Kit P

Southern England in the footsteps of a king — hiking the Orange Way

stevekeiretsu (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Southern England in the footsteps of a king — hiking the Orange Way

Hiking Collection by Kit P
23-51 days
3-6 h / day
362 mi
18,300 ft
18,325 ft

The Orange Way is a fantastic 350-mile (563 km) trail that winds through some of Southern England’s loveliest landscapes. The route travels from Brixham Harbour in Devon to St James’ Palace in London, taking in everything from Roman Exeter and Medieval Dorset to Neolithic Stonehenge and 18th-century canals.

This long-distance hike is based on the route William of Orange took in 1688 with his army on their way to usurp King James II. It shows how good walking is for you as William successfully ousted James and reigned from 1689 to his death in 1702. I don’t recommend you try to usurp the British monarchy at the culmination of this grand adventure, but you’ll pass through so much stunning countryside that having to rule the nation will seem terribly dull.

Passing through five counties; Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and London, this expedition encounters plenty of hills but nothing requiring any special skills nor equipment. Instead, it takes you through landscapes dominated by field systems, major rivers, ancient market towns and remnants from the Iron Age.

In this Collection, I’ve divided the route into 25 stages. Each stage is between 9 and 19 miles long (14.5 - 30.6 km), depending on access to settlements and transport at the start and end of each stage. Several sections hug riverbanks or canals and are gloriously flat as a result; others are undulating with short, steep climbs and breathtaking views. I’ve planned this route to follow the direction William travelled in, but it can be hiked just as easily from London to Devon.

You can choose to walk the Orange Way in one go, spending a few weeks gallivanting across the south’s historic countryside. If you do, the summer is likely the best season to complete it in for its long evenings, warmth and the chance of stable weather. You could also walk it in multi-day sections or simply walk stages as day hikes. All sections can be walked in any season but winter can bring mud and floods, requiring more comprehensive clothing options.

Bus services can usually be found close to the start and end points of each stage. There are also numerous train stations and some larger towns and cities either on the route or close by. Whilst you’ll be hiking in largely rural areas, the trail never strays very far from civilisation.

To get to the beginning at Brixham, where William made landfall over 300 years ago, catch the train to Paignton and take the number 12 bus to Brixham. The end point is central London which is served by outstanding national and international transport options.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Intermediate
    04:21
    10.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    750 ft
    600 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The route begins at Brixham’s harbour-front statue of William of Orange and the podium marks his landing on the 5th November 1688 to begin his journey to usurp King James II. This little fishing town is remarkably picturesque and the route heads briefly along a coastal road to provide lovely views over Torbay before heading inland.

    Leaving Brixham behind, the trail leads out into the undulating South Devon countryside. Look out for the Parliament stone near the turning for Lower Longcombe farm. The stone marks the place where the prince’s first parliament was said to have been held. This stage ends in Berry Pomeroy which has bus links to nearby Totnes and its many amenities.

    Difficult
    07:16
    16.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,275 ft
    1,200 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Starting in Berry Pomeroy, this hike takes you through pretty countryside along peaceful lanes and old woodlands. Shortly after leaving the village, you’ll come across Berry Pomeroy Castle. Said to be one of the most haunted places in Devon, there’s certainly something eerie about the grand ruins.

    The hills in South Devon mean that a good view is never far away and for much of this Tour, rolling fields are standard. This is a lengthy walk, at 16.6 miles (26.7 km), but Ipplepen, Abbortskerswell and Newton Abbot all have pubs or cafes where you can have a rest. Chudleigh is the final stop on this stage and is a charming, community-driven town.

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  • Difficult
    06:39
    15.2 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,075 ft
    1,200 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Stage 3 leaves Chudleigh along a quiet lane into the glory of Haldon Forest Park. Managed by the Forestry Commission, you’re likely to see plenty of mountain bikes nipping across roads into the darkness of the conifer plantations. Deer are common here too and the birdlife usually fills the air with song.

    You’ll hike down Haldon Hill and through the picturesque lanes of Shillingford St George and east to Exminster. Here, you’ll cross through an RSPB nature reserve before reaching the Exeter Ship Canal at Turk Locks, an excellent place for lunch. Walk up the canal to the Roman city of Exeter, with its grand cathedral and endless amenities.

