Fleetwith Pike, Cumbria
Length/time 3½ miles, 2-3 hours
Start/finish Honister Slate Mine
Refuel Sky Hi Cafe, at the mine
There aren’t many mountains you can explore inside and out but a hike on Fleetwith Pike offers the chance to do both. The area is home to the hardest green slate in the world – mining once accounted for 80% of Cumbria’s wealth – and the landscape tells the story of the miners who, from the 17th century, worked here in huge caverns hacked out of Honister Crag.
Start the walk with a tour of Honister Slate mine (£17.50 adults, £9.50 children). The entrance is marked by a tiny slate bothy, where the self-employed miners used to sleep, and you get to explore the damp low tunnels below.
Alfred Wainwright wandered here and mistakenly referred to the mine as a quarry. He commented: “There is no beauty in despoliation and devastation, but there can be dramatic effect and interest, and so it is here.”
From the cafe, take the mine road, which runs parallel with the Honister Pass. It’s on the path of an old tramway used for moving slate. Ignore the footpath to Great Gable on the left. The grey track zigzags upwards past a slate memorial marking the reopening of Honister as both a working mine and tourist attraction by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1997. It had closed in 1989.
Then it’s views of the ravaged crags across Honister Pass, a Tolkienesque mass of spoil, tracks and mysterious shafts. It’s a shattered landscape, but set into towering crags it has a strangely desolate beauty. There’s more mining detritus on the shoulder of Fleetwith, with the road marked by standing stones of slate. Turn right and head upwards on a grassy path. Close to the false summit is a ruined miners’ building, making you realise just how high up they worked.
The lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water appear ahead, often amid wisps of cloud. A short dip and ascent takes you to the 648-metre summit. You can then either carry on down Fleetwith Edge to Gatesgarth and walk on to Buttermere for a welcome pint, or retrace your steps for something on the slate at the Honister cafe and shop.
Pete May, author of Man About Tarn: How a Londoner Learned to Love the Lake District
Hickling Broad, Norfolk
Length/time 3 miles/90 minutes
Start/finish Hickling Broad visitor centre
Refuel Pleasure Boat Inn, Hickling
For the first two decades of the 20th century, a brilliant ornithologist lived in a houseboat called Water Rail on Hickling Broad, the largest of the flooded medieval peat-diggings that make up the Norfolk Broads. It was an unusual vocation for an Edwardian woman but Emma Turner was an extremely independent-minded person.
At the time the bittern, a large and furtive brown bird, was believed to be extinct as a breeding species in England. But Turner discovered a bittern’s nest deep in Hickling’s reed beds, and took excellent photographs to prove it. She became the first female honorary member of the British Ornithologists’ Union and a small island on the broad is named in her honour.
Turner’s work was instrumental in getting Hickling’s wild riches recognised and later protected. Today it is a Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve and remains home to the resurgent bittern.
Walking south from the visitor centre, take the right-hand path through oak woods to reach a low floodbank above the reedbeds that surround Hickling. Sails of boats appear above the reeds on the horizon, emphasising just how low this landscape is. Follow the bank along the north-eastern side of the broad, past bird hides and the thatched Edwardian hunting lodge once used by wealthy wildfowlers.
While the bittern remains elusive, Hickling is a hotspot for the marsh harrier, a raptor rarer than a golden eagle, as well as Chinese water deer, kingfishers and barn owls. Walk along the floodbank around Hundred Acres Marsh and you’ll reach Stubb drainage windmill, one of around 200 old windpumps that once drained these marshes. Follow Stubb Road back to the visitor centre.
This broadland landscape is rich in birdlife but you really experience its strange riches on the water: and this walk can be combined with a fascinating one- or two-hour wildlife water trail by electric boat (£7.50/£9.50 adults, £4.50/£6 children ): book at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust visitor centre or call 01603 270479. Admission to Hickling is £4 for non-Wildlife Trust members.
