Okehampton to Belstone, Devon
Length 10½ miles
Time 5 hours
Start/finish Okehampton Camp/Belstone
Google Maps Start/Finish
Grade Moderate (difficult in bad weather)
Refuel The Tors Inn, Belstone
Just a short way past the military camp north of Okehampton, the old country road passes between two of west Devon’s most walkable high places. Either can be attacked on its own as a two-to-three-hour stroll with a picnic, but for a good five-to-six-hour pre-lunch winter hike, I suggest doing both.
From Okehampton Camp, head in a slightly south-westerly direction to begin the long, slow hike up to Dartmoor’s second-highest summit, Yes Tor. This actually feels more prominent than High Willhays, which is your next target and is, at 2,039 feet (621m), the highest point on Dartmoor – and thus the highest point in the land south of the Brecon Beacons.
I live in South Devon and am more used to the photogenic but popular tors on my side of the moor (Haytor, Hound Tor, etc). The draw of the north of the county is that it feels more expansive and the skies are somehow bigger – and walkers are spread out, instead of congregating on rocks to do selfies or parkour.
From High Willhays, head down to the country road and curve round towards the stegosaurus-like granite outcrops of Higher Tor and Belstone Tor, with the rushing River Taw below you on the right.
Scramble slowly around the tors for half an hour to enjoy views back over Okehampton, before heading down past the Nine Stones Circle to arrive at The Tors Inn, a quiet and cosy little pub in Belstone that does a range of pies (stilton and leek is delish!), pasties with chips, ploughman’s lunches, baguettes and a full roast on Sundays. It also has rooms from £40pp per night.
• Chris Moss, writer, based in Totnes
Frogham to Fritham, Hampshire
Length 11 miles return
Time 3½ to 4 hours, excluding time spent at the pub
Start/finish Abbots Well Car Park, Abbots Well Road, Frogham, near Fordingbridge, New Forest
Refuel Royal Oak, Fritham
Frogham to Fritham and back: even if you forget the pub, the music of the place names is alluring. The view at the start of the walk stretches for miles over rough, dark country: undulating heath, patches of rusty bracken, wooded valleys; not a house in sight, nor any signs to Fritham, but a footpath leads downhill and crosses a beautiful stream. A green pasture lies beyond. In November, the entire area was covered in pale, spider-sewn filaments, inches above the ground, billowing and shimmering in the low sun.
The tramp ahead is a leg-stretching, lung-expanding journey into the heart of the New Forest. The latter part of the route that I take – there are several possible – runs through a wild wood, a damp tangle of hollies and oaks. You emerge into open heathland, invigorated by the prospect of beer. Dating from the 17th century, with three snug rooms, the Royal Oak is a proper walkers’ pub – good food for a winter’s day, nothing too fancy. Try the ploughman’s, which on my last tasting came with two vast slabs of a nutty local cheddar.
Now for the best bit. Half a mile before the pub, on Fritham Plain, there’s a quiet pond surrounded by emerald-green sward. It’s not big, just a rough circle of shallow water around which a few shaggy ponies and some cattle usually graze, but it’s a thing of wonder. No stream feeds it, and there seems no reason for its existence. It feels like a holy site, a pond dropped from heaven. No other pond in England that I know is as magical as this.
• Christopher Nicholson, author of Among the Summer Snows (September Publishing)
Firle, East Sussex
Length 4 miles
Time 2 hours
Start/finish Firle village car park
Refuel The Ram, Firle
So many walks on my part of the Sussex Downs take in the high points – Kingston Ridge, Mount Caburn, Ditchling Beacon – but in winter I like to swap midsummer hikes among the skylarks and paragliders for stumbles over ploughed fields, studded with flint and pheasants.
This circular route from the village car park begins on fairly bland open parkland towards Firle Place, but soon delivers you into the best textures of Sussex: a beautiful flint and brick cottage by a chalky lane has the bridleway running through its garden, inviting a brief thrill of pretend ownership.
As you walk across the fields towards Charleston, once home to painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, startle the crows by saying poems aloud, as Virginia Woolf did whenever she walked this way to her sister’s. Then, at the farmhouse, rest a while and read about its journey from ruin to internationally renowned literary venue, before pushing on towards Maynard Keynes’ Tilton House, wondering at how many miles he and the rest of the Bloomsbury set did around art and amorous pursuits.
