Great British walks: Put your best foot forward this winter

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

With Britain's landscapes blissfully deserted, wrap up warm and stride out, says Mark Rowe

You used to know where you were with winter, with day after day of crisp, cold weather. Now things are a bit more unpredictable – recent years have seen mild spells, the deepest of freezes, and torrential floods – and anyone planning a day's hiking could be forgiven for packing both a collapsible kayak and a survival blanket.

Yet winter is a glorious time to tear yourself away from the sofa and strike out. When the leaves have fallen from the trees, you can see more, from elusive deer to distant skylines backlit by a low winter sun. And there's a change of shift among the wildlife too. Swallows and swifts are now basking in Africa but in their place will come huge flocks of winter migrants.

All the walks chosen here have their own appeal, offering something different and uplifting in winter, from skeletons of leafless trees to storm-pummelled beaches. And with Christmas on the horizon, you can feel all the more virtuous by burning off the calories in advance, before stacking them all back on again.

Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula

This is a lovely loop around enormous Rhossili Bay at the western end of the Gower Peninsula. In an ideal world you'll start this walk at high tide, taking in the full power of the sea as it muscles inland. By the time you start to head back there'll be space enough for some beachcombing.

The signature landmark, Worm's Head, is a mesmerising spectacle, resembling a Welsh version of the Loch Ness Monster – the word is a corruption of the Old English "wurm", or serpent.

Make your way along the southern cliffs, past exposed rocks and stone gables fronting air high above Mewslade Bay. Then it's a steep, breathless climb up Rhossili Down, rewarded by stirring views in all directions.

Finally, if you have time and energy, you can cross the dramatic causeway to Worm's Head for two and a half hours either side of low tide.

Start/finish Rhossili Bay car park

Distance Seven miles

Time Three hours

OS map Explorer 164 Gower.

Directions From Rhossili drop down to the coast path at Worm's Head and follow the coast to Mewslade Bay. Take the field path to Middleton. Turn left onto the road and then take the path in front of the church over Rhossili Down. At Hillend, drop down onto the beach and return south to Rhossili.

More information

Ashridge Estate, Chilterns, Buckinghamshire

A walk around the Ashridge estate in Buckinghamshire in winter is framed by the skeletons of trees such as ash, beech and oak. Their leaves may have fallen and the green may have gone, but these giant, ancient trees now allow unexpected views across the Chilterns to landmarks such as Ivinghoe Beacon and the Bridgewater Monument, as well as sweeping views across the Vale of Aylesbury and the prehistoric Ridgeway.

The spectacular shapes of such trees also becomes more apparent in winter: look out for the extraordinary sweet chestnut – probably introduced by the Romans – with wide trunks and sprawling root-like branches, as well as the spurs, known as "witches' brooms", sprouting from silver birch.

The thinned-out trees also make it easier to spot wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled for larger animals and brids such as red kites, buzzards, fallow deer and the more diminutive muntjac deer, along with goldcrests nipping in and out of hawthorn hedges, fluffed up against the cold. With luck, you should even be able to see (as well as hear) lesser-spotted woodpeckers.

Start/finish Ashridge visitor centre

Distance Two miles

Time One hour

OS map Explorer 181 Chiltern Hills North

Directions/more information The route is available on – click on protected landscapes walk

Mam Tor, Castleton, Peak District

Mam Tor is called the "Shivering Mountain" – not because you'll feel the cold, but because of its frequent rock falls and landslides. This striking whaleback of a mountain has been shuffling its foundations for 3,600 years so it's unlikely to give way under your feet soon. This is an atmospheric hike: heading west out of Castleton and through steep, claustrophobic Winnat's Pass before climbing on to the ridgeline.

To the north, the view takes in the Pennine Way, contouring around Kinder Scout and its surreally, alien rock formations, such as the Woolpacks and Crowden Tower. To the east you can pick out Derwent Edge, Stanage Edge and Froggatt Edge. Hidden deep in these geological folds are the mighty reservoirs of Derwent, Howden and Ladybower. You can keep bouncing along the whale back summits all the way to Hope railway station, but it's winter, so better to drop down into Castleton and limit your decisions to which pub to settle in.

Start/finish Castleton

Distance Four miles

Time 2.5 hours.

Directions From Castleton follow the A625 to Winnat's Pass, follow the footpath through the pass and behind Winnat's Head farm. Cross B6061 with care then, via Windy Knoll, the A625 to climb Mam Tor summit. At Hollins Cross take the path south-east down to Castleton via Hollowford Road.

More information

River Lea, East London

The Olympic bandwagon moves on, destination Rio in 2016. But winter is a good time to enjoy one of the meaningful legacies of the London 2012 Games.

The River Lea, which originates in the Chiltern Hills and flows south into London to meet the Thames, had been neglected for decades. However it has had a facelift and now sports 30 new bridges, five miles of waterways and newly scrubbed towpaths in and around the Olympic Park.

They allow walkers to explore the Lea, and a frosty morning will reveal cormorants elegantly perched on slivers of ice, or moorhens slithering on icy paths.

