7 of the most Instagrammable winter walks near London

Crisp, clean air, winter sun shining, frost crunching underfoot – it’s the perfect time of year to take an invigorating walk across one of these picture-perfect routes, all within a couple of hours reach of the capital.

Thames Path National Trail

Embarking on this long-distance walking route (184 miles/294km) is an excellent way to discover the gorgeous scenery alongside the River Thames but even dipping in and out of it delivers a raft of Instagrammable sights that look beautiful bathed in winter sunshine and silvery frost. Rural tranquillity welcomes you as the Thames Path National Trail starts at the very source of the river in the Cotswolds, before meandering through several of south-east England’s rural counties and lovely villages. The trail also passes by towns and cities such as Oxford, Windsor and Henley, bringing further photo opportunities (university colleges, ‘dreaming spires’ and a castle or two to name just a few!) before heading through the charming leafy boroughs of Richmond and Kew, with the trail culminating at London’s historic Docklands. This is a perfect winter walking route as there are plenty of places to stop off to warm up en route; in fact, the trail has teamed up with the Hop Kettle Brewery to produce the Trail Ale Liquid Highway, a bespoke ale sold along the trail with a donation made to its upkeep with every one sold.

Time from central London: 2 hours to the start of the trail

Constable Country, Essex

The area of Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley has been attracting visitors keen to portray its beauty for centuries. One of Britain’s most famous painters, John Constable, depicted the stunning scenery here in several of his renowned works – it’s an area of pretty villages, picturesque meadows, ancient woodlands and a labyrinth of cute lanes. The Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Stour Valley area boasts many walking routes and, if you head to the National Trust at Flatford, you’ll see those very views, villages and hamlets that inspired Constable’s famous works, The Hay Wain and Flatford Mill, meaning you can capture the contemporary version.

Time from central London: 2 hours

Hampstead Heath Circular, north London

London and its suburbs are famous for their green spaces, so you can experience a stunning winter walk without travelling out too far from the capital’s centre. Hampstead Heath to the north of the capital is a popular place to stroll, with several trails available. If you’re on the circular route, you’ll have the chance to snap pictures of Victorian architecture dotted along Hampstead High Street, the famous Hampstead Ponds and the magnificent panoramic views across central London once you’ve climbed Parliament Hill. Heading back down from the Heath you can also take in the genteel Kenwood House, which houses important works of art, and the elegant Hampstead Grove.

Time from central London: 30 minutes

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

The grounds of the National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor are ideal for exploring at this time of year – the even come with their very own Winter Garden. The route around the Winter Gardens emphasises the country manor estate’s finest points, with views back to Flint House – a unique-looking building in the grounds that is used to accommodate academics and artists working with Waddesdon’s educational and artistic programme and which also won the RIBA House of the Year Award in 2015 – and highlights the remarkable bronze and black colours of the Winter Garden’s features. Take time to walk to the Aviary Glade and visit its exotic species of birds, stop for a picture with the amazing 3D plant sculptures or the awesome contemporary sculpture dotted throughout the gardens, before warming up again with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in its Stables Café.

Time from central London: 1 ¾ hours

Saxon Shore Way, Kent and East Sussex

It may well be a long-distance pathway – stretching from Gravesend in Kent, hugging the south-east England coastline and ending in Hastings, East Sussex 163 miles (262km) away, but joining any part of the Saxon Shore Way will have you reaching for your camera phone. It traverses through two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a number of Nature Reserves where you’ll spot a multitude of birds, butterflies and mammals. Must-see panoramic views to capture digitally include the route along the cliffs from Folkestone to Rye as well as the vista you’re rewarded with as you walk along the sandstone cliffs of the High Weald at Hastings.

