Dreaming of a White Christmas?
We may not get all of our wishes, but White Christmas or not, winter always offers a walking wonderland.
Whatever tier of restrictions you find yourself in, we are all still allowed to head for the open countryside and public parks to reconnect with nature and blow off the seasonal cobwebs – whilst, of course, adhering to the rule of six, and relevant travel restrictions.
So, for a spot of natural social distancing, whether on your own, in your family bubble or with friends in a group of six, here are a few suggestions for top spots for wonderful winter walks.
Winter gardens sparkle
Winter always brings a seasonal treat for visitors to Staffordshire’s Trentham Gardens, but this year a spot of fresh air, glistening landscapes and a sense of wellbeing look like being even more welcome than ever. Open right through the year, apart from Christmas Day, the award-winning gardens offer a chance to escape the everyday in the Great Outdoors, whatever the season. But for winter, nature stages an extra-special show, adding another perspective to Trentham’s celebrated landscapes, crafted by two of the nation’s finest historic garden designers. The splendour of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s woodland, parkland and lake, complements the formality and garden architecture of Charles Barry’s Italianate terraces, which look stunning with a frosty glaze. As well as the sights of winter, Trentham brings a sense of smell too, with groves of fragrant winter flowering shrubs coming into their own at this time of year. Perfect for a winter walk, the gardens – on the edge of Stoke-on Trent – offer even more seasonal wonder thanks to its ever-popular Fairy Trail, with wire sculptures of fantasy fairies even more photogenic with a dusting of frost or snow. Booking essential.
A country estate meander in Lincolnshire
Sitting elegantly in formal gardens with views across pleasure grounds and an ancient deer-park, Belton House is often cited as being the perfect example of an English country-house estate. While the house and playground are closed, the garden and park at Belton are open right through winter, perfect for a wander around the gardens, pleasure grounds and 1,300 acres of parkland. Not surprisingly it’s one of the National Trust’s suggestions for walks in its Lincolnshire estates (https://bit.ly/3ocee0a). From crisp, bright, frosty days to atmospheric, misty mornings, Belton is a delight in winter. On these quiet days, Belton deer are often very close to the house and make for great photo opportunities. At this time of year, one of the best views is from top of the slope to the Old Wood. Here you’ll find a bench where you can sit and gather your thoughts as you look across the park to the house. Best to book in advance.
Magic, mystery and spectacular Staffordshire views
With soaring rock faces and heather-covered hillsides, The Roaches is one of Staffordshire’s most photographed landscapes, and often called the gateway to Staffordshire’s Peak District (https://bit.ly/3mDJHIj). Known for its impressive gritstone edges and craggy rocks, winter can weave a magical spell here. Derived from the French word for rocks (‘roches’), and protected for its wildlife and rare wild habitats, the two main gritstone outcrops are Ramshaw Rocks, famous for the Winking Man rock formation, and ‘Hen Cloud’ offering stunning panoramic views. The less visited northern section, with its sheltered woodlands, is where you will find the rocky chasm known as Lud’s Church. Long linked to myth, magic and mystery, the area has its fair share of tall tales, including the mermaid, or ‘Blue Nyph’ who is said to inhabit Doxey Pool, a clifftop pool of water. The Roaches was also once home to wild wallabies – yes, the marsupial from ‘Down Under’! Five were released into the wild from a private collection in the 1930s, and at one point there were around 50 living in the area. However, the colony was hit hard by the harsh winter of 1962-63 and their numbers then dwindled, with the last survivor believed to have died in 2009.
Clifftop rambles in East Yorkshire
Summer sees the towering coastal cliffs of East Yorkshire come alive with nesting sea birds. In fact, so many arrive that the RSPB Bempton Cliffs nature reserve has the well-earned nickname of “Seabird City’. With seabirds largely departed for a winter at sea, the coastal clifftop paths may not seem like the place to be for a winter wander. But while a quiet time of year, the bracing cliff top walks and soaring seascapes are probably the best in Yorkshire. The likes of Bempton and neighbouring Flamborough Head also become a haven for migratory birds. In winter, Bempton Cliffs is a hot spot for migrants such as redwings and goldcrests. Short-eared and barn owls can often be seen hunting across the nearby fields, while the reserve’s chirpy tree sparrow colony is a cheery spectacle all year round (http://bit.ly/33NlvKc). Head a little further south along the coast and Flamborough Head, with its spectacular chalk cliffs, stacks, arches and smugglers’ caves, as well as two lighthouses, is also one of Britain’s hotspots for migrant birds. Winter may bring Snow Buntings, Waxwings or a Rough-legged Buzzard, making it a great place for a coastal stroll and a spot of sea-watching (https://bit.ly/3qr5IfF).
Head for almost anywhere in the Lincolnshire Wolds, and you’ll be hard pressed not to find a walk to suit, whatever the season, but a dusting of snow, or a frosty morning, certainly adds to the charm (https://bit.ly/37EOAe5). Perhaps one of the less well-known routes is The Wanderlust Way, a 20-mile circuit which starts and finishes in Bradley Woods, just outside the Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), in the north of the county, but which passes through attractive small villages and across the woods and farmland of the undulating Wolds. You can tackle it in more comfortable sections of eight, nine and 10 miles, and the route also offers views across the mouth of the Humber Estuary. Originally called ‘The Bradley 20’, the route was renamed in 1990 to commemorate the life and work of James Neville Cole (1916 – 1989), who co-foundered the Wanderlust Rambling Club. The walk generally follows field edge paths, tracks and some minor roads through the Wolds, and is relatively easy, although the landscape does rise and fall, taking walkers through narrow lanes and across windy hilltops.
A feast for the senses in Hampshire
Criss-crossed by 3,000 miles of footpaths, bridleways and byways, as well as home to not one, but two, National Parks, plus a coastline with views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, it’s no surprise that Hampshire is a haven for walkers (https://bit.ly/3mLskFw). For a breath of fresh air and a feast for the senses in these colder months, how about a stroll through a winter garden in the grounds of Mottisfont, an 18th-century house and country estate with a medieval priory at its heart? From December to January, the vibrant winter garden has been specially planted to provide colour during the shortest days of the year, with paths winding through winter-flowering shrubs and perennials. Elsewhere around the wider estate of the National Trust property, there are 1,600 acres of woodland and tenanted farmland, including Stockbridge Down and Marsh. Discover winter wildlife, historic landmarks and tranquil riverside paths as you explore some of Hampshire’s glorious countryside. Booking in advance essential.
Under Government restrictions, those living in Tier 3 areas should only visit countryside and public parks within their own area, and not travel to any other destination.
Please stay local and maintain social distancing.
Check individual websites for the latest updates and any restrictions. Most gardens require booking in advance.
Trentham Gardens Fairy Trail
Staffordshire's The Roaches in winter. Photo: Staffs Moorlands District Council.
Coastal walking in East Yorkshire
The Test Valley, Hampshire