Category Archives: Walks

#take12trips Challenge 4: Hiking in the Malverns

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After watching Far from the Madding Crowd recently, I’ve become slightly obsessed with all things quaint and English. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go frolicking in the Dorset countryside in pretty Victorian get-up? So when it came time to choose the next #take12trips challenge, it may have influenced my choice of the Malvern Hills. Pretty scenery? The Malverns is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Quaint housing? More like, can you get any quainter (or English?) than a shepherd’s hut. Victorian clothing? Well, you can’t get everything you want…. Continue reading

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#Take12Trips Challenge, Trip One: The Cotswold Way and Heart of England

 

After spending Saturday night filling up on excellent wine and generous portions of steak and triple-cooked chips and dark chocolate and salted caramel cake at The Bell Inn in nearby Willersey, we awoke slightly groggy, in need of a good breakfast and long walk to revive us. In what I liked to think was a stroke of good planning but more likely luck, the Cotswold Way ran right past our hotel, and was our route of choice for the day. This national trail, running for approximately 100 miles between Bath and Chipping Campden, takes in the Cotswolds’ most postcard-perfect villages and landscape, and so we eagerly wolfed down bacon sandwiches and started on the trail.

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In another stroke of good fortune, the weather was cool and misty, a small respite against hiking up hills with hangover sweats. After slipping and sliding our way up Fish Hill, we sped past Tillbury Hollow, normally an excellent picnic site in good weather, and continued onwards.

The terrain was invariably flat farmland on this portion of the Cotswold Way, but with those dry stone walls iconic to the Cotswold region lining the walk and a random abandoned Cotswold cottage thrown in for good measure, the walk had a romantic, ‘old English’ feel you would expect.

Eventually we reached Dover’s Hill, home of the original English Olympic Games and the rather painful sport of ‘shin-kicking’ (I don’t understand it either). The National Trust spot is a natural amphitheatre with a Roman vineyard nestled away in its landscape, making it an ideal spot to rest.

 

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But not for too long, as Chipping Campden is only a mile or so away, and arguably the quaintest of all the Cotswold villages we had seen so far.

 

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Having reached Chipping Campden in breakneck speed, we decided that four miles wasn’t enough hiking, and with the day still early trotted off to the tourist information board for recommendations of nearby hikes.

It was quite good we did really, as otherwise we would not have discovered what was one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever taken in southern England: The Heart of England Way.

 

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Measuring 100 miles in distance, the Heart of England Way links the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Staffordshire, with the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Gloucestershire, and a healthy amount of mileage in rural Warwickshire thrown in for good measure. Encompassing remote English villages off the track of the main Cotswold Way, to dramatic hillscapes and historic monuments, the Heart of England Way is an excellent choice for hikers wanting a varied scenery, or lots of stopping points for food and drink.

 

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We embarked on the eight-mile stretch of the trail between Chipping Campden and Moreton-in-Marsh, stopping in Blockley to refuel. Almost immediately on the trail, we were led through achingly beautiful English hamlets and gently rolling hillsides. The small village of Broad Campden in particular was so serene and picturesque I had to stop for a few minutes and appreciate the view. With its thatched-roof cottages, regal manor house and fields dotted with flocks of grazing sheep, it so perfectly encompassed the Cotswold stereotype I had expected on our trip.

 

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The scenery only improved the further we journeyed on the trail. Woodland and farm fields gradually changed into small villages, and in the hilly village of Blockley the lovely folk at the adorable Blockley Village Shop and Cafe gladly refilled our water bottles for us.

 

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Our journey continued on through more forests and villages, until we reached our final destination, Moreton-in-Marsh, managing to catch the train with two minutes to spare!

Breakdown of our weekend in the Cotswolds:

Return train tickets from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh for two: £52.00

Bus fare to Broadway for two: £6.20

Two nights, including breakfast, at the Farncombe Conference Centre in a double superior room: £115.00

Total: £173.20

If you are interested in trying the walks out for yourself, we used the Pathfinder Guides’ The Cotswolds Walks for our first hike to Broadway Tower, and the National Trails‘ website for information on The Cotswold Way. For the Heart of England Way, it is listed on the Ordnance Survey EXPLORER maps, but is also clearly signposted on the route. Otherwise, The Heart of England Way guidebook is available on its website. PLEASE NOTE, the Heart of England Way does NOT pass through Moreton-in-Marsh, it ends in Bourton-on-the-Hill. To follow our route, follow the signposts for the Heart of England until just after Blockley, then follow signage for The Monarch’s Way.

Have you done any of these trails? Tell me about your experiences below! 

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#Take12Trips Challenge, Trip One: Broadway, the Cotswolds

 

When it came to choosing a destination for my first #Take12Trips challenge, the choice was easy.

Only 1 1/2 hours on the train from London, with beautiful scenery, food and cozy pubs to escape the torrential rain, what better choice than the Cotswolds to celebrate the Valentine’s weekend?

The village of Broadway in particular, with its busy (for the Cotswolds, anyway) high street, central location to popular walks and cultural centres, not to mention great choice of pubs,  was the winner and so it was on Friday afternoon we giddily left work early and trundled through the countryside from Paddington.