Time from central London: 2 hours

Leith Hill, Surrey

Close to the charming market town of Dorking is Leith Hill, looked after by the National Trust – endeavour to climb this hill and you’ll be rewarded with astounding views over the county of Surrey and the Surrey Hills. Come on a clear day and you may well be able to see London to the north and the coastline to the south too. With plenty of walking trails through open heathland or woodland you’ll get to experience different terrains but the pièce de résistance of views you’ll want to capture on camera is from the top of Leith Hill Tower – this is the highest point of south-east England and you’ll discover why this part of the landscape is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Time from central London: 1.5 hours

Coombe Hill & Chequers, Chiltern Hills

Ever wondered what the British Prime Minister’s grand country residence looked like? Embark on this 8.5-mile walk through countryside landscapes looked after by the National Trust, and you can find out! The route also includes the chance to climb to the Boer War Memorial at the top of Coombe Hill in the county of Buckinghamshire and, from here, you’ll experience the spectacular views across to the Cotswold and Aylesbury Vale and even catch a glimpse of distant landmarks via the toposcope located on top of the hill. That’s before you’ve walked through stunning woodlands, the pretty village of Ellesborough and the footpath that then leads you past the driveway entrance of Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat.

Time from central London: 1.5 hours

Six of the best non-hotel accommodation in South England

Sometimes, on vacation, you just want to stay somewhere a little less traditional than a hotel. Fortunately, Britain comes with a raft of alternative, creative and unique types of accommodation that will ensure a memorable stay. Here we take a look at just a few of these amazing places in the south of England.

 

Stay in… a treehouse, double-decker bus or helicopter

Blackberry Wood in the stunning Sussex countryside is a pretty place for camping thanks to its cute woodland glades…and you’ll also find some extraordinary glamping options thanks to its unique transformations of public transport! A converted 1965 search and rescue helicopter sleeps up to four and comes equipped with an outside kitchen area, while its 1964 Routemaster London double-decker bus has transformed the upstairs into a cosy sleeping and lounge area – complete with soft play area if you’re coming with children – and downstairs an area to cook and dine. And, for something really special, its Higgledy Tree House looks like it’s appeared from a fairy tale. High up in the trees there’s room for up to four and is fully contained with a shower room in its turret and enchanting window seats for observing the wildlife. A truly magical experience.

Getting there: Blackberry Wood is around 30 minutes’ drive from Brighton, or two hours from London.

 

Stay in… a windmill

In the heart of Rye near Hastings, and on the banks of the river Tillingham, Rye Windmill B&B offers ten ensuite rooms, with two actually in the white smock, Grade II-listed windmill itself, making it a luxurious and unusual place to stay. It occupies a historic site in Gibbet's Marsh where a windmill has stood, in one form or another, since at least the 16th century. Book into its Windmill Suite, which is situated over two floors in the Mill, offering fantastic panoramic views of the town and the surrounding countryside. Enjoy drinks in its cosy lounge with its guest honesty bar, plus outdoor terrace for the summer and fireplace to cosy up to in the winter.

Getting there: Rye Windmill is around two hours’ drive from London.

 

Stay in… a zoo

For a sleepover safari, book into one of the nine lodges at Whipsnade Zoo and experience something other visitors to the zoo wouldn’t get. At Whipsnade, people view the animal closures by their own cars or the zoo’s bus services, so after you’ve completed a sunset tour of Asia and Africa, you’ll enjoy dinner followed by a torchlit walk to see what animals are still awake. After breakfast you’ll tour the European area and help feed some of the animals. Each of the lodges has twin or double beds, as well as a private veranda. Open between late March and October, there are adult-only nights as well as family nights to include children aged five years and above.

Getting there: Whipsnade Zoo is around one hour 15 minutes’ drive from both London and Oxford.

 

Stay in… a folly

For a truly romantic experience, The Hadlow Tower in Kent is a picturesque, Grade I-listed Gothic folly (a highly decorative or ornamental building often built for aesthetics rather than practicality). This 19th-century tower – the tallest Gothic folly in the world – is now home to four luxury bedrooms spread over five floors, connected by pretty spiral staircases and offers gorgeous panoramic views of the Kent countryside. Inside is particularly lavish, with stained-glass period window and stylish furniture and antiques. Guests have exclusive use of the property during their stay and can even hire in a chef to cook meals. There is also an exhibition centre detailing the history and renovation of the tower on the ground floor.

