When people think of walking in London they’re more likely to think of the 9,000 untimely deaths to pollution every year or dodging traffic on busy roads.
This doesn’t always have to be the case.
Did you know that just under half the area encircled by the M25 is classed as green space?
That means you’re not always inhaling diesel fumes as you stroll around the Capital.
The green spaces indeed are one of the major draws to the eight million people who live there.
Where it comes to health, medical experts agree that if you’re pushing yourself with exercise this offsets the problem of inhaling microscopic soot particles and nasties like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Essentially those who are dying early are those who do not or cannot get the exercise they need to deal with the muck in the air.
If you’re fit and healthy – perhaps on a mission to walk our 10 best long distance walks in London over a year or so – then the worst problem you might face is flooding from climate change as a result of that pollution, not suffocating from the muck you’ve inhaled from walking.
Saying that, unlike some of the hill and mountain walking we cover, you won’t get much silence!
One of the great advantages of these 10 walks is that where it comes to a multi-day adventure, perhaps spending 12 days on the London Loop, you can hop on public transport and sleep in your own bed every night.
Need we say that ‘wilderness camping’ in these instances is ill advised?
Far too many people have to wilderness camp in the Capital out of necessity rather than choice and their lives are far from easy.
Anyway, from the 14 day Thames Path to the day long Wandle Walk, let’s have a look at the 10 best long distance walks in London.
These six walks can be done over a series of weekends or during a staycation where largely refuelling and public transport are going to be your expenses.
As ever we start with a walk that isn’t purely in the area we say!
The Thames Path is a National Trail running from the source of the river under an old ash tree in Wiltshire right into Central London.
Old Father Thames has a mythos of his own, bringing life (and death) to the Capital.
This walk is one way of fully appreciating him from sweet tasting source to less than healthy mouth!
Though in terms of sheer mileage to be covered every day, day in, day out for two weeks this is a tough slog, overall this isn’t going to get you mountain fit as it is largely flat.
Much of the walk has been adapted for people of all mobilities, and the legs of the journey are designed to coincide with train stations or bus routes.
If you are thinking of sleeping in your own bed every night you could face some long days but there are several B&Bs, hotels and so forth along the walk.
A mostly flat route, this starts at Erith Station south of the river at the eastern edge of London and heads clockwise all the way to Purfleet just north of the river and close to where you started.
Divided into 24 sections, a fit person should manage this in 12 days or fewer with two legs of seven to eight miles per day.
If you are planning to do a decent long distance walk in the countryside later in the year this should help you with your stamina from the routine of eat, sleep, walk, repeat getting into your legs.
That said, the outer edges of London are interesting and this is not a case of slogging out the miles for the sake of it.
There will be times every day when you want to pause and see the world around your walk.
There are several country parks you will pass through where locals go to take their air as well as pubs, memorials and sights like Nonsuch Park where King Henry VIII used to hunt, as well as the Grand Union Canal.
You can also go home one night from Cockfosters Tube station, a stop you may have seen on Tube stations but we bet you’ve never been to!
For those who want to get to grips with the story of the Capital ancient and modern, this will be worth your two working weeks to yourself!
Capital Ring Walk
If the London Loop is the M25 of walks then the Capital Ring Walk is the North and South Circular of walks.
Neither of these two walks are anything as polluted as the roads we compare them to – don’t worry there!
The Capital Ring Walk indeed, is designed to take you through a number of London’s parks and green spaces, where the pollution is minimised thanks to the trees and greenery scrubbing the air for you.
Among the sights and spaces you will take in include Eltham Palace, the Olympic Park, Richmond Park and Walthamstow Marshes.
Oxleas Wood is one of those places where you could easily forget you are in one of the world’s major capitals as you wander across grassland and past dense copses.
London isn’t on a flat plain. When you hit north-west London you will get some pressure on your legs with some steep hills and views in reward.
Each one of the 15 stages is close to public transport, and you will find yourself able to head home each day without putting too many zones on your Oyster Card.
This is a linear route where you will explore some of the best parkland in London over a six day sojourn.
You can do it over three weekends or take holiday time doing it – your choice!
As with the Transport for London managed routes above, the stages are designed to coincide with public transport links, enabling you to head home to your bed/hotel every evening with minimum fuss.
According to the author of the route, it “passes through Royal Parks of Bushy Park, Richmond Park, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James Park, and Greenwich Park as well as Hampton Court Park, Holland Park, Victoria Park and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.”
You will also find that this passes all the London venues of the 2012 Olympic Games, enabling you to see the engineering and architecture behind London’s two weeks in the global sporting spotlight.
You will have to dodge traffic at times – this isn’t the Peak District – but for that you will be able to get great gulps of tree-freshened air as you explore this fascinating route.
Lea Valley Walk
The River Lea is one of London’s other great rivers, feeding the Thames in East London but whose source is just north of Luton.
