15 Nov Top Spots for Winter Walks in Hampshire
A lovely, long walk on a cold day is one of my favourite winter activities. After the often hectic lead up to Christmas and too much festive indulgence over the holiday, I find that walking helps reset my equilibrium.
It’s exercise that most of us can do and is a fantastic way to improve both circulation and digestion. When you get out on foot it’s so much easier to appreciate the rich seasonal colours as well – and it’s a chance to kick about fallen leaves. The four Hampshire locations I recommend below are all places I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring during the colder seasons and I hope you enjoy them just as much.
North Hampshire, Silchester Roman Town, near Tadley
There are many fascinating walks you can choose from in Hampshire but, in terms of history, few compare to Silchester – one of the best preserved Roman towns in Britain. The ancient ruins here date back to the Iron Age. Whenever I wander around here, I think about all the people who came before me and how their lives must have been through the ages. It really is like being transported through time. The main ruins are of the circular town walls which date to the third century. They front an earlier second century rampart with an outer ditch. You can also see the massive Iron Age outer defences alongside the car park.
The amphitheatre has been at the centre of some incredible scenes. It’s fun to simply take a seat and let the mind roam free as you try and imagine the gladiators, wild beast fights and public executions that took place here. Quite extraordinary! The nearby medieval church of St Mary, the fabric of which is 12th century, is worth exploring too.
East Hampshire, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, near Petersfield
With over 2000 acres of downland and woodland, Queen Elizabeth Country Park is the ideal place to explore, keep fit and enjoy the great outdoors. The park is part of the South Downs National Park and is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Specular views await as you head out on foot to discover everything this idyllic spot has to offer. From short easy strolls to longer rambles, there are routes to suit all ages and abilities – handy when all the family are together at Christmas. And they’re suitable for dogs. The park’s leaflet has details of three permissive walking trails that are waymarked on the ground and ‘The dragon of Butser Hill’ is a short interactive walk designed especially for children. This is a popular place with mountain bikers who can be spotted here all year round. The agility course, child’s play areas and dog course bring people from far and wide too.
The Beechwood Kitchen offers hot and cold drinks and home-made, locally sourced food. Hungry visitors can choose from nutritious meals to snacks and cakes, making it the ideal place to stop and refuel on cold winter days. Pop into the visitor centre shop for local produce, park maps, trails, gifts and information.
West Hampshire, Western New Forest Commons, The New Forest
Western New Forest Commons are four areas of common on the north western fringe of the New Forest National Park. All the commons have open access with a good network of tracks.
Hyde Common is the largest of the four commons, covering 149 acres of open grassland and heathland scrub. The view from Abbots Well Car Park is often described as one of the finest in the National Park – so worth a visit for that alone. Just a short walk from the car park is the ‘Abbots Well’, a perpetual spring that dates from the Middle Ages that served as the main watering hole for travellers.
Just half a mile south of Hyde Common is the slightly smaller Gorley Common. A tree-lined walk along the south western boundary follows remnants of an Iron Age hill fort and offers views into the valley of the River Avon and Cranbourne Chase beyond. Ibsley Common contains a former gravel pit but also areas of remaining heathland. At the top of the hill you will be rewarded with splendid views of the Avon Valley. Rockford Common is the smallest of the Western New Forest Commons. This site has a mixture of heathland clearings and birch and oak woodland. Flocks of siskins and redpolls are common in winter, so don’t forget to bring binoculars.
South Hampshire, Lymington and Keyhaven Local Nature Reserve, Lymington
The combined area of the two reserves covers well over 1200 hectares and has mudflats, salt marshes, shingle banks, coastal grazing marshes and saline lagoons. This unique place is a hotspot for wildlife and supports important populations of birds and rare and specialist plants and invertebrates. Birdwatchers can be seen here all year round because there are so many different species inhabiting the reserve at different times.
Walks take you along the sea wall east towards Lymington or west towards Hurst Spit and Milford on Sea. There are public toilets and a car park at Keyhaven right next to the Gun pub and there are cafes at Milford.
It goes without saying that waterproofs and sensible shoes are must-haves when out for winter walks. As fell walker, author and illustrator Alfred Wainwright is quoted as saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
Where are your favourite places to go for a winter walk? Let us know on our Hampshire Countryside Facebook page.