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LDPs Regional Summary

South East England

Walking Routes & Trail-miles: 129 main routes / 11962 miles - 59 waymarked / 4315 miles

Areas: Berkshire, Greater London, Hampshire (including Isle of Wight), Kent, Surrey, Sussex (East & West)

National Parks: New Forest, South Downs

Principal AONBs: North Wessex Downs, Isle of Wight, Chichester Harbour, Sussex Downs, Surrey Hills, High Weald, Kent Downs

World Heritage Sites: Maritime Greenwich; London: Tower, Westminster (Abbey, Palace, Church); Canterbury (Cathedral, Abbey, Church); Kew Gardens; 'Darwin at Downe' (under designation)

Heritage Coast: Isle of Wight (SW - Tennyson; NW - Hamstead), Sussex (Seven Sisters), Kent: Dover-Folkestone, South Foreland

European Long Distance Paths (E-Routes): E2 (Eastern Variant: Dover to Middleton in Teesdale) and E9 (Dover - Plymouth).

National Walking Trails (England): North Downs Way, South Downs Way, Thames Path (part), Ridgeway (part)

Resident population: 16 million, including 8 million in Greater London

Regional Trails Summary - South East England

A quarter of England's people, some 16 million, live in this, the UK's most densely populated and developed region, with some 8 million of them in Greater London, but the south east has very many attractions for the walker. There are fine stretches of coastline, varied inland scenery, many rivers and waterways, and a network of easy urban walking routes in and around London linking parkland and waterside corridors with interesting heritage sites. Away from the main population centres, in Greater London and along the south coast's urbanised stretches, there is apparently remote countryside and coast with sustained ridges and dramatic cliffs, mixed with easy walks on quiet canals and green riversides.

The region's northern limits lie in the gentler terrain of the London Basin and the North Kent Plain, drained by the Thames and its tributaries. Four main hill ranges shape the rest of the region, all with a common origin in its distant geological past. Long ago much of it was a vast towering dome of rock - an inverted saucer-shape of layers of strata rising to several thousand feet - centred on the area now known as the High Weald in Kent and Sussex. Erosion and the action of the ice sheets that extended here cut the top off this dome and left the harder layers projecting as what we now see as the North and South Downs chalk ridges and between them the High Weald, now centred on Ashdown Forest. Between the High Weald and the North Downs lies the gentler Low Weald made of softer rocks, but another higher ridge also intervenes here, formed of the resistant greensand, a stone that now forms the Surrey 'tops' including Leith Hill, the region's highest point. This ridge of sandstones then arcs around west forming the lower Hampshire and Sussex heaths. Inland, the western limits of the region are the Berkshire and the Hampshire Downs, hills locally called 'hangers', that give way south to the gently undulating New Forest, leading in turn to the Hampshire coastline, a haven for boaters. Offshore, just across the Solent, the Isle of Wight, an extension of the Purbeck geology in Dorset, provides more chalk ridges and cliffs.

The New Forest and the newly defined South Downs are designated National Parks.

Britain's heritage is well represented in the region with World Heritage Sites at Maritime Greenwich, the Tower of London, Westminster (Abbey, Palace, Church), Canterbury (Cathedral, Abbey, Church), Kew Gardens, while 'Darwin at Downe' is awaiting designation as the first such site connected with the 'workplace' of a renowned naturalist. London's other heritage sites are almost too numerous to mention, and in its eastern fringes a new city is rising on the old docklands at Canary Wharf, with a spectacular urban skyline - London's new 'Manhattan' - while just a little further east the Olympic Park is rapidly growing from dereliction, regenerating a significant area east of the Lea River.

The region's terrain and its history, represented by the inheritance of its past industries and its famous sons, provide a rich source of inspiration for the trail developers who have provided the region's long distance path network.

Starting with the most densely populated area - Greater London - six major trails, maintained to high standards, form the capital's core Strategic Walks Network. These comprise two orbital routes, an outer, the London Loop fringing the suburbs, and another closer in, the Capital Ring, plus a third inner 'city' route, the Jubilee Walkway, linking major tourist sites, while there is riverside walking on the Thames and along the Lea Valley (on respectively the Thames Path National Trail and Lea Valley Walk - their London sections). The Green Chain Walk, a daisy-chain network in south-east London, completes the six. A Jubilee Greenway route has been developed marking the 2012 Games and Diamond Jubilee of the Royal Accession.

The region's lengthy coastline provides some memorable cliff-top walking as well as gentler options. From Kent the Saxon Shore Way traces the former Saxon coastline round into Sussex and includes the iconic 'White Cliffs'. The South Downs Way includes at its eastern end the challenging roller-coaster Seven Sisters cliffs, while the Isle of Wight Coastal Path encircles the island.

Two downland ridges provide the setting of the North Downs Way and the South Downs Way, the two English National Trails that run wholly within this region. The greensand ridges are traced first by the Greensand Way across Kent and Surrey, then the Serpent Trail snakes among the heathland outcrops out into Hampshire and Sussex. The Hampshire Downs are home to the Hangers Way, Staunton Way and the Oxdrove Way.

Two trails traverse these landscapes making a north-to-south journey from London's river and suburbs to the south coast - the Wealdway and the Vanguard Way, sometimes interweaving - while a third, the High Weald Landscape Trail, crosses from west to east. The Wayfarer's Walk leads from the Berkshire Downs, crossing the South Downs to the harbours at Emsworth Channel.

The region has a wealth of waterside walking along both rivers and canals, often gentle. The Thames Path National Trail crosses the region from its Cotswold source with many rewarding rural sections before London is reached. There are more again on its South Eastern Extension out towards the estuary. The Thames' tributaries in the Colne valley west of London offer a range of routes. Many other regional rivers and estuaries offer mostly easy walking: the Sussex Ouse, the Wey and its 'Navigations', the Solent, Itchen, Test and Meon in Hampshire, and the eastern Yar on the Isle of Wight, while Kent offers its Darent, Stour, Len, Elham and Medway rivers and the Wantsum channels. In Berkshire there is the Blackwater. Canal towpath walking is extensive and easy, including the Grand Union, Regent's, Kennet and Avon, Basingstoke and Royal Military Canals, and even an aqueduct into London in the form of the New River.

Heritage, historic, religious, scientific and literary themes are also well represented: the Three Castles Path leads off from Windsor Castle to the famous 'Long Walk' while there are compendium books on walking the castles in Sussex and Kent. The Normans landed at Pevensey, marked by the 1066 Country Walk. The Greenwich Meridian Trail marks the 150th anniversary in 2009 of the Prime Meridian line. The St Swithun's and North Downs Ways approximate or parallel the ancient Pilgrim's Way, the latter keeping to the ridge above the spring-line of the pilgrims' route. The West Sussex Literary Trail remembers several past authors living there while Shakespeare's Way reaches the Globe from his birthplace at Stratford upon Avon. The Bromley Circular Walks visit Charles Darwin's Downe where he wrote his seminal works.

Finally there are enthusiasts' routes too, some of them challenging and requiring navigational skills. The Founders' Challenge remembers the LDWA's own founders; the Horsham Round encircles the town, the Fox Way encircles Guildford and the Chairman's Walk, Reading. Two walks remember former counties' boundaries: the Middlesex Greenway and North to South Surrey Walk.