Easy-to-reach adventures from London, Manchester, Edinburgh and the East Midlands
London – Take the 10am train from Liverpool Street for a breath of fresh air
8am: Your alarm goes off. It’s Saturday. You’re looking at another long day in the city; what’s it to be? Hunting down a table at a gastro-pub in Greenwich? Pushing through the crowds in Oxford Street? No thanks.
Living in a city as big and sprawling as London, it’s hard to think past Hyde Park when you’re gasping for an escape from city life. Especially when you only have a day to spare and no car to hand. Surely any train journey will set you back 50 quid and dump you at a station in the centre of another busy metropolis? Not always! Our transport system might not be great, but there are more than a sprinkling of easy-to-reach adventures out there. Our pick from London: Dedham Vale.
Rural England: just a quick train ride from central London | Photo courtesy of visitessex.com
9.45 am: Arrive at Liverpool Street. Buy ticket. Check the notice board and head to platform 10. Pick a window seat. At 10am the trains pulls out of the station, and spend the next 55 minutes hypnotized as the urban landscape slowly turns into countryside before your eyes. At 10.55, the train pulls into Manningtree Station. Disembark.
In less than an hour you’ll have travelled from the largest city in western Europe to the smallest town in England. But that’s not why you’ve come here. Manningtree station also acts as a gateway to Dedham Vale – an area on the Essex-Sussex Border made famous by John Constable’s paintings. And the best bit is there’s no need for a taxi, you can walk straight into the countryside from the station platform.
Follow footpath signs to Flatford. This is the first part of a seven-mile loop that will take you back to Manningtree for your train home, passing through marshlands, along river beds and across farmlands. After two miles you’ll arrive in Flatford, the olde-worlde hamlet which is home to Flatford Mill (art fans will know the name from Constable’s work) and the historic Bridge Cottage. The latter has a museum on Constable’s art and a National Trust tea room.
Row the Stour on your quick escape from London
Now head down Tunnel Lane and turn into the footpath at the top. This leads across riverside fields and tree-lined paths to Dedham. This is another quintessential village, lined with cottages and enticing pubs. Our pick for lunch is the Boathouse on the banks of the River Stour, serving up hearty dishes like wild mushroom risotto and fish spaghettini. They also hire out rowing boats so, if the weather allows, you can explore the waterways.
When you’re done in Dedham, follow the footpath just after Dedham Hall. The path loops back to Flatford via water meadows and fairytale landscapes. Then it’s back to the station the way you came, where your chariot back to city life awaits you.
Trains from London Liverpool Street Station to Manningtree leave roughly every 30 minutes and cost £26.90 for a standard adult return. They take between 55 minutes and 1 hour 10 minutes. The return hike to Dedham is seven miles (the hike to Flatford is four miles return). Boats can be hired from the Boathouse restaurant in Dedham for £7 per 30 minutes
Manchester – Pedal your way into the Pennines
Manchester’s a sporting mecca second only to London’s Olympic Park. It’s home to two of the biggest football clubs in the country, an ‘Aquatics Centre’ and a cycling velodrome. Yes, for £12 you can ride round the banked track for an hour.
But cool as that is, one of the best things about Manchester is how well-placed it is for escaping into the hills and mountains of the North West and beyond. Look west and with an hour and a half’s driving you’ll be on the edge of Snowdonia. Head north and, in even less time, you’ll be in the Lake District.
For this escape though, we’re sending you towards the spine of the country: the legendary Pennine Way, whose southern terminus is east of Manchester.
The Pennine Way starts just east of Manchester | photo David Hughes/Fotolia.com
You could take the train or bus it from Piccadilly station to Edale and be on the Pennine Way within an hour. But, a better option is to fit panniers and join the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) as it passes through south Manchester, until it crosses the Pennine Way, 22 miles to the east.
The TPT opened in 2001 and runs from Southport on the Irish Sea, north of Liverpool, for 207 miles to Hornsea on the North Sea coast.
Join the TPT in Didsbury, head east through Stockport, up to Hadfield on the west edge of the Pennines. You then pedal up alongside a series of reservoirs until you reach the Torside Reservoir where the TPT meets the Pennine Way.
You’ve missed out the first 16 miles or so of the Pennine Way, including Kinder Scout and Snake Pass, but you’ve pedalled from your front door onto a marked trail. Not bad.
From there you either head north and nail the remaining 250 miles of Pennine Way to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland, or plough onwards to the North Sea. There is another option, of course. Stop for lunch and a beer and peg it back to Manchester. That is the point after all: that you’re never far from adventure in this city, even when it’s back to work next day.
If you’re on foot, catch the train from Manchester to Edale in Derbyshire, which is half a mile from the Pennine Way trailhead. Trains leave Manchester Piccadilly every two hours at quarter to the hour, arriving 45 minutes later.
East Midlands – Mountain biking for all
Okay, so we’re cheating a bit here. But in a good way. Because Sherwood Pines Forest Park is within an hour’s drive of not one, not two, but five UK cities. Boom! Easily reached from Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Lincoln, Sheffield and all the towns in between, this is an ideal escape from the urban sprawl of the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, with 1000 acres of forests riddled with bike paths, bridleways and walks.
Sherwood Pines is riddled with bike paths | Photo Visit Britain / Daniel Bosworth
If you’re with the kids, there are wildlife walks and high rope courses. And the biking options are endless, with everything from family-friendly paths to wild and technical routes. The single-track network comprises of 45 miles of technical offroad riding.
A highlight is the 13km long Kitchener trail, a twisty-turny red XC trail which is challenging without being packed full of steeps.
Sherwood Pines Forest Park is 45 minutes from Nottingham and Lincoln, and an hour from Leicester, Derby and Sheffield, and is located on the B6030 east of Kings Clipstone. Alternatively, the Number 14 & 15 buses from Mansfield pass it every half an hour
Edinburgh – Urban hills
As a city with an extinct volcano in its boundaries, it should come as no surprise that Edinburgh’s hinterland holds even more geological wonders.
Take the Pentland hills; lying just south of the city, they’re easily reached by a number of local bus routes, and consist of 22,000 acres of glacial-carved hills, packed with 100km of walking trails, plus endless cycling routes and horse-riding.
Just a hop, skip and 40 minute bus ride from downtown Edinburgh | Photo Brendan Howard/fotolia.com
For a day’s hiking in the hills, take the bus to Flotterstone. Head to the path to the left of the Rangers centre. This is the start of a 605m ascent to Scald Law, the Pentland’s highest hill at 1,900ft, taking in the summits of White Craigs Heads and Carnethy hill on the way, and providing wide-reaching views of the hills, Edinburgh and beyond.
It loops down to Loganlea reservoir, before joining the road back to Flotterstone, where you can catch the bus back in time for dinner on the Royal Mile.
The 101 or 102 bus to Flotterstone takes around 40 minutes from Edinburgh bus station, and runs hourly. You can also drive and park at the Ranger Centre which marks the start of the walk.