Life & Style

Winter walks: the UK's top 10 places to explore the great outdoors

The countryside has a magical atmosphere at this time of year. So wrap up warm, don your walking boots and head outside for an invigorating new year adventure

Winter walks
(Image credit: ©National Trust)

If you're in search of winter walks, these are the UK's best. Throughout 2020 many of us discovered a new love of the outdoors or rekindled a past passion for the serenity of the countryside – but it's not just a summer pursuit. 

Winter is a busy time of year, usually filled with the stress of cooking, hosting and planning every detail. So make sure to give yourself space to relax.

Whether you wrap up warm and head out for a few hours of peace and quiet, or bring along the children and dog to run off all that pent up energy, there's nothing quite like a crisp winter walk. Or perhaps – another year – you're a visitor from overseas and are looking for winter walks to enjoy during your stay?

We've rounded up some of the best walking trails and events to give you a spring in your step during the cold winter months! And, of course, these walks are wonderful in warmer weather, too.

See more: Our favorite National Trust gardens that you can visit all year-round

1. Buttermere, Lake District


(Image credit: Getty)

With the iconic fells emerging from the mist and dusted with snow, the dramatic lakeland scenery of Buttermere is at its most atmospheric at this time of year. While more seasoned walkers may wish to scale the heights of the area’s hills, the lakes also offer a wide range of lower-level walks, which although less challenging still offer stunning views of the natural landscape. 

Flanked by the dramatic summits of Grasmoor and High Stile, Buttermere lake has a clearly defined path, making it a must-visit for walkers in the winter months. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for red squirrels darting through the trees.

2. Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire


(Image credit: ©National Trust/Rob Coleman)

One of the oldest nature reserves in the country, Wicken Fen’s marshes sit on the Cambridgeshire border and are home to a host of wildlife, including wild Konik ponies and Highland cattle, which graze the fields. It is a muddy trail in the winter months, so wellies or walking boots are essential.

3. Cragside, Northumberland


(Image credit: ©National Trust/John Millar)

From hills and woodlands to lakes and gardens, Cragside boasts over 40 miles of footpaths across its estate. Follow the family-friendly Armstrong trail over the iconic iron bridge for stunning views of the Victorian house, then venture through the Pinetum to see the tallest Scots pine in Britain at 131ft. For a longer hike, take the Orange walk over to the Blackburn lake and follow a short but steep climb for amazing views of the Simonside Hills.

4. Cambo Gardens, Fife


(Image credit: Cambo Gardens)

As the season progresses, the green heads of winter bulbs will start to emerge from the soil, exploding in a haze of white petalled snowdrops and the purple and yellow blooms of crocuses. Cambo Gardens in Fife is home to the National Snowdrop collection, and in late winter features over 350 varieties across its 70 acres. Follow the winding paths and be enchanted by the natural beauty of this splendid woodland.

5. Blickling Estate, Norwich


(Image credit: ©National Trust/Andy Davison)

With gently undulating slopes, an enchanting ancient woodland and lots of spots to rest, Blickling Estate is perfect for a more gentle wander. Take in the vista of the stunning Jacobean house before venturing over to the lake, which was used by the RAF in World War II for dinghy training and, today, supplies residual heat to the house and offices, saving Blickling 25,000 litres of oil consumption every year.

6. Morte Bay, Devon


(Image credit: Getty)

When the winter wind is blowing and there is frost on the ground, heading to the beach probably isn’t your first thought for a winter walk. However, the coast is as beautiful in January as it is in June. 

Viewed from the hilltop path, Morte Bay offers expansive views out to sea, and the waves crashing against the rocks provide a mindful soundtrack to your stroll – perfect for blowing away the cobwebs.

7. Top Withens, West Yorkshire


(Image credit: Getty)

Said to be the inspiration for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, the ruined farmhouse of Top Withens is nestled on the hugely popular Pennine Way towards the east of Withins Height. The hills of Brontë Country are a delight to explore at any time of year, but in winter, the dramatic landscape truly inspires the imagination, bringing to life the worlds of Jane Eyre and Cathy Earnshaw. Finish your ramble with a restorative tea in the nearby village of Haworth, home to the Brontë Parsonage.

8. Crickley Hill, Cotswolds


(Image credit: ©National Trust)

Offering a spectacular panorama of the surrounding Severn Vale, Crickley Hill is a tranquil spot for a stroll. On a clear day you can see as far as the Black Mountains of Wales as you emerge from its famed beech woods. Far from just a hill, Crickley is a site of great archaeological importance, with evidence of settlements built over 5,700 years ago. Jointly owned by the National Trust and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, it is a hive of wildlife, with over 13,000 species recorded, including the Belted Galloway cattle who naturally maintain the landscape. Offering a well-defined path, the circular walk is a very accessible route and trampers can also be hired, enabling everyone to connect with nature. 

9. Pistyll Rhaeadr, North Wales


(Image credit: Getty)

An easy path to follow with spectacular views, Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall is an impressive sight, and is classed as one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. Be amazed as you watch the water plummeting over a 240ft cliff face into the plunge pool at your feet, before following the path to the waterfall’s summit, where the magnitude of the falls really becomes apparent.

10. Kinver Edge, Staffordshire


(Image credit: ©National Trust/Chris Lacey)

Part of the joy of walking is the element of discovery; finding things you never knew were right on your doorstep. The Kinver Edge Rock Houses are unlike any other. Carved into the 250-million-year-old sandstone cliff-face in the early 17th century, these houses were inhabited until the 1950s. Peek through the window to see how a Victorian family would have lived in the tiny spaces. One of the rock houses has been turned into a tearoom, providing the ideal spot to warm up. The walk to the houses is a little challenging and can be muddy, so make sure you wear good boots. Check the National Trust website for up to date information on booking and restrictions.

Holly Reaney
Content Editor and Sub-editor

Having graduated with a first class degree in English Literature, Holly started her career as a features writer and sub-editor at Period Living magazine, Homes & Gardens' sister title. Working on Period Living brought with it insight into the complexities of owning and caring for period homes, from interior decorating through to choosing the right windows and the challenges of extending. This has led to a passion for traditional interiors, particularly the country-look. Writing for the Homes & Gardens website as a content editor, alongside regular features for Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors magazines, has enabled her to broaden her writing to incorporate her interests in gardening, wildlife and nature.