10 of the best Boxing Day walks (with pubs on’t way)
With bellies still stuffed with Christmas Day fare, rallying the troops for a bracing trek might not come easy, but oh the rewards! These beautiful walks will put the fizz back into frazzled spirits – especially if you pop into one of these cosy pubs on the way…
Last orders: If you’ve got your heart set on stopping off at a pub for a well-deserved tipple after your trek, best give them a bell beforehand to make sure they’re open and serving food etc, to avoid any tears and tantrums (and we’re not talking about the little ’uns).
Ashridge Estate, The Chilterns
When I need to escape the mayhem that is my home the day after Christmas, this area of woodland and downland is where I head. With loads of open space to let youngsters run off pent-up energy (aka crates of assortment boxes), you can opt for the diddy 1km circular route around Medleys meadow, or the 2km linear route, both of which kick off from the National Trust Ashbridge Estate at the Bridgwater Monument, a listed Georgian building. These easy-going walks are suitable for little and old legs alike, allowing you to wander tranquilly through woodland on the lookout for deer and other Christmas card creatures, and up grassy hills with gorgeous views over three counties. Calmness restored. Find out more here
The pub: The Greyhound Inn, Aldbury, is a historic former coaching inn that comes with log fires, an AA recommended restaurant, and overlooks a quacking duck pond (oh, come on).
Heartwood Forest Loop, Sandridge
It may be the country’s biggest ‘new native’ forest, with a whopping half a million trees, but don’t let that put you off, as the Woodland Trust’s newest woodland comes with three cutely named walks, all perfect for pint-sized trekkers and worse-for-wear grown-ups alike. Take your pick from Wildlife Wander, Magical Meander or Heartwood Hike, and let loose your wild side as you explore the 50-acre ancient woodland and picture-perfect meadows whilst keeping a lookout for all manner of wildlife on the ground and hen harriers overhead. You’ll come across a den-building area too, perfect for keeping nippers busy while you become one with nature. Find out more here
The pub: The Rose & Crown is a gorgeous 400-year-old pub in Sandridge, serving freshly made belly-warming goodies – think Scotch eggs and fat chips.
Barton Hills Nature Reserve, Barton-Le-Clay
The walk on this northern side of the Chilterns is a real gem. The whole place is open access, and there’s a decent range of footpaths to choose from, making it great for experienced walkers, families looking for a relaxed ramble and wildlife enthusiasts alike. The woodland is home to some impressive leaved lime trees and scarce plant herb-paris, if you’re into that kind of thing. If four-legged nature is more your bag, walk along the Barton River to the hills, where you’ll discover semi-wild horses roaming around, all Heathcliffe stylee. It has to be said that clambering up the hills is quite hard going but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with amazing views, promise. Find out more here
The pub: The Raven, in nearby Hexton, is a cosy family-friendly pub-come-restaurant, with wood beams, cask ale and a play area.
Amwell Nature Reserve, Ware
Brimming with all kinds of fauna, like rare orchids (no picking) and wintering wildfowl, this area of Hertfordshire is actually an SSSI (a Site of Special Scientific Interest to you and me). Made up of a patchwork of terrains, including rivers, lakes and streams, woodland and grassland, it’s not just budding boffins that’ll think Christmas has come early (er, or again). Keep your eyes peeled for all manner of cutesy critters – from otters to ducks and geese visiting for their winter hols. For panoramic views across the reserve, head over to the White Hide, where you’ll get a birds-eye view of all the islands in one satisfying swoop. Find out more here
The pub: The George IV is a true country pub offering top-notch eats, set in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
Tring Park, Tring
Home to over 260 acres of wood and grassland, this historic park makes for a perfect winter stroll where you can soak up its tranquil vibes. There are three shortish waymarked walks, though all of them come with a few slippy and steep bits, so probably not for older rellies or toddlers. On the Woodland Walk, you’ll meander through ancient woodland that runs along the Chiltern ridge, wander along the King Charles Ride, and check out historic monuments and the restored Rond Point. A stroll along the Parkland Walk takes you across the chalk grasslands, which is where things can get particularly slippery and steep, so beware. Finally, Walter’s Wander starts off at the Natural History Museum from where you’ll follow in the footsteps of Walter Rothschild, the founder, to explore the beautiful park and woodland once owned by the infamous family. Find out more here
The pub: The Robin Hood is a lovely 16th Century pub, complete with log-burning stoves, cosy low ceilings, a good menu and real ales.
