As the week drew to an end I was itching to escape London and breathe some fresh air in the countryside. Having grown up amidst the fields of Cheshire as a child, and spending summers in the Scottish highlands or the Lake District, it’s fair to say that I’m definitely more of a country-mouse than a town-mouse.  I’m not too picky in terms of the landscape, either: whether it’s rugged, heather-spotted hills, quiet country lanes or majestic mountains, I love all of it. There is something magical about being able to hear the birds singing, the wind rustling in the grass and seeing the stars at night.

And so I found myself on Friday evening, bleary-eyed after a day in the office, googling “walks near London”.  There was practical element to my hunger for the outdoors this weekend, too: I recently picked out some walking boots for my birthday and needed to start wearing them in so that they are ready in time for the Camino de Santiago in April.  Soon enough, I came across a site detailing walks of different lengths in Surrey.

That’s when I began reading about the Thames Down Link – a 15 mile walk from Kingston-Upon-Thames to Box Hill in the Surrey countryside. A relatively well-known path which joins London up with the North Downs, passing through Horton Country Park, Epsom Common and Ashtead Park.

The distance seemed perfect for a day of walking, and transport-wise it was relatively cheap and easy to access. Sorted.  And so I set off from Kingston at exactly 9am on Saturday morning – just at it began to snow (trust me to pick the only snowy day on which to do a walk!)

Thames Down Link itself begins in a very urban setting, on the banks of the River Thames. This first section of the walk, I’d read, was quite difficult to navigate, and I would tend to agree: despite being sign-posted most of the way, some signs were few and far-between – often missing at important junctions in the journey.  My PDF guide to the walk was of some help, although sections of it were relatively obscure, and I ended up retracing my steps quite a number of times! I laughed to myself at these points, realising that it was all good practice ahead of the camino.

Navigation became much simpler, however, as I moved out of Kingston and hit the surrounding marshland and fields.  The path takes in some surprising sights along the way: from football fields, to golf courses, riding centres and go-karting clubs – it’s a great way of tracing the landscape as it changes from city to countryside, and is not once monotonous.

As the scenery became more rural, and the path, less-frequented, I breathed a deep sigh of relief – it’s good to get away from the city sometimes.  It was at this point that I grew more and more aware of my being a solitary walker.  I quite enjoy walking alone and being with my thoughts – and this is how I’ll be doing the camino, at least some of the time; however, there were some points along the Thames Down Link that felt a little less than safe, especially being a woman walking alone. One of these points was along the meadows near the Hogsmill River, for instance, where I’m quite certain that there were a group of people smoking something in the bushes nearby (!) I’d advise people to be vigilant and take care in some of the more remote, yet urban sections – some alleyways and sections by the river are eerily quiet, but strewn with litter, so best not to walk there when it’s dark.

After about 9 miles, I began to really feel as if I had reached the countryside. Although you never quite escape the humming drone of traffic on the TDL (albeit somewhere in the distance), and indeed the path crosses over the A3, there’s something quite interesting about the meeting of the old and new on the walk.  I crossed motorways, and duel carriageways, and I also walked along a Roman road, and a through a farm that has existed since mediaeval  times.

As Box Hill came into view, the scenery truly became beautiful.  Although the walk passes alongside it, I couldn’t resist but to take a brief detour up to the top of the hill to see the view, which was wonderful. My feet had begun to throb a little at this point (NB. Must build more stamina before April!)- but it felt great to have the wind blowing in my face, and my cheeks burning from the cold. It’s these sorts of moments that make me feel truly alive.


I reached Westhumble and Box Hill station at 4pm, and had half an hour to wait until my train would arrive. I took the opportunity to have a well-earned coffee and slice of fruit cake at the sweet little café and bike shop in the station – and look at what the café was called: