Aye me, it’s been quite a summer. Now 15 weeks in fact, since a a handful of adventurous chumlings and I set out to sleep wild in each and every county surrounding London. Even though we’ve managed to get a whopping 76 Londonites away from their desks and out to the hills (in the middle of the week no less), I’m feeling a little greedy. And it’s high-time I shared the love.
So here’s a few tips on how to go about creating a little adventure to escape the big smoke.
Oh OS maps, how I heart thee. Buy them, borrow them, sniff them (just me? My, this is awkward….) Sprawl them out on the table of a weekend morning, fix yourself a gargantuan mug of tea and… stare. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Lakes, rivers, streams and hilltops will appear before your eyes. Usually “Where the heck is that?!” or “I had no idea…” is a good jumping off point for any adventure.
When it comes to hills… East facing slopes for a great sunrise, West facing if you’ll be heading up with a picnic for sunset. If you can find a ridgeline with a little of both, then happy days. Hills overlooking towns are a personal favourite too. Gazing down on the sprawl of suburbia, knowing that you’ve swapped a microwave meal for a Microadventure just seems to do something extra-wonderful for the soul.
Woodlands are also… incredible in the springtime. Did you know that we have some of the best Bluebell woods in the UK, within an hour of London? There’s glow-worms to be marvelled at, and bunnies and badgers a-plenty. Plus, if there’s a chance of rain (when is there not a chance of rain?) having woodland close by is handy for the cover.
Although not as good as OS, Google Maps are undeniably useful. Switch to ‘terrain’ mode to spy hills, or overlay the satellite view to check for trees and cover. Google’s Pegman, or ‘Eric’ as he is affectionately known (to me) is also great for taking a poke around before you visit, helping to spot tricky turn offs to hidden tracks.
It’s lunchtime at work and you’re taking a well earned ‘Google’ break. A blank search bar is open. Blink. Blink. Blink, goes the cursor. Where do you start?
- ’Best views in [insert county]’
- ‘Best walks in [insert county]’
- ‘Highest point in [insert county]’
- ‘Lakes/rivers in [insert county]’
That’ll set you off in the right direction. Sometimes even ‘most romantic spots’ can turn up some gems too. Saucy.
Slope Hunter is one of the best kept secrets for finding hilltops to sleep on. This site describes and rates the hills around the South East of the UK. It let’s you know how to get there, who owns the land and what the ‘lift’ is like, should you wish to launch a small plane (who doesn’t these days?). To the person who took the time to create this site: Thank you, thank you and thank you again. You are an inspiration to slope hunters everywhere.
Then of course there are the times when I don’t do any of the above. When I’m on my own, with just one other or I plain decided I’d go adventurin’ 30 minutes before I left the office. Head somewhere that you think may have hills or a field, and just.. roll with it. This method is 100% acceptable and sometimes even more rewarding.
WHAT TO TAKE
This list has absolutely everything you need, including advice on a Bivvy to suit your budget.
I will just add: Travel pillow. There’s a big pillow/no pillow debate among wild campers. I ruddy love the thing. Take my Thermarest pillow away and a little piece of my soul dies. The choice is yours.
PLACES TO GET YOU STARTED
These are the Microadventure spots we’ve found over the past 4 months. The train journeys are no more than 1hr 5 minutes away from a Central London station and cost between £20 and £32 return.
Hilltops-a-plenty with 180 degree views of the surrounding countryside. All trains go from London Marylebone or Paddington and take between 50 mins and 1 hour:
- Tring: Walk up to Ivinghoe Beacon for a sunset picnic (1 hr), then retreat back to somewhere in the treeline for a camp.
- Princes Risborough: Head onto The Ridgeway and up to White Leaf Hill (45 mins), or continue for a longer walk to Pulpit Wood (80 mins). Fantastic views down onto surrounding suburbia.
- Wendover: Walk for 30 minutes to the top of Coombe hill. Great views and an ever better monument.
- Henley: Pub it up at The Little Angel, then follow the Chilterns way footpath (starts behind the pub) across the fields into Remenham Woods. Watch the sun rise over the adjacent poppy fields in the morning and cannonball into the river on the way back into town.
- Leigh-on-sea: Train from Fenchurch Street (50 mins). Nice secluded spots on the South-East slope below Hadleigh castle. Great for watching the twinkle of distant city lights and trains going into and out of London.
- St Martha’s Hill: Train from London waterloo to Guilford (55 mins). Find and follow the North Downs Way for an hour to the top of St Martha’s Hill. If you fancy a shorter walk, get the train to Chilworth instead. Great for a sunset picnic and views over the South Downs.
- Newlands Corner: Train from London waterloo to Guilford (55 mins). Follow a path that runs North of, and adjacent to the one to St Martha’s Hill. 3 miles from the station to Newlands corner.
- Dorking: Train from London Waterloo to Dorking (1 hr). From there you can take a path to Denbies hillside, or continue on to The White Downs (via ‘God’s Seat’ for a great view). Look out for the gloworms in the woods at Denbies.
- East Clandon: Ride a bike out for dinner at The Queens Head Pub. Pedal on for ten minutes to the top of Staple lane. As you crest the hill, take the public footpath to the right, across the field and into some woods. Great for a sunrise over a very distant City of London in the morning.
You can read about the Surrey and Essex Microadventures here
- Uffington, The White Horse: Not for the time-challenged. A location that offers incredible views over Oxfordshire. 90 minutes in a car out of London. Check out this video from when we took a trip there.
- Lewknor: Take the Oxford Tube from London Victoria and get off at the Lewknor stop (45 mins), by the M40. Walk for 50 mins up to Watlington hill.
- Eysnford: A train from London Victoria (45 mins) or a 90 min cycle from town. Fill your face at The Plough Inn pub, and take a walk to the Roman ruins for a camp in the fields behind. Get in an early morning dip in the river on your way back to the station.
- It is of course possible to sleep out in the confines of the city walls. One week we did just that – you can read all about it here.
Even more ideas
- Colley Hill (Reigate), Thurnham Castle Hill (Kent), Devils Punch Bowl (Hinhead)
- As always, Al Humphreys has some great suggestions here too
AIN’T NO WRONGS OR RIGHTS
Lastly and most importantly, remember that there really are no rules to this game.
Find yourself a beautiful hilltop, with a section flat enough to sleep on, tree cover in case of rain, a clear 180 degree view of the sunset/sunrise and a river to take a dip in in the morning, then you have found Microadventure nirvana.
But really, it doesn’t matter a jot. What matters is that you’re out there, slowing life down, gazing at stars, indulging in the lost art of conversation and getting to know your very own country, just that little better.
Here’s a video that sums the fun we’ve had over the past 4 months, in 3 minutes 24 seconds.
McNuff Out xx