The walled road which drops back into the village takes you past Firle Estate’s beautifully preserved blacksmith, carpenter and paint shops, adding to the walk’s gentle, last-century sensation.
Candle-lined windows and three fires await at The Ram. It gets busy even on a winter weekday, so book a table in the snug and settle down with seasonal treats such as celeriac soup followed by pan-seared Sussex pheasant breast (mains from £12).
• Tanya Shadrick, writer-in-residence at Pells Pools, Lewes and editor of Watermarks: Writing by Lido Lovers & Wild Swimmers (Frogmore Press)
Length 6½ miles
Time 3 hours
Start/finish Oxford railway station
Refuel The Plough, Wolvercote
There and back again can be a boring way to walk, but along the Oxford Canal there is no risk of that, as history, natural and otherwise, is everywhere.
Arriving at the station, ignore the first signs taking you to the canal and walk into town, until you come to the bridge over the canal and the start of the towpath on your left.
Residential narrowboats accompany the early stages of the walk, and soon you are into Philip Pullman Gyptian territory. Jericho used to be industrialised, and I can remember Lucy’s ironworks casting wild lights at night. Now it is housing. At this point you could take a detour out to your left, onto Port Meadow – a great, shallow ice-rink if it freezes.
This 78 mile-long canal was a crucial coal link between the east Midlands and London, but now it is a wonderful line for wildlife, and us, to follow. On more than one occasion I’ve found otter spraint beneath the beautifully humpbacked bridge at Wolvercote.
I tend to aim for Duke’s Cut, where friends used to live on their narrowboat, just beyond the elevated ring-road. The otters make good use of this linescape, bypassing the risk of the road.
Returning to the station, stop at The Plough in Wolvercote, just over the bridge (be careful not to tread in the otter poo). A plate of “mucky chilli chips” – chips covered in vegetable chilli and topped with cheese (£9.95) – will keep you warm as you head home.
• Hugh Warwick is the author of Linescapes, a look at the ecological consequences of the lines we have drawn across our landscapes (Square Peg)
Bure Valley Circle, Norfolk
Length 5 miles
Time 2½ hours
Refuel The Recruiting Sergeant
The Bure Valley is magical. It straddles rural Norfolk, from Melton Constable through the Broads to Breydon Water. Big skies, freshwater grazing marsh, woodland, fen, churches, a narrow-gauge steam railway and odd village names – it lacks nothing.
Park in Horstead, find the mill pool, then track the Bure up to Buxton with Lamas and back, changing river banks with the path. The valley is gentle and the pasture lush, even in winter. Dogwood, sweetcorn brushes and freshly turned soil are rich contrasts to the flashing greys of the river itself. Mayton Bridge, built as the Long Parliament was called in 1640, and the Tudor glory of Hautbois Hall are favourite waymarks.
In summer, you can drop your bags and find a spot to enter the river and swim. In winter the barn owls, marsh harriers and brown hares break the peace, as do the less glamorous but more reliable cattle, sheep and swans that roam the valley.
The approach to Buxton is glorious. The river bends, holds an island in its stream and the white mill towers above the race that gave the village its purpose and drove the great water wheel. Turn back here and return to Horstead, and the Recruiting Sergeant, whitewashed, pantiled and beamed. There’s pork from Swannington and longshore cod from Yarmouth way. And local gins for the really cold days (when someone else is driving). They have a deli over the road and rooms, should you choose never to leave.
• Chris Gribble, CEO, Writers’ Centre Norwich
Longshaw Estate to Fox House, Peak District
Length 6 miles
Time 2 hours
Start/finish Longshaw Estate Car Park
Refuel Fox House
This walk takes in some of the Peak District’s gentle but atmospheric eastern gritstone edges, traversing White Edge to Curbar Gap and returning along Curbar and Froggatt. There are good tracks and it’s hard to get lost, even in bad weather.
The starting point is a short journey from Sheffield, and a bus stops directly outside the Fox House pub. The route crosses part of the Longshaw Estate then climbs up White Edge. I’ve been coming to this part of Derbyshire to run and rock climb ever since I was little.