Despite there being only one main street, we managed to get lost soon after our arrival in Broadway, which didn’t bode well for the rest of the weekend. Fear not, as a hard slog up Fish Hill soon brought us to our accommodation, the Farncombe Conference Centre.

Situated on its own 400-acre estate, the Farncombe offers rustic-styled accommodation at decent rates. However, it’s the estate’s panoramic views of the Cotswolds countryside and Broadway village that’s the clincher.

 

Farncombe Estate

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See?

Our day began with a four-mile circular hike to Broadway Tower, a Victorian folly created by Capability Brown and a favourite of artists such as William Morris and Rosetti. With the night’s rain suitably muddying our trousers and boots, we doggedly followed the slippery trail up to Broadway Tower.

The muddy ground didn’t stop others either, as some of the Tower’s locals ventured out from their huddle to meet us.

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After veering slightly off the trail, we discovered a deer enclosure nearby, and spent several long minutes quietly creeping up to the fence for a peek.Our efforts were eventually rewarded though, as we spied a group of them gathered under the tree before they sped off upon sight of us. My piece of advice for seeing them? Keep your eyes peeled and your footsteps soft, as the deer sightings are a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment!

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Further down the trail is a paddock of horses, which were earnestly chowing down on their breakfast and only paid us the slightest bit of attention in hopes of more delicacies. Now, I was never the kind of girl growing up that desperately wanted a horse, but these little ol’ guys were so sweet and friendly I couldn’t resist stopping to pet and feed them.

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Wandering down the trail, we came across an endless series of gurgling brooks, melodically flowing streams and quaint manor houses and cottages that are iconic to the Cotswolds.

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Arriving at the end of the walk, Broadway High Street, we quickly scouted for a lunch stop and settled for Tisane’s Tea Room. With cosy nooks to take the weight off your feet, roughly 342342541 varieties of tea, and friendly staff, we quickly tucked into hearty portions of beans-on-toast and quiche, finishing just in time for the afternoon’s main event.

 

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The rugby.

Watching England beat Italy was only improved by our surroundings in the Crown and Trumpet pub, a quirky and fun-loving establishment that was voted CAMRA’s Pub of the Year in 2012. With its good selection of beers, ales and ciders, friendly staff, and their own pub-cat, it is the type of place that makes you yearn for somewhere like it closer to home.

After getting ourselves in a suitably jolly state for woodland ramblings, we continued to explore the surrounding Broadway countryside, eventually stopping on the hillside to admire the view.

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London Walks: Boxhill

Box Hill is undoubtedly one of the easiest countryside areas for Londoners to escape to for a good day’s hike. Owned and managed by the National Trust, the area has a good selection of trails, panoramic views of the South Downs and enough follies to keep the walk interesting if woodland scenery is not necessarily your thing. Not to mention, it is only half an hour’s train ride from London Bridge.

However, Box Hill can be a little tricky to find if you don’t drive. When disembarking from Boxhill & Westhumble station, go past the School for Church Organists and head towards the T junction. Taking the subway to the other side of the road that is located on the left, follow the signs towards the car park for the National Trust Boxhill car park.

  It’ll soon become apparent that Boxhill is a fun hike as soon as you reach the start of the trail: STEPPING STONES!   Obviously it took a loooong time for the novelty to even slightly wear off….

 

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Enjoy hopping around on the stones for as long as you can though, as the trail right after the stones is steep and winding.

 

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However it is all worth it once you reach the top, with views stretching for 25 miles across the South Downs at the Salomon Memorial. Dedicated to the city financier Leopold Salomon who bought 230 acres of Box Hill and donated it to the National Trust in 1914, today Box Hill is known as a place of inspiration for British writers, as well as a few eccentric characters.

Purchase any snacks or drinks here, but be prepared to queue – Boxhill, and in particular the National Trust cafe, is a popular rest spot.

 

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Follow the trail towards Broadwood’s Tower, stopping to take a gander at the tree-stump Stonehenge on the left and the various wildflowers and butterflies that inhabit the area.   The word ‘tower’ might be stretching things a bit when describing Broadwood. Back in the day, when ruined castle remains and prehistoric monuments were the latest fashion trends, rich Victorians with time on their hands would build what are called ‘follies’, or faux-historical buildings and ruins with no real purpose other than to sit there and look pretty and entertain guests on walks around the rich Victorian’s property.   Luckily nature stepped in and made Broadwood folly even more impressive.

 

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After reaching the summit of a vast number of steps up the Mickleham Downs, take a lunch stop in the absurdly picturesque village of Mickleham. Complete with an ancient church, quaint pub and homes with lots of character, not to mention a private school that could easily pass for Hogwarts, this area is ideal for a pub lunch or picnic before attacking another steep section of the trail (keep an eye out for the ponies!).

 

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The narrow path of overhanging branches and haphazard tree roots might make you feel like you’ve walked off the path, but continue onwards and you’ll suddenly walk onto a wide open plain. The Mickleham Gallops is home to a Bronze Age hoard and barrow, and an old Roman road nearby. It is also home to enormous oak trees.