    Intermediate
    03:45
    8.98 mi
    2.4 mph
    300 ft
    250 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first two-thirds of this hike follows the River Exe as it flows through the heart of the city and out through Riverside Valley Park. The trail hugs the eastern bank and you’ll walk along a mixture of roads and footpaths, heading through tall reeds for a spell before reaching Topsham. This gorgeous little village has a pretty harbour and fantastic views of the Exe Estuary.

    Explore Topsham’s pretty streets and enjoy a coffee on the quayside before heading inland to Ebford. Following lanes and tracks, you’ll reach Woodbury, where this stage ends. Set in the glorious landscape of East Devon, this lovely village has a pub and good local transport links.

    Difficult
    08:28
    19.0 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,900 ft
    1,675 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This hike is almost entirely rural, crossing a large section of East Devon. This part of England’s third-largest county is all rolling hills, beautiful valleys and old villages. The trail leaves Woodbury and heads up to Pebblebed Heaths conservation area, where you can see extraordinary displays of wildlife. Unusual butterflies, insects and birds all call the Pebblebeds home.

    After crossing sprawling commons, the trail heads through tiny Harpford and up to Ottery St Mary. This is a long hike and taking a rest in Ottery is a good idea, with its independent cafes and community vibe. Onwards, you’ll hike across fields and through woodlands to reach the glorious market town of Honiton.

    Difficult
    05:10
    11.2 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,225 ft
    1,450 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This is a lovely hike through East Devon’s rolling landscape with a few steep hills to climb and excellent views. You’ll hike across farmland and along empty lanes, passing through the odd little village where life doesn’t seem to have changed much in decades.

    Starting in Honiton, the trail trundles from farm to farm to Dalwood, a pretty village that time forgot. You’ll find a pub here and a community store. The village has a few lovely green spaces with benches if you need somewhere to munch your sarnies. The route then joins the River Yarty and follows it for a stretch before striking off for Axminster.

    Difficult
    07:22
    16.4 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,725 ft
    1,675 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage leaves Devon behind and takes you through Dorset’s gorgeous, historic landscape. The first section whisks you across fields past grazing animals and through patches of pretty woodlands. You’ll see old farm buildings around every corner and enjoy far-reaching views from hilltops.

    When the trail reaches Pilsdon Pen, an Iron Age hillfort, you’ll have found Dorset’s second-highest point and be well-rewarded with views. Leaving this important landmark behind, the route dives straight back into rolling farmland to reach the town of Beaminster.

    Difficult
    07:01
    15.9 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,325 ft
    1,250 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Leaving Beaminster, this route winds north through landscapes littered with Saxon history to cross the River Axe and head into Crewkerne. This countryside here is blissfully rural with off-road footpaths and hedgerows brimming with birdsong. Crewkerne is the halfway point and, as a historic market town with lots of lovely architecture, it’s a great spot for lunch.

    Crossing the River Parrett, the trail then heads to Haselbury Plucknett with its fascinating church and onwards to East Coker. This village is the site of a Roman villa, only discovered in the 18th century, and lends its name to a T.S. Eliot poem featured in his ‘Four Quartets’.

    Difficult
    05:46
    13.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    700 ft
    700 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage spends half its time wandering through rolling countryside and the other half exploring old villages and historic settlements. The old farmhouses and ancient churches you encounter give the distinct impression that life has hardly changed in centuries.

    There’s nothing particularly steep on this hike and the gentle inclines provide lovely views of the dips in the landscape. When you reach Sherborne, you can take advantage of its amenities for lunch as well as visit its tremendous castle ruins. This Tour ends in Purse Candle, a little village with bus links (58 &58A) to bigger towns like Yeovil.

    Difficult
    06:42
    15.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    975 ft
    875 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Taking a rather roundabout route to reach Wincanton, this stage leaves Dorset and enters Somerset pastoral landscape. Much of this route involves hiking over fields and taking in marvellous views with church spires erupting from treelines. The trail passes the intriguing Gartell Light Railway in Yenston and heads over to Kingston Magna before turning north.

    The trail now climbs to reach the village of Cucklington which is a real highlight of this stage. Perched on the edge of a ridge, this peaceful settlement languishes in exceptional views to the west. Shortly after Cucklington, the route heads to Wincanton where you’ll find accommodation, restaurants and supermarkets.

    Difficult
    07:26
    17.2 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,150 ft
    1,100 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    While the hills never get particularly high, this is a very undulating section of the Orange Way with a couple of steepish sections. The hilltops provide ample opportunity for excellent views and the descents often lead into sweet villages and past picturesque farmsteads.

