10 child-friendly Autumn walks near London
7th November 2019
Words by Anna Whitaker // Photography by Annie Spratt
I started getting a bit carried away with this post. It was originally meant to be the top family woodland walks in the UK but the list got so long that I thought you’d all die of boredom/overwhelm by the end of it and not go on any of them. So I chose ten within an hour of London, which analytics tells me is where most of you live.
If you’re looking to escape the city this weekend (or any weekend for that matter), check it out for some routes even the littlest hikers can enjoy.
For anyone in South West London, this is pretty obvious choice. Aside from the amazing views over the North Downs, kids can enjoy the two-mile play trail of fallen trees to climb and spaces to build their next den. Stop at the Shepherd’s Hut beforehand and they can borrow a tracker pack full of spotter sheets, pencils, binoculars and a compass to explore the great outdoors. And because it’s owned by The National Trust, it means you’re never far away from baby changing facilities or decent cake. The essentials, obvs.
Slip on your wellies and hit the trails at Leith Hill for anything from one to four miles of Autumnal action. With the leaves turning all shades of spice, it’s particularly stunning at this time of year and passes through the impressive grounds of the estate, including woodlands, parklands and farmlands. There are a few steep climbs though, so worth leaving the buggy at home.
As a North East Londoner, Epping Forest is my haunt. With 6,000 acres to play with, it’s the largest open public space in Greater London and home to some brilliant wildlife, including an impressive array of mini beasts. My personal favourite starting point is the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge in Chingford, which is an awesome Tudor building next to the brilliant Larder Cafe. From there, you’ll find loads of routes that circle through the heart of the forest then back again for hot chocolate.
We took the boys to Hever Castle for the first time in September after about 786,564 recommendations. Absolutely loved it. It’s the home of Anne Boleyn, everyone’s favourite Tudor wife, who’s said to haunt the grounds with her head under her arm. Unfortunately for us, there were no ghostly sightings but the playground and walkways more than made up for it. Going into the maze with a buggy was a rookie error though.
This all-ability walk in Kent’s only remaining deer park is a treat for the whole gang. It’s three miles long, which may sound daunting with toddlers in tow but shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours if you’re on a schedule. It’s easy under foot (and wheel) too so your BabyZen should survive the adventure.
What better than a chalk quarry to wow your little Londoners? This walk is another slightly longer one and can get muddy so best to leave the buggy at home. It’ll take you through beech woodlands, pretty villages, railway lines and the famous quarry, with a few pubs en-route, for baby changing facilities or just a quick pint. The map says to allow 2.5 hours but we all know what that means when kids are involved.
Maybe the most famous of children’s literary woodlands, Ashdown Forest was the childhood home of the real Christopher Robin. The link above, starting from Gills Lap carpark actually has two walks attached, one for younger children, which is only 0.6 miles long, and a two-mile version, which goes deeper into the woods. With both, you’ll pass Milne and Shepard’s memorial as well as the Heffalump Trap and Lone Pine. So many sweet little references along the way and plenty of golden leaves to stomp through just like their favourite characters.
It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty for good reason, especially at this time of year. Get your day trip in before the golds, reds, oranges and yellows fade and follow one of the many self-guided trails through the 5,000 acres of woodland, commons and chalk downlands. If you’re lucky, you’ll see fallow deer around now and can take dogs too if you fancy it. Just wrap up warm and maybe even pack a Thermos if you’re planning a long day.
This easy, 1km circuit is great for blowing away the cobwebs and getting out into the wild. Keep your eyes peeled for butterflies, birds and reptiles as well as the nine impressive sculptures that make up the route; from wooden carvings to metal deer. It takes you right through the heart of the nature reserve, over bridges, under the trees and easily back to the car park you started at.
Not technically within an hour of London but not far off, and as this is close to where I grew up, I thought it’s worth a mention. This two-mile walk is super easy for young kids and starts at the famous motor museum, which is definitely worth a visit beforehand if you’ve got any little petrolheads with you. You’ll walk through woodlands, pass a tidal river and head over the salt marsh before ending up in the pretty New Forest village of Buckler’s Hard. Here, you can continue the adventure at the Maritime Museum or stop for a cream tea at Captain’s Cabin. Cake, for the win.
One other thing I discovered while doing all this research on the top family woodland walks is that Forestry England offer free activity sheets, such as Spotter’s Guides. You can download them from here. Take them with you on any of these walks and whip them out as your secret weapon when their hands start getting cold.
Love it? Share it.