Summer is here, and we’re all looking forward to getting outside again! Meeting family and friends again, or just savouring the chance to get out in the sun – it’s all waiting for you. So grab a blanket, pack some tasty treats, and let’s jump on a train to some of the best picnic spots in the region.
200 acres of woodland gardens, a steam railway, and one of the world’s biggest collections of azaleas and rhododendrons – Exbury Gardens is one of the most spectacular spots in the flower-lover’s atlas. An absolute riot of colour erupts here in April that lasts until mid-June, drawing visitors from across the UK. From June, other seasonal gardens come into their own, with rare irises, fragrant herbs and stunning hydrangeas filling the rest of the summer with colour and scents that make it a perfect spot for exploring with friends.
There are two picnic spots at Exbury Gardens – one overlooking the Jubilee Pond in the tranquil Yard Wood, and the other between the Gilbury Bridge and the Five Arrows Gallery. After a bite to eat, head west to the view point and spectacular views of the Beaulieu River as it heads to the sea.
St Catherine's Hill
The climb is well worth it when you reach this incredible viewpoint for a picnic with a difference! 220 feet of wooden stairs take you to showstopping views over the city of Winchester and the Itchen Valley below. Managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, this Iron Age fort is now a nature reserve home to woodpeckers, more than 25 species of rare butterfly and orchids rarely seen in the UK. You might even find the ruins of the Norman chapel that gives the site it’s name!
Picnics are best held at the peak of the hill, where you can watch kestrels and buzzards hunting in the valley below – just mind the resident rabbit’s warrens when you sit down!
Hidden away 10 minutes’ walk from Kew Bridge station, this is one of London’s quieter picnic spots – and when you arrive you can understand why locals want to keep it to themselves! 185 acres tucked away in zone 3 hides picturesque gardens, a miniature golf course, playground and boating lake, along with many beautiful spots for a picnic with the family.
The house and museum enjoyed a rich and auspicious history, having been owned by Princess Amelia – daughter of King George II - passing through several hands before eventually being purchased by the Rothschild family, who created the Potomac lake from an old clay pit – converting the tile-kiln nearby to a boathouse disguised as a gothic folly. Eventually purchased by Ealing and Acton Borough Councils under the guarantee that it would only be used for leisure and recreation, it was opened to the public in 1926 – where it has remained in public hands ever since.
For all his faults (and his tendency for unhappy marriages), Henry VII was seen as a great reformer when it came to national defence; many of the castles and forts that populate our region were as a result of his coordinated campaign to strengthen the defence of England’s southern coast against French and Spanish invasion.
Calshot Castle is one such artillery fort; built to keep watch over the sea passage to Southampton, it’s since served as Navy and RAF base, and next door is the National Coastwatch Institute’s Calshot Tower – which still keeps watch over the Southampton Water (although these days they keep watch to keep sailors safe rather than looking out for marauding French marines!).
Sat next to one of the busiest stretches of water in the UK, it’s a perfect spot to sit with a picnic and watch some of the world’s biggest ships go by – from ferries to the Isle of Wight to container ships and car carriers loading and unloading at Southampton Docks. It’s also a great spot for trying out some new water sports (or just dipping a toe if you’re not brave enough to try windsurfing).
This castle near Wareham is said to be inspiration for Kirrin Castle in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books (which we've written about at great length in our classic books blog!). Pack lashings of ginger beer for a picnic here! Discover 1,000 years of its history as a royal palace and fortress, all while admiring steam trains passing below and enjoying a visit into the beautiful village that shares its name below.
This thousand-year-old royal castle shaped by warfare is one of Britain's most iconic and evocative survivors of the English Civil War. A favourite haunt for adults and children alike, all ages are captivated by these romantic castle ruins with breathtaking views across Purbeck.
Newlands Corner and Silent Pool
Newlands Corner and Silent Pool are at the heart of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Newlands Corner lies on the chalk ridge of the North Downs at a height of over 170m, which gives glorious views across the Weald to the ridge of the South Downs. Below the slope, from Newlands car park, lies the village of Albury. It’s a popular spot for dog walking, cycling, horse riding and family wandering, so you’ll rarely be alone here. However, the broad expanses of open chalk downland and mixed woodland offer plenty of opportunities to lose yourself in nature.
About two miles to the east lies the Silent Pool, in a shady hollow, surrounded by box trees, which is most probably an ancient quarry which was filled by the water from scarp slope springs in the chalk downs. Legend has it that the daughter of a woodsman drowned in the pool whilst escaping the seductive advances of King John. In the 19th century it was a popular attraction; and still retains a certain eerie charm today.
A hidden gem on the Furzebrook Estate near Wareham, the Blue Pool is a beautiful spot hidden away in woodland, boasting a feature not often found – its colour-changing water! A diffraction effect caused by the microscopic particles of clay suspended in the still depths, the water changes from blue, to turquoise, to green, and back again – depending on the time of day and the angle it’s viewed at.
Now a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it’s home to countless rare species, including Great Crested Newts and a number of particularly rare dragonfly species that you’ll find at the “Little Pool”. You’ll also find the Blue Pool Tearoom here – serving up treats all day, as well as locally-made Purbeck Ice Cream.