Britain's 25 Best Spring Walks

Photo by daly

by Richard Madden, The Daily Telegraph, April 7, 2016

The exuberance of spring is impossible to ignore. And for fair-weather walkers, brushing cobwebs off boots and searching out walking poles, it’s like a love affair renewed. Spring walking is a welcome assault on the senses – warmth, light and colour replacing the damp greys and browns of winter.

Everyone has their favourite local walks, but these 25 circular routes have all been chosen for features in the landscape which come alive in spring, whether it be woodlands carpeted with bluebells, wildflowers along river valleys, moorland peaks, coastal paths or National Parks.

Between three and nine miles in length and of varying difficulty of terrain, they stretch from Friston Forest in Sussex to Grizedale Forest in Cumbria, from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Arran, and from the coast of Cornwall to the coast of Northumbria. These hikes will put a spring in the step of wanderers everywhere.

Our selected walks are between three and nine miles in length and vary in the difficulty of terrain. 

1. Silurian Way, Grizedale Forest Park, Lake District (9 Miles)

A route that takes you across both sides of the Grizedale Valley through enchanting stretches of woodland punctuated by 80 stone and wood sculptures by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and Sally Matthews. Highlights along the way include Grizedale Tarn, the Eagle’s Head Pub in Satterthwaite village, and some stupendous views atop Carron Crag, the highest point in the forest.

Start/Finish: Grizedale Visitor Centre. 

2. Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal, Ripon, Yorkshire (8 Miles) 

If you think you’ve wandered into a landscape by an Old Master, in a sense you have. Studley and the neighbouring Hackfall estate were once owned by William Aislabie, a leading light in the “picturesque nature” movement that created landscapes like paintings. The ruins of Fountains Abbey, an 18th-century garden, a Jacobean mansion, surrounding woodland, rivers and follies all make up this canvas.

Start/Finish: Fountains Abbey. 

Fountains Abbey: one of the largest and best preserved ruined abbeys in the countryCredit: AP/Fotolia

3. Blickling Estate, Norfolk (4 Miles)

Managed by the National Trust, the Blickling Estate is a stunning mix of historic country house and gardens, woodland, and rolling Norfolk countryside which has changed little since the 18th century. In April and May, carpets of bluebells set off its mix of oak, beech groves, and ancient sweet chestnuts. Unexpected curiosities along the way include a pyramid mausoleum and an 18th- century tower built for watching steeplechases once held in the Park.

Start/Finish: Car park, Blickling Hall. 

4. Bradfield Woods, Felsham, Suffolk (3 Miles)

As ancient woodland goes, Bradfield Woods are about as ancient as you get. Written records go back to 1252 and with nearly 800 plant and fungi species and 1,000-year-old coppiced ash “stools”, it has National Nature Reserve status. Just as well, since 40 years ago the entire area was nearly bulldozed for agricultural land. Stoats, yellow-necked mice, dormice and badgers all call it home.

Start/Finish: Felsham car park. 

Bradfield Woods are home to roe deer, as well as stoats, dormice and badgersCredit: Alamy

5. Friston Forest, East Sussex (5 Miles)

Sussex is the most forested county in England and Friston Forest, a mile inland from the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters, is often overlooked by walkers in favour of its more famous neighbour. Meandering along its myriad trails is always a joy in spring when the beech trees are in bud and its hidden haunts, like the forest fringe above Charleston Bottom, are perfect for picnics.

Start/Finish: Seven Sisters car park (Exceat). 

Ups & downs

6. St Catherine’s Hill, Winchester (4 Miles)

Winchester’s multilayered history stretches back to the Iron Age when the Belgae tribe built a fort on what is now St Catherine’s Hill overlooking the Itchen Valley. Starting outside the west door of the cathedral, this walk takes in the 12th-century almshouses of the Hospital of St Cross, the water meadows of the Itchen where the poet Keats once walked, the Mizmaze, a medieval turf labyrinth on St Catherine’s Hill and drifts of wild spring flowers on the chalk downland.

Start/Finish: Winchester Cathedral, west front. 

St Catherine's Hill, just outside Winchester, was once the site of an Iron Age

7. Cleeve Hill, Cotswolds (6 Miles)

At 1,083ft, Cleeve Hill is the highest point in the Cotswolds with stunning views west towards the Malvern Hills, and north towards Winchcombe and Sudeley Castle. Atop what is known locally as the Cotswold Edge, Cleeve Common is made up of rare limestone grassland and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, known for its wild flowers, birds (skylarks, willow warblers) and butterflies (chalkhill blue, dingy skipper). 

