“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” The only line of the only poem I remember learning at middle school. The early 19th Century Romantic poet John Keats penned “To Autumn” inspired by his surroundings in Winchester, Sussex. It became a classic, studied in English classes the length and breadth of Britain… and I expect there are many among us who cannot walk into a wood this time of year without the opening line springing to mind.
We love walking as a family. We are like the 3 Kings on a quest to climb moor and mountain. On holiday, if there’s a hill with a view, we’ll climb it. Our 9-year-old is the best company, her stamina and wit are inspiring; but we like walking with friends, grandparents and dogs, too. So I’ve chosen autumnal walks to suit everyone in the gang, from the littlest legs to the strongest, with fun distractions to keep the least-enthusiastic fully engaged.
Chiswick to Barnes, West London
Inspired by a recommendation on this app, this city walk takes you from a fun playground, along the River Thames, and over a bridge to the capital’s largest natural wildlife habitat.
Catch a train from Waterloo to Chiswick and walk 10-minutes to Duke’s Meadow, 187 acres of parkland with a cracker of a playground, a paddling pool (closed now until Easter) and a Farmer’s Market on Sundays. Tiny tots tackle rope bridges and stepping stones, while older children rampage among slides, climbing nets and tyre swings. You can easily spend a good hour here.
Helmets on, it’s time to scoot along the Thames Path. Follow Promenade Approach to the river, turn left, passing Chiswick riverside properties on one side, private gardens and a lot of river action – paddle boarders, competitive rowers and ferries – on your right. That small ship-shaped island coming into view is home to herons and Canadian geese. Who can spot them first? Stop at the grassy area between two characteristic pubs. (If you’re not picnicking we recommend the kids’ menu at The Black Lion, or The Old Ship for a great-looking brunch). Refreshed and to the bridge we go, zooming past pretty Grade II listed houses. Be armed with facts to share: built in 1825, the elegant, intricate Hammersmith Bridge has survived two bomb attempts, by the IRA and the Provisional IRA. It was London’s first suspension bridge, and its lowest and weakest.
Hammersmith tube is now very near, but sturdier legs should soldier on to London Wetlands Centre. (Unless you’d rather hop on one of the buses headed that way, we won’t judge you). The 100 acres of wetlands and meadows is a mecca for a multitude of birds and all sorts of wildlife. While away a few hours here if you can. Barnes is the nearest train station and the area is well-serviced by buses. History, culture, thrills, education, nature and exercise – all in one accessible package.
Ashdown Forest, Sussex
Winnie-the-Pooh’s fictional Hundred Acre Wood was born in the beautifully serene Ashdown Forest, a High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty filled with ancient woodland. Author A.A. Milne had a holiday home here and it’s his forest outings with his son (Christopher, of course) that inspired him to write the multi-million, bestselling books.
To follow where they trod, pick up information in the Visitor Centre to easily find the (non-signposted) carpark that leads to a wheelchair/buggy-friendly downhill path where you’ll find Piglets House, Eeyore’s Wigwam and Roo’s Sandy Pit from the books. Allow plenty of time to wait in line to throw twigs into the stream at Pooh Sticks Bridge. Then walk as far as you like, to the author’s memorial and beyond, there is a lot of ground to cover in the 6,500 acres. You can finish up in Hartfield with a cream tea at Piglit’s Tea Room at Pooh Corner. We did, the kids loved the “Pooh-phernalia” and the “Whatnots and Etceteras”.
The forest comes alive during these crisp, golden autumn days. Crunching through leaves to the Weald and onto the chalky North and South Downs as a low mist drops does feel magical – and if you’re lucky, you’ll maybe spy a roaming deer through the trees. As Milne said, to see the view from Gill’s Lap, where he now rests, is to see: “the whole world spread out until it reaches the sky”.
Claire L is a mum of 2 kids (5 & 8 years old) and lives in North London with her family.