During winter, Britain’s countryside is transformed into a wonderland of frozen lakes, frosted mountains and snowy forests. Wrap up warm and it can be one of the most rewarding times of the year to be out on the trail.
From the Norfolk coast to the Scottish Highlands, our guide explores the UK’s most spectacular winter landscapes with our pick of the best winter walks and hikes, including maps and route descriptions.
Loch Morlich, Highland
5.1km/3.1 miles | 1.5 hours | easy
Excitement abounds when looking out from the Highland town of Aviemore to the mighty Cairngorms mountains, beloved by snowboarders, skiers and winter climbers. It’s the visceral reaction to the size and rawness of these granite giants that makes this landscape such a compelling place for all nature lovers.
Nowhere else in Britain has the same scale of tundra-like plateaux and sub-Arctic habitats. Snow covers the numerous 1,000m summits for more than 100 days a year, and icy tentacles stretch across the lochs that bejewel the foot of the range. It’s here, cloaked in Scots pine trees, that one of the finest remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest resides, home to golden eagles, red squirrels, pine martens, badgers and deer.
Bustling Aviemore, with its choice of hip or traditional bars, a good Italian restaurant and swish, hotel-run wooden cabins, is the ideal base for a wintry foray around the northern fringes of the park and its most beautiful lochs – not least Loch Morlich.
After enjoying a day of Christmas indulgence, nothing beats heading outdoors for an invigorating winter walk. From the wilds of Scotland to a gentle canal stroll in Southern England, here is our pick of the best Boxing Day walks across the British countryside.
Castleton and Winnats Pass, Derbyshire
7.4km/4.6 miles | 3.5 hours |moderate
Peak Cavern is one of the Seven Wonders of the Peak District, and was long thought to be an entrance to Hell – the river that flows through it is still known to cavers as the Styx. For 400 years, a small community of rope-makers lived within its huge entrance – it became known as “a village that never saw the sun”.
These days, the planned medieval township of Castleton is famous not only for its caves but also for its dazzling display of Christmas lights, as every shop and pub on Cross Street is festooned with colourful Christmas trees. And looming over the village, as it has for 800 years, is the 12th-century keep of Peveril Castle, also floodlit during the weekends before Christmas. Explore the caves, crags and castle of this Peak District village with an easy, four-mile circular walk.
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
4.3km/2.7 miles | 1.5 hours | easy–moderate
Tiny, pantiled cottages, honeycombed with narrow courtyards, tumble down a narrow gully to the sea. Front doors look over neighbours’ roofs and vertiginous stone steps link the different levels.
Down at the shore of Robin Hood’s Bay, boats are still drawn up on the rocks of Landing Scar, a reminder of the village’s smuggling days.
In 1800, everyone who lived in Bay Town, as it’s known locally, was said to be involved in this illegal transportation of goods. The villagers linked their cellars up the steep slope so that contraband, received at the shore, could be passed underground to the cliff top, unbeknown to Bay Town’s customs officers.
Take a winter walk through the surrounding North York Moors countryside. A four-mile circular route heads south from the Station Car Park on the hilltop above the village (visitors’ cars are not allowed in the narrow streets).
Dinefwr Park and Newton House, Carmarthenshire
3.9km/2.4 miles | 1.5 hours | easy
A flurry of white flakes, a crunch underfoot. As winters warm, the white-spotted fallow deer and sound of trampled beechnuts might be the closest you get to snow at Dinefwr near the town of Llandeilo in Wales. Nevertheless, winter will be dark and Newton House in the grounds will be cosy.
In fact, it’s cosy all year. Light glances off gilt frames. Staff and volunteers are cheerful. And you’re allowed, nay encouraged, to sit on the sofas. It’s a cosiness made all the more rewarding with a pre-house walk around the frozen grounds.
17km/10.5 miles | 6 hours | challenging
Gothic in style, the Church of St Mary and St Finnan stands like a stoical watchman over the mountain-flanked waters of Loch Shiel, surely one of Britain’s most enchanting landscapes.
In winter, as day breaks from a cloudless night, the glen is particularly magical. Frost envelops everything: the pine trees, the mountain ridges, the church’s pitched roof. It dusts frozen puddles, crunches beneath feet and petrifies plants.