 Start/Finish: Cleeve Hill Village car park. 

8. Moel Siabod, Snowdonia, Wales (6 Miles)

The views of the Snowdon Horseshoe and the Glyderau and Carneddau ranges from the peak of Moel Siabod are reward enough but the ascent from Pont Cyfyng is also one of the best in the National Park. The trail follows well-defined paths until the final upwards scramble. Along the way you pass Cwm Foel and its glacial lake, a great place for a picnic lunch. The return traverses Siabod’s summit ridge before rejoining the upward trail.

 Start/Finish: Pont Cyfyng A5 lay-by.   

9. Holy Island, Isle of Arran, Firth of Clyde (4 Miles)

The complex geology of the Isle of Arran provides some fascinating walks, but Holy Island, off its east coast, with its community of Tibetan Buddhists has a uniquely peaceful atmosphere. Take the short ferry ride from Lamlash to the northern jetty where a  volunteer is often available to orientate you. If not, the information centre has all the details. Don’t miss St Molaise’s Cave, the Holy Well and the Tibetan rock paintings.   

 Start/Finish: Centre for World Peace and Health.

10. Warrior Trail, Mottistone Down, Isle of Wight (6 Miles)

Warrior, the inspiration for Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, used to exercise on Mottistone Down and his owner, General Jack Seely, lived in Mottistone Manor. This trail starts at the manor house before climbing onto the Downs past the Longstone, the only megalithic monument on the island. Descending to Brook Bay, the trail follows the line of the glorious beach, where Warrior used to gallop through the waves, before returning to Mottistone Manor and its lovely garden (National Trust).

Start/Finish: Mottistone Manor. 

11. Porlock to Culbone Church, Exmoor, Somerset (5 Miles)

Coleridge was famously disturbed by a delivery man from Porlock while writing Kubla Khan at Ash Farm, which you will pass on the return leg of this walk. It’s easy to see the source of his inspiration among the woods, coombes and chasms that close in around the sea cliffs surrounding medieval Culbone Church. At Silcombe Farm take the lane over Culbone Hill and past Ash Farm before dropping down to Worthy Combe and back to Porlock Weir.

Start/Finish: Porlock Weir. 

12. Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales (4 Miles)

Regularly billed as “Britain’s Best Beach” or “Best View” and designated the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1956, it’s well worth discovering what all the hype is about before the crowds descend in high summer. Central to its appeal is a varied shoreline of sand dunes, salt marsh and signature limestone cliffs not to mention the Neolithic Giant’s Grave and the ruins of 13th-century Pennard Castle.

 Start/Finish: Green Cwm car park. 

13. Minack Theatre & Gwennap Head, Cornwall (5 Miles)

A pilgrimage to the remote clifftops four miles from Land’s End that inspired Rowena Cade to create the celebrated open-air Minack Theatre. Starting at Porthcurno Bay, the trail climbs the cliffs to the Minack before continuing to Gwennap Head via St Levan’s Holy Well. On a clear day you can see the Lizard Peninsula and the satellite dishes on Goonhilly Downs. Loop back round across the fields via St Levan Church.

Start/Finish: Porthcurno car park. 

14. Low Newton & Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland (5 Miles)

This stretch of the coast in Northumberland is always a joy whatever the season but in spring sunlight the silhouette of the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle (built 1313) across the expanse of Embleton Bay seems loaded with medieval romance. Beyond it to the south, the sand gives way to grasslands and the village of Craster where the path loops back north across the Heughs (limestone escarpments) with abundant bird life.

 Start/Finish: Low Newton car park. 

15. Blakeney Point, Blakeney, Norfolk (7 Miles)

A rejuvenating spring-time rediscovery of a walk after months of inhospitable winter weather. Blakeney Point spit is a National Nature Reserve whose vegetated shingle is home to rare plant species (horned sea poppy/shrubby sea blight) and is an internationally important breeding ground for birds. Along the way you will pass the Watch House (once a look-out point for smugglers) and the bright blue Lifeboat House, not to mention grey and common seals.

Start/Finish: Cley Beach car park. 

River valleys

16. Eagle’s Nest & Wyndcliff Wood, Wye Valley, Chepstow (3 Miles)

Romantic poets Coleridge and Wordsworth and the painter JMW Turner were inspired by the lower Wye Valley, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which is at its best in spring. Wyndcliff Wood is a gorge woodland with ancient beech, yew, lime, ash and hazel coppice. The Eagle’s Nest (365 steps!) has epic views of Wintour’s Leap, the Severn bridges and estuary and, on a clear day, the Cotswold and Mendip hills. The route is waymarked with extensions easy to navigate.

