Packing a pooch: the best local dog walks
Does your four-legged friend need a change of scene? Set the tails wagging with these Bucks and Oxon walks with woodland, rivers and plenty of off-lead opportunities
Burnham Beeches, near Beaconsfield
Distance and difficulty: 4.1 miles with well-marked, manageable paths and lanes that takes roughly 2 hours to complete. The car park is accessible from the A355 in Farnham Common.
Good for: This pretty landscape promises plenty of exciting scents and sights for your dog, who can remain off the lead throughout. The age of the trees means lots of wildlife, and there isn’t any livestock to worry about.
Why we love it: This sprawling, circular walk through ancient woodland is an easy but charming route. The café is open for takeaway between 10 and 5.
Ouse Valley Park, Old Wolverton, and New Bradwell, Milton Keynes
Distance and difficulty: 3.4 miles of easy, manmade path. Park in the car park on Old Wolverton Road.
Good for: Don’t overlook the more beautiful ‘urban’ areas: this meandering riverside walk through the edge of Milton Keynes is a lovely route with dogs. Apart from one small section when approaching Wolverton Station, it’s safe for dogs to be off lead and running around. Sheep and cows at pasture shouldn’t be an issue at this time of year.
Why we love it: Pretty pasture and award-winning architecture. Best of all? The hard paths mean that wellies aren’t needed. And, you can grab a hot drink to takeaway from a café in Wolverton before starting.
Chinnor to Bledlow, near Princes Risborough
Distance and difficulty: The 87 mile-long Ridgeway is England’s oldest road and is touched on as part of this 5.5 mile circular route from Chinnor to Bledlow. The ground is quite slippy in places after rain.
Good for: Used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers, there will be all manner of fascinating scents from a four-legged point of view, and it’s remote enough to guarantee practically unlimited canine lolloping about. Be sure to expect a lot of mud though – you might need a full rinse off afterwards.
Why we love it: Packed full of stunning, ancient landscapes, with chalky woodland and rolling views.
Wendover Woods, near Aylesbury
Distance and difficulty: There are four well-marked walking routes to choose from of various lengths. The gentle, 2.8 mile Firecrest trail is a favourite for dogs. There is a car park, though it’s currently running at reduced capacity.
Good for: Bang in the beautiful Chiltern Hills, Wendover Woods is a dream dog-walker day out. The Firecrest trail takes you through unsurfaced woodland paths, soft on paws, and through a variety of interesting habitats.
Why we love it: If it’s a bit nippy, the Woods café is still open for takeaway, so you can sit on one of the picnic benches and sip a hot drink while your dog investigates the trees nearby.
Cliveden House, near High Wycombe
Distance and difficulty: 300 acres of varied but generally gentle landscape. You may walk for as long or as little as you wish.
Good for: Dogs have to be on a lead in the formal gardens, but the rest of Cliveden’s estate is a wooded doggy dream. If you want details of where dogs should and shouldn’t be on the lead you can download a map of them. Rest assured that there are dog poo bins throughout the grounds, so you shouldn’t have to lug around a pongy black bag for long.
Why we love it: Bowls of water can be found outside the Conservatory Café, and you can even pick-up a doggy treat from the welcome kiosk. Wagging tails all round.
Tylers Hill and Ley Hill, near Chesham
Distance and difficulty: About 5 miles in total, with a few hills. Park in the Water Meadow Car Park.
Good for: This quiet, picturesque route through the little villages of Tylers Hill and Ley Hill offers an ideal variety of scenery for furry friends. You’ll pass through Cowcroft Wood nature reserve, no doubt full of fascinating flora and fauna smells.
Why we love it: The walk finishes along the river Chess, which is great for dogs that like to swim (i.e: mine), and means you can lob a few sticks to tire them out even more.
Distance and difficulty: This 6km circuit is mostly on paths and tracks with some moderate ascents. Keep an eye out for livestock, chicken and deer before letting Fido off the lead.
Good for: Humans who like a pub pitstop (see below) and dogs who don’t go barmy around other animals (see above).
Why we love it: This circuit has everything for the perfect dog walk – woodland to sniff about it, open fields to run about in (subject to the state of the crops) and a stream to splash in. There’s a choice of two dog friendly pubs at the Cumnor end – The Vine Inn has a large garden and open fire so is perfect in summer or winter. During lockdown it has a takeaway Sunday lunch 12-2pm which you need to order in advance. The Bear and Ragged Staff also has a cracking log fire and during lockdown offers takeaway from 4.30pm Fridays and Saturdays.
Distance and difficulty: There are three marked trails around the park, all starting in Mary Sadler’s Field near the car park and around 2km, 2.5km and 5km long. The routes follow paths which are muddy in places but mostly surfaced and there are steep and narrow sections and steps.
Good for: Kids – there’s a sandpit on the red trail and a stream that kid can spend hours building dams in, only to be knocked down by the dog.
Why we love it: This is an absolute gem of a spot and unbelievably it’s just minute’s drive from Oxford city centre. The woodland has a magical feel to it (and a murky history of highwaymen) and dogs will love the springs, ponds and bracken, just don’t expect to take a clean pooch home with you. It’s open all year and free to park.
