Hidden gems of the UK's South East: Action & adventure escapes
Whether it's surfing, skateboarding, kayaking or quad biking, South East England is packed with active adventures, and many of them are easily reached by rail thanks to Southeastern
GO KITESURFING IN WHITSTABLE
Nearest station: Chestfield & Swalecliffe
What to do: There's more to cutesy Whitstable than oysters – it turns out the coast around the town is surprisingly good for kitesurfing. You can learn the, er, ropes with Aquilo Kiteboarding School, run by experienced local kiter Sarah Dorking, who'll guide you and your rented kite and board through the basics over two-way headsets. Wet and wild in Whitstable? Roger that.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International and London Victoria to Chestfield & Swalecliffe and take from 1h17. From there, it'as a 10-minute walk from the station.
For more info: aquilokiteboarding.co.uk
SKATEBOARD RIGHT ON THE SEAFRONT IN SWALECLIFFE
Nearest station: Chestfield & Swalecliffe
What to do: Just along the coast from Whitstable's tourists and twee shops you'll find Swalecliffe Skatepark, which, ocean views aside, might as well be on a different planet. With a prime spot overlooking the water, Swalecliffe has two linked sections – a decent-sized bowl and a street area – and on a sunny day you might even drift off and imagine you're in Cali rather than Kent.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International and London Victoria and take from 1h17. From there, it's a 10-minute walk.
PADDLE PAST ONE OF THE COUNTRY'S BEST PIERS IN HASTINGS
Nearest station: Hastings
What to do: Whether you've never set foot (or bum) in a kayak or you can handle waves like a pro, there are few better ways to see one of Britain's best seaside towns than from sea level. Calypso Kayak Hire is based on the beach by the pier, and you can rent kayaks and standup paddleboards, or take lessons, so the whole family can mess around in the surf.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge. London Victoria and Waterloo East and take from 1h23. From there, it's a 15-minute walk.
For more info: calypsokayakhire.co.uk
GET A HOLE IN ONE AT THE HOME OF THE OPEN 2020 IN SANDWICH
Nearest station: Sandwich
What to do: In 2020, Royal St George's Golf Club will host The Open for the 15th time, which gives you some idea of just how highly golfers rate this links course in Sandwich. Royal St George's has its fair share of iconic holes – from the dunes of the sixth (known as the Maiden) to the challenging finishing hole – but the tall, looming bunker on the fourth has been known to punish even the best.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International and London Bridge and take from 1h29. From there, it's a six-minute taxi from the station.
For more info: royalstgeorges.com
Windsurf in the middle of the Kent countryside
Nearest station: New Hythe
What to do: It may not be on the coast, but Leybourne Lake might just be the best place for watersports in Kent. Not only can you have a crack at activities including windsurfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, scuba diving (yes, really) and open water swimming, but you can do it all in a safe, self-contained area right in the heart of the Kent countryside. Keep an eye out for a packed roster of special events throughout the summer, like full moon swims, night paddles and triathlons.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International and take from 52 minutes. From there it’s a 25-minute walk from the station.
For more info: leybournelakewatersports.co.uk
GO UNDERGROUND AT AN EXTREME SPORTS PLAYGROUND IN HASTINGS
Nearest station: Hastings
What to do: Founded in 2003 by brothers Marc and Richard Moore, the Source started life as a BMX store in Bexhill-on-Sea, and in the 15 years since has moved to Hastings and become the world's biggest BMX store. But the real story is what's hidden below in the site of a disused swimming baths: the world's largest underground extreme sports facility. You need to see it to believe it – or better still you need to ride or skate the main park's mix of bowls, transitions and wall rides, or the smaller plaza's street-style setup.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge, London Victoria and London Charing Cross and take from 1h23. From there, it's a 15-minute walk.
For more info: sourcebmx.com
GET DOWN AND DIRTY ON A QUAD BIKE IN ASHFORD
Nearest station: Ashford International
What to do: You could explore the South East's countryside sedately, or you could put your leg over a 350cc Yamaha Grizzly quad bike and tear around the 3,000-acre Eastwell Park Estate instead. At True Grip in Ashford, you'll take on challenging terrain that winds its way up and down hill, through open fields and dense woodland, under the guidance of experienced instructors. They'll make sure you leave with a new skill, muddy clothes, and a huge grin etched across your face.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge, St Pancras International and London Victoria and take from 37 minutes. From there, it's a nine-minute taxi from the station.
For more info: truegrip-offroad.co.uk
CATCH SOME WAVES IN BROADSTAIRS
Samuel Carney/Orbit Folkestone
Nearest Station: Broadstairs
What to do: We're not about to claim the Kent coast is the new Hawaii, but the sandy expanse of Joss Bay just around the corner from Broadstairs has been the southeast's go-to surf spot for decades – expect a packed lineup when there's a decent swell. Joss Bay surf school has been teaching people to surf for 20 years, so if you're a newbie you'll be in good hands, while experienced surfers can hire gear from the shop and get straight out into the waves. If there aren't many of those, hire a stand up paddleboard instead, or soak up the sun at the town's Viking Bay.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International and London Victoria and take from 1h21. From there it's a seven-minute taxi.