As you walk above Curbar, you’ll hear the sound of clinking karabiners and climbers calling to each other below. This moorland walk feels surprisingly varied. Early in the mornings, or at dusk, it’s not unusual to glimpse red deer in the distance, near the trig point along White Edge. You also pass some of Derbyshire’s intriguing Companion Stones, inscribed with poetry – a modern tribute to the Guide Stoops, which used to help travellers navigate moorland hundreds of years ago.
Afterwards, refuel at Fox House, a gastropub where decent wine, real ale and a roaring fire await. If you prefer your pubs more traditional, The Grouse (which you pass en route) is nearby and would make a perfect pit stop – the beer garden has excellent views.
• Helen Mort is a poet and editor. She edited One for the Road: An Anthology of Pubs and Poetry with Stuart Maconie (Smith/Doorstop)
Pass of Aberglaslyn and Cwm Bychan from Beddgelert, Snowdonia
Length 4½ miles
Time 3 hours
Refuel Tanronnen Inn
At first glance, with its stone-and-slate charm, Beddgelert could be Wales’s answer to the chocolate box cosiness of the Lake District. But a short walk from the village takes you into Aberglaslyn Pass, where the exhilarating “fisherman’s path” meanders feet above the rocky rapids of the Afon Glaslyn; and in Cwm Bychan the hard-bitten industrial past of the area is starkly visible. Few walks pack as much of Snowdonia’s geological, ecological and cultural flavour into one manageable mouthful.
Stock up in Beddgelert (and pay the obligatory visit to the grave of Gelert, the ill-fated loyal hound who gives the village its name and fame) then head south to Aberglaslyn Pass. The path through the narrow gorge is wonderful, winding around boulders and buttresses, but requires due care – a mistimed trip in the wrong place could send you (or an exuberant child) headlong into the river.
At Pont Aberglaslyn, savour the odd thought that before the construction of the Porthmadog Cob (sea wall) in 1810, some five miles away, the tide would have lapped against this bridge. In Cwm Bychan, lush woodland gives way to an atmospheric upland valley where the derelict pylons attest to a bygone age – they used to transport copper ore. From Bwlch-y-Sygyn, if you have time and energy, extend the walk to include an eye-opening visit to the Sygun Copper Mine. Back in Beddgelert, head for the pleasant Tanronnen Inn for good Robinsons beer.
• Carey Davies, hill walking development officer for the British Mountaineering Council
Whitby to Staithes, North Yorkshire
Length 10 miles
Time 5 hours
Start/finish Whalebone arch, Whitby/Cod & Lobster, Staithes
Google Maps Start/Finish
Refuel Cod & Lobster
Winter intensifies everything. During these cold months, the sun, peeping over the horizon for a few short hours, adds a contrast and vividness to the landscape. The greens seem greener and the blues bluer.
I gravitate to the coast for much of my winter walking. The drama that plays out is exhilarating, and the worse the weather the more powerful the narrative. Along this 10-mile stretch of North Yorkshire coast, the North Sea demonstrates its fearsome power against the huge cliffs. The birdlife and animals have to work harder, too. Little auks have been seen sheltering from the white-capped swell, while more common winter birds, including the red-throated diver and the great crested grebe, bob on the waves. Occasionally, a harbour porpoise can be seen too.
The walk starts in Whitby, by the famous whalebone arch, and heads north along the Cleveland Way, one of the 15 National Trails of England and Wales. It’s a gentle start to the day along the prom above Sandsend beach, but the views back across Whitby and its Abbey are every bit as evocative as Bram Stoker captured in Dracula.
The cliff-top trail soon gains height above the battered rocks far below. As it turns west around Kettleness, the pleasingly ramshackle, red-roofed cottages of Runswick Bay come into focus. Climbing up again, the path becomes more exposed. In the sharp wind off the North Sea – or worse, biting rain – you might try to pretend it is invigorating, but your mind may well have wandered to thoughts of the pub.
This route saves the best views for last. Boulby Cliffs, the highest on England’s east coast, dominate the scene further north, but this walk ends at the fishing port of Staithes. The Cod & Lobster can be seen from up on the cliff, standing defiantly against the harbour. It’s a short jog down for a well-earned pint or two (although when the swell is high and a storm is in, it’s advised to use the rear door in case you get a bit wet).
