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If you are bound for Hampshire, you will be blessed with the choice of not one, but two national parks – the New Forest and the South Downs. Add wonderful coastlines, historic towns and villages and trails following in the footsteps of literary greatness to this mix and it is no wonder than walks in Hampshire rival the very best on these shores.
The expansive patchwork of ancient forest, wild open heathland and secretive coastline of the New Forest National Park offer some of the finest hikes in Hampshire. Get up close to ancient nature as you ramble beneath trees that are up to 1,000 years old, or stride out alongside semi-wild ponies, cattle, donkeys and deer.
East of the historic city of Winchester sprawls the South Downs National Park, a picturesque region of rolling chalk hills that are a delight to tread. An important habitat for many plants and creatures, its unique escarpment offers excellent hiking all year round.
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Undoubtedly some of the best hiking trails in Hampshire follow trails through the mighty oaks, beeches and yews of the New Forest. The national park has over 1,000 ancient trees, believed to be the highest concentration in Western Europe. Explore the arboretums and marvel at some of the highest trees in the country and the vibrant wildlife that inhabits the forest.
The national park also boasts the most expansive area of open heathland remaining in Europe. It is the free roaming cattle and ponies that steal the show here, as you hike alongside them under big open skies. The gorse, bracken, heather and purple moor grass of the heathland are home to a unique array of wildlife, including all three of the UK’s native species of snake and unusual varieties of insect, such as the large marsh grasshopper.
There is also a secret coast that is well worth exploring. Beautiful views of the Solent and the Isle of Wight await, as you wander along the shingle beaches, mudflats and salt marsh. Expect dazzling displays from the migratory birds here, too.
The South Downs also offers equally spectacular hikes in Hampshire. You can begin the epic journey of the South Downs way here. Starting in Winchester, the trail travels 100 miles (160 km) over the spine of these grassy hills to Eastbourne on the south east coast.
The Hampshire end of the national park is characterised by the deep river valleys of the Itchen and Meon rivers, which create lush wet woodland and water meadows teeming with life. Butser Hill, at 889 feet (271 m), is the highest point on the chalk escarpment of the Downs. It offers fantastic views to Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight from its distinctively flat summit. There are endless options for hiking here, with hundreds of miles of paths and bridleways, some following the trails originally carved out by old railway lines.
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