For more info: jossbay.co.uk
FIND TRAILS AND TREES AT THE NATIONAL PINETUM, BEDGEBURY
Nearest Station: Etchingham
What to do: Bedgebury is home to the national pinetum – 320 acres of woodland that are home to more than 12,000 trees and shrubs from 1,800 different species. Branch out (sorry) into the surrounding forests, though, and you'll find a challenging 13km, purpose-built singletrack mountain bike trail complete with rocky sections, dropoffs, thigh-burning climbs and technical descents that wind their way through thickets of pine trees. Look out for dedicated 'black runs' and freeride sections, and avoid the hassle of bringing a bike on the train with you by renting some wheels from Quench Cycles' extensive fleet when you get there.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge and take from 1h06. From there it's a 15-minute taxi journey from the station.
For more info: forestry.gov.uk
FOLLOW AN ANCIENT PILGRIMAGE ROUTE TO CANTERBURY
Nearest Station: Chilham
What to do: The Pilgrim's Way, which runs between Winchester and Canterbury, is an ancient trail that takes in some of the South's most spectacular scenery. It's also the perfect excuse to put on your trail running shoes and swap pavement-pounding for something a little more tranquil. We're not going to suggest taking on all 192km, silly – instead, make smart use of the rail network to run the final section of the route. Starting from the station at the pretty village of Chilham, it's a short run to pick up the path (look for signs with an acorn logo), and from there about 11km of undulating track leads to the end point in Canterbury, where you can grab a well-earned pub lunch and hop (and nap) on a train home to London.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International, London Bridge and London Victoria and take from around 1h05.
For more info: nationaltrail.co.uk
PLAY ADVENTURE GOLF IN BIRCHINGTON-ON-SEA
Nearest station: Birchington-on-Sea
What to do: Did someone say adventure golf? Yep, and paintball, airsoft, a maize maze and splat attack. Because that's what you'll find at Quex Activity Centre, where grown-up kids and actual kids alike can take on all sorts of adventurous pursuits in one purpose-built site. Each activity makes the most of the large expanse of parkland at Quex, not least the adventure golf, where you'll have to negotiate water features, ramps, buildings and bridges.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International and London Victoria and take from 1h31. From there it's a 19-minute walk from the station.
For more info: quexactivitycentre.com
START TRAINING FOR THE OLYMPICS IN KIDBROOKE, SOUTH LONDON
Nearest station: Kidbrooke
What to do: If you're hoping to make it to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, it's time to start practicing. Newly opened Sutcliffe Park Sports Centre is a state-of-the-art facility that boasts not only a 60m indoor sprint track and a throwing cage, but also an indoor skatepark and climbing wall, so you can get in training before skating and climbing appear at the Olympics for the first time.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge and London Victoria and take from 16 minutes. From there, it's an 11-minute walk.
For more info: extreme.better.org.uk
RIDE AROUND THE ISLE OF THANET
Nearest station: Margate
What to do: The Viking Trail is a 51km coastal route wraps around the edge of the Isle of Thanet, but for a slightly more chilled option (and some of the best views), hire bikes from the Bike Shed at Margate station and pedal the 14km to Reculver and back. The route's well signposted and there are plenty of opportunities to grab an ice cream or take a refreshing dip in the sea along the way.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from London Bridge, St Pancras International and London Victoria and take from 1h30. The Bike Shed is by the station.
GET ON YOUR BIKE IN GRAVESEND
Nearest station: Gravesend
What to do: If it's two-wheeled action you're after, you'll find it at Cyclopark in Gravesend, which caters to everyone from BMXers to road cyclists. The latter get a 2.9km car-free circuit that's perfect for testing speed and bike-handling, while there are 6km of trails where mountain bikers and cyclocrossers can hone their skills. The 330m BMX track is the perfect place to learn, train or compete, and you can rent a BMX and gear once you arrive.
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International, London Bridge and London Victoria and take from 22 minutes. From there, it's a 20-minute bus then a seven-minute walk.
For more info: cyclopark.com
SEE THE COAST FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE IN FOLKESTONE
Nearest Station: Folkestone Central
What to do: The Dover Folkestone Heritage Coast, with its green-tipped white cliffs and narrow, windswept beaches, is one of the most recognisable stretches of coastline in Britain. But have you ever seen it while standing up and gliding across the ocean at your own pace? Didn't think so. Head to Sunny Sands beach in Folkestone, though, and you can do exactly that with Sea Sports Folkestone, where you can learn to stand up paddleboard, join one of their regular SUP sessions or even try SUP yoga. That's exactly what it sounds like, and it's a serious workout for your core and your concentration – just in case standing up on a board as it bobs around in the waves weren't challenging enough already…
How to get there: Southeastern Off-Peak trains run from St Pancras International and London Bridge and take from 53 minutes. From there it's a 20-minute walk.
For more info: folkestoneseasports.com