10 picturesque villages and small towns near London
The image you have of London is of tall and grey buildings, subway, typical red two-storey buses and people who run fast with their coffee in hand! A short distance from the capital and reachable by train, life and rhythm changes. In fact, it is strange to think that in a short time you will pass from the greyness of the buildings to the green of the English countryside where life flows quiet and relaxed. Whether you live in London or are a tourist looking for a “slow motion” experience or want to escape the hustle and bustle below are 10 picturesque villages and small villages near London, within easy reach by train.
TRAIN TICKETS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
In the UK there are several options for purchasing a train ticket:
- ADVANCE TRAIN TICKET: You can purchase these tickets before your travel date. They are sold for both Standard and First Class seats, usually made available 12 weeks before departure. The downside is that they are not flexible. In practice, once you have purchased Advance tickets, you are tied to the trains purchased on the dates indicated.
- ANYTIME TRAIN TICKET: Perfect for when you’re not sure of the times. In this case tickets are flexible without the indication of specific times.
- OFF PEAK TICKET: Off-Peak tickets are a great option if you don’t have time constraints. Tickets are limited to certain time slots that normally avoid peak hours in the morning and evening (on weekdays after 9.30 and before 17.00, all weekend).
- RETURN TRAIN TICKET: Return tickets combine the two journeys by train in a single ticket. You can choose to leave and return on specific dates or opt for an Open Return ticket that gives you more flexibility in travel dates. Daily round-trip tickets require the return journey on the same day.
To check schedules and availability I recommend you visit the website of www.thetrainline.com. It is always better to buy a ticket before travelling, in order to avoid incurring unpleasant fines.
#1 OLD AMERSHAM
Amersham is a town in Buckinghamshire County and consists of Amersham and Old Amersham. The charm of the village is concentrated in the old part: a mix of historic and modern buildings, shops, all framed by the beauty of the rolling hills of the Chilterns. This is an area identified as AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).
The historical heritage is remarkable, in fact, some houses date back to 1450 (now home to the museum) while the Market Hall dates back to 1682 and was the seat of the prison. In ancient times it was an important city center as it was home to the religious movement of the Lollards who preached against the immense wealth and abuses of the church were led by John Wycliffe. In the 16th century the movement took control of the city and many followers were burned at the stake.
The village is located in the Misbourne Valley, within the Chilterns Area, from where many hiking trails depart. The importance and peculiarity of the Misbourne River is that it is a chalk stream, a very important natural environment, a rare habitat for many species of animals worldwide that are found mainly in England and north-western Europe.
Departure station: Liverpool Street Station (Metropolitan Line). You can use oyster card.
Arrival station: Amersham
Journey time: 55 minutes
Cookham is a small village with quaint cottages and houses on the banks of the Thames in Berkshire county. It is part of the Chilterns, an area of exceptional natural beauty. Cookham’s name is now closely associated with Sir Stanley Spencer, one of the greatest British painters of the 20th century who lived in the village until his death in 1959 and used his scenery as the backdrop for many of his paintings. The Stanley Spencer Gallery in High Street contains a collection of over 120 works by the artist.
There are two major events that enliven the village each year and include the Cookham Regatta and the Swan Upping Ceremony, the annual Thames Swan Census. The ceremony dates back to the twelfth century and occurred when the Crown claimed ownership of all swans because they were then considered a delicious dish at banquets and parties. Of course, they’re not eaten anymore.
Cookham is also home to one of the oldest inns in England, the Bell and Dragon dating back to 1417 and located on the main street a short walk from the Thames. The Country Inn combines 600 years of history with the best of modern British cuisine.
From the village there are many trails, including some along the Thames where you can admire the beauty of the river. I advise you to reach the pretty town of Marlow on Thames, 8 km away. In Marlow you can cross the suspension bridge designed by William Tierney Clark in 1832 and joins the counties of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.
Departure station: London Paddington
Arrival station: Cookham
Journey time: 55 minutes
Shere is a picturesque village in the rolling hills of Surrey and is located halfway between Guildford and Dorking. It appeared in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the Saxon village of Essira, with a church and 30 families. Many historic buildings populate the village including the Church of San Giacomo. It contains a small closed cell in which Christine Carpenter lived, an anchorite (religious recluse). His only contact with the outside world was through a grill and an opening through which food passed.
But Shere is also a place chosen by some directors and if you are a lover of Bridget Jones you are in the right place. In fact, scenes from the movies “The Edge of Reason” and also the popular movie “The Holiday” were shot here. Also, if you’re a hiker you can think of reaching Shere via a pleasant path in the Surrey Hills that starts in Dorking and continues for 13 kilometers until you get to the charming village.
