Top Tips when walking by rail
Things to think about
Get it right, and you can have a great walk in beautiful countryside for a few pounds - and be home for tea.
Get it wrong, and you can pay a small fortune to be sat on a gloomy platform for an hour waiting for the next train.
I hope that the information provided here will help you to make the right choices.
Frequency of service
One of the advantages of using the tube for walks is that tube services run fairly frequently outside peak hours (when people are most likely to be walking) - all day, seven days a week. This is one of the great advantages of the Underground being part of the urban transport system of a major city. Even the Chesham branch of the Metropolitan line has two trains an hour at weekends and late into the night.
In order to maximise the odds, however, if you are planning a walk between to stations, it is best to start your walk at the station with the lower frequency of trains (usually the furthest from London) and walk towards London. It is easy to choose a particular timetabled train to catch when you start your walk and it will mean that the less predictable time you end your walk will be to somewhere with a better train service. That should reduce the time you have to spend waiting.
For this reason I have designed walks from Chesham to Chalfont & Latimer and Chorleywood stations. Catch one of the twice hourly services out to Chesham, but travel back from a station with six trains an hour - and you usually won’t have to wait more than 10 minutes for the next train.
Cost and tickets
It is worth noting that the fares for different journeys can vary wildly. You will get best value for money if you:
Use an Oyster card (which you can use to any tube station);
Travel off peak (which includes the whole weekend);
Avoid Zone 1 (if you can).
Follow these rules and you can travel right into the countryside for the price of a cup of coffee. The following provides a bit more detail on this.
You can use an Oyster card any journey that involves starting from a station within Zones 1 - 9. You can see a map of the fare zones on the TFL Visitor Shop website or London Travel Watch website. Always use an Oyster card if you can - it is much cheaper than cash.
If you are using an Oyster card there is no need to buy a ticket in advance - and using an Oyster card is much cheaper than buying an individual ticket.
With Oyster cards there is also no need to worry about buying a return ticket - the daily amount that you pay is capped so after you have made about three different journeys, subsequent trips will be free.
In contrast, if you want to travel to a National Rail station, you will need to buy a ticket.
Amersham and Chesham are in Zone 9 of the Underground system, with Chalfont & Latimer in Zone 8. Although that sounds expensive, it really isn't (particularly if you can avoid Zone 1). Look at these examples (2022/23 prices) for places that you might want to walk to:
Harrow-on-the-Hill (Zone 5) to Chesham/Amersham - £2.10 (off peak) / £3.10 (peak)
Baker Street to Chesham/Amersham - £4.50 (off peak) / £7.50 (peak)
Finchley Road to Chesham/Amersham - £3.20 (off peak) / £5.10 (peak).
National rail fares for comparison:
Harrow-on-the-Hill to Great Missenden - £9.70 (off peak) / £9.70 (peak)
Harrow-on-the-Hill to Wendover £11.60 (off peak) / £11.60 (peak).
A few things to notice:
The 15 mile journey from Harrow to Amersham off-peak will cost you £2.10. Travelling on the extra six miles to the next stop (Great Missenden) will cost nearly five times as much.
Avoiding Zone 1 saves a lot of money.
Travelling off peak saves money too (on Underground trains). That is easy at the weekend, but more complicated during the week. Morning peak hours are easy to avoid - just start after 9.30. The afternoon peak (16:00 to 19:00) is harder to avoid as peak fares apply to any journey you start during those hours (irrespective of which direction you are travelling).
The Oyster card only works as far as Amersham so for the pleasure of your 500% fare rise, you will need to get off the train and buy a ticket to travel on a Chiltern Railways train beyond there.
National Rail tickets
Travelling to National Rail stations is more expensive and more complicated. For walking, that is likely to include:
Marylebone to Great Missenden, Wendover and beyond
Marylebone to Beaconsfield and beyond
Journeys from Euston beyond Watford Junction and from Paddington beyond Reading.
It will usually work out cheaper to get a return ticket - particularly if you are going back the same day.
You can make savings if you use a Railcard. There are various kinds of cards and benefits, but they are usually best off-peak. More details here.
