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 some of the UK’s best winter landscapes with our pick of the best winter walks and hikes, including maps and route descriptions.
Loch Morlich, Highland
Loch Morlich in Glenmore Forest Park, Highland ©Getty
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.
Castleton and Winnats Pass, Derbyshire
Winnats Pass and Mam Tor in winter, Derbyshire ©Getty
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
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire ©Alamy
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
Dinefawr Park and Newton House, Carmarthenshire ©Alamy
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.
Glen Finnan in Highland, Scotland – looking north ©Jake Graham
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
Haddon Hall in winter, Derbyshire ©Getty
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
Church Stretton, aka Little Switzerland, in the snow, Shropshire ©Simon Whaley
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.
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
Like many East Anglian buildings, the exterior of St Mary the Virgin church in Cavendish is dressed with flint ©Alamy
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.
A stormy winter morning at Holkham Bay, Norfolk, England ©Getty
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.
Cotehele House, Cornwall ©Alamy
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.