Departure station: London Bridge
Arrival station: Gomshall (from the station 15 min walk)
Journey time: one hour
Rye is a small village located in East Sussex County. Nestled between green hills and the English Channel, it is one of the best preserved medieval cities in England.
Even its history has something special to tell and began with the Romans exporting materials such as iron, rye, etc. Over the years it has emerged as a port of increasing importance. The population occupied fishing, shipbuilding and trade in fish, timber, wool, wine and luxury goods. In 1336, along with Winchelsea, he provided half of the ships and sailors in the Confederation of Five Ports.
The port has a history of smuggling that developed when Edward I introduced the customs system in the thirteenth century. The answer was to smuggle goods such as wool, cloth, skins and even gold and silver out of the country. Further restrictions in the 17th century made smuggling much more profitable, as products commonly used as candles or beer also imposed new tariffs. For a number of reasons, including the Hundred Years’ War, the acceleration of French raids, the flooding from the sea, the Black Death, the problems in the fishing industry, the passage to larger ships, there was a collapse of Rye’s fortune.
Today you can see half-timbered houses flanking steep cobbled streets, a castle and old inns like the Mermaid Inn. The inn was rebuilt in 1420 but its cellars date back to Norman times. Among the guests who stayed: Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Prince Edward and other artists and celebrities. The structure retains many of the beautiful original features, such as a secret staircase hidden behind a library. Today you can taste a good beer, eat some great food but also sleep in the elegant rooms. In addition, you can take a walk to the beach to watch the sunset before returning toLondon.
Departure station: London St Pancras
Arrival station: Rye
Journey time: one hour and 10 minutes
Eynsfordis a postcard village, located in the Darent Valley, which is part of the Kent Downs Area. Surrounded by rolling hills, farmland, ancient woods and low grasslands, the Darent River runs through the heart of the valley, connecting many small and picturesque villages. Eynsford is a relatively small village that has maintained its charm of countryside where today there are historical buildings and enchanting landscapes. Specifically, they are Ford at Riverside, St Martin’s Church, Eynsford Castle, Lullingstone Roman Villa and Lullingstone Castle.
Eynsford is also a good starting point for several hikes you can do on foot. You can start by taking a walk in its old town: it is like stepping back in time as it is home to many important historical buildings. For example, Eynsford Castle is a Norman manor built around 1085, whose peculiarity is to be found in the lack of a keep or a large tower.
Not far from the center, stands the imposing red brick viaduct with nine arches. The structure was built by the independent “Sevenoaks Railway” incorporated in 1859 to connect the main line “Chatham” with the city of Sevenoaks. From the nearby viaduct is Lullingstone, one of the most important surviving Roman villas in Britain. The construction of the villa was begun around 100 A.D. and developed to suit the tastes and beliefs of the subsequent wealthy owners, reaching its peak of luxury in the mid-4th century. Today you can see mosaics and rare paintings.
Departure station: London Blackfriars
Arrival station: Eynsford
Journey time: 55 minutes
The name Aylesford comes from the English word Ford and is recorded in the Domesday Book. Located on the Medway River, Aylesford was the scene of a bloody battle between the British and Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century. The village is accessible through an imposing medieval bridge with five arches of the fourteenth century. Of the historical buildings that remain in Aylesford, the most striking is the medieval palace of Preston Hall.
Near the village is the Priory of Aylesford, a restored medieval monastic house of Carmelite friars dating back to 1242. After the Reformation, the convent was sold in private hands and the monastic buildings were converted into luxurious palaces. In 1949 the Carmelite order bought the site and refounded it, restoring many original medieval features.
Today, in addition to the beautiful bridge, an unstable subject to take photos, you can wander around the old town enriched with half-timbered houses or take some excursions in the surroundings. These include the Blue Bell Hill viewpoint over the entire surrounding valley.
Departure station: London St. Pancras International
Arrival station: Aylesford
Journey time: one hour
#7 WENDES AMBO
Wendens Ambo is the classic English village, with pretty thatched cottages and picturesque country gardens. Its unusual name comes from the union of two villages, Great and Little Wenden, which form Wendens Ambo whose meaning is “both Wendens” or “Wendens together”. The village is located on the railway line between London and Cambridge, just outside Audley End station.
It’s a lovely place to wander around on pleasant walks or take a pint at The Bell Inn, the village pub where locals meet. The town is dominated by the Church of Santa Maria which has 10th century origins. If you are fond of walking, you can think of reaching the village of Arkesden 3 km away, which is very nice and has a pub worthy of note. Or, if you’re looking for something a little bigger, then I suggest you visit Audley End House, an Elizabethan mansion just thirty minutes away on foot.
