For centuries the royal family has treated the British countryside as its personal playground. Every August, the Queen famously packs her bags and heads up to Balmoral, where she has often been glimpsed with her headscarf wound tightly on and Barbour jacket zipped up enjoying daily walks around the estate.
It’s where, according to Princess Eugenie, she is “the most happy” because of the “walks, picnics, dogs – a lot of dogs, there’s always dogs – and people coming in and out all the time. It’s a lovely base for Granny and Grandpa, for us to come and see them up there; where you just have room to breathe and run.”
While the royal family can undoubtedly be flashy – think golden carriages, mink coats and diamond tiaras – they are also known for their decidedly down-to-earth love of a good walk. “Balmoral and Sandringham, the Queen’s personal residences, offer the opportunity to go for long walks, away from royal duties,” Marlene Koenig, the royal expert and author of the blog, Royal Musings, says.
“One can assume that walking gives them the opportunity to talk privately with other family members.” Indeed, the Duchess of Cambridge, for one, often looks more relaxed in her £155 Berghaus boots, dashing around after her three children or dog, Ludo, than on the red carpet, unlike her glitzier sister-in-law.
Of course, with multiple country piles scattered all over Britain, including Windsor, Norfolk, Scotland, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Wales, the Royal family has its pick of the countryside crop. But so do we.
Despite their air of exclusivity, many of the lands in or around the official royal residences are open to the public, including Windsor Great Park and Sandringham, as well as lands managed by bodies including the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall and the Crown Estates.
As foreign travel plans look more and more precarious, this is the perfect time to take inspiration from our Royal family’s favourite walking hotspots – all destinations that come with a royal seal of approval.
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
Starting point: Calton Lees car park, Matlock, DE4 2NX (advance booking is required)
Chatsworth has a long history of royal visits, including when Queen Victoria visited in 1843 (not her first time) and enjoyed the gardens, while Prince Albert walked over to the nearby village of Edensor.
Our Queen visited a few years ago, while the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall attended the funeral of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire – Debo as she was known – in Edensor church.
There are lots of walks to take, but a particularly pretty one is a three-mile circular walk from south of the house, up the hilly grassland, dodging sheep, deer and other walkers, to Edensor. From here you can stop in the churchyard or leave the village through its Chatsworth-blue gates and head up and over the hill to Chatsworth House.
Just over the regal sandstone bridge, designed by James Paine and completed in 1774, is a little tea hut if you need a drinks break, but otherwise, turn right along the river before the bridge to wend your way back along the river bank, with the house standing majestically the other side of the water.
Pre-booking at the car parks is essential; chatsworth.org
Morecambe Bay, Lancashire
Starting point: Arnside Pier, Arnside, Carnforth, LA5 0HA
After the dissolution of the monasteries, the Duchy of Lancaster inherited the duty to guide travellers across the over the notoriously treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay (among other crossings).
It’s a job the Queen’s Guide still does, helping tourists (who have previously included the Duke of Edinburgh) dodge the quicksands by marking the route with laurel bushes and navigating the fast-changing tides.
The eight-mile cross-bay walk starts from Arnside and ends on Kents Bank and does involve wading through knee-deep water.
Guided walks take place between May and September each year, with times varying depending on the tides; guideoversands.co.uk
Balmoral Cairns, Deeside, Scotland
Starting point: Balmoral car park, Ballater, AB35 5TL
Starting from the Balmoral Estate visitor centre in the village of Crathie, near to the castle, this circular, five-mile hilly route meanders past a series of stone cairns on the estate of Balmoral Castle in Deeside, the majority of which were put up by Queen Victoria to commemorate the marriages of her children.
The most striking cairn is the large pyramid erected by Victoria in memory of Prince Albert after his death in 1861. South of the cairn, climb Lochnagar to see wonderful views over the Balmoral Estate (perhaps glimpsing the Queen) and the Cairngorms mountains.
Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire
Starting point: Cliveden Rd, Taplow, Maidenhead SL6 0JF
The great house, where the Duchess of Sussex spent the night before her wedding, has been frequented by royals for centuries: Queen Victoria used to spend time here with her friend, Harriet Duchess of Sutherland, and later Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spent childhood days here.
Breathe in the royal connections on a bracing three-hour walk, that starts from the gardens and makes its way down past the Duke of Sutherland’s Statue to the riverbank.
The walk follows footpaths and studded stone pathways, taking in views of Berkshire countryside, and through woods before looping back along the riverbank towards the house. There are steep steps in one section, but you can reward yourself with a cream tea.
Starting point: North car park, Sandringham, PE35 6AB
Within the Queen’s private estate at Sandringham there are nearly 600 acres available for visitors to enjoy, including two short nature trails (one a mile-and-a-half long; the other two-and-a-half miles).
For those who want a more serious 14-mile walk, start at the Sandringham visitor centre, before looping south down to Castle Rising, built in the 1150s, crossing the Babingley river on the way out and back, passing the Norwich Gates at Sandringham, originally constructed for the Great Exhibition of 1862 and out via West Newton and Anmer churches (close to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s home).
