Wonderful winter walks

Above: Seven Sisters cliffs on the Sussex coast

Whether you like wide-open spaces, great historic buildings or bustling big cities, December is a great time to wrap up, get outdoors and enjoy some spectacular Christmas lights. Kerry Parnell picks the best destinations around Britain for you and your faithful friend

Historical hikes

There’s nothing better than a hearty walk around a heritage site, and in the UK we are spoilt for choice when it comes to historical houses, castles and landscapes to visit.

Top of the list at any time of year is Bamburgh in Northumberland. It is consistently voted one of Britain’s best places for walks, and is even more special in winter. The village is lit up with silvery lights, with the dramatic Bamburgh Castle in the background bamburghcastle.com.

You can walk around the village, castle and along the beautiful beach, and look out at Holy Island and the Farne Islands, then visit the castle and its Christmas Kingdom, with shape-shifting ‘selkies’ and other mythical folk. ‘It’s magnificent at any time of year, but Bamburgh Castle comes into its own at Christmas time,’ says its owner, Claire Watson-Armstrong. 

Another castle lit up for Christmas is Lincoln’s lincolncastle.com, which has a popular Illuminated Wall Walk, as well as stalls and food. There are also special dog-friendly evenings on offer.

In Deal, on the Kent coast, Walmer Castle has a new light trail english-heritage.org.uk, and Sudeley Castle and Gardens sudeleycastle.co.uk in Gloucestershire is once again hosting its popular Spectacle of Light trail around the grounds, this year with a Wizard of Oz theme.

Hampton Court Palace, just outside London, turns into a winter wonderland at this time of year, and makes a great day out for a walk rp.org.uk. With its maze, formal gardens and huge estate, you can spend hours rambling around before stopping for some festive refreshments and Tudor entertainment, or perhaps even having a spin on its ice-rink.

Above: The Long Walk in Windsor Great Park

Country rambles

Blow out the cobwebs and walk off that festive fayre with a march around the great outdoors. Windsor Great Park is a wonderful place for a wander, whether you tackle the 2.5 mile Long Walk, or just go for a stroll around the Obelisk Pond windsorgreatpark.co.uk. Once the sun goes down the Windsor Great Park Illuminated Trail lights up.

In Cornwall, the crowds of tourists have gone, so it is a marvellous time to visit pretty Mousehole, near Penzance, and enjoy its charming harbour lights, before taking one of the many circular walking routes around the village mouseholelights.org.uk. Make it a weekend by renting a cottage through Cornish Gems cornishgems.com.

Similarly, the Seven Sisters Country Park on the Sussex Heritage Coast offers spectacular walks along the clifftops in winter. Its Miles Without Stiles route is an easy, accessible trail suitable for those with limited mobility southdowns.gov.uk. Finish with a Christmas afternoon tea at The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne grandeastbourne.com.

In the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales, one of the country’s most beautiful winter walks is the Salmon Leaps Walk – a three or five-mile trail from Dinas Powys, taking in woodlands, an Iron Age hill fort and
a glacial valley visitthevale.com.

And in Scotland you can combine the Loch Morlich circuit in the Cairngorms – a three-and-a-half mile route – with a visit to the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer visitcairngorms.com.

Festive forests

Spending time surrounded by trees has been proven to be beneficial for our mental and physical health, and a crisp winter walk in woodland is just the thing for this time of year.

There is also an increasing number of forest light trails open at Christmas, including the Illuminated Arboretum at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire thenma.org.uk and Christmas at Bedgebury National Pinetum in Kent, home to the UK’s largest collection of conifers forestryengland.uk.

In Central Scotland, Beecraigs Festive Forest is lighting up this year with a festive family event beecraigsfestiveforest.com and in Cornwall, the enchanting Lost Gardens of Heligan open up for magical Night Garden events. You can wind your way around the short trail and even try your hand at making a lantern heligan.com.

One of the most famous light trails in the country is at Kew Gardens in London, when its Christmas at Kew event brings the botanical site to sparkling life kew.org.

Tearoom trails

What’s the point of a good walk if there isn’t a tearoom or pub at the end of it to give yourself a well-earned reward? Some of the best tearooms are at National Trust properties, where you can always be guaranteed
a good scone nationaltrust.org.uk.

Among its properties is Polesden Lacey in Surrey, which offers great walking on an 1,600-acre estate and gardens, and a café full of festive treats. In honour of its former owner, Mrs Greville, it’s gone all-out on entertainment this Christmas, with a Fairytale Trail around the grounds, plus a vintage carousel.

Another trust property, Ickworth House in Suffolk, has a Christmas Trail, plus a Night Light Trail through its splendid gardens. Finish with a warming drink at its café, which, like the whole site, is dog-friendly.

