A winter walk up Box Hill, Surrey

Woo hoo, I’ve completed the first of my British bucket list challenges, a walk to the top of Box Hill in Surrey. At 224m Box Hill would be a mere pimple if it was in the Lake District but down in this part of southern England it’s one of the higher hills.

The first part of the walk, alongside the busy A24 dual carriageway, wasn’t the tranquil stroll I hoped for. However it was a necessary evil to get us from the railway station to the foot of Box Hill.

Route up Box Hill
Route up Box Hill

Fortunately, as soon as we stepped off the main road we were away from the traffic noise and fumes. Instead we faced a steady climb uphill, the wet chalk underfoot making for a gooey path. We stopped a couple of times, looking out across Denbies Wine Estate, the largest vineyard in England. The estate attracts around 300,000 visitors per year with a visitor centre, cinema, restaurant and art gallery all appearing to contribute to the wine making experience.

Route up Box Hill
Route up Box Hill

Further on the hill levelled out and we were able to see cyclists tackling the famous Zig Zag Road to the top of Box Hill. This hill climb has been popular since the 1880s but achieved widespread fame in the 2012 Olympics cycling road race events. Given its proximity to London its a cyclist’s mecca, and particularly appeals to a certain cycling demographic.

National Trust cafe and visitor centre

We reached the top of the hill pretty quickly. At which point I realised how busy the Country Park gets. Although most people seem to drive to the top and then go for a walk rather than tackle the hill from the bottom. I’m sure that’s cheating!

I can understand why though as this is where the visitor facilities are located; toilets, information kiosk and of course a cafe. Albeit one that was heaving with small children and middle aged men in tight cycling gear. We’d bought a picnic with us but I couldn’t resist sharing a brownie with the children. Followed by a flapjack. Both very tasty. As was the picnic that followed.

Natural Play Trail

After lunch we wandered over to the Natural Play Trail. Whilst the kids have grown out of more traditional playgrounds the National Trust encourages everyone, not just youngsters, to enjoy its Natural Play Trail. Think stepping stones, balancing logs and trees to climb. Not that I saw any adults climbing trees.

Box Hill adventure play trail
Box Hill adventure play trail

The kids enjoyed it for about five minutes. Until my son slipped and flew, rather spectacularly, backwards off a tree trunk. Luckily he only had his pride, mud and a sore shoulder to deal with. The perils of natural play!

Salomons Memorial

With the playground out of favour we continued with the walk, heading towards Salomons Memorial.

Footpath to Salomons Memorial, Box Hill
Footpath to Salomons Memorial, Box Hill

Salomons Memorial isn’t the highest point on Box Hill but its viewing platform is a target for most visitors. The view stretches more than 20 miles southwards and commemorates the donation of Box Hill by Leopold Salomons (or possibly Salomon, depending on whether you trust Wikipedia or the National Trust).

Box Hill trig point
Box Hill trig point

Whilst I enjoyed the view the kids had a mad five minutes, chasing each other up and down the steep grassy slope. When they rejoined me we followed the route down off the hill through some wonderfully shaped trees. I’m glad we chose to descend this way. The 275 steps made it seem a lot steeper than the route up.

Box Hill woodland
Box Hill woodland

Stepping Stones

Down at the bottom we reached one of the highlights, stepping stones across the River Mole. I smiled when I read the stones were temporarily removed in World War II as an anti-invasion strategy. If an invading army was deterred by the lack of a few stepping stones I doubt they’d get far anyway!

Stepping stones at Box Hill
Stepping stones at Box Hill

Once safely over the river we rejoined the A24, following the traffic into Dorking. Box Hill might not be the most exciting or adventurous option on my bucket list but it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a while. A good choice to complete as my first challenge. Now, which one next?