Distance and difficulty: The final of our three walks near Oxford is this corker – a five mile circuit, although there are plenty of shorter routes.
Good for: Inquisitive dogs, with plenty of smells and off-the-lead opportunities
Why we love it: This woodland is owned by St John’s College, which, rather quaintly, grants access ‘on stone and mown paths’ and marked gateways. It is famous for its bluebells in May and is used for scientific research in addition to being a nature reserve.
Distance and difficulty: This easy 3.5km loop near Witney hugs the edge of the woodland on easy going paths.
Good for: anyone with short legs, although it can be very muddy at the start (daschunds, be warned!)
Why we love it: There are pretty displays of wildflowers here including bluebells in May and the nearby St Peter and St Paul’s church in Church Hanborough dates to the 12th century. Dogs can be off the lead for much of the walk with tons of little paths to explore and there are no stiles to navigate.
Distance and difficulty: This seven miler will tire out the most inexhaustible of canines thanks to its variety of tracks, field and woodland with good off-the-lead sections.
Good for: Dogs (and humans) that need a lot of exercise
Why we love it: This is one of a series of circular walks that link up to form the longer Wychwood Way, a 37-mile long distance trail. It also skirts the edge of the gorgeous Cornbury Park estate. At the end is a choice of three dog friendly pubs: The Bell Inn, The Bull Inn and The Rose and Crown. The latter is open for takeaway Mon-Weds 3pm-7pm and Thurs-Sun 4pm-8pm, and the landlord suggests bringing your own container to take away one of its CAMRA award-winning selection of ales.
Distance and difficulty: This 9km loop is a decent distance but it’s not hilly. Expect a fair bit of mud as the section after Letcombe Regis passes along clay/mud paths. There are no gates or steps to navigate and the only stile has a dog gate.
Good for: Walkers and pooches who like a mid-walk pep (see below) as well as views of the Oxfordshire countryside and the historic Ridgeway.
Why we love it: The Greyhound at Letcombe Regis is a Muddy favourite. It is currently closed due to COVID but when open it welcomes dogs indoors and in the garden (what else would you expect from a pub with a doggy name?). It has a seasonal and enticing menu from small plates right up to three courses and has won multiple awards for its food and drink. In the meantime there are cafes offering takeaway drinks and snacks in Wantage.
Distance and difficulty: This 4 mile route has a few hill climbs and a variety of terrain from paths and tarmac to fields.
Good for: Wildlife spotters – there’s a variety of birds here from kites and skylarks and deer are often spotted on the edge of woodland. Dogs will love the variety of sniffing spots from woodland to hedgerows and fields.
Why we love it: There’s plenty of space for dogs to run, and signs to mark where they need to be on a lead due to livestock. The view over Greys Court are gorgeous with its beech woodlands and bluebells in the spring. Henley has a host of cafes offering takeaway and when the pubs reopen you’re spoilt for choice along the river, in the town and in Rotherfield Greys the Maltsters Arms is open for takeaway tea, coffee, hot chocolate, snacks, soup and beer 8.30am-3.30pm.
Distance and difficulty: There are two particularly good walks around the Blenheim Palace estate for dogs – the 1.5 mile Queen Pool circuit for the shorter legged pooch and the Park Perimeter 4.6-miler for the lollopers. Both routes are buggie and wheelchair friendly. Dogs do need to stay on a lead throughout but there’s plenty of space for a jolly on the long lead.
Good for: Families and history buffs
Why we love it: There’s woodland, lakeside paths and ancient oaks to enjoy here as well as the view of the Baroque palace. There’s refreshment for owners and dogs alike in the Pleasure Gardens, which outside of lockdown has a pizzeria at weekends, and there’s the East Courtyard without door seating and takeaway food and drink.
JUST OVER THE BORDER
Distance and difficulty: 400 acres, just over the border in Bedfordshire, of varying ground.
Good for: Made up of stunning woodland, heathland, and meadows, there’s plenty for dogs to get excited by. The park is divided into on and off-lead areas, but this is made clear by signs. Before heading off, you can download a leaflet which tells you where water is provided for dogs as well as the location of poo bins.
Why we love it: There’s a specific ‘Dog Fun Area’ at the back of the main car park, where dogs can exercise without a lead and burn a lot of furry energy if you’re in too much of a rush for a proper walk. You’d have to be barking mad (terrible, sorry) to miss out. Afterwards, grab something hot to take with you from the Tree Tops Café.
Distance and difficulty: A dazzling 3,000 acres of varied ground, just over the border in Hertfordshire. The car park is free, but is locked between 10pm-6am.
Good for: This stunning setting offers a good variety for snuffling noses: ancient trees, rolling chalk downlands, and lush meadows. They can go off-lead if well-trained, but you do have to be aware of deer and ground-nesting birds.
Why we love it: The Ivinghoe Hills butterfly walk, a three-hour loop route, will be especially beautiful once the butterflies start to appear in March. You can refuel with a coffee or scone from the Brownlow Café (takeaway only) afterwards.