 Start/Finish: Lower Wyndcliff car park. 

17. Chatsworth Park Circuit, Derwent Valley, Derbyshire (7 Miles)

This section of the 55-mile Derwent Valley Heritage Way passes through Chatsworth Park and its grounds, designed by Capability Brown whose tercentenary is this year. Take the river route south from Baslow with magnificent views of the house and the park, before looping back through the permissive paths of Stand Wood with its 16th-century Hunting Tower and back into Baslow.  

Start/Finish: Baslow. 

18. Hardcastle Crags, Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire (5 Miles)

The first section of this walk on pristine National Trust land passes through Hebden Dale with its mature oak, beech and pine woodland carpeted with bluebells and wildflowers in early spring. The riverside path passes Gibson Mill, a former 19th-century cotton mill, for the past decade a fully sustainable “off the grid” café and visitor centre. Follow the bridleway out of the valley past the Crags to Wadsworth Moor and back down through the beautiful valley of Crimsworth Dean.

Start/Finish: New Bridge. 

19. Lynmouth to Watersmeet, Exmoor, Devon (5 Miles)

After their winter hibernation, river valleys spring back into life as leaves bud, wildflowers dance, and shafts of sunlight penetrate the depths. Nowhere more so than in one of Britain’s deepest river gorges where the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water meet. Take the Coleridge Way east to Watersmeet and then branch south to Hillsford Bridge returning along the Tarka Trail high up above the woodland on the south side of the valley with spectacular views over the Bristol Channel.

 Start/Finish: Lynmouth.

20. Four Falls Trail, Brecon Beacons, Wales (6 Miles)

Anyone with a passion for waterfalls should make this trail a priority with the added bonus that in spring the oak and ash woodland is awash with bluebells, anemones and sorrel. The route is waymarked so navigation is easy but a few stretches can be slippery underfoot – allow about four hours. Don’t miss Porth yr Ogof, the largest cave entrance in Wales.

Start/Finish: Gwaun Hepste car park. 

21. Ennerdale Water Circuit, Lake District NP (7 Miles)

The fact that Ennerdale is not one of the Lake District’s celebrity lakes and is the only one without an access road along its banks is part of what makes this walk so compelling. This is the most westerly of the lakes, its youth hostel, Black Sail, farther along the valley, is among the most remote in Britain. It was on the shores of this lake that Bill Clinton proposed to Hillary, in 1973.

 Start/Finish: Bleach Green car park, Ennerdale. OS Explorer Map OL4.

22. Brimham Rocks, Yorkshire Dales NP (5 Miles)

These surreal rock formations scattered over 50 acres of moorland were once thought, rather predictably, to have been conjured into existence by the Druids. In fact they are the result of glaciation and erosion but are no less compelling for that. Now they have their own visitor centre, but it’s well worth approaching them on foot from a distance to fully appreciate their setting. 

 Start/Finish: Smelthouses. 

23. Wistman’s Wood, Two Bridges, Dartmoor NP (4 Miles)

Wistman’s Wood, a high-altitude dwarf pedunculate oak woodland, is one of the most powerfully atmospheric ancient forests in the country and could lay claim to being the spiritual home of Tolkien’s Ents. The route north from Two Bridges follows the eastern bank of the West Dart River to the wood, before climbing Longaford Tor and circling back over Littaford and Crokern Tors to your starting point in the disused quarry car park.

 Start/Finish: Two Bridges car park. 

24. Lyndhurst to Beaulieu River, New Forest NP (8 Miles)

The New Forest is a captivating mix of ancient woods and heathland and there are nearly 150 miles of public footpaths to choose from, taking you among and beneath the bright green leaves of spring. Historic Lyndhurst makes a good starting point, with several circular routes from Bolton’s Bench, just south of town. Spotting New Forest ponies is a certainty – with glimpses of roe and fallow deer a distinct possibility.  

 Start/Finish: Bolton’s Bench, Lyndhurst. 

25. Ravenscar & Robin Hood’s Bay, North York Moors NP (7 Miles)

A fascinating mix of coastal clifftop walking, industrial archaeology and classic moorland landscapes. From Ravenscar head north along the Cleveland Way and through the Peak Alum Works. The view from here over Robin Hood’s Bay is rated one of the best in Yorkshire – a perfect place to pause on a warm spring day. Then turn inland, skirting around Brow Moor to Oxbank Wood and over Spring Hill to Howdale Moor before dropping back down to Ravenscar. 

Start/Finish: Ravenscar. 

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This article was written by Richard Madden from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.