The 50 Best winter walks
Some routes are just made for walking when crisp, cold weather sets in. From the highest peaks to tree-lined lanes, Mark Rowe finds festive perambulations for all the family to enjoy
Friday 21 December 2012
Ditchling Beacon, East Sussex
7 miles, nationaltrail.co.uk
From Plumpton village in the South Downs, this walk rewards the puff needed to get to Ditchling Beacon, at 248m the high point of the South Downs Way. You will see stirring views north to the High Weald and Box Hill and may spot winter migrant birds, such as redwings and fieldfares.
3 miles, royalparks.org.uk
Feeling the chill? The urban-heat effect gives St James’ Park a cosy mean average of 11.43°C, officially the warmest place in the UK. From there you could add a 90-minute walk on The Mall, Victoria Embankment, and return via Birdcage Walk and Buckingham Palace.
2 miles, rspb.org.uk
One of the few ancient landscapes remaining in London, these medieval marshes right next to the River Thames are a magical place to wander in winter. Retreat to the hides and the café in between exploring the boardwalks of the RSPB reserve. Look for high drama in the sky with hungry peregrine falcons targeting pigeons, while foxes prowl the grounds.
Bembridge, Isle of Wight
4 miles, wightlink.co.uk
The sheltered east side of the island is full of woodland groves, though the pebbles can make for a painstaking plod on the beach. Just out to sea stands Bembridge ledge, where wonderful rockpools are exposed at low tide. Inland, look out for the island’s last remaining windmill, a lonely 17th-century affair.
White Cliffs of Dover, Kent
4 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
There are few more stirring places to take in the winter air than this glorious cliff-top path above the port of Dover. For the first time, the famous South Foreland lighthouse will be open on New Year’s Day. Get up early for the winter solstice and you’ll grab another first: the white cliffs mark the most south-easterly point of the UK, and on the longest day this is the first place to see daylight in the British Isles.
Bradwell-on-Sea, Dengie Peninsula, Essex
6 miles, visitessex.com
Yes, there’s a decommissioned nuclear power station close by, but the coalition government seems to think these are the new must-have carbuncle for any seaside community. Instead, focus on the remote Bradwell cockle spit and the chance to see 15,000 geese, ducks and waders take a winter break. In the village of Bradwell-on-Sea, look out for the whipping post, used in times past for the administration of corporal punishment on drunks.
Ashridge estate, Buckinghamshire
14 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
This Chilterns walk is a bit more than a gentle leg stretcher, and worth saving for a day with clear skies and crisp ground under foot. As well as striking views from Ivinghoe Beacon, it takes in the suitably atmospheric and ancient Ridgeway. The ancient trees may have dropped their leaves but this gives you a good chance to spot fallow deer.
Just 25 minutes by rail from London, Kingston offers a pleasant stroll along an eyecatching slice of the Thames Path. Hampton Court and Home Park are close by, as are Seething Wells, 19th-century waterworks that dealt with the Victorian horror of cholera.
West and South-west:
Offa’s Dyke, Knighton
A spectacular ridgeline trek along the blurry hinterland where England merges into Wales. The panoramic views of the Malvern Hills, the Black Mountains and the Shropshire Hills are magical, so fingers-crossed for a light dusting of snow to top it all off. Better still, it ends at the Baron (baronatbucknell.co.uk) a country pub with good rooms.
4 miles, stives-cornwall.co.uk
A delectable, easy walk. Hop off the train at Lelant Saltings and head west, picking up the coast path behind St Uny church, which has a wonderful wild graveyard overlooking Hayle estuary. There should be plenty of birdlife on the estuary and stirring views of Porthkidney Sands, Godrevy Lighthouse and St Ives huddled against the gales.
Great Flat Lode Trail, Carn Brea, Cornwall
7.5 miles, cornish-mining.org.uk
Cornwall’s hinterland can be quiet even in summer. In winter it is deserted, allowing walkers the privilege of exploring an extraordinary collection of derelict engine houses left over from the tin industry. There’s also farmland and heaths to take in along this oddly melancholic walk.
3 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
This walk lifts you up and down the south-west coast path but also takes you back in time. This is one of the longest consecutively colonised landscapes in the world, from the Bronze Age through Iron Age cliff castles and Romano-British settlements. Look out for weather-beaten fishing boats doughtily bouncing along the coast.
