by Chris Leadbeater, The Telegraph, July 20, 2017
As anyone who has ever played Monopoly will know, London has a considerable number of railway stations. Four of them, after all - Liverpool Street, Fenchurch Street, King's Cross and Marylebone - were available to purchase for £200 each on the original incarnation of the classic board game. If these crucial pieces of transport infrastructure and urban real estate are available at such competitive sums, why, there must be loads of them.
And there are. London Bridge, Blackfriars, Euston, St Pancras, Paddington, Victoria, Charing Cross, Waterloo. All are ready and waiting to offers trains out into the shires - some of them leaving on time, some of them even offering available seats. Joy unmeasured.
Recently, Telegraph Travel put together a feature on fascinating places found at the end of London's Tube lines. This is the same principle - except that, in this case, we have picked a clutch of intriguing locations which can be found within an hour's rail ride of a London railway interchange. No changing trains, no hanging around on platforms waiting for a connection. Just a sling-shot of 60 minutes or under - then a morning/day/afternoon of fun.
And nothing that is many miles away from the city centre - you could, after all, almost be in Birmingham in little more than an hour on some mainline services. These are attractions close to the M25, but (mostly) on the other side of it from the capital.
What, where and how long? All is revealed below...
1. Warner Bros. Studio Tour
To: Watford Junction
Train time: 20 minutes
What: Tucked into Leavesden in Hertfordshire, this cinematic dream factory is best known for being the place where the Harry Potter books were filmed and finessed for the silver screen. Fans of the boy-wizard franchise can wander two soundstages, permanently preserved as exhibition space - wandering through Dumbledore's Office and past the front of No.4 Privet Drive. The studio offers a shuttle-bus connection from Watford Junction (£2.50 return).
Details: wbstudiotour.co.uk; adults from £37, children (5-15) from £29.
2. The Surrey Hills
To: Box Hill & Westhumble
Train time: 56 minutes
What: Some 163 square miles of peaks and pastures, grassy slopes and glorious views, which accounts for roughly a quarter of Surrey. It has been protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 1958. Taking the train direct to Box Hill station delivers you to the heart of the matter - and the chance to hike the 735ft (224m) bluff whose profile has increased hugely since it was the centrepiece of the cycling road race at London 2012.
3. The Chiltern Hills
Train time: 40 minutes
What: A similar deal, to Surrey Hills - this time in leafy Buckinghamshire, but still ripe for happy wanderings on breezy Saturdays. Staying on the train one stop beyond High Wycombe - to Saunderton - is recommended. Here is a classic English village of particular beauty, the parish church of St Mary and St Nicholas dating back to 1227. It is also a short hop from the Hellfire Caves (hellfirecaves.co.uk), a man-made cavern complex with a spooky story.
4. St Albans
From: St Pancras
To: St Albans City
Train time: 17 minutes
What: A splendid slab of ancient British heritage; a dot on the map which has existed for as long as London. Two millennia ago, give or take a decade or so, it was the Roman settlement of Verulamium. It recalls this era in the remnants of its Roman wall (english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/roman-wall-of-st-albans), and also, indirectly, in its titular cathedral (stalbanscathedral.org). St Alban was martyred by the Romans in the third century. The town is also a place of pilgrimage for beer drinkers – it's the headquarters of the Campaign for Real Ale and is reputed to possess more pubs per capita than any other UK town.
5. Tilbury Fort
From: Fenchurch Street
To: Tilbury Town
Train time: 39 minutes
What: A sturdy watchdog on the Essex bank of the River Thames. Tilbury Fort came into existence in 1539 as Henry VIII shored up his kingdom against possible French aggression. It was on duty when the Spanish Armada was in the Channel in 1588, and was a key Parliamentary bastion during the English Civil War. It is preserved as a historic site overlooking the water - and you can enjoy a pint afterwards in the nearby Worlds End pub.
Details: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tilbury-fort/; adults £5.60, 5-15s £3.40
From: Fenchurch Street
To: Southend Central
Train time: 49 minutes
What: Go a little further down the Essex flank of the Thames and you encounter a much-loved nugget of the English seaside. Probably - is Southend on the river estuary, or does it overlook the Channel? It doesn't really matter. Here is old-fashioned fun of the sort which used to lure Londoners east in their droves - Southend Pier jutting out as the longest pier in the world (1.34 miles); the Adventure Island theme park offering thrill rides and ice cream.
Train time: 53 minutes
What: Perched at the western edge of Kent, Shoreham is another English village which looks like it has stepped out of a costume drama, the River Darent moseying through as if it is in no particular rush to go anywhere else. There are, though, echoes of noisier, more fraught days. Shoreham Aircraft Museum (shoreham-aircraft-museum.co.uk ; £3.50) looks back at the Battle of Britain, with artefacts rescued from British and German planes.
8. Hever Castle
From: London Bridge
Train time: 41 minutes
What: Another fine fragment of Henry VIII's story, this time folded into the context of rural Kent. Hever Castle was, famously, the childhood home of Bluff King Hal's second wife (and first executionee) Anne Boleyn. Although built in the 13th century, the castle trades heavily on the 16th century and its most notable resident. It looks the part too - especially on a July day, when sunlight twinkles on its moat, and the year could be 1522.
Details: hevercastle.co.uk ; adults £15.90, children (5-15) £8.95
9. RHS Wisley
To: West Byfleet
Train time: 28 minutes
What: The Surrey branch of the Royal Horticultural Society - 240 acres of decorative gardens, an extensive arboretum, and greenhouses alive with numerous flowering species. The Bicentenary Glasshouse is a particular attraction, opened in 2007 as a way to display flora from diverse geographic environments - desert, tropical and temperate. This year being the structure's 10th anniversary, it is hosting an array of blooming special exhibitions.
Details: rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley ; adults £15.40, children (5-16) £7.70
10. Leeds Castle
Train time: 66 minutes
What: OK, so this relic of the 12th century breaks the one-hour travel rule set down at the top of this feature. But Leeds Castle is a beautiful shard of Britain's medieval past - perhaps more so than Hever, stood in the middle of its own lake. The fact that its name is a regular source of confusion, and that it sits in rural Kent rather than urban Yorkshire, somehow adds to its charm. And it has a hedge maze, so you can feel lost once you've arrived as well.
Details: leeds-castle.com ; adults £24.90, children (4-15) £16.90