Natural England
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Walking in a winter wonderland on a National Trail

Go for a “wild walk” in the glorious English countryside this Christmas

We all love the feasts and open fires, but winter can also be a great time to get out and about in the countryside and enjoy an exhilarating breath of fresh air.

One of the best ways ways of experiencing England’s fantastic countryside in winter is along England’s network of National Trails. Enjoyed by walkers, cyclists, runners and riders alike, National Trails provide memorable routes for anyone who loves the outdoors. Everyone in England lives within 50 miles of a National Trail and the National Trails website is packed with information to help you plan your trip.

But as well as being a great way of taking exercise and enjoying beautiful scenery, National Trails give access to some of England’s finest wildlife.

  • The Ridgeway, Cotswold Way, North Downs Way and South Downs Way National Trails will lead you through beautiful landscapes of fields, woods and hedgerows. Berries brighten the landscape and provide valuable food for birds and other animals, including field mice, squirrels and badgers.

  • If you enjoy bracing sea air and cliff top views, five of England’s National Trails will take you along the coast this winter. These are the South West Coast Path, the Cleveland Way, Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, the North Downs Way and the South Downs Way. Look out for plentiful birdlife such as pink-footed geese and bar-tailed godwit, and for seal pups swimming in the sea.

  • There are more than 200 mountains in England. The Pennine Way National Trail will take you past many of them and over the moors of the Peak District where you may see the only English population of mountain hares. Heather moorland is a distinctive feature of the Cleveland Way as it passes through the North York Moors, the largest expanse of continuous heather moorland in England.

Why not take a walk on the wild side? Take a journey of discovery through the English countryside and discover some of the world’s best-loved landscapes and wildlife for yourself.

Natural England’s Quick Guide to National Trails

National Trails are as good for short walks and gentle strolls as they are for long-distance walking, and we have identified walks across the country so you are sure to find one to suit your taste. Most are perfect for a half-day walk with family and friends followed by a picnic or pub lunch, but if you are looking for longer walks we have these too.

Pennine Bridleway

Green fields, dry stone walls and heather moors

The first purpose-built long distance bridleway for horse riders, mountain bikers and walkers. Crossing the Peak District, this 130 mile route takes in the South Pennines and Settle Loop. The highlights include rich and varied wildlife and stunning views over the Kinder plateau, Pennines and Lancashire. Try a circular walk along the world-famous Settle Loop. The 10-mile loop takes in stunning limestone scenery including views of the nationally important Malham Tarn. The route starts in Settle and climbs out of this lovely town into the Dales, traversing the wonderful limestone upland, before descending back towards Settle. The Trail incorporates open grassy stretches, limestone outcrops, grass / gravel paths and quiet winding lanes.

Pennine Way

The finest upland walking in England

It stretches 268 miles across the Pennine Mountain tops along the rugged backbone of England, from the Peak District through the Yorkshire Dales to the Cheviots. The Pennine Way has six recommended circular walks  for you to enjoy – all available as downloadable PDFs from Pennine Way website. These include the Garrigill round – an ‘easy’ 8.5 mile /3.5 hour circular walk; the Hebden Bridge round – a moderate/challenging’ 7.5 mile /3.75 hour circular walk; and the Dufton round - a ‘challenging’ 10 mile /5 hour circular walk.

The Cleveland Way

Explore the North York Moors and Coast

109 miles long, starting from the attractive market town of Helmsley, the Cleveland Way crosses the stunning heather moorland of the North York Moors, before reaching the coast at Saltburn. From here, it’s a visual feast along the dramatic North Yorkshire coastline to Filey, passing old fishing villages and lively coastal towns. Along the way there is a wealth of history and heritage to enjoy. Helmsley Castle, Rievaulx Abbey, Mount Grace Priory, Gisborough Priory, Whitby Abbey and Scarborough Castle to name just a few special places. Enjoy a great circular walk from Ravenscar, using part of the Cleveland Way National Trail. The walk is an ‘easy’ 6 mile /2.75 hour, starting from the National Trust Coastal Centre.

Yorkshire Wolds Way

The quietest National Trail

For nearly 80 miles the Yorkshire Wolds Way wends through some of the most tranquil and gentle countryside in England. From the banks of the Humber estuary, along wooded slopes and through serene dry valleys, the walk climbs gently onto the airy tops of the rolling hills where on a clear day walkers often say "you can see forever". The Trail features three circular walks : an easy stroll from Market Weighton (7.5 mile / 3.5 hours) and moderate walks from Thixendale (8 mile /4 hours) and Settrington (5.2 mile).

The South West Coast Path National Trail

Up to 630 miles of superb coastal walking

From Minehead on the edge of the Exmoor National Park to the shores of Poole Harbour in Dorset, walking is the best way to enjoy the wonderful coastal scenery, wildlife and heritage. The South West Coast Path website has 140 short walks along the coast with maps and detailed descriptions that can be printed out and taken with you from their website.

These can be downloaded onto GPS units and include postcodes for sat-navs and links to Google Earth for simulated 3D fly views, whilst the Plymouth Waterfront walk has a fascinating free audio file narrated by Edward Woodward that can be downloaded onto MP3 players. There is also lots of information on the website for anyone who wants to plan their next holiday - anything from a weekend break to the 8 weeks or so that it takes to walk the entire 630-mile trail.

Thames Path National Trail

From the Cotswolds through London and on to the sea

Follow the river for 184 miles from its source in the Cotswolds almost to the sea, passing through peaceful water meadows, unspoilt rural villages, historic towns and cities, and then cutting through the heart of London to finish at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich. Make the most of the spectacular scenery with a waterside walk and a winter warmer in a cosy pub along the way. There are some wonderful walks of varying lengths that use the Thames Path and the countryside around. These are just some examples:

  • Oxford to Abingdon: this 10-mile walk allows you to explore the university city of Oxford before setting off on this wonderfully rural section of the Path to the historic market town of Abingdon.

  • Goring to Pangbourne: just 5 miles long, this walk takes you through the dramatic Goring Gap with the wooded Chilterns rising on the opposite bank.

  • Reading to Shiplake: enjoy the gentle landscape along these 7 miles as the River Thames gradually widens on its journey to London and then the sea.

  • Marlow to Cookham: the 7-mile walk from the lovely town of Marlow takes you along arguably the most beautiful stretch of the River Thames.

  • Maidenhead to Windsor: enjoy the bridges, locks and rural feel of the river along this 8-mile stretch that culminates in a classic view of Windsor Castle.

There are several walks within a few minutes of a First Great Western train station, so you can leave the car at home and catch the train instead.

The Ridgeway National Trail

Britain’s oldest road

The Ridgeway National Trail, 87 miles long, follows the same route used since prehistoric times by travellers and herdsmen. Over rolling, open down land to the west of the River Thames, and through secluded valleys and woods in the Chilterns to the east, The Ridgeway offers the chance to get away from it all in this busy part of England. There are two new circular walks along the Trail. The shorter of the two, Bishopstone Circular Walk, starting in the delightful village of Bishopstone at the foot of the Downs, is 4.5 miles long and reaches The Ridgeway via a wonderful coombe sculpted long ago by the action of water. The second, Liddington Castle Circular Walk, nearly 9 miles long, starts in Chiseldon and includes the ancient Iron Age fort of Liddington Castle, one of the earliest hill-forts in Britain. Look out for the unmissable red kite!

Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail

A Roman road, wide sandy beaches, dunes and salt marshes

Fantastic scenery and landscape cover the 93 miles of the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail which starts in Suffolk at Knettishall Heath Country Park and follows the route of a Roman road to Holme-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast. At Holme, Peddars Way meets the Norfolk Coast Path as it runs from Hunstanton to Cromer.

Why not explore the Norfolk Coast Path National Trail by bus? Join and rejoin the Coasthopper throughout the day to make the most of the Coast Path. A favourite walk is Brancaster to Burnham Overy Staithe (7 miles/3 hours walking) but the route can be shortened by walking to Brancaster Staithe or Burnham Deepdale.

