In this guest post, Matt from travel blog Walk Wild recalls 5 of his most favourite countryside walks in the South of England…
My name is Matt, I’m a 25-year-old Biologist and adventure traveller. I’ve visited 42 countries around the world and particularly love wild and natural landscapes. I write about all things hiking, camping, and backpacking. I want to encourage others to experience the amazing outdoors and inform them about how to explore it just like I do!
In England and Wales, there are an estimated 140,000 miles of public rights of way. These footpaths, bridleways, and byways wind their way through a variety of wilderness areas and natural landscapes.
In England alone, there are 10 National Parks and 34 AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Collectively this means the number of beautiful countryside walks throughout England are almost too many to number!
Some of the most quintessential parts of the English countryside – rolling hills, sheep grazing in fields, farm lanes, and hedgerows filled with songbirds – are in the south of the country. Areas such as the South Downs, the Cotswolds, the New Forest, and the Surrey Hills are particularly popular.
As an introduction to some of these areas, here are 5 countryside walks in South England…
1. Box Hill – Surrey Hills AONB
The Surrey Hills are one of the most visited countryside areas outside of London. They are close enough to the city for a day trip, can be reached by train, and offer a wonderful glimpse of south England’s countryside.
Box Hill (224 metres) is the highest point in the Surrey Hills. It is topped with a fantastic viewpoint that looks out across the valley and surrounding forested hills. It is very popular with cyclists and gets busy on the weekends.
There is parking near the summit, a café, and numerous trails that flow in and out of the woodland and around the tip of the hill. The National Trust “Box Hill Hike” is a trail that takes in the highlights of the area – just follow the red signs to get around!
2. Harting Down – South Downs National Park
The South Downs is known for its long-distance hiking trail, the South Downs Way, which runs 100 miles between Winchester and Eastbourne. It follows a ridge from the countryside towards the sea taking in many of the best natural sights in Hampshire and Sussex.
The National Trust-owned Harting Down offers fantastic views from a grassy bluff. It looks out over the fields and villages nestled in the countryside below. If you follow the trail up onto Beacon Hill, there are even more spectacular views of the landscape all around.
It’s a steep climb up chalky paths, but once on top, you won’t regret having made the ascent to enjoy the panorama. It’s worth bringing a picnic and stopping to have a lunch break on the summit. From here, you can either push on and follow the National Trails signs (marked by acorns) or turn back towards Harting Down.
3. Coombe Hill – Chiltern Hills AONB
The Chiltern Hills are marked by an impressive chalk escarpment that rises above the low-lying plains. It is an area decked in historical significance. A National Trails walking path called The Ridgeway follows a 5,000-year-old trail designated as the oldest road in Britain.
Tucked in the north-western corner of the Chiltern Hills is the grassy peak of Coombe Hill. It looks out over Aylesbury Vale and backs onto a mix of old-growth forest and newer tree nurseries. It is an excellent place to go for a walk to enjoy the hills and to delve into the wonders of the English countryside.
It is a perfect place to see the coveted red kite: a magnificent predatory bird that glides in the updrafts of the ridge. The Chilterns are also known for their wildflowers, such as bluebells in spring, and numerous other birds and butterflies.
4. Castle Drogo – Dartmoor National Park
Directly west of Exeter is the top of Dartmoor National Park. A place of rugged moorland with swathes of bracken and rocky, wind-swept bluffs. Along the River Teign runs a magnificent river valley, blanketed in trees. The valley is lined with tors and castles perched on the craggy clifftops.
One of the best maintained of these is Castle Drogo. A 20th-century castle designed with medieval architecture. From here you can embark on your walk along the Hunter’s Path which runs above the river valley through the forest.
You can then drop down to follow the Fisherman’s Path beside the River Teign before looping back to your car. This is an excellent walk to do on a cold morning as mist often gathers in the basin of the valley, trapped between the towering rock walls.
5. Old Harry Rocks – Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve
This walk has the benefit of heathland scrub and sublime coastal views. It samples a little of Dorset’s countryside along with the famous Purbeck Heritage Coast. Beginning in Studland, follow the trail up to The Foreland on the edge of Studland Bay.
From here, you will be able to make out the famous limestone stack of Old Harry Rocks. A feature that has been carved out by thousands of years of coastal erosion. If you follow the trail along the headland, up through Ballard Down, you can see back over Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island.
You can then choose to head back to the car park in Studland or push on to the coastal town of Swanage. It is a Victorian-era seaside resort that is now packed with great pubs and cafes where you can tuck into a well-deserved fish & chips!
There are of course many, many other walks to explore in the south of England. There are lots I have missed out, including plenty of stunning coastal sections, but these are a few of my favourites. That’s the wonderful thing about the countryside in England, there’s always more to discover!