It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Best wintry walks in the South Downs National Park
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Best wintry walks in the South Downs National Park
Snow-capped peaks, crisp fresh air, crunchy leaves underfoot, and stunning vistas to soothe your soul.
For many of us, an invigorating Christmas walk is a family tradition that cannot be missed, as part and parcel of the festive celebration as turkey and tinsel.
And the South Downs National Park, with mile upon mile of sumptuous scenery, is the perfect place to enjoy a festive amble, dusting off those Christmas cobwebs after one too many mince pies!
So wrap up warm, pack a flask of tea, perhaps a few leftover sandwiches, and enjoy some of the most inspiring landscapes in England.
As we count down to the big day, Allison Thorpe, who leads access and recreation for the National Park, shares a few of her favourite festive walks across Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex.
Allison says: “Whether you’re looking for a blustery walk with all the family, a quiet romantic stroll, or a walk with the dog, the South Downs National Park is an amazing winter wonderland where you can gaze in awe at the sheer beauty of the landscape, often blanketed in frost or snow.
“While nature is in its winter slumber, there’s still some great wildlife watching to be had and the sight of a robin, deer, or starling murmuration is particularly joyful.
“Whether you’re searching for a pre-Christmas walk to de-stress in the lead-up to the big day or looking to burn off a few calories between Christmas and New Year, the National Park is blessed with plenty of walking routes to give you much-needed time in nature, exploring the best the season can offer.
“Why not round off your walk with a trip to one of the many fantastic inns and eateries in the National Park, enjoying some delicious local fare, raising a Christmas toast with spicy mulled wine or an ice-cold glass of South Downs fizz?”
And Allison added: “The sunrises and sunsets are especially impressive this time of year, so it’s a great opportunity to take landscape photographs of the National Park. And, if you’re not adverse to the cold, a clear night offers the chance to gaze at the stars at one of our Dark Sky Discovery Sites and we also have an astrophotography competition you can enter.
“As always, we encourage people to plan ahead and give all farmers a festive thank you by sticking to the Countryside Code and keeping dogs on leads.
“Wherever you go, we hope all visitors are able to recharge their batteries this Christmas and feel rejuvenated by the great outdoors.”
Here are some of Allison’s favourite Christmassy walks:
Seven Sisters Country Park
A trip to Seven Sisters Country Park is always a magical experience.
Named after the famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs that form part of the Sussex Heritage Coast, it’s one of the finest sections of unspoilt coastline in England.
The route is just over a mile long and passes along the Cuckmere Rivver before taking in views of the Seven Sisters from the beach.
For lovers of woodland, Friston Forest is a great place to explore and feel the crunch of fallen leaves beneath your feet.
For those who prefer rivers and valleys on their walks, just follow the Cuckmere River northbound to picturesque Alfriston.
If looking for a pub along the way, The Plough and Harrow in Litlington village offers a selection of cask ales from the local Longman Brewery, as does the 14th century George Inn, in the heart of Alfriston, which was first licensed in 1397! For those travelling by two wheels, there is the Cadence Hub, which is a lovely cycle café sited next to the Longman Brewery.
Records of Stanmer Church go back to 1232. In 1838, the third Earl of Chichester, Henry Thomas Pelham, decided to demolish the old church and build a new one on the same site.
Covering approximately 5,000 acres, Stanmer Park has a wealth of history to be discovered.
The church, the village and the manor house stand on sites of much earlier
versions of themselves, with some of the building materials being reused in the current buildings.
The recently restored walled garden – One Garden – is a collaboration between Plumpton College, Brighton and Hove City Council and the South Downs National Park Authority. The onsite One Kitchen serves fresh food made from produce grown on site and the wider Plumpton Estate, while the shop sells fresh produce, deli items and Plumpton Estate wine, cheese and meat.
Our walks leaflet suggests a 5.5 mile circular route through the semi-ancient Stanmer Woods, home to old and gnarled beech trees. Come the spring, the woodland floor turns into a carpet of purple and violet as bluebells emerge – a unique spectacle.
