The unexpected beauty spots in London’s green belt

In 1914, one Aston Webb told the London Society that he had a vision of the capital in 100 years. He saw “a beautiful sylvan line almost across London”, with “a certain amount of open spaces, pleasure grounds” protected by “town planning schemes”. He described this vision as a “green belt”.

Webb, it turned out, was onto something. In the 1930s, work began to protect the British countryside from uncontrolled urban sprawl, and today there are 14 green belts across the country, an area covering more than a tenth (12.4 percent) of all British land and which has more people living there. than 30 million people.

There are green belts around Oxford, Birmingham, Newcastle, York and many other urban centres, but the biggest and most famous of all is the 486,000 hectares of land that runs off the M25 into the suburbs of London.

The capital’s green belt is the commuter set (Guildford, Sevenoaks and St Albans fall within its boundaries) but there are also some beauty spots you wouldn’t expect to fall so close to the capital, many of which could be the cornerstone. a very pleasant weekend away from home.

Ivinghoe Beacon, Buckinghamshire

A path heading towards Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns

The view towards Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chilterns – Graham Custance Photography

Ivinghoe Beacon is set in an area of ​​rich wildflower meadows and ancient woodland, the rolling starting point of The Ridgeway, a National Trail that traverses the length of the Chiltern Hills.

On your visit, you’ll share the hill with dog walkers and the occasional model airplane enthusiast (this is a great spot for “slope rising”, due to the lift generated by the wind blowing up the hill), but there are people here for many years. Archaeological evidence shows activity back to the Bronze Age, including burial mounds, and there is the smallest outline of an Iron Age hill.

Go for a 10 mile circular walk and you might see one of the rare butterfly species that live in the area, or even a red kite or green worm. But what many are most excited about is that Ivinghoe Beacon has been used as a filming location in several Harry Potter films. The most famous scene is, perhaps, in The Goblet of Fire when Harry and his friends march to the top of the hill to find an old boot (portkey) that transports them to the Quidditch World Cup.

How to get there

The nearest train stations are in Tring and Dunstable, where you will need to catch a bus or taxi to Ivinghoe Beacon. If you are traveling by car, put “Ivinghoe Beacon Circular Car Park” on Google Maps.

Stay here

Consider the Kings Arms Hotel in Berkhamsted, less than 20 minutes away. Our expert reviewer describes it as follows: “An emerging training hotel in the heart of Berkhamsted town center which is once again a vibrant food, drink and accommodation hub. Expect a ‘passion for the pubbies’ vibe, as well as a good restaurant and a suite of comfortable rooms.”

The Devil’s Punch Bowl, Surrey

Devil's Punch BowlDevil's Punch Bowl

The Devil’s Punch Bowl in Surrey is like a huge natural amphitheater – Alamy

Quite a name, for a leafy corner of the Home Counties. According to the story, the devil managed to reach a large handful of Earth and chased them to the god Thor, leaving the magnificent natural amphitheater that exists today (the name of the local village Thursley means “place of Thor”). Regardless of whether this is true – or whether it is, in fact, thousands of years of erosion from the spring water beneath the sandstone causing the upper level to cave in – the site offers a breath of fresh air. from the capital.

The Devil’s Punch Bowl has become much more enjoyable since 2011, when the heavily congested single lane section of the A3 on the edge of the site was rerouted through the new Hindhead Tunnel, which is now collapsing. The old part of the road is now signposted as a footpath within the park.

To get the full experience, set out to complete the 4.5 mile walk that takes you around the top of the punch bowl (in winter, when you’re unobstructed by trees, you’ll get the best view of the impressive terrain), but leave time to swim. into the pit, with its gloomy woods and mountain peaks.

How to visit

Haslemere Station (with links to London) is three miles away, where you can catch a bus that drops off a few hundred meters away. The Devil’s Punch Bowl National Trust car park (GU26 6AB) costs £4, or is free for National Trust members.

Stay here

Try the Merry Harriers Hotel in Hambledon, a 20 minute drive away. Our reviewer says: “It’s all about roaring fires and contemporary bedrooms, welly boots and muddy paws at this 16th century village inn. Guests can go llama trekking through the scenic Surrey Hills knowing that a warm welcome awaits them.”

