Christmas is a carbon-shafting season. From the civic fairy lights to the gizmos to the car trips to share a sherry with grandma, it’s energy and waste all the way. A creative alternative comes in the shape of Our Land, a new sustainable travel website (funded by the Rural Development Programme for England) that encourages Londoners to visit the nine protected areas in the south to source trees, gifts and even booze on short jaunts from the capital.
First off you need a tree. Take the train from Charing Cross to Chilham Shop in the Kent Downs (a journey of 90 minutes), where Peter Higgs has been growing Christmas trees for the past 25 years and which sells everything from small potted varieties ideal for flat-dwellers through to family-sized trees. The tea room in neighbouring Bagham Barn sells a wide variety of antiques and quirky gifts to embellish the foot of your new fir.
How about swapping artificial illuminations for an evening beneath the glittering firmament on the South Downs? Haslemere in Sussex is around 50 mins from Waterloo and you can be up on Black Down – the highest point of the South Downs – in no time. Afterwards, have real ale and home-cooked, locally sourced dinner at The Mill Tavern in Shottermill.
If your kids/partner insist on meeting Santa, take the train to Leatherhead (around 40 minutes from Waterloo) and head for the Surrey Hills and Bocketts Farm in Bookham. Here a trip to the North Pole is kept short-haul and low-carbon thanks to the Santa Express trailer, which makes its way only as far as the magical workshop (that is, a barn). The farm sells sleds and toboggans and there will be newborn lambs gambolling around so you can show the little ’uns what they’ll be eating – organically, of course – on Boxing Day.
Gifts shouldn’t involve running a gauntlet. Two alternatives to central London stress are 62-acre Wilderness Wood near Buxted (around one hour from London Bridge), which sells ethical pressies like wood pencils, bird feeders and chalk boards (sure to make your kids’ iPad-owning mates jealous); and the Hungerford Victorian Extravaganza, on December 9 only, in Hungerford (about one hour from Paddington), where there’s a fairground ride, roasted chestnuts, a Punch and Judy show, jugglers and antiques shops.
Come Christmas, test that new bike, or those new boots, with an excursion to the Chilterns to see red kites (Henley on Thames is an hour from Paddington) or spread your own wings and go to Northleach in the Cotswolds (Moreton-in-Marsh is about 90 minutes from Paddington, and then a 20-minute cab ride from Northleach).
Finally, recover from the chaos of the festive period by escaping for a weekend to one of England’s protected landscapes. Visit www.our-land.co.uk for ideas and to book B&Bs. The nine protected landscapes of the south-east are the two National Parks – New Forest and South Downs – and seven Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB): the Chilterns, Cotswolds, High Weald, Isle of Wight, Kent Downs, North Wessex Downs and Surrey Hills.