The walk heads back through the heart of the estate, taking in the range of evergreen and deciduous trees and the wildlife and plants that thrive here.
Windsor Great Park, Berkshire
By Maria Lally
When I left south east London and moved to a sleepy little Surrey village just before the birth of my second daughter in 2013, one of the things I missed most was my daily walk with the pram through Greenwich Park. I loved its sweeping views across the London skyline and the pretty flower garden, and I felt that my new local park fell far short in comparison.
Luckily, I soon realised that Windsor Great Park was a ten minute drive away, and I spent most of my maternity leave pushing my youngest daughter in her pram around Virginia Water lake, which lies on the edge of the park, while her sister, by then two years old, whizzed ahead of us on her scooter.
Fast forward seven years, and this is still one of our favourite places to walk or cycle. I even did the Windsor Half marathon last year – the race route snakes through the park and finishes along the iconic Long Walk, with its world-famous views of Windsor Castle.
Day to day, the park provides the whole family (Molly the dog included) with much-needed entertainment, especially during lockdown, and all for the price of the yearly car park pass.
There’s a towering 100ft Totem Pole (a gift from Canada to the Queen in 1958), a cascading waterfall, several duck feeding spots around the lake, an adventure playground for the children – complete with a wooden pirate ship – and several shepherd’s huts dotted around that serve good coffee for the grown-ups.
In fact, I’d say it gives my much missed Greenwich Park a pretty good run for its money.
St James’s Park, London
Starting point: St James’s Park Station, Westminster, SW1H 0BB
A pretty circular stroll around the well-maintained footpaths around the large lake leads you past Duck Island, where there are wildfowl and St James’s Park pelicans, the 20ft-high Tiffany Fountain with Buckingham Palace behind, as well as the Blue Bridge, which cuts across the lake and allows for views of Horse Guards Parade, Big Ben and the London Eye.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Starting point: Castle Road, Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0HE
Last month the Duke of Cornwall became the first royal in 500 years to enter Tintagel Castle the way it was intended, after the stunning 230ft-long medieval castle bridge was rebuilt.
It’s a great starting point for walks along the coastal path, such as a three-and-a-half-mile loop that starts at the castle, built by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, along to Barras Nose, where you can take a short detour to see fantastic views of the coastline.
There are more historic spots to take in: when you head inland again, you’ll come across Bossiney Mound, where it’s claimed Arthur’s round table lies, and through Tintagel is St Materiana Church, which has a tower that dates from either the 13th or 15th century.
Starting point: Lostwithiel car park, PL22 0HE
For a pleasant 2.75-mile walk that skirts past Restormel Manor – the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall’s official Cornish residence – and the medieval Restormel Castle, as well as the River Fowey, start in the thriving community town of Lostwithiel, head north to the Manor and up the hill to the castle for incredible views of the Fowey valley.
The castle gets its name from the Cornish Ros tor moyl, meaning “bare hilltop spur” and has just reopened this month. On the way back down there are little woods, a stream with a wooden bridge and a footpath back into the town that was the medieval capital of Cornwall.
Booking for Restormel Castle is essential; english-heritage.org.uk
Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire
Starting point: Friday Street car park, Minchinhampton, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL6 9JL
If you want to drop in to the 700-acre Gatcombe Park Estate, home of Princess Anne, start at the ancient market town of Minchinhampton for a picturesque six-mile circular walk that leads on to the pretty Cotswold village of Avening. The way back, along the side of the valley, allows for beautiful views across to Gatcombe Park before a section of woodland takes you back to Minchinhampton.
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Starting point: Woodstock, OX20 1PP
There are plenty of splendid walks to take around Blenheim Palace, which has hosted royal guests for centuries, including Princess Margaret, who loved to walk by the Cascades, and the Prince of Wales, who planted the first tree in the Mall.
The Queen’s Pool walk is a 1.5-mile circular walk around the lake (both dog-friendly and also suitable for wheelchairs and buggies) which allows for views of the Palace facade, before crossing Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge, which sits between the Queen’s Pool and the Great Lake.
Over the other side sits both the “Harry Potter tree”, a majestic, 300-year-old cedar of Lebanon which featured in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the Column of Victory, erected in 1727-30 to commemorate the first Duke of Marlborough.
National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire
The 150-acre National Memorial Arboretum, which is part of the National Forest, is an evolving woodland with more than 30,000 trees and more than 370 memorials dedicated to remembering those who have served our country.
It has had frequent royal visitors, including the Queen on three occasions. There are a variety of routes to suit different appetites, but the Stick Man trail is great for young children to explore the woods, with a free map to follow and characters to meet en route.
Free and open for visitors, but pre-booking is essential. thenma.org.uk
Llanddwyn, Newborough, Isle of Anglesey
Starting point: Llanddwyn, Newborough, Isle of Anglesey, LL61 6SG
The long, sandy beach at Llanddwyn, Newborough, on the edge of the Newborough Forest, offers views of Snowdonia and was a favourite haunt of Prince William when he was working as an RAF helicopter pilot at the nearby RAF Valley on Anglesey. Part of the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve, it is almost an island, save for the tiny causeway connecting it to the mainland.
