Britain’s Best Winter Walks – part 1

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The Peak District: perfect for dusting off the cobwebs

The advent of the New Year signals the beginning of millions of resolutions across the nation, doubtless many of them to include good intentions for a healthier lifestyle.  There cannot be many more invigorating ways to greet the New Year whilst embarking on a more active 2014 than to enjoy a winter walk in the beautiful British countryside. This is the perfect opportunity maybe to ‘dust away a few cobwebs’ whilst getting away this winter to explore some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe.  Here are some great options for winter walking in 2014.

Walking in Cornwall – Holywell Bay to Porthtowan

Coastal walking in winter can be dramatic and perhaps nowhere are they more spectacular than in Cornwall. The mesmerising winter swell produces an impressive demonstration of nature’s unrelenting pounding of the Cornish Atlantic coast. Whether it be a crystalline blue winter’s day or a breezy afternoon, walkers (and surfers!) are drawn to one of the most enigmatic stretches of coast in the country. Holywell Bay with its famous Gull Rocks lies just to the south of Newquay on the north Cornwall coast. The walk following the coastal path south to Porthtowan passes delightful coves, expansive beaches and imposing cliffs and takes about 5 hours. The route will take you through Perranporth, St Agnes and the emblematic Wheal Coates, a former tin mine which looks down on this majestic coastline. This historic landmark has come to symbolise ‘Kernow’ and man’s essential link to land and sea. With a plethora of great pubs along the way, there is plenty of opportunity to ‘rest’ on this popular winter walk.

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Walking in South Wales  -  Rhossili Bay

The Gower peninsula is an area of outstanding natural beauty and like its Cornish cousin the coastline on ‘The Gower’ is unforgettable. This ancient terrain is blessed with natural good looks and is also dotted with Iron Age and Norman monuments to explore in an area that has been treasured for centuries. A great way to take in this fabulous vista is to walk from Worms Head along the coast and then into a circular route around Rhossili Bay. This eight mile route provides some fantastic vantage points that on a clear day will allow you to glimpse the North Devon coast. The rugged countryside is bordered by a large beach at Rhossili Bay providing an opportunity to follow the tideline as part of your journey across some of the most delightful scenery in South Wales.

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Walking in Scotland – Loch Morar

Scotland is synonymous with walking and the famed Munro’s and Corbett’s are of course will trodden. If you are looking for something not quite as strenuous whilst equally picturesque, then Loch Morar is a great option for a memorable winter walk. This part of Scotland is considered a paradise for walkers, with elevated views of some of the most stunning Scottish mountains including Ben Nevis and across the water towards the Hebrides. One of the most scenic and popular routes is the 5 mile route along the loch to Tarbet. With a snow capped backdrop against the still, mirror-like waters and on a crisp winter’s day, the views are simply breathtaking. The wild landscape provides a variety of habits to a fascinating array of wildlife. Look out for otters, roe deer and even sea eagles, which can be seen fishing for salmon!

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Walking in the Peak District – Eastern Moors

The stillness across the frozen Peak District moorland transports the soul into the sense of another world (if not another century). The landscaping is awe-inspiring, whilst haunting at the same time.  The central location of the Peak District National Park makes it eminently accessible and perfect for a walking short break. To get a real sense of wilderness and the essential raw beauty of the Peaks, the Eastern Moors is offers varied range of vistas to immerse yourself during a winter moorland walk.  The circular route from Curbar Gap, through Froggat, White Edges and then back to Curbar Gap, takes in some of the most strikingly rugged parts of the Peak District. Expansive moorland home to timid red deer offers vantage points across Derwent Valley and on to the heartland of the Peak District.

