Winter Wonderland Walks
The refrain “walking in a winter wonderland” is one we hear often at this time of year, and it certainly does sound delightful. It also sounds rather exotic and far, far away, and not something that could be part of our daily lives during a British winter.
Or could it?
Living as we do in the South East, we have some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes and scenery within walking distance, and in the winter these places become even more magical with their ponds frozen over, icicles hanging from trees, leaves crunching underfoot, the sky a steely grey that could herald the promise of snow, and a certain crispness to the air that makes it bracing and embracing all at once.
We live in a winter wonderland, and this time of year is the best time to explore it. Try some of these delightful walks, and see your world in a different light.
Bedgebury Pinetum, Goudhurst, Kent
Bedgebury Pinetum is open every day throughout the year (apart from Christmas Day), so here you have unfettered access to the beauty of Kent. Whereas much of the country’s trees have lost their leaves by now, that is not so for the conifers at Bedgebury – this is a true winter wonderland (especially in the snow). There is a picnic area (wrap up warm!) which has been voted the best in the south, and a café too for those not feeling quite so hardy. If you want to take part in an activity there are plenty (including geocaching and orienteering), but if you prefer to walk for the fun of it, you can do that too. Explore anywhere and everywhere, and for a longer walk you can wander into the woods.
Eridge Rocks, East Sussex
Eridge Rocks is a 40-hectare nature reserve consisting of lovely flat paths and no stiles or gates so the whole family can enjoy a brisk winter walk – or a slow and relaxing one. As well as the dramatic and impressive rocks themselves (10 metre high boulders), this nature reserve is home to some rare wildlife, and even in the wintertime various birds and animals can be spotted.
The Medway Marshes, Kent
Perfect for some thinking time, this is where Charles Dickens himself like to wander, and where he came up with the idea for Great Expectations. In the winter time, these marshes are where the Kentish wading birds like to gather, so don’t be surprised to meet up with some dunlin, widgeon, or avocets as you stroll through. The entire route starts at Cliffe on the Isle of Grain, and is around 15 miles one way, so it’s not for everyone, but there is a bus to bring you back to the start again. Or you could walk a shorter version if you don’t want to do the whole thing – even a couple of miles in the winter is stunning.
Kingley Vale, West Sussex
Sussex is famous for the South Downs, the UK’s newest national park. It covers 628 square miles (1,627 square kilometres) and all of it is stunning. Kingley Vale is a Nature Reserve right on the South Downs themselves, and the trail involves a breathtaking walk up to the top of the vale. When you get there, you will be rewarded with views out to Chichester and the sea beyond. Take the walk on a clear winter’s day and the view extends for miles. But even if the weather isn’t so wonderful, the famous Kingley Trail yew trees are still magnificent. The yews in this plantation are at least 2,000 years old, and are considered to be some of the oldest living things in England. Standing near them, or even walking by them, on a crisp, cold day when the woods are quiet and the trees are the only thing whispering in the wintery breeze is a magical experience. The entire trail is 3.5 miles long.
Knole Park, Kent
Knole Park in Sevenoaks is a stunning spot no matter what time of year, but there is something special about it in the winter. It’s open and flat for the most part (just a few hills here and there), and it is home to the famous deer, both fallow and sika, that are descendants of Henry VIII’s own. There are 350 or so deer here and they are free to roam as they wish, giving you a true taste of nature. The park is over 1,000 acres so there is plenty of space for everyone, and because it is left to its own devices for much of the time, it is a paradise of fallen trees to climb (many since the storm of 1987), dens to build, and wildlife to enjoy. The south west side is the least explored, and it is the most wooded area. When the fog rolls in the trees – standing and fallen – become natural sculptures and lend the park an atmosphere that can’t be matched.
Berwick, East Sussex
What’s better than going on a lovely winter walk through picturesque Sussex villages and ending up at a country pub to take the weight off your feet in? Not much is the answer! But the walk through Berwick, which takes you past the church (beautifully decked out for Christmas during December), Tilton House (home to economist John Maynard Keynes and ballerina Lydia Lopokova), Charleston House (home and country meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group), and passes by three gloriously gorgeous and historic pubs, has to go to the top of the list. The walk is accessible throughout the year, but during the winter months, with fires blazing and choirs singing, it really is remarkably evocative.
A winter walk through Harriestsham and the surrounding area is about 10.5 miles long, but if you take your time you will have plenty of opportunity to admire the beautiful, crisply lit and frostily decorated countryside around you. The walk takes in Lower Deans Farm a portion of the Pilgrims Way, and even Leeds Castle (which, in November and December, has plenty of Christmas and winter events to enjoy including fireworks, a festive market, and wreath making classes to name just a few) which is worth stopping off at if you can.
Arundel Wetland Centre, Arundel, West Sussex
To bring the festive period to a close – but keeping with the winter theme – the Arundel Wetland Centre hosts an annual winter walk each January. It’s the perfect way to detox after a bit of overindulgence at Christmas, and there are a number of different trails to choose from, each one teeming with winter creatures and wildlife. You may even see ducks, geese, and swans. But the Wetland Centre is open all year round, so if you want to try it out before the new year you would be most welcome to – beautiful scenery and a peaceful, calming air make this a wonderful place for a winter walk when you want to get away from it all.
Seaford to Eastbourne, East Sussex
Nothing says ‘winter walk’ quite like a coastal constitutional along the cliff tops. The walk from Seaford to Eastbourne, a journey of 13 miles, takes in some of the best coastal scenery in the county, and allows you to get some proper lungfuls of chilly, fresh air!