Best walk for us: start in Thorpe Bay, on the eastern side of Southend and walk all along the coast to Leigh-on-Sea (about five miles). Stop for a warming drink in any of the pubs (Ye Olde Smack or the Peterboat perhaps), or have fish and chips made with locally sourced fish, then return. You could make a longer route by walking Southend pier, the longest in the world – a mile out and a mile back: the seascapes are stunning at this time of year.
Walk from the War Memorial out of Ilmington up Grump Street and Tinkers Lane. Right at the first gate after the houses, down through the field and left after the next gate. Over the hill, right down the lane all the way till you pass the lodge on the right, then right through the gap in the fence, across the field, stop for the hot drink you’ve brought with you. Through the gate, right at the top, right again down Campden Pitch to the path on the right, left at the end of that path and then drop down through the fields where you started. Grab a quick drink and a bag of crisps at the Howard Arms and then home – you’ve had one of the best afternoons you can imagine.
North Sea blast, Norfolk
We love to walk on Holkham beach, north Norfolk, in the winter. It’s beautiful, virtually deserted (unlike in summer) and there are lots of interesting migratory birds to see, including the rare shore lark. You can do a circular walk from Wells-next-the-Sea through the pinewoods behind the dunes and then back along the beach, or vice versa (around 5½ miles in total), or if you get too cold or tired there’s always the Coastliner bus to get you back to your starting point. There’s a cafe at Holkham Bay for hot drinks and snacks, or the Victoria Inn for good pub food.
Snowbound south, Hampshire
Ten years ago, we took a walk from our home on the mainland side of Portsmouth over Portsdown Hill, aiming for the Golden Lion pub-restaurant in the village of Southwick. There was deep snow (for the south of England), and although we had a map, it wasn’t a lot of use as the tracks were totally covered. What the heck – we struck out anyway, and it was beautiful. We found our way down the far side of the hill (on later walks when the snow had cleared, we discovered we had more or less followed Crooked Walk Lane) and did indeed reach Southwick. We were the only customers in the pub, and lunch was off because the chef hadn’t made it in, but the landlord served us coffee. It’s a favourite pub hike for us now.
Cliffs and river, East Sussex
My favourite walk starts at Seaford in East Sussex. Walk south-east to the sea and then follow the coastline east to Cuckmere Haven and over the Seven Sisters cliffs to Birling Gap. Then north up Went Hill and west through Friston Forest, over the bridge at Exceat, then south following the west bank of the river back to Seaford via Cuckmere Haven. You have to time it right so you cross the river at Cuckmere Haven at low tide, when the river is less than knee-high and easy to paddle. The tide timing may mean doing the route in reverse. In the summer I timed it wrong and had to swim over the river at high tide, which was kinda scary.
• Similar walk at discoveringbritain.org
East coast beaches, Angus
There are lots of walking opportunities in beautiful Angus, including the glens, and also some coastal walks, with beaches at Montrose, St Cyrus, Lunan Bay, Elliot and Monifieth. Try the amazing coastal cliff walk from Arbroath to Auchmithie before visiting the shingle beach that appears in the 2013 Scarlett Johansson film Under The Skin. Or join the monthly Hospitalfields heritage walks, including the Steading, North Lodge and the Mortuary Chapel.
I’d like to suggest the magnificent cliff walk between Sandyhills and Kippford, via Rockcliffe (about five miles, three to four hours) in Dumfries and Galloway. There’s parking/a bus terminus at Sandyhills (from Dumfries or Dalbeattie). After moderate exertion to start, it goes gently downhill along an easy cliffside with sandy bays, smugglers coves, a ruined chapel and light tower, with Solway, island and coastal views, England in the background, then a lush estuaryside path by the gardens of the villas of Rockcliffe, then into the scenic touristy port of Kippford, with pubs that do food (and a bus back to Sandyhills/Dumfries or Dalbeattie).
• A version of this walk at kirkennan.co.uk
Better Beacons, Monmouthshire
Walking on the Blorenge is bleak at this time of year, but there are lots of alternatives. For a walk nearby where you’ll get sweeping vistas and probably meet no one, take the bus from Abergavenny to the Hummingbird shop and cafe in Llanover (for coffee if you need it), walk up past the Goose and Cuckoo and on to the open moor. Head south for Pontypool, eat your lunch at the trig point, and so down through Pontypool Park to get the bus back to Llanover.
• A similar walk at visitmonmouthshire.com
Yesterday’s eight-mile freshener sampled the Middlewood Way “linear park” in Higher Poynton, on to a stunning stretch of the Macclesfield canal, and then climbed steadily into the Lyme Park estate. Take the West Park route into Lyme and walk in Mr Darcy’s footsteps before returning via the Boars Head in Higher Poynton for a well-earned drink.
Ridgeway raptors, Chilterns
The walk up Ivinghoe Beacon is great and not too taxing once you are on top. Having red kites and kestrels almost suspended in the wind just metres from you as they search the fields below for a meal is really magical experience. If you want a longer walk, it’s on the ancient Ridgeway, so you can do as much or as little as you want, and with the NT’s Ashridge Estate nearby, there are plenty of woodland walks too, and you can finish at the King’s Head in Ivinghoe for a warm bowl of soup and a drink.
• A 10-mile walk taking in the Ridgeway and Ivinghoe Beacon at chilternsaonb.org
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