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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A walk from Winchcombe to Belas Knap, Gloucestershire

With a sunny spring day forecast what better way to experience it than with a walk in the Cotswolds. We decided on a 5 mile circular route from Winchcombe via Belas Knap, one of the best preserved long barrows in the area.

Walkers welcome

I hadn’t realised that Winchcombe is the unofficial walking capital of the Cotswolds. It lays claim to more long distance walking routes than any other town, holds its own walking festival and has ‘Walkers are Welcome’ status. Hence there was an abundance of booted middle-aged walkers (er, us) wandering through the town.

Spring lambs, Winchcombe
Spring lambs, Winchcombe

Winchcombe isn’t the Himalayas though, or even the Lake District. Think leisurely afternoon rambles through Cotswold scenery followed by a cream tea instead.

After lunch and a visit to the bakery for mid-walk cake supplies we headed out of town. Our route took us gradually uphill through a field of lambs, probably one of the springiest spring sights. Fortunately they weren’t too bothered by four humans traipsing through their field.

Walk from Winchcombe
Walk from Winchcombe

As we gained height we had a great view back over Sudeley Castle, a private residence which is open to the public. The castle is supposedly haunted by Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, who is buried in the chapel. Of course, with my cycnical head on this may just be a rumour for the tourists.

Winchcombe walk
Winchcombe walk

Onwards and upwards we walked. Our jumpers were off by now, partly due to the sun’s warmth and not just the exertion. Spring really had arrived! A skylark was singing somewhere above us and gorgeously tactile pussy willow adorned several branches. Ominous small patches of stinging nettles were just starting to grow again too, ready to ambush walkers in the months ahead.

Spring, Winchcombe
Spring, Winchcombe

We passed a small copse with an intriguing building in amongst the trees. Someone’s house? A woodland retreat? A sauna? The Keep Out sign made it clear we wouldn’t be able to investigate.

Belas Knap

As we neared Belas Knap we joined up with the car walkers. The long barrow is sufficiently away from the road that you’ll still face a 15 minute uphill walk even if you do choose to visit by car.

Belas Knap long barrow
Belas Knap long barrow

Belas Knap is a hilltop long barrow estimated to have been built around 3000 BC. The ancient tomb has several burial chambers, including a false entrance. During the 19th Century several excavations uncovered the remains of 31 people, some of whom are thought to originate from the early Bronze Age. You can crawl into and explore a couple of the chambers if you’re brave enough!

The barrow is a popular picnic spot for visitors; slightly surreal given it’s history but I can understand the appeal. There are great views in all directions and the surrounding stone wall offers protection from the wind. It certainly proved a good cake stop.

Heading downhill back to Winchcombe
Heading downhill back to Winchcombe

Back to Winchcombe

Our return to Winchcombe was all downhill. We dropped down quite steeply, past a ménage where a rider was practising dressage, to walk beside a cricket pitch. We were intrigued by the number of stiles punctuating two fences but I can only imagine it was to allow easy access to wayward cricket balls. The last stretch followed the Cotswold Way into town where I was happy to find the tea rooms still open.

We’ll definitely head back to Winchcombe for more walks. In addition to several long distance paths which pass through the town there’s also the remains of a Roman villa, an abbey and a castle to explore locally.

More info

  • We followed the route in our AA Walks in the Cotswolds walks book. Whilst I cannot find the exact route online it’s near enough the one here – but in reverse.
  • I thought parking in Winchcombe was going to be a nightmare as cars were parked on either side of the main road when we first drove through. However we followed signs to the long stay car park which was only a 5 minute walk to the town centre. There were plenty of spaces and it only cost £1!
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An amazing walk from Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucs

This 4 mile circular walk from Bourton-on-the-Water takes in two Cotswold villages, a nature reserve and, not one, but two mazes. Hence the cheesy pun in the title!

Tourist literature describes Bourton-on-the-Water as ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. Whilst the River Windrush flows through the village it doesn’t bear much resemblance to Venice except for the crowds of visitors. Once you’ve put the analogy aside it’s an enjoyable place to spend a few hours and, as we found, it’s easy to escape the tourist hordes.

Greystones Farm nature Reserve
Greystones Farm nature Reserve

As is almost always the case, a 10 minute walk from the village centre took us away from the day trippers. We left Bourton-on-the-Water via Greystones Farm Nature Reserve, which is managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

We followed the route through the farmyard past an unusual looking building marked with the words ‘Lely Astronaut’. I thought it might be an observatory but we found a small viewing window and realised it was a robotic milking parlour. We watched one of the cows for a while, hoping to see it getting milked, but the cow had other ideas so we left it in peace.

