Start Chace End
Finish North Hill
Distance/time 9.3 miles/5 hours
Refuel The Red Lion, Malvern
Walking the entire length of the Malvern Hills in either direction – heading north from Chace End or south from North Hill – is not to be treated lightly. It’s nine miles of undulating ridge which can feel exposed even on the mildest of days and there’s a deal more “upping and downing” than you might expect. And, of course, it isn’t circular; you’ll need transport at each end. But you can break it into nice bite-sized chunks to suit, as there are plenty of escape routes back to the pubs of Worcestershire and Herefordshire for a warming midwinter dram. The Nags Head in Great Malvern is one of the most popular watering holes on the northern stretch; cask ales, open fires, all the essentials.
People have been enjoying these hills for recreation since William Langland immortalised the view as “a fair field full of folk” in his Middle English epic Piers Plowman. Now an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), that designation and Elgar’s sublime musical ad campaign for the hills means you’re unlikely to have them to yourself.
But that’s not such a bad thing. Ramblers GB, of which I’m delighted to be president, has themed its Festival of Winter Walks (runs till the end of January) around the idea of combating loneliness and promoting the mental health benefits of walking. Come with a friend, or maybe come and make some new ones along this journey through the heart of much mythologised and maligned “Middle England”.
• During the Festival of Winter Walks, Ramblers groups across the country are offering hundreds of free walks of varying lengths and difficulty levels. Find a winter walk near you at ramblers.org.uk/winter
Stuart Maconie, DJ, TV and radio presenter and author
Start & finish Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre
Distance/time 6 miles/3½ hours
Pack soup, cheese and a copy of How To See Nature by the Bard of Wenlock Edge and Guardian diarist Paul Evans. Start with tea at the Discovery Centre and check the recommended figure-of-eight route heading to and from Flounder’s Folly on Callow Hill.
The path leads over river meadows, down empty lanes, then steeply up through muddy woods to Wenlock Edge itself. Evans has seen polecats, even a pine marten up here, but all we see is a fox, and kestrels mewing as a cold front pushes in.
High on the ridge, we sip our soup under the old crab apple trees beside the 25-metre stone tower. The Welsh borders are spread to the west, the spires and fields of the Midland plains to the east. You can see Coalbrookdale, where the industrial revolution got going, and beyond it Birmingham. These are AE Housman’s “blue-remembered hills”, his “land of lost content”.
It’s an easy introduction to the unappreciated Shropshire uplands. More challenging would be to cross the heather moorland of the Long Mynd to the mysterious Stiperstones hill and its burial mounds, or follow the whole Shropshire Way.
We make do with a stroll back, picking mistletoe and looking forward to a pint and warm pud at the centre.
John Vidal, former Guardian environment editor and author of McLibel: Burger Culture on Trial
Nettleton Valley, Lincolnshire Wolds
Start & finish Nettleton
Distance/time 6 miles/3 hours
Refuel Salutation Inn, Nettleton or Blacksmith’s Arms, Rothwell
Winter is a good time for walking the Wolds: there is less livestock, fewer ramblers on the popular routes, and on clear days the vast blue skies and sharp winds give an exhilarating feel of escape.
This route takes you up among the hills and valleys of the north-west scarp. It is riddled with old ironstone mines, and industry washes up the scrubby slopes, leaving frequent and poignant scars.
Starting at Nettleton (on the A46 near Caistor, and also accessible by bus), walk south through the village and past the ochre-coloured ironstone church, picking up the Viking Way, which leads up a farm track, and over a stile to the east side of Nettleton Beck. This path takes you the length of Nettleton Valley, through boggy open fields and low, tussocky hills that hint at a greater wilderness.
In winter tear-shaped pools of shadow tinged with frost lie in the landslips that contour the valley, while the uplands are lined with rows of wind-shaped hawthorns. Halfway along the valley, the path does a dogleg through a gate and into a newish wood, in which lurk the sealed-off tunnels of the ironstone mines that were closed in 1968. Digging for ironstone was a dangerous business (the local press referred to the mine as “that gloomy cavern of disaster”) but created a community.
Nettleton still has the feel of a pit village. The Lincolnshire Wolds are a lesson in geology as destiny, with chalk and limestone, clay and sandstone determining the nature of adjacent communities and economies. At the end of the valley, turn right on the bridleway and right again on Normanby Road, a quiet road with old sheep-driving verges that runs north past Nettleton Top.
