The Ramblers’ Association will be leading five huge guided walks next weekend to take advantage of new rights of access in the UK. The detailed routes are at the end of this story.
The new “Freedom to Roam” over mountain, moor, heath and downland — will soon apply across England and Wales. This Saturday, several regions win their freedom, opening up long miles of Northumbria, Cumbria and North Yorkshire, plus every inch of Welsh access land, to walkers. The southeast, the Peak District, the northwest and the West Country have already gone live, while Devon, Cornwall, the Midlands and the east of England will follow later this year. That adds up to 5,000 square miles of new views you could never explore before.
Everyone will be feeling out the ground and finding gateways into the new access land where they can. The Ramblers website (www.ramblers.org.uk) also has links to a database of access maps from the Countryside Agency. To check updated Welsh maps, visit www.ccw.gov.uk.
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The Sunday Times picked out these 5 routes as amongst the best to get started.
The 226ft Long Man of Wilmington would probably be our most celebrated chalk giant if it weren’t for the one at Cerne Abbas with a more eye-catching line in weapons. The new access law opens up a thrilling new way to approach him.
Walk north from Jevington village, joining the Wealdway trail towards Folkington. After 15 minutes you can strike out left across the open downs (grid reference TQ561029), climbing onto panorama-packed Folkington Hill and rippling westward to Wilmington Hill, where the Long Man reclines right at your feet. Bear left here onto Windover Hill (TQ541031), more new access land, and track south to meet a path (TQ535019) into Lullington Heath Nature Reserve. Chomped by ponies and aflutter with butterflies, this is a remnant of Bronze Age England much as the Man himself might remember it. Aim east back to Jevington, where the Hungry Monk lays on one of Sussex’s more famous Sunday lunches (01323 482178; £26.95).
Details: six miles, Ordnance Survey Explorer map 123.
VALE OF PEWSEY
Not far south of Avebury is a piece of prehistoric Wiltshire that’s less well trodden by walkers. You get there from a place of still gentility: Alton Priors, with its pretty church marooned in meadows. Pick up the Ridgeway trail north, cross the Marlborough road (SU112629), and you’re free to romp out among the enigmatic humps and hollows of a Neolithic necropolis. Ahead is Adam’s Grave long barrow, while to the east stands Knap Hill, whose Stone Age encampment is stashed (so they say) with subterranean treasure.
The views up here are huge; and the wind can blow the bags right out from under your eyes. Scarper west along the escarpment to the Alton Barnes white horse, with its spindly, knotted-cotton legs, then gallop down off the ridge to join a path into Stanton St Bernard (SU096636) and back along the Kennet & Avon Canal. The Seven Stars (01672 851325), at Woodborough, is the top choice for lunch.
Details: six miles; OS Explorer 157.
The River Manifold occupies the most intimate sliver of Peak District territory, but new access is giving up some of its profounder secrets. Start with a meander south along the valley from Hulme End, and turn left at Dale Bridge towards Radcliffe’s Folly. Its green spire is the first clue to the riches that once lay under your boots.
You’re climbing Ecton Hill, fountain of the copper-mining fortune that paid for the Duke of Devonshire’s Chatsworth House. All that remains today is the ruined Boulton and Watt engine house, plus 40 or 50 vertical shafts — mind your step.
For the first time, you’re free to go south off the footpath to the soft summit (SK100580), studded with yellow mountain pansies, and then on via Top of Ecton to conquer the buxom tops of Wetton Hill. The views are pure pastoral pleasure — but none beats the sight of ham and eggs coming out of the kitchen at the Olde Royal Oak in Wetton (01335 310287).
Details: returning along the valley makes a six-mile circuit; OS Explorer OL24.
This is scenery with a six-pack — all pumped-up waterfalls and fists of slate. If you don’t fancy taking on Snowdon, you can now opt to conquer its little brother, Yr Aran — two thirds the height, but just as macho.
Park at Pont Bethania, east of Beddgelert, and follow the famous Watkin Path up through Snowdonia’s best surviving slice of ancient oakwood. Look for a path off left (SH621520), which joins an old copper- miners’ trackway. Stick to the footpath, branching away from a stream and rising all the way to the lonely tarn at Bwlch Cwm Llan (SH604521). Now climb south beside a wall, through some crags and sharp right onto the summit. Gulp down the views, then descend the same way and stagger into Pen-y-Gwryd (01286 870211), the honest-to-goodness hostelry that hosted Hillary during training for Nepal 1953. Next stop Everest?
Details: seven hard-working miles; OS Explorer OL17.
Cloudy Crags — the very name rings with romantic expectation. But until now the footpath from Alnwick towards these heathery heights has left walkers feeling overcast: it’s a road to nowhere, and they have to trudge all the way back again.
From Saturday, though, you will be able to scramble up onto the sandstone pinnacles, lording it over the Duke of Northumberland’s Hulne Park and vast views west across the Cheviots. Start the day by storming Alnwick Castle, a Dungeons & Dragons dream, with stone soldiers manning the battlements. Then stride past St Michael’s Church to pick up the two-mile track west (NU180137), arrowing alongside the wall of Hulne Park all the way.
After a spot of crag-hopping, take the once-private driveway south by Red Side, and follow lanes and footpaths back to town via Little Birkey Hill (NU160123). Lunch awaits, at The Oaks (01665 510014).
Details: seven miles; OS Explorer 332