10 of the very best winter landscapes: readers’ journey suggestions | Strolling holidays
Winner tip: bare trees and dark history near Glasgow
My favorite winter landscape is the forest in Mugdock Country Park north of Glasgow. I would recommend April to see the bluebells lit by the sun and autumn to see deer tiptoe through the thicket. But winter is the time to see the trees – their gnarled, twisted, moss-covered branches reach in every direction to grab you. Even on a clear December day, it is dark. Here battles between the Picten and the British were fought and witches drowned in the lake. It may sound like a fantasy movie, but step off the path into the trees and it’s not hard to imagine.
Stutenweg Magic, Cambridgeshire
Photo: Sharon Pinner
Regardless of the direction snowstorms are coming from, they often seem to subside before they reach Cambridgeshire. I enjoy the infrequent occurrence of significant snow. A few years ago I was able to enjoy the aftermath of one such opportunity while walking on an ancient trail known as the Mare Way. This follows a ridge over the villages of Little and Great Eversden. The sweeping views of Cambridge on one side and Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire on the other were accentuated by hoarfrost-encrusted trees and waves of white fields. Mesmeric. I’m still waiting for this magical combination to happen again!
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Windswept winter joy, County Down
Photo: Clare Archbold
The Morne Mountains are a windswept winter delight. The less traveled trails, like Spelga Dam to Fofanny Dam, take you through bracken and heather browns grazed by sheep, through mountain streams and up to the wide hills from which you can see Belfast and the twinkle of Lough Neagh in the north the Cooley Peninsula in the south and glimpses of the Isle of Man across the Irish Sea. The air is crystal cold and the solitude (tell someone where you are going and estimated return time) is as peaceful as the views are exhilarating.
Romantic ruin, Dumfries
Photo: Phil Nash
It was a cool, clear, and bright winter morning at Sweetheart Abbey south of Dumfries, with clear blue skies and frost in the grass and on a fallen log. The frost highlighted the exposed, weathered rings and bark of the tree trunk, making it almost jewel-like. The sunlight was golden and poured through the ruins of the abbey, illuminating them magnificently. It was beautiful and we were the only people there. (The site is currently closed due to Covid.)
Winter expedition, Yorkshire Dales
We tackled the highest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks on the winter solstice, on a day when the snow clouds were heavy and creating a permanent dim light. The impressive Ribblehead Viaduct runs along the cascading River Ribble before the steep climb to the imposing Whernside takes place. When we reached the summit, a blizzard set in and we crouched behind the trigger point to warm up with a bottle of tea. The snow defied the elements again and was knee high, but the quick descent under the clouds revealed the path and panoramic views over the valleys. The viaduct is always a welcome landmark for navigation to guide us back to the start of this circular hike.
• NB: This should only be attempted by experienced winter hikers.
Up the summit and back to Bar, Cumbria
Bowfell and Crinkle Crags, Lake District. Photo: Rebecca Cole / Alamy
You can see a bowl of Lakeland hills from the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel at the end of the Langdale Valley. On your left is Pike of Bliscoe. Bowfell lies dead in front of you, stretching out in front of you. Between them are the jagged teeth of Crinkle Crags. In winter, the hills are often covered with snow and the sky appears pink or blue or slate gray from Wainwright’s sketches. A combination of any two peaks can be done in six hours by experienced hikers. When you return, eat and drink at the hotel bar and, if possible, sit by the black fireplace.
Tall, desolate and handsome, North Pennines
Photo: Paul Kirkwood
This is one of the most lonely and quiet corners of England. It is all the more tempting when snow reinforces the gaunt remains of old lead mining structures and underscores the incredibly harsh conditions that the workers up here were exposed to in winter. The headgear at the Grove Rake Mine in the otherwise empty Rookhope Burn Valley in Durham is particularly noticeable. Alston, the regional capital located 17 miles west of Rookhope in Cumbria and formerly the site of adjustments by Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre, shares the claim to be the highest market town in England and close to Buxton, Derbyshire highest classified street. Finish a hike at the town’s chippy, the High Plaice.
Wildfowl and Skating, Cambridgeshire
Photo: Jo Sinclair
Get ready for big skies, weather watching, and game fowl in the Ouse Washes. This spectacular desolate and watery world stretches from Cambridgeshire to Norfolk. The miles of grassland between the Old Bedford and New Bedford rivers contain shallow floods and create perfect conditions for thousands of wild birds. A big frost brings recreational ice skating and championships. Try it, hands behind your back. Stay until sunset when the swans go to sleep. Find the RSPB on one end, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on the other. Long, ice-cold snapshots can be skated every few years at Earith and Bluntisham in Bury Fen.
Cortina dreams of Italy
The Dolomites from the Rifugio Scoiattoli near Cortina d’Ampezzo. Photo: Alamy
The craggy peaks of the Dolomites are best viewed from a sidewalk café in the village square of Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, while warming up with a hot chocolate on a winter afternoon as the sun sets over the spectacular, snow-capped mountain peaks. These bold, sassy mountains are geologically young, hence their stunning shape and texture. Catch them on a crisp, clear December day at dusk against a cloudless blue sky as the stars begin to twinkle brightly: it’s almost like they bring you closer to a taste of paradise in a stunning heavenly setting.
Wonderland behind the window, Sweden
We flew to Stockholm’s Skavsta Airport under a gray sky, and I opened my book as the bus started the long journey towards the city. Even before we drove five minutes south in the direction of Nyköping, I was spellbound by the view outside. Thick fir trees lined country roads, and the white sun, low in the sky, made icicles glitter in the frosty afternoon. Every curve along the E4 motorway was associated with new joy. Wide, snow-covered, dense forests, open expanses of frozen lakes and glimpses of the Scandinavian architecture that marked the beginning of the city. My book stayed closed throughout the trip.