This is the highest area of the Wolds, with views of distant power stations that look like massive toy trains, the white bones of the Humber Bridge and – if you have timed the walk right – the stub of Lincoln Cathedral growing dark against an enormous orange twilight.
Coming down the hill, you pass a car park and nature reserve. Extend the walk by following a permissive path from here, around the top of Nettleton Hill, and then back to the village. Stay to the left of the field on the final descent to Nettleton, until you hit a line of hawthorns, and follow that down to the path behind the Old Parsonage. The right side of the field is boggy, and will have your boots.
There’s a choice of pubs. In Nettleton, the Salutation Inn is a friendly, straightforward pub that does a good steak; a few miles back on to the Wolds at Rothwell, the highly rated Blacksmith’s Arms has pigeon breast, whitebait and local meat on the menu, and an open fire.
Will Cohu, author of Out of the Woods and Nothing But Grass
North Norfolk coast
Distance/time 10 miles/4 hours
Refuel The Bell, Wiveton
A coastline of horizontal lines, olive-hued marshes and a grey-brown sea can seem underwhelming if you’re familiar with the bombast of coastal Cornwall or Pembrokeshire. But the north Norfolk coast has a subtle charm that seeps into you like creek-water at high tide.
Cley next the Sea is the epicentre of this increasingly gentrified coast but no matter how many visitors descend, you can find wild and empty space on the marshes beyond.
This walk takes you into the unpeopled uplands before joining the well-walked Norfolk coast path. Start from Wiveton village car park, handily placed for its upmarket pub, The Bell, by an old flint church. Take the quiet lane immediately left of the car park and head towards Wiveton Downs, turning right at the hilltop to take a path north-west towards the sea. A little bit of elevation goes a long way in such a flat landscape and there are sweeping coastal views. After crossing a B-road and following the wiggling path around mysterious Kettle Hill, cross the coast road and descend to the marsh-edge. Follow the Norfolk coast path eastwards to Blakeney’s pretty harbour and on to the popular loop around the marshes to Cley. The Blakeney Freshes – freshwater marshes on the right – are famed for barn owls and wading birds but the winter highlight are the geese. Great skeins of overwintering pink-footed and Brent geese commute between fields and marshes, their calls echoing, emissaries from the frozen north.
Refuel at Cley’s George Hotel, before turning right onto the coast road, taking the first left on a quiet lane back to Wiveton, and the warmth of its pub.
Patrick Barkham, author of Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago
Start & finish Beaumaris Green car park
Distance/time 9 miles/4½ hours
Refuel The Bull in Beaumaris
You begin with one of the finest views in Wales, looking across the Menai Strait towards Snowdonia. There may be bad weather brewing in the Devil’s Kitchen, but on a clear day, you can pick out individual crags and contours in the mountains. The island’s light is magical in the way it plays on stone and water, and the views shift and alter, minute by minute, hour by hour.
With the crumpled ramparts of Edward I’s castle to your left, follow the green until you see the coastal walk signs. These will guide you the whole way, but it’s worth checking the tide times as in a few places the highest tides can pinch at the edge of the trail. One of the joys of this walk is how you’re never far from restless water. Keep an eye out for dolphins and porpoises.
In Friars Bay, oystercatchers dabble in the mud, while beyond on the mainland are the curving summits of Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn. Following the shore will bring you to the stranded boulders of Lleiniog beach, and then to Penmon and its wondrous cluster of sacred and curious dwellings.
The dovecote is one of my favourites, with its octagonal cupola and stone staircase leading up into the air, where on spring days you can feel as if you’re standing among the swifts and swallows.
Across the way is Saint Seiriol’s Well. There is a vespers hush to it, the quiet solemnity of a place that has been holy since long before the Celtic saints, or even the druids. Bring your wishes, and whisper them quietly among the ancient stones. The water has, they say, healing powers.
Further on is the lighthouse of Trwyn Du, where you can look across at Ynys Seiriol (Puffin Island) – once topped by an anchorite’s hut – and beyond it to the Great Orme.
There is a sense of erosion and expansion here, islands splintering into islands, mountains lingering into promontories, light falling on to the sea and shattering into little eternities. It is no wonder this was a place favoured by saints and holy men and hermits.
You can return the way you came or cut inland. Either way, stop in at The Bull in Beaumaris, which has been welcoming footsore travellers for more than 400 years and offers delicious food, an open fire and a fine selection of Welsh ales.
