Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire
Length/time 2¼ miles, 1-2 hours
Start/finish Upper Birks car park
Refuel Aberfeldy Watermill or Birks Cinema
In August 1803, Dorothy Wordsworth left Cumbria with her better-known brother (and, initially, the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge) in a “jaunting car” (two-wheeled carriage) pulled by a “stout horse” for a six-week tour of Scotland.
As a single woman and travel-writing pioneer, she found the Highlands mysterious and foreign-feeling, unsettled in the aftermath of the battle of Culloden and in the midst of the Clearances. Her sharply observed travelogue, Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland, shows her both close to nature and to the women who cooked for them, offering a unique insight into the social conditions of the time.
Commenting on food (she ate heartily of a boiled sheep’s head with the hair singed off), the quality of homes and inns, meetings with foot travellers and numerous cattle droves, she also classified the roads: from Portnacroish to Ballachulish, tolerable; from Blair Atholl to Faskally, wretchedly bad.
Often walking, out of necessity or for pleasure, they arrived in Aberfeldy from Loch Tay to the west, taking a woodman’s track through a narrow glen and climbing steeply to the Falls of Moness. This is now a circular walk known as the Birks (birches in Scots) after The Birks o’Aberfeldie song lyric written by Robert Burns in 1787.
Following in Dorothy’s footsteps is particularly rewarding in autumn, when the well-laid path tunnels through a grand hall of coppery beech, climbing the rocky cleft through birch and rowan canopies pierced by needles of sunlight. White-water thrums alongside walkers of all ages and dispositions, stilling occasionally into peat-gold pools.
Lichen, moss, fern and fairytale fungi all thrive in this humidity, creating a botanist’s paradise. Views open out as the thundering waterfall is crossed on a high bridge, before the path descends the other side of the gorge.
This short walk can be extended a further seven miles to Kenmore on the Rob Roy Way. To walk in the spirit of Dorothy, sharpen your senses, be curious about your fellow walkers, and take a few notes. You might even offer them to your brother as the basis for a poem!
Linda Cracknell, author of Doubling Back: Ten Paths Trodden in Memory (Freight Books, £14.99)
Silchester Roman roam, Hampshire
Length/time 2 miles, 1½ hours
Start/finish Silchester Roman Town car park
Refuel Calleva Arms, Silchester village
So much of Britain is shaped by those sandal-clad invaders who turned up in 43AD. In their first hundred years here, the Romans constructed more than 10,000 miles of roads and built forts, temples and towns. Place names with “cester” and “chester” are giveaways for towns with Roman origins but the archaeology is often hard to spot. Silchester is different.
The town was founded by the Atrebates tribe in the first century BC, who called it Calleva and made it their tribal capital. When the Romans arrived, they built their own town on the same site, calling it Calleva Atrebatum – Calleva of the Atrebates. The town continued to flourish, even after the Romans left, in AD410, but then it was abandoned and never rebuilt.
The small, modern village of Silchester sits a mile up the road but it’s nothing compared to the regional majesty this place once boasted. Despite more than 18 years of cutting-edge archaeological excavations, it remains unclear why Calleva Atrebatum was forsaken. However, the Saxons’ loss is a modern adventurer’s gain: the preservation of the 2,000-year-old remains is outstanding.
This walk treads the full circuit of walls, taking in the original north and south town gates and the amphitheatre – one of the best preserved in the country.
Start at the Roman Town car park and follow the footpath near the information boards, keeping the trees and earthworks to the left. Turn left and left again on the track, then follow the walls and earthworks in a clockwise circuit. After the north gate you’ll meet a quiet road – turn left and find the amphitheatre. It was built outside the town walls around AD70.
Retrace your steps along the road and explore the 12th-century St Mary’s church, where you’ll spot distinctive terracotta Roman tiles reused in the walls. Then keep heading clockwise to complete the circle. On an autumn day this place feels serene. But for around 500 years it was a site of power and politics, a melting pot of cultures and a strategic stronghold. A place of many stories.
