New-year walks with history – and pubs!
SNOW-CAPPED peaks, crisp fresh air, crunchy leaves underfoot and stunning vistas to soothe your soul.
For many of us, an invigorating walk over the festive and new-year holiday is a family tradition that cannot be missed.
And the South Downs National Park, with mile upon mile of sumptuous scenery, is the perfect place to enjoy a festive amble, dusting off those cobwebs after one too many mince pies!
So wrap up warm, pack a flask of tea, perhaps a few leftover sandwiches, and enjoy some of the most inspiring landscapes in England.
And pointing walkers in the right direction is Allison Thorpe, who leads access and recreation for the National Park.
Allison said: "Whether you’re looking for a blustery walk with the family, a quiet romantic stroll, or a walk with the dog, the national park is an amazing winter wonderland where you can gaze in awe at the sheer beauty of the landscape, often blanketed in frost or snow.
"While nature is in its winter slumber, there’s still some great wildlife to see, and the sight of a robin, a deer, or starling murmuration is particularly joyful.
"Whether you’re searching for a way to help you de-stress after the big day or looking to burn off a few Christmas and new-year calories, the national park is blessed with plenty of walks to give you much-needed time in nature, exploring the best the season can offer.
"Why not round off your walk with a trip to one of the many fantastic inns and eateries in the national park, enjoying some delicious local fare and perhaps raising a new-year toast with an ice-cold glass of South Downs fizz?"
East Meon, once owned by the bishops of Winchester, is home to many historic buildings including the Old Court House, and not quite so historical, Ye Olde George Inn and the Izaak Walton pub.
These offer local food and real ales, along with a roaring fire to warm you up after a lovely stroll through the beautiful Meon valley.
Cheriton, with the crystal-clear River Itchen which rises nearby, running alongside picturesque thatched cottages, is also steeped in history.
The Battle of Cheriton in the English Civil War on March 29, 1644, saw the Parliamentarians halt the Royalists’ advance to Winchester and leading to the eventual defeat for the army of King Charles I in 1645.
And post-walk, The Flower Pots Inn or The Hinton Arms serve traditional pub lunches.
Just three miles south of Petersfield, Queen Elizabeth Country Park offers more than 2,000 acres of open woodland and downland.
Open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it is a starting point for exploring Butser Hill, at 271m the highest point on the South Downs. With 360-degree views, Butser Hill is one of the best places to admire the night skies - and the Beechwood Kitchen serves hot drinks and food using locally-sourced ingredients.
The Forestry England-managed Alice Holt Forest north of Bordon is a must-see for lovers of woodland.
With five trails, there’s plenty for families along with those looking for something a little more challenging to while away the wintry days.
If looking to head to a pub for tasty seasonal food and to warm up after, the dog-friendly Jolly Farmer and The Bluebell are right on the edge of Alice Holt.
The Hangers Way is an 21-mile long trail connecting Alton via Queen Elizabeth Country Park, to the South Downs Way; the tracks making up the South Downs Way are thought in some cases to be around 8,000 years old.
Hangers Way is divided into eight sections, but if you do want to do it in a day, Petersfield in an ideal break point with its numerous pubs, cafes and delis.
Allison added: "The sunrises and sunsets are especially impressive now, so it’s a great opportunity for photography.
"And a clear night offers the chance to gaze at the stars at one of our dark sky discovery sites.
"As always, we encourage people to give farmers a festive thank you by sticking to the Countryside Code and keeping dogs on leads. And we hope all visitors are able to recharge their batteries ahead of 2022 and feel rejuvenated by the great outdoors."
For more information about these and other walks in the National Park visit the website at www.southdowns.gov.uk/get-active/on-foot/
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