Active breaks near London
Spend some time outdoors with our guide to activity getaways
Get outdoors with Time Out's guide to active weekend breaks including flying in a hot-air balloon, hiking on the South Downs and husky racing in Gloucestershire.
Dorking: cycle the Olympic road-race route
Where to go: Dorking, Surrey.
How to get there: Cycle the 43 miles from central London to Dorking. For a shorter bike ride take the train from Waterloo to Woking or Guildford (both 50 minutes) and cycle the six miles to Dorking.
Pedal the route of the London 2012 cycling road race before the competitors do (although the Paralympic cycling will take place in Kent). The course runs from The Mall via Fulham and Putney to Richmond Park, then through up-river suburbs to Weybridge, before heading south down the Wey Valley and over the North Downs into the gorgeous Surrey Hills. Most of the route is on A or B roads, and it’s 43 miles in its entirety, which might be a bit ambitious for a novice cyclist who plans to take plenty of breaks for refreshments and photography.
You can easily divide the route into manageable portions by taking the train for part of the way. If you begin at The Mall, Putney Bridge (4.8 miles) is the first of six crossings of the Thames. Richmond Park and Richmond Bridge (10.5 miles) are photogenic; enjoy a pit stop at Palladian Marble Hill House in Twickenham. The formal straights and fountains of Bushey Park are another worthwhile photo opportunity, but the riverside run to Weybridge, which begins at the southern foot of Hampton Court Bridge (15.3 miles), is more suburban. On Weybridge Heath the route passes close to Brooklands Museum (22 miles), a fascinating collection of bikes, aeroplanes, cars and motorcycles.
The Byfleet bypass – over the River Wey – is dull: divert through the village on the old road. The route becomes countrified across the flat valley of the Wey; from here, the Wey Navigation towpath can take you via Guildford to Godalming, the south-west extremity of Surrey. There’s a short stretch on the main Epsom-Guildford Road before you turn off near Hatchlands Park at East Clandon to climb gradually on to the North Downs. If you’ve got any energy left once you reach Dorking, make sure you cycle to the top of Box Hill for the sublime views.
Where to eat and drink: The Seven Stars in Ripley is a real country pub and a well-situated rest stop. The Portsmouth Road provides other options.
Where to stay: Spend a well-deserved night bedding down at The Talbot, a stylishly updated eighteenth-century coaching inn in Ripley. Reward all that exercise with a flute of fizz or pint of real ale on the outdoor terrace and something hearty from the modern British restaurant (booking recommended). Doubles start from £49. The Talbot Inn, High St, Ripley, Surrey, GU23 6BB (01483 225188).
For more information on great bike rides from London, pre-order Time Out’s ‘Cycle London’ guide. It is published on July 27 at £12.99.
Bath: hot-air ballooning
Where to go: Bath, Somerset.
How to get there: 1 hour 25 minutes train, Paddington to Bath.
Drift serenely over Bath in a hot-air balloon admiring the Somerset countryside and the city’s Georgian architecture – the townhouses and the famous Royal Crescent look like toytown from up high. Ballooning company First Flight (01934 852875) take a maximum of eight passengers per trip, so there’s plenty of room in the basket to take photos and admire the scenery. Once you touch down from your hour-long excursion, an ice-cold glass of Champagne will be waiting for you to toast your flight. Champagne flights from £120 per person.
Where to stay: Having clocked a choice des res or two from up high, why not stay the night in one? The Queensberry is a boutique hotel occupying three eighteenth-century townhouses, run by Laurence and Helen Beere. Rooms are plush with comfy beds, lots of pillows, big TVs and DAB radios. The hotel’s Olive Tree restaurant is excellent. Doubles start from £130 excluding breakfast. The Queensberry Hotel, Russel Street, Bath, BA1 2QF (01225 447928).
Where to go: Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.
How to get there: 2 hour 20 minutes train, Paddington to Ashchurch, then a 10 minute car journey to Tewkesbury.
Experience the thrill of husky racing just a couple of hours from London at Croft Farm near the River Avon with Arctic Quest. On the two-hour Full Musher Experience (£65 per person) you’ll learn to drive a team of four dogs and take part in a time trial to test your skill and nerve.
Where to stay: Croft Farm offers traditional tipis where you can cook your dinner on the campfire before snuggling down among the hides and furs on a comfy bed. You’ll feel as though you’re in Alaska – minus the snow. Hopefully. A luxury tipi for two is £65 per night; basic tipi – sleeping up to ten – is £20 per person per night. Arctic Quest, Croft Farm, Tewksbury, Gloucestershire (07968 794758).
The Chilterns: bramble bashing
Where to go: The Chilterns.
How to get there: 45 minutes by train, Marylebone to Saunderton.
Join Matt and his sheepdog Bella for a working holiday on the Bradenham Estate in the Chilterns. You’ll spend the days protecting the chalk grasslands by cutting down and burning encroaching scrub; refreshments are provided and in the evenings you can indulge in the attentions of the resident reflexologist for a post-work massage (additional fee). A National Trust Working Holiday on October 21-23 is £58; a longer working holiday takes place on Nov 12-19 2011 (£110). Accommodation (included in cost of holiday) is in basic bunkhouses.
Hiking the South Downs Way
Where to go: The South Downs Way National Trail.
How to get there: 51 minutes by train, Waterloo to Haslemere, then a taxi or No 70 or 71 bus to Midhurst.
The South Downs Way National Trail is a 100-mile route from Winchester to Eastbourne. It’ll take six to nine days to walk on foot, though it’s also open to horse riders and cyclists. Walking short sections makes sense for many Londoners – a great short break easily accessible by public transport from the capital. The seven-and-a-half miles from South Harting (near Petersfield) to Cocking is a particularly pretty stretch; it’s pleasantly pastoral, passing through woodland and over sheep-covered rolling hills. The official website has useful info on planning your trip, including a handy interactive public transport links map – click on ‘Planning a trip’ then ‘Transport’ to get to it.
Where to stay: Accommodation wise, Midhurst is a charming West Sussex market town close to the Way (take the No 90 or the X72 bus to South Harting or the No 60 bus to Cocking). The recently refurbed Angel Hotel oozes history – Queen Liz I stayed here (so legend has it). Rooms are plush and the restaurant’s delicious fare will set you up for a day’s walking on the hills. Doubles start from £130 (two-night minimum for bookings including a Saturday). The Angel Hotel, North Street, Midhurst, West Sussex GU29 9DN (01730 812421).