Tristan Hughes. His latest novel is Hummingbird
Gower peninsula, Swansea
Start & finish Rhossili car park
Distance/time 7 miles, 4 hours
Refuel The Worm’s Head Hotel
It’s 1823 in the bowels of the Gower Peninsula’s Paviland Cave, and the Reverend William Buckley is making a finding that is beyond the realms of his beliefs. He has found a skeleton dyed red with ochre, dripping in necklaces made of seashells, and surrounded by ritually arranged bones, antlers, and ivory rods. He notes with interest, that the skull is missing.
Reverend Buckley, the first professor of geology at Oxford University, declared this the body of a Roman prostitute or a witch. The devout Christian could not conceive of any human remains surviving the Great Flood, and the headless Red Lady of Paviland, as Buckland named her, could scarcely dispute otherwise. What we now know is that “she” is in fact a “he”, that the remains are some 30,000 years old, dating from a period when the cave was 70 miles inland. Buckland had discovered what is still the oldest ceremonial burial site in western Europe.
Today the remains are housed in Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, but if you want to indulge your inner caveman, park at Rhossili town car park and follow the wild Gower Way to first pass the Worm’s Head peninsula, then the Fall and Mewslade bays, till you eventually round on a pathway leading directly into a steep gully. Be warned: the pear-shaped opening to Paviland can only safely be approached from below at low tide. It is a committing scramble over the cliff-top at other times, and you will need a safety rope and climbing experience.
Complete the loop back to Rhossili inland via the twin hamlets of Pilton and Pitton and enjoy a pint of Gower Gold in the Worm’s Head Hotel with an epic view across Rhossili Bay, or pre-ice age savannah if your imagination can stretch.
Will Millard, presenter of BBC Four’s Hidden Wales and author of The Old Man and the Sand Eel
Distance/time 5 miles/2 hours
Refuel Bull and Butcher, Turville
Poet and novelist Edward Thomas had a lovely phrase for the Chilterns: “wooded on their crests and in the hollows, not very high, but shapely”. A more mundane response might be that these finest of all beech woods are less than an hour’s drive up the M40 from London, so easy to get to from the capital – although it’s even better if, like me, you happen to live in the middle of them.
One of my favourite local walks begins at Stonor. Taking the Chiltern Way, you climb rapidly above the deer park, probably with a few red kites circling overhead in case you don’t make it to the pub. It was close by, on the Getty estate in 1989, that the species was reintroduced to England after their extinction.
From up here you not only have a fine view of Stonor House – well preserved since the Reformation because the Catholic family that has always owned it were marginalised and therefore unable to rebuild or improve – but also of the prehistoric stone circle that gives the house its name.
A brisk tramp brings you out at the picturesque village of Turville, familiar to viewers of The Vicar of Dibley and home to the quite excellent Bull And Butcher pub.
In my book The Green Road into the Trees, I travelled across England in search of, among other things, the perfect pie. But on the evidence of the pies here, I needn’t have bothered leaving home. They are all homemade and include that rare thing, a suet-based steak and kidney pudding. Heaven. And if you have any energy left after that, you can always run up the hill to the windmill where they filmed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Hugh Thomson, author of The Green Road into the Trees: a Walk through England
Start & finish Shoreham station
Distance/time 7 miles/4 hours
Refuel Ye Olde George, Shoreham
The chalk downs of the Darent Valley possess an austere beauty in winter, their grassy slopes revealing wide-angle views to the Thames estuary, London and the forested Greensand Ridge to the south. SSSIs indicate a precious biodiversity, and there’s a surprising sense of solitude on this figure-of-eight walk, which takes in a secret valley, beech woods, and a fabulous old village. And it starts from a train station, Shoreham, that’s just an hour from London Blackfriars.
Nearly opposite, a path sets off up to the valley’s eastern rim. Take the trail leading south to Fackenden Down through scattered yews, pools of darkness on the chalky slope, and soon passing between hedgerows festooned with winter berries: rose hips, spindle, buckthorn, dogwood and hawthorn. Climb steeply up the hillside, with views over Otford to Knole and Westerham. At the top, quiet Rowdow Lane brings you to a path heading east through the majestic beeches of Great Wood. This opens out on secluded Magpie Bottom, an enchanting rural landscape with a detached feel – not a quality you’d expect this close to the M25. Head north to Romney Street, a hamlet with views to glinting Canary Wharf, 20 miles distant.
