You’ve conquered Primrose Hill, flown kites on Parliament Hill and gasped at the panorama of Greenwich HIll. London’s premiere peaks hold no mysteries. But has your family tackled the hills that surround London?
The Chilterns, the North Downs and the North Wessex Downs are all but a short drive away. All offer beautiful picnic spots, woodland walks and, of course, those stunning views everybody loves.
Here, then, are a few ideas for summits to attempt in the counties surrounding London.
Best Hills In Surrey
The Surrey Hills are justly famous for their views, and are considered an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The hills, which form part of the North Downs, are easily reached by train, via the major towns of Guildford and Dorking.
Box Hill is perhaps the most famous and most visited. This 224m prominence is overseen by the National Trust, who operate a car park. You can also get there by train, using Box Hill and Westhumble station. Besides the sweeping views of the countryside, the kids will also enjoy hopping across the stepping stones over the River Mole, a well-known landmark in these parts. Look out, too, for the Second World War fortifications -- a common sight along these hills.
Nearby Leith Hill is another popular spot. The ascent takes you through a beautiful stretch of woodland, again overseen by the National Trust. The summit is marked by a castle-like folly (pretend it’s a fairytale castle). This is normally open to the public, and has views across London, but is currently closed as a coronavirus precaution.
The Devil’s Punchbowl is a third National Trust site, south-west of Guildford. This lofty viewpoint is 38 miles from the centre of London, yet the capital is still visible on a clear day. Local legend says that the Devil scooped out the large hollow on this hill, to throw the earth at thunder-god Thor. It has other demonic connections. Arthur Conan Doyle would often walk here, and it’s said he got some of the inspiration for the Hound of the Baskervilles from this landscape.
Best Hills In Kent
The North Downs also stretch into Kent. These summits are perhaps less famous than their Surrey neighbours but nevertheless offer stunning views -- cyclists refer to them as the Kent Alps. The highest point is Betsom’s Hill, at 251 metres, right on the Greater London border. However, the actual peak is on private land and can’t be visited.
Toys Hill, a short drive from Junction 5 of the M25, is a better bet for a family day out, with numerous viewpoints, 200 acres of woods, and an abundance of wildlife. It’s ran by the National Trust whose co-founder, Octavia Hill, lived nearby and donated land.
Best Hills In Essex
Much as we love Essex, it’s not exactly noted for its hills. Your best option near London is to visit Cabin Hill near Chigwell, part of Hainault Forest Country Park. At 90 metres, it’s apparently the “18844th highest peak in the British Isles”. So there you go. Joking aside, the Country Park does make for an excellent family day out, with plenty of nature trails and a decent cafe. We included it in our list of best woods in London (because the site straddles the Essex-London border).
Best Hills In Hertfordshire
A large chunk of the Chilterns fall within Hertfordshire, and it is here that you’ll find the county’s loftiest peaks. The hills around Tring are brilliant for a family visit. Well-marked trails take you through gorgeous woodland, with intermittent views when the trees break. Even better, the Tring outpost of the Natural History Museum is just below, and always popular with kids. The county’s (unmarked) highest point (244 metres) is nearby in Pavis Wood. Other Chiltern peaks, such as Markham’s Hill and Telegraph Hill also offer great views, and both have nature reserves.
Closer in, and often overlooked, is the small but perfectly formed Woodcock Hill. Easily accessed from Elstree and Borehamwood station, the rise has beautiful northward views and features a replica ‘Armada beacon’. Cross the road (and the ridge) to enter Scratch Wood with its magnificent ancient trees.
Best Hills in Berkshire
Berkshire’s most famous view is no doubt that of Windsor Castle from ‘the copper horse’ statue of George III on Snow Hill. It’s the sort of view that might feature in a ‘world’s best views’ book. What makes it so special is the uninterrupted sightline along a four-mile avenue known -- appropriately -- as the Long Walk, towards the castle. Despite its iconic status, the hill seldom gets busy. That Long Walk may just be a little too long for many people (including small children… make sure they’ve got a bike or scooter, or you’re in for complaints).
Berkshire is also replete with National Trust hilltop sites. The adjacent Lardon Chase, the Holies and Lough Down are all part of the North Wessex Downs. They offer a mix of woodland and downland with signposted walks and plenty of good views. These nature reserves are particularly noted as a chalk grassland habitat -- one of the largest in the country. Bring along that book you bought on identifying wild flowers, as you’re sure to find a few unusual specimens here.
Best Hills In Bedfordshire
It’s a close tie between Surrey and Beds for the Home County with the best hills. Here, the Chiltern Hills really open up, offering seemingly endless views over the county.
The Dunstable Downs escarpment is perhaps the best known, and the highest point in the county, reaching 243 metres. The site is managed by the National Trust and contains a better-than-average cafe and visitor centre with plentiful parking. Many fine walks can be had around these hills, but be sure to take the short stroll over to the village of Whipsnade, where you’ll find a ‘tree cathedral’, the creation of Edmund Blyth in the 1930s. Speaking of Whipsnade, the zoo itself is perched on top of one of the hills and commands impressive views -- the ultimate family picnic spot. Look out for the chalk lion cut into the hillside, if looking towards Whipsnade from another hill.
Nearby, the distinctive Ivinghoe Beacon has been a landmark for thousands of years. It forms part of the Ashridge Estate (yet another National Trust property), which is famed for its bluebell woods and folly. The Beacon has such impressive views that it’s been used as a backdrop to many films, including the Harry Potter movies and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things, that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.
We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it's important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.
Kidadl provides inspiration for everything from family days out to online classes, arts, crafts and science experiments. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.
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