and then writing it up in detail elsewhere on these pages.

Three Points of the Compass said...

Des
just wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for your work in both championing the London Countryway and your excellent research. I completed the trail a few days ago and very much enjoyed my time on it. Thoroughly recommended.
cheers- https://threepointsofthecompass.com/2016/12/30/the-london-countryway-confronted/

Des de Moor said...

Thanks Three Points -- glad you've found my work useful. Will read the blog!

Graham McKerrow said...

I've just done three stages starting at Gravesend and - once out of that town - it's a delight so thanks, Des, for reviving this route and for the fascinating commentary - including your opinions which are very refreshing in a Rambling context. It's a joy following the route as Spring unfolds and I look forward to the rest taking one day per week over the coming months.

Des de Moor said...

Thanks for that, Graham, I'm glad you're finding the posts helpful -- and that you're finding my opinions refreshing rather than irritating! Enjoy the walk.

Les said...

Hi
Many thanks for this route I am now trying to walk it as a 'farewell to London' since we are retiring back to Cornwall. I will have to walk some long days if I am to complete. Mostly using GPX for this.
Regards to all
Les

Des de Moor said...

Thanks Les, hope you enjoy it. I don't think I could ever retire from London though! Des

Strawberryyog said...

Hi Des. We corresponded some time ago you'd finished this project. I'm delighted to find it all done now, thank you.

I just wanted to check that you knew there's a damaged link on this main page. In "Links to route commentaries and descriptions", for your item "8. Horsley to West Byfleet 15.5 km (2)" the Commentary link should go to

http://desdemoor.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/london-countryway-2-horsley-west-byfleet.html

- but in this one case has the "-byfleet" missing. Hope this helps!

Des de Moor said...

Thanks for spotting this Strawberryyog. Now fixed.

Strawberryyog said...

Great, many thanks Des.