Return west to Shoreham, recrossing the rewilded glories of the now steeper Magpie Bottom valley (nature has had its way with the golf course that closed here in 2015), then through fields to muddy Dunstall Farm. Late in the day, the hoots of owls might accompany your descent through magical Dunstall Woods back to the village.
Head past the station to the 16th-century Ye Olde George, opposite the flint church, where after an ale, it’s time for the shorter part two. Enter a softer world here, painted with dazzling luminosity by 19th-century rustic romanticist Samuel Palmer. A path along the River Darent takes you to Mill Lane and a route up to the western rim of the valley to stroll through Meenfield Woods before drinking in the vista from the open grassland above Filston Lane. With its oasthouses, water meadows, copses and hedgerows the scene here is like a children’s book illustration of the English countryside. Return to Shoreham on the lower hillside path.
Adam McCulloch, author of kentwalksnearlondon.com, where full details of this walk can be found
Burwash Weald, East Sussex
Start & finish The Wheel Inn, Burwash Weald
Distance/time 7 miles/4 hours
Refuel The Wheel Inn, Burwash Weald, or The Bear Inn, Burwash Village
Setting off from the Wheel Inn in Burwash Weald, this circular walk takes you eastwards along a ridge-top bridleway. Mossy banks are smattered with puffball mushrooms in winter, and to the side the land sweeps down into a mosaic of coppice-edged pastures originally cleared by the smallholders who drove their pigs down from the flanks of the South Downs to feast on acorns in autumn.
This seasonal migration created the distinctive Wealden small fields, scattered settlements and sunken, narrow droveways lined with banks that brim with wildflowers in summer.
Cross into an orchard of low-boughed, gnarly apple trees and walk past an excellent Heath Robinsonesque treehouse. At the end of the field, stop on the footbridge for a quick game of Pooh sticks (the nearby Ashdown Forest inspired Milne’s books) before coming up into the pretty village of Burwash. The Bear Inn is a good pit stop.
From Burwash, the walk heads downhill across more fields and past one of the many local ponds, relics of the region’s ironworking history, which shaped the landscape for 2,000 years. Iron was extracted from the sandstone and smelted in bloomery furnaces fuelled by wood the surrounding coppices.
Pass the impressive Bateman’s, once home to Rudyard Kipling, before circling a mill pond and entering a muddy valley, or gill. Clearing the boggy riverside and crossing several fields, the path climbs up into a larger area of ancient woodland, where you might spot deer.
The final leg crosses a small gill river with vivid rusty sandstone rocks, and the leads back up to your recharging point at the friendly Wheel Inn, which serves decent pub food and Harvey’s ale.
Lulah Ellender, author of Elisabeth’s Lists
Start & finish Beaminster
Distance/time 7 miles/3 hours
Refuel The Ollerod, Beaminster, or New Inn, Stoke Abbott
The small picture-perfect town of Beaminster lies in a bowl-shaped valley and at the head of the River Brit in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside in West Dorset. The inspiration for Thomas Hardy’s Emminster in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the town, six miles north of Bridport, was once a centre for Dorset’s wool industry.
The nearby Jurassic Coast, with its coastal path, is well-documented, but inland, walkers can discover enchanting, hidden country tracks and bridleways, including the Wessex Ridgeway Trail. Beaminster is the perfect starting point for many of them.
Head for The Square and on along Church Street and Shorts Lane to meet Stoke Road. This leads to the medieval hamstone village of Stoke Abbott, although footpaths can be substituted for the lane if you prefer.
The late countryside expert and writer Ralph Wightman described the village as “a beautiful place of deep lanes, orchards and old houses with a church of quiet charm”, and it still retains customs from long ago such as an early bell tolled 100 times to waken the farming community.
The weather in Stoke Abbott, which nestles under Waddon Hill – an early iron-age fort with remains that have thrown up various “treasures” now to be found in the Bridport Museum – seems always sunny.
Passing Anchor Cottage, an attractive holloway ascends the hill’s steep flanks. From the ridge of its summit, there are panoramic views across the valley to the sea in the south, to the pyramid form of Gerrard’s Hill in the east and west over the undulating landscape to the beech woods of Lewesdon Hill. This is another iron age hillfort and the highest point in Dorset, at 279 metres.
Dip down to the Wessex Ridgeway, with a quarry to the left, and on to Chart Knolle Farmhouse, where a footpath cuts back to the village and the New Inn, which will welcome you with a mouth-watering Dorset ploughman’s and a quaff of local cider.
