Winter walks in Sussex

Karen Neville

Birling Gap

Over indulged at Christmas? Tucked into too much turkey and pudding? Why not walk it off with a refreshing stroll at a National Trust property in Sussex

By January and February we’ve had enough of hygge, log fires and long evenings in front of the telly. The hibernation of winter is starting to drag. Vitamin D levels are low, spirits are lower and the family is climbing the walls.

The only way to style your way through to spring is to tackle winter head on. Throw everyone outdoors at every opportunity. Face into the wind, relish the rain patterning on your hood, and delight in those moments when the air is crisp and the sunlight sparkles on the frosty landscape.

Whether you’d prefer a stroll through a wintery garden with coffee in hand. Splash bravely through the puddles with the kids in tow. Or stride out in the blustery countryside in search of big skies and inspiration. Here are the National Trust walks you need to get you through winter.

Nymans: Best for winter scents

The Winter Walks at Nymans is packed with fragrant hellebores, electric-blue pulmonaria, daphne and wintersweet. While the Heather Garden is brimming with honey-scented blooms in shades of red, white and pink. Nymans’ garden team have recently planted new fragrant daphnes all round the garden. Look out for little clumps of snowdrops too in the walled garden from mid January onwards. Their bobbing white heads are a precious hope of spring to come.

Grab a coffee and do some sauntering along the winding garden paths for a winter pick-me-up or stop at the plant shop for a hellebore or a pot of snowdrops to bring a little magic back home.

Sheffield Park and Garden: Best for families

Sheffield Park’s beautiful lakes and trees have a sculptural beauty in winter – the perfect backdrop for a family walk. Buggy friendly paths make it easy to get around the garden even on wet and muddy days. Or pull on the wellies and head cross country across the parkland to Ringwood Toll, a natural play trail nestled in woodland. See what adventures unfurl as nature guides the imagination, little explorers run wild and bigger kids build dens, climb trees and let off steam. The café serves children’s lunch boxes, hot meals and sandwiches, cake and more. Not just for kids, from late January and to February half term, you can find out the story of Nellie’s Artic Adventure. Nellie Soames was a former owner of Sheffield Park and one of the first women to venture into the Artic. Look out for sculptures of an ice cave, polar bear and icebergs, plus new for 2023 is a mammoth skeleton, made from recycled milk bottles.

Petworth: Best for wildlife

The wide open landscape of the Capability Brown deer park at Petworth is an uplifting and atmospheric place for a walk in winter. The herds of wild fallow deer and ancient trees make you feel transported to another age. Coupled with hazy mist and the grand mansion in the distance, this is a walk that’s worth leaving the house for.

In the Pleasure Garden, the winter berries, snowdrops and stone follies lend a more classic, intimate atmosphere, with plenty or plant life among the gently winding paths. After your walk warm up with a delicious soup in the café and cosy chats with friends.

Standen: Best café walk

If the main appeal of a winter walk is stopping at a café – the Barn café at Standen is the one to aim for – for lunch, coffee or cake. Get set by warming your bones by the woodburning stove before setting off to face the winter. Winter is a great time of year to discover the garden at Standen and venture into the woodlands. Take in the view over the Sussex Weald from Rock Top Walk and explore the wider estate. Walks leaflets are available from visitor reception or can be downloaded online. The January sales are great at the shop too, which is full of William Morris and arts and crafts inspired gifts.

Slindon Estate, South Downs: Best winter history walk

The downland village of Slindon has a rich and colourful historic past. During much of the medieval period it was the summer residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This circular walk celebrates that medieval history as it passes through Slindon’s old deer park, following the route of the park pale. This is the best time of year to discover this landscape artefact, a raised bank once topped with a solid fence that was used to confine animals and speaks to Slindon’s past as a historic hunting estate. The early onset of dusk in winter may actually offer the lucky visitor glimpses of roe and fallow deer between the trees and in the fields of the estate. On your way round you can also try and spot the sheltered bench built into the remaining fragment of wall of the old Regency tea-room which sadly burned down in the early 1940s. While you’re in the Slindon, come and warm up in the Forge – a community café that stocks hot drinks, meals and treats.

Birling Gap: Best pub walk

This circular walk allows you to enjoy views over the downs and East Sussex coast. By following old drovers’ and smuggling routes to the sea from the downland village of East Dean you may feel a sense of the landscape’s long history. It also offers sweeping sea and downland views towards Belle Tout lighthouse. It is a really special time of year to visit as the low winter light reflects off the open sea and the bracing wind blows over the cliffs. The walk takes in the historic Tiger Inn at East Dean (not NT), but you can also take the opportunity to pop into a new cliff top café at Birling Gap which is opening in early January.

Bateman’s: Best for literary links

The estate at Bateman’s, Burwash, is full of small fields, hedgerows, old trees, abandoned iron ore pits, hidden ponds and magical deserted trackways. Puck’s Walk in inspired by Kipling’s famous story, ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’. Written for his children, this magical tale took its inspiration from the re-enactment of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by Kipling and his children one summer in the early 1900s.

The route from Visitor Reception takes you out to Park Mill, through woods and over hills towards Burwash Weald, before looping back to cross the river and return to the Mill Pond. The walk takes in some great views, and it is easy to see how to rolling hills, woods and Dudwell river inspired Kipling’s writing. Stop by the Mulberry tea-room afterwards for a warming winter treat.

Thanks to your help, the National Trust cares for hundreds of walking trails in beautiful locations all across the county. For more ideas of winter walks see: