Autumn. It always arrives so suddenly. One minute you're in flip flops. The next, boots and coats make an appearance. The days get shorter, the temperatures drop and all around there is a sense of change. There's something about falling leaves that reminds me of how fast time goes by. Every year it seems to come around more rapidly. Which is all the more reason to get out there and enjoy it while you can. Carpe diem! But if the passage of time isn't enough to motivate you, perhaps this will.
Here are ten reasons why you should put your boots on and go walking this Autumn:
1. Amazing colours
As the leaves turn from green to gold or reds and browns, the scenery becomes a photographer's dream. At times, the views are so splendid that they can render you speechless. But it's more than just a dazzling display. There's something deeply comforting about autumn colours. They ground us and remind us of all things homely and warm.
2. Crunchy sounds and textures
Is there anything more satisfying than crunching through piles of fallen leaves? To be fair, this can be a short lived experience, before the rains arrive and turn everything to mulch. But for those weeks when freshly dropped leaves and seeds litter the pathway, it just feels and sounds adventurous.
3. Perfect temperatures
Autumn is often blessed with bright blue skies, sunny days and a nip in the air. It's not overly hot or cold, just fresh enough to add a touch of colour to your cheeks. You'll feel warm enough walking, without getting hot but will still welcome your thermos of hot chocolate when you stop for a break.
4. A picked lunch
Ok, so perhaps not an entire lunch. But you can certainly supplement your packed lunch by picking blackberries, apples, pears and elderberries. Keep an eye out for sloes, but don't eat them (they're horrid). Take them home and make sloe gin.
5. A scavenger hunt for kids
Getting kids to walk can prove a challenge, but Autumn makes it a LOT more fun as there are so many things for them to find, collect and play with. Acorns and their jaunty hats. Conkers for whacking each other. Helicopter seeds from sycamores. Different leave types to make a leaf collage. It's also a great time to build dens with plenty of dry branches littering the ground.
Squirrels spend Autumn dashing about like crazy things as they stock their winter larder, which makes for entertaining viewing. You'll be lucky to spot a hedgehog, vole or mouse while walking but if you sit quietly in a wood, you might. It's a great time to see deer and gathering flocks of birds ready to make their way south for winter, while pheasants add a splash of colour to the landscape. Be aware that it's deer stalking season in Scotland as well as shooting season for many game birds throughout the UK, so do be careful where you walk. Getting shot may ruin your walk.
7. Fewer midges and bugs
Summer walking can be a battle against the bugs, particularly midges if you're in the Lakes or Scotland. But as Autumn rolls around, the midges disappear leaving you free to walk without being covered in bug-spray.
8. Earlier bed time for wild camping
With the sun setting earlier, you can go wild camping and set up your tent earlier than in the summer. Which means you can get to sleep at a reasonable hour, and wake up early to catch the sunrise. Just make sure you take a warm sleeping bag!
9. Quieter paths
If you can get out midweek, while everyone is back to work after the summer and the kids are back at school, you'll find the paths far quieter, giving you that brilliant feeling of solitude. If you're doing a long distance path, you might find it easier to get accommodation at this time of year too.
10. The perfect time for a pub visit
After a long walk, there is nothing better than getting to a pub just as the chill is starting to set in, grabbing a pint or a warming glass of red wine and sitting in front of the first fires of the season. Bliss.
What do you love about Autumn walking? If you're a woman who love walking or hiking, please join the group on Facebook here. Or simply like the Glamoraks page.
Distance: Variable - from 5 miles to 12 miles
Terrain: Mostly easy walking on flat, broad paths - but expect steep climbs up and down when you go into and out of the valley
Refreshments: The Lion Inn, Blakey Ridge, Dale Head Farm Tearoom (plus Shepherd Hut if you fancy spending a night somewhere remote), plus plenty of pubs and tea shops in Rosedale Abbey
'Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet'. That is the Shakespearian line that played on repeat in my mind as I walked along the ridge line overlooking Rosedale in the North Yorkshire Moors. There wasn't a rose in sight, just miles of heather, breathtaking in its purple splendour. I was gobsmacked that I'd never been to this part of the moors before, which incidentally isn't named after roses, but possibly after the viking word 'rