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Embrace the tranquillity of the South Downs National Park this Christmas

Embrace the tranquillity of the South Downs National Park this Christmas

December 20, 2023

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and can also be one of the most stressful.

The sting of the Christmas rush, the biting cold, travelling long distances and relentless multi-tasking to ensure the big day goes to plan are enough to leave anyone feeling a bit frazzled.

But there is an antidote to this hubbub – the amazing tranquillity and serenity of the South Downs National Park.

With 3,300km (2,050 miles) of rights of way, the South Downs offers so many opportunities to escape the rush and enjoy uplifting walks with loved ones.

Kate Drake, health and wellbeing officer for the National Park, is offering a selection of stress-busting, endorphin-boosting walks across Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex.

It comes as a report by the Office of National Statistics revealed an estimated 1.1 million fewer people across the UK gained health benefits from spending time in nature in 2022 compared with two years earlier during a pandemic peak. However, while people are spending less time in nature than they did three years ago, overall the population is spending more time outdoors than they did a decade ago.

Kate said: “Christmas is such a magical time, but we all know the run-up can be quite stressful as we all rush around to get everything ready.

“This beautiful National Park is on the doorstep to well over 2m people and is such a great way to escape into a peaceful winter wonderland this festive season.

“There are many neuroscience studies showing that green environments are associated with a reduction in stress, improved mood, more positive emotions and decreases in anxiety and rumination. Growing evidence is also showing that walking in green spaces can even be good for powers of imagination and problem-solving!

“So wrap up warm, pack a few mince pies and head out with your family and friends for a Christmassy walk that is guaranteed to leave you feeling revitalised and ready for more celebrations!

“As always, leave no trace and do keep dogs on leads around livestock.”

Admiring the view at Old Winchester Hill

Here are some of Kate’s suggestions for walks over the festive season:


Old Winchester Hill

As the hedgerows sparkle with festive red berries, Old Winchester Hill is a stunning spot for a stroll over the holidays. Jaw-dropping views across fields and out to The Solent make it a great spot to explore the ramparts of this Iron Age hillfort.

Butser Hill

What better spot to blow away the cobwebs than atop of Butser Hill? Situated just south of the picturesque market town of Petersfield, this beautiful site sits within Queen Elizabeth Country Park and on a clear crisp day has 360 degree views stretching out across the Weald and all the way to the English Channel. For some tasty treats to keep the cold at bay, head to Butser Roundhouse Café at the top of the hill which is open Thursday to Sunday.

St Catherine’s Hill

With its historic streets and magical Christmas market, Winchester sits at the western end of the South Downs National Park and is a great city to visit in December. Combine a peruse of the stalls with a walk up St Catherine’s Hill.  This gem of a nature reserve is a fabulous place to work off the festive indulgences, whether you stroll along the flat riverside path or climb the steps to discover the Iron Age hillfort and gaze out across the twinkling cityscape.

St Hubert’s, Idsworth

St Hubert’s by Alan Crossland

Taking in the unique ‘Little Church in the Field’ and a perfect festive lunch spot in front of the open fire at The Red Lion in Chalton, this walk has everything a yuletide stroll in the countryside needs. Wind your way through rolling Hampshire downland, leaving time for pausing at the top of the hills to take in the quintessential English countryside.

West Walk, near Fareham

If you’re on the hunt for an easy access route this Christmas season, have a peek at West Walk. With hardy surfaced paths winding their way between tall pine trees and a fun adventure woodland play area for the children, this is a perfect spot for a merry stress-free day out in the woods. Check out the National Park’s Miles Without Stiles route here – West Walk loop – Forest of Bere.

West Sussex

Harting Hill

Harting Hill by Richard Reed

With beautiful views out across the Weald, Harting Hill is a lovely place for a festive family stroll or a longer hike with friends, before dropping into Harting Village to visit the pub or coffee shop. With a paid National Trust car park, there are benches just a short way away for those who would like to just sit and take in the scenery!

Iping and Stedham Common, near Midhurst

Sandy paths, misty mounds and berry-laden hedges can be found on Iping and Stedham Commons in West Sussex. For those with mobility scooters this easy access route makes for a joyful jaunt in this special heathland landscape.  Check out Iping and Stedham Commons easy walk 


Discover the highest hill in the South Downs National Park at Black Down – a commanding view at 280m. It’s situated just outside picturesque Haslemere which will be alight with Christmas lights at this time of year.  This 8-mile walk is a great way to work off the festive food while enjoying a section of the 65-mile long distance route, The Serpent Trail.  Check out Haslemere to Fernhurst circular walk 

Cissbury Ring

Cissbury Ring by Jamie Fielding

This stunning site, just north of the coastal town of Worthing, is one of the jewels in the crown of the South Downs National Park. On a clear day you can see all the way to the Seven Sisters beyond Brighton and as far as the Ilse of Wight. Explore the largest hill-fort in Sussex with this circular walking route – Cissbury Ring circular


With its gothic style castle and cosy shops, Arundel is a must visit during the festive season. Before exploring the historic town’s nooks and crannies, try this bracing walk up over Arundel Park before returning alongside the tranquil River Arun. Check out Circular walk from Arundel to South Stoke

East Sussex

The Chattri, near Brighton

Suitable for class 3 all-terrain mobility scooters, this easy access route to the peaceful Chattri war memorial makes for a thoughtful afternoon escape. Starting at the picturesque Jack and Jill windmills, enjoy the breathtaking views out across the Sussex Weald before working your way along a section of the 100 mile South Downs Way National Trail. Find out more here: Easy access walk to the Chattri Memorial

Ditchling Beacon to Devil’s Dyke

Try this seven-mile linear hike along the crest of the South Downs and soak up the history of these two Iron Age hill forts. With buses from Brighton serving both the start and the end, this route is a great way to escape the sofa, work off the extra indulgences and leave the car at home. Check out Ditchling Beacon to Devil’s Dyke

Devil’s Dyke looking west by AK Purkiss

Alfriston and River Cuckmere

Explore the historic village of Alfriston and the winding River Cuckmere on this circular stroll. Remember to look for the chalky White Horse of Litlington carved into the hillside, and enjoy a multitude of over-wintering birds that spend Christmas on the Cuckmere meanders. Find out more at Alfriston and River Cuckmere circular

Stanmer Park, Brighton

With Bronze Age barrows, a picturesque church, rolling downland and intriguing woodlands, Stanmer Park on the edge of Brighton is a perfect spot for a family day out in the Christmas holidays. Make time to pop into the One Garden café for some festive treats. Stanmer Park circular walk

Lewes Rail to Ramble

Adorned with lights and festive décor, historic Lewes is a great town to visit over the Christmas period. Try this Rail to Ramble Lewes route for a 6 mile wander through the surrounding countryside, before heading to one of the many cafes or pubs for a festive tipple. Lewes Rail to Ramble circular

For more walks head to the National Park’s walking hub.