Some of the walks we cover in the 10 Best series need a bit of research.
This is one of them should you be planning a full assault on the whole walk.
Its route has been changed several times thanks to things like the Olympic Park being put in the way, as well as a number of other developments.
That said you will find a walk that starts in rolling countryside and ends in industrial port-land.
Much of the river has been ‘canalised’, which is to say dredged and set up so boats can travel miles up the river from its mouth to north of the M25.
Limehouse is no saintly borough but these days Luton has a bit of a bad reputation.
As you will soon discover, Luton is quite a charming if misunderstood town that largely has a bad reputation due to white racists.
After you’ve passed through you get down to Hertford where the river has been set up for river transport all the way to its mouth.
You will see the Olympic Park as you end your four day adventure – a rewarding one where you’ll appreciate London and its satellite towns at their finest.
In the 1970’s the Greater London Council took steps to protect some of London’s green spaces.
The Green Chain passes through South London and is an area that has similar protection to Green Belt land thanks to local authority planning regulations.
In many ways, the 300+ green spaces close to the heart of the Capital are the lungs of the city, and you can enjoy this beautiful if disjointed walk across London over as much or as little time as you choose.
You may find a spot or two that you’ll come back to for years to come!
This is no circular or linear walk but one of interlinked routes.
You could find yourself doing two legs a day but you can’t manage three plus thanks to the ends of the second stages often being a few miles from the beginning of the next stage!
You will cross playing fields, dodge golf balls on golf courses (remember to listen for the shout “Four!” as it means a ball’s on its way!) pass through woodlands and encounter the silence of cemeteries as you go.
For that you get to take in some of the nicest and quietest spots of London over your journey, however long it takes.
The next four walks in this section should be doable in a day, whether hitting the road at dawn on a summer’s morning or for the shorter ones, after breakfast for a late dinner and a nice lunch as you go.
This is a 60km tour of London, with each kilometre marking a year of Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 2012.
It was formally opened by Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace.
The route takes in all the London Olympic venues (? Sigh! London has done more than that!) and is designed for you to appreciate much of the Capital in a decent day’s walk.
If you’re country-folk who have just turned up in London for a change of pace to your career and income then this might be a nice walk to ease off the tensions while getting to know your home.
Equally if you have some country-folk friends who want to ‘do London’ then send them off for the day!
You can cycle this too – do be aware of this if you’re walking as London’s cyclists sometimes think they’re on the Tour de France…
New River Path
In the late 1500s, Londoners needed water that didn’t come from the polluted Old Father Thames. This is why, in 1613 the New River aqueduct was opened.
It’s not a river and for much of this walk you won’t see water unless it’s raining.
This is because the New River still quenches London’s thirst some 400 years since it was first conceived!
What you will do is follow the route from north of the M25 and down into Islington and New River Head.
You may have spotted that some of this walk takes in the Lea Valley.
While the water itself now travels through pipes, you will see much of the artificial channel leading from the source right down into the Smoke.
For those interested in ancient civil engineering this is sure to be a big hit – aqueducts are quite something, especially those that have effectively been running for four centuries…
This walking route is in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 1977 Silver Jubilee.
It is shorter and more compact than the Golden Jubilee walk we covered earlier.
Don’t worry – no Olympics in sight here!
You will get to see all of London’s classic attractions as you do this walk.
It is a series of loops so get ready to hop on one of London’s greatest yet understated attractions, the Tube as you do it.
For those who want to ‘get London done’ this is arguably the better of the two Jubilee walks as it covers times of London’s history that doesn’t just involve the greatest circus on earth.
Wandering the Wandle – the Wandle Trail
The River Wandle starts out as a chalk stream, one of the rare habitats that are peculiar only to the UK.
Unlike so many of the Thames central London tributaries, the Wandle has not been buried in concrete.
Around 1980 as with so much of London’s waterways it was biologically dead due to the muck the city put in it.
Thanks to conservation work, the river has recovered.
Celebrating that the Wandle Trail was mapped out.
The river actually starts at Waddon Ponds a few miles up the road from Croydon so the intrepid explorer might do some research and then write a controversial blog, perhaps called ‘The Real Wandle Trail’ or some such.
A final note? Cyclists are allowed to use this route and as such it forms one of the traffic free cycle routes from outer London to inner London – keep your ear out for horns and bells…
So there you have it – a variety of day and multi-day long walks in London.
Though these routes don’t cover every inch or indeed every quarter of the Capital, this article does cover some good leg stretchers.
If you have designs on a multi-day route in the Dales, Lake District or Wales for example, then within easy distance of your home you have some routes to start building up stamina.
You could of course just do them to see parts of London that your world may never take you to.
Isn’t it funny how small our worlds can be?
Diving onto a train and seeing this bubble of the world and then onto another bubble.
Doing a walk like the ones we’ve detailed could just give you some insight into how the conurbation works as a whole and show you some coherence to the biggest city in the UK.