Tanya Bruce-Lockhart, director of the Bridport Literary Festival
The Mendips, Somerset
Start & finish Deerleap carpark
Distance/time 6½ miles/ 3½hours
Refuel Queen Victoria Inn, Priddy
From the southern escarpment of the Mendip Hills, the ground falls away and the Somerset Levels open out below, with Glastonbury Tor peeping out like a magical island in the winter mist.
No wonder so many of our ancestors chose to build their hillforts and sacred sites here. Starting at Deerleap car park the walk heads down into the depths of Ebbor Gorge, wooded and much more secretive than its cousin at Cheddar. The chasm was created when a huge cavern collapsed 200,000 years ago. Take time to explore the many palaeolithic caves that can be found dotted around the higher slopes. Climb back out to follow the well-signed Monarch’s Way to Fair Lady Well, the site of Roman lead mines. The lead was used for all sorts of things, including aqueduct piping, pewter bowls, coffins and guttering for villas.
The workings have now flooded to become a series of wetland ponds rich with wildlife. A you head higher, the Priddy Nine Barrows stand proud upon North Hill. This line of huge grave mounds date from the bronze age and offer superb views.
You’re close to Priddy village now, home of the Queen Victoria Inn, with real ales and roaring fires. There are several options for the short return leg, but the easiest is along Pelting Drove to Deerleap, enjoying the best sundowner view in Somerset.
Daniel Start is author of the Wild Guide to South West England
Bodmin Moor, Cornwall
Start & finish Hurlers car park, Minions village
Distance/time 3½ miles/1½ hours
Refuel The Cheesewring Hotel or Minions tea rooms
What better time of year for a bracing, cobweb-clearing walk across the moors? Wrap up tight, enjoy the crunch of frost underfoot and revel in the sweeping views towards Plymouth Sound and Dartmoor. Writer Wilkie Collins wrote of the “majestic loneliness” of Bodmin Moor when he visited in 1850, and at first glance this does seem a desolate, inhospitable landscape. But look closely and the moor is a script waiting to be read.
This short walk reveals over five millennia of human activity in one of the UK’s few remaining wild places.
A few steps from the car park is a group of three stone circles. The best-preserved, the Hurlers, dates back at least 3,000 years. Walk into the middle of this circle of upright stones, which according to legend are local people turned to stone for playing sport on the Sabbath. Just beyond, the distinctive bumps and hollows that rise and fall across the moor are evidence of later human activity – mining. The hollows are the pits, dug by hand, and the bumps are the piles of spoil thrown up beside them. Natural streams washed the copper and tin from the ore and made the fortunes of the lucky ones.
At the walk’s halfway point is a strange rock formation known as the Cheesewring. Up close it looks like a giant game of Jenga. More local folklore wants us to believe it’s the result of a giants’ rock-throwing contest. But this is a natural geological phenomenon – the result of millions of years of wind, rain, frost and snow eroding the surrounding softer rocks to leave a curious shape on the horizon which John Betjeman once described as like “giant nodding mushrooms”.
Pass beyond the Cheesewring to squeeze through a gap that looks more like it belongs in Monument Valley than Cornwall and you’ll stand before the towering edifice of an old granite quarry. Now deserted, except for the noisy ravens circling overhead, it supplied the stone for Tower Bridge, the Albert Memorial and the docks in Kolkata.
• Full walk route at discoveringbritain.org
Caroline Millar, project manager, Discovering Britain
Forest of Bowland, Lancashire
Start & finish Wray village car park at Bridge Farm House Tearooms
Distance/time 10 miles/5 hours
Refuel Bridge House Farm Tearooms or George and Dragon, Wray
Strolling along Harterbeck beside the Roeburn rushing over rocks below its wooded cliff, it’s hard to imagine that the Wray flood of 1967 destroyed stone cottages in the village. Higher, beyond the trees, strike left at Alcock’s Farm for a footbridge over Hunts Gill Beck and emerge on Helks Brow, turning right between its high hedgerows to gain height. Cross the first cattle grid and you’re in a different world.
Hedgerows are replaced by stone walls. Moorland expands to the south. Up here it’s silent and empty – where I come to clear my head. Behind you, the Lake District hills are drawn blue on the horizon around to the Howgills in the north; in the north-east the Three Peaks stand proud above the intricate busyness of distant fields and farms and roads. Ahead is a mass of high fells.