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Walking in the Cotswolds –  Winchcombe

Perhaps there is nowhere that best exemplifies the essence of England’s green and pleasant land than the rolling Cotswolds. Home to the quintessential English village, during the winter months the landscape takes on a magical, almost ethereal flavour as the morning and early evening mists hang over timeless Cotswold valleys. The attractive gentle inclines offer an extensive variety of footpaths and bridleways across historic sites, rivers and past tempting old Inns!  Winchcombe which lies at the heart of the Cotswolds is a great starting point for a variety of walks around some of the most beautiful and historic landscapes in the area.  Many options encompass parts of the Cotwolds Way and you can choose from leisurely two mile routes around Sudeley Castle to more challenging hikes from Winchombe to Hailes, taking in great views of the Malverns and the Vale of Evesham. With the early winter nights make sure you plan your journey allowing for plenty of daylight to complete your walk. What better way than to round off your winter hike than coming home to light your woodburner in your cosy Cotswolds cottage!

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New Year’s Resolutions – Activity Holidays in Britain

Lake District cycling

As millions of us are now ‘resolved’ to become healthier in 2013 why not combine good intentions with your next cottage holiday in Britain?  Now is the time to put to one side thoughts of cold dark winter nights and think instead about booking your next adventure holiday for 2013. Britain has a wealth of activity opportunities across the length and breadth of the country. With hundreds of miles of coastline, cycle paths and walking routes to choose from, we are going to focus on some of our favourites to help you decide.

Kayaking on the River Fowey – Cornwall

Home of author and playwright Daphne De Maurier, Fowey stands majestically overlooking the estuary of the River Fowey looking out towards the stunning South Cornish coast. The river is surrounded by wooded undulating hills. A haven for wildlife, this is a great location for kayaking for learner and experienced kayaker alike. Routes extend upstream towards the countryside or follow the estuary along the coast towards the sea. You should be able to spot herons, cormorants and kingfishers as you glide across the water in tune with your beautiful surroundings, there cannot be many better ways to immerse yourself in the essential beauty of Cornwall. Kayaking is great for the whole family and there are various organisations that offer guided tours based on the River Fowey. It is possible to hire kayaks for independent use but this is strictly for over 18 year old experienced kayakers.

Find holiday cottages in Cornwall.

Coasteering in Pembrokershire – South Wales

If you want to enjoy the coast but have a little more of the ‘daredevil’ about you then coasteering in South Wales may be just for you. The Pembrokeshire coastline is spectacular. Much like its Cornish cousin, this stretch coastline has been carved out by the wild Atlantic to create a dramatic seascape. Britain’s only coastal national park, Pembrokeshire boasts a 180 mile long coast path where you will find delightful coves and many golden sandy bays. This really is coasteering country, an adventure sport that brings you face to face with the raw power of the Atlantic and involves rock hopping, wild swimming, climbing and jumping from cliffs!  This is nature at its most exhilarating and is a great opportunity to ‘regress’ and indulge that childlike fun-seeking side of you! It is that unique feeling of exploration that really grabs the imagination. With experienced guides to help you make the most of this adrenaline filled sport whilst toasty warm in your wet suit, this is one holiday activity that the rain cannot spoil!

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Cycling in the Lake District – North West England

The Lake District is basically a cyclist’s paradise offering a range of challenging mountainous paths – as well as many gentle wooded trails – whilst set amongst some of England’s most stunning scenery, there really is something for everyone. Cyclists are drawn to this part of the world not least because of the beautiful views, but also because many parts of the Lake District offer paths that are relatively traffic free. Kids love cycling, and some of the best family trails are to be found at Grizedale Forest, where you will find miles of well-maintained paths amongst ancient oak and conifer trees along with strategically placed cafés for weary parents to recuperate!  Being the Lake District, this is also one of the best places for wild off-road routes that will bring you face to face with a real sense of wilderness. It is perhaps not surprising that the Lake District has been recently voted the number one biking destination in Britain. These bridleways are really a serious challenge for the hardy cyclist but the rewards are rich with unforgettable scenes across some of Britain’s most picturesque countryside.

