Wrap up, head out, gather up, then hunker down. Walks in winter are a bit special
A good walk can cure many an ill, but a good walk in winter brings with it rosy cheeks, a glow of achievement, and a life-affirming sense of having worked with the elements rather than against them.
We always feel winter walks are best summed up by Ruth Craft in her 1976 children’s book, The Winter Bear:
‘So three set off in the cold, still air
With an apple or two and plenty to wear.’
The three children wander among almost-bare hedgerows spotting ‘bryony vine and old man’s beard’ and eventually light upon a teddy bear, stuck up a tree, which they bring home, dry off, patch up and ‘set him with care on a round, brown cushion in the best armchair.’
It’s a classic winter walk. Well prepped, a well-trodden route, high hopes, a jolly demeanour and treasure at the end. And a roaring fire, too.
In winter, any one of us, setting off with purpose on a walk, has a small swagger of the intrepid explorer about us. You may be more shambling than Shackleton and more Ambridge than Antarctica, but this can still be an heroic expedition.
But it does require a little preparation. So here are our suggestions.
Dress as though your nan chose your outfit. At least one vest, two pairs of socks, waterproof shoes. You’re not covering up, you’re battening down the hatches.
Take a Thermos. A morale-boosting cuppa is just what you need at the top of a frosty hill, or after you’ve got pond water in your shoe. If you have a Thermos full of nice, thick soup you’ve really won at winter walks.
Make a collection. Why do only children get to have ‘nature tables’? We think grown-ups should have a nature table, too. So take a bag with you and pick up anything of interest you find on your walk: a pine cone, a nice acorn, a pebble with a hole in it, and take them home to arrange on your nature table and bring a little of the wild home to your garden.
Leave a surprise, too. Find a little hole in a tree or a niche in a stone wall and leave one of your finds there for someone else to happen upon. A gift to the winter walking community.
Say a cheery hello to everyone you meet. Even if you never say hello to anyone you pass usually. Bonus point if a really good dog runs up to you and licks your waxed jacket.
Have a plan. A hilltop to conquer, a wood to explore. You don’t need to follow a specific path but it helps to have something in mind so you can say: “Right, we’ve done what we came to do. Time to go home.”
Have somewhere to escape to and hunker down at the end. Ideally this should be a pub with a log fire, but your living room will do just fine as long as the kettle is ready to go on and you’ve got a nice cake in the tin.
In our February issue, we interviewed Emma Mitchell, author of Making Winter and, more recently, The Wild Remedy (Michael O’Mara books). Emma (follow her at @silverpebble2) documents her winter walks in beautiful ‘wreaths’ which she photographs, like the one pictured above.
And suddenly, a stroll out in the cold feels like a project we all want in on.
Buy the February issue to read all about The Wild Remedy and for the details of our reader offer on the book. For more winter walk inspiration, visit The National Trust’s Winter Walks page.