Getting there: Hadlow Tower is in the village of Hadlow, just over an hour’s drive from London.

 

Stay in… a railway carriage

Nestled within Northiam Steam Railway Station, on the border between the counties of Kent and East Sussex, Railway Retreats has converted former carriages that sit within a working station – you can even see the steam trains pull up just 20 feet/six metres away. The transformed MK1 railway carriage sleeps up to six and an additional two goods wagons each sleep up to four – all come with en-suite facilities. The former also boasts an elevated glass balcony giving fabulous views of the station and the surrounding countryside.

Getting there: Northiam is around two hours’ drive from London.

 

Stay in… an Art Deco barge

A unique way to explore the Thames is by staying with the owners on their Art Deco barge, built by British craftsman, as they take you through the beautiful scenery and stopping at charming riverside pubs between Kingston in Surrey to Oxford – that’s 90 miles and 32 locks. The barge offers complete comfort – guest accommodation and facilities are private from that of the crew’s, so you can enjoy total privacy when you want. Enjoy the pretty villages and towns along the way, such as Henley, Sonning (where George and Amal Clooney have a home), Hampton Court, Marlow and Windsor.

Getting there: If boarding in Kingston, Kingston is 30 minutes’ train journey from London Waterloo.

Day trips from London – must-do experiences in Hastings, Battle & Rye

Jump on a train heading south-east from London and in under 1.5 hours you’re in what is known as ‘1066 Country’ (due to its connections with the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066), in the towns of Hastings, Battle and Rye. Visit for a day of unique heritage, seaside experiences, festivals and much more!

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – HASTINGS

Not only is the Jerwood Gallery set in a stunning glass building on the Old Town’s fishing beach it’s also at forefront of contemporary art with changing exhibitions and home to a fabulous collection of 20th- and 21st-century British art.

Head down to St Clements Caves and embark on a Smugglers’ Adventure. You’ll join notorious smuggler ‘Hairy Jack’ through underground tunnels and caverns on this interactive experience that tells the tales of smugglers through the ages. You can also enter the attraction via the original West Hill funicular railway, which retains its original Victorian wooden carriages.

Stroll around the picturesque Old Town, a bustling haven of cobbled streets, ‘twittens’ (narrow passageways) and a flourishing arts community, which you can explore through its myriad of antique stores and independent art shops. Alternatively, explore off-the-beaten track at the America Ground and White Rock area of Hastings. This cool, creative neighbourhood has a fascinating history and is now home to independent restaurants, cafés and shops, funky clubs and bars, as well as Source BMX Park, the biggest underground BMX park in Europe, which runs its own ‘Battle of Hastings’ in September.

 

Where can I eat?

Fresh fish lands on Hastings’ beaches every day, serving the town’s restaurants and cafés. Head down to The Stade area, the town’s fishing and cultural quarter, and dine on smoked fish and fresh cockles at Rock-a-Nore Kitchen, or admire the views of the seafront while munching oysters and other delicacies from the sea at the Old Custom House Restaurant. Round off your lunch with a luscious homemade ice cream from Di Polas ice cream parlour, where flavours range from sea salt caramel to apple and ginger.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Hastings has some genuinely charming B&Bs to choose from. Among them is The Laindons, a pretty guesthouse with five rooms located in the Old Town within a Georgian Grade II-listed building. It’s kept so much of its original character and comes with fabulous views of Hastings Old Town. The Old Rectory boutique B&B is also housed in a historic building and is beautifully designed within, showcasing work by local artists and designers. For hotel choices, check out The White Rock Hotel, a stylish seafront property with contemporary, comfortable rooms and a terrace café/bar, perfect for a meal or drinks while overlooking the coastal view. 