Starling Roost, Wedmore, Somerset Levels
1.5 miles, visitsomerset.co.uk
Where starlings are concerned, size does matter. Up to one million or more birds converge on the moody Somerset Levels as dusk approaches, swooping, swarming and swaying in a twilight aeronautical display. Make an afternoon of it by parking at Ham Wall RSPB reserve and walking along the rhynes or waterways to Ashcott Corner, with views of Glastonbury Tor.
6 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
Like Rome, Bath was built on seven hills, and this skyline walk gives a wide-angle panoramic view of the city. Far removed from the 20th century activity of the centre, you get an idea of what the city must have looked like in its Regency pomp. The views are the headline act, but the walk also explores the atmospheric Bathampton Woods, full of moss-covered trees and winding paths.
Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire
2.5 miles, escapetothecotswolds.org.uk
It’s a safe bet that this year you won’t have to worry about encountering David Cameron and his Chipping Norton set taking the Boxing Day air around the east Cotswolds. Instead, enjoy this delightful stroll from the market town to the hamlet of Over Norton, returning across gentle hills with river views.
Penallt Pubs Circular, Forest of Dean
3.5 miles, visitforestofdean.co.uk
Things have settled down in the Forest of Dean after it became the lightning rod for protests against plans to sell off the country’s forests. This walk reveals what much of the fuss was about, with a mixture of seasonally leafless elegantly shaped trees and determined conifers. Step off the route to explore Penallt church for its views and its ancient chestnuts.
5.5 miles, devon.gov.uk
This is a lovely south Devon walk across fields and along classic high-banked Devon green lanes and with striking valley views. Along the way you’ll spot the skeletal outline of Berry Pomeroy Castle, which lays claim to being the most haunted castle in the UK. The walk finishes in the charismatic town of Totnes, so expect some local Totnes pounds with change for your pint.
Kimmeridge, South Devon
5 miles, shorefield.co.uk
This is a glorious stretch of wind-pummelled coastline steeped in history, from Neolithic to Roman occupants. There are curiosities too: look out for BP’s ‘nodding donkey’, the unexpected location of the UK’s oldest continuously producing well site. Towards the end of this walk stands Clavell’s Tower, once so weather-battered that PD James featured it in a novel.
Midlands and East of England:
3.75 miles, lincolnshire.gov.uk
Lincolnshire’s Limewoods area is steeped in history and rich in wildlife. Dating back 8,000 years, there are ancient woodlands to explore for that classic winter experience of leafless trees with distant views to the skyline. There are also walks that take in the deserted medieval village of Goltho as well as ruined abbeys.
Eyam and Stoney Middleton, Peak District
8 miles, peakwalking.co.uk
A pass above Stoney Middleton is the only place I’ve ever had to call mountain rescue, but don’t let that put you off, as this is a lovely walk. There are two charming villages, good pubs, and the quintessential adornments of village stocks and pond. The route follows ancient tracks lined by drystone walls that blend into the off-white winter landscape.
Baslow and Curber Edge, Peak District
8 miles, peakwalking.co.uk
The route begins in the sleepy village of Baslow, and while it never climbs too high it tracks a ridgeline along gritstone edges, passing through sparse woods and lonely rowan trees. If your luck’s in, you may spot a red deer. A brief diversion to the Wellington Monument overlooking the River Derwent makes a superb place to pause.
Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
6 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
Wicken Fen is glorious in winter, when the plains stretch away to a vanishing point on the horizon. Sodden under foot, with reed beds wafting skywards against a landscape of spirit-level flatness, the fens muffle the din of everyday life. Look out for konik ponies and even Highland cattle, along with perhaps short-eared owls darting here and there.
Attenborough Nature Reserve, Beeston, Nottinghamshire
4 miles, bit.ly/RYdBEQ
An easy walk around this glorious nature reserve showcases some of the best winter wildlife in the UK.Set close to the River Trent, the site, managed by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, was opened by Sir David Attenborough more than 40 years ago. Strikingly coloured birds include goldeneyes and pochards, along with many migrants among the delta area.
Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire
8 miles, huntingdon-town.info
Reservoirs are great in winter and Grafham Water, near Huntingdon, has nine miles of shoreline and beautiful countryside to explore. In winter, the reservoir attracts large numbers of diving ducks, such as gadwall and shoveler, as well as important populations of coot and great crested grebe.