Patrick Barkham, Guardian writer and author of Islander (Granta, £9.99), The Butterfly Isles and Badgerlands
Moel Goedog, standing stones, Gwynedd
Length/time 6 miles, 3½ hours
Start/finish Harlech railway station
Refuel Y branwen hotel
This is a lovely moorland walk, including multiple standing stones marking what must have been a prehistoric trackway to the summit of Moel Goedog (367 metres). It passes two ring cairns and a late bronze age hill fort at the summit, with breathtaking views.
From Harlech, the going is initially steep but eases off. With Edward I’s castle visible on the left, follow the road that winds up, bordered by high stone walls, right past Harlech castle and its visitor centre. Go straight across the crossroads, with its shops, and the moor beckons – after about three quarters of a mile, turn left at another crossroads. The first standing stone, just to the left of the road, is known as Moel Goedog 8. Carry on straight and the next stone is just by the cattle grid, with a further stone a bit further on the right; sadly it’s just a broken pointed stump now.
The next standing stone is on the left: here, sheep roam freely, and such stones have, in folklore, been mistaken for sheep – and tales tell of sales made to the drunken and gullible. Stay left and follow the path to another pair of stones, in a field of young bullocks. The final standing stone is Moel Goedog 5.
Before the summit there are two ring cairns. First is Moel Goedog West, which is surrounded by other stones up to a metre tall. An excavation in 1978 uncovered bronze age cremation urns. From here, the Dwyryd estuary glistens below, across to distant mountains beyond. The second cairn is some 50m east, on the other side of the path. The hill fort is close to Moel Goedog’s summit and though the ditches and bank are worn, enough remains of it to be worth a visit.
It’s possible to carry on a further six miles north-east to the renowned and remote “crown of thorns” cairn circle of Bryn Cader Faner, or head back down past the stones for a drink at the Branwen hotel, the rear of which you passed on the way up close to the castle.
Andy Burnham, editor of The Old Stones: A Field Guide to the Megalithic Sites of Britain and Ireland (Watkins Media). More information on these sites at megalithic.co.uk
Hawker’s Hut, Morwenstow, Cornwall
Length/time 3 miles, 1½ hours
Start/finish/refuel Bush Inn, Morwenstow
This circular walk in north Cornwall takes in clifftops and wooded valleys as well as a tiny driftwood hut. Hawker’s Hut, the focus of the walk, sits high on the cliff and is where eccentric opium-smoking poet-priest Robert Stephen Hawker meditated and wrote poetry.
From the Bush Inn, follow the road down to Morwenstow church and into the churchyard, past the figurehead of the Caledonia, a brig wrecked in 1843, which marks the burials Hawker officiated at. Morwenstow, set back from a treacherous stretch of coast, was where Hawker became known both as a missionary to a community of wreckers and smugglers, and as a poet with an eclectic dress sense. (He was often seen in a stylish combination of purple coat, white cravat, fisherman’s jumper and beaver hat.)
Follow the path through the graveyard to a stone stile, then past the Old Vicarage into the wooded valley below. Turn left before you reach the stream and follow the valley to emerge at the sea, with Lundy Island visible in the distance. Climb steep steps on your left to the cliff top and five minutes further on is Hawker’s Hut, a tiny room the vicar constructed out of timbers from a wrecked ship. It was his place of sanctuary and inspiration, where he wrote – and indulged in the odd toke on an opium pipe.
With a figure like Hawker it’s difficult to distinguish the man from the myth but sit in the hut and listen to waves surging against the cliffs and it’s easy to understand why he loved this place. It’s a hard spot to leave but, back on the path, head on towards the GCHQ radar array before turning left, away from the sea, by Higher Sharpnose Point (where The Caledonia ran aground) up the valley to the signed path left across the fields and back to the 13th-century Bush Inn.
Wyl Menmuir, author of Man Booker long-listed The Many (Salt, £8.99)
Loch Nam Ban Mora, Isle of Eigg
Length/time 4½ miles, 3 hours
Refuel Galmisdale Bay cafe and pub
The tiny island of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, was, according to legend, the dominion a Pictish queen and her tribe of outsize female warriors. This walk takes you to the Loch of the Big Women, where the sisterhood met an untimely end.
