UK / Europe

Love at first hike

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Amy Hughes

While it’s been said that when a man tires of London, he is tired of life, even us hardcore city slickers need a break now and then.  And I’m not talking about the kind that requires military precision planning to get the most out of a 48-hour weekend, with well-researched hotels and lots of logistics.  I’m talking about an easy escape … the kind you don’t even have to think about.

Alex Murphy can guarantee that.  There’s only one catch.  You have to be willing to earn it. Alex is a certified personal trainer who organises hikes within 60 minutes of London, and overnights further afield.  Her website ( boasts the fact that her hikes are a great form of fitness and can burn as many as 1500 calories.  It takes a lot for me to give up my Saturday morning spin class, but Alex assured me I wouldn’t sacrifice my workout.  And she was right.  If you’ve been hitting the expense account hard, and can’t bear more time at a hotel gym where it feels like the walls are closing in, this is just the antidote.

Alex is a sparky American and she is nothing if not organised.  Using software which grades ascents, Alex carefully maps out a range of hikes to suit easy, moderate and challenging levels of fitness, amidst great scenery.  Ours consists of a few steep inclines, with one in particular which really got my heart thumping.  I have to remind myself it was all part of the thousand-plus calorie promise.

Armed with her maps and printouts,  Alex does a dry-run of every hike, ensuring there’s a gastro-pub en route, which passes muster, preferably at the half-way point.  Our group of 10 gathers at Denbies Vineyard (England’s largest), a beautiful spot  just under an hour’s train ride from Central London.

With an 11am start time, I dodn’t need a wake-up call to make my train.   I signed up for a four-hour hike, lunch at a gastro-pub, and a hill-top wine tasting, all included in £30 cost for the day.  And I’m not disappointed.  Alex is like a cross between Girl Guides Mom and Concierge.    Her planning and attention to detail means the rest of us didn’t have to think about a thing – just follow the leader.

She and her partner carry rucksacks filled with goodies.  First, granola bars and water were doled out to make sure everyone was fuelled up for our first hill.  Later, we stop to enjoy sweeping views of the valley below while sampling Denbies ’wines.  Fellow hikers range in age from late 20s to 50 and we are easily distracted getting to know each other.  It is a diverse and social group representing at least five different countries.  Any tourist would fit in, and find this a great way to dip into local culture.   In fact, the groups are so social, I’m told there have been a few happy endings from these hikes.

We stopped for lunch at a gastro-pub well frequented by Alex and her groups.   There were mixed reviews about the food, but it is clear this is the first time things were sub-par.  And judging the by way Alex runs things, she’ll either have a word with the manager, or re-direct her route to a different pub next time.   Skimping is not what these hikes are about.

If anyone leaves hungry, it isn’t long to wait before we are treated to another stop where Alex breaks out locally made loaves of chocolate ganache cake and lemon drizzle.  They are enough to tempt even my will of steel.  I said “tempt” not break.

We return to the winery about fourish, and those who want to can head into Denbies’ shop for a formal tasting, or a browse.  The rest of us heading back to London are back in the urban jungle by 6pm.  Just in time for a soak and a quiet night in, or out.

Alex posts hike dates on her website, but it’s best to email her directly if you’re interested.   Hikes are organised for Saturdays, Sundays, weekend overnights and weekdays/weeknights.  She also runs corporate events and tailors hikes as well as other outdoor activities according to the group.

If you’re desperate for a break from the Big Smoke, and keen to work off your guilty pleasures, try these hikes.  I think I’m hooked.

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