Dunstable Downs, Whipsnade
These Downs may well be windy, but with views to die for and a manageable terrain, it’s well worth taking it on your chilly chin. It’s also the perfect place for any history buffs in your Christmas bubble, as you’ll take in the Five Knolls, Iron Age hill forts, burial mounds and the Ridgeway Link. A must-see is The Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, which, as the name suggests, consists of an incredible cathedral made entirely out of trees, and was built in honour of creator Edmund Blyth, who died in the WWI. Grandpa and oldie uncles will be made up. Find out more here
The pub: The Old Farm Inn has open fires, log burners and a large garden with a play area.
The Sculpture Walk, Broxbourne
If you’ve got older folks staying with you for Christmas, then this easy trail is for them. Set within Broxbourne woodlands (among the oldest in the country, don’t you know?), you’ll find this short and very sweet Sculpture Trail, which is spot on for families of all ages. On your ramble, you’ll come across eight wooden figures and objects showing wildlife and how man has used the land. There’s a Roman soldier who represents the thousands of troops that marched along nearby Ermine St, the Roman road from London to the north, 2,000 years ago, while a wild boar shows the now-extinct ancestor of the domestic pig, which rooted the ground for fallen acorns. Fun and you’ll get cred for being all educational. Find out more here
The pub: The newly decked-out Woodman & Olive is a comfy place to conclude your walk, with great views and a delish menu.
Willington Woodland and Willows walk, Nr Bedford
Take a walk on the easy side, with this buggy-friendly bump-free path that takes in Dovecote Lake, Danish Camp and the old Bedford to Cambridge railway line. Starting at Willington Dovecote, built by Sir John Gostwick for the visit of Henry VII in around 1541, the trail first takes you to Dovecote Lake, which is jam-packed with carp, pike and other fishies. You’ll then continue on to the Danish Camp – so named as those party-loving Vikings were known to be up to all sorts of pillaging back in the day – and then you’ll come across a pretty weir and lock, and a couple of cute wooden bridges. At the end of the trail, you’ll find yourself at the newly created Bedford River Valley Park, where you can have a good ol’ nosy at the new developments in this riverside setting. Find out more here
The pub: The Crown at Willington a traditional pub serving up homed-made food from local Bedfordshire businesses, with a Hertfordshire supplier delivering fresh fish from Devon daily.
Oughtonhead Nature Reserve, Hitchin
For such a small reserve, Oughtonhead packs a punch when it comes to its diverse habitats, made up of wet and dry woodland, fen, aquatic and water margin areas, most of which are buggy and toddler friendly. You’ll be spoilt with wildlife spots, too, from the feathered kind, including beautiful kingfishers, to wee mammals like the water shrew. Take the walk along the River Oughton and you’ll come across a paddling area – after all, it’s never too cold for a splash about (so long as you wore your wellies, natch). Find out more here
The pub: Kite Red Hart is a characterful 15th Century pub, serving up contemporary British food, craft beers and cocktails. (Hair of the dog, anyone?)
River Short Walk, Bishop Stortford
After the chaos of Chrimbo day, let the gently flowing River Short soothe your frazzled nerves as it quietly runs past watermills and country houses, mills and maltings. As you follow its gentle, winding course, all negative thoughts of who scoffed the last Quality Street will be all but forgotten. The pretty rural surroundings of this river – unchanged by human intervention – is bursting with all manner of wildlife, too, with more species of wetland birds than you can shake your empty Quality Street box at. Find out more here
The pub: The Coach & Horses has a quirky feel and features open brick fireplaces, making it a cosy place to recharge with your favourite tipple.