Much of Bowland is moorland and, although open access, is not easy walking, as names like Thick Sod Holes and Sunken Delves suggest. But don’t expect a sighting of the emblematic bird of this AONB, the hen harrier: the moors are not managed for their benefit, but for grouse. At the Summersgill sign, drop down beside wild woodland becks and waterfalls to cross the young Hindburn at Stairend Bridge.
After Ivah hamlet and Lowgill village, cross Croasdale Beck where a sharp right behind Mill Bridge Barn will take you to the tranquillity of the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd. Then it’s uphill again and on to Fairheath Road as far as Little Plantation for the footpath in front of Thimble Hall across to Four Score Acres and down to Millhouses. Fifty metres up Trinket Lane, a stone stile on your left leads you through a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), over a footbridge and on to Hindburn Bridge. Cross the road for a concessionary path back to Wray. The confluence of Roeburn and Hindburn lies behind the tearoom’s willow labyrinth.
Jane Routh, poet and author of Falling into Place about this area
Howardian Hills, North Yorkshire
Start & finish Skewsby
Distance/time 9½ miles (short cuts available)/4½ hours
Refuel Park Café, Hovingham Bakery and Rolling Pin Cafe
This walk starts with a bit of a mystery. On a lane near the village of Skewsby, about 12 miles north of York, a strange turf maze sits on a broad grassy verge. It’s not one of those find-your-way-out hedge mazes, rather a geometric design cut into the turf. Some say that the so-called City of Troy maze is ancient, even pre-Roman; others think a Victorian vicar made it from a design he spotted in a newspaper. No one really knows.
If you’re starting here – this walk is circular, so it could also begin in the villages of Coulton or Hovingham – park nearby and take the footpath down the side of the adjacent field, heading roughly north-east. At the end of the field bear left down a holloway that passes through lovely woods and copses.
Continue north with Maidensworth Wood on your left before turning right through a gate and heading roughly east-north-east, passing through the hamlet of Coulton and then Horse Coppice, an ancient oak woodland, all the way to the pretty village of Hovingham.
There’s a good cafe here, the Park, with newspapers on stripped wooden tables, friendly service and good coffee. Further into the village there’s the Cricketer’s bar in the Worsley Arms Hotel serving York ham and pints, plus the Hovingham Bakery and Rolling Pin cafe (fine mince pies) by the stream. This is a good spot to sit out in good weather, and the start of an alternative loop around the village, taking in views of Hovingham Hall, a Palladian mansion dating back to the 18th century.
Retrace your steps through Horse Coppice before cutting away to your left and reaching a series of lanes – Scackleton, Grange and Green – that return you to the starting point.
Kevin Rushby, Guardian travel writer
Druridge Bay Country Park, Northumberland
Start & finish Druridge Bay Country Park
Distance/time 8.4 miles/3½ hours
Refuel The Drift Café, Cresswell
Visitors to Northumberland usually head for the north of the county, for the castles and wild scenery of Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh, but my favourite winter walk is further south, along the wide sweep of Druridge Bay with Coquet Island at its northernmost tip. I like it best on clear, icy mornings when every reed and blade of grass is covered in frost, and the light is pink and grey.
Leave your car at Druridge Bay Country Park and take the footpath towards the beach. This crosses another track, which leads south to the subsidence pools managed by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. A bank of dunes separates the track from the beach. The pools will be to your right, hidden by trees and bushes, but if you follow the birders with their binoculars and telescopes to the hides that look out over the water, you will have good views of the waterfowl.
Beyond the pools the track hits a road that leads from the inland village of Widdrington to Cresswell. The road has no pavement, so it’s more pleasant to cross the dunes to the beach and continue south along that. The shore is dramatic in stormy weather when the breakers roll in but stunning too in low winter sunshine, when the light catches the pale sanderling, little wading birds that scurry along the tideline like mechanical toys.
By the public carpark at Cresswell Boat Club is the Drift Café. This is dog-friendly and fabulous, frequented by locals and famous for its home baking and breakfasts. After a stop here, you’ll be ready for the walk back along the beach to the Country Park.
Ann Cleeves, author of the Vera Stanhope crime novel series
Solway Firth, Cumbria
Start & finish Drumburgh
Distance/time 5¾ miles/3 hours
Refuel Highland Laddie Inn, Glasson
Many of those who attempt to walk the entire Hadrian’s Wall national trail will be familiar with the Solway Firth, which divides England from Scotland. Few will explore beyond this well-trodden pathway, yet this AONB, with its mix of sea, sand, wildlife reserves and historic monuments, really packs in all the ingredients for a prime winter wander.