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Skiing in Aviemore – Scottish Highlands

Whilst recent cold winters in Britain may have been unwelcome for the majority of us, they have in turn signalled a renaissance in British skiing with the resort of Aviemore the destination of choice. The last three winters have seen exceptionally good snowfalls providing excellent conditions with the key season extending from Christmas through to April. With the great snow and unattractive conversion rates for the Euro, many skiers and snowboarders have swapped the Alps for the beautiful Cairngorms to make the most of great skiing opportunities right here in Britain. Needless to say the Caringorms is one of the most dramatic mountain ranges in Britain with beautiful lochs, rivers and world famous Glens. Set against this stunning Highland backdrop there are over 30km of well-maintained ski runs with a variety of options to suit beginner, intermediate and experienced skiers (including off-piste and country routes). If you are completely new to skiing the local ski school runs great courses for children and adults to allow you to get to grips to the sport closer to home.

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Top 5 British Winter Walks

There is something cleansing about walking, for me the direct connection with the exquisite beauty of nature purges the soul of the stressful side effects of modern living.  Looking miles down the coastline from a high vantage point, watching the waves crashing on rocks below and perhaps punctuating the journey with a delicious lunch and a fine ale, suddenly all seems very well with the world.   In Britain we are blessed with some of the finest scenery in Western Europe, and with hundreds of miles  of pristine coastline, beautiful rolling hills and challenging mountain  routes there is plenty of choice for the most hardened and timid walker alike. Here are our top 5 favourite British winter walks…

5.  Land’s End to Cape Cornwall

Devoid of the summer hordes, Cornwall in winter is transformed and the raw beauty of its coastline is epitomised in the spectacular stretch of the coastal path from Land’s End to Cape Cornwall. Starting at Land’s End on a clear day you will be able to catch a glimpse of the Scilly Isles on the horizon as you make your way along the cliffs to the exquisite Sennen Cove. A haven for marine birds, you will find a fantastic vantage point over looking Sennen from the old coastguards look out. Owned by the national trust from here you have a great view of the cliffs towards Land’s End, and then to your north the coastline stretches out majestically around the bay towards Cape Cornwall. Dropping down into Sennen Cove you may want to take in lunch at the traditional Old Success Inn or perhaps at the timber clad Beach restaurant with its stunning Atlantic vista. Refreshed and invigorated by the sea breeze, doubtless you will be mesmerised by the Cornish rollers en route to your destination at Cape Cornwall.

Distance: 5 miles

4.  Bala to Llyn Tegid

There is something really special about a crisp clear sapphire winter’s day in North Wales. With a light frost in the air and a view across Lake Bala and wooded hillsides towards Snowdonia, there are few better backdrops for a bracing winter walk.  Starting in the sleepy village of Bala, you will head south to the eastern flank of the lake to get the best elevated view of the lake to the mountains beyond. The route runs parallel to the Bala Lake Railway, gently inclining and then arching to Encil y Coed.  Looking out across the still waters of the lake, perhaps with a thin veil of mist hanging across the water, you will be able to see towards Dolgelleau. Heading back north you will make your way do through fields and woodlands back towards the warmth of the village and why not round off the day with a delicious roast lamb dinner.

Distance: 5 miles

3.  Edinburgh New Town Walk

During winter the British countryside is picturesque and exudes character but we should forget that the nation’s cities offer an equally fascinating backdrop for a winter walk and one of the best examples is Edinburgh. With the added appeal of maybe sampling a dram or two along the way a city walk in Edinburgh is one of the best ways to take in the elegant beauty of one of world’s finest cities. In the shadow of Arthur’s seat the Georgian New Town contrasts with gothic echoes to shape a majestic skyline. The classic route begins in the centre of town in Princes Street, winding northwards through George Street, Queen Street and on towards the Stockbridge and the Botanical gardens. This meandering route takes you past some of the city’s finest shopping and most desirable residencies. Returning back on yourself and then heading towards the playhouse you will turn back for home with the city’s stunning castle overlooking the route.

