Best foot forward

We’re not jetting off anywhere exotic this summer but that’s not stopping us from getting out and about. Rules on travel in the UK are beginning to relax and the Know Before You Go information hub is essential reading before planning any trips.

Read OK UK we’re good to go

Summer 2020 will be remembered as the year we spent a lot of time near our own front door, but all it takes is a switch of mindset and the adventures can begin. We had no idea our local, rather industrial harbour was such a haven for wildlife and the hedgerows are fair bursting with flowers and birds.

A brisk walk in the open air does wonders. Any form of physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing the risk of stress and depression.

Pork Belly, he’s a runner. Not fast, but steady and he thinks nothing of an hour’s run in all weathers (though not if it’s a howling gale!)

Me? I wasn’t built for running, but can manage a long walk on good days or at least a leisurely amble.

So we’ve been looking at likely spots for a country walk, with plenty of wide open spaces, where we won’t need passports, health checks and complicated insurance.

Here are 21 places in the UK topping our list for a breath of socially distant fresh air.

Scotland

The Kelpies, Scotland © Gerry Machen, Flickr
The Kelpies, Falkirk © Gerry Machen, Flickr

Falkirk Wheel to The Kelpies, Falkirk, Scotland
An hour and half’s steady stroll along the towpath of the Forth and Clyde Canal brings you to the amazing giant structures of the magical, mystical Kelpies. Don’t be alarmed by these horse-shaped water spirits of Scottish folklore, even though they have a reputation for laughing as they drown travellers.

John Muir Way, Scotland
Walking the whole of the route from Helensburgh in the west to Dunbar on the east coast would be a big challenge – all 134 miles. But the stretch between Strathblane and Kilsyth is mainly old railway track and canal towpath. Points of interest nearby include several nature reserves and a view of Dunglass Hill.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
It’s a pretty stiff climb to the top but worth the effort for panoramic views of the city. Just like the rock used to build Edinburgh Castle, the site was formed by an extinct volcano system eroded by a glacier about 350 million years ago. You can take the direct route to the top or the longer, circular walk which starts at Holyrood Palace. If that’s all too energetic stay within Holyrood Park itself and enjoy the woodland trails, reservoirs and riverside paths instead.

Arthurs Seat, Edinburgh Scotland © Walkerssk, Pixabay
Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh © Walkerssk, Pixabay

England

The tiny harbour at Craster, Northumberland UK © Dave_S, Flickr
The tiny harbour at Craster, Northumberland © Dave_S, Flickr

Craster, Northumberland
The wild coast of sweeping sands, rocky outcrops and rolling dunes makes a perfect beach walk. Head for Embleton Bay, then go inland for a circular walk or wander back along the beach again, watching out for seals.

Haughmond Hill, Shropshire
A 20 minute stroll from the car park, through ancient oaks, will get you to an Iron Age monument on the summit with views over Shrewsbury and the hills beyond. Or take the Corbett Trail, a circular route through the woodland of the former Sundorne Estate, where the way is dotted with convenient benches to rest and re-energise.

Sandwell Valley Country Park, West Bromwich, West Midlands
An award-winning park with 660 acres to walk round on a network of surfaced, accessible pathways and more natural tracks. Wander freely or pick up a trail map to guide you on your way. Woods, farmland, pools and streams provide variety and the RSPB has a nature reserve there.

Rhododendrons at Sheringham Park, Norfolk UK © Chris Wood, Wikimedia
Sheringham Park, Norfolk © Chris Wood, Wikimedia

Sheringham Park, Norfolk
A National Trust property with miles of easy-walking footpaths and cycle trails with spectacular viewpoints dotted around the area. Take in views of the coast, the Poppy Line steam engines trundling across the countryside and end up at the picturesque station of Weybourne.

Wayland Wood, Norfolk
Thought to be the site for the legend of the original Babes in the Wood story, this is one of the wilder woods in Norfolk and is said to be haunted. It’s thick with hazel, oak, ash and bird cherry. Over 125 species of flowering plant have been recorded there and it’s home to hundreds of common woodland birds along with a few rarer species like nuthatch, marsh tit and bullfinch.

Kenley airfield, Surrey, UK © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk
Kenley airfield, part of the Kenley Heritage Trail © rosemaryandporkbelly.co.uk

Farthing Down and Kenley Airfield, Surrey
Who’d have thought Croydon had so many green spaces? It was only because of Country Walking magazine that we found this route through the outskirts of the town and up onto the North Downs. Pack a picnic if you want to do the whole circular route which is fascinating for nature lovers and local historians, the commons and downs having been protected by law since the late 1800s.

Read Country walking

Clapham Woods, West Sussex
Another one with a weird and wonderful reputation – some say the birds don’t even sing there. But we found them chirruping away, so don’t believe everything you hear. A circular walk from the church will take you round the woods or you can take a shortcut through its densest parts, if you dare!

Read One of those Days in England

Ashdown Forest, East Sussex
The inspiration for Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood it’s a popular place for families. You can avoid the crowds by missing out the famous Pooh Sticks Bridge. There are plenty of other paths that wander off in various directions with views of distant downs and secret valleys.

Pooh Bridge, Ashdown Forest East Sussex UK © Fred Dawson, Flickr
Play Pooh Sticks on a walk in Ashdown Forest © Fred Dawson, Flickr

Fuller’s Follies, Brightling, East Sussex
Such a great walk around the village and nearby Dallington. Packed with weird and wonderful structures to discover, we’ve devoted a whole article to it. Squire Fuller, known as ‘Mad Jack’, certainly left his mark on the village including being buried in a giant pyramid.

Read Fuller’s Follies

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire UK © Phil Beard, Flickr
The Rollright Stones © Phil Beard, Flickr

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire
A mile long round trip will get you to the Whispering Knights stone circle which dates back to neolithic times. Legend says local witch Mother Shipton turned the fighting men into stone here and that at midnight every night they turn back briefly into human form. The site closes at dusk though so you won’t get to test the truth of the story.

New Forest, Hampshire
Dozens of short strolls from several different starting points – some by the sea, others through the woods or across open common. Try the Standing Hat Circular, a walk through Forestry Commission managed enclosures. It’s shady on a hot summer’s day but also well-protected when the wind is a little chill.

Coleridge Way walkers © Jon Coole, Exmoor NP
Coleridge Way walkers © Jon Coole, Exmoor NP

Exmoor, Devon
It’s impossible to single out any one particular route to walk as the national park is packed with beauty spots and wilderness. Shady woods, river valleys and shorelines provide interest and excitement enough for most. Fitter folk might tackle the cliff top paths and moorland of the Coleridge Way while others will prefer to settle for a stroll over ancient bridges and through tiny village streets.

Read The very best of Exmoor

Wales

Sunken Forest at Borth, Wales © Wessex Archaeology, Flickr
Sunken Forest at Borth © Wessex Archaeology, Flickr

Borth, Wales
There’s a great 5 mile walk from the town of Aberystwyth along the coast to the village of Borth. It’s part of the Ceredigion Coast Path which takes in beaches, cliffs and the beautiful Clarach Bay. You may even see the remains of a petrified forest, most of which was uncovered by Storm Hannah in 2019. The trees were once part of a huge forest between Ynyslas and Borth and have been buried under sand and sea for more than 4,500 years, giving rise to the myth of a sunken civilisation known as ‘Cantre’r Gwaelod’, or the ‘Sunken Hundred’. At very low tides or after rough spring weather washes away more silt, the stumps become exposed. The walk requires a reasonable level of fitness and there are occasional steep climbs involved. If you have the energy you can carry on further to the Dyfi National Nature Reserve but most people simply take the train back to Aberystwyth.

Coed y Brenin Forest Park, Wales
Snowdonia’s way too much for us to take on, but just a little further south is this forest with wooded paths ideal for hiking, biking and running but also with plenty of picnic spots to just idle away the hours. There are also two geocaching trails for those who like to add a treasure hunt to their walk.

Bridge over River Eden at Coed Y Brenin © Phil Shaw, Pixabay
The bridge over River Eden at Coed Y Brenin © Phil Shaw, Pixabay

Fairy Glen, Betws y Coed
Further north, on the banks of the River Conwy you’ll find little waterfalls, rapids and cascades running through a wooded gorge. Follow the footpath through the woods, negotiate the slippery steps and enjoy the peace and quiet. About a mile down river you’ll find Conwy Falls with a short circular trail through the Conwy Forest Park.

Northern Ireland

Scrabo Tower, Londonderry Monument, NI © Darrell Bolger, Wikimedia
Scrabo Tower, Londonderry Monument, NI © Darrell Bolger, Wikimedia

Scrabo Tower, County Down
Scrabo Hill is set in woodland near Newtownards in County Down. There are several footpaths running to the top of the hill where you’ll see the lookout tower, built as a memorial to Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. But most people go there for the views which extend to Strangford Lough, the Mourne Mountains and even the Scottish coast. If the climb is too much, there are plenty of woodland trails in the country park below, through Killynether Woods. Or you can pick up the nearby Comber Greenway cycling and walking trail for a longer jaunt.

Titanic museum to Ormeau Park, Belfast
An hour long walk by the River Lagan will take you via the city’s Botanic Gardens to Ormeau Park. It’s the oldest municipal park in the city and had eco trails and orienteering routes to add a little extra to your stroll. It’s close to the city centre but is spacious and never very crowded.

Giant’s Causeway
More scramble than amble this dramatic landscape has just re-opened, but you must pre-book your visit with the National Trust. Situated on the northern coast of County Antrim this unique feature is made up of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of ancient volcanic activity. Don’t miss the Giant’s Boot in Port Noffer – legend says it was left behind by the hero Finn as he fled from the wrath of Scottish giant, Benandonner. And you might like to try out the Wishing Chair for size, a natural throne formed from a perfectly arranged set of columns, worn smooth by thousands of bottoms!

Giants Causeway, NI © Julie-Marie Daoust, Pixabay
Giants Causeway © Julie-Marie Daoust, Pixabay

With the situation of COVID19 being so fluid local restrictions may change at any time so always check before you travel.

Got a favourite walk you’re happy to share with others? Let us know in the comments, and who knows, we may meet on a woodland path someday!

Need more inspiration? Check out Walking World or GPS Routes to find a walk near you.


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