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View west from Watlington Hill, Buckinghamshire
View from Watlington Hill | © National Trust Images / Hugh Mothersole
Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire & Berkshire

Watlington Hill short walk

Discover rare chalk grassland and woodland habitats, as well as many species of birds and butterflies among other wildlife, on this walk around the Watlington Hill site. The route also offers impressive views over the Vale of Oxford and along the Chiltern Escarpment.

Total steps: 5

Total steps: 5

Start point

National Trust car park at Watlington Hill. Grid ref: SU709935

Step 1

Leave the car park on the path to the left of the large signboard and parking meter 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 waymarkers along the route and follow these.

Step 2

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 (500m) and just after Watlington town comes into view, 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. Please 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: an excellent spot with a bench to enjoy views towards Watlington and the Oxford Vale.

Watlington White Mark, Oxfordshire
Watlington White Mark | © National Trust / Hugh Mothersole

Step 3

Continue 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 50m 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.

Step 4

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. In places it is easy enough to switch paths. If you take the more open one, 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: the Horseshoe Vetch, which is the only plant that caterpillars of the Adonis and Chalk Hill Blue butterflies feed upon.

Path on the South East side of Watlington Hill in the Chilterns during winter
Watlington Hill path past woodland | © National Trust Images/Hugh Mothersole

Step 5

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 it. You will eventually go through a second gate and after another 2 minutes (100m) you will arrive back at the car park.

End point

National Trust car park at Watlington Hill. Grid ref: SU709935

Trail map

Watlington Hill short walk map, Oxfordshire
Watlington Hill short walk map | © Crown copyright and database rights 2013 Ordnance Survey

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