Departure station: London Liverpool Street
Arrival station: Audley End
Journey time: one hour and 5 minutes
Lavenham, located in the heart of the beautiful Suffolk countryside, is considered the best preserved medieval village in Britain. In Tudor times, Lavenham was said to be the fourteenth richest city in England, despite its small size. Prosperity stemmed from the wool trade, thanks to that were built beautiful half-timbered buildings and the church. It all began in 1257 when he obtained his market card and began to export his famous blue canvas to Russia.
In the 14th century Edward III encouraged the English textile industry and Lavenham began to prosper. However, in the late 16th century, Dutch refugees in Colchester began weaving a lighter, cheaper, and more fashionable fabric, and the wool trade in Lavenham began to fail. Most of Lavenham’s buildings today date back to the 15th century, many of which have never been modified due to the fall of the weaving industry. People didn’t have the money to build new houses or change existing ones and so they continued to live in these old buildings. Consequently the city is still very similar to what it was in the 15th century.
Today, the medieval charm can be found at every bend with wooden framed 340 buildings that flank the narrow streets and alleys that lead to the imposing market. In addition to its many historic buildings, Lavenham offers of course excellent pubs, fine dining places and charming antique shops to browse around. For all fans of Harry Potter, the village was chosen for the filming of Godric’s Hollow and Deathly Hallows Part 1. Lavenham Guildhall was transformed into the abandoned home of Harry Potter’s parents and in the film, Harry visits his parents’ graves and their home in Godric’s Hollow.
Departure station: London Liverpool Street
Arrival station: Sudbury then take bus 753 from Sudbury station and in 30 min get to Lavenham
Journey time: 2 hours
Alfriston is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful villages along the South Downs Way and is located on the banks of the Cuckmere River, about halfway between Lewes and Eastbourne. Located in a river valley with rolling hills all around, this beautiful location is characterized by the presence of the village and its wooden Tudor buildings.
The history of this village is reflected in many of the beautiful buildings, such as the 14th century parish church and the House of the Clergy dating back to the same time, the first property purchased by the National Trust in 1896. It offers a wonderful look at how our ancestors lived during the medieval period and how their houses were built.
Market Cross was a famous smuggler’s lair during the 18th century, the headquarters of a gang led by Stanton Collins. Author Rudyard Kipling used the exploits of Collins and his gang as inspiration for his poetry, ‘Song of a Smuggler’.
At Alfriston you can find many pubs, restaurants and accommodation for all budgets and tastes. It has a beautiful library called Much Ado, built on two floors inside a converted barn. It has a selection of lovingly selected books. It’s a must-see destination if you’re visiting the South Downs and especially if you’re walking or cycling in this area.
Departure station: London Victoria Station
Arrival station: Berwick then take bus nr. 38 or from Lewis on foot to Alfriston and then continue to Seaford
Journey time: two and a half hours by train and bus
Chilham is a pretty village located in the valley of the Stour River in Kent County. The town square is bordered by beautiful medieval half-timbered buildings, many of which date back to the end of the fifteenth century. From the square there are four narrow streets surrounded by wooden houses of Tudor origin, the 16th century church and the imposing Chilham Castle, with its panorama over the valley of the River Stour. Much of the village is designated a heritage conservation area, in recognition of the historical value of many of the buildings.
The castle is of Norman origin, dates back to 1174 but was only completed in 1616 thanks to Sir Dudley Digges. The keep is all that remains of the original manor and dates back to 1174, the oldest building in the village but also one of the oldest houses in the UK. It is said to have been built by King Henry II, but archaeological excavations carried out in the 1920s suggest that it stands on the foundations of a much older Anglo-Saxon fortification, probably dating back to the 7th century.
Chilham’s charm isn’t just in its buildings. In fact, the surrounding countryside of the beautiful Kent Downs is crisscrossed by numerous footpaths, lanes and country lanes. For more experienced walkers, the village is on the routes for the North Downs Way and the Pilgrims’ Way.
Thanks to the beautiful old buildings, Chilham is often used as a setting for film and television productions. Among them “Canterbury Tale” of 1944, of “The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders” in 1965. The BBC shot the four-part adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Emma. In addition, the village and the castle were the protagonists of a fake snowy episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot entitled Hercule Poirot’s Christmas with David Suchet.
Departure station: London Victoria Station
Arrival station: Chilham
Journey time: one hour and fifty minutes
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