London Walks: Marching towards democracy: Michael Leapman, at Runnymede, takes in monuments to Magna Carta and JFK

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Indy Lifestyle Online
With Second World War anniversaries in mind, it is an appropriate time for a hill and riverside walk ending at one of the most affecting modern war memorials and taking in the meadow at Runnymede where, 779 years ago, the foundations of our freedom were laid.

The memorial is a few hundred yards from the car park but we are keeping it for the end, so walk away at first, turning left at the car park entrance to pass the brick wall of Brunel University's Runnymede Campus. The road climbs to the top of Priest Hill (A328). Briefly turn right, then right off the main road into Oak Lane, a driveway that passes a golf course and tennis courts before turning into a steep downhill path through woods.

Soon it reaches the John F. Kennedy Memorial, a block of Portland stone erected in 1965, two years after the assassination of the American President, on an acre of land ceded to the United States Government. The stone bears a moving quote from his inaugural address about the preservation of liberty, linking it with the theme celebrated in Runnymede meadow just below.

To reach the Magna Carta Memorial take the cobblestone steps down from the woodland on to the meadow, where on the left you can see two of four lodges designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and put up in 1931 to mark the boundaries of the meadow. Do not head straight for the road but turn right beneath the woods for the memorial, a dainty pavilion erected by the American Bar Association. Now take the path towards the road and, alongside it, the Thames, prettily edged in weeping willows. Turn right along the river bank and where the path forks head right - the left arm leads to a dead end - to continue along the river. Look out for herons and other water birds, though at this time of year they may keep sensibly concealed. After about three-quarters of a mile the river curves left away from the road. A park and picnic ground has been created in the bend. The path continues between the river and the backs of suburban houses. After another half-mile, beyond Bell Weir lock, turn right up a footpath just in front of the first of two road bridges. Negotiate the roundabout, heading for the two easterly Lutyens lodges and the open space beyond.

For a few hundred yards you keep to the south edge of the field, alongside Egham by-pass, then head almost due west, away from the trees, as the road veers to the south-west. The path crosses two stiles and climbs steeply across a field to a third. Here turn right on to an uphill track with isolated large houses on the left, and the views of the river on the right improving as you climb.

The lane turns into a narrow road. Just after the students' hostel on your left, you reach the Air Forces Memorial. It bears the names of 20,000 air crew from the Commonwealth killed in the Second World War, whose graves are unknown. Climb the tower for superb views of Runnymede meadow, the Thames, and the wooded Magna Carta Island beyond. The memorial contains an apt quotation from Pope:

'On Cooper's Hill eternal wreaths shall grow,

While lasts the mountain, or while Thames shall flow.'

The route is based on one in National Trust Countryside Walks in the Home Counties, published by Travellers Press in 1985.

(Photograph and map omitted)

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