    Starting in Wincanton, the trail heads east into Wiltshire. Mere makes for an excellent halfway stop if you’re after a pub lunch or a pretty town for a picnic. The route continues south of the downlands across the fields to Hindon. Once a market town, this now-village lies in the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

    Difficult
    07:45
    18.1 mi
    2.3 mph
    950 ft
    1,200 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This hike is one of the longer stages of the Orange Way but its hills are relatively gentle and the landscapes are exceptionally easy-going on the eyes. Starting in Hindon, the trail traverses Wiltshire’s pretty countryside eastwards, to the majestic Cathedral city of Salisbury.

    As you reach Dinton, you’ll pass by Philipps House, a National Trust property that rises majestically from its estate surroundings. Once in Wilton, the trail passes Wilton House, where William of Orange was met by the Prince of Denmark. The route leads on into Salisbury, which has every amenity you could want and a gorgeous place to end the stage.

    Intermediate
    04:45
    11.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    700 ft
    625 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This beautiful hike heads north from Salisbury and stays in close proximity to the River Avon. First, the route passes around Old Sarum, an ancient place of great historic importance; it dates back to 3000 BC. You’ll follow tracks that could’ve wandered out of a period drama, between fields north-west to the Avon.

    Whilst never rising particularly high, the landscape here is vast and on a clear day, it feels like the sky goes on forever. The trail takes you down to Woodford Bridge, where weeping willows drape artistically, before leading along more dirt tracks to Amesbury. This historic town is most famous for neighbouring Stonehenge, but it’s a marvellous place to stay in its own right.

    Difficult
    06:28
    15.2 mi
    2.4 mph
    825 ft
    550 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    One of the most historically impressive sections of the Orange Way, this hike takes you past the world-famous Stonehenge. Starting in Amesbury, there are two options for the route. I’ve chosen to include Stonehenge and its counterpart, Woodhenge, on this Tour because it would be a great shame to pass them by at such close quarters and not visit.

    After taking in the majesty of the Neolithic stones and the site of the phenomenal wooden pillars, the trail heads up the Avon from Durrington. You’ll stick largely to footpaths, crossing fields and rambling through woods, to reach Netheravon. Lanes and farm tracks make up much of the rest of the route to Everleigh.

    Intermediate
    04:22
    10.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    375 ft
    400 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This route leads you across rural farmland with little elevation gain at all. It does meander through military territory though, so don’t be too alarmed if you see signs for tank crossings (or tanks themselves, trundling across your path). Lovely open byways are a mainstay of this section, with fields spreading out in every direction.

    Once the trail reaches Collingbourne Kingston (which has a pub), it heads north. You’ll be walking on footpaths and tracks here too, all the way to Burbage.

    Difficult
    06:50
    16.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    650 ft
    850 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    On your way out of Burbage, you’ll come across a rather unlikely literary connection foreshadowed by the name of the road the trail heads out on: Wolfhall Road. Although private, Wolfhall manor house sits on this road, the inspiration for Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name.

    After leaving such a remarkable find behind, the Way heads north along the Kennet & Avon Canal. It then runs through Savernake Forest, which is endlessly beautiful, particularly in spring and summer. The trail meets the River Kennet and follows it all the way to Hungerford through glorious countryside.

    Difficult
    06:29
    15.5 mi
    2.4 mph
    575 ft
    500 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Stage 17 takes you across the county border from Wiltshire to Berkshire. The first half is of exceptional charm and beauty, using the towpath for the Kennet & Avon Canal. You’ll pass many lock gates, all with brightly-coloured narrowboats gleaming in the sunshine. Kingfishers and moorhens are commonly spotted residents here too, so watch out and you might well spot a few.

    The trail leaves this gorgeous canal at Newbury, which is an ideal place for lunch on the water’s edge. From this old market town, the route heads north through Snelsmore Common Country Park and round the edge of Bussock Camp Iron Age hillfort. The stage finishes in Chieveley, a lovely little village far more interesting than the nearby, well-known M4 service station of the same name.

    Difficult
    08:17
    19.8 mi
    2.4 mph
    600 ft
    825 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    On this section, the route winds through the beautiful Berkshire Downs into Oxfordshire. Leaving Chieveley, the trail takes you across undulating fields, often with wonderful views. Patches of woodland and thriving hedgerows make this stage truly wonderful, particularly in summer.

