Friday, 02 December 2016

National Trust Winter Walks

There's plenty to be excited about at Christmas time, but sometimes we all need a break from the hustle and bustle to relax and unwind

Winter is the perfect time to wrap up warm, throw on some wellies and get out on an invigorating winter walk. What better way to celebrate the festive season?

Blow away the December cobwebs while rambling along blustery coastal paths, or take a stroll through frosty countryside and keep your eyes peeled for seasonal wildlife. Whichever route you choose, there's something to suit all tastes.

With the help of its supporters, The National Trust cares for hundreds of walking trails in beautiful locations all across the country. Here are some of the best walking trails and events to give you a spring in your step during the cold winter months, plus some tips from the walking experts at Cotswold Outdoor to help you make the most of your adventures.

Coastal winter walks

Old Harry Rocks, Dorset
Breath-taking views of the Jurassic coast and the striking chalk sea stacks of Old Harry and his 'wife' await you on this circular walk. There's plenty to look out for along the way, from peregrine falcons to far-reaching views over the Isle of Wight. The route starts and finishes at the Bankes Arms pub, so after your adventures you can refuel with local ales and delicious home-cooked food. 

Botallack Mine, West Cornwall
This one-mile circular walk takes you along the clifftops at Botallack in west Cornwall, where you can see the ruins of old mine buildings perched precariously on the edge. As part of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site the landscape really brings to life the area's industrial past – which made it the perfect location for filming the recent BBC adaptation of 'Poldark'. 

Birling Gap, East Sussex
This walk takes you along the cliffs at Belle Tout to Lookout Hill, from where customs officers used to keep an eye out for smugglers lurking on the beaches below. Only a few bricks now remain of the lookout tower, but you can still see the cottages which were built in the 1820s to house the local coastguards and their families. Come for a winter walk and a fossil hunt, then stop off in the café for a warming cup of tea and a slice of cake. 

Dunwich Heath, Suffolk
Dunwich Heath is a rare and precious habitat, home to special species such as Dartford warblers and woodlarks. This walk takes you around the perimeter of the heath, where you can take enjoy the brisk coastal air and take in spectacular views out to sea. If you're visiting between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve, you'll be able to finish your walk by curling up next to the log burner in the Old Coastguard Cottages tea room. Don't forget to try the special Christmas-themed scone. 

Sheringham Park, Norfolk
Coastal views are central to landscape designed by Humphry Repton in 1812, and the winter light shows them off at their best. Climb to the top of the gazebo tower perched on the top of the oak wood hill for a panoramic view of the North Norfolk coastline. A walk to the cliffs will often be accompanied by the sound of skylarks soaring high above you and flocks of finches busily feeding during the short winter days. 

Embleton and Newton Links, Northumberland
Wrap up warm for a bracing walk on the Northumberland coast, where the scenery becomes even more dramatic in winter. Keen photographers will have the chance to capture some of the country's most spectacular coastline, from the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle to the miles of often deserted sand along Embleton Bay, which shifts on windy days. When you reach Low Newton you can warm up in the Ship Inn, before following the route back to Craster. 

Formby, Liverpool
Hidden secrets, past and present, are waiting to be found on this varied walk through a beautiful coastal landscape. Sweeping coastal pinewoods, prehistoric footprints and dramatic sand dunes are just waiting to be discovered, and a crisp winter walk is the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs. 

Yorkshire Coast, Yorkshire
From the seaside town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea with its Victorian pier and cliff lift, this walk takes you up to the summit of Warsett Hill where you can admire the Yorkshire Coast and surrounding countryside. With beautiful views out to sea, this is the perfect spot for a bracing winter walk on the coast. 

Rhossili Bay, Swansea
If you love the coast, winter wouldn't be complete without a stroll along one of Wales' best beaches. If you're feeling adventurous you could head out to the tidal island of Worms Head – just make sure to keep an eye on the tides so you can get back safely. 

Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire
This scenic circular route offers far-reaching coastal views, wildlife and the chance to learn a bit more about Pembrokeshire's industrial past. During the winter months you can see some truly spectacular sunsets over the Blue Lagoon, an old slate quarry that has since been breached by the sea. Chough can often be seen swirling up above the cliffs on sea breezes, and if you're lucky you might also spot pods of porpoise swimming offshore. 

Porthdinllaen, Llŷn Peninsula
Porthdinllaen is a great spot to enjoy a walk on the coast. You'll discover magnificent views and fine sandy beaches, along with plenty of rockpools to explore. The Tŷ Coch Inn is on hand to provide warming refreshments, so you can take the opportunity relax after your walk and watch the comings and goings of local fishermen. 

