An easy to follow route across historic meadowland spanning eight centuries of freedom and democracy.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 213ft (65m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Woodland and cross-field paths, boggy in wet weather
Landscape Wooded slopes overlooking Thames-side meadowlands
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 160 Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell or National Trust's trail map, (available at tea room)
Start/finish SU 996731
Dog friendliness Not permitted in paddock behind National Trust tea room, or in Air Forces Memorial
Parking National Trust car park, Runnymede
Public toilets At car park
1 From the information board at the car park entrance, follow the waymarked purple route across the field to your right. At the edge of the woods, a short diversion leads you through a little gate and up the cobbled steps to the Kennedy memorial. Take care in wet weather, when the granite setts can be treacherous.
2 Return to the gate and turn right. A short way further on, you'll see the American Bar Association Memorial, also on your right. Constructed in 1957, this simple yet effective little building is dedicated to Magna Carta's principles of freedom, enshrined in these fields in 1215. A few paces further on turn right over the stile, then bear left, and follow the marker posts beside a line of oak trees until you reach a wicket gate in the woods straight ahead. Turn right here, following the purple route up the steps towards the Air Forces Memorial. At the top of the steps, turn right to walk along the gravelled road and continue around to the right to the memorial entrance.
3 Retrace your route past the Royal Holloway College and down the steps to the first waymark post. Turn right here, and follow the waymarked woodland path down the hill to a yellow and purple waymark. Turn right again, now following the yellow trail just inside the woodland edge until it veers to the left through a little wicket gate. Bear right at Langham Pond, jump the stile, and follow the water's edge until you come to a yellow waymark by another wicket gate.
4 Keep straight on here, beside the post and wire fence on your left, and turn left through the next wicket gate. Continue along the waymarked path towards the buildings on the horizon, following the hedge line as it loops all the way around to the left to a field gate with a wicket gate beside it.
5 Go through here, and follow the waymarked footpath straight across the open meadow in front of you. At the far side, two stiles in quick succession lead you to another wicket gate; cross the road here, and turn left onto the Thames Path at a yellow waymark post. Now, simply follow the river all the way back to the car park and tea room where your walk began.
Overlooking the meadows where, in 1215, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephan Langton, and his baronial followers forced the King to recognise English freedoms in Magna Carta, is the Air Forces Memorial. The scene that confronts you here is surprisingly awesome in its scale. Beyond the immaculately tended gardens stands a huge white Portland stone building, opened by the Queen in October 1953. and its walls record the names of over 20,000 Commonwealth aircrew who died for those same ideals during the Second World War, but whose bones have no known grave.
You don't need to have lost a loved one in the war, or even to have lived through it, to be humbled by this place. Three hundred panels stand in the cloistered quadrangle, arranged beside the tall window embrasures like pages from an open book. Each one bears over 60 names, grouped according to the year in which they died. There's a small shrine beneath the tower and, before you leave, you can lighten the mood by climbing the spiral stairs to the roof for a view over London and six counties.
This walk makes use of the National Trust's superbly waymarked trails, and includes an extra stretch across the meadows to the east before returning along the Thames Path. You'll pass the John F Kennedy memorial, as well as two very different monuments designed by Sir Edward Maufe, architect of Guildford cathedral.
You're almost certain to see and hear sizeable flocks of Canada geese honking in the meadows surrounding Langham Ponds. These large, noisy birds have unmistakable long black necks and heads, with a bold white flash extending around the cheeks and under the chin. Like swans, Canada geese pair for life, and may live for as long as 20 years. They were first brought to this country from the American colonies in the 17th century, to decorate the landscaped parks of the gentry.
You'll get a warm welcome at the National Trust tea room at the start, which also sells maps, guide books and souvenirs. The full menu includes hot and cold drinks, all day breakfasts, light lunches, sandwiches, cakes and cream teas, as well as hot daily specials like pasta bake or cottage pie. Open daily, except 24-26 December.
Splash out on a boat trip to complete your day on the River Thames. In the summer months, the replica Victorian paddler Lucy Fisher runs regular 45-minute trips from Runnymede landing stage, adjacent to the start of your walk. There are longer cruises through Old Windsor Lock on Sunday afternoons, as well as regular services to Hampton Court and Windsor. You can buy refreshments on board, and all the boats have toilets.