Tag Archives: Seven Sisters

Five London Day Hikes for Winter

Richmond Park London day hikes

Limited daylight and wintry weather doesn’t mean your hiking plans have to go into hibernation. With a little forward planning and an early(ish) start, the following hikes can easily be completed from London in a day.

Seven Sisters a London day hike

For the Coastal Hikers – Birling Gap, the Seven Sisters and Exceat London Day Hike

Salty sea air and cold winds are the perfect remedy to sweep away the cobwebs after too much time indoors. While this route might require hikers to leave earlier in the morning (depending on where you live in London) to make the most of daylight hours, this walk is one of the prettiest stretches of the English coast in any weather. While the Seven Sisters attracts droves of visitors in the summer, it is quieter in the winter, giving you more space and quiet to appreciate its rugged beauty.

If you like to be beside the seaside for a hike, check the Beachy Head website, or check out my own route review for this route.

Deer in Richmond Park.

For the Lazy Sunday Hikers – Ham House from Richmond Walk London Day Hike

For those that like their walks with detours to cosy pubs and roast dinners, this route is ideal. This circular walk begins and ends handily at Richmond station, and if you’re lucky you might spot one of Richmond Park’s famous inhabitants. King Henry’s Mound still offers beautiful panoramic views of London, and there’s always the option to warm up with coffee and cake at Ham House, or The Dysart for those with deeper wallets. One of my favourite spots along this trail however is closer towards Richmond’s centre, along the Thames. Pubs line the riverfront, and in winter there’s a good chance you can stretch out and have a portion to yourself on a Sunday.  

For more information and to download the trail guide, check The National Trust website.

Slaugham Place historic remains.

For the History Buff Hikers – Balcombe Circular Walk London Day Hike

Located approximately 40 minutes away on the train from London Bridge, this walk takes London hikers through some of the prettiest sections of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The forests and walkways of Nymans gardens easily lull hikers into multiple detours around its stunning landscapes. The ruins of Slaugham Place, a 16th-century Elizabethan manor house, are also a beautiful place to stop for a breather. At the end of the walk in Balcombe is the quaint and hiker-friendly Half Moon Inn pub, to toast a successful walk.

To try this hike yourself, check out the Saturday Walker’s Club route directions.

Box Hill view London day hikes

For the ‘Tree Huggers’ – Mole Gap Trail Day Hike

While the Mole Gap Trail is famous in the summer for the fact that it includes a pitstop at the largest vineyard in England, hiking this in winter showcases the sheer variety of ancient trees located along this trail. Starting at Leatherhead station, the route meanders along the river before gradually climbing through forests, where old yew and box woodlands dwell. Towards the end of the trail hikers are treated to views from Box Hill after a lung-busting climb.

Box Hill London day hikes

If the thought of exploring hills and forests has you ‘leaf’ing the comfort of your sofa, check the route instructions from the folks at Explore Surrey or check out more things to see and do around Box Hill via my guide.

London winter day hikes ightham mote

For Historic House Hikers – Sevenoaks London Day Hike

For some strange reason, Sevenoaks is not featured too often in London guides. Despite being only a short distance from London and featuring Kent’s only deer park (think Richmond Park, but quieter), two expansive historic National Trust houses, not to mention an adorable high street with multiple lunch stops, it never attracts the same level of attention.

This is all the more benefit for hikers that venture on this route, as you can roam the deer park in search of its four-legged locals, admire the unusual architecture of Knole House and Ightham Mote, or count the number of oast houses (those houses with white caps on the pointy roofs that only seem to exist in Kent) you spot along the trail.

Knole park deer london day hikes sevenoaks

One of the benefits of hiking around Sevenoaks is the sheer number of footpaths in the area. Check some of my recommendations for extending hikes around this area, or follow through to the handy Saturday Walkers Club for route directions.

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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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