There are some benefits to the seasons turning and the weather cooling down: waking up every day to a window-pane canvas of crimson treetops and dusting off your winter coat like an old friend.
But really, the best thing about autumn is a bracing walk followed by a goblet of red wine in a country pub. OK, forget the walks — the best thing about autumn is warming wine in the pub. But it tastes all the sweeter after some physical toil and a mild case of windburn.
Here are some of the best country walks (ending in the pub) within about an hour of London. Chin chin.
The Chess Valley, Hertfordshire
The Chess Valley, in the Chiltern Hills, is easily accessible from Chorleywood station on the Metropolitan line, making it very convenient, particularly if you’re a north or west Londoner.
There are several guided walks to choose from but we recommend strolling to the picturesque village of Chenies, all in all lasting about five kilometres. The walk follows the burbling River Chess and snakes through bluebell woods that are still magical on autumn mornings. End in the chocolate-box village of Chenies, whose Tudor-style cottages have featured in several film and TV series, including The Crown and A Little Chaos, directed by the late Alan Rickman.
Post-walk pub: The Bedford Arms has everything you want from a country pub, with a pretty 18th-century red-brick exterior and a large rose garden with lots of seating. It also has all the usual crowd-pleasers on the menu, like roast beef and loin of pork, as well as more modern fare, like charred chilli and cumin-spiced romanesco steak, and rocket pesto with a crunchy seed crumble.
Get the train from London to Ramsgate and walk along the Thanet Coastal Path to trendy Margate for a tipple of chilled organic red wine before hopping on the afternoon train back to London.
You can walk along the cliff tops from Ramsgate through Charles Dickens’s favourite holiday spot of Broadstairs and stop off for a cream tea in a chintz tea house before heading onto Margate, or opt for the beach path for some health-giving sea air - you may even spot a fossil along the way on Botany Bay beach.
Post-walk pub: You’re spoilt for choice with great boozers in Margate, but one of the undisputed best is the George and Heart, on King Street. The cosy 18th-century coaching inn has been transformed by owners Kelly Love and Dan Williams and is famous for their gigantic Yorkshire puddings, homemade pale ale, and crumbles. For something less traditional, head to Bottega Caruso, a tiny family-run, Italian restaurant described by writer Grace Dent as “heroically wondrous”. The pork shoulder, nduja and roasted-pepper ragu with freshly made pasta is worth foregoing any roast.
Osterley Park, west London
Just 17 minutes on the Piccadilly line from Hammersmith, this walk is seriously convenient for inner-city dwellers or, for those like me, without a driver’s licence.
Follow the signs for Osterley Park from Osterley Underground and, within moments, the asphalt of suburban London melts away to fields and manicured flower gardens.
For a spot of culture, head into Osterley House, a grand Georgian estate built in the 1570s by banker Sir Thomas Gresham and restored in the Nineties by the National Trust. For a longer walk, leave the park and head north towards Tentelow woodland, where you can follow the canal until it opens up into the river Brent.
Post-walk pub: For a slice of history, head to The Plough, on Tentelow Lane. This olde worlde pub dates back to 1349 and was originally built to provide a drinking spot for the craftsmen building medieval St Mary’s church, on Norwood Green.
Beckenham Place Park, SE London
Start at Ravensbourne station, which is just a 33-minute train ride from London Bridge to reach Beckenham Place Park, a sprawling oasis of greenery in south-east London.
The park is home to 98 hectares of manicured lawns and ancient woodland, home to centuries-old ash trees, pedunculate oaks, and wild cherry trees. If you’re lucky, at this time of year you could stumble upon gooseberries, redcurrants, and blackcurrants ripe for the picking along the path.
Head to the lake in the middle of the park for a bracing dip to clear the weekend cobwebs or merely skim a few pebbles before warming up with a flat white at the Georgian-era Mansion House café.
Post-walk pub: Unlike other parts of London, where pubs are shutting left, right, and centre, in south-east London, you can barely move for pubs. Forest Hill is a short stroll from Beckenham Place Park and home to a plethora of cosy pubs with delicious gastronomic offerings, like The Signal, which is conveniently next to the station.
Head further afield and you will come to The Herne Tavern, on the corner of Peckham Rye, which has a sprawling garden and has crucially partnered with Yard Sale Pizza.
Bedgebury National Pinetum Forest, Kent
Just over an hour from Charing Cross is Goudhurst, where you will find Bedgebury pinetum tucked away on a country lane nine minutes’ walk from the station, a protected arboretum set in ancient woodland.
For the uninitiated, an arboretum is a botanical garden for trees and at Bedgebury you will find the world’s largest collection of conifers. The pinetum was established in the 1850s and later purchased by Kew Gardens as the west London air was too polluted to grow pines, it is now home to miles of walking trails perfumed by the fresh, sweet smell of pine cones.
If you feel yourself beginning to flag, wander down to the lake in the middle of the forest for a slice of homemade cake at the Bedgebury café.
If you drive there, it is £10 per car Monday to Friday, and £14 at weekends and during holidays.
Post-walk pub: One of the prettiest pubs on the outskirts of Bedgebury, in the village of Ticehurst, is The Bell Inn pub. The Bell, as it’s referred to by locals, was built in 1560 and is practically pulsating with period charm; picture roaring fireplaces big enough for Father Christmas to climb out of, comfy leather armchairs, low-hanging beams and bouquets of wildflowers adorning the tables.
Tring Park and the Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
Take the train from London Euston to the historic market town of Tring, the well-heeled seat of the Rothschild banking family, who owned the Christopher Wren-designed Tring Park Mansion.
From the village, there are ample routes catering to all walking appetites — for something a little shorter, take a civilised turn around Tring Park or, if you’re looking to beat your step-count record, then make your way to the Ashridge Estate, which has 5,000 acres of land. The estate’s 17-mile boundary trail weaves in and out of bucolic woodland, bluebell meadows, and crosses Britain’s “oldest road”, The Ridgeway.
Post-walk pub: Located in the chocolate-box hamlet of Piccotts End, on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead, The Marchmont Arms is conveniently located close to the station for an easy escape home. The pub’s interiors marry modern furnishings with marble countertops and statement lighting with airy Georgian architecture. It also has an ample garden perfect for furry companions.
Although you’re still on the Thames, Marlow feels as far away from London as Timbuktu. Stroll along the Thames path and pass historic sights like the Grade 1 listed Marlow Bridge, designed by William Tierney Clark and later used as the blueprint for a structure he built to connect Hungary’s capital, Buda and Pest.
Along this route, you will pass undulating meadows, Georgian houses, and an above-average flock of ducks. Follow the path for four-and-a-half miles to reach Cookham, immortalised in the paintings of artist Stanley Spencer.
Post-walk pub: For seriously refined pub grub, stop at Tom Kerridge’s The Hand & Flowers, the first and only pub to be awarded two Michelin stars. This isn’t Kerridge’s only Marlow institution, however — his other pub, The Coach, is just down the road and has one Michelin star, with food at very reasonable prices. Order the rotisserie poussin with pork stuffing and you may just weep with joy.