The Church of St Mary and St Finnan, built between 1870 and 1872, was designed by architect Edward Welby Pugin, son of one of the greatest British architects, designers and writers of the 19th century Augustus Welby Pugin. Just down the road is the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, with a shop, toilets, café and accessible parking. The centre is the starting point for a 10-mile walk (the first half of which is suitable for those with access challenges) from Loch Shiel to the dramatic mountain pass of Bealach a’Chaorainn.
Haddon Hall, Derbyshire
8.9km/5.5 miles | 3.5 hours | moderate
Follow the bridge over the River Wye and climb to the hefty arched doorway of Haddon Hall. Step inside the courtyard with its great stone slabs. Feel the weight of 900 years of history in the locally quarried grit and limestone and the solid native oak used to create this largely unaltered medieval house.
When the family walked away from Haddon Hall in favour of Belvoir Castle in the 1700s, they left unloved furnishings to gather dust and worms for 200 years. Many of these pieces remain, and now the Hall’s collection of early Tudor furniture is regarded as one of the finest.
Leaving the manor house behind, you can follow the meandering River Wye to Bakewell for more seasonal delights at All Saints Church, with its Christmas Tree Festival, and to pay homage to the Haddon Hall family in the Vernon Chapel.
Long Mynd, Shropshire
13.8km/8.6 miles | 5 hours | moderate–challenging
On 39 January 1865, the Reverend Carr spent a night out on the Long Mynd, battling against one of the fiercest snow storms to hit 19th-century Shropshire.
This 21-square mile expanse of windswept heather moorland can be notoriously wild in winter. The Burway, the single-track lane that snakes up to altitudes of 475m, is frequently closed in winter, adding a sense of adventure for hikers out exploring this vast plateau in winter.
You might think that our wildlife had shut up shop for the winter, but you’d be missing some of Britain’s greatest natural wonders.
Reverend Carr regularly crossed the Long Mynd to deliver Sunday services at Woolstaston and Ratlinghope churches. On this occasion, after his morning service at Woolstaston, he trekked four miles through deep snow to preach the afternoon service at Ratlinghope. But on his return journey for Woolstaston’s evening service, the weather worsened. Carr became disoriented by fierce blizzards, got stuck in chest-deep snowdrifts and plummeted down the sides of steep, frozen valleys.
This eight mile route begins in Carding Mill Valley, where Carr was ultimately rescued, 22 hours after setting out and five miles off-course. Blinded by his frozen eyelashes, he heard children’s voices and called for help. In one of the cottages here, he was given warm soup, his first real sustenance for hours.
Today, the National Trust’s Chalet Pavilion offers similar restorative refreshments to weary Long Mynd walkers.
Stour Valley, Suffolk/Essex
11km/6.8 miles | 4 hours | moderate
Winter can be a magical time for exploring the peaceful river valleys and charming rural churches of Suffolk, and there is much to be said for soaking up the atmosphere of this genteel corner of East Anglia out of high season.
Days get off to a sluggish start, with the countryside swaddled in a lingering shroud of mist, soon shrugged off and replaced by crisp air and milky sunshine, ideal conditions for a winter walk.
The Stour Valley is gentle and undulating, an ever-changing patchwork of woodland trails and farmland fringed with sleeping hedgerows. Sprinkled with small towns and pretty bucolic villages of thatched painted cottages, and complete with a reassuring cluster of cosy tea rooms, this is an area to be savoured.
Starting from the historic wool town of Clare, Suffolk’s smallest town, the route links three of the area’s most charming churches, wending its way along the Stour Valley to Cavendish, before returning on the Stour Valley Path high above the river.
7.7km/4.8 miles | 3.5 hours | easy–moderate
It is said that in Norfolk you can tell how far you are from the coast by the roundness of the flint on the outside of the buildings – the rounder the flint, the closer you are to the sea.
The interaction between sea and land is strong along the North Norfolk coast, where mudflats and salt marshes sit alongside miles of beaches. One such beach is Holkham.
Here, a fusion of pinewoods and sand dunes tumble on to the beach and into the sea. The shoreline is part of one of the largest national nature reserves in the country, home to many rare species of flora and fauna and a favoured place for birdwatching. This walk is for both nature-lovers and those looking for the winter harmony offered by seemingly endless beaches, seas and skies.
