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Britain’s finest winter walks (with a cosy pub at the end)

Beach at St Donats on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast walk, Wales, UK
Hiking hotspots such as Glamorgan come to life in the winter - Alamy

With increasing numbers of Britons embracing hill walking, winter is definitely the time to hike, especially with parts of the UK enjoying a mild February forecast. At this time of year, you’re more likely to get footpaths to yourself, for one, and while lacking the lushness of other seasons, winter has a special beauty: skeleton trees, exposed landforms, murmuring birds, frost shimmer, woodsmoke, a calming sense of nature at rest. Also, a walk is a good counterbalance to the excesses of the festive season and the urge to hibernate. It’s rare you don’t feel better – in body and mind – after a brisk, cheek-rosying yomp. Especially if there happens to be a good pub you can eat, drink and hunker down in at the end…

Sudeley, Kenelm and Monk’s Hole

Route: Loop from Winchcombe, Gloucestershire (find the route here)

Duration: 4.75 miles (7.7km), 2.5-3 hours

Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, Cotswolds, England
When in the Cotswolds, make a trip to the magnificent Sudeley Castle - Alamy

You could spend a week – maybe all winter? – walking around wonderful Winchcombe. An official “Walkers are Welcome” town, it has trails leading every which way from its half-timbered, honey-stone centre. This loop is a vitalising taster, with history and hills aplenty. It first heads south to skirt magnificent Sudeley Castle before heading to St Kenelm’s Well, a miraculous spring linked to the 11th-century saint. Then it’s up to the ancient Salt Way for big Cotswold views and a visit to the Monk’s Hole: a brother, en route to Hailes Abbey, once died in a snowdrift here – take care! A strand of the Gloucestershire Way leads back to town, where the 15th-century Lion Inn awaits with roaring fires, fine Sunday lunches and dog-friendly rooms.

Get cosy: The Lion Inn (01242 603300; butcombe.com/the-lion-inn-gloucestershire) has double rooms from £93, including breakfast.

Deeside Way

Route: Aboyne-Ballater, Aberdeenshire (find the route here)

Duration: 11 miles (17.7km); 4-5 hours

Boat Inn
Enjoy smart rooms, log fires, great pub food and live music at The Boat Inn

Walk into the Cairngorms the easy way: the section of the Deeside Way between Aboyne and Ballater follows the old trackbed of the Royal Deeside Railway, once used to whisk the royals to Balmoral. It’s a level, well-surfaced route – a good option for winter. It passes Tullich Kirk’s Pictish stones and Muir Dinnet Nature Reserve, a worthy detour for spotting winter birds. And it affords views of Scots pines, Ice Age lochans and distant Lochnagar. Start at Aboyne; on reaching Ballater, visit the Old Royal Station (now a museum) and warm up with a dram at the Balmoral Arms. Then catch bus 201 back to Aboyne’s walker-friendly Boat Inn (“muddy boots welcome!”). Serving since 1720, it offers smart rooms – many with river views – log fires, great pub food and live music in the Shed bar.

Get cosy: The Boat Inn (01339 886137; theboatinnaboyne.co.uk) has double rooms from £130, including breakfast. Read our guide to visiting the Cairngorms National Park here.

Vale Trail 2

Route: Loop from Monknash, Vale of Glamorgan (find the route here)

Duration: From 4 miles (6.5km), 2+ hours

Plough and Harrow Monknash
Monknash’s Plough and Harrow is a must-visit for history enthusiasts - Plough and Harrow Monknash

Like a winter ghost story? Monknash’s Plough and Harrow (dating to 1383) was once used as a mortuary for shipwrecked seamen; stories of hauntings abound. The spectral “boy with ringlets” may not appear at this characterful old pub’s new barn conversions just opposite, but they’re great bases for bracing walks on the Glamorgan Heritage Coast, followed by good home-cooked dishes after. The four mile Monknash, Lighthouse and Marcross Walk loops via the last manned lighthouse in Wales and golden Cwm Nash beach, where waterfalls splish and sailors’ bones sometimes poke from the high cliffs; it’s also excellent for wild, cold swimming, if that’s your thing. Extend the walk (to around 7.5 miles, using the Atlantic College loop) for more dramatic Jurassic coast and 12th-century St Donat’s Castle.

