What’s the attraction?
We’ve got turkey coming out of our ears, “Merry Xmas Everybody” on a never-ending loop, while the mere thought of another slice of Christmas cake brings to mind Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. You could freshen up with a traditional Boxing Day dip, but how inviting does that icy, wintry sea look? A much better idea is to walk alongside it, take a stroll around a winter garden or a hike up a hill. The late great Eric Newby described the smell of the English sea as so strong it was “like a biff on the nose”. In a season of over-indulgence, that sounds like the perfect tonic.
Trust us, it’ll do you good
While most National Trust houses are shut at this time of year, their grounds are open, and some will open their cafes today (bit.ly/NTFestive). Good choices include Clumber Park (01909 544917; nationaltrust.org.uk/clumber-park) once part of Sherwood Forest and with a magnificent avenue of lime trees; Morden Hall park (020 8545 6850; nationaltrust.org.uk/morden-hall-park) in south London – an urban gem with a heronry and wetlands; and Mottisfont Abbey (01794 340757; nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont) in Hampshire, where the 60,000 bulbs of the winter gardens should add some colour.
Go for a ramble with friends…and strangers
The Ramblers (ramblers.org.uk/winterwalks), has just begun its festival of winter walks, with 800 hikes, strolls and ambles taking place across the UK until 6 January, all led by volunteers. Entering into the festive spirit, some walks will offer mulled wine, soup or pub halts. Enticing Boxing Day walks include a circular family walk through Kentish countryside around Chelsfield or a stiffer leg-stretcher in North Yorkshire climbing up Easby Moor to the Captain Cook monument with views of the North York Moors and what’s left of industrial Teesside.
Hogmanay? Take a hike instead
There’s standing room only in Edinburgh at this time of year, so head for the Pentland Hills (pentlandhills.org) just six miles south of the city and full of Christmas pudding-shaped hills, such as Scald Law. This slice of wilderness has more than 60 miles of signposted routes – try a wander around Castlelaw Hill Fort for views of an ancient landscape. You could work off the calories along a stretch of the Borders Way, which links the four great ruined abbeys of Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose and Dryburgh (scotborders.gov.uk/bordersabbeysway).
Dreaming of a Wight Christmas
The Isle of Wight (bit.ly/WightWalks) has more than 500 miles of footpaths and is an easy day-trip from the South East thanks to ferries with Wightlink (0871 376 1000; wightlink.co.uk) and Red Funnel (0844 844 9988; redfunnel.co.uk), which are both running a limited service today (the hovercraft resumes tomorrow). The island’s landscape is so special it has an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (wightaonb.org.uk). For a glorious Boxing Day hike, try the coastal path below the Military Road to Chale Bay, with superb sea views of the Needles.
If you really want to walk off your Christmas lunch, a good bet is the 630-mile South West Coast Path, reckoned by the Long Distance Walkers Association (ldwa.org.uk) to be the steepest path in the UK – along the entire route you climb 6.83 yards for every 100 yards. Helpfully, the South West Coast Path National Trail has drawn up a list of five bite-sized self-guided Boxing Day walks (bit.ly/5BoxDayWalks) – these include a hike through the lost village of Tyneham in Dorset and a stroll past the magical church of St Enodoc, by the Camel estuary, the resting place of Sir John Betjeman.
Christmas in Wales
It’s been a good year for walking in Wales, with the opening of the 870-mile Wales Coast Path – the trail (walescoastpath.gov.uk) has a host of long and short walks to strike out on.
To see what the birds of the Celtic fringe get up to at this time of year, the RSPB has a guided Boxing Day walk planned at its South Stack reserve on Anglesey (bit.ly/BoxingDayBirds; 11.30am; £6), with views of chough, raven and peregrines against the breathtaking backdrop of headlands and cliffs. A warming bowl of soup at the RSPB café is included.
Overstay your welcome
Fancy getting snowed in at a great walkers’ pub? Two years ago, guests were marooned at the UK’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn (01833 628246; tanhillinn.co.uk) in North Yorkshire. Other welcoming bets include the Border Hotel (01573 420237; theborderhotel.com) in Kirk Yetholm at the end of the Pennine Way; Exmoor’s Crown Hotel in Exford (01643 831554; crownhotelexmoor.co.uk); and the Lion Inn (01751 417320; lionblakey.co.uk), Blakey Ridge, high up in the North York Moors. All have easy walks more or less from their front door – just pack an OS map.
Who said that?
“On a Boxing Day walk you’ll encounter frost-sharpened landscapes imbued with a deliciously unfamiliar atmosphere. Life seems on pause for midwinter and even well-trodden paths offer new adventures.” – Fergus Collins, editor of BBC Countryfile magazine
“My spirits, already high, steadily rose as I walked... surrounded by all this emptiness and change, with a thousand wonders waiting.” – Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
“Ahead on the path a person was coming towards me...she was a real walker – arms swinging, flat shoes, no dog, no map. It was lovely too: blue sky above, the sun in the south-east and a cloud burst hanging like a broken bag in the west.” Paul Theroux, The Kingdom By the Sea
“For a great Boxing Day walk, try the wildlife-rich wetlands along the River Arun in East Sussex. The Wey-South Path (weyandarun.co.uk) from Pulborough meanders across empty wide-open countryside and then burrows deep into the Amberley Wild Brooks reserve (rspb.org.uk/reserves) with thousands of migrating birds. From the Sportsman Inn (01798 831 787; thesportsmaninn.org.uk) high above the plain, you can watch the sun go down over your conquered landscape with a local ale and an open fire.”
Dominic Bates, editor of ‘Walk’ magazine