    The trail rises to Fore Down, where you have the opportunity to briefly leave the route and see Scutchamer Knob. I haven’t just included this highlight for its excellent name, it’s also an ancient burial mound. Afterwards, the way heads through East Hendred village and north-east to the stunning town of Abingdon.

    Difficult
    05:59
    14.7 mi
    2.5 mph
    125 ft
    150 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The River Thames is the guiding force for this stage and the trail catches it immediately, as it flows through Abingdon. George Orwell’s grave is one of the major points of historic interest on this Tour and you’ll find it in the graveyard at Sutton Courtenay.

    Rejoin the main route alongside the Thames where you’ll have fields on one side and the famous river on the other. The trail is wonderfully picturesque, with bridges, little villages and small woodlands en route.

    Dorchester is a good lunch stop but the riverbank has plenty of picnic spots. By the time you finish the stage at Wallingford, you’ll be well and truly in love with this gorgeous stretch of river.

    Intermediate
    04:45
    11.5 mi
    2.4 mph
    225 ft
    250 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Stage 20 continues along the River Thames and this hike is largely flat as a result. Exceptionally beautiful with boathouses, kayakers and vibrant riverbanks, it’s hard to believe that William of Orange didn’t just settle down in a nice cottage around here; who needs a palace?

    Goring makes for a lovely place to stop for lunch but if it’s a pub you’re looking for, there are plenty dotted along the route. The final section heads through the pretty forest at Lower Hartslock Wood and neighbouring Hartslock Wood. The path rises through the trees before carrying you down into the lovely Whitchurch-on-Thames.

    Difficult
    06:39
    16.2 mi
    2.4 mph
    225 ft
    250 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage is on the long side, at 16.2 miles (26 km), but it’s flat and lends itself to ambling along for hours without a care in the world. The route largely follows the Thames and passes through the major town of Reading. Not noted for its beauty, the path sticks to the river and you’ll see the prettier sections of the town, including its lovely narrowboats.

    The trail returns to its more rural-feeling self at Sonning, where you’ll find a lovely old bridge. Onwards, you’ll walk past fields to Shiplake and up to Henley. This incredibly beautiful town has an outstanding reputation and is a fantastic place to explore and stay for the night. It’s worth noting that during the annual regatta, accommodation in the town is fully booked.

    Intermediate
    03:32
    8.63 mi
    2.4 mph
    100 ft
    125 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Following the Thames as it meanders through gentle countryside, this is a fairly short hike. There are plenty of beautiful sights to see on the route, not least the river itself as it dawdles along. Mill End, not far into the walk, is particularly lovely. Every couple of miles, you’ll reach a village with a pub, so it’s easy to take all day over this stage if you want to.

    If you thought you’d already seen some stunning places on the Orange Way, wait until you see Marlow. This Georgian market town holds a glorious location and has plenty of winding streets and boutique shops and restaurants to explore. Mary Shelley and T.S. Elliot are just two of the famous authors who’ve called this home.

    Difficult
    05:42
    14.0 mi
    2.5 mph
    125 ft
    150 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    As the Way heads towards London and the towns around get busier, the path too gets busier. This stretch is popular in the summer, although it is very beautiful in all seasons. The trail leaves Marlow and hugs the Thames on its northern bank. At Bourne End, it crosses the river and travels along the southern side.

    Watercraft are common along this stretch of the Thames and while it lacks the serenity of earlier sections, it’s wonderful to see how vibrant life is on the river. The trail passes through Maidenhead and down to Windsor, the end of this Tour.

    Difficult
    07:25
    18.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    250 ft
    275 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    One of the longer stages of the Orange Way, at 18.1 miles (29.1 km), this mainly flat route leaves the Thames behind. I’ve added Windsor Castle as the first place to stop, simply because I’d hate for anyone to not realise such a monumental palace was close by, but you can skip visiting if you like.

    The trail heads north through Slough and picks up the Grand Union Canal, following it all the way to Brentford. The towpath can get busy in places but it’s a wonderful way to skip the built-up suburbs and towns around it and you’ll spot plenty of historic buildings along the way.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    25
  • Distance
    362 mi
  • Duration
    154:02 h
  • Elevation
    18,300 ft18,325 ft

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Kit P

Southern England in the footsteps of a king — hiking the Orange Way