The Essex villages

St Andrew's Church at Greensted-juxta-OngarSt Andrew's Church at Greensted-juxta-Ongar

St Andrew’s Church at Greensted-juxta-Ongar is the oldest wooden church in the world – Ian Goodrick/Alamy

In the eastern end of London’s green belt you will find delightful villages, especially small Greensted-juxta-Ongar which is home to the oldest wooden church not only in Britain, but in the world. The 51 planks that form the body of St. Andrew’s Church were cut from English oak around the year 1060, six years before William the Conqueror arrived on British soil.

You wouldn’t think it, but nearby Ongar was once the terminus of a branch of the Central Line, which closed in 1994 but was brought back as the Epping Ongar Railway (adult tickets £7.50).

There are plenty of other lovely villages in rural Essex outside the green belt boundaries, including Finchingfield (postcard pretty, with village green and duck pond), Thaxted (famous for its Morris Men) and Dedham (located in the National Landscape .made famous by John Constable).

How to visit

Connections to London from Epping, where you can hop on the aforementioned train to Ongar. Otherwise, you are a stone’s throw from the M25, making it easy to reach the villages by car.

Stay here

There are plenty of pubs with rooms in the area (this round of the Telegraph is a good starting point). For something different, book a place at Colemans Farm’s hideaway luxury retreat, which has a tree house (The Old Oak; from £250) and a glass-roofed pyramid room called The Trap (from £155).

Denbies Vineyard, Surrey

Denbies Wine EstateDenbies Wine Estate

Denbies Wine Estate is one of the largest single estate vineyards in the country – Chris Harris/Alamy

If you’ve never visited a British vineyard before, Denbies should be at the top of your list. Nestled in the backdrop of the North Dunes, this is one of the largest single estate vineyards in the country, with seven miles of public footpaths to explore over 650 acres – ask in the gift shop and they’ll be able to provide you with a map. for the little ones.

Denbies is also the site of the Bacchus Wine Half Marathon & 10k event (inspired by the famous Marathon du Médoc in Bordeaux) which takes place in September each year. The runners, many of them in fancy dress, make regular stops to taste English wines along the way. A hoot, whether you are participating or watching.

How to visit

Denbies is a pleasant 15 minute walk from Dorking and Box Hill and Westhumble stations, both of which provide easy access to London. If you are driving, leave the M25 at Junction 9 and then follow the A24 south towards Dorking.

Stay here

Denbies has its own Vineyard Hotel, with 17 en-suite rooms and a new restaurant and bar. Alternatively, splurge on a visit to Beaverbrook just up the road – offering a fascinating glimpse into British high society, with its original works of art and landscaped gardens.

Hitchin Lavender Fields, Hertfordshire

Hitchen's Lavender FieldsHitchen's Lavender Fields

Hitchen Lavender Fields has been popular over the past ten years since becoming famous on Instagram – Wild Vanilla/Moment RF

No, that’s not a photo of Provence. The Hitchin Lavender Fields are 11 miles from Luton Airport.

The farm has been in the Hunter family for five generations and is primarily in the business of growing lavender for oil, but has become popular in the last decade due to the rise of social media photo-sharing apps like Instagram. It costs £7 to enter, and you’ll need to cough up an extra £4 to fill a bag with lavender (bring your own scissors).

“Local people used to walk in with a bunch of flowers to take home – maybe a little older people. But now, it’s people from all over the world, and of all ages. It has a lot of appeal,” said farm owner Tim Hunter The Telegraph in 2019.

How to visit

Direct trains from London to Hitchin take just over half an hour. Otherwise, drive up the A1 and follow the signs for Ickleford.

Stay here

Look no further than The Fox at Willian, set in a picture-perfect village. Our reviewer writes: “The Fox has done everything a country pub should do well, serving excellent food but still a lovely place to stop for a pint on the green a village. In short, it’s a cozy place to stay in the country where you can reach London in no time – and it’s dog friendly.”

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