The benefits of a good wintry country walk cannot be overstated. You get the feel-good glow that comes from making a start on those various grumpily-made New Year’s resolutions about getting fitter or losing weight. And it’s amazing how seeing a proper horizon and reaching out to Mother Nature in the teeth of winter can help put things in perspective.
What makes a great winter walk? Well, panoramas are key, solid paths underfoot are helpful, and the promise of some warm comfort (whether a pub or a tea room) at beginning and end is essential – you’ll find them all here.
The walks are all set within the amazing countryside of the South Western Railway region, and are easily accessible from one of our stations. They range from lost in the wilderness to the heart of the town, and they are all fabulous in their own way.
1 muddy boot - flat for the most part, creature comforts available all along the route, but still amazing.
2 muddy boots - the odd stile to climb, the occasional hill.
3 muddy boots - many stiles, muddy paths and decent hills but it’s still a walk, not a hike.
The River Walk
Putney to Kew: Thames Riverside
Best for: Boats, bridges and bananas
Muddy Boot: 1
Distance: 6 miles
From Putney station walk down the high street and turn right to get to the Thames. Once you get there, head left. There’s a path on either side of the river most of the way, so when you come across a bridge you can cross, if you wish, and enjoy the well-loved landmarks as you wander along what is essentially the course of The Boat Race. You’ll spot Fulham’s home ground, Craven Cottage; the unexpected rurality of the London Wetland Centre; the suspended wonder of Hammersmith Bridge; the splendidly named Chiswick Eyot and the Leg O’ Mutton (the first an island, the second a disused reservoir also known as the Lonsdale Road Reservoir); Duke’s Meadow; Barnes Railway Bridge; Chiswick Bridge; then Kew Railway Bridge; Oliver’s Island (named after a legend that Oliver Cromwell once hid out there). Eventually you’ll get to Kew Bridge with a station on the north side, but there’s also Kew Gardens just here, a perfect place to continue your walk with a treetop stroll and a gander at the banana plant in the Palm House.
Guildford Station Circular
Best for: Amazing views, woodland, the river
Muddy boot: 3
Distance: 4.5 miles
There’s a station at each end of this walk too… and both your arrival and departure points are Guildford Station. Leave the station and make for Guildford Castle on the east of town. From here, after a play around at the castle, head back to Castle Street and on to Pewley Hill… a steep walk through Guildford’s sleepy suburbs that leads to Pewley Down. At the down, head straight on through and take in the amazing views of the valley and the woods. Go east along the track and then, as you join the path in Chantry Wood, turn west and head back through the woods. Eventually, you’ll come to Shepherds Way which will lead to Shalford Park and a path back to Guildford via the river. This is a beautiful route that shows you everything that Guildford and its surrounding countryside has to offer. And with regular trains from Waterloo, it won’t be the last time you come here for a wander.
The Royal Walkabout
Windsor & Eton Riverside to ‘The Copper Horse’: The Long Walk
Best for Salutes, statues and stately homes
Muddy Boot: 1
Distance: 6 Miles (there and back)
It’s more of a promenade this one, but it does take in the majestic Windsor Castle and the Great Windsor Park, and is one of those walks that could easily be expanded into a whole day out if you feel like it. Arriving in Windsor, head for the Castle which you’ll glimpse between the buildings. Keep an eye out for the ‘Long Walk’ information signs, follow them, and you’ll be on your way before you know it. The Long Walk itself is a tree-lined avenue that stretches for 2-and-a-half miles and makes for the most excellent amble (the trees are Horse Chestnut on the inside and London Plane on the outer). At the far end is ‘The Copper Horse’, in actual fact a statue of George III. Commissioned by his son, George IV – who detested his father. It bears the ironic inscription “the best of fathers”, but only in latin, of course. This regal meander is suitable for all types of walker, especially as bicycles and motor vehicles are banned. Once you get to the horse you can either turn back, or press on to any of the Great Park’s many other attractions.
The Coastal Walk
Weymouth: The Rodwell Trail
Best for: Beaches, battlements and bluster
Muddy Boot 2
Distance: As far as you like, up to 16 miles there and back
As you cross the car park over the road from Weymouth Station – the Rodwell Trail gets more interesting, even breathtaking, rapidly. The easiest way to navigate is to locate Park Street opposite the station and walk down it until you come to a car park on your right. Cross it diagonally and you’ll find yourself coming out by the lake. Cross Westham Road bridge with the marina on your right, turn right and you’ll see cycle path signs ahead of you. You’re heading for Portland and you’re now on the Rodwell Trail. You’re actually following the bed of the old Weymouth to Portland railway, now turned into a green route that links with the National Cycle Network.
From here the walk really opens out. A brisk walk of two-and-a-half miles with stunning coastal views takes you to world-famous Chesil Beach, beyond that lies Portland and Henry VIII’s castle to discover, and there’s even a stretch to take you up to Easton for those who love a good, long walk before turning back for home. There are info points all along the way to illuminate your stroll with fascinating local history. So fill your (walking) boots!
Watch Julia Bradbury walking the Rodwell Trail (in summer, cheat!)
The Canal Walk
Bath Spa to Bradford on Avon: Canal Walk
Best for: Ducks, puddles and pints
Muddy Boot: 2
Distance: 10 miles
To begin go out the back (south) entrance of the train station, cross the footbridge and turn left to pick up the canal. Once you’ve found the canal you’ll stay on it the whole way, with only two roads to be crossed as it wanders through Georgian Bath at the beginning.The canal-side path then takes you through some of the loveliest rolling green countryside you can imagine. Highlights include the Dundas and Avoncliff aqueducts where the canal crosses the River Avon below, leading to spectacular views along the Limpley Stoke valley. You’ll spot a heron or two as you walk, and there are plenty of refreshment points along the way: The George pub at Bathampton is a favourite spot for a rest, as is the Cross Guns at Avoncliff. There are tea rooms aplenty, including at least two actually on narrowboats. Watch out for keen cyclists – sometimes they can fly along at quite a pace.
Best of all, when you get to Bradford on Avon there’s a train station to take you back to Bath Spa or on to your own destination. If you’d rather cut the walk short you can drop out two-thirds of the way along, at Freshford, and get on the train there.
What are your favourite walks in the SWR region? Do let us know.