From the hamlet of Galmisdale follow the left hand fork in the road through mossy woods scented with wild garlic. Head to Galmisdale farmhouse across a meadow and turn left where the footpath reaches the rough hill track. Look out for the red spots that mark the ascent up Sgùrr, a rock formed from volcanic lava, which sits atop the island like a slightly squashed Hovis loaf.
The climb up the hill is steady rather than gruelling. Wheatears bob along in front, flashing their white undercarriage and the high hill country opens up around you. In the distance you can see the Celtic cross that marks the site of the monastery of Kildonan. It was here that St Donan and his brotherhood of 52 monks set up home. The queen took exception to this invasion of her island and sought revenge in a fashion typical of the bloody history of the Highlands by chopping off the monks’ heads after mass.
The loch appears as the main track veers away to climb the summit. Follow a sheep track through the heather to the little mirrored bowl set within the hills. According to the story, after murdering the monks, the queen and her followers saw lights appear in the sky and followed these across the moors to this spot where they were led into the water and drowned while attempting to reach the tiny island in the centre.
Carol Donaldson, writer and conservationist, is the author of On the Marshes (Little Toller Books, £10)
Rombald’s Moor Round, Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Length/time 7.1 miles, 4 hours
Start/finish Cow and Calf Rocks car park
Refuel Cow and Calf Cafe
Ilkley Moor, or Rombald’s Moor as it’s officially titled, has always loomed large in my world. I grew up in an old house on its north-west edge, and lived in its shadow until I was 23. Its wild, heathery expanses, niches of wood, hidden streams and peat bogs were a playground for us kids. From bronze age cup-and-ring carvings to stone circles, alien sightings to tales of Charles Darwin taking its waters – the moor’s histories and myths seized our imaginations as surely as the landscape got in our blood.
Now, whenever I return to walk this seven-mile circular, it feels no less eerie and spectacular – a place that can change in a moment, yet remain timeless. At the age of 17, half-cut and showing off, I carved my name on that moor but Ilkley Moor had carved itself into me long before.
Start at the Cow and Calf Rocks car park, scrambling up the easy climb inside the gritstone quarry or taking the footpath around it. The expansive views of the River Wharfe and the Yorkshire Dales have been a magnet for centuries, as the rock graffiti testifies. Look for “E M Lancaster, 1st Battalion XXIV Foot, 1882” – chiselled a few years after that regiment fought at Rorke’s Drift. Once up, follow the footpath left to wind on to moor proper.
Head towards The Haystack, a slab of rock covered with some of the 400 neolithic and bronze age cup-and-ring marks on this moor. While the town below dates its origins to a first century AD Roman cavalry fort, these patterns are 4,000 years old. It’s the same with the Twelve Apostles – a restored stone circle, another 20 minutes further south along a boardwalk path, on Burley Moor.
Double back and carry straight on through Ilkley Crags before turning left and following the footpath west. This is heather and bracken upland country that turns a gorgeous russet and rust-brown under autumn skies, and where you can hear curlews – especially now the moor’s grouse shooting license has been revoked. Drop down to the Swastika Stone, overlooking the valley. This ancient curved-limb cup-and-ring carving used to be thought of as bronze age but its striking similarity to the Camunian Rose means it was most likely carved by a Roman soldier stationed at Ilkley.
Trek back east along the footpath over town, looking for a white dot up on the moor line. White Wells is a relic of Ilkley’s boomtown past as a spa resort with its own, freezing cold, peat-brown dipping pool for the brave. It was here that Charles Darwin rambled, hid out and took the waters when On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. It was here, too, that in 1987 a retired copper photographed what he believed to be an alien being, which beckoned him away before vanishing in a UFO. Apparently, the incident has yet to be exposed as a hoax, which lends the moors an even greater air of mystery.
Follow the path up top and open your stride all the way back to the Cow and Calf car park, tracing the footsteps of the mill-working Methodists from Halifax who, on a chapel outing to the moor, created Yorkshire’s anthem, On Ilkla Moor Baht ’At, about the perils of courting without appropriate headgear. Time it right and there’ll be an amazing autumn sunset as you take a restorative tea in the car park cafe, or something stronger in the pub across the road.
Rob Cowen, award-winning writer and author of Common Ground, voted the UK’s third-favourite nature book in 2018
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