Winter walking has a charm and beauty all of its own with quiet trails and crisp air.
Barton Mathews recommends his five best hikes to enjoy this season…
1. Sycamore Gap, Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland
Start: Housesteads Visitor Centre, OS Grid Ref: NY793684
8.3km. 3 hours. Moderate.
Enjoy magnificent views of Hadrian’s Wall and the ‘Robin Hood Tree’ as you wander through ancient Northumberland wilderness. This is a superb hike that encompasses both rich history and sweeping vistas. A short stroll first takes you to a remarkably intact Roman Fort, especially considering it’s approaching its 1900th year since construction. Climbing through woodland, the landscape suddenly opens up to reveal rolling hills with Hadrian’s Wall snaking its way into the horizon. The path eventually drops steeply into a gully, where a sycamore tree towers in the dramatic dip. This film location from ‘Prince of Thieves’ makes a perfect spot for lunch, perhaps with your own band of merry men and women. Follow the Roman Wall Path and then the Military Way to complete the circle and round off a fine winter walk.
2. White Cliffs of Dover, Kent
Start: Gateway Visitor Centre, Grid Ref: TR336422
6.4km. 2 hours. Easy.
Pick a frosty morning to gain a new perspective on this iconic landmark. A symbol of hope and freedom for centuries, start your walk just east of Dover and head through chalky grassland, long grazed by visiting Exmoor ponies. Follow the rough path along the clifftops whilst admiring the formidable coastline where, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see right across the 21 miles of the Channel to France. South Foreland Lighthouse makes for a lovely half-way-house and is one of the first places to catch the morning sun. On your return make sure to stop for an insightful guided tour inside Fan Bay Deep Shelter. These atmospheric WWII tunnels make you realise how lucky we all are to be able to enjoy such beautiful walks in peace.
3. Borger Dalr, Borrowdale, Lake District
Start: Grange in Borrowdale, Grid Ref: NY253174
6.4km. 3 hours. Moderate.
With a name that could be taken straight from Middle Earth, Borger Dalr (Norse for Valley of the Fort) is a heady combination of history and stunning views. The legendary writer and fellwalker Alfred Wainwright described the area as the “finest square mile in Lakeland” and it’s hard to disagree. Start with some serenity at Peace How. This small summit was purchased for the benefit of the nation in 1917 as a place where returning soldiers could find tranquillity. Continue to Dalt Quarry and marvel at the colours striping the rocks of this recently developed wetland habitat. Take a deep breath and tackle the final ascent to Castle Crag, the site of a hill fort over 2,000 years old. The commanding vista that unveils in front of you is the perfect lookout to watch the changing of the seasons, and is a fitting highlight to an excellent walk.
4. Loch Morlich Circular, Cairngorms National Park
Start: Loch Morlich Car Park, Grid Ref: NH972098
5.7km. 2 hours. Easy
Step into a storybook with this popular circular walk which captures the picturesque and accessible Loch Morlich from all angles. Again, getting up early is well worth the effort with morning mists often hanging like shrouds over the water before the breeze picks up. The Loch is especially beautiful in winter when the snow-clad northern Cairngorms provide a striking backdrop to your stroll. The flat track winds through forest before emerging onto numerous beaches fringing the water. These spots provide ideal photo opportunities. Don’t miss the large sandy area just before the sailing building for a classic view across the Loch to Cairn Gorm and Braeriach.
5. Llyn Crafnant, Snowdonia
Start: Llyn Crafnant Car Park, Grid Ref: SH756618
4.0km. 1.5 hours. Easy
Llyn Crafnant is a jewel of a lake that’s nestled snugly in the Gwydir Forest in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, North Wales. Crafnant takes its name from ‘craf’, an old Welsh word for garlic, and ‘nant’, a stream or valley. As you stroll through the ancient woodland later in the year, these wild garlic aromas tease in the wind. As a winter treat, it’s best walked on a clear afternoon, where you can take time to enjoy the sunset silhouetting a profile of crags at the head of the valley, whilst looking out across the water. If you fancy stretching your legs further, head over the wooded hill into the next valley to reach Llyn Geirionydd. The lakeside path may be overgrown with tree roots but it is likewise full of charm.