Nature reserves and countryside sites
Nature reserves are an obvious place to explore the flora and fauna that is native to the Chilterns. All the reserves have car parks and waymarked walks. The larger sites also have visitor centres and cafés. Some of the nature reserves offer spectacular hill-top views.
The National Trust Ashridge Estate is a glorious area of ancient woodland and rolling chalk downland hills which supports a rich variety of wildlife. There is a visitor centre with café and shop near the Bridgewater Monument and lots of waymarked walks and rides ranging from easy-access walks to a 16-mile 'boundary trail' through some of the more remote parts of the Estate. The popular Ashridge Drovers' Walk takes in the highlights.
Here is a unique Ashridge photo gallery from Berkhamsted-based photographer Jon Russell
Wendover Woods is a 325 hectare open access woodland site managed by the Forestry Commission. It is situated on the edge of the Chilterns escarpment and has walking and cycling trails, a café and children's adventure playground. For those that fancy a challenge there is also the Go Ape high wire forest adventure. Wendover Woods has year-round interest, from beautiful displays of bluebells in the spring to barbecues and picnics in the summer followed by swathes of autumn colours as the trees turn and crisp winter walks. The Views of the Vale walk passes through Wendover Woods and takes in the highlights.
Coombe Hill near Wendover is a chalk downland site owned by the National Trust and is one of the highest points in the Chilterns, offering wonderful views over the Vale of Aylesbury. The Views of the Vale walk is a 3½-mile circular walk starting in Wendover and passing through Coombe Hill, taking in some wonderful scenery. Coombe Hill is a great place for a picnic, why not stock up at the award-winning No. 2 Pound Street delicatessen in Wendover first.
Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve near Stokenchurch. Perched high on the Chilterns escarpment, the reserve contains flower-rich chalk grassland, and beech woodland. There are fantastic views over the Oxford plain and it's a great place to watch red kites soaring overhead. In the summer you can walk through acres of wildflowers, including pungent thyme and marjoram and delicate orchids. Many butterflies flit around the flowers.
Watlington Hill, a National Trust chalk grassland site providing panoramic views over Watlington and the Oxfordshire Vale. A mosaic of short rabbit turf, scrub and dense yew woodland makes it an especially good site for butterflies, with a large population of silver-spotted skipper flying here from late July to early September. A great place to take a picnic (stock up at the Granary Delicatessen a mile down the hill in Watlington), enjoy the views and watch the red kites soaring overhead.
The Chilterns Gateway Centre on Dunstable Downs is another high spot. The wind-swept ridge provides ideal conditions for a variety of air sports, especially kite flying. Buy a kite on site from the National Trust shop or watch experts in action at the annual Kite Festival held here in July.
Warburg Nature Reserve, just three miles from Henley-on-Thames and tucked away in a secluded and beautiful valley is managed by the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. Stroll through the woodland rides and watch butterflies dancing across the flower-studded grass. Take a picnic and listen to birdsong, or use the wildlife detective kits from the visitor centre to track down fascinating creatures like slow-worms and dragonflies.
College Lake Nature Reserve on the Upper Icknield Way near Tring is a former chalk quarry now transformed into a thriving wildlife centre by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust. It is a haven for migrating wildfowl visiting the lake and notable for beautiful orchids and unusual cornfield flowers. Bring your binoculars, cameras and a picnic, or enjoy refreshments in the visitor centre café. Stroll along family-friendly easy access trails around the lake and visit the bird hides. Tramper mobility vehicles are available to use on the Wild Trail.
Hartslock Nature Reserve is a beautiful area of chalk grassland filled with orchids in May and June. High above the River Thames with spectacular views across the Goring Gap into the Berkshire Downs, the grass is dotted with colourful and rare flowers. When the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust took over the site there were just seven monkey orchid plants, and now there are more than 400. Two superb Thames-side walks go through the reserve and an ancient yew wood. The Views of the Thames Walk starts from Goring and the Whitchurch Circular Walk from Pangbourne.
Whipsnade Zoo run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity founded in 1826 whose key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats.Home to more than 2,500 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild, a visit to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s impressive 600 acre site is to experience one of the many daily onsite events, including a selection of keeper talks, animal feeds and animal demonstrations like the Sealion Splash and Birds of the World.
Tring Reservoirs and the Grand Union Canal is a fantastic place to enjoy waterside walks, spot wildlife or watch narrow boats. There are a series of reservoirs linked by the canal offering numerous level walks with lovely views of the hills beyond. This is one of the most famous birding spots in southern England. Marsworth is a popular starting point, with a large car park next to the Bluebell Tea Rooms (great home-baked cakes!).