With the New Year diets long since abandoned, the first few months of the year are always dull. During these grey months, many people look ahead to summer and begin planning their next big holiday, but why wait? The countryside in winter is at its most beautiful, so don’t sit around - begin 2019 with a winter walking break!
The idea of a winter walk may sound unappealing at first, but if you wrap up warm you can enjoy the peace and stillness of nature in a way that is impossible during the busy peaks of summer.
According to research, walking is not only one of the best ways to keep fit, it can also improve happiness and wellbeing. Better still, a winter walk does not have to be just for the hikers in your family. Children, parents, grandparents and even the four-legged family members can all explore together.
The UK is remarkable in the wealth of locations that are ideal for a seasonal walk. It doesn’t matter where you are based, there is sure to be an incredible location close by. But if you are struggling for inspiration, here are eight of the best locations that the UK and Ireland have to offer.
Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
Running for 1,600 miles down the west coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is most commonly thought of as a summer destination, but it is at its best during the autumn and winter where the expansive views and charming local villages on one of the world’s finest coastal drives will be at their most peaceful.
The variety of options for walkers in this region is huge. From cliff walks in Kilkee and the Loop Head Drive around the coast of Clare, to the historical Marconi Loop, there are routes for nature buffs, historians and keen walkers of all ability levels.
The most famous spot is one of Ireland’s finest natural locations. The 1,500 hectares of the Burren National Park have everything you could wish to find, from 1,100 species of plants, woodland creatures, rivers and Mullaghmore - otherwise known as Pancake Mountain.
2. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland
One of the UK’s finest walking locations has to be Cairngorms National Park. Home to five of the UK’s six tallest mountains and 25% of Scotland’s forests, the national park is the largest in the UK at 1,100 sq km and comes into its own in the winter as the snow and mountains combine to make you feel like you are in another world.
The Cairngorms have multiple hiking and walking routes. Some of the best are around Glen Feshie where hikers of all ability levels can enjoy the breathtaking surroundings. For those looking for a real challenge, the Cairngorm Plateau will provide the experience of an arctic trek without leaving the UK - but it is important to take a guide, even if you have some experience of this type of walk.
3. Norfolk Broads
The Broads National Park, better known as the Norfolk Broads, cover over 100 square miles and seven rivers. This means the walking opportunities are almost endless, covering short afternoon strolls, week-long hikes, and everything in between. A great example is the Wherryman’s Way, a 35-mile route that follows the River Yare from Norwich to Great Yarmouth. The route can be tackled on its own in two days, extended to include multiple circular village walks, or even combined with the Weaver’s Way to form an extensive circular route.
While the rivers are full of tourists during the summer, the peaceful winter allows you to really be alone with nature. This is especially valuable for bird-spotters, who may be able to use the peace to observe the multiple species that flock to the Broads from Europe during the winter.
4. Isle of Wight coastal trail
From the Needles to Culver Cliff, the Isle of Wight packs in an awful lot into just 57 miles of coastline. This means there is plenty to discover on generally easy-going paths. Routes can take anything from a few hours, to a week to complete the full loop.
This year, visitors can enjoy a free, guided family walk to help people get the year off to a healthy start. This short, two-hour walk in Compton Bay and Downs will take place in February and will include fossil hunting, paddling in the sea and visiting farm animals, making it a great opportunity to spark a passion for the great outdoors in younger members of the family.
5. Pen-Y-Fan, Wales
For walkers looking to experience some of the best views in the UK, but who only want a short walk, Pen-Y-Fan is ideal. It is the highest mountain in southern Britain and tops 3,000 feet, but you won’t need any special equipment to say you’ve climbed a mountain.
In fact, there is a four-mile circular walk that is clearly marked with footpaths, so even children can reach the summit. And when you get there, the breathtaking views across England and Wales will stick with you forever. Even better, by visiting in the winter you are very likely to encounter frost and snow the higher you climb, making your photographs even more impressive.
6. South Downs, Sussex
Running for exactly 100 miles through the South Downs National Park, from Winchester to Eastbourne, the South Downs Way is a fascinating and supremely scenic route - which means that it can get very crowded in the summertime. Winter visits will allow you to explore at your own pace and in the solitude this location deserves.
From Ditchling Beacon and Clayton’s 11th century church, to Devil’s Dyke - the amount of fascinating ancient history you will encounter on this route is remarkable. There are a series of routes depending on difficulty, and guided walks are also available that will take in Seven sisters and other coastal landmarks.
7. Causeway Coast Way, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Some 40,000 basalt columns make up the remarkable Giant’s Causeway, which is Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction for good reason. While it is a must-see experience, venturing a little from the well-trod tourist routes will allow you to enjoy so much more on the 33-mile Causeway Coast walking path - and doing so in winter not only allows you to enjoy solitude on your walk, but also to admire the views in the peaceful silence that only a frosty morning can bring.
As you walk along the Antrim coastline from Ballycastle to Portstewart you will see the incredible cliffs, Dunseverick Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which is thought to have been used by fishermen for around 300 years.
8. Haworth Bronte Walk, Yorkshire Dales
Haworth in Yorkshire is most commonly known as Brontë country - this is where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote their most famous works. For this reason alone, visiting Haworth Moors on a hot summer day seems a little wrong. The atmosphere of this walk is as much about the weather as it is the stunning scenery, and so tackling it in the winter is essential.
The Haworth walk will take you past Lower Laithe Reservoir, the Brontë waterfall and Top Withens, which is thought to be part of the inspiration for the setting of Wuthering Heights. The route will then bring you back into the village, giving you the opportunity to warm up with a drink by a pub fireplace.