More info

  • Box Hill is open to the public from dawn to dusk. The National Trust cafe, shop and discovery zone are usually open from 10am-4pm except Christmas Day. Check the National Trust website for full opening details and links to walks.
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A tale of two churches and a cheese and onion roll, Aldworth, Berkshire

The short grey days of winter do their best to encourage hibernation. Or at least give the kids an excuse to spend all day indoors on technology. Instead I lured them out with the promise of a pub lunch. I may have forgotten to tell them about the walk afterwards but they’re old enough to realise this for themselves now.

Lunch at The Bell Inn, Aldworth

I generally prefer cafes to pubs for lunch (more chance of cake) but I make an exception for the Bell Inn in Aldworth. This tiny traditional freehouse epitomises the classic English village pub; it even has a cricket pitch out back.

The Bell Inn, Aldworth
The Bell Inn, Aldworth

Whenever we visit the pub is packed with locals, walkers and families. As you enter there’s a small serving hatch to place your order for food and drink. A room leads off to one side with several tables and a fireplace but we’ve never managed to get a seat indoors yet.

Instead, after placing our order, we retreated to the pub garden to find a seat. There aren’t many places I’d consider sitting outside in the depths of winter but this is one of them. Fortunately we had a picnic rug in the car so I popped back to get it to cover the wet benches.

Cheese and onion roll, The Bell Inn, Aldworth
Cheese and onion roll, The Bell Inn, Aldworth

The food is simple, cheap and delicious. A choice of soup, rolls or ploughmans; I opted for a cheese and onion roll. The warm buttered roll arrived with a huge chunk of cheese, half an onion and various accompaniments. I don’t drink beer but the pub’s local ale offerings are evidently excellent.

Before leaving I squeezed back through the pub to pop to the Ladies. Compared to the men’s open air option this was luxury, although the plumbing looked circa 1930s.

A circular walk from Aldworth to Ashampstead

I had bought my trusty OS map with me so put together a circular walk of sorts, taking us from Aldworth to the next village, Ashampstead, visiting their renowned churches. The area is wonderful for walking with the Ridgeway and many downland options nearby. We were short on daylight though so only had time to squeeze in a couple of miles.

St Mary’s Church, Aldworth

St Mary’s Church is famous as the home of the Aldworth Giants, nine stone effigies of the De La Beche family. The family were local landowners in the 14th Century and were supposedly all over seven feet tall! Sadly the effigies were damaged during the Civil War so many sport broken limbs.

St Mary's Church, Aldworth
St Mary’s Church, Aldworth

The church is also notable for its thousand year old yew tree. When I mentioned this to the family I was met with howls of despair. A few months earlier we had driven ‘halfway across France’ (so they say) to look at a thousand year old oak tree, which had rather underwhelmed them. The yew tree made even less of an impression than the oak. But at least we hadn’t made a special journey just to see it.

On to Ashampstead

Our onward route to Ashampstead wasn’t the best. It started out well with a muddy wander through the woods. Lots of pheasant feeding stations. Along with pheasants. Always ready to cause a heart attack by unexpectedly flying out of the undergrowth.

Muddy walks in the wood, near Aldworth
Muddy walks in the wood, near Aldworth

The downside was the road walking. There aren’t many direct routes, solely using footpaths, between the two villages so we resorted to using country lanes. These were nice enough and easier walking than mud. But the drivers were making the most of the open road, whizzing by us with little space to spare. Not the relaxing walk I was hoping for.

Telephone box library, Ashampstead
Telephone box library, Ashampstead

It was a relief to walk on footpaths again as we arrived in Ashampstead. Fun to spot this re-purposed telephone box cum library too. I’m glad the village managed to keep hold of it when so many are sold off to private owners.

St Clement’s Church, Ashampstead

I’m not a churchgoer so it’s pretty unusual for me to visit one church, let alone two in one day! But I’d read about the medieval wall paintings at St Clement’s Church and decided a visit was worthwhile. Probably painted by a monk in the 13th Century they were covered up in the 16th Century and only discovered again in the late 1800s when some plaster fell off the wall.

