Walking at this time of the year is such a pleasure, the countryside peppered with cosy pubs, always with a fire burning in the hearth. London can seem like a bubble at times but it’s surprisingly easy to escape the city for the day if you know where to head. Here are eight winter walks to try in and around London.
Wander in the grounds of the palatial Italianate mansion built by John Jacob Astor IV, who was the richest man in the world, died when RMS Titanic sank in 1912. With 350 years of power, politics and parties at the Grade I listed stately home, it is a national landmark. At this time of the year though the grounds hold a spectacular secret; snowdrops. These pretty flowers bloom in their thousands and draw locals to Clivedon at this time of the year.
Winter is perhaps the best time to visit the park. There is little more beautiful a-sight in the capital than the magnificent male red deer, set in snow carpeted parkland. The park also plays host to King Henry’s Mound which harbours an impressive secret. ‘The Way’ is one of London’s eight legally protected views of St. Paul’s Cathedral; no new buildings can obstruct these views. Sitting 10 miles away yet clearly visible you’ll see Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece (telescope provided for the public’s use). Hop on the tube and emerge at Richmond to find 2500 acres of unspoiled beauty with a generous amount of history too, there is much to be enjoyed here.
Firle Beacon has been the poster-child of Vespucci since the start thanks to the absolutely spectacular views one enjoys after just a short twenty-minute walk from Southease train station. Descend the chalk down to enter the parkland surrounding Firle Place, the country pile of the influential Gage Family whose scions have been in the stage-wings of power for centuries. The village attached to the estate still retains its village stores and a pastoral atmosphere which harks back to a bygone era of village life. The Ram Inn sits at the heart of this community and is the place to enjoy a country pub lunch, before finishing up the walk at Glyndebourne’s train station.
Incidentally one of the best spots for stargazing in England, the common is a well-known bolthole for London walkers. In wintertime the heathers provide an eye-catching display of burnt orange, mauves, pinks and butterscotch. The birdlife on the common makes it a wonderful place to enjoy nature’s song, so morning and crepuscular walks bring their own benefits; should you be looking for an after-work option.
Options abound for those who visit the historic market town of Petworth. Peruse their many antique and curiosity shops in the village before wandering into Petworth Park and see swathes of snowdrops that carpet the Pleasure Grounds – a welcome sign of spring. Perhaps visit Petworth House to see the large collection of paintings by J.M.W Turner, among many others.
Views atop the highest point in the south do not disappoint. The rugged countryside around Leith Hill offers some of the most scenic walks in Surrey. Tall pines, swathes of the woodland carpet the land intersected by ancient drovers’ roads which criss-cross England’s most heavily forested county.
If you are without a car but wish to get out of the city, the North Downs are very accessible thanks to the London – Portsmouth Trainline. Alight at Guildford to begin this adventure, leaving the bustle of Guildford behind via the Chantry Wood where you will find gunpowder mills, Home Guard pillboxes leading to the momentous view from St. Martha’s Churchyard. In winter-time what is most special about this walk is the quiet. It is peaceful in Chantry Wood.
Famous in the summer as London’s premier wild swimming destination, Hampstead Heath has been providing entertainment and escapism to Londoners for centuries. A visit in the winter yields incredible views of the city of London from the heights of Parliament Hill – rumoured to be the spot where Guy Fawkes and his conspirators retreated to watch the destruction (or not) of Parliament. Visit Flask Walk, often referred to as one of London’s prettiest streets where a number of quirky, independent epicurean delights can be discovered for lunch. Vespucci has put together a free-to-download adventure guide which will tell you a little more about the area and how to explore it.