Watlington Hill short walk

Walking trail

Watlington Hill was donated to the National Trust by the Esher family in the 1940s. Most of the National Trust site at Watlington Hill forms part of the Watlington Hill and Pyrton Hills SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). It is known for its high quality chalk grassland, combined with areas of acid soils on the ridge, which support silver birch and gorse. There are numerous species of wildflowers, including the Chiltern gentian, the autumn gentian, the frog orchid and wild candytuft. The second part of the walk passes though and alongside some ancient yew woodlands. This blend of habitats supports many species of butterfly including the chalk hill blue and the rare silver-spotted skipper. Many species of birds can be seen including buzzards and the magnificent red kites. You may also spot rabbits, hares and fallow, roe or Muntjac deer. The walk is way-marked with orange arrows mounted on posts.


Watlington Hill short walk map


Start at the National Trust car park at Watlington Hill. Grid. Ref. SU709935


Take the path between the signboards in the car park into an area of woodland. After about 150m, cross a track to a private property on the left, marked by some wooden and metal bollards, and continue on the path through scrubland to a gate. Look out for the orange way-markers along the route and follow these.

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Watlington Hill in Oxfordshire


Go through the gate to an area of open, closely cropped grassland. Continue on the grassy path ahead of you. You will soon see fine views on your right towards Pyrton Hill and Shirburn Hill further to the northeast along the Chiltern Escarpment.

After about 10 minutes (500 metres) and just after Watlington town comes into view ahead, look out for a circle of yew trees on your left which in the past has been used as a natural memorial and mausoleum for the Esher family who once owned the land. We ask you to treat this site with suitable reverence.

Return to the main path and continue downhill, turning slightly right, until you reach the top of the Watlington White Mark. This is an excellent spot to enjoy views towards Watlington and to the Oxford Vale. There’s a bench here with lovely views towards Watlington and the Oxford plain.

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White Mark Watlington Hill


After enjoying the views and having a look at the White Mark, continue the walk by turning left and heading slightly uphill on a faint diagonal path (heading at about 45 degrees from the path you walked down to reach the bench). After 50 metres you pass through a line of thorn trees. Bear right to follow a more distinct path now heading across the slope and slightly downhill. Eventually the path bends to the left and then runs just below an area of dark green yew woodland. A bit further on, it winds its way through another area of yew woodland, emerging at two parallel crossing paths, close to a gate, which is on your right.

Watlington Hill in Oxfordshire


Turn left and uphill onto either the sunken path that runs along the edge of the yew woodland, or the more open path that runs parallel to it. 50m from the gate, ignore a small path leading right.

The sunken path, which is probably part of an ancient drovers' track, offers glimpses into the dark yew wood on your left. The more open path offers views back to the Oxford Vale - the choice is yours, and in places it is easy enough to switch paths! If you take the more open path ignore a small path leading right 50m from the gate.

Eventually, the two paths merge to one, close to a grassy mound next to a large silver birch tree. This is a good place to pause to enjoy views back towards the Oxford Vale and towards Lower Deans Wood (also National Trust). Close to here you see a small area of chalk grassland that has been fenced off to protect one particular wildflower from being eaten by rabbits. This is the Horseshoe Vetch which is the only plant that caterpillars of the Adonis and Chalk Hill Blue butterflies feed upon.

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South face of Watlington Hill


Just after the two paths merge into one, and after the grassy mound on your right, pass through a small patch of overhanging yew trees. After emerging from the short woodland section, you can if you wish, take a more energetic route back by taking a path to your left, upslope across an area of chalk grassland. On reaching the top of the slope, turn right to retrace your steps to the car park.

For a more gentle and wooded route back, continue straight ahead. On reaching a gate, go through. You will eventually go through a second gate and after another 2 minutes (100 metres) you will arrive back at the car park.


Finish at the National Trust car park at Watlington Hill. Grid. Ref. SU709935

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Watlington Hill short walk


The walk is on soft footpaths. There is one slightly steep descent and one gentle ascent. There are no stiles but a number of gates. Please look where you place your feet as in places there are rabbit holes and protruding tree roots which can be hazardous. Some paths can be muddy and slippery after prolonged or heavy rain. Stout walking shoes or walking boots are recommended in wet conditions or after heavy rain. Dogs are welcome, but must be kept under strict control to protect the wildlife that may be encountered along the walk route.

Watlington Hill short walk

How to get here

Watlington Hill car park, Hill Rd, Watlington, Oxfordshire. OX49 5HS
By road

Leave the M40 at junction 6 and take the B4009 south-west into Watlington. Take the first turning left uphill towards Christmas Common. The National Trust car park on Watlington Hill is on the right. Nearest postcode for Satnav: OX49 5HS.

By foot

Watlington Hill is a short walk from Watlington town centre. Please see OS map 171.

By bus

There are local bus services to Watlington from Thame, Reading, Oxford, Henley-on-Thames and Wallingford. Please contact local bus companies for details.

By bicycle

Please see OS map 171. The path is just off the Chilterns Cycleway, very close to Christmas Common. From Christmas Common, turn down Hill Road (sign-posted to Watlington). The National Trust car park is 470 metres on the left.

Watlington Hill short walk

Facilities and access

  • Parking is available at Watlington Hill. Grid. Ref. SU709935. Charges are £1 per hour or £3 all day, and free for National Trust members. Payment is via PayByPhone or cash.
  • Refreshments: The Fox and Hounds in Christmas Common. Alternative refreshments may be found in Watlington.
  • There are no public toilets on site. The nearest public toilets are in Watlington.
  • Benches and other places to picnic can be found on Watlington Hill. Please take your litter home with you.