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – BATTLE

Re-live the atmosphere and tension of more than 600 soldiers clashing at the annual battle re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings. Held every October (13-14 in 2018), visitors can expect a day being immersed in medieval life and discovering what it was like on this famous date that changed history.

The market town of Battle grew up around Battle Abbey, built by William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings as a penance ordered by the Pope. Now looked after by English Heritage, along with the battle site, you can explore the abbey ruins and even stand on the spot where King Harold was said to have perished.

The town of Battle that subsequently spread beyond the Abbey walls is now a charming town to explore and offers cultural gems during the year. Throughout October is the Battle Arts & Music Festival, featuring events ranging from classical recitals, contemporary dance, author events and a range of artistic masterclasses and demonstrations.

 

Where can I eat?

For a light meal of sandwiches, cream teas and homemade cakes, Lavender Abbey Tea Rooms – with its cosy log burner to warm up against during the cooler months – is a popular choice and runs an interesting programme of evening events. A picturesque option is The Orangery at Ashburnham Place, where you can have lunch and afternoon tea in a Lancelot Capability Brown-designed building, which is home to many delicate plants including the oldest camellia in the country. Or stop by The Bull Inn Pub & Restaurant – a 17th-century coaching inn – for English pub classics such as pies, fish and chips, and steaks.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Once a gunpowder owner’s residence, on the site of an 18th-century gunpowder works, the PowderMills is now a gorgeous country hotel in Battle, set in 150 acres of parkland and lakes. Just outside of Battle, overlooking the tranquil village green of Sedlescombe, is the family run Brickwall Hotel, which was built at the end of 16th century for the local ironmaster. And, for a luxury B&B stay, try Boreham House, around a ten-minute drive from Battle and situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This Grade II-listed Georgian house, originally the home of the local apothecary, also offers a converted self-catering cottage in what was the house’s original stables and coach house.

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – RYE

Made up of attractive cobbled streets and a gamut of narrow passageways, the medieval town of Rye is made for exploring. It’s like stepping back in time as you discover buildings dating back to the medieval, Tudor and Georgian eras. It’s quaint and quirky – Mermaid Street, for example, is home to ancient buildings with unique names such as ‘The House Opposite’ or ‘The House with the Seat’.

Close to town is Great Dixter, the birthplace and home of renowned gardener and writer, the late Christopher Lloyd, and is well worth a visit for its glorious gardens – incorporating a walled garden, the sunk garden and the peacock garden – and for its horticultural events that run throughout the year.

For a true taste of Rye’s countryside, head to the award-winning, 850-acre Oxney Organic Estate, around six miles from the town, for a guided tour of its vineyard, and enjoy a tasting of its organic still and sparking wines, which only use the vineyard’s grapes and follow a natural winemaking ethos. It also has holiday cottages on site and recently introduced renovated vintage shepherds’ huts to stay in.

 

Where can I eat?

A pretty little clapperboard pub on the outskirts of Rye where the Military Canal meets the River Rother, The Globe Inn Marsh has a fantastic menu of locally sourced fish and other local ingredients, plus a bar that stocks more than 40 gins.

Another great fish restaurant is Webbe’s at the Fish Café, located in a listed building near the Landgate Arch in Rye, and was the first completely fire-proof building of its kind in the UK when it was built in 1907. It’s all about fresh local fish here, brought in from the ports of Rye and Hastings,  

Ten minutes from Rye is restaurant with rooms, The Gallivant Hotel, with a superb bistro that overlooks the beautiful sandy dunes at Camber Sands. It’s passionate about using local produce across its menu, with a daily changing menu highlighting the season’s best, and boasts a large list of English wines.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Sloping ceilings, creaky floorboards and a diverting history encompassing 18th-century smugglers make the Mermaid Inn a special place to stay in Rye. History oozes out of every corner – its cellars date back to 1156 and the building itself was rebuilt in 1420 – although you’ll find a very contemporary welcome.

Another fine example of a historic inn is The George on Rye’s High Street, which dates back to 1575. A luxury hotel, each room is designed with its own bespoke furniture and colour theme. Dine at its in-house restaurant and enjoy a drink in its own pub, The George Tap.

