Hampshire, Berkshire, Thames valley E of Oxford, Chilterns, Hertfordshire, London, and south of the Thames Estuary. Note though that the Icknield Way Path, which finishes in the Chilterns, is wholly described in my East pages.
Why walk here
Southern England is one of the most densely-populated places in Europe. London dominates of course, but there are any number of medium-sized towns, with infilling in between and lengthy patches of suburban sprawl. So it doesn’t sound too good for walkers.
But you would be wrong. Far-sighted post-war planners left ‘green belt’ space around not just London but many other towns as well, which even post-Thatcher free-market policies have not yet been fully able to dismantle, though the present bunch of Tories are having a damn good try – and, to be fair, one of Labour’s more radical remembrances of its past was to create the South Downs National Park in 2009. And, although there is relatively little untamed, open-access land around, there are plenty of ancient rights-of-way which take you deep into the heart of some surprisingly remote patches of countryside.
The flip side of dense population is good public transport access. From the capital, and many other places too, it’s perfectly straightforward if not even easier to leave the car at home, especially for the linear routes that I tend to favour.
My definition of southern England has areas to the north and south of the Thames. The northern part is dominated by the Chiltern Hills, a complex range with a northern escarpment (traversed by the eastern half of The Ridgeway, a national trail) but many little side-valleys to explore. To the south, Sussex, Kent and east Hampshire are traversed by four west-to-east hill ranges; in order from the north, the North Downs, Greensand ridge, Low and High Weald and the South Downs (the first two traverse Surrey too, and the South Downs tip into Hampshire). There are exceptional trails running along each of them – those on the two chalk Downs are national trails.
West Hampshire is dominated by the New Forest, also a national park, and the Isle of Wight has excellent downland walking. Finally, the fourth national trail in the region is the Thames Path, a wonderful walk along a stirring, historic river. And I love walking in London so much I’m writing a book about it (Cicerone Press, 2017): check out my Capital Ring and London Loop pages meanwhile.