Unusual gate at Greystones Farm nature Reserve
Unusual gate at Greystones Farm nature Reserve

Leaving the farmyard we encountered this gate which had a convenient person shaped hole in it. It wasn’t so convenient for the people behind us who had multiple dogs, one of whom they were pulling along in a cycle trailer!

Further on we found some badger setts. The badgers were tucked up underground as it was the middle of the day but it would be great to stake out one of the setts.

Checking for badgers
Checking for badgers

We walked on through meadows before crossing the River Eye and River Dickler. Otters and water voles evidently frequent these rivers but we searched in vain for footprints on the banks. Even though we didn’t see signs of these elusive animals it was great to explore the incredibly clear rivers.

River Dickler, Greystones Farm
River Dickler, Greystones Farm

We managed to take a wrong turning after crossing the bridge. As we walked on the instructions started to differ from the route and when we reached a road it became obvious we’d gone the wrong way. Whoops. Fortunately we’d bought an OS map so we could work out where we were supposed to be, just a pity I hadn’t checked it sooner. On the positive side we did hear our first cuckoo of the year.

We reached the village of Wyck Rissington via our unplanned road detour. This unspoilt Cotswold village is a complete contrast to the tourist honeypot of Bourton-on-the-Water. We only saw one other person in the village visiting its picturesque duckpond and Cotswold stone buildings.

Wyck Rissington
Wyck Rissington

Wyck Rissington does have a couple of claims to fame. The composer Holst worked as an organist in the church in 1892. Holst enthusiasts can follow the 35 mile Gustav Holst walk which passes through places associated with the composer and ends at the church.

Of more interest to us was a story I’d heard about a maze in the rectory garden. It turned out we were 30 years too late as it was dismantled when the rectory was sold. However there is a mosaic inside the church which is a copy of the original maze. Can you complete it?

Mosaic maze in Wyck Rissington church
Mosaic maze in Wyck Rissington church

Our walk back to Bourton-on-the-Water was almost scuppered when we encountered a dog walker who told us about a herd of cows blocking our access ahead. Neither my daughter or I are fans but after checking the map we realised we’d either have to retrace our earlier route or brave the cows. With some nervousness we settled on the latter. We had several fields to cross; each one was carefully checked but there were no cows to be seen. Either they’d gone in for milking or the dog walker had imagined them. I was relieved!

The final stretch of walk took us past fishing lakes back into the village and onto our second maze of the day.

Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water

One of the reasons Bourton-on-the Water is so popular is because of its many attractions. These include Birdland, a model village, motor museum and a maze. We had time to spare after our walk so decided to explore the Dragonfly Maze.

Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water
Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water

Dragonfly Maze is a yew maze with a twist. In addition to finding the centre of the maze we needed to solve clues along the way in order to fully enjoy the attraction at the centre (I’m trying not to give anything away here).

The clues are picture based, similar to the top left hand photograph above. We didn’t manage to find one of them but were still able to solve the puzzle. The maze took us about 30 minutes to finish; it’s not particularly big but the added puzzle made it an entertaining way to finish our walk.

Smiths of Bourton tearoom

In my view, a walk can only be perfect if there’s a good tearoom somewhere en route. We were spoilt for choice in the village but settled on Smiths of Bourton tearoom.

We initially visited for lunch before our walk; I had a Ploughmans, the children sandwiches and my partner a fish finger sandwich. They were all delicious although my partner hadn’t expected either tomato ketchup or mushy peas inside his sandwich. This was rather unfortunate as he doesn’t like them; fortunately both kids do so after some sandwich swapping everyone ended up with something they enjoyed.

Smiths of Bourton
Smiths of Bourton

We returned after our walk for cake and coffee. My daughter was embarrassed to see one of her school teachers sitting on the table next to us, particularly as we were a good hour’s drive from home. I, on the other hand, was happy to see that the tearoom offered a selection of 3 smaller size cakes for £3.95. Perfect for me as I can never make up my mind. I chose fruit, carrot and chocolate cakes to share with the kids. If I’d been a proper food blogger I’d have Instagrammed the cakes, but I only thought about this after I’d ate them. You’ll just have to take my word that they were all delicious, a perfect end to our afternoon walk.

If you’ve enjoyed this you might also want to read about our walk from Winchcombe to Belas Knap or our climb up to Broadway Tower.

More info:

  • We followed the Bourton-on-the-Water and Wyck Rissington Jubilee walk. It’s 4 miles long and flat so easy to do with children. There are loads of cafés, pubs and other facilities available in Bourton.
  • The Dragonfly Maze is open year round, depending on the weather. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children under 12 costs £9.
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