2.8km/1.7 miles | 1 hour | moderate
On the Cornish side of the River Tamar, the Cotehele estate encompasses 526 hectares of woodland, meadow and riverside countryside. As you enter Cotehele’s house, it is easy to imagine age-old winter celebrations around the huge fireplace.
Our 1.7-mile winter walk offers the option for further exploration around Cotehele’s gardens and up to the Prospect Tower, as well as a diversion to Cotehele Mill. The route is on footpaths and lanes with some hills and one steep downhill section.
It’s the lead-up to Christmas; a time for gathering presents from village markets; for cosying up with good food and drink by a roaring pub fire; for pulling on your boots, gloves and hats and heading for the hills.
Walking in winter is a true joy. Rivers flow strong and waterfalls gush, moorlands blush russet, wildfowl flock, woodlands creak, lakes freeze and mountains sing beneath virgin snow. In winter, you needn’t go far to discover enchantment – a village square, a frosty canal, or a nearby hill. Here are ten winter walks to get you started, each embodying the magic of Christmas. Find out more about each walk – including route descriptions, maps and other points of interest – by clicking on the links.
Glenmore Forest Park, Highland
The Cairngorms is Britain’s largest national park and, come December, this brooding mass of mountains, lochs and ancient forest is transformed into a winter wonderland. There are hundreds of walks in the park sure to ignite your festive flame, not least asix-mile saunter through Glenmore Forest Park. Start at Loch Morlich and ascend to Ryvoan Pass and the emerald-green waters of An Lochan Uaine, keeping an eye out for crossbills, goldcrests, red deer and the chocolate hide of the elusive pine marten.
Villages don’t come much more festive than Castleton in the heart of the Peak District National Park. But to discover the true magic of the area, one must leave the comfort of the lamplit streets and climb into the hills. Listen out for the sound of brass bands rehearsing for their Christmas shows in Peak Cavern cave and explore the sweeping limestone canyon of Winnat’s Pass. The five-mile circular route returns to Castleton, where weary walkers can relive their day by the fire in one of the village’s traditional pubs or cafés.
Hawkshead and Latterbarrow, Cumbria
Conquer a mini mountain this winter with a trip to the crest of one of the Lake District’s most accessible peaks. Latterbarrow’s 244m-high summit sits less than two miles from the cobbled courtyards and alleyways of Hawkshead village, meaning the short but stiff climb can be done in just a few hours – leaving plenty of time for shopping. There are dozens of independent stores open throughout the winter – including Honeypot Deli and Hawkshead Relish – and the Hawkshead Christmas Fair takes place in early December. For an extra dose of charm, why not drop into the Beatrix Potter Gallery?
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
Bound by the wild climes of the North Sea to the east and miles of rolling Yorkshire moorland to the west is Robin Hood’s Bay. In the 18th century, it was this extreme isolation that made the coastal village so attractive to smugglers. These days, however, the function of ‘Bay Town’ has shifted somewhat, and its narrow, helter-skelter streets and pitched roofs make for an enchanting base for a four-mile ramble along the North York Moors coastal cliffs and inland countryside.
Every winter, the village of Dunster pays tribute to its medieval past by lighting up its streets with candles. Choirs sing, lanterns glow and the smell of chimney fire diffuses through the crisp winter air. Before the night’s festivities begin, spend the day exploring the village on foot – 11th-century Dunster Castle, the old market place and a host of thatched cottages – then step into the countryside on a four-mile stroll over rumbling rivers to the ramparts of an Iron Age hill fort.
Goring-on-Thames to Pangbourne, Oxfordshire
Those with a keen eye may spot red kites circling overhead and teals and wigeons on the half-frozen water as they follow the Thames Path from picturesque Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire to Pangbourne in Berkshire. The waymarked and almost entirely flat trail runs alongside the river for five glorious miles between the two villages. Those with the energy can return the same way – otherwise, catch the bus back to Goring for a well-earned pint at a cosy inn.