North Downs Way

The Pilgrim’s Way

The North Downs Way follows much of what is called the Pilgrim’s Way, historically used to make pilgrimages to Winchester and Canterbury. Stretching 153 miles from Farnham to Dover through the Surrey Hills and Kent Downs Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Trail provides plenty of opportunity for walkers to enjoy the stunning scenery, wildlife and picturesque villages on offer.

Many parts of the North Downs Way are easily reached by train from London and other parts of the South East. You can choose to walk a linear section of the Trail or sample one of the new circular walks

South Downs Way

White chalk cliffs and lots of history

Experience some of our finest countryside between Winchester, first capital of England, and the white chalk cliffs of Eastbourne. If you are interested in great views, attractive wildlife, visible prehistory, fine pubs and pretty villages, or if you just fancy a challenge, the South Downs Way is for you. The 100-mile long South Downs Way follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs. It is Britain’s first long distance bridleway and accessible to a wide range of people not just horse riders. The general absence of stiles makes it accessible to children and people with disabilities. There are a number of possible day or circular walks, including from Duncton Mill, near Petworth; and from Ditchling Beacon, near Brighton. Alternatively, walk from Amberley to Arundel along the Arun riverbank then return via Kithurst Hill and the South Downs Way.

South Downs Way National Trail by public transport this winter
No need to worry about parking, the 'Breeze up to the Downs' buses run from outside Brighton’s main railway station to popular sites along the South Downs Way: Devil's Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and Stanmer Park. Bus 77 runs 8 times each day to and from Devil's Dyke. Bus 78 runs once per hour to Stanmer Park. Bus 79 runs hourly to Ditchling Beacon; all these buses run every Sunday and Bank Holiday including Boxing day. Bus timetables are available on their website.

Day trips from London or the South Coast are easier than ever. The all-inclusive Southern Railways 'Downlander' ticket covers train and bus travel to the South Downs. It is available online only from Southern railways website.

Why not walk the four and a half miles from Devil's Dyke to Ditchling Beacon along the South Downs Way, catching the bus back to Brighton or walk on a little further to Stanmer Park? If you want to make a day of it why not walk the 10 miles from Devil's Dyke to Lewes Trail Station and enjoy some Lewes-ian hospitality before catching a train home?

The Cotswold Way National Trail

Mellow limestone buildings and picturesque landscapes

Just over 100 miles of quintessentially English countryside. Follow the Cotswolds escarpment with its stunning views and charming villages from the World Heritage City of Bath in the south to the beautiful Cotswold market town of Chipping Campden in the North. Chipping Campden, Snowshill, Broadway – almost any village along the Cotswold Way, will provide the basis for a gentle walk. Visit their website for more ideas

Offa’s Dyke National Trail

a chance to explore the spectacular landscapes and the history of the Anglo-Welsh border

Offa's Dyke is a great frontier earthwork built by Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796 A.D. It gives its name to a 177-mile Offa’s Dyke Path which runs from Sedbury, near Chepstow, to Prestatyn through the varied and little-frequented landscapes of the Welsh Marches.

For more information about National Trails, please visit: www.nationaltrail.co.uk

Notes to Editors:

1. Natural England is the government’s independent advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public:

  • We establish and care for England’s main wildlife sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.

  • We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.

  • We run England’s Environmental Stewardship green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.

  • We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.

  • We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

2. The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act led to the creation of National Trails, or Long Distance Paths, as they were known as in those days. The Act also led to the creation of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and National Nature Reserves.

3. Natural England oversees the management of National Trails in England and recommends long-distance routes for designation by the Government.

4. There are 19 official long-distance routes in Britain overseen by Natural England in England, the Countryside Council for Wales in Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage in Scotland. For further information contact: The National Press Office on 0845 603 9953, press@naturalengland.org.uk out of hours 07970 098005. For further information about Natural England please visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk

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