Where to Hike in South East England?
South East England is the third largest geographical region in the country. It is characterised by rural farmland, rolling downs, historic settlements, and a limestone coastline. Although it’s considered as one of the less-dramatic parts of the nation due to its lack of tall peaks and remote landscapes, the South East still has a huge amount to offer for hikers.
You can find a hike in South East England to suit every taste. From medieval city strolls around old castles to countryside hill walks through verdant pastures and paddocked farmland. With two National Parks, five AONBs, and numerous nature areas to explore, finding a fantastic hike in South East England is no difficult task. To begin your rambles, here are some of the best areas to discover.
1 . South Downs National Park
The South Downs National Park is a fantastic location to hike in South East England. The park includes ancient cultural sites such as the old Saxon capitol Winchester, an antiquated Roman by-way, and plenty of bronze age barrows. If strolling through charming villages and sampling cask ales at country pubs sounds like your sort of thing, this is the National Park for you.
Hampshire is also home to some of England’s most fragile ecosystems along the chalk beds of the River Itchen. For more panoramic hikes, head to the cliff paths of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head near Eastbourne – the “UK’s sunniest town”! Alternatively, for an iconic hike in South East England, try completing the 100-mile South Downs Way that runs along the length of the downs from Winchester to Eastbourne.
2 . Surrey Hills AONB
The Surrey Hills are situated in a spectacular location. Lying just outside the city of London, these bucolic hills are a great place for a summer’s day hike in South East England. Using either the market town of Dorking or the bustling river-side town of Guilford as your starting point, venture into the knolls and fields of this quintessentially English setting to enjoy the forests, rivers, and hilltop vistas.
If you want to bag the most famous peak in the Surrey Hills, head to Box Hill. This is one of the best views in the AONB, although you will be contesting with crowds of cyclists and walkers at the summit!
The Ranmore Circular trail is another option. This path will guide you past rows of English vineyards and through a perfect picnic spot on Ranmore Common. For a historic hike in South East England, visit the 18th-century Leith Hill tower and explore the nearby Abinger Common.
3 . Chiltern Hills AONB
The Chiltern Hills are defined by a chalkstone escarpment that rises above the surrounding towns and farmland. The hills are particularly dramatic along the north-eastern edge where they form a stark ridge. Here you’ll find some great hiking trails with spectacular views over Buckinghamshire!
For a cultural hike in South East England, follow the 87-mile Ridgeway walking path. This is often cited as the oldest road in England and has been used for 5,000 years. It has seen the footsteps of countless communities, soldiers, and tradespeople throughout the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman era, and medieval times.
For another countryside hike, follow the Whiteleaf and Chequers Circular. (If you want to visit the highest point in the AONB, you can extend this hike with a short jaunt up the adjacent Coombe Hill).
4 . Thames Valley
Although the River Thames can’t claim to be the longest river in the UK (that accolade goes to the River Severn), it is certainly the most famous. The Thames Valley is an area of gently flowing waters, marvellous lochs, and tranquil pastures. Flowing from Kemble in Gloucestershire to Southend in London, the River Thames has many walking opportunities.
The Hartslock Nature Reserve is a particularly scenic place to explore. The section around Eton and Windsor is also lovely. If you want to see the river in all its glory, you can follow another one of the National Trails long-distance walking paths. The Thames Path is 185.2 miles long and runs from source to mouth making it an iconic hike in South East England.
5 . New Forest National Park
The New Forest is a vast area of heathland and grazing pastures populated by mixed forests and wild ponies. The New Forest also stretches along the North Solent Nature Reserve with more beautiful walks along the Beaulieu River and the estuary. Despite being titled “new” this nature area has a rather ancient history. In 1086, the iconic Norman leader William the Conqueror designated the woodland as a royal forest or “kingswood” to be preserved and used solely for hunting parties.
For a true dip into the lush forests and heather-strewn moorland of this National Park, try the Lyndhurst Hill and Swan Green Circular hike. Alternatively, follow the Brockenhurst and Tall Trees Trail to see some of the famous redwoods and fir trees. This is a classic forest hike in South East England made possible by the Rhinefield Estate which planted the saplings in the mid-19th century. If you’re after a British coastal walk, head out to Calshot or along Lepe Beach and Country Park.
Whether you wish to hike in National Parks, walk in AONBs, or stroll down quiet countryside lanes, there are innumerable trails to hike in South East England. For your grandest hikes, head to the South Downs or New Forest National Parks. For countryside and coastal rambles delve into the North Wessex Downs, Chiltern Hills, Surrey Hills, Kent Downs, or High Weld Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
If you’re interested in history and culture, don’t be solely limited to the countryside. A hike in South East England can also include many places of global interest. Country houses, castles, and cathedrals are all packed into this geographical area. Try walking around the grounds of Cliveden, Blenheim Palace, or Windsor Castle to get your history fix. Alternatively, visit the white cliffs of Dover or the beachfront at Brighton to round off your list of amazing English hikes.