Enjoy some of the best views of Edinburgh

Distance: 3 miles

2.   Hawes via Sedbusk 

In the winter months the Yorkshire Dales take on an enigmatic character conjuring thoughts of the Bronte’s and James Herriot, an exquisitely uncompromising landscape that, unsurprisingly, attracts walkers all year round. The Wensleydale market town of Hawes, lying on the route of the Pennine Way, is one of the premier walking centres in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.   Initially heading west from Hawes you will turn north towards ‘Bluebell Hill’ crossing fields and frozen becks passing Apperset in the heart of the Dales. Rolling countryside and moorland lead you to Hardraw Force, England’s largest single drop waterfall (or in harsh winters England’s largest icicle!).  Here you can take the opportunity to warm up in front of a roaring fire in the nearby historic 13th century Green Dragon pub.  Heading west to the village of Sedbusk you will be greeted with a sweeping view of the Wensleydale valley across fellside pastures and winding rivers.  Destinations end back in Hawes lies a short 1.5 mile transit to the south.

Distance: 5 miles

1.  Grasmere  via Alcock Tarn

The Lake District is picture perfect in winter and with a light dusting of snow or a heavy frost it turns into a wonderland.  William Wordsworth was a keen walker and took much of his inspiration from the spectacular scenery surrounding his beloved Grasmere. Like Bala, Grasmere sits at the head of a stunning lake with mountains beyond. Starting to the north of the village, past the Swan Hotel, you will head into the rocky fells towards the mountain lake, care is required as it can get quite steep but the path is well maintained and lies just a mile and a half from the village. The views are spectacular and reach across the fells towards Grasmere below and the southern Lakes beyond. The route back to Grasmere is delightful, heading south from Alcock Tarn and then onto Wordsworth’s home at Rydal (Rydal Mount). The route back to Grasmere takes you past the timeless Rydal Water and continuing on to the village and your original starting point.

Stunning views all year round

Distance: 7 miles

By Gareth McKillop                                                  

Autumn Trails – Away from it all in the Lakes and Scotland’s South West

There is something fundamentally satisfying about closing your cottage door to the darkness of a lengthening autumnal evening and then pulling up a chair in front of a roaring fire. With the beautiful gold and orange tones already taking over the British countryside, this is a great time of year to ‘get away from it all’ and make the most of the empty roads and quiet trails before winter begins in earnest. We are going to take a look a two of Britain’s most stunning rural destinations, the Lake District and South West Scotland, two regions separated by the Solway Firth but united in their enduring appeal.

The Lake District

There are few places on these Isles which can be categorised as ‘wilderness’, though England’s stunning rugged North West reaches comes close. As the name suggests, it’s comprised of stunning mountainous vistas surrounded by lakes carved through millennia by ancient volcanoes, snow and ice. The result is a breathtaking National Park that boasts gloriously desolate valleys, challenging mountain bike trails and hundreds of miles of some of Britain’s finest walking country. Whilst this part of England offers splendid isolation for those who seek it, the Lake District is also blessed with fine culinary enclaves and fascinating attractions such as Brockhole and The World of Beatrix Potter. Many will be drawn to some of the more popular lakes, such as Windermere or Coniston, though perhaps some of the Lake District’s finest scenery can be found at Buttermere and in particular, the stunningly tranquil Derwent Water.

South West Scotland

It is no coincidence that Sir Paul McCartney choose the quiet of South West Scotland when seeking a retreat in the 1970s. He would later immortalise the region in the timeless classic, ‘Mull of Kintyre’. This bewitching part of Britain, much like its Lakeland cousin to the south, provides a rural haven from the rigours of our hectic modern lives. With a majestic coastline extending from the Solway Firth, meandering along peninsulas to Robert Burns’s country in the north, South West Scotland has some of Britain’s finest links golf courses. Perhaps the most iconic, the legendary Turnberry, looks out forever to the haunting island outcrop the ‘Aisla Craig’ and with Troon just a short distance to the north, this is truly hallowed golfing country. Once you have explored the expanses of beautiful rolling Scottish countryside, why not turn you attention to the exquisite harbour town of Port William or perhaps the historic artist haven, Kirkcudbright.  Even boasting its own whiskey trail, South West Scotland will doubtless leave you with satisfyingly warm reflections on your next autumn cottage break.

