Nothing beats the great outdoors, no matter the weather. It’s wonderful being able to reconnect with nature on a family day out or weekend away, and for a truly energising trip to the countryside, head to the North Wessex Downs. As the third largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the south west, this ancient and beautiful landscape spans for miles across southern England and is known for its unique geology — which comes from the fact that it was once completely submerged underwater!
The beautiful North Wessex Downs has something for families, groups and couples alike, offering everything from historic market towns to stunning stretches of unspoilt scenery. Read on to find out more about this delightful outdoor space, including how to get there and what kind of outdoor activities are available.
The North Wessex Downs covers 1,730 square kilometres in southern England, stretching through a total of four counties: Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.
The North Wessex Downs is a well-connected destination with several stations nearby, including Overton and Whitchurch at the most southern part of the area, and in the larger towns of Andover, Basingstoke and Reading.
There are a number of routes on our network which will take you directly to the North Wessex Downs, with direct trains from Woking, Salisbury and Sherborne.
If you’re travelling from London to the North Wessex Downs, avoid the hassle of traffic and enjoy a comfortable train ride on one of our trains. You can find regular services from London Waterloo and Clapham Junction which will get you to your destination in just over one hour.
Things to do in the North Wessex Downs
As one of the south west’s biggest Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you’ll find so much to see and do in the North Wessex Downs, whether you’re after a relaxing romantic stroll or an adventurous day out. From plentiful walking routes and fascinating historical sites to fun activities such as canoeing and kite flying, there’s something for people of all ages.
If you’re craving some fresh air, then why not take a stroll through one of North Wessex Downs’ many walking routes? The Ridgeway National Trail begins at the World Heritage Site of Avebury and stretches for 86 miles, finishing at Ivinghoe Beacon to the northwest of London.
Another unmissable route is the Thames Path, which follows England’s most iconic river through water meadows, quaint villages and historic attractions. With every mile more awe-inspiring than the last, this is a route that everybody will love.
Lovers of horse racing will enjoy visiting The Lambourn Valley, which is one of the major horse racing centres in the UK. Early risers can watch the horses being ridden out on the West Down, or why not visit Newbury Races for a day of thrills and healthy competition.
Speaking of horses, a trip along the White Horse Trail will give you the best views of the eight magnificent white horses cut into the chalk hills. Split the 90-mile route into sections and view one horse at a time.
Swap your walking boots for wheels and check out one of the many cycling routes in the North Wessex Downs. If you’re off for a day of cycling, Coate Water to Chiseldon is a nice and easy route with opportunities to spot a variety of birds along the way.
More advanced cyclists should head to The Ridgeway, while if you’re after scenic views or pretty villages, choose from Watership Down in Hampshire, Bucklebury in West Berkshire, and Marlborough in Great Bedwyn.
If you fancy a challenge, why not take on King Alfred’s Way? This circular route across Hampshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire was created specifically with cyclists in mind and features some spectacular views along the way. With our handy storage spots, travelling with your bike couldn’t be easier on one of our services — just be sure to book in advance!
If you’re heading to the Ridgeway or Wittenham Clumps why not bring along a kite for a day of good old-fashioned kite flying? Kites fly best on days with a light-to-moderate breeze of four to ten miles per hour — so you might want to check the weather in advance.
Take to the rivers and canals and glide down the water in your very own rented canoe. The Kennet and Avon canal is a great spot to test out your canoeing skills, and along the way you’ll come across some fascinating historical spots worth a visit, such as the Crofton Beam Engine and Pumping Station.
If you’re searching for a pretty stargazing spot near London, then look no further than the North Wessex Downs. Bundle up in warm clothes, grab some snacks and head to the White Horse Hill to gaze in wonder at some of the 100 billion stars that make up our galaxy. A cloudless sky is best for spotting stars, and the best time to visit is a few days either before or after the new moon.
Historical and archaeological sites
As the home of some of England’s finest country houses from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the North Wessex Downs are a haven for history buffs. Make sure you pay a visit to Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle, as well as the fascinating 18th century Basildon Park, situated near Pangbourne, and the 17th century ‘Dutch style’ Ashdown House.
Wildlife and landscape
Being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it goes without saying that the wildlife in the North Wessex Downs is worth writing home about. Head to Savernake Forest – a 2,750-acre ancient oak and beech forest, Wittenham Clumps – two distinctive round hills offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, Watership Down – named after Richard Adams’ classic novel, or the bluebell-filled West Woods.
Tips for enjoying the North Wessex Downs
To protect the landscape and yourself during your visit to North Wessex Downs, here are a few things you can do:
- Park only in designated car parks
- Minimise fire risks by not using barbecues or lighting fires
- Keep dogs on the lead near livestock
- Stick to walking paths
- No wild camping
Food and drinks
All that outdoor exercise will soon work up an appetite, and there are many places in and around the North Wessex Downs to visit for a bite to eat. If you’re bringing your own food, why not set up a picnic at the beautiful Overton Nature Reserve? It's just a 10-minute walk from Overton train station, so this pretty spot is easy to get to.
For a quick bite to eat on the go, choose from one of the many cafés and tea rooms along the way, such as Kudos Coffee or The Village Bakery in Whitchurch, or Preston’s Coffee Shop or Pueblo in Overton.
If you’re after a sit-down meal, you’ll find a number of restaurants and pubs perfect for giving you some much-needed energy. Take your pick from Blue Ginger Indian cuisine, Denning’s Bistro and The Kings Arms pub in Whitchurch. In Overton, try The Old House at Home Thai cuisine or Amore Italian.
Places to stay in the North Wessex Downs
No matter your budget or group size, you’ll be sure to find a place to suit your requirements in the North Wessex Downs. If you fancy a night outdoors, pitch a tent at Bishops Green Farm, or pull up at Oakley Farm Camp for all the facilities you need to ensure you enjoy your night.
If you prefer a hotel or B&B, choose from White Hart Hotel, The Water Downs Inn, Oakley Hall Hotel or The Chase B&B.
North Wessex Downs accessibility
North Wessex Downs has many accessible spots that are ideal for people of all abilities. The twin villages of Goring and Streatley are within easy walking distance of Goring and Streatley station and feature an accessible riverside with a picnic area, as well as accessible countryside paths.