Donna Nook, Lincolnshire
Away from the seasonally empty resorts of Skegness and Mablethorpe lies Donna Nook, one of the best places to see new-born grey seal pups in November and December. It’s a wonderfully windswept stretch of coastline and part of a national nature reserve.
4 miles, walkhighlands.co.uk
As recently as the mid 18th century a “witch” was tarred and burnt in Dornoch, but today the town is better known for its graceful location on Dornoch Firth. There’s some nice beach walking here too and the prospect of seeing common seals, plus beachcombing for the kids.
Loch Ness, Highlands
10.5 miles, visitlochness.com
Next year is a big year for Nessie hunters: the 80th anniversary of the first “sighting” of the Highland monster. Perhaps you’ll increase your chances of catching her off guard in the winter, and from the less-travelled south side of Loch Ness with this new trail. The best stretch is from Inverfarigaig to Dores, where the views across to Urquart Castle remind you that the scenery is the real reason for a visit to this beautiful loch.
6.5 miles, walkhighlands.co.uk
A lovely, if slightly strenuous, walk above the town of Peebles in the Scottish Borders. The route goes through forest, passes the site of an ironage farmhouse and offers panoramic views of Peebles, its high street book-ended by two church spires. Afterwards, mop your brow in Cocoa Black, a sumptuous chocolatier.
Montrose Basin, Angus
10 miles, scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk
It’s one of the most spectacular winter wildlife experiences: 60,000 pink-footed geese roosting among the reed beds and mudflats just minutes from the centre of Montrose. Winter is also the best time to see wintering wildfowl such as the Arctic eider ducks, whose cooing sounds unsettlingly like Frankie Howerd from beyond the grave.
Callander and Falls of Leny
4.5 miles, walkhighlands.co.uk
A delightful walk to the east of Loch Lomond, following a disused railway path to a series of dramatic falls. There are good views of hills and crags, and the falls are extraordinary, though tread carefully.
Vatersay, Outer Hebrides
4 miles, isleofbarra.com
The southern tip of the Outer Hebrides looks and feels like the end of the earth: high hills rising from sea level, tiny islets linked by causeways and isthmuses, vast empty beaches and the Atlantic Ocean crashing onto a rocky shoreline. This lovely circular walk explores the lower half of Vatersay.
3 miles, walkhighlands.co.uk
This is a gorgeous walk along the upper reaches of the River Tweed in Scotland. Melrose looks a little like Trumpton, with independent shops neatly laid out. The abbey makes for a playful experience at the end of the walk: look for the gargoyle of a pig playing the bagpipes.
North of England:
Allenheads, near Hexham, North Pennines
3 miles, northpennines.org.uk
The North Pennines valleys don’t have the mammoth flanks of dales further south, so they allow low winter sun to linger longer over the russet-coloured moorland. This lovely winter walk gives the chance to spot hardy upland birds, such as black grouse, amid an elemental landscape of ancient slates and volcanic rocks.
Chester’s Roman Fort, Northumberland
2.5 miles, visitnorthumberland.com
Walk along Hadrian’s Wall in winter and you can almost hear the clanking of Roman ghosts. Chester’s Roman Fort is open at weekends during winter and this walk extends a visit to drink in some superb landscape views including Chollerford weir. Fingers crossed for a light dusting of snow to make the mood suitably atmospheric.
Bolton-le-Sands to Carnforth, Lancashire
4.5 miles, visitlancashire.com
What’s not to like about a towpath walk along a canal in winter? Ideally the weather will arrange ducks slipping on ice but the views are guaranteed of the Lake District, Morecambe Bay and the enigmatic, looping Furness peninsula. Round it off with a hot drink at Carnforth, arguably Britain’s most iconic railway station and scene of the 1945 classic Brief Encounter.
4 miles, visitnorthumberland.com
Brooding Humbleton Hill muscles up above the small market town of Wooler, pushing up against the Scottish border. This is a superb walk for a clear day, taking you to the summit of Humbleton – the views of Lindisfarne are spectacular – and the Cheviot foothills.
Wansfell Pike, Ambleside
6.5 miles, ambleside-walks.co.uk
Wansfell Pike glowers over Ambleside, and there’s no denying it’s a steep ascent. It’s worth it: the climb up passes waterfalls, while the descent drops into the Troutbeck Valley and the Mortal Man hotel (themortalman.co.uk) one of the Lakes’ classic pubs. At the end there are great views of Windermere.
