Winter wonderlands

Winter wonderlands

Our landscapes can take on a whole new splendour in their winter ‘coats’ and are enhanced by some surprising wildlife still out and about. Walk rounds up five of the best to explore this season on foot.

Saltfleet, Lincolnshire, England

WINTER WONDERS: Every November and December, thousands of grey seals mate and pup at the Donna Nook Nature Reserve of sand dunes and saltmarsh in this low-lying corner of Lincolnshire. It’s become an extremely popular attraction, leading to grid-locked roads, so avoid weekends and observe seals from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s designated viewing point to minimise disturbance.

WINTER WONDERS: The pretty Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, which sometimes freezes, curves its way past the large village of Kinver – once a major day-trip destination for Black Country folk, who visited by tram in the 1900s. Above the village, with its pubs and tearooms, Kinver Edge is a high sandstone escarpment of deciduous forest and heathland with spectacular views. Troglodyte homes, the Holy Austin Rock Houses, were carved into the sandstone and lived in until the mid-20th century. They are now managed by the National Trust, which decorates the homes with festive cheer and serves gingerbread and plum pudding.

WILD WALK: To get away from the crowds, head 16km/10 miles south to Saltfleet, where there are new signposted walks, including a circular route of 6km/4 miles, starting at the New Inn, Saltfleet. Mostly flat, it passes through grazing marsh grassland by saltmarsh, where you may spot avocets and curlews. Then along Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes National Nature Reserve, similar to Donna Nook, where, if you’re lucky, you may see a seal and pup that have also decided to avoid the crowds.

FURTHER INFO: www.lincsmarshes.org.uk

Kinver EdgeKinver, Staffordshire, England

WINTER WONDERS: The pretty Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, which sometimes freezes, curves its way past the large village of Kinver – once a major day-trip destination for Black Country folk, who visited by tram in the 1900s. Above the village, with its pubs and tearooms, Kinver Edge is a high sandstone escarpment of deciduous forest and heathland with spectacular views. Troglodyte homes, the Holy Austin Rock Houses were carved into the sandstone and lived in until the mid-20th century. They are now managed by the National Trust, which decorates the homes with festive cheer and serves gingerbread and plum pudding.

WILD WALK: As well as monthly National Trust-guided rambles over the Edge, there are several circular walks of at least 6km/4 miles that combine a stretch of the quaint canal (where wood smoke curls from boat chimneys) with a hike along the sandy paths of Kinver Edge. Return to the village for a well-earned cuppa, or perhaps a pint of award- winning Over The Edge beer from the local Kinver Brewery.

FURTHER INFO: www.kinveronline.co.uk

Glen Etive, Highland, Scotland

WINTER WONDERS: A 23km/ 14-mile single-track – the ‘Road to Nowhere’ – down Glen Etive leads to the head of Loch Etive, where there’s just a turning circle and remains of a pier on the shore. In the 1800s, day-trippers voyaged from Oban on paddle steamers to admire the sublime scenery. This far north, in this period of peak solar activity, you may be lucky enough to witness the Aurora Borealis on a winter’s night, the spectral light dancing across snow-dusted peaks. And as well as herds of red deer, you may spot ptarmigan in their white winter plumage.

WILD WALK: Ben Starav (1,078m/3,537ft) is the highest Munro in Glen Etive, with spectacular views from its summit. Combine it with a second Munro, Beinn nan Aighenan, for a tough 16km/ 10-mile hike ascending from sea-level. The circular route starts from a small parking bay along the Road to Nowhere. Winter mountain-hiking gear is essential.

FURTHER INFO: www.outdoorcapital.co.uk

Bryher Scilly

Bryher, Isles of Scilly, England

WINTER WONDERS: In 1707 more than 1,400 sailors were drowned when four navy ships sank in storms off the Scillies. Otherwise known for their subtropical microclimate, these islands bear the brunt of large swells rolling in across the Atlantic. A coastal walk on Bryher, the westernmost inhabited island, when the waves are pounding the shore and there’s a howling gale, is unforgettable – especially when you can dry out in a smart hotel with fine food afterwards.

WILD WALK: Hell Bay on Bryher is so-named for its fearsome storms. A round- island walk of about 6km/4 miles takes in the rugged northern coast and more sheltered southern shore. The best place for wave watching is Shipman Head Down, where there’s also a Bronze Age burial site. In winter, the one hotel and few B&Bs on this smallest of the inhabited islands are closed. But you could self-cater or take a boat across from nearby Tresco, where The New Inn stays open year-round.

FURTHER INFO: www.bryher-islesofscilly.co.uk

Ynys-hir RSPB reserve, Powys, Wales

WINTER WONDERS: The only regular wintering spot in England or Wales for Greenland white-fronted geese is this picturesque RSPB reserve, whose name means ‘long island’. Between coast and mountains, this site is a finger of oak woodland pointing into the Dyfi estuary. Rare habitats, such as lowland-raised mire, have been painstakingly restored. There’s a new boardwalk and seven hides from which to observe thousands of wildfowl – wigeon, teal and more – that overwinter here, providing easy prey for peregrines and red kites.

WILD WALK: Combine red and purple paths on the reserve map for an easy 5km/3-mile walk that takes you through various habitats – woodland, mire, saltmarsh, reedbeds – and to at least five hides (good shelters from the elements). Dogs are not allowed on the reserve. For a longer hike with Fido, you could add a yomp over Foel Fawr, across the A-road from the reserve, following part of the 1,400km/870-mile Wales Coast Path. Warden Russell Jones can tell you about other walks in the area.

FURTHER INFO: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/y/ynys-hir

For the full version of this article featuring 10 wintery wonderlands, pick up the Winter 2013 issue of Walk Magazine from Cotswold Outdoor or why not join the Ramblers and get it delivered to your door four times a year?

Kinver image by Mark Peate. Bryher image by Steve Renouk.