Discounts are also available if travelling in groups of three to nine people (obviously if there are more than nine, you can simply break into smaller groups. Details here.
When to walk
For some train lines careful planning is needed if you are walking outside peak hours or at weekends.
On many National Rail lines, service frequencies are much worse at the weekends than weekdays - and trains stop much earlier. For example trains from Marylebone to Great Missenden, Wendover and Aylesbury are only one an hour for much of the weekend.
That is less of a problem on the tube, however. Both Chesham and Amersham branches have two trains an hour seven days a week, including evenings. Other than slightly earlier last trains on a Sunday, there is little change at the weekends.
There is a caveat to this - engineering works. It is always worth checking if you are catching any train at the weekend (or Bank Holidays). Details for the tube are published well in advance, here.
It is possible to get around some engineering works, depending on exactly where they are:
Works between Aldgate and Baker Street – there are other ways to get to Baker Street, notably the Bakerloo and Jubilee lines.
Works between Baker Street and Wembley Park – take the Jubilee line to Wembley Park and change there. Alternatively take the Bakerloo line to Kenton and either walk to Northwick Park or take a bus to Harrow-on-the-Hill.
Works between Baker Street and Harrow on the Hill – take a train on the Marylebone line towards Aylesbury. These serve Chorleywood, Chalfont & Latimer, Amersham and beyond.
Works north of Harrow-on-the-Hill – there are fewer alternatives for these journeys. When there is engineering works beyond Harrow, going somewhere else entirely is the best choice:
Uxbridge (if the Metropolitan line is running there);
Beaconsfield, Saunderton or Princes Risborough on Chiltern Railways trains from Marylebone;
Tring, Berkhamsted or Hemel Hempstead on a train from Euston.
A particular benefit of walking by tube is the ability to walk in the evenings and catch a late train back to London. I have done a number of post-work walks in June and July, catching a Metropolitan line train at around 5:30pm from central London and walking from around 6:30pm to 9:30pm. There are last trains from to central London from Chesham until around 11pm and from Amersham until nearly midnight.
If you are new to walking in the countryside, the Countryside Code gives advice for visitors to the countryside (as well as landowners).
If you don’t want to read the full Code, there is a short leaflet giving the main points.
Taking your dog is an important part of a walk for many people. There are a few things to bear in mind - both in terms of the public transport and walking elements.
Dogs on public transport
Dogs (and other "inoffensive" animals!) can travel for free on the tube. Section 9 of Transport for London’s ‘Conditions of Carriage’ says:
9.10 You can take an assistance dog on our bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and TfL Rail services. You can also take any other dog or inoffensive animal on these services, unless there is a good reason for us to refuse it (such as if the animal seems dangerous or not properly controlled). You must keep it under control on a lead or in a suitable container and must not allow it on a seat. Staff are not allowed to take charge of any animal.
9.11 At stations, if you bring an animal with you, you should use the wide gates or carry it through the gates. If you have an assistance dog, at stations where there is no wide gate, you must ask a member of staff to open the gates to allow you to enter or leave a station.
9.12 At stations, if you bring an animal with you, you must use a staircase or lift where provided. If there is no staircase or lift and you need to use a moving escalator, you must carry your animal unless you have an assistance dog that has been trained to walk on moving escalators. If your animal is too large to carry, a member of staff will stop the escalator to allow it to travel on it when it is safe to do so (generally outside the rush hours and when the station is not busy).
Other railway lines
“Up to two dogs or small domestic animals” can be taken on Chiltern, Great Western or London Northwestern trains free of charge. Check out these links for details on Chiltern Railways rules, and Great Western rules.
Dogs in the countryside
Dogs are generally welcome on walks, although you will come across individual fields where farmers ask them to be kept on leads. This is a particular issue where there are young lambs, calves, foals etc. Letting your dog get between you the parent can be a very bad idea for all concerned (I know of someone who was charged and knocked off their feet by a cow in these circumstances!).
The Countryside Code says that dogs should always be kept under control and in sight and also asks for dog poo to be bagged and binned. Read more about dogs in the Countryside Code.