Charleston, Ditchling and Monk’s House
Writers, artists, poets and musicians have long drawn inspiration from the landscapes of the South Downs.
Earlier this year, three heritage venues in East Sussex – Charleston Farmhouse, Monk’s House and Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft – launched a new immersive walking experience telling the unique story of each.
The ‘In Their Footsteps’ app is a self-guided audio tour through the East Sussex countryside.
The walks are a great opportunity to get back to some of the National Park’s amazing cultural venues, explore the beautiful surrounding countryside and villages and learn about the artists who fell in love with the South Downs.
You can download the App from your phone’s app store:
Home to the world famous Glyndebourne Opera House, Glynde is a quintessential East Sussex downland village.
Walking the Glynde route, you can see Mount Caburn hill fort and National Nature Reserve, Glynde Place (an Elizabethan mansion), plus panoramic views of the Ouse Valley and Lewes.
A little further down the A27 is the chocolate-box village of Firle, situated at the foot of Firle Beacon, one of the highest points in the South Downs National Park.
In the heart of Firle is the Ram Inn, a friendly country pub serving hearty British fare and with a warm fire on the go during the winter months.
Stansted Park stands in 1,800 acres of some of the most scenic parkland and ancient forest you’re likely to see in the south of England.
In the medieval period the Earls of Arundel had a hunting lodge on the site, surrounded by a vast forested area used for hunting and timber production.
Changes in ownership over the years resulted in a new house being built in the 17th century when the formal gardens were laid out. In 1804 the estate was sold and it’s said the new owner replanted the whole site, including the forest. 1900 saw the destruction, by fire, of the Elizabethan house and all its historical records.
The new house was built in 1901 on the same footprint and since 1983 the House and Estate have been owned by Stansted Park Foundation, an independent charitable trust set up by the 10th Earl of Bessborough.
Visitors can tour the house or walk the walled gardens enjoying the various attractions the park has to offer, including the maze, miniature railway, arboretum and pottery studio. Pick up local produce at the Farm Shop, visit the Garden Centre or stop for tea and hearty cake at the Pavilion Tearoom.
Amberley is a chocolate box village with many old buildings, thatched cottages, a castle (now a hotel and restaurant), a church, two pubs and quaint shop.
It also benefits from having a mainline railway station just yards from the South Downs Way.
A walk up Amberley Mount presents fantastic views of the Arun Valley, where you can clearly see how the flowing River Arun carved out its channel through the chalk.
You can check out our Amberley walking leaflet offering two circular walks.
There’s a 10-mile walk taking in the hidden village of Burpham, home to the gorgeous George pub, perfect as a midway rest point where you can recover in front of the fire.
If 10 miles is a bit much for you, there’s a shorter 2.5 mile loop around Amberley village, providing you with views over Amberley Brooks before bringing you back to the railway station.
If looking for a cosy place for a drink and something to eat, both The Bridge Inn and Black Horse offer a warm welcome and roaring fir, or why not try the Riverside Tearooms?
Arundel has it all.
A fairytale castle. A tranquil lake, A beautiful market town with more than a dozen cafes, pubs and restaurants. A mainline train station. A heated lido (which reopens for festive swims over Christmas). The list goes on!
Christmas is a magical time in Arundel as Christmas trees illuminate the high street every December. With festive farmers markets, carol concerts in the Cathedral and plenty of independent shops to buy seasonal gifts, it’s the perfect place to get into the festive spirit.
Visit Arundel has lots of information about all of the upcoming festive events and activities taking place this Christmas.
Our walking leaflet offers a couple of different options. You could opt for the shorter four-mile walk around Swanbourne Lake and the River Arun or go for a longer seven-mile walk through Arundel Park and South Stoke, taking in the Monarch’s Way – the supposed route taken by Charles II on his escape from England to France after the defeat by Oliver Cromwell at Worcester in 1651.
The riverside Black Rabbit pub is a favourite of many or opt for the town centre-based Norfolk Tap which serves a range of beers from local, nearby breweries.
The Capability Brown-designed Petworth Park, managed by the National Trust, is a favourite for dog walkers.