In North Wales, Penrhyn Castle has lovely walks around its garden and woodland. The Norman castle is dressed for Christmas and the café offers festive drinks and food.

Over the Scottish border, Hermitage Wood has an excellent walking trail with a five-star finish at the Gleneagles Hotel (gleneagles.com). The wood used to be the pleasure grounds of the dukes of Atholl and is now managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

At the other end of the country, on the South Downs, you’ll find The Spread Eagle, one of England’s oldest coaching inns, which dates back to the 15th century. This boutique hotel makes a great base for a circular walk around Midhurst and the downs, finishing with lunch or afternoon tea hshotels.co.uk.

Above: Edinburgh lit up for Christmas

City strolls

You don’t have to travel far to enjoy a good ramble. For those who live in cities, Christmas is also a great excuse to walk the streets and see the lights.

In London you can follow a new Walking with the Snowman sculpture trail around the Fleet Street area (fleetstreetquarter.co.uk), or take a wander to see some of the city’s Christmas lights. There are displays in Oxford and Regent Streets, Old Bond Street, Knightsbridge, and Harrods’ and Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas windows.

For a compact walk with twinkling lights head to Belgravia, which has a Trail of Cheer across Elizabeth Street, Eccleston Yards, Pimlico Road, Halkin Arcade and Motcomb Street belgravialdn.com. Stop for a hot chocolate at the Peggy Porschen café or for something more fortifying at The Library Bar at the sumptuous Lanesborough Hotel, just off Hyde Park Corner.

It’s not just London that comes alive at Christmas. Up in Yorkshire, Leeds gets into the festive spirit every year with Christmas markets and its Millennium Square Christmas Experience, so you can take a walk around the city centre and do some present shopping at the same time visitleeds.co.uk.

Those who like to incorporate a little retail therapy into a walk will also delight in Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets. The historic city centre transforms into a winter wonderland in December, with stalls, an ice rink and funfair rides. There’s also a fabulous light trail at Edinburgh Castle edinburgh-christmas.com.

Birmingham has another city trail to add to your list in its famous Botanical Gardens. These 15 acres of beautiful grounds and greenhouses near the city centre are lit up after dusk for the Luminate Birmingham Winter Light Trail experience. birminghambotanicalgardens.org.uk.

10 of the best light trails

Follow one of these fabulous light trails around the country

♦ Christmas at the Botanics, Edinburgh

One of the most popular light trails in the country is in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. The gardens come ablaze after dark with giant floating seeds, glowing flowers and other themed displays. bge.org.uk

♦ Christmas at Bute Park, Cardiff

The light trail Christmas at Bute Park is the most popular in the country outside London. This year’s enchanting display is its biggest yet, and a must-do for anyone in the area. christmasatbutepark.com

♦ Botanic Lights, Cambridge

This year, for the first time, Cambridge University Botanic Garden is hosting a light trail. Botanic Lights promises to highlight some of the garden’s lovely features, includingthe fountain, lake and its impressive glasshouses. botanic.cam.ac.uk

♦ Christmas at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace transforms itself at Christmas time with a magical trail. Inside, the rooms tell the story of Sleeping Beauty, and there’s a Christmas market too. blenheimpalace.com

♦ The Festival of Light, Longleat, Wiltshire

Longleat has turned itself into Narnia, with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe lantern experience. Visitors can wander the grounds and see the Enchanted Christmas Tree show, fountain display and a light show projected onto Longleat House, or hop on the Santa train. longleat.co.uk

♦ Christmas at Heaton Park, Manchester

The makers of Christmas at Kew have headed up north for the Christmas at Heaton Park light trail in Manchester. It brings a whole new meaning to the Northern Lights. christmasatheatonpark.seetickets.com

♦ Luminate Wales, Margam Country Park, Port Talbot

Another super-popular light trail in South Wales is in Margam Country Park and Castle. The mile-long walk winds through the historic gardens, with interactive elements for children and lotsof food and drink stalls to warm you up. luminate.live

♦ RHS Glow at Wisley, Surrey

Fans of the glorious RHS Garden Wisley will delight in its light trail, which illuminates the glasshouse, lake, rock garden, alpine meadow, Wisteria Walk and more. rhs.org.uk

♦ Aglow at Auckland Castle, County Durham

The North-East’s famous Dark Skies will be lit up with the light trail at Auckland Castle. Aglow is a 1.5-mile trail including the largest Christmas tree in the North and a light show projected onto the castle. aucklandaglow.org

♦ Bay of Lights, Torquay

Finally, follow the free Illumination Trail along the Torquay waterfront, or hop on the Train of Lights illuminated vintage steam train for a small fee. This will take you on an enchanted journey all the way to Dartmouth. englishriviera.co.uk