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Continue following the path towards Headley Heath, where there are more achingly-cute English homes than Pinterest can take.

The path eventually arrives full circle back to Salomon’s Memorial. Before heading back towards the car park and stepping stones however (tempting, I know) walk to the right of the National Trust cafe and there visitors can see one of the more truly bizarre sites in the UK.

 

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One of 13 forts to line the North Downs, the Box Hill Fort was originally built in 1889 as a ‘mobilisation centre’ as a part of the London Defence Scheme. With the threat of continental invasion fresh in the minds of Victorian military strategists, the scheme was created to defend London as the last great bastion of the British Empire. Box Hill Fort however never saw battle, and today it is mainly used as an elaborate house for bats.

For more information and trail directions, please download this map here.

 

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The White Cliffs of the Seven Sisters

Beachy Head 

Disembarking from the train at Eastbourne, it is easy to have doubts about the validity of this area as a hiking destination. The dated façade of the buildings, not to mention the over-abundance of charity shops on the high street, is enough to send hikers back on the train. But head out of the town and towards Beachy Head, and the South Down Trail and Seven Sisters Country Park awaits exploration.

Gasping between breaths and munching on some blackberries from the brambles that covered the hillside, we eagerly strode up the side of Beachy Head. Even through the grey haze of clouds and drizzle, the cliff stood luminous white against a thunderous backdrop of tumbling waves and green hills. Upon reaching the summit, we were greeted with a watercolour-painting scene of a striped lighthouse at the foot of the cliffs, continually hit with sea spray and waves. The sun peeked out of the clouds for a brief moment, causing an eruption of light on the tips of the waves.

 

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Zigzagging a trail down the side of the cliff, we struggled against the wind as it tried to veer us near the cliff edge. Head bent, I noticed the groups of petite wildflowers that dotted the hillside. Beachy Head and the surrounding region contain many rare types of flowers, along with the commonly-found British types such as honeysuckle. The purples and pinks and whites varied in size from a long, pink mullein-type to delicate five-petal flowers barely larger than the size of a pinhead.

 

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As we reached the crest of the hill, another lighthouse sat perched on the top. More modern in design, with mud coloured brickwork and a sturdier construction, the Belle Tout Lighthouse was constructed in  1832 to stop ships wrecking against the sea cliffs. After being partially destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in the 50s, today it stands as a hotel and a reminder of the area’s nautical history. From there it is possible to make out a brown smudge in the distance, Birling Gap, the start of the Seven Sisters Country Park.

A huddle of buildings painted autumnal colours of red, cream and grey moss, these denote the Birling Gap and the start of the Seven Sisters. However it is more likely your eyes will first look at the seven hilltop cliffs that loom out from behind these buildings. A metal platform provides great views of this panoramic seaside landscape, where fishermen stand on the bank, gently snapping their rods to and fro in the water, children gaze intensely into rock pools, and surfers bob along the waves. Approaching the buildings the aroma, a mixture of firewood and fish and chips, wafts through the air.

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The Seven Sisters is managed by the National Trust, and the seaside cliffs and surrounding grazing lands are free to visitors to wander. Undoubtedly the Seven Sisters and its rocky shores is the most popular attraction here, but a nearby Neolithic enclosure and the area’s diverse flora and fauna make heading further inland a worthwhile excursion. With the sun breaking through the clouds, we paced up the steep incline to the top of the highest Sister, the Haven Brow. The sea stretched off towards the horizon, with sail boats bobbing steadily in the distance. From our vantage point it was possible to see the rest of the Sisters, their cliffs shining brilliantly against the sea. Every year, approximately 30-40cm of the cliffs fall into the ocean due to erosion, turning the gurgling sea foam that crashes into the shores a unique mixture of chalk and salt water. This erosion also creates the opportunity for visitors to scour the shores and cliffs for fossils that have become loosened from the chalk.

 

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Stopping for an improvised picnic, we laid out our raincoats and absent-mindedly snacked on apples and sausage rolls, watching seagulls call to each other overhead. Nearby, groups of people wrote their names using piles of chalk stones that littered the green field, and herds of cattle and sheep cried to each other in their herds as they grazed in the fields. This and the sound of the wind and waves were all that could be heard. Eastbourne and its crowds of people seemed dozens of miles away.

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After a long interval, we reluctantly packed our bags and headed off, away from this quiet slice of the coast. Meandering down the hill, we followed the South Downs Way along the winding Cuckmere River and towards the medieval village of Alfriston.

 

Cuckmere Valley

 

Trains from London Victoria can be taken to Eastbourne, which will take approximately 1 1/2 hours transport and cost around £20 depending on advanced ticket purchasing. For more information on transport and things to do at Seven Sisters, log on to the National Trust website here.

To follow the route we took from Eastbourne to Alfriston/Berwick, follow the walking instructions on this website here.

For more information on the South Downs Way, please read this website here.

 

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Cuckmere Valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

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