With 700 acres of serpentine lakes, lawn hills and belts of trees, it’s quite a sight on a cold, frosty morning.
Home to the largest herd of fallow deer in England, the National Park is the perfect escape into a promising winter wonderland.
Once finished with your walk, why not head to the nearby Star pub or Stonemason’s Inn for a liquid refreshment?
Steyning and Bramber
The historic village of Bramber with its medieval castle is quintessentially West Sussex in nature.
Neighbouring Steyning, Bramber is also the start and end point of a Miles without Stiles route – which are suitable for push chairs and people with limited mobility or those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters.
The linear ‘there and back’ route is 2.2 miles in length and follows the Downs Link path along the River Arun.
On a winter’s day you can see flocks of Canada geese flying in formation up and down the river.
Steyning is a town rich in history. Once a port on the River Arun, it was prized by the Normans for its inland location and ease for accessing the Channel.
From Steyning, you can easily access the South Downs Way, where you can follow our 7 mile self-guided walk. By following the trail westwards, you will soon come upon Chanctonbury Ring, one of the highest points in the National Park.
Upon returning to Steyning, finish up at Steyning Tea Rooms for a sweet or savoury afternoon tea or grab a refresher in the White Horse Inn.
The picturesque village of East Meon, once owned by the Bishops of Winchester, is home to many historic buildings including the Old Court House.
The Ye Olde George Inn and the Izaak Walton Public House offer delicious local food and real ales, along with a roaring fire to warm you up after a lovely stroll through the beautiful Meon valley.
Our walking guide suggests two circular walks, both starting at the imposing Norman church of All Saints with its magnificent spire.
One walk of 4 miles should take approximately two hours and the second, a longer walk of 8 miles, which can be completed in around four hours.
This pretty Hampshire village has a church which sits upon an ancient barrow and the crystal-clear River Itchen, which rises nearby, running alongside picturesque thatched cottages.
It’s also steeped in history as it was the site of a decisive battle in the English Civil War.
The Battle of Cheriton took place on 29 March, 1644, in the fields to the east of Cheriton. The Battle was between the Royalists, led by the Earl of Forth, and the Parliamentarians under Sir William Waller.
The Parliamentarians won, halting the Royalist’s advance to Winchester and forcing King Charles I’s troops on the defensive, leading to their eventual defeat in 1645.
For those looking for a longer winter walk, we would recommend the 10 mile Cheriton loop, starting and finishing at Cheriton village hall.
Post-walk, why not pop into The Flower Pots Inn or The Hinton Arms to rest and recover with a traditional pub lunch?
Queen Elizabeth Country Park
Just three miles south of Petersfield, Queen Elizabeth Country Park offers over 2,000 acres of open woodland and downland.
Open every day other than Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Queen Elizabeth Country Park is your starting off point for exploring Butser Hill, the highest point, at 271m, on the South Downs chalk escarpment.
With 360 degree views, Butser Hill is one of the best places to admire the Dark Night Skies of the South Downs.
The on-site Beechwood Kitchen serves up hot drinks and food using locally-sourced ingredients.
Alice Holt Forest
The Forestry England-managed Alice Holt Forest is a must-see for lovers of woodland.
Come the winter, the trees have completed their transition with the forest floor turning into a patchwork of orange, ochre and gold.
With five trails of differing lengths and distances, there’s plenty for families along with those looking for something a little more challenging to while away those wintry days.
If looking to head to a pub to warm up after, The Jolly Farmer and The Bluebell are right on the edge of Alice Holt. Both pubs are dog-friendly and serve-up tasty, seasonal food.
Lose yourself in steep valley sides cloaked in hanger woodlands.
The Hangers Way is a 21-mile long-distance trail between Alton railway station and Queen Elizabeth Country Park, where it eventually connects with the South Downs Way.
The Way is divided into 8 different sections, ideal if you don’t fancy completing it all in one day.
However, if you do want to do it all in one day, Petersfield makes for an ideal rest point and has numerous pubs, cafés and delis to allow you to fuel up before continuing the rest of your journey.