Starting point: Llandovery railway station, SA20 0BE
If you stride out in the countryside around the market town of Llandovery in Carmarthenshire there’s a chance you could bump into the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, who have their official Welsh residence at nearby Llwynywermod Farm.
Starting at the railway station, this four-mile circular walk takes you down along the Bran river, then across it and up around Cwm-Rhuddan before dipping back to town, passing the ruins of the 13th century Llandovery Castle with spectacular views down over the valley.
Holkham Beach, Norfolk
Starting point: Lady Anne’s Drive car park, Holkham, NR23 1RG
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who live in nearby Anmer Hall, are close friends of Lord and Lady Leicester, who own Holkham Hall. So one can imagine that the famously outdoorsy couple and their children often take to Holkham beach to enjoy a family walk.
The mile-walk along Holkham beach to nearby Wells-next-the-Sea is beautifully unspoilt, with big open views, sand underfoot and plenty of room for dogs and children to blow off steam. Reward yourself with a cuppa and cake – or a dog ice cream – at the Beach Café, owned by the Holkham Estate, before you turn back.
Bishopthorpe Palace, York
Starting point: Bishopthorpe Palace, York, YO23 2GE
When she’s in York – at the races, for example – the Queen has her own bedroom at the Archbishop’s palace in Bishopthorpe, a village three miles south of the city surrounded by beautiful countryside, which is perfect for an amble.
The palace, which has housed archbishops since the 13th century, is the perfect starting point for a nearly six-mile circular walk that takes you from Bishopthorpe, to the historic Knavesmire (where the racecourse stands) through the Strays, the public open spaces that were once pasture meadows and on to Middlethorpe, before heading back down along the River Ouse.
Oxshott Woods , Surrey
Starting point: Oxshott Heath, Elmbridge, KT22 0TA
At its most scenic point, an 11-mile trail will take you down through Winterbottom Wood and on to the path next to the Mole river, before climbing a slight gradient up to the Ledges, an ancient woodland, with views down to the river.
You will then amble through Esher Common, with open, sandy paths, along the bridleways through Arbrook Common and into the Crown Property of Prince’s Coverts, serene managed woodlands owned and maintained by The Crown Estates.
Needwood Forest, East Staffordshire
By Jack Rear
Part rural, part agricultural, and part commercial, the Duchy of Lancaster is a mixture of lands owned by the Duke of Lancaster, better known as the Queen. If you want a feel for the breadth of Her Majesty’s domains there’s nowhere better than the Needwood Circular, a nine-mile walk which runs the entire gamut.
The walk begins at a car park in Brakenhurst Wood (postcode DE13 8RG; grid reference SK140232), a small parcel of ancient woodland north of Lichfield in Staffordshire. The Duchy opened it to the public as part of the National Forest, a scheme joining up patches of woodland to create a green corridor from Leicester to Burton-on-Trent.
The fairytale-esque Brakenhurst Wood gives way to wheat fields stretching as far as the eye can see, before turning into Crossplain Wood.
Rambling onwards, we passed through sleepy hamlets and skirted the edge of Bolingbroke Wood, named for the young Henry IV. At one point we paused to glimpse a group of fallow deer spring from the bushes and race away, perhaps descendants of those the young king once hunted in these forests.
The terrain is relatively flat for the most part, but parts of the footpath are poorly maintained, so it’s a challenging walk. Feet aching, we made it to the village of Newborough and its pub, the Red Lion, for a well-earned pint before ploughing onwards.
At the top of a hill, we could survey the Duchy’s lands, looking back through time. From the centuries-old hunting grounds, to the Georgian agricultural boom, to the vestiges of war, and on to our newfound appreciation of the natural world. A potent symbol of the monarchy that’s been with us throughout.
St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly
Starting point: Porthloo boatyard, TR21 0NF
St Mary’s is the largest and most populated island in the Isles of Scilly archipelago off the coast of Cornwall. The Duke of Cornwall has a home there, Tamarisk House, and there are more than 30 miles of nature trails for walkers to explore on the island.
The Duchy of Cornwall runs a “boat park” at Porthloo, which is a nice place to start a four-mile walk around the northern tip. The route takes in lively Hugh Town, passing heritage sites such as Long Standing Rock and the ancient town of Bant’s Carn Burial Chamber and Halangy Down, before winding along the coast through Trenoweth, out to Watermill cove and back to Porthloo.
The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood, Leicestershire
Starting point: Heather Lane, Coalville, LE67 2TD
The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood in the National Forest is the Woodland Trust’s flagship site. It was created to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
The Princess Royal planted the first tree on the site, near the lake, where visitors can also see a variety of wildlife and birds from the bird hide nearby, and the Royal Groves walk has groves representing each year from the Coronation to the present day.
There are marked walks around the woods (as far as you care to go in the 186 hectares), with plenty of birdlife to spot as you wander, from ground-nesting birds, such as skylarks to mute swans, little grebes, tufted ducks, terns and mallards.
Other wildlife in the area includes butterflies, including the marbled white, as well as wandering deer and brown hares, while there are also art features, fun trails and a pond-dipping platform to keep children entertained.