Short winter walks and top tips to get the family outdoors in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire
By the end of January, we’ve had enough of hygge, log fires and long evenings in front of the telly. The hibernation phase of winter is starting to drag. Vitamin D levels are low, spirits are lower and the family is climbing the walls.
The only way to smooth your way through to spring is to tackle it head on. Throw everyone outdoors at every opportunity. Face into the wind, relish the rain pattering on your hood, and delight in those moments when the air is crisp and the sunlight sparkles on the frosty landscape.
If you’re thinking this all sounds great in theory, but how do you actually prise your family away from their nest on the sofa? Don’t worry, at the National Trust, they have some top tips for persuading the family outside and some glorious places to explore on your winter walks across the county.
First top tip to hook children in, is to think about what you call your outing. Announce: ‘we’re going for a walk’ and watch eyes roll. Suggest going out to splash in some puddles, to make coat parachutes in the wind, go on an obstacle course or track wild animals and you might get a different response.
Props can also help. Take binoculars for a different perspective or to spot birds. Borrow a well-behaved dog – holding the lead of someone else’s dog is thrilling for children. Or take a litter picker and bag, giving them a purpose, and everyone a virtuous warm glow.
When it comes to teenagers, there’s only a couple of nudges that might tempt them away from their phones. Plan a winter walk with friends of similar aged kids – FOMO is a great motivator. The alternative is bribery. The promise of a crisps in a pub or hot chocolate and cake in a café might just do the trick.
If you do manage to get them out of the door into the fresh air, surrounded by nurturing trees and far-reaching views, we guarantee it will be worth it. You might just find that you get your gorgeous, red-cheeked, laughing child back from the dark side – and here are our top walking suggestions.
Hughenden Woodcock Walk (nr High Wycombe)
At Hughenden, the Woodcock Wood walk is a short 1.2m stroll through woodland perfect for den building. There’s lots of holly and yew, so there’s colour in winter. As you pass through the gate into the sloping fields, you’ll see far-reaching views across the valley. You might see red kites or kestrels soaring in the sky above. And as you pass into the farmer’s field you might see wrens, finches or yellow hammers darting in and out of the hedgerow on your right. The way back to the car park is along the Coffin Path – an ancient road used for transporting the parishioners of Naphill on their final journey to the church at Hughenden. Don’t forget to head down to the tea room afterwards for cake and hot chocolate.
Stowe Lakeside Walk (nr Buckingham)
There are lots of bridges to trip-trap over on Stowe’s short 1.2m Lakeside Walk. The first is the elegant arc of the white wooden bridge which was installed in 2011. The next is the Palladian bridge – one of only three in the country and the only one with no steps so that carriages can cross it. Not a regular occurrence these days, but you never know! You’ll head on past the Temple of Friendship where buddies can renew their bond, then on to the Pebble Alcove where children love to run their fingers over the mosaic pattern.
Watlington Hill short walk
This 1.5m walk at Watlington Hill is on the Bucks/Oxford border, just off the M40 at Stokenchurch. Watlington Hill is on the Chiltern escarpment and it’s a great spot to see birds of prey like buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks hunting the grassland. The views over the Oxfordshire vale go on for miles and off the edge of the hill, silhouetted against the sky, you’ll see the red kites and even ravens tumbling and sweeping on the thermals in extraordinary air displays.
Basildon Park parkland walks (nr Reading)
There are four way-marked walks at Basildon Park, from half a mile to three miles long. There’s a little natural play area near the Stableyard and then lots of den-building and hide-and-seek playing opportunities in the woodland. As you weave in and out of the trees, you get regular views across the parkland back to the house, so it’s easy to orient yourself.
On a winter walk the evergreens come into their own with yew trees and cedars providing much-needed splashes of green. You might see robins and wrens and even a tawny owl sweeping on silent wings across the parkland.
Runnymede (nr Windsor)
Runnymede is famous as the site of the sealing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago, the first step on the road to modern democracy. Today it’s home to a series of memorials and artworks in the landscape. It’s a brilliant visit for children as their walk is punctuated by all these exciting installations to explore. There are waymarked walking routes and a site map on the noticeboard, but it’s easy to see the path most people take. It’s also right next to a busy stretch of the River Thames, perfect for boat-watching.
Maidenhead and Cookham Commons’ Wind in the Willows walk (nr Cookham)
This is one for older families, as it’s a three miler. It goes through the attractive, unspoilt village of Cookham Dean along quiet country lanes, across common land, farmland and woodland.
The route passes the boyhood home of Kenneth Grahame, author of ‘The Wind in the Willows’, and you can look out for Badger, Ratty and Toad as you continue through Quarry and Fultness Woods, which were the inspiration for the ‘Wild Wood’ of the book. For teen families, there’s a longer, 5 mile route, and there are a couple of pubs on the way for fizzy and crisps.