Tag Archives: National Trust

London Hikes Inspiration

As any outdoor-loving Londoner knows, it can be hard to escape into the outdoors from the city, particularly when you’re reliant on public transport.

So when I found a website with loads of day hikes, all within easy reach of a London train station, I knew I had to share the joy.

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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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National Walking Month and London Walks: Kingston to Ham House

 

May Day not only marks the beginning of spring festivals, but the beginning of National Walking Month in the UK. With celebrated British writers such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, Virginia Woolf and Wordsworth celebrating the joys of walking in their works, if you’re a fan of walking, you’re in good company.

To celebrate the beginning of one of AmorExplore’s favourite month-long holidays, London residents are in for a treat as we are launching the beginning of our London Walks features for the blog. And who better to celebrate the beginning of the feature than with Britain’s own conservator of the countryside, The National Trust. The first of the London Walks series is a scenic, easy walk around Ham House from Kingston railway station. Approximately only 30 minutes from London Waterloo, the walk caters to all ability levels and with regular restaurants and pubs, historic monuments, wildlife spotting and scenic areas, is a definite people pleaser.

After a short walk from the station, the beginning of the trail leads along a much more scenic route along the Thames locks, with small boats moored along the backyard docks of picturesque houses.

 

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At some point, Eel Pie Island will pass by on the left. Renowned as one of London’s best jazz and blues venues in the 1960s, performers such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Acker Bilk are only a few of the famous faces that graced the island during that time. After a brief stint as a hippie commune in the 70s, and a botched invasion by TV presenter Danny Wallace in 2005, the island is now home to a colourful and eclectic set of shanty homes, studios and the Twickenham Rowing Club. Follow the footbridge over for a quick diversion on the trail.

 

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Being a National Trust walk, the trail will eventually meet with Ham House and Gardens, a regal 17th century Stuart manor home situated on the bank overlooking the Thames in a very dramatic fashion. Known as one of Britain’s most haunted houses, Ham House contains a plethora of artwork, furniture and textiles that are well worth a look, plus some meticulously kept gardens that all visitors should take advantage of with a sunny summer stroll. There is also a cafe serving tea and other light refreshments, making this a good stop on the walk if you fancy a lunch-time break from walking to replenish your energy.

 

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After diverting traffic by the Dysart Arms Pub, simply cross the street and enter through the kissing gate at Petersham Meadows. Car fumes and traffic noise dies away along this tranquil, open path. Head towards the hills on the left until you reach King Henry’s Mound at the summit. With narrow, manicured walkways and a detailed, panoramic map of London’s skyline, King Henry’s Mound is an excellent spot to take a break (and catch your breath) after the steep incline to point out famous landmarks.

For animal lovers, the best parts of the trail is next. While many theories fly around (apologies for the pun) about the origins of the Kingston Parakeets, no one truly knows their origins in Britain. The general gist from all the hypotheses though, is that parakeets escaped, didn’t die in the wild, mated like rabbits (or parakeets, apologies again) and have grown in size, with some estimates at 50,000. Today groups of these vivid green critters can be seen perched on trees lining the roads to Richmond Park, or scavenging the grass for meals.

 

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Possibly Richmond Park’s most famous inhabitants, approximately 630 Red and Fallow deer call these woods home. Congregating in big groups, it is easy to see the female and their young in the spring. The stags on the other hand, prefer to shy away from the limelight, and normally camouflage themselves within the woods.

 

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Sometimes though, they get a little envious and want a piece of the attention….

 

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Continue to follow the trail as it takes you to the manicured lawns and play areas of Richmond Park, and back to Kingston station. Or take this opportunity to go off the beaten trail and explore more of Richmond Park. For full trail instructions, please see the National Trust walk website here.

 

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If You Do One Thing in London This Month….

 

….visit Leighton House

East meets west London in the most unlikely of places – an English aristocrat’s home.

Compared to other English aristocratic homes, decorated with portraits of the owners forefathers or art relics from the Classical world, a quick look around Lord Leighton’s and it is fair to say he was a bit of an eccentric in his day. An artist by profession, Lord Francis Leighton held a fascination with the Middle East and its artwork. So much so in fact, that he had the hall in the ground floor of his studio house converted into an opulent Arab Hall, reminiscent of the mosques and grand houses he visited on his travels. All of the materials used for the construction of the Arab Hall were sourced from the Middle East or made by the top masters of that particular craft in Leighton’s day.

 

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Of course, the rest of the house deserves a long look around as well; each room has been painstakingly restored to its’s original state as Lord Leighton left it. Featuring a mixture of his own work and friends including William Morris and Millais, the layout offers an insight into the mind and artistic talent of Lord Leighton.

For more information about Leighton House, please follow this link here.

Photo credits: europanostra / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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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.

 

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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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