Looking for more of a glamping experience? A ten-minute drive from Rye and you’ll find yourself in the village of Beckley, and at Swallowtail Hill, a farm, meadow and woodland where you can stay in either of its charming cottages – the Woodcutter’s Cottage or the Meadow Keeper’s Cottage – or its two cosy wood cabins. It’s a great place for a full digital detox.

 

Getting there: Hastings, Battle and Rye are located in the county of East Sussex on England’s south coast. Trains leave from either London St Pancras or London Charing Cross (depending on your destination) and take around 1.5 hours.

British wines and vines

Forget France… yes really, because Britain is where you’ll find the most unique wine experiences this year. From the charming countryside of the South East to cosmopolitan London, there’s a winery to suit everyone’s taste — and fizz to rival Champagne!

 

A Vinicultural Renaissance

Over the last five years, Britain’s wine industry has been rapidly growing and receiving universal acclaim as wine buffs move their allegiances to the vines of South East England. Gone are the days of worrying about trying ‘old’ versus ‘new’ world - now it’s all about uncovering the unexpected and quaffing the best wine in the most surprising settings.

 

The Beautiful South

It’s the chalky soil and cool climate of the South East, which includes Kent known as ‘the Garden of England’, that makes it perfect for creating bubbles too. With this favourable setting, it’s no surprise that it’s now home to several wineries that are producing English sparkling wine that’s set to rival the famed Champagne region.

 

West Fisher Winery

One of the smallest wineries in Great Britain, West Fisher in Chelsham, Kent, produces fewer than 10,000 bottles annually from grapes grown around southern England. Its founder Simon Fisher is a former architect and has been passionate about wine production ever since his mother made wines at home. So, you could say that wine is in his blood…

 

Nyetimber

Probably the most famous of the lot, Nyetimber in West Sussex was the royal wine of choice served by the Queen at both her Silver and Golden Jubilees. Quintessentially ‘British’, the Nyetimber estate goes back centuries - the first recording of it was in the 1086 Doomsday Book.

When you sip a Nyetimber wine, you’re sipping grapes steeped in history. They also host open days throughout the year (which sell out quickly) so you can see - and taste - for yourself why their wine is so popular.

 

Rathfinny Wines

Pop a cork and enjoy a glass of delicious fizz in the stunning South Downs, with beautiful views across the East Sussex countryside. This 600-acre estate is just a hop, skip and walk from the sea too - so you can enjoy your wine with a side of fish and chips, a British classic.

Along with tours of the estate and wine trails, you can also enjoy a glass of their brand-new wine for 2018, the first vintage of their Sussex Sparkling in their Tasting Room, or book an overnight stay at the cosy Flint Barns in the estate’s pretty ‘Cradle Valley’.

 

London Cru

Hidden in the little lanes of Fulham, south west London, 90 oak barrels work their magic producing quality wines in small batches from grapes that have been specially selected from European vineyards.

You can jump on the tube and book yourself on a tour at London’s first winery through their sister company Roberson Wines.

 

Chapel Down Winery

Another award-winning winery, Chapel Down, has its 22 acres of vineyards in Kent. This particular area, the Kent Downs, is so picturesque, it’s been recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

You can enjoy a guided tour of the vineyards and winery which includes a tasting, or even book a three-course lunch or afternoon tea, accompanied, of course, by the winery’s award-winning wines — they also produce beers and spirits.

 

Biddenden Vineyards

Established in 1969, the country’s oldest commercial vineyard was started by the Barnes family and matriarch Mrs Barnes’ passion for viticulture - and is still thriving today, run by the second and third generation.

As well as the vineyard’s 11 different grape varieties, which produce red, rosé, white and sparkling wines, you can also add traditional cider to your tasting notes. They also make a delicious apple juice from renowned Kentish apples. Open for self-guided tours and complimentary tastings, they also offer guided tours on selected days.