This is still a Jekyll and Hyde landscape, more Lowry than Constable, but beneath the sclerotic overhead pylons lies rare marshland at Walthamstow marshes. At East India Dock, dwarfed by the Canary Wharf cityscape and the 02 Arena, over-wintering black redstart nest in derelict buildings.

Start Tottenham Hale underground station

Finish East India Dock DLR/ Limehouse DLR

Distance Eight miles

Time Four hours

Directions Pick up the towpath on Ferry Lane and head south along the river to the Thames. At Three Mills there is a choice of cutting south-east to Limehouse Basin, or south to East India Dock.

More information and

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

The bagpipe player will no doubt be going strong in deepest winter outside Waverley railway station, but this walk quickly escapes the clichéd Edinburgh experience.

Crossing over Princes Street Gardens, head towards Holyrood Park and then begin the steep climb from the palace. On the way you pass the fragmented remains of St Anthony's Chapel before making for Arthur's Seat at a mighty height of 251m.

The view from the top is arguably the finest city vista in the UK. Look north across the Firth of Forth to Fife, south to the Pentland Hills, and east to the Isle of May and the volcanic dome of North Berwick Law, deep in East Lothian.

With binoculars you may just be able to make out the curious whale bones on its summit. To the north-west the Highlands begin to rise up – many of the peaks are usually snow-capped by the end of the year.

Start/finish Edinburgh Waverley station

Distance Three miles

Time Two hours

Directions From Waverley station cross North Bridge and turn left along Canongate to Holyrood House, in Holyrood Park, to follow a path directly below Salisbury Crags. Then climb to the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel and upwards again to Arthur's Seat (251m). Retrace your steps back to Waverley station.

More information

Cat Bells, Lake District

In bad weather, hikers drop down from the fells to the Lakes' valleys and shorelines. But Cat Bells is the perfect winter mountain: it's high enough for superb views, but sufficiently stumpy to be climbed in all but the worst weather, though there are times when the steep zig-zag paths belie the mountain's modest 450m.

Your reward is the spectacle of beautiful Derwentwater laid out below. At this time of year, with few boats to disturb its surface, the lake can seem frozen in time.

Keswick huddles nearby, behind it the looming triangular flanks of Skiddaw. Turning north-west there's a more knobbly landscape fronted by Grisedale. The second half of this walk follows the shoreline through Brandelhow Woods by Derwentwater, a landscape of wonderful mixed woodland, a mixture of semi-ancient trees above which rise Douglas firs, 150 years old.

Start/finish Hawes End car park

Distance Five miles

Time Three hours

OS map OL4 English Lakes North-west

Directions From Catbells Barn, follow the obvious tracks to the summit. Then bear south-west past two cairns through Hause Gate and descend the mountain. Turn left on Borrowdale lane. Then enter Manesty Woods, and walk through Brandelhow along the water's edge to return to the car park.

More information

Craster and Dunstanburgh, Northumberland

Nowhere beats the Northumbrian coast in winter. You may be lucky enough to pick a day when the sun makes a guest appearance and the wind drops, or you'll have to wrap up in wet-weather gear as the wind howls and the elements seem to shake the cliffs and hardy villages to their foundations.

Either way, it all feels wonderfully remote and raw. Throw in the spectacular ruins of Dunstanburgh castle, perched defiantly on the edge of the North Sea, and a superb pub, and you've pretty much got the box set for the perfect winter walk.

Look out for eider ducks, over-wintering from the Arctic. They're known locally as Cuddy's Duck after Saint Cuthbert who is said to have cared for them on the Farne Islands where he lived as a hermit in the seventh century.

At the top of Embleton Bay stands the village of Low Newton By the Sea, whose cream whitewashed 18th-century fishermen's cottages are set like almshouses around a green and enclose the Ship Inn, one of Britain's great seaside pubs.

Start/finish Craster

Distance Six miles

Time Three hours

OS map Explorer 332 Alnwick and Amble


More information the route is available on

St Ives to Zennor, Cornwall

The Tate gallery has made St Ives a year-round destination for art lovers, but the wild north coast of Cornwall is truly glorious in winter, taking in half a dozen increasingly wild and exposed headlands between St Ives and Zennor. As you leave the Tate and Porthmeor and its hardy surfers behind, the first landmark is the grassy rise of Clodgy Point, offering views across St Ives Bay towards Godrevy Lighthouse.

The path rises and threads its way past the rocky outcrops of the Carracks, where you have a good chance of seeing grey seals hauled out. From here, things get strenuous but increasingly dramatic and, in winter, thrillingly elemental: I've often seen three kestrels hanging in a gale, as if synchronised, above the cliffs trying to spot a vole or a field mouse. The cliff above the deep bays either side of the Gala Rocks are superb vantage points to just sit and watch the surf smash into the coastline. At Zennor Head it's time to turn inland and agonise over beer (the Tinner's Arms) or cake (Zennor Backpackers). Or perhaps both.

Start St Ives

Finish Zennor

Distance 6.5 miles

Time Four hours

Directions Simply follow the coast path (waymarked with the Acorn sign) out of St Ives to Zennor Head, then turn in land along the country lane for the last mile.

OS map Explorer 201 Land's End

More information

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
Arts and Entertainment
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution