Explorers and writers share their favourite winter walks in the UK

Harsh winter weather needn't mean we retreat indoors — and as these authors and explorers prove, you don't have to venture far to experience true adventure. Here, they reveal their favourite UK landscapes for bracing winter walks.

By Sarah Barrell
Published 12 Dec 2020, 08:00 GMT, Updated 16 Dec 2020, 14:23 GMT
Bolton Abbey in the Yorkshire Dales is a favourite destination for writer Jane Harvey.

Bolton Abbey in the Yorkshire Dales is a favourite destination for writer Jane Harvey.

Photograph by Alamy

1. Circumnavigating Sizewell, in Suffolk

Recommended by Melissa Harrison

Suffolk's seaside resorts — Southwold, Aldeburgh, Walberswick — are very tasteful, but I love Sizewell, where pretty fishing boats contrast with the looming bulk of the nuclear power station. From the car park and cafe, head south along the cliff path, passing the Second World War pillboxes, sea erosion defences and the Ogilvie family’s estate to find nothing but windswept, empty shore. Eventually you’ll reach the strange Victorian confection of Thorpeness, with its boating mere and ‘house in the clouds’; you can either walk back along the shoreline or take the marked footpath across the fields. If the proposed new power station is built, the shore here will be devastated, so enjoy it while you can. 

Melissa Harrison's latest book The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary is published by Faber & Faber, RRP £14.99.

Read: Six inspiring travel books for your Christmas wishlist

2. Tackling ‘The Struggle’ in Somerset

Recommended by Christopher Somerville

Most walks from our village start with Rumble. Some know it as Rumble Batch, or The Struggle. It’s a steep hillside lane, a good upwards puff, with red rubble and lateral ribs of slippery limestone underfoot to trip you forward and make you skid. Halfway up there’s an old stone-walled pond in the corner of a field where wagtails and blackbirds come to bathe. And when you reach the top of Rumble, you get your reward — a view that never fails to delight, out across the Somerset Levels from Glastonbury Tor to the far blue hills of Exmoor.

Christopher Somerville is walking correspondent for The Times. His latest book, Ships of HeavenThe Private Life of Britain’s Cathedrals, is published by Doubleday, RRP £9.99.

For author Christopher Somerville, a view that never fails to delight is looking out across the Somerset Levels from Glastonbury Tor towards the far blue hills of Exmoor.

Photograph by Alamy

3. Stepping back 5,000 years in Orkney

Recommended by Mark Rowe

A clear winter’s day in Orkney is a clear winter’s day like no other. The sun briefly appears each day, skimming low over the island before dipping towards the Bay of Skaill. It’s hauntingly beautiful, nowhere more so than along a thin neck of land between the Loch of Harray and the Loch Stenness. Here, in a natural amphitheatre, lies an extraordinarily dense landscape of ritual prehistoric sites. A walk around these monuments, clustered within a two-mile stretch, takes only a couple of hours but takes you back 5,000 years. You first approach the Ring of Brodgar, a circle of 36 monoliths likened to an assemblage of ancient druids. It’s thought to have been a convening place for feasts and commemorations of the dead. Beyond here is the Ness of Brodgar, a huge complex still being excavated that’s at least 5,000 years old. Finally, you reach the Standing Stones of Stenness, one of the earliest stone circles in Britain, comprising four stones, 13ft in height. At this time of year, your only companion, apart from these stones, is likely to be a curlew gliding in an arc over the bone-cold fields.

Mark Rowe is author of Orkney, published by Bradt Travel Guides, RRP: £15.99.

4. Mapping limitless adventures, right on your doorstep

Recommended by Alastair Humphreys

In normal years my recommendation for a winter walk would be a family trek up somewhere like Yorkshire’s Pen-y-ghent — with turkey sandwiches, tantrums and treats, and the blustery wind blasting away the Christmas torpor. But this isn’t a normal year. Despite having long championed short, simple micro-adventures, 2020 has forced me to roam closer to home than ever before. I began by running every street fanning out from my front door, inspiring a project to try to make adventure, wildness, nature and solitude more accessible to everyone, whoever they are and wherever they live. I’m investigating whether one single map, centred on my home, holds enough adventure for me, exploring every grid square with more curiosity than ever before. So far, I’ve been surprised, excited and delighted by the newness I’ve discovered. Therefore, my recommendation for this year’s winter walk is simply this: to head out of your own front door wherever you live. Become an explorer: go somewhere you’ve never been before and be delighted by what you find. 

Explorer Alastair Humphreys pioneered the concept of ‘micro-adventures’. Read more about his latest project, A Single Map is Enough.

5. Discovering the North Downs, from Pewley Down to St Martha-on-the-Hill, Surrey

Recommended by Jini Reddy

I live in south west London, so Surrey is on my doorstep. I’ve begun to explore the North Downs and recently walked from Pewley Down, outside Guildford, along the North Downs Way to the church of St Martha-on-the-Hill. It’s an easy walk, initially taking you through pretty fields — although the high, view-obscuring hedge on either side of the track here might be a bit of a dampener — and then it’s into a wooded area and up to a gorgeous suntrap in the churchyard, overlooking the hills. St Martha-on-the-Hill is the perfect spot for a picnic. Closer to home, though, my regular lockdown go-to is a walk or cycle ride through the Fishponds Nature Reserve, close to Wimbledon, along the Beverly Brook and up to Wimbledon Common. Here, I pause to sit on a bench by the pine tree circle, close to a natural spring, sipping from a flask of tea and enjoying the peace.

Jini Reddy is author of Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape, published by Bloomsbury Books. RRP: £16.99.

Author Jini Reddy has been busy exploring the North Downs, and suggests St Martha-on-the-Hill for a picnic. 

Photograph by Alamy

6. Walking rings around London

Recommended by Daniel Raven-Ellison

I love exploring the woodlands of Hampshire's Hanger's Way and strolling along the spectacular beach at Sandwood Bay in the remote Highlands of Scotland, but I'm also fortunate to live beside one of Britain's best walks: the Capital Ring. In terms of its people, culture, heritage and ecology, this giant loop around London, a National Park City (the capital became the world’s first National Park City in 2019 to promote, protect and expand its plentiful greenspaces), might just be the country's most diverse walk. I completed all 78 miles of the route in just four days, but the long-distance route is split into 15 easy-to-walk sections, so is accessible for most walkers. 

Dan Raven-Ellison is a National Geographic Explorer and founder of Slow Ways, a project to create a network of walking routes that connect all of Great Britain's towns and cities.

Read: How a new people-powered hiking network could transform travel in the UK

7. A family amble from Bolton Abbey to the Strid and back, Yorkshire

Recommended by Jane Harvey

I spent many a childhood day out at Bolton Abbey and it still holds that magic and wonder with stunning views appearing around every corner and plenty of different paths to discover. My favourite route is from the abbey along the river to the rushing waters of the roaring Strid. Continuing past this whisks you away from the crowds to cross at the viaduct bridge and back through the lesser explored part of Strid Wood on the far side. You can then treat yourself to a hot chocolate before heading home; from the Cavendish Pavilion, the cafe near entrance to Strid Woods by the river (currently takeaway only).

Jane Harvey is a Yorkshire-based writer for Treasure Trails, local UK guides to family outdoors adventures. 

8. Walking the border, Northern Ireland

Recommended by Garrett Carr

I prefer beaches in winter time, when I’m not going to be distracted by golden sands or people frolicking about. This time of year, the waves crash hard against the five-mile length of Benone Strand, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. I like the austerity of this beach. Wide and flat, it can feel like you're walking along an airstrip, and planes have been known to land here. Wind rushes at you solidly from the sea, you’re the first thing to interrupt it in a hundred miles. Between wind and waves, this can be a loud beach — a constant roar of Atlantic white noise. If you start walking from the National Trust property at Downhill, the sea is on your right and the distant fields ahead are in the Irish Republic on the other side of the border, where it runs through Lough Foyle. Go all the way to the end and you’ll have earned whatever you want from the bar and restaurant next to the ferry port.

Garrett Carr is author of The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland's Border, published by Faber & Faber, £13.99.

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