St Clement's church, Ashampstead
St Clement’s church, Ashampstead

Some of the paintings were hard to make out but when you consider they’re more than 700 years old it’s an achievement they’re still there.

I was taken by the wooden bell tower too. I’m sure that when I had an I-Spy Churches book back in the 1970s, a wooden tower would have been worth a few more points than the common stone one!

Walking back to Aldworth
Walking back to Aldworth

With only an hour to go until dusk we didn’t hang around on the way back. Although some of the route was through woods we still had to contend with the roads and I didn’t fancy being caught out on them in decreasing light.

Walking back towards Aldworth we passed Beche Farm, once the site of the De La Beche family castle. Nothing remains these days, the only evidence of its existence being a silver seal which was dug up and donated to Reading museum. Onwards past Aldworth’s second pub, The Four Points. How does a village with only 300 inhabitants support two thriving pubs?

Back into Aldworth and the treat of some chocolate chip shortbread that I’d left in the car for our return. You didn’t really expect me to complete a walk without cake did you?

More info

  • The Bell Inn is closed on Mondays, with the exception of Bank Holidays. Bar food is served at lunchtime and early evening on all other days.
  • I wouldn’t recommend our particular walking route! If you’ve got a day to spare the circular route from Goring along the Ridgeway is good. Alternatively grab the OS map and devise a longer route that avoids the roads where possible.
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10 ideas for family Boxing Day walks in southern England

Boxing Day is the obvious day for a family walk over the Christmas period. It’s a great opportunity to get outdoors, blow the cobwebs away and walk off some of the excesses of the previous day.

We’ve walked all of the routes below with the children, most are 5 miles or less and linked to the relevant blog post. I’ve indicated below places that will be open on Boxing Day but it’s always safest to fill up your flasks and pack some turkey sandwiches just in case.

Lastly, excuse my fluid interpretation of ‘southern England’. It covers central southern England, with a nod to the counties on either side (Somerset and East Sussex). London somehow made it into the definition too!

1. Avebury stone circle and West Kennett, Wiltshire

Avebury
Avebury

Arguably one of the finest prehistoric walks in the country. A 5 mile AA route discovering the stone circle at Avebury, West Kennett Long Barrow and The Sanctuary. The stone circle is always open from dawn to dusk but the associated National Trust visitor centre and cafe will be closed on Boxing Day.

2. A walk from Regent’s Canal to Camden Lock, London

View along Regent's Canal
View along Regent’s Canal

A short gentle city stroll along Regent’s Canal, suitable for all ages. Wander past expensive houses, see the aviary at London Zoo and wonder what it would be like to live on a houseboat.

3. Lepe Loop, Hampshire

Lepe seafront
Lepe seafront

I’ve found a cafe that’s open on Boxing Day! The Lepe Country Park cafe will be open from 10am-4pm and is a great place to start your walk along the south coast. We followed the Lepe Loop which includes a lovely stretch along the shorefront.

4. Bath skyline walk, Somerset

Bath skyline trail
Bath Skyline trail

A varied walk around the outskirts of Bath passing the National Trust Prior Park Landscape Garden (open, including Tea Shed, on Boxing Day). Elsewhere on the walk you can play on the Family Discovery Trail on Claverton Down and enjoy Bathampton Wood.

5. Imber village, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire

Imber village, Salisbury Plain
Imber village, Salisbury Plain

Looking for something completely different? The military training village of Imber is open to the public on Boxing Day (and until 0800 Thursday 5 January 2017).

6. Winchcombe to Belas Knap, Gloucestershire

Winchcombe walk
Winchcombe walk

There are many walks to choose from around Winchombe, as befits its ‘Walkers Welcome’ status. The walk up to Belas Knap is a great option for first time visitors with lovely views and a hill to get your heart rate going!

7. Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford, East Sussex

From the top of the Seven Sisters
From the top of the Seven Sisters

Definitely a walk to blow away cobwebs. Best for older children as there are steep hills and cliff edges. Park at the Visitor Centre and walk the South Downs Way over the Seven Sisters cliffs. It’s likely to be very busy, but there’s a good reason for its popularity – the views are stunning!

8. White Horse Hill and The Ridgeway, Oxfordshire

Our favourite local walk. Park in the National Trust car park and head up to the chalk figure on White Horse Hill. From here walk past Uffington Castle (grass mounds only) on to the Ridgeway and turn right. You can either follow a circular route back to the car or, if you want a longer walk, carry on along the Ridgeway to Waylands Smithy, a Neolithic burial long barrow.

9. Great Bedwyn and Wilton windmill walk, Wiltshire

Wilton Windmill
Wilton Windmill

An easy 5 mile walk along the Kennet and Avon canal, past Crofton Pumping Station and Wilton windmill. The windmill itself won’t be open but you can visit the outside at any time and use the picnic benches.

10. Hurst Castle, Hampshire

Hurst Point Lighthouse
Hurst Point Lighthouse

A bracing walk along a shingle spit to Hurst Castle, a coastal fortress built by Henry VIII. I’ve cheated a little by including this walk. The castle is actually closed on Boxing Day but open from Tuesday 27 December to Monday 2 January. If you can, it’s worth waiting the extra day to visit the castle.

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My British bucket list: 100 things to do in the UK

There are so many places I’d love to visit around the world but I don’t have the time or money to travel extensively. Fortunately there’s lots to see and do in the UK so I’ve created a bucket list which will keep me busy for the next few years.

My bucket list favours outdoor attractions, walks and great scenery as that’s what I enjoy. It may look like I’ve ignored vast swathes of the country and prime tourist attractions but that’s because I’ve already visited many of them!

What’s on my bucket list?

