Like many people who enjoy the outdoors, I love spending time in some of the most popular walking areas of the UK.
There’s a reason why the masses flock to the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District, Malhamdale in the Yorkshire Dales and Castleton in the Peak District. They are beautiful places and well deserving of their popularity.
However, there are times when I want to escape to the hills for some peace and quiet. When day to day life gets a bit too crazy, nothing presses the pause button quite like a walk in green open space away from the crowds.
At the risk of making some of my favourite places a bit too busy, here are 5 areas where I’ve previously enjoyed a walk on the quieter side of life.
Disclaimer: all the locations visited were significantly quieter than more popular walking areas when I was there, but they could be much busier on different days or times of year.
1. The Lomond Hills, Fife, Scotland
Whenever friends talked about walking or mountain biking in Scotland, it was usually around the Glencoe, Fort William and Torridon areas. Spending a month in Fife this summer, I expected that most of the walking there would be relatively flat and around the coastal path (which incidentally is lovely), until the Lomond Hills were recommended to me.
Situated east of the M90/A91 and west of the A92 not far from Glenrothes, the Lomond Hills Regional Park is around 25 square miles of moorland, lochs and farmland with two main summit hills – West Lomond (522m) and East Lomond (424m).
We walked from Craigmead car park (above the village of Falkland) to the summit of West Lomond, the highest point in Fife. This path is clearly defined and can be a there and back walk.
Falkland village itself is stunning and has some great cafes, along with the historic Falkland Palace. However, it’s worth noting that we really struggled to find any maps or information in the village about walking in the Lomond Hills (we tried the library, tourist information point and the post office).
Check out the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust website before you go as this gives more information and a downloadable PDF map.
2. The Quantock Hills, Somerset
The Quantock Hills span an area of just 12 miles by 4 and were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956.
The scenery here is stunning with steep wooded valleys (combes), open moorland and cultivated farmland. When you’re out walking in the Quantocks, it’s highly likely you’ll come across wild ponies and red deer.
Add in some history – the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s home (in Nether Stowey village), an old hill top fort, and landmarks such as Dead Woman’s Ditch and Walford’s Gibbet (linked to a gruesome 18th century tale), and you’ll see that there’s plenty to keep your interest.
I walked from Nether Stowey (a lovely village with a couple of pubs and a cafe/shop/post office) and encountered only a couple of people out on the hills.
Incidentally, a vast majority of the rights of way in this area are bridleways so it’s also a great area to go mountain biking.
More information on the area can be found on the Quantock Hills website or if you buy and keep old copies of TGO Magazine, check out the November 2015 edition for my Wild Walks article on the Quantocks.
3. The Newlands Valley, Lake District
Located on the west side of Cat Bells, I was surprised at how peaceful the Newlands Valley was in comparison to the very popular areas around it (Derwent Water, A66 and Keswick).
We did a circular walk from the Newlands Valley up to the summit of Cat Bells (451m) and onto High Spy (653m) before dropping back down into the Newlands Valley.
The walk up to the summit of Cat Bells was pretty popular (as expected), but it quietened off the further we went.
The scenery coming back into the Newlands Valley from High Spy was absolutely stunning and when we came across the Pots of Tea sign….well, my day was made!
My next plan is to head further west (Robsinson, Hindscarth and Buttermere) as I’ve been told those are fabulous places to visit.
More information on the Newlands Valley can be found on the Visit Cumbria website.
4. Alport Castles, Peak District (Derbyshire)
Living on the edge of the Peak District, I’ve visited the Ladybower/Derwent reservoir area on numerous occasions (parking at Fairholmes car park for an easy to follow road/track around the reservoirs) and always thought of it as a hugely popular tourist destination.
I do actually love being around the reservoirs, especially on a sunny winters day when I want an easy bike ride to see me through until spring arrives. However, before setting off I generally have to steel myself for spending the day surrounded by lots of people.
The day I headed for a walk up onto the hills above the west side of the reservoir, I realised that it is possible to get away from the crowds in this area of the Peak District.
We did a circular walk from the shores of Derwent reservoir up onto Hagg Side before turning to cross the moors towards Alport Castles (a half mile long landslip, so named due to the debris which has produced several mounds which appear from the distance to look like castles). Dropping down from Alport Castles towards the A57 Snake Pass, the route then took us back up to Hagg Side and returned to Derwent reservoir.
The section of the walk near Derwent reservoir and Hagg Side was relatively popular, but walking over towards and back from Alport Castles was much quieter. I was surprised at how different the views were from the moors here and will definitely spend more time in this area of the Peak District.
The Peak District National Park website has some information about Fairholmes. The relevant map for the area is OS Map OL1 (Dark Peak)
5. On your doorstep…
Many of us concentrate on the high fells in the national parks around the UK and forget about the walking which can be done right on our doorstep.
If you live in a town/city, check out the parks and canals in your area. I recently saw pictures of someone walking on the canal towpath in Dewsbury and it looked to be a real escape from the world – not something I would normally associate with Dewsbury.
I’m a big fan of finding ways to release the adventurous spirit within us by changing our thinking about doorstep adventures:
- It might be as simple as camping out in your garden during winter.
- It might be checking out the closest hills to your home or work.
- It might be doing a night walk on a clear starry night with a full moon shining.
- It might be putting some powerful lights on your mountain bike so you can carry on riding outdoors during winter.
I’m noticing a dark night theme here – probably because we’re approaching winter as I write this post 😉
Often, these places or styles of adventure are where you can find a slice of peace and quiet in a more built up area. The main thing to remember is to pack your enthusiasm, sense of fun and curiosity. In my mind, that’s the way to find new enjoyment from our doorstep adventures.
I count myself very lucky to have lots of accessible countryside on my own doorstep, so here’s a shameless plug to finish this post. If you fancy checking out some walking in West Yorkshire, take a look at my book “Walking in the Upper Dearne Valley”
The Upper Dearne Valley is an area which is south of Huddersfield, west of Barnsley and east of Holmfirth. The countryside here consists of gentle hills, stunning views and verdant woodland. Once out of the villages, I encountered very few other walkers while researching the 8 walks covered in the book – yet the paths in this area are well defined.
If you’d like any more information about the general area, please get in touch.
Purchases can be made online via:
J R Nicholls (Denby Dale bookshop, West Yorkshire)
So, based on my own personal experience, you now have 5 ideas of places to go walking away from the crowds.
As with any list of this type, readers will have their own favourites – places I’ve not visited yet or maybe not even heard of.
I’d love to hear about them, so please let me know via Twitter, Facebook or in the comments section below so that I can create my own list of new places to check out 🙂