Starting in the small hamlet of Drumburgh – home to a “castle” (now a private dwelling) built in 1307 from stone taken from adjacent Hadrian’s Wall – this is a cracking circular stroll.
Following the path of the same name as the famous Roman partition, head south-west, along the trackbed of a former steam railway line. Leaving the national trail at the crossroads, continue straight on to skirt the Drumburgh Moss nature reserve, home to wetland plants such as sphagnum moss and sundew, as well as varied bird life including red grouse, short-eared owl, reed bunting and curlew.
Carry on to reach a road, beyond which is the meandering River Wampool, which is home to wild otters – look for pawprints in the mud. Turn right and follow the minor road before turning right twice more to end up on Mill Lane heading towards Glasson and the friendly Highland Laddie Inn, a warming place to stop for a pint or plate of hot food.
Beyond Glasson, at the main road you can turn right to head back to Drumburgh, but better to first continue straight on along the rough path to Raven Bank, for views over the Solway Firth itself.
Phoebe Smith, author of the Wilderness Cookbook
Red Tarn, Lake District
Start & finish Glenridding
Distance/time 6-7 miles/4-5 hours
Refuel Travellers Rest
This a circular route up to the iconic Red Tarn, one of only a few ancient glacial tarns in England. Red Tarn is not only stunningly beautiful, enclosed at 718 metres by Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, but is nationally significant because of the schelly fish, an ancient species that has survived in just four tarns in the Lake District.
On the shores of the tarn you will be surrounded by landscape features carved out over thousands of years by ice age glaciers. It’s a simple route with stunning scenery.
The walk starts and finishes in the village of Glenridding – where there are shops, cafes, pubs and ample parking – on the shores of Ullswater. It’s a short walk past the Glenridding campsite to the base of Mires Beck, where the path then runs parallel up into the fells alongside the stream and banks right onto Birkhouse Moor.
After this steep start, the path levels off, following what is affectionately known as the Great Wall of Glenridding – it’s several miles long and stretches deep into the fells.
The Hole in the Wall is the next stop where the wonderful Helvellyn crags, Swirral and Striding Edge, will become visible. Bear right as the path splits and you’ll be at the Red Tarn in less than 10 minutes, and can stop for a packed lunch.
The journey down is simple: zig-zagging down the path beside Red Tarn Beck, heading through the small gate over the river and down Greenside Road, you will be back in the village in two hours or so, and heading into the Travellers Rest, a low-beamed and panelled two-bar pub that serves excellent food and local ales.
Isaac Johnston, Glenridding ranger, the John Muir Trust
Coire Loch, Glen Affric, Highlands
Start & finish Dog Falls car park
Distance/time 4 miles/2 hours
Refuel The Slater’s Arms, Cannich
Glen Affric’s beauty lies in its lochs and its ancient Caledonian pine forest, one of the most important and biologically diverse forest ecosystems in the UK.
The Coire Loch walk is a circuit over undulating but not challenging ground. Take the A831 from the delightful village of Beauly and travel up the increasingly scenic Strathglass, which hugs the Beauly river, becomes the Glass at the confluence of the River Farrar, and winds on up the valley to the crossroads village of Cannich. The entrance to Glen Affric lies 1¼ miles further upstream at the imposing hydro power station of Fasnakyle.
The road is single track and winds uphill through delicate groves of downy birch. The glen suddenly opens out and grand vistas of ancient pines welcome you to what has been a national nature reserve for many decades.
Follow the marked trail downstream from Dog Falls car park. The River Affric plunges, brandy wine brown, through the dark rock walls of a narrow gorge where dippers and grey wagtails nest, over the falls in a surge of foam. Cross the footbridge and enter the forest.
Coire Loch is a small oval of dark water surrounded by a grove of twisted and gnarled “granny” pines with rounded crowns. Climb the stepped path to a fine old sessile oak and sit for a few minutes. Little grebes work the bottle sedges on the loch edge and, in spring, four species of dragonfly, including the spectacular golden-ringed, flicker over marsh with three species of sphagnum moss.
As you descend to the loch edge, watch out for Scottish crossbills working the pine cones in the crowns, and troops of siskins flooding noisily through. Here, too, are rare and enchanting crested tits, which belong to the forest ecosystem, and if you are lucky you might see a pine marten or a roe deer.
After a while the trail joins a track through more ancient forest and leads you back to the Dog Falls car park.
