Perhaps it’s the bright, crisp days, perhaps it’s the bracing winds, but winter makes walking in the West Country a real delight. Whether you’re looking for a blast of fresh air amid the festivities or have resolved to do more exercise, hiking the region’s coast paths and moors will put plenty of pep in your step. So we asked local Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion Belinda Dixon to come up with some routes that show the west off at its winter best.
Walk 1 North Devon - Hartland Point & Quay
Start / Finish: Hartland Point Car Park
Duration: 5 hours
If you could do geology lessons on this coast, you’d have a class full of kids who thought that rocks – well, rock. That’s because intense heat and pressure have taken the strata here and folded them into fantastical formations. It leads to some steep hiking but cracking views. Starting at Hartland Point car park, head west to look out onto the lighthouse and coastguard station, and Lundy Island some 12 miles offshore. Next it’s a roller-coaster of a route broadly south to Hartland Quay, where the concertina cliffs really come into their own. The bar and sea-view terrace of the Hartland Quay Hotel are popular among hikers needing to refuel.
Next it’s another dramatic section of coastal walking before cutting inland. The rest of the route is a mix of paths and stiles through fields and calm country lanes - again the route is sometimes steep. Take in Docton Mill and the tiny settlement of Stoke before re-joining the lane to Hartland Point and your car.
While the route itself is obviously important, a good refreshment stop can raise a winter walk to another level. Enter three words that make many a Devonian smile: Warren House Inn, a snug hostelry with a fire that’s famously been lit since 1845. Work up an appetite by parking up near Bennett’s Cross on the B3212. Heading east along the Two Moors Way sees you skirting to the north of Birch Tor and up to Hookney Tor.
From there it’s a quick blast to Grimspound – an evocative, Bronze Age settlement where 24 houses were encased in a 150m-diameter wall. As you wander among the ruins consider that Grim is Dartmoor shorthand for the Devil - so this is the ‘Devil’s enclosure’ (how many other ‘grim’ moorland references can you spot?).
Next head south to take in a loop around the stone rows of Challacombe Down. You’ll then pass streams and disused tin mines before emerging onto the road and the warming fire of the Warren House Inn.
Walk 3 South Devon – Start Point
Start/Finish Start Point Car Park
Distance 8.5km/5 miles
For any walk, where better to start than at Start Point? And it’s not just the name that draws you here, because this superb section of West Country shore has a picture perfect lighthouse, a ruined village and sweeping views. At the car park overlooking curling Start Bay, head south east on the tarmac lane to Start Point itself, where the white tower of Start Point Lighthouse juts from the headland.
From there it’s an undulating walk along the coast path – this time with Start Point lighthouse in front of you, and back to the car.
Time to let you into a secret – there’s one chunk of Cornwall that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In fact the Rame Peninsula is so overlooked by fleets of west-bound holidaymakers, that it’s dubbed Cornwall’s Forgotten Corner. Which is a shame, because it’s both intriguing and breath-taking.
From the car park on the edge of Cawsand (not at this stage its twin village, Kingsand), walk to the village beach. There pick up coast path signs leading south east, close to the shore. The woodland provides sea glimpses – including of the massive Plymouth Breakwater, an extraordinary engineering feat that got underway in 1812.
After you emerge on Penlee Point headland, duck left to discover a grotto built into the cliff. Next, it’s an exhilarating hike of rolling terrain and wide views towards the distinctive outline of Rame Head. As you near, you’ll pass the local National Coastwatch Institution outpost – you’re normally welcome to pop in, between 0800 and 1700, if they’re not busy. From there a short, steep-sided walk leads to Rame Head itself. Here an ancient chapel sits on an island-like headland with 360 degree views.
Next, follow first the coast path then the road and footpath signs, back to Cawsand. Make sure you explore the village, its twin Kingsand and their plentiful pubs and eateries to truly discover Cornwall’s forgotten corner.
At Lizard Point you’re not just going on a walk, you’re circumnavigating a travellers’ totem – because this headland is the most southerly point on the British mainland. Park up in the village, then pick up the lane heading east, past the church towards Church Cove. You’re now on a wild stretch of coast that’s long been particularly hazardous to shipping – the first of many signs of this is just ahead: the Lizard Lifeboat Station, complete with an unusually long launching slipway. Next, the rugged shore leads to the National Coastwatch Institution Lookout station at Bass Point, then the ornate towers of the Lizard Lighthouse, built in 1751.
Mainland Britain’s most southerly spot, Lizard Point, comes soon after – naturally along with the ‘most southerly café in England’: Polpeor Café . From here the only way is north, along a surging strip of coast that leads to one of Cornwall’s prettiest low-tide bays: Kynance Cove. Time it right – note you’re aiming for low tide – and you can be walking on pristine sand beside islands, caves and tiny coves. Keep an eye out, though, on the rising tide. From Kynance Cove, it’s up over the headland and along a mix of paths and tracks back to Lizard’s village green.
elinda Dixon loves inspiring others to GetOutside in Britain with her blog. Belinda is a travel (Lonely Planet) and adventure writer, a broadcaster and a leader for the charity the British Exploring Society. And in each of these areas of her professional and charity work Belinda champions the benefits of an active, outdoors lifestyle. She says that she also loves to 'showcase how everyone – whoever and wherever you are, and however you live – can enrich their lives by getting outside.'
Belinda loves to make the outdoors accessible and hopes to work through the Beginners Guides in 2017 and put them into practice, as well as to lead on another British Exploring expedition.