Country walks outside London

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    Pluckley circular, Kent

    Best for country pubsLength 11km (6.8 miles). Duration Three hours 30 minutes.Start Pluckley Station.Finish Pluckley or Ashford stations.Getting there Two trains per hour (one per hour on Sundays) go from Charing Cross to Pluckley (journey time: one hour 12-26 minutes). Trains return to London from Pluckley once every hour. The car park at Pluckley Station costs £2 per day on weekdays, but is free at weekends.Walk notes There’s a remote, away-from-it-all feeling to this short, gentle and quintessentially English walk in rural Kent from Pluckley Station. Passing small farms, oast houses, timber-framed houses, lush pastures, apple orchards and ancient oaks, it’s easy to see why HE Bates, whose house is passed in the idyllic hamlet of Little Chart Forstal, was inspired to create the country-loving Pop Larkin and family in his classic ‘The Darling Buds of May’. The route is almost entirely flat or with gentle gradients, but later gives you a surprising view out across the plains of the Low Weald. It is at its most ‘perfick’, as Pop Larkin would say, in the first two weeks in May, when the apple blossom is out. However, in summer there’s an abundance of wild flowers and gardens in full bloom, and in early autumn the orchards are heavy with fruit. At your journey’s end, the Dering Arms (01233 840 371; book in advance) beside Pluckley Station is a former hunting lodge turned award-winning pub specialising in seafood. To shorten the walk, you can stop at Little Chart for lunch at the Swan Inn (01233 840 702), then catch a bus from outside the pub to Ashford (phone 0345 696 996 for details). There are trains every half hour from Ashford to London.OS Landranger Map 189.OS Explorer Map 137.

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    Guildford to Chilworth, Surrey

    Best for lazybonesLength 6.4km (4 miles). Duration Two hours.Start Guildford Station.Finish Chilworth Station.Getting there Trains run several times an hour between London Waterloo and Guildford (journey time: from 38 minutes). If driving, park at Guildford Station and make your way back from Chilworth by bus or train. Walk notes The section of the North Downs that runs eastwards from Guildford is one of its most unspoilt stretches. The North Downs Way runs along its crest, but this walk takes a more varied route, introducing hidden valleys, ancient woodlands and pretty farmland just below the Downs. You could start by popping into Guildford Castle (www.guildford.gov.uk), climbing the tower and admiring the fine views over the town and Wey river valley. The walk starts with a short, steep climb out of Guildford that leads straight to the dramatic viewpoint of Pewley Down. A little ahead, you’ll come across a concrete plinth commemorating the purchase of Pewley Down in 1920 as a memorial to those who died in World War I, and from there you can enjoy fine views over the valley. Some benches immediately below the trigonometry point make a fine spot to stop and stare or enjoy a picnic. From here, the route leads through meadows and woods along a long path between hedges, bearing 120°, that slants downwards into the valley bottom until you are on the North Downs Way, which you now follow all the way to the church of St Martha-on-the-Hill, formerly a stop on the Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury, restored in the nineteenth century. From here the route passes through undulating farmland beneath the North Downs escarpment, following the ancient Pilgrim’s Way, but you’ll want to turn south towards Chilworth where you’ll be able to catch the train home or reward yourself with a pint of Greene King in the Percy Arms (01483 561765).
    OS Landranger Maps
    186 and 187.OS Explorer Map 145.

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    Alton circular, Hampshire

    Best for Jane Austen fansLength 21km (13.1 miles). Duration Six hours 30 minutes.Start and finish Alton Station.Getting there Two trains per hour run between London Waterloo and Alton (one hourly on Sundays; journey time: about one hour 10 minutes). Alton Station has a pay car park, which costs £3.60 a day. There is also a free car park near Kings Pond or you can park anywhere in the centre of Alton and walk to the station to start.Walk notes The quiet corner of Hampshire through which this walk passes seems like the kind of countryside in which nothing much has ever happened. Yet in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century it inspired two famous writers – the naturalist Gilbert White and Jane Austen. After a section over wide upland fields to East Worldham, the walk first plunges into the delightful arcadia of woods and hidden pastures that surround Selborne, about which White wrote ‘Natural History’. The Queens Hotel (01420 511 454/www.queens-selborne.co.uk) in Selbourne has garden seating, making it a great spot for lunch. From here the walk crosses the wooded Selborne Common and the gentle ridges of downland to Chawton, the home of Jane Austen for the last eight, and most productive, years of her life. On the way you can reflect on Austen’s remark in ‘Persuasion’ that two villages only three miles apart ‘will often include a total change of conversation, opinion and idea’. Though there’s only a short distance between them, even today Chawton and Selborne seem like different worlds. The walk is remarkably well served with buses, which enable you to shorten it in many ways; for example, to give yourself more time at Gilbert White’s House (The Wakes, High Street, Selborne/ 01420 511 275), where there is a teashop in an elegant eighteenth-century parlour, or Jane Austen’s House (Chawton/01420 83262/www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk). For bus schedules call 0845 121 0180.OS Landranger Map 186.OS Explorer Map 133.

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