Apart from the seasonal inspirations of a Christmas break, a wish to walk off the turkey or spend time outdoors with friends and family, winter is a glorious time to explore the countryside. The gales that blow through can often leave glorious dry spells of high pressure, blue skies and crisp paths. Winter may have arrived in unhurried fashion this year but the leaves have finally fallen, allowing interrupted views across the UK’s glorious landscapes.
Boxing Day is often the time when the instinct to roam beyond the sofa finally kicks in, with many iconic summits and landscapes waiting to draw people to them, from the White Cliffs of Dover to Stonehenge, Scafell Pike to Ben Nevis and Cromer pier to Pembrokeshire.
At Fountains Abbey (nationaltrust.org.uk/fountains-abbey) in North Yorkshire, a four-mile walk from Ripon Cathedral today follows in the footsteps of the monks who founded the abbey after taking the same walk in 1132 (9.30am-1.30pm).
In the south-west, the Cheddar Gorge Trail (nationaltrust.org.uk/cheddar-gorge) is a perfect Boxing Day leg-stretcher. Climb up the flanks through native woods for gorgeous views across what feels like much of the South-west. It’s easy to feel as though you are marooned on an island with the flatlands of the Somerset Levels laid out beneath you.
Worm’s Head, at the western edge of the Gower peninsula, is an elemental place at this time of year and perfect for a ramble today. Its four-mile track (ramblers.org.uk/Rhossili) takes you along magnificent Rhossili Bay, where at low tide you may feel as though the sea has rolled all the way back to the horizon.
Another walk with rewarding views is North Berwick Law in East Lothian (walkhighlands.co.uk/lothian). It is four miles there and back from the centre of the pleasant seaside town of North Berwick and it ascends the 200m to the summit of the law, a conical hill assembled from remnants of magma from an ancient volcano, known as a volcanic plug.
The widest selection of winter walks comes from the UK’s premier walking charity, the Ramblers, whose two-week Festival of Winter Walks (ramblers.org.uk) includes Boxing Day guided walks and runs until 3 January. Its guided walks cover every county of the UK and offer something for everyone, from hardened hikers to those looking to jump the gun on a New Year’s resolution for a healthier lifestyle, and range from challenging walks to more leisurely strolls. Lake District ramblers, for example, are leading a fairly strenuous 7km hike around the Langdale Pikes with views of the Langdale valley and Dungeon Ghyll, as well as a lower level New Year’s Eve walk among the lanes and hill paths around Reston Scar, north of Kendal.
Other conservation and wildlife charities are offering guided winter walks, of which many are free, while some request a small donation. These include the National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk) and the Wildlife Trusts (wildlifetrusts.org).