Outdoor adventures by rail

20 April 2021

Breathe fresh country air, explore off the beaten track and re-discover the great outdoors with easy access from the train. From national trails and protected nature reserves to lavender fields and ancient woodlands - whether you're looking for a day out, short break or longer staycation you'll find inspiring ideas below on how you can enjoy the outdoors by rail.

Get back to nature in the Darent Valley

The Darent Valley was described by artist Samuel Palmer as an 'earthly paradise'. Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty and home to precious chalk grassland habitats, it is easy to see why.

Get close to nature as you explore protected reserves and ancient woodlands across the valley including Polhill Bank Nature Reserve, Fackenden Down Nature Reserve and Kemsing Down.

Fackenden Nature Reserve. Photo: Sarah Newman
Fackenden Nature Reserve. Photo: Sarah Newman

You can visit all three reserves with a moderate walk, involving some steep hills, from Otford or Shoreham stations that takes around two to three hours. Discover the walking route here...

Bat & Ball Station poster
Bat & Ball Station poster. Photo: Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership

Catch the train to the historic Bat & Ball Station (so-called because Sevenoaks was where some of the first cricket matches were played) and take time to marvel at the beautifully restored Victorian station, complete with luggage rooms, a café, art displays and heritage paintwork.

The station also features state-of-the-art cycle racks if you happen to bring your two-wheeled companion with you.

From here a ten-minute walk along the (busy) A25 brings you to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. Before reaching the reserve why not pick up a picnic at the charming station café or at the nearby gastro deli Brisket & Barrel, run by two French chefs keen to celebrate their home-prepared smoked meat and bread, French wine and cheeses, while also offering a whole range of other delectable local produce.

Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, is a pioneering nature reserve which has five big lakes, woodland, diverse wildflowers and wildlife, and, most importantly, abundant numbers of overwintering and migrant birds.

There are a number of trails around the reserve, some of which are fully accessible (as is the visitors' centre). There are hides located all around the lakes, from which to view – peacefully - all the amazing wildlife. Do check opening times before your visit.

Be sure to check out the Hops to Lavender walking route, that includes a diverse and varied range of landscapes and heritage venues to explore, taking around three hours or longer if you allow time for a pit stop.

Room to roam along the North & South Downs

Many stations in the south east Thameslink network provide direct access to the North Downs Way National Trail, ideal to hop off the train for a scenic walk, then back on the train to continue your journey.

Follow the route of the ancient pilgrims all the way from Farnham in the Surrey Hills to Dover on the Kent coast, taking in the historic city of Canterbury along the way.

Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. Photo: Roman Grac from Pixabay
Photo: Roman Grac from Pixabay

Redhill is also situated on Avenue Verte route 21, part of a 247-mile cycle route that connects London to Paris with a rewarding journey through towns villages and beautiful countryside.

A 35-minute walk from Hassocks Railway Station will bring you to the South Downs Way. Join part of this 100 mile shared use trail, stretching from Winchester to Eastbourne boasting stunning long distance views, picturesque villages, thatched pubs and cosy team rooms.

Planes, trains, bikes & gardens in the Rhee Valley

Photo: www.botanic.cam.ac.uk
Photo: www.botanic.cam.ac.uk

A five-minute walk from Cambridge Railway Station is the oasis of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

With over 8,000 species from around the world to see, there are a range of different areas to explore and enjoy including a grass maze, rock garden, scented garden and fountain, not forgetting the Glass Houses containing everything from delicate alpines to exotic tropicals.There's acres of space for children to run around, and more intimate and hidden away areas for friends to stroll. The Garden Café serves breakfast, lunches, hot and cold drinks, and delicious cakes. Most of the Botanic Garden is accessible without steps or stairs, although the Glass Houses have some narrow paths and corridors.

Further along the Rhee Valley Line at Foxton, it's all about planes, trains and bikes!

Bring your bike to Foxton (just 9 minutes by train from Cambridge) and enjoy the delights of the National Byway which runs right past the station.

Five and a half miles to the north west of Foxton along the National Byway is the Wimpole Estate.

Wimpole Path in the sunshine, along the Rhee Valley
Wimpole Path. Photo: Meldreth, Shepreth & Foxton Community Rail Partnership

The house and gardens are owned by the National Trust and cover 3,000 acres. A multi-use trail provides an off-road circular route around the estate, giving an opportunity to explore the woodland, parkland and farmland.

IWM Duxford. Photo: Jens P. Raak from Pixabay
IWM Duxford. Photo: Jens P. Raak from Pixabay

5.5 miles to the south east of Foxton Station on the National Byway is IWM Duxford, Europe's largest air museum containing exhibits from over a century of aviation. Exhibits are housed inside and outside of enormous hangars, and the airstrip, which is still in use today, saw the first Spitfire flights.

Bikes & boats along the Marston Vale Line

Leave the train at Millford and pick up the trail, signposted from outside the station, towards Millennium Country Park. The park is home to 225 hectares of woodlands, grasslands, meadows and the stunning Wetlands Nature Reserve. Bike hire is available from the Forest Centre from March to December or bring your own and follow nearly 5 miles of level, surfaced track. Grab a bit to eat at the park's Lakeside Café, show them your train ticket and receive 10% discount.

In Bedford you can enjoy a range of scenic river cruises along the River Great Ouse with the John Bunyan Community Boat, entirely run by volunteers. Sit back, enjoy a peaceful ride and see the beautiful town from the river.

John Bunyan Community Boat. Photo: John Bunyan Boat on Facebook
John Bunyan Community Boat. Photo: John Bunyan Boat on Facebook

All funds and donations raised from the boat go towards the development of a new waterway park, linking Bedford to Milton Keynes by water.

Look out for a similar community-run boat, Electra, in nearby Milton Keynes, launching in the summer.


We'd love to hear about your scenic rail adventures over on our social media channels. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and share your photos!

To make your days out as enjoyable as possible, we encourage you to plan your trip in advance and check for disruptions before you start your journey. Visit our travel safe page to see what you can do to make planning easy.

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