Marlpit Hill, Kent
In the winter months, the pastureland and labyrinthine waterways surrounding Marlpit Hill in Kent crystallise with frost. A quilt of mist hangs low around copses of oak, hazel and birch, and winter wildfowl flock in the meadows. Low, golden light makes this time of year perfect for photography – take your camera and explore the area with a 3.5-mile walk.
Waterfall Country, Powys
Rain or shine, sleet or snow, Waterfall Country in the Brecon Beacons National Park evokes a sense of magic no matter what the weather brings. Walk among deep pools, veil-like cascades, moss-topped rocks and contorted trees, before arriving at one of the valley’s most impressive falls, Sgwd yr Eira, known locally as‘fall of snow’.
Glenariff Forest Park, Country Antrim
This luxuriant, water-carved gorge in County Antrim’s east is known in Northern Ireland as the ‘Queen of the Glens’. It’s easy to see why. On a fine winter’s day, sunlight breaks through the woodland’s skeletal canopy, shining like stardust as it hits and refracts on the waters below. Liverworts, mosses and outstretched ferns flourish and birdsong cheerfully resounds. A short and well-marked path leads through the forest – an ideal winter wander for the whole family.
Tobermory, Inner Hebrides
Fires crackle and smoke, warming the walls of Tobermory’s colourful houses and shops – the Isle of Mull Soap Company, Tobermory Chocolate and Mull Pottery, to name a few. A short drive away on the opposite side of the island is Calgary Bay and the start of a woodland sculpture trail. Discover the willow-woven stag, dens for the kids and a hidden face in the hillside.
Winter walks along the National Cycle Network
UK walking and cycling charity Sustrans is custodian of the National Cycle Network – a network of traffic-free paths and quiet on-road cycling and walking routes.
Here is a selection some of the best walking routes along the National Cycle Network chosen by Sustrans.
Surrounded by stunning Scottish countryside, and situated right by the Auchinstarry Marina, the Boat House is a beautiful stop off point for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Glasgow and embark on a winter walk along the Forth and Clyde Canal. A mix of contemporary elegance and cosy warmth, the Boat House has an extensive drinks menu including their own Boat House lager, and a range of craft gins, ensuring everyone will get a chance to sample their favourite Christmas tipple.
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Sitting on the banks of the River Spey, the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore is bursting with character. Converted from a riverside cottage in 1982, the pub provides a cosy, candle-lit welcome to hungry and thirsty wanderers. The Old Bridge Inn’s exposed beams and balance of traditional and contemporary décor is the perfect backdrop for whiling away a few hours with a seasonal drink, or a choice selection from their extensive whisky collection.
Enjoying exceptional views across the mouth of the River Tay, the Ship Inn is one of Broughty Ferry’s cosiest stop-offs. Popular with locals and visitors alike thanks to its hearty winter menus and exceptional selection of Scottish cask ales, the Ship Inn is a perfect destination for a crisp, winter coastline stroll.
If you’re looking for a traditional Welsh pub in which to enjoy a festive drink after a country stroll, look no further than the Garddfon Inn. Situated along the banks of the Menai Straits in the beautiful village of Felinheli, this waterside, family-run pub can be reached by National Route 8. Starting at Caernarfon, the Garddfon Inn is a three mile walk along this picturesque section of the route.
Using National Route 45, take a stroll to the Chester Christmas Market. Here you’ll be able to soak up the festive atmosphere while sipping on some mulled mine and browsing the stools for beautiful handmade Christmas gifts for loved ones. Running until the 22nd December, be sure to book tickets so you don’t miss out! For more information, visit their website:
With a mixture of live music, delicious food and an impressive drinks menu, the Stokers Halt is the ideal place to unwind and enjoy a well-earned Christmas tipple after a winter walk. Just off the Upper Newtownards Road in East Belfast, which runs parallel to the Comber Greenway, the Stokers Halt is well worth a visit this festive season – if you come by bike, you can claim your Pedal Perk 10% of the food bill.
Whether it’s a mulled wine or a cup of hot chocolate you’re after, Daft Eddy’s bar and café has a festive tipple suitable for all. Situated on the shores of Strangford Lough and accessed by a causeway across the sea, Daft Eddy’s is surrounded by beautiful Northern Irish countryside. Daft Eddy’s can be reached by NCN Route 99, and caters to families and four-legged friends.