Port Mulgrave, Staithes, North Yorkshire
3 miles, northseatrail.co.uk
When the tide is out you can look for fossils exposed by the winter gales. Highlights include footprints of dinosaurs on the fallen blocks of sandstone. Port Mulgrave’s fascinating fishing huts are made from whatever can be carried down the steep cliff: the ultimate in recycling.
3 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
Explore the huge sand dunes at Formby in winter and you may see history in the making: winter storms and a high tide can push the coast back by 10m overnight. Climb up the dunes for superb views over Liverpool Bay, Snowdonia and the Lake District. The end of this walk takes you through woodland where the embattled native red squirrel is hanging on.
Square Corner, North York Moors
4.8 miles, nationaltrail.co.uk
A striking 90-degree righthand turn in the middle of nowhere, this walk through the moorland fringe of the North York Moors National Park follows fields and muddy paths and threads through Osmotherley as it follows the Cleveland Way. Pause a moment to take in the village’s picture postcard market cross and village green.
Ullswater and Aira Force
4.5 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
Aira Force, in the north of the Lakes, plunges down the glaciated valley into Ullswater and makes for picture postcard images on clear winter days, with a backdrop of snow on the high fells. The waterfalls, plunging up to 20 metres, can be spectacular.
Close Sartfield, Isle of Man
1 mile, manxwt.org.uk
The Isle of Man is one of Britain’s most closely guarded winter secrets. Too often overlooked by walkers and wildlife lovers, it offers thrilling coastal walks and hidden havens of tranquil scenery. A walk around this wildlife reserve is one of the best places to see the endangered hen harrier return to its midwinter roost. Other birds to look out for include peregrine falcon and merlin.
3 miles, visitnorthumberland.com
Very few places match the elemental experience offered by Lindisfarne in winter. While this walk takes in the classic sights of the priory and castle, it also drifts away along old wagonways into the island’s less-visited hinterland towards Emmanuel Head for stark views of exposed beaches and flocks of wintering birds.
Wales and Northern Ireland:
Strangford Lough, County Down
2 miles, wwt.org.uk
Strangford Lough is an impressive stretch of water and the most important wildlife site in Ireland. A stroll around the grounds and shoreline paths of the Castle Espie estate, managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, is glorious in winter. The 40 species of resident birds are joined by 35,000 light-bellied Brent geese from the Arctic, which settle on islets nearby.
5 miles, nationaltrust.org.uk
Belfast enjoys a world-class natural backdrop. Divis and the Black Mountain tower over the city, offering tremendous views. This walk tracks across blanket bog and upland heath, and becomes magical with a low winter sun, colours changing before your eyes.
Sugar Loaf, Monmouthshire
3 miles, breconbeacons.org
This is a great family winter walk: high enough for adults to get something out of it but easily climbed by little legs too. Views from the coneshaped summit are gorgeous – of the Malverns, the Severn estuary and the heads of the Welsh valleys.
Carntogher Way, Maghera, Londonderry
5 miles, walkni.com
You need clear skies for this one. The climb takes you up to the 60m summit of the hills above Carntogher, a mountain steeped in legend. There are also superb views across Lough Foyle to The Mournes. Wildlife is generally thin on the ground, but you’ll pass plenty of archaeological monuments.
Port Path, Portstewart to Portush, Londonderry
6.5 miles, walkni.com
This dramatic, windswept stretch of coast comes into its own in winter, with gulls blown backwards by gales. The path hugs the coastline between the two towns, though it’ll be too cold for a dip in Portnahapple, a natural sea pool. East of Portrush is Curran Strand beach, where you may see horses being ridden along the bay.
1.2 miles, montwt.co.uk
A winter walk in Britain’s Empty Quarter is not to be underestimated and this rewarding walk offers views of the Dyfi valley and Welsh lowlands as you pick your way through lake, bogs, heathland and a steep ravine. Look out for white-fronted geese from Greenland.
Bog Meadows, West Belfast
2 miles, ulsterwildlifetrust.org
A winter walk in Belfast by a motorway? This walk will dismantle a few preconceptions, offering walkers meadows, ponds and woods. Winter is the best time to see the ducks, geese and swans that over winter here, as well as rare breed Irish moiled and blue-grey cattle. UNESCO has given the reserve its stamp of approval.
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