Mary-Ann Ochota, author of Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape
The Five Big Houses of Cushendun, County Antrim
Length/time 2 miles, under an hour
Start/finish Glenmona House car park, Cushendun
Refuel Mary McBride’s Bar
This walk reveals a slice of Northern Ireland’s past, through historic houses en route. Start at the white-porticoed Glenmona House, owned by Ronald McNeill (1861-1934), Lord Cushendun, Unionist MP for Kent, who campaigned against Home Rule and famously threw a book at Winston Churchill in the House of Commons. The house was rebuilt in 1923 to a design by Clough Williams-Ellis (best known for Portmeirion, Wales) after the IRA burned it down. Look out for the purpose-built activity centre for red squirrels in the grounds.
Follow a path to the rear of the house towards Glendun Lodge, once home to Ada McNeill, Lord Cushendun’s first cousin, a firm Republican and friend of Roger Casement (executed for treason in the Easter Rising in 1916). The path ends on Glendun Road. Turn right past the old gate lodge of Glenmona House – on the left a new dwelling sits on the corner between the Glendun and Torr Roads – once the site Cushendun House, destroyed in a fire in 1928. The story goes that on the morning after the blaze, a housemaid took a photo of the still-smoking ruins on a box brownie. In reproductions, you can clearly see a figure by the doorway. When Ada McNeill saw the photograph, she identified the figure as her grandfather, Edmund Alexander McNeill, who had died in the house in 1879.
With the sea to your right, follow Torr Road, keeping an eye out for bronze-age standing stones, and turn right to the sea opposite Beachview Cottages, passing the ruins of Carra Castle, site of the death of Shane O’Neill and his kinsmen in 1567. On the left is the late-Georgian Rockport Lodge (now privately owned), former family home to writer Moira O’Neill, author of Songs of the Glens of Antrim, and mother to novelist Molly Keane.
Turn right along the beach, or take one of the wooden walkways across the grasslands at the Warren. Cross the bridge over the River Dun, turn left past a sculpture, of Johann the goat, and follow the road past an apartment block, turning sharp right towards the caves.
The Cave House dates to 1832 and is accessed via red sandstone caves, just high and wide enough for a small car. The house is behind locked gates but is popular with Game of Thrones fans, since a number of scenes were filmed here. Walk back to Glenmona through the Cushendun conservation village. Lord Cushendun’s wife, Maud, was born in Penzance and the village square and cottages (now owned by the National Trust) were designed by Williams-Ellis between 1912 and 1926 in an Arts and Crafts-style to resemble a Cornish village.
Bernie McGill , author of The Watch House (Tinder Press, £8.99), set on Rathlin Island at the time of the Marconi wireless experiments
The Undercliff, Dorset and Devon border
Length/time 7 miles, 4 hours
Start/finish Seaton seafront/ Cobb harbour, Lyme Regis (return via 9A Stagecoach bus)
In the first few hours of Christmas Day 1839, William Critchard staggered home through a landscape of orchards, grazing animals and market gardens. He’d drunk a lot of ale at the ritual “burning of the faggot”, and when he got back he failed to notice the huge crack in the wall of his house.
But even he couldn’t sleep through the noise that occurred at 4am, and woke to find his house and garden were moving. He escaped but by the end of Christmas Day, the “Great Slip” had taken 8 million tonnes of rock and earth, including William’s cottage and the land surrounding it, in a landslide towards the sea.
The tumble of chalk and earth left behind is now a national nature reserve. Undisturbed, the flora has naturalised into a rare British jungle. Following the South West Coast Path east from Seaton it enters The Undercliff, a dripping green time warp into a land that feels ancient. Trees and climbers twist and grow in unrestricted movement, ferns and mosses carpet the ground and curtains of ivy fall and bar the way.
The path is the only way in or out but Ravine Pool at halfway makes a perfect place to stop for a picnic and soak up the atmosphere. Although it can be wet and slippery underfoot, it’s a remarkable path to walk in the early autumn, as the trees change colour, the rain drips gently through the ivy and you’re transported to another world. It’s hard to adjust to the light as you leave The Undercliff at Lyme Regis, but you’re in the perfect place to continue your walk through time with a spot of fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast.
Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path, the story of a couple’s 630-mile journey around the South West Coast Path (Michael Joseph, £14.99)
Cragg Vale, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire
Length/time 5½ miles, 3 hours
Start/finish The Dusty Miller, Mytholmroyd
Refuel The Robin Hood, Cragg Vale
Cragg Vale is a wooded valley leading up to the moors that inspired local lad Ted Hughes. It has a turbulent history: in the early 1800s it hosted many wool mills notorious for child labour, and more recently the local church warden was one Jimmy Savile.
It was also home to the Cragg Vale Coiners, a murderous gang who used the diverse landscape to pull off Britain’s largest forgery operation and whose leader, “King” David Hartley, was hanged in York in 1770. It is in their clog-wearing footsteps that this route follows, taking in beautiful woodlands, moors and ancient tracks.
Starting from the Dusty Miller pub, cross the River Calder, pass the Shoulder of Mutton and follow Cragg Road for half a mile or so. A right turn at Dauber Bridge leads into nature reserve Broadhead Clough, once known as Bell Hole. At any time of year, these managed woods are beautiful.
Follow the steep path into a world shorn of trees, where the wind whistles through the heather of Erringden Moor. To your left is the solitary Bell House, Hartley’s former home. Head towards it and be thankful for the new stretch of boardwalk that crosses a treacherous bog.
The flat gritstone of the Lumb Stone is the marker for a descent past Lower Lumb Lodge and through woods to emerge at the industrial ruins of Papermill Cottage. On the main road above is the cosy Robin Hood Inn (food served weekends only). Turn right off Cragg Road, north of the pub, into Sutcliffe Wood, at the top of which sit the impressive Robin Hood Rocks, including the overhanging stone called Long Tom, after a Boer war cannon.
From here look across the dense canopy to Coiners country. Heading through Hollin Hey Wood, cross the open hillside of Coneygarth, site of medieval rabbit-breeding warrens. The ancient packhorse track of Stake Lane leads to Hall Bank Lane, back into Mytholmroyd.
Ben Myers, author of The Gallows Pole (Bluemoose, £9.99) – a novel about the Cragg Vale Coiners, and winner of the Walter Scott Prize 2018 – and Under The Rock (Elliott & Thompson, £14.99)
Glasgow cemetery walk
Length/time 6.1 miles, 3 hours
Start/finish Cathcart cemetery/ Glasgow Necropolis
Refuel Laurieston Bar, Bridge Street
The best way to get to know Glasgow is to walk within it. The best way to walk within it is to go from graveyard to graveyard, a daunderamong the dead. Start at Cathcart cemetery. Here is a sorrowful mystery: “Mark Sheridan, comedian” it says on the stone, giving his date of death, at 52, as 15 January 1918. Sheridan was an English music hall star. That we all know I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside is because of the popularity of his recording. He shot himself in Kelvingrove Park while on tour, and was buried far from the side of the silvery sea.
Go north, through Govanhill, Glasgow’s Ellis Island, historically the first place immigrants settle – the latest wave of which are hipsters. Sustain yourself with a veggie samosa from Delicious Corner Bakers – the best in town, and just 75p.
Carry on up Cathcart Road to the United Presbyterian Church. Even derelict, this is one of the city’s great buildings, its weaponised melancholy the essence of Glaswegianism. Pay homage to its architect, Alexander “Greek” Thomson, at his grave in the Southern Necropolis, on nearby Caledonia Road. This atmospheric Victorian cemetery was the scene, in 1954, of a bizarre moment of hysteria when gangs of children, armed with stakes, hunted for the “Gorbals Vampire” – a creature rumoured to have iron teeth and a thirst for the blood of boys.
Raise a glass to Alexander Thomson in the Laurieston on Bridge Street, a pub unchanged since the 1960s. This is a fine place to contemplate one’s life and others’ death, thanks to the landlord’s practice of clipping obituaries and tacking them to the walls.
Refreshed, continue through the town centre to the Necropolis. Beautiful and grand, this hilltop cemetery has, at its peak, a statue of the Protestant reformer John Knox, glowering sternly southwards, back the way you have walked. Knox would not, one suspects, enjoy Findlay Napier’s song Young Goths In The Necropolis – but it is a touching tribute to the place and the youth tribes who wander here, in the “city of the dead”.
Peter Ross, author of The Passion of Harry Bingo (Sandstone, £7.10)
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