It’s an effortlessly friendly pub – find the astonishing photos from a 1953 storm that tore the front of the inn. Today, it’s convivial and cosy, with a beer list worthy of mention in Camra’s Good Beer Guide; a place to settle into, order from the seafood-laden menu and watch the wind clatter the boats in the harbour through the windows.
• Daniel Neilson, author of Wild Pub Walks, published by Camra Books
Angle Tarn from Langdale, Lake District
Length 6 miles
Time 3 hours
Start/finish The Old Dungeon Ghyll
Refuel The Old Dungeon Ghyll
Drawing you away from the chocolate-box shops and crowds of Ambleside, the B5343 floats into the quiet, wide valley of Langdale. Wild piked, jewelled with hidden pools at its heights, this part of the Lake District provides an accessible but uncrowded retreat. Here, I’ve ghosted the lyrical, dirtbag memories of 60s nature writer and mountain guide Gwen Moffat, who spent seasons sleeping rough, thawing out in the pub and exploring the remote fells that still hold their silence – no phone signal, no 4G.
Begin the walk at the Old Dungeon Ghyll: go behind the pub to find the paved path that leads to the circlet of crests at the end of the valley. Look for climbers roosting in the cracks on Raven Crag as you head onto the Cumbria Way. Follow the river, looking out for plunge opportunities.
At the bridge, turn left and head up the path that climbs beside, and occasionally into, Stake Gill. Skip around the rolling mounds of moss at the back of Black Crag and look into uninhabited Langstrath bowl. Store that space for next time, turn left and trace the ridge behind Buck and Rossett Pike to arrive at Angle Tarn. If feeling brave (and you’re not alone) strip, swim, hope the mist will come down and enclose you in a hanging place here.
Warm up by darting down the descent at Hanging Knotts. Return to the Cumbria Way and race towards the pub, hold imaginary pints in both hands and charge the last kissing gate before the warm embrace of the wooden hikers’ bar. Nestle between clanking packs and climbing chat, order plates of steak and ale pie or Cumberland sausage awash with hot gravy. Ask Leo, the young National Trust path builder who’s lived in the pub since birth, to explain the gaudy painting of Black Jack, leader of the irreverent climbers’ club the Bradford Lads. Get tipsy, stumble out, sleep in the National Trust campsite half a mile away, and wake again into silence.
• Claire Carter, writer, artistic director for Kendal Mountain Festival engagement officer for the Outdoor Industries Association
Loch Trool, Dumfries & Galloway
Length 5½ miles
Time 3 hours
Start/finish Caldons car park at the western edge of Loch Trool
Refuel House O’Hill
Post-walk pub selection is never an agonising decision in the Galloway forest park… there is only one to choose from. Thankfully the House O’Hill inn in Bargrennan is first-rate. Quality over quantity is the park’s style, and the same could be said for this walk around Loch Trool, which crams bucket-loads of history, wildlife and landscape into a modest mileage.
Even the most navigationally challenged hiker would struggle to get lost on this walk. From the small car park, cross the bridge to pick up the green waymarks of the Loch Trool loop route and, well, that’s about it. Stick to the good path, keeping the water to your left, and you can’t go wrong as you circle the serene loch anti-clockwise. This is, perhaps, the finest scenery in all of south-west Scotland. Look out for darting red squirrels and elusive pine martens – and even listen for the ancient roar of battle.
Here, 700 years ago, Robert the Bruce and a band of 300 Scots defeated a 1,500-strong English army, hurling boulders at their enemy and pitching them into the water.
Continue to circumnavigate the loch, visiting Bruce’s Stone memorial cairn and the sessile oak woodlands, before looping back to the car park. It is but a 10-minute drive to the House O’Hill. Affectionately known as “The Hoose”, this hotel-restaurant-pub has been given a contemporary makeover and serves locally sourced game and shellfish, while pulling pints for hikers and mountain bikers. And once you’ve had your fill of venison and real ale, step outside to look up – so few people live here, the inky black sky is not polluted and it’s one of the best places in the UK to stargaze.
• James Forrest, who climbed all 446 mountains in England and Wales in six months this year, the fastest ever time
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