Get cosy: The Plough and Harrow (01656 890209; ploughandharrowmonknash.co.uk) has self-catering cottages from £400 for two nights.

Hill Forts and Woodlands of the Bury Ditches

Route: Loop from Clun, Shropshire (find the route here)

Duration: 6.5 miles (10.4km); 3-4 hours

South Shropshire countryside
Th Shropshire Hills National Landscape is a sight to behold all year round - Alamy

With vegetation low and trees leafless, winter is the perfect season for appreciating ancient earthworks. A good time, then, for this circuit from Clun to Bury Ditches. Dating from around 500 BC, with four rings of ramparts, it’s one of the country’s best-preserved Iron Age hill forts, and provides excellent views of the Shropshire Hills National Landscape – get your bearings at the topograph on the summit. The return leg skirts another hill fort and the edge of Radnor Wood, a surviving clump of the vast royal hunting forest that once cloaked the Clun Valley. Back in Clun itself, visit the ruined castle and the White Horse, a proper village pub with cosy guestrooms, creaky floorboards, a roaring fire, home-cooked food and local ales, some brewed on site.

Get cosy: The White Horse (01588 671279; whitehorseclun.com) has double rooms from £90, including breakfast.

Harbottle and the Drake Stone

Route: Loop from Harbottle, Northumberland (find the route here)

Duration: 5 miles (8km), 2.5-3 hours

The Drake Stone at Harbottle in Northumberland
The atmospheric Harbottle Crags Nature Reserve is actually easier to walk when the ground is ice-crisp - Getty/iStock

Wrap up and wait for a frosty day for this hike into Northumberland National Park. From Harbottle village, it passes snaggletooth castle ruins – atmospheric in low, winter light – and enters Harbottle Crags Nature Reserve, a place of open moor and heather bog that’s easier to walk on when the ground is ice-crisp. Next is the Drake Stone, a boulder said to possess healing powers. Then there’s sheltered woodland to walk through, where red squirrels might be spotted, before the route loops back via Alwinton (a Dark Sky Discovery Site). Harbottle’s 200-year-old Star Inn is the hub of the community – as well as new guest rooms, it has a visitor centre and shop and offers games aplenty.

Get cosy: The Star Inn (01669 650221; thestarinnharbottle.co.uk) has double rooms from £89, including breakfast. Read our guide Northumberland National Park here.

Royal Military Canal

Route: Loop from Warehorne, Kent (find the route here)

Duration: 8 miles (13km), 3.5-4 hours

The Woolpack
Warm up from the inside with seasonal dishes at The Woolpack

Inspired by Ridley Scott’s Napoleon? Then take a walk along the Royal Military Canal, built 1804-1809 as a defence against invasion by the Little Corporal; a kink was made every 500m so cannons could cover each section. Fairly flat and easily navigable, it’s accessible from Warehorne’s 16th-century Woolpack Inn. Walk from there to the old village of Appledore via the Saxon Shore Way, past Kenardington’s St Mary’s Church, built on the site of a Saxon fort. Return along the canal’s grassy banks, looking out for kingfishers, herons and Second World War pillboxes. Back at the Woolpack, you’ll find five characterful bedrooms plus inglenook fireplaces, low beams, welly racks and seasonal menus – think pumpkin orzotto or Jerusalem artichoke soup with black winter truffle.

Get cosy: The Woolpack (01233 732900; woolpackwarehorne.co.uk) has double rooms from £85, including breakfast.

Loch Glendhu

Route: Kylesku-Loch Glendhu, Sutherland, Highlands (find the route here)

Duration: Up to 9.5 miles (15.4km), 4 hours

Kylesku Hotel
Smart Kylesku Hotel sits right on Loch Glendhu

The North Coast 500 heaves in summer. So, for a quieter and quite extraordinary take on the Northwest Highlands, brave this elemental landscape in wintertime. Head for the hamlet of Kylesku to walk along Loch Glendhu. A good, low-level track of around five miles leads to a bothy at the end of its northern shore, skirting below the cliffs of Creag Ruadh; walk all the way, or turn back when you tire. It’s eye-popping both ways, especially when frosty, with views across the water to the Quinag and the Stack of Glencoul. Smart Kylesku Hotel sits right on the loch; its bar-restaurant serves mussels and langoustines landed metres away, and has enormous windows – you might see the northern lights dance. There are good winter-saver rates on overnight stays, too.