Giant's Causeway, County Antrim
The Red Trail at the Giant's Causeway is a bracing clifftop walk, with spectacular views of the world-famous Causeway Coast and North Channel. The other-worldly landscape of basalt columns is truly the stuff of legend, with local folk lore claiming that the Causeway was built by the giant Finn MacCool, in an attempt to cross to Scotland to fend off his Scottish counterpart Benandonner. Scientists discovered the real cause behind the rock formations in the late 18th century, but a walk along the clifftops is still sure to raise a sense of mystery. 

Winter Wildlife Walks

Teign Valley, Newton Abbot
Perhaps the most famous walk on Dartmoor, this wildlife trail takes you past the imposing bulk of Castle Drogo - the last castle to be built in England - along the breathtaking Hunters Path high above the River Teign. Local wildlife includes buzzards, dippers, grey wagtails and deer. 

Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
At almost 400ft deep and three miles long, Cheddar Gorge is England's largest gorge. There's a rich variety of wildlife and plant life to be spotted on this exhilarating four-mile circular walk. Look out for peregrine falcons, Soay sheep, jackdaws, buzzards and ravens. 

Newtown National Nature Reserve, Isle of Wight
This largely flat, gentle four-mile walk will take you through the varied habitats of the island's only National Nature Reserve, encompassing beautiful stretches of salt marsh, estuary and woodland, with an optional visit to East Bird Hide. Look out for Brent geese, little egrets, pretty belted Galloway cattle and even prettier red squirrels. 

Watlington Hill, Oxfordshire
The National Trust's Watlington Hill is a great place to see The Chilterns' famous red kites, as well as far-reaching views over the Oxfordshire countryside. The red kite was hunted to extinction in England at the end of the nineteenth century, but was reintroduced to Watlington in 1989. There are now more than 1,000 breeding pairs in the area. Take a walk around the hill to see these beautiful birds silhouetted against the sky, riding the thermals and diving for food. 
Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
From gentle strolls on the all-weather boardwalk around Sedge Fen, to longer walks exploring new wetland habitats, there are plenty of opportunities to spot amazing wildlife at Wicken Fen. Keep a look out over for hen and marsh harriers, short-eared owls and Wicken's herds of Highland cattle and Konik ponies. 

Ilam Park, Derbyshire
Discover the limestone countryside of the southern Peak District, famed for its wildlife and geology. Starting at the tranquil Victorian landscape and woodland of Ilam Park, this easy two and a half mile walk takes you into Dovedale, an iconic and spectacular gorge carved out by the river Dove. Wildlife to watch out for include grey wagtails and dippers. 

Lyme Park, Cheshire
This route takes you off the beaten path to some of the lesser-explored areas of the estate. Along the way you'll be treated to sweeping views over the Derbyshire hills and into Yorkshire. You may also encounter Lyme's herd of red deer, who often spend their time in the east of the park. 

Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire
Follow the heritage trail route over Wessenden valley on this circular eight-mile walk over open moorland, where the weather can change very quickly. The area is bursting with wildlife: see if you can spot mountain hares, curlews, golden plovers, stoats and much more. Wear sturdy walking boots, warm clothing and waterproofs for this four and a half hour walk. 

Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire
Dinefwr's historic parkland is famed for its abundance of wildlife and stunning valley views. During the winter months this walk is particularly good for spotting wetland birds such as teal, widgeon and tufted duck. Afterwards you can head to the tea rooms and cosy up beside a roaring fire with a drink and a slice of cake.
N.B. The Billiard Room tea room will be open on selected days in December – check website for details. Whole estate closed 24th & 25th December 
Castle Ward, County Down
With 21 miles of trails there is plenty of space for a festive wander at Castle Ward. Meander through atmospheric woodland and open farmland while enjoying the winter hues and views across Strangford Lough. Along the shore look out for common seals, wildfowl and wading birds and throughout the woodlands look out for pine martens, buzzards, herons and Irish hares. 

Portstewart Strand, County Londonderry
Many walkers enjoy the two miles of magnificent golden sands at Portstewart Strand. Less people are aware of the way marked trail that meanders through 6,000 year old dunes to the river edge at the Bann Estuary. It's a different world with the serenity of the estuary habitats for shelducks, lapwings and wintering wildfowl a wonderful contrast to the wind and waves of the open beach.

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