Leith Hill Tower, Surrey Hills

Top Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the South West

In this article, you'll learn the following:

If you’re looking for a marvellous Easter or summer holiday getaway, or ideas for a day out with family or friends, complete with outstanding views and plenty to do and see, why not explore one of the UK’s many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

With 46 throughout Britain, and 12 of England’s 34 AONBs easily accessible within South Western Railway’s network, there’s no better excuse to hop aboard and see the glorious countryside spots. From harbours and rolling hills to quaint villages and panoramic countryside views, all you need to do is plan your journey and enjoy an unforgettable escape.

Surrey Hills

Frensham Great Pond and Common
Frensham Great Pond and Common

Designated as one of the UK’s first Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Surrey Hills comprises three landscape varieties: woodland, downland and heathland, so there’s plenty to experience. Ideal for an active day out, there are an array of walking and running trails, with routes for cyclists and horse riders too. You’ll be in awe of the sights from spots such as Box Hill, the Devil’s Punch Bowl, Frensham Ponds and Leith Hill – the highest point in southeast England. This sprawling landscape takes up a quarter of the county, but the best South Western Railway train station for access to the area is Dorking station. When travelling by train from London, there are multiple direct trains to Dorking daily.

Isle of Wight

View of the Needles

With its breath-taking views and rich history, it’s no surprise that the Isle of Wight attracts millions of visitors every year. The island is home to several AONBs, including East Wight, South Wight, Back of the Wight, West Wight and Hamstead Heritage Coast. As one of the densest areas for dinosaur discovery in Europe and dubbed the UK Dinosaur Capital, the Isle of Wight is also perfect for a family day out, particularly for footprint hunting on the beaches. When travelling here with South Western Railway, a combined ferry and train ticket could save you money.

Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs

Stretching a vast 983 square kilometres across the four counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire, there’s no shortage of places to see in Cranborne Chase AONB. You’ll find walking trails suited to all abilities (from short to lengthier paths), plus cycle and horse-riding routes. Marvel at ancient trees and rare species as you wander through vast woodland. Travel by train and arrive into Tisbury station or Salisbury station to begin your adventure.

Dorset

Durdle Door on a summer day

Almost half of Dorset’s landscape is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Ideal for a seaside break, explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Jurassic Coast and admire the delightful limestone arch of Durdle Door, the coast’s highest point at Golden Cap, or the seaside hamlet of Osmington Mills & White Horse. Alternatively, wander through other landscapes such as the chalk uplands of Eggardon Hills with panoramic views of Dorset. To get here, take a train to Bournemouth, Weymouth or Dorchester.

Black Downs Hills

With its quaint setting and unique geology, Black Down Hills is a fascinating spot to visit in South West England. Escape the hustle and bustle and connect with nature at these hills, along the border of Somerset and Devon, with an array of rare insects, birds, wildlife and plants to look out for. For a riverside stroll, head to the waterside valleys of the Otter, Culm and Yarty, and don’t miss the medieval Hemyock Castle on your getaway. You’ll find Black Down Hills 21.7 miles from Crewkerne station, and you can travel into other train stations in Devon, too.

East Devon

Lyme Regis coast
Lyme Regis

Excellent for an active day out or a fun weekend away with kids, East Devon’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a must-see with its sprawling outdoor spaces and countryside offerings. If you’re desperate for a change of scenery on your next run, head to East Devon Way and find the perfect path to reinvigorate you along this 40-mile route. Alternatively, for an adventure with the little ones, explore the nature reserves of Seaton Marshes, Colyford Common or Black Hole Marsh to discover wintering wildfowl, curlew, butterflies, dragonflies and more. To visit, take the train to Feniton station or Honiton station, or take a look at other Devon train routes.

North Wessex Downs

Dating back to the Cretaceous period up to 99 million years ago, the North Wessex Downs were once under the sea. Nowadays they form a fascinating AONB, with their chalk hills providing the perfect conditions for unusual flora and fauna. Aside from the chalk landscapes, there’s also plenty of woodland, heaths and pastures to discover, as well as river channels in Upper Winterbourne. Downton Abbey fans are in for a treat as you can visit the Abbey itself, or Highclere Castle as it’s actually known, as well as a number of other grand country homes. To travel here by train, head to Andover station or Whitchurch station.

Chilterns

Providing one of the ultimate settings for either an active day out or a peaceful stroll with family and friends, The Chilterns AONB covers 839 square kilometres of countryside. The area spreads from the River Thames in southern Oxfordshire right up to Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, before reaching Hitchin. The Chilterns Cycleway provides you with a great opportunity to explore the area, or you can experience sights like Marlow Common and Wendover Wood on foot. For family adventures, head to the Roald Dahl Museum, Odds Farm Park and Beale Park. Reading station is the closest South Western Railway connection to The Chilterns, and there’s also plenty to see in Reading, too.

With numerous Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the South West to discover, there’s no time like the present for planning your getaway. Begin your adventure by booking Advance tickets, or explore other ticket types that might suit you better. Ensure you’re prepared and ready to go by checking train times before you travel.

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