  1. Wild camp on Dartmoor.
  2. Walk a long distance path. We’re walking the South Downs Way across four weekends.
  3. Cycle the towpath from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon.
  4. Spend a night on Lundy Island, Devon.
  5. Enjoy a weekend break in Lincoln.
  6. Join a tour of Highgate Cemetery, London.
  7. See the Purton Ships graveyard, Gloucestershire.
  8. Brave the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine, Cumbria.
  9. Camp on Bryher, one of the Isles of Scilly.
  10. Climb Up at the O2, London
  11. Watch a Highland Games in Scotland.
  12. Spend a week exploring the Isle of Anglesey. Here’s our list of 10 things we enjoyed on Anglesey, including the best sunset in Wales at Newborough Beach.
  13. Attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
  14. Take an underground train ride at the Postal Museum, London.
  15. Stay in a castle.
  16. Enjoy the Gower Peninsula beaches.
  17. Explore the Isle of Harris.
  18. Go wildlife spotting on the Farne Islands, Northumberland.
  19. Explore Neolithic Orkney.
  20. Visit a lavender field.
  21. See Britain’s only desert at Dungeness beach, Kent.
  22. Walk part of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland.
  23. Enjoy the waterfall at St Nectan’s Glen, Cornwall.
  24. Stay in an Airstream caravan.
  25. Explore the deserted village of Tyneham, Dorset.
  26. Visit a tin mine in Cornwall.
  27. Spot dinosaurs at Crystal Palace, London.
  28. Eat afternoon tea somewhere posh.
  29. Discover the Rame Peninsula, Cornwall
  30. Watch the British Firework Championships in Plymouth, Devon
  31. Ride Velocity, the longest zip line in Europe at Bethesda, Gwynedd.
  32. Tour Ramsgate’s war tunnels, Kent.
  33. Watch the seabirds on Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire.
  34. Go pony trekking on Exmoor.
  35. Spot Banksy’s art in Bristol.
  36. Have fun in Margate, Kent
  37. Stay overnight on the Knoydart Peninsula.
  38. Attend the Cotswold Olimpick Games, Gloucestershire.
  39. Enjoy the seaside at Barry Island, Vale of Glamorgan.
  40. Search for dolphins in Cardigan Bay.
  41. Walk in the Mourne Mountains, County Down.
  42. Explore the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Lochaber.
  43. Take a boat trip to Smoo Cave, Sutherland.
  44. Cycle from Bournemouth out to Hengitsbury Head, Dorset.
  45. Visit Dennis Severs’ House, London.
  46. View the Kelpies in Falkirk.
  47. Explore Kinver Edge and the cave houses, Staffordshire.
  48. Admire the Devil’s Bridge, Ceredigon.
  49. Walk along Brean Down, Somerset.
  50. Discover Hawkstone Park follies, Shropshire.
  51. Visit a deserted underground station.
  52. See the treasures at London Silver Vaults.
  53. Go fossil hunting in Charmouth, Dorset.
  54. Explore the ruins of Denbigh Castle, Denbighshire.
  55. Have an adventure in How Stean Gorge, Yorkshire.
  56. Discover the coastal scenery of Duncansby Head, Caithness.
  57. See the apes at Trentham Monkey Forest, Stoke-on-Trent.
  58. Enjoy the rock formations at Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire.
  59. Tour Brighton’s sewers.
  60. Go puffin spotting on Rathlin Island, County Antrim.
  61. Take a boat trip in the Lake District.
  62. Relax on Man O’War beach, Dorset.
  63. Climb Low Fell, Cumbria.
  64. See the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis.
  65. Drive the ‘Pass of the Cattle’ to Applecross, Wester Ross.
  66. Take the train from Exeter to Teignmouth, Devon.
  67. Learn about the historic Coffin Works, Birmingham.
  68. Go on a wildlife safari.
  69. Walk up Pendle Hill, Lancashire.
  70. Ride the Kyle Line from Lochalsh to Inverness.
  71. Walk along the shingle on Chesil Bank, Dorset.
  72. Enjoy the views from the summit of Box Hill, Surrey.
  73. See how the Roman’s lived at Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex.
  74. Watch the seabirds at Bass Rock, North Berwick.
  75. Walk the woodland trail to Puck’s Glen, Argyll.
  76. Stroll around the fishing village of Crail Harbour, Fife.
  77. Explore Great Orme Copper Mine, Conwy.
  78. Enjoy Dewstow Garden and Grottoes, Monmouthshire.
  79. Climb Old Winchester Hill, Hampshire. Completed as part of our South Downs Way walk.
  80. Learn about the past at Killhope Lead Mining museum, County Durham.
  81. Explore maritime history at the Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent.
  82. Cycle the Plym Valley Trail, Devon.
  83. Wander around Eyemouth harbour, Berwickshire.
  84. Discover ancient Wistman’s Wood, Two Bridges, Dartmoor.
  85. Enjoy the plants of Benmore Botanic Garden, Argyll.
  86. Go caving.
  87. Go underground into a Cold War bunker.
  88. Buy some blooms at Columbia Road Flower Market, London.
  89. Experience life in The Workhouse in Southwell, Nottinghamshire.
  90. Explore the coastline at Robins Hood Bay beach, North Yorkshire.
  91. Cycle the Red Squirrel Cycle Trail, Isle of Wight.
  92. Descend into the mine at the National Coal Mining museum, West Yorkshire.
  93. Hunt for wildlife at RSPB Leighton Moss, Lancashire.
  94. Explore the valley around Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire.
  95. Learn about our industrial heritage at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire.
  96. Follow the Black and White village trail, Herefordshire.
  97. See the Severn Bore.
  98. Discover our history at Battle Abbey and Battlefield, East Sussex.
  99. Zoom down the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide, London.
  100. Enjoy the views from Ratagan Youth Hostel, Ross-shire.

Completing my bucket list

As I complete items on the bucket list I’ll be adding links from this page to my blog write up so do pop back from time to time to see how I’m getting on.

Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it?

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