Country Life’s most uplifting walks

What a difference a few days make. Not only have we seen a drop in temperature from the delightfully unseasonal spring weather we’ve been enjoying, but we’ve also experienced a mini fuel panic and controversy over the price and relative temperature of bakers’ goods.

But fret not; while some have been worrying about how to arrive at their destination (not to mention the price of warm pastry products when they get there!) our  friends at Country Life magazine have recently published a guide to 16 UK walks to lift the sprit. What’s more they have allowed us to feature a few of them on the cottages4you blog. If you fancy reading the full list then take a look at the new issue (cover above). You can also take advantage of some great subscription offers on their website.

Around St Anthony Head

Take the cheerful little ferry from St Mawes to Place Quay south Cornwall (it runs April 1–November 4), visit the church on the beach and then follow the path around the promontory (6 miles).

Why it’s uplifting Seeing boats bobbing on the majestic Fal estuary and swimming at Porthbeor beach, only accessible on foot.

Need to know The National Trust-run St Anthony Head boasts a Second World War observation post, bird hide, light- house and exemplary loos.

Tea Seasonal tea garden at St Anthony Head

Crowcombe to Holford, Quantock  Hills, Somerset

Start on top of the hill at Crowcombe  Park Gate, head north through bracken and heather and drop down one of the wooded combes, where you should see red deer, to Holford (about 6 miles round trip).

Why it’s uplifting The infinite variety of sea and vale, forest and heather, green  and purple skylines—Exmoor to the west, Wales to the north—is almost overwhelming,  so allow standing and staring time. Wordsworth did: ‘On springy heath, along the hill-top edge/Wander in gladness and wind down, perchance/To that still roaring dell.’

Need to know Wordsworth and Coleridge walked from Holford to Crowcombe and back, a strenuous uphill pull.

Pub The Plough, Holford (01278 741232) or The Carew Arms, Crowcombe (01984  618631; www.thecarewarms.co.uk).

‘Military Meadows’, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire

Summertime, grassland walk from Heytesbury to the atmospheric abandoned village of Imber and back (8–10 miles, depending on route).

Why it’s uplifting The public is only allowed on the plain at certain times, when the army isn’t using it (01980 674763; www.mod.uk), which gives it a frisson of daring. The pastoral beauty contrasts with the ugliness of war—burnt-out hulks of tanks used for target practice.

Need to know The village of Imber was evacuated in 1943 so American troops could use it; despite attempts to reclaim it, it remains in Ministry of Defence hands. It’s spooky, even on a summer’s day.

Pub The Angel, Heytesbury (01985 840330; www.theangelheytesbury.co.uk).

Dinas Island, Newport, Pembrokeshire

Circular walk around Dinas Head, starting at Cwm-yr-Eglwys (3 miles).

Why it’s uplifting  Dramatic, rugged views, seabirds nesting, and the possibility of seeing porpoises off Needle Rock.

Need to know The ‘island’ is really a promontory that became semi-detached from the mainland during an Ice Age.

Pub The ancient Old Sailor’s Inn, Pwllgwaelod Beach (01348 811491).

Holkham Beach, north Norfolk

Park in Lady Anne’s Drive off the A149, walk down to the beach and take off as far as you want in either direction. You could turn right to Wells-next-the-Sea, returning through the pines (about 4 miles).

Why it’s uplifting The ultimate, wind-in your hair, winter beach, voted Best British Beach in 2011. The horizon is vast enough for both the solitary and the gregarious.

Need to know There’s a naturist area.

Pub The Victoria Hotel (01328 711008; www.holkham.co.uk) or hunker down in the dunes with a picnic and watch the birds.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

Park in the castle car park and walk down to the beach. Head north and swing back towards the village inland. The castle is always in sight, so you can choose your distance—the round trip to Budle Bay is about four miles.

Why it’s inspiring The castle and its proud position is an irresistible landmark in every light.