Get cosy: Kylesku Hotel (01971 910047; kyleskuhotel.co.uk) has double rooms from £99, including breakfast.

Winterton Circular

Route: Loop from Winterton, Norfolk (find the route here)

Duration: 6 miles (9.65km), 2.5-3 miles

The Fisherman’s Return
Winterton's dune-backed beach is just as beautiful in the winter

As the name suggests, the village of Winterton has always been a place to over-winter: it was a seasonal “tun” (settlement) used by farmers who fished during the colder months. Now it’s a place for an invigorating walk. First, head inland, detouring to East Somerton’s fantastically overgrown ruined church and West Somerton’s 12th-century intact one, last resting place of 2.34m-tall Robert Hales, the “Norfolk Giant”. Continue north through the countryside, turning to meet the sea at Winterton Ness. Then stride south along the dune-backed beach, looking out for baby seals – pupping season runs November-February. In the heart of the village, the Fisherman’s Return is an old brick-and-flint freehouse with warming woodburners, a nautical vibe, real ales, local seafood and seven freshly renovated rooms.

Get cosy: The Fisherman’s Return (01493 393305; fishermansreturn.com) has double rooms from £130, including breakfast. Plan the perfect break in Norfolk with our guide.

Dales Way, Luneside & Craggstones

Route: Loop from Sedbergh, Cumbria (find the route here)

Duration: 7.25 miles (11.7km), 3-4 hours

The Black Bull
Following a tramp in the Western Dales, relax in the cosy comfort of The Black Bull - Rob Whitrow Photography

There’s a lot to like about this moderate tramp in the Western Dales. It starts in Sedbergh, “England’s Book Town” (if the weather’s really bad, you could do worse than browse the shops instead). Then it traces the Dales Way, dabbles with the Rawthey and Lune rivers, gets up close to the mighty Lune Viaduct and returns via the shelter of Craggstone Wood, along the base of the wild Howgill Fells. It finishes back in Sedbergh, at the Black Bull, a contemporary inn and UK Top 50 gastropub. Until the end of February, tuck into the winter offer: £279 per room per night for two, including the seven-course “Taste of the Black Bull” menu, a culinary journey from shiso beef to pumpkin maultaschen to wild Lakeland venison with sprouts.

Get cosy: The Black Bull (015396 20264; theblackbullsedbergh.co.uk) has double rooms from £149, including breakfast.

Classic Chalke Valley Circular

Route: Loop from Broad Chalke, Wiltshire (find the route here)

Duration: 6.8 miles (11km), 3.5 hours

The Queens Head
After a crisp walk, warm up with pub grub and real ales at The Queens Head - Ed Schofield

Woodsmoke snaking from thatched flint cottages, ice on the stream, frost on the surrounding downs, a fine 14th-century church (where Sir Cecil Beaton is buried)… The village of Broad Chalke, in Cranbourne Chase National Landscape, is as pretty as a Christmas card. Blow away the cobwebs on a loop in the rolling hills, heading northwest of the village, across nature-rich slopes to the wide old Shaftesbury-Salisbury drove road, enjoying the expansive views. The return is via Fifield Down, the pretty hamlet of Fifield Bavant and the ancient water meadows along the River Ebble. Finish up in the Queen’s Head, a 19th-century inn done up in 2023. It’s a cosy-cool combination of flagstone floors, hop-strung beams, warming fires and modern shabby-chic, plus delicious pub grub and real ales – the owners run a local brewery, too.

Get cosy: The Queens Head (01722 780344; queensheadbroadchalke.co.uk) has double rooms from £100, including breakfast.

This story was published in December 2023 and has been revised and updated.