John Lister-Kaye, founder-director of the Aigas Field Centre near Beauly. His latest book is The Dun Cow Rib, a Very Natural Childhood
Glen Rosa circuit, Isle of Arran
Start Arran Heritage Museum
Finish Isle of Arran Brewery
Distance/time 5.3 miles/3 hours
Refuel Isle of Arran Brewery
The Isle of Arran has it all – a proper sense of escape, yet easy-enough access from Glasgow by train and the 55-minute ferry journey to make it a perfectly manageable day trip. The Highland Boundary Fault, which divides Lowlands from Highlands, slices across the island, giving it distinct landscapes in miniaturised form.
For the time-pushed and scenery-starved, the delightful Glen Rosa circuit lies within the National Scenic Area that covers the northern, or Highland, half of the island.
It gives the walker a sense of remoteness and views of Arran’s craggy Corbetts (mountains between 2,500 and 3,000 feet; Munros are over 3,000 feet). For this lower-level option, take the signposted and well-maintained route from the Arran Heritage Museum north of Brodick.
This trail leads through a forest path to the U-shaped Glen Rosa, along Glenrosa Water and into the glen, with panoramic views back to Brodick Bay and ahead to Beinn Nuis. If you’re feeling bold, there are some inviting pools to take a dip in.
Return by the path on the northern side of Glenrosa Water, where you’ll end with the perfect reward – a refreshing Isle of Arran beer from the island’s very own brewery.
Richard Goslan, Glasgow-based writer
The Falls of Falloch, Loch Lomond
Start & finish The Drovers Inn, Inverarnan
Distance/time 2¼ miles/1 hour
On a gorgeous December day, pearl sky turning gold in the morning sun, I set off from the Drovers. This famous inn, a landmark of the West Highland Way, is packed with taxidermied animals: it somehow manages to be totally authentic and kitsch at the same time.
Snow glittering on the hills is reflected in the mirror-shard surface of nearby Loch Lomond. I am heading north, walking beside the A82 on paths and grass verges. I have in my pack a flask of coffee and a copy of Dorothy Wordsworth’s Recollections of a Tour Made In Scotland. On 12 September 1803, she and her brother William passed this way. They heard, she wrote, “the sound of torrents ascending out of the long hollow glen”.
That thrilling noise was the Falls Of Falloch. Just off the A82 and well-signposted, the waterfall is beautiful. A great gush of white water drops 10 metres into a dark pool from which a tree trunk juts like the antler of some prehistoric stag. A viewing platform bears William Wordsworth’s celebrated remark that they should call this place “the Vale of Awful Sound”.
During their Scottish adventure, the Wordsworths enjoyed such delicacies as “boiled sheep’s head – with the hair singed off”. Returning to the Drovers, you can do better. Scotch broth followed by mince and tatties is the lunch of traditionalists. The walk to the falls and back probably isn’t long enough to justify adding apple crumble but what the heck – it is the Christmas holidays.
Peter Ross, author of The Passion of Harry Bingo: Further Dispatches from Unreported Scotland
Glenarm Braes, County Antrim
Start Feystown, Glenarm
Finish Glenarm village
Distance/time 4 miles/1½ hours
Refuel Glenarm Castle tea rooms
At only 3pm the shadows of 12-metre tall trees stretch for over 50 metres. I head for where symbols on the map indicate steep inclines, hoping for satisfying walking and good views. I get both. The play of light and shadow on the distant Scottish headlands is easily readable but the low winter sun leaves Glenarm valley in shadow.
Hard things – the roads, the rock walls – have a bright wet sheen from the last shower while soft things – sheep, the fields – have been left dark and weighty. At this time of year bales of silage are stacked high and the ferns have lain down and turned copper brown. Christmas trees in front windows are huge and will often have a view of where they grew up.
You can have a fine, easy walk sticking to the roads. There is little traffic and I would not want to have missed the farmer’s quad with three border collies on the back enjoying the ride. You can also leave the road and hike to Black Hill following a waymarked trail between banks of gorse. Starlings winter here and a murmuration briefly forms overhead before dispersing again. The sinking light has turned their thoughts to roosting, and mine too.
The Gaelic word brae appears in many glen place names and means a steep way. I follow the Town Brae Road to Glenarm village. It has a couple of pubs, the Coast Road Inn and the Bridge End Tavern, but if you wish to eat, go to the tea rooms by Glenarm Castle.
Garrett Carr, author of The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border
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