Need to know Lighthouse-keeper’s daughter Grace Darling, heroine of the SS Forfarshire shipwreck in 1838, is buried here.

Tea Copper Kettle Tearooms (01668 214315; www.copperkettletearooms.com).

Haweswater/Mardale Head, Cumbria

Drive up the valley road from Bampton until you reach the end of the Haweswater, a manmade lake—although it doesn’t look like one—built to supply Manchester. Walk up to Blea Water, and then keep climbing, up to Kidsty Pike and the Roman Road— if you’re lucky, you’ll see a golden eagle.

Why it’s uplifting The further you go, the better it gets, so much so that you have to make a conscious effort to turn around.

Need to know In dry years, eerie traces of the drowned village of Mardale emerge from the receding waters.

Picnic Anywhere that looks onto the water.

Coln St Aldwyns to Bibury,  Gloucestershire

An almost flat or downhill stroll along a chalkstream valley (2 miles).

Why it’s uplifting A Constable-esque landscape, more mellow than exhilarating, of grazing sheep and water meadows.

Need to know Buy day tickets locally for trout-fishing (below) on the River Coln or visit www.goflyfishinguk.com.

Pub Bibury Court has a hotel bar at which walkers are welcome (01285 740337; www.biburycourt.co.uk).

The UK’s favourite footpaths

We’ve teamed up with Walk4Life to find the UK’s favourite footpaths and encourage families and walkers of all abilities to take to their feet and enjoy a walking weekend.

With late autumn the perfect time of the year to get out and see Britain in all its beauty, this collection of best loved routes will suit everyone from budding ramblers to families looking to make the most of a healthy break in the countryside! And in the interest of ultimate rest and relaxation, we’ve also added holiday cottage suggestions under each one.

Now, without further ado, here are the UK’s top five favourite walks…

1. Bath Skyline (See route in walk4life)

The most popular walk on the National Trust website.  The route takes just under six miles of stunning views over the historical city of bath.  Walkers can make a weekend of it by staying in Rose Cottage in Bathampton (ref EKH). A delightful 45-minute walk along the towpath from historic Bath.  This attractive and comfortable property enjoys lovely private views over the Kennet and Avon canal from its patio garden.

2. Alderley Edge (see route on walk4life)

This walk is a four mile route for the more sure-footed walker, taking in spectacular views over the Cheshire landscape with woodland and steep slopes.  The Hoseshoe Cottage in Somerford (ref RBBY) offers a welcome retreat for weary walkers.  Set within two-acres of landscaped and unspoilt natural grounds with paddock, the property enjoys views over open countryside and offers walking and cycling from the doorstep.  This luxury holiday property even has its own hot tub perfect for resting tired feet!

3. Boudicca Way (see route)

A long distance footpath that is perfect for discovering history in the Norfolk countryside. If you don’t have time to make it round the full 36 mile route, why not try a section to whet the appetite.  Tucked away completely off the beaten track, Turnpike Cottage in New Buckenham (ref CRW) compliments the rich historical surroundings.  The 18th-century thatched cottage exudes immense charm with an open fire and exposed beams, making it an ideal romantic retreat.

 4. Furzton Lake (see route on walk4life)

This is a circular 1.5 mile route around Furzton Lake in Milton Keynes. Yew Tree Cottage (ref 26115) in the village of Yardley Gobion in Towcester makes good use its rural location with easy access to the city amenities and walk at Milton Keynes. The perfect base to explore the surrounding area with many good walking and cycle routes available, Yew Tree Cottage was originally three cottages built in the 1850s, maintaining its historic charm.

5. Cheddar Reservoir Circular (see route on walk4life)

This is an easy three mile stroll providing a perfect loop around the picturesque reservoir with its boating and wildlife. Why not stay at Hollie’s Cottage in Draycott near Cheddar (ref 90141).  Cosy and charming, this stone holiday cottage, complete with beams, a woodburner and spiral staircase, boasts much period character.  The area is famed for its gorge and caves and for those looking for a more robust walking experience, offers access to excellent walking on the Mendip Hills.