There are few days out in the countryside that don’t involved passing a rural church. They provide a place to shelter, a chance to learn about the local community and a glimpse into the history of the surrounding landscape.
From towering cathedrals to tiny chapels, here’s our guide to some of the best.
Walk: Clare, Pentlow and Cavendish – Suffolk/Essex
Set out on a winter’s hike through the Stour Valley on the Suffolk-Essex border, discovering a trio of churches, each with their own fascinating history.
If it wasn’t for a boat-full of wine, the iconic tower of St Catherine’s Oratory – nicknamed the ‘pepperpot’ by Isle of Wight locals – may never have been built.
Walk: Tideswell, Derbyshire
Take a winter wander from Tideswell’s ‘Cathedral of the Peak’ into the depths of Miller’s Dale and Monk’s Dale in the Peak District National Park.
Day out: Chapel Stile, Cumbria
Holy Trinity Church is built on the northern flank of the dramatic Great Langdale valley in the Lake District National Park; pause beneath its stained-glass tapestry then head for the glory of the fells.
Surrounded by hill, sand and sea on the Ceredigion coast in Wales is Eglwys y Grog – the Church of the Holy Cross – at its most magical on Christmas Eve.
Day out: Heptonstall, West Yorkshire
Historic Heptonstall has a hilltop view over West Yorkshire’s snow-dusted fields. Amble along its cobbled alleyways, pause in its church, then warm up by a fire at a local inn.
Day out: Brentor, Devon
This famous medieval church – St Michael de Rupe – is the fourth smallest in England. It is also the highest, and comes with its very own legend.
Day out: Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury is technically a city, but its diminutive size makes access the the countryside easy. The 34-mile Avon Valley Path runs north to south from the Cathedral city of Salisbury along the border of the New Forest National Park to Christchurch on the south coast. Walk a small section of this historic waymarked path, or take on the whole lot over several days.
Day out: Knaresborough, Yorkshire
Carved from a sandstone rock in 1408 by a man called John the Mason, this Marian shrine was once a popular pilgrimage halt on the way to Knaresborough Priory. The priory fell victim to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries but the charming little chapel survived.
Day out: Culbone, Somerset
Deep in Lorna Doone country, this church once served woodland-dwelling charcoal burners who lived in nearby shacks. There’s no road here so the faithful heading to advent services must trek along the South West Coast Path to the wooded hollow where the church hides.
Day out: Llanrhychwyn, Conwy
The oldest surviving church in Wales, Llanrhychwyn sits shyly behind a screen of trees in a farmer’s field. Services here are rare, but everyone is welcome on the second Sunday in December for carol singing. Check out one of the south-aisle windows: it contains the oldest glass in the Principality.
Day out: Frenze, Norfolk
ThE humble rubble-and-flint St Andrew’s church – of which only the nave and porch survive – sits in a field of buttercups. One of just two services a year, ‘Carols by Candlelight’ on 18 December is quite the event, and you can enjoy it from pews enlivened with delightful carvings of monkeys.
Day out: Croick Church, Sutherland
Ten miles up the lonely Strathcarron valley, this humble utilitarian church is forever linked to a group who became refugees in their own land – a fate echoed in the Christmas story. Evicted in 1845 during the notorious Highland Clearances, 80 people lived temporarily in the churchyard. Cryptic reports of their sad story were later etched on the church windows by unknown hands.