London gets all the attention. True, England’s capital city is a robust assortment of cultures and flexes considerable historical muscle. But having lived in the city for nearly two years now, I daresay one of my favorite things about it is the ease with which you can leave to explore the sprawling web of countryside and beach walks.
Kent is a county just an hour’s train ride out of Central London, but transports you, as though via the Hogwarts Express, to another dimension entirely. Along Kent’s significant coastline (which includes the White Cliffs of Dover) is Botany Bay, one of the most photographed places in the UK. Standing amid its chalk stalks during low tide, when I ambled around the impressive structures barefoot and searched for seashells in the sand, I felt like I had found my way into the world of Avatar.
There’s more than just the towering stalks, too. If you continue exploring, you’ll find caves and paths that have been chipped into the chalk coast, allowing you to climb to an Instagram-worthy nook overlooking the beach. The spring Saturday I visited, the beach only had a handful of other people in sight, and it was hard to believe that it took just as much time to get there as it would’ve taken me to travel on the tube from my home in East London to West London. Snap Welcome to nature.
Are you, like those of us who are equal parts introvert and extrovert, in need of city excitement and nature walks, both? I feel you. I need some time away from masses of people and imposing buildings to feel human; but after 10 years in New York City and now living in London, it’s evident that I’m a happy city dweller, too. Here in London, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Speaking of cakes…
My friend, cookbook author, and beloved Great British Baking Show contestant Chetna Makan (whose inventive cakes have gained her a following), invited me to her home in Kent recently. We shot YouTube cooking videos together in her kitchen, followed by a simple and outstanding Indian lunch of paneer curry and lentil stew of rice, and walked it off with a stroll along the beach just near her house.
To have the beach life and be within reach of the country's culinary epicenter in London is a circumstance Chetna does not take for granted. “Do you ever feel like you need to live in London for professional reasons?” I asked, gauging what my own answer might be as I posed the question. “No, never. I go into London whenever I want to or need to for work, and the rest of the time I love living in Kent. I breathe a sigh of relief when I can hear the ocean.”
To get to Botany Bay from London, take the Southeastern train (from many of London’s major train stations, like Kings Cross Station, Victoria Station, Charing Cross, etc.) to Broadstairs or Margate. Broadstairs is the closest village, but Margate is a slightly more touristy destination, which will offer a plethora of fish ’n chips stalls and ice cream stands—everything you would want for a beach-day getaway. Just follow the coastal path from Margate due east and you’ll stumble upon the chalk stalks.
Beyond Botany Bay and beach bumming, the inland nature walks in England are an expansive web of paths open to anyone who cares to explore them. Fairly well marked and well worn, the entire country opens itself up to you in these hikes. Distance walkers come from all around the world to roam the English countryside, which is unique in its laws that allow walkers to tread through private property. Many of my favorite walks have included adventures through beautiful estate lands or saying hello to the horses that share their pastures with us.
These countryside walks were put in context when I heard an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible, in which they delved into this history and explained that “the freedom to walk through private land is known as ‘the right to roam.’ The movement to win this right was started in the 1930s by a rebellious group of young people who called themselves ‘ramblers.’”
Stretching my American legs on the lush, rolling hills of England has been one of the greatest pleasures of living here. Whether it be inland or coastal, I proudly adhere to the title of "rambler."
What's your favorite beach in the world? Tell us in the comments below!