South Downs Way at South Downs National Park (England)

Britain’s newest National Park, the South Downs National Park, was granted National Park Status in April 2011 and it wasn’t a minute too soon. So beautiful are the 1627 square kilometres within the park that people who live in the area have been wondering for years why it had not already been accorded the title and protections. The South Downs National Park reaches East to Eastbourne all the way through to Winchester to the West, and takes in the stunning southern counties of East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire. Within that area the landscape encompasses the long undulating forests of the Weald over sandstone and clay vales and hills, the world-famous and iconic white cliffs at Beachy Head and the gorgeous chalk ridge of the South Downs and the rolling South Downs Way. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and packed with hundreds of archaeological sites as well as the endless beautiful villages and market towns and the Cathedral City of Winchester, South Downs National Park is a true highlight of southern England and one of my favourite walks.

south downs national park

The best way to experience the national park is along the South Downs Way. This traverses the length of the National Park, from the coastal town of Eastbourne all the way to stunning Winchester. It will take you into the heart of the very best of England’s green and pleasant countryside and you can travel the trail either on foot, mountain bike or by horse. There are some steep inclines along the way but for people with an average level of fitness there is nothing that should trouble you too much. And the rewards are worth it – on a clear day you can stand and look out over Hampshire and Sussex and further, over the English Channel. Stand at the top of one of the many hills and enjoy the green patchwork of fields, woods, rivers and forests, as well as the beautiful villages dotted around the landscape. Indeed as you walk along the trail you will pass through farms and farmland, woods and forests, gentle streams and flowing rivers, castles and forts, quaint English villages and bustling market towns. Stop en route for a pint (or three) of local ale in one of the hundreds of traditional pubs, or combine your walk with one of the many festivals in Brighton, Winchester, Arundel or Glyndebourne.

No matter when you go, or how you decide to do it, the South Downs Way is one of England’s most enjoyable and picturesque trails. It is the oldest bridleway in the United Kingdom and it is packed with beauty and history at every turn. If you have a choice, the best way to go (and my favourite route) is from Winchester to Eastbourne, meaning you start at the Cathedral and finish the walk amidst the stunning views of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

Alex is a travel writer and blogger. He regularly writes about traveling and hiking around the UK and Europe. He also writes for a Kefalonia tourist information guide.

(Photo courtesy of Globalism Pictures)

Hiking in the Lake District National Park (England)

England’s Lake District National Park might be the most picturesque hiking destination in the UK. It’s got everything a hiker could hope to find in the great British outdoors- craggy mountain peaks, beautiful lakes stretching off into the distance, ancient stone circles, wild deer roaming the hillsides, ruined castles, and a scattering of excellent traditional pubs.

If you’re familiar with Wordsworth’s poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud…’ you’ve already heard about the Lake District. Wordsworth was inspired to write those lines after a walk near Ullswater (one of the bigger lakes) in 1802. Sir Walter Scott also wrote about this part of the world, and so did Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and many of the great poets of the Romantic Movement.

It was also home to hiking pioneer Alfred Wainwright, a man who penned descriptions of no less than 214 hills and mountains — locally known as ‘fells’. That figure should give you some idea just how hilly the Lake District really is. There are easy day walks suitable for families, week-long expeditions for the more adventurous, and scrambles and full-blown rock climbs for those who like their terrain a little more vertical. Winter or summer, it’s a paradise for hikers.

windermere lake district national park

Scafell Pike is one of the most popular summits. At well over 3000ft it’s the highest in England. On a good day it offers views of peaks up to 100km distant and sometimes it’s even possible to catch a glimpse of the sharp peaks of North Wales or the Mourne Mountains in County Down far away across the Irish Sea.

Those who want to try scrambling should choose Helvellyn, a little further south. It’s not quite as high as Scafell Pike but still tops the 3000ft mark, and there are two classic ridge walks to the summit. Hikers can either go up Striding Edge and down Swirral Edge or vice-versa. The exposure is stunning and the views are spectacular, right beneath your feet. This is one for those with plenty of experience and a good head for heights. In winter conditions crampons and ice-axes are definitely recommended.

In the evenings it’s time to relax by the water’s edge. Sunset from Ambleside, just on the edge of Windermere, is often absolutely incredible:

ambleside at dusk lake district national park

If you happen to be driving along the edge of Ullswater on a still evening you’ll see the mountains reflected with almost unreal clarity:

ullswater in autumn lake district national park

Even if you come just to hike it’s worth taking a day off to hire a bike and wander by the waterside or hop on a boat tour.

Jess Spate is a UK-based hiker and a rock and ice climber. Understandably, the Lake District is one of her favourite places to be. When not out on the fells or clinging to the rocks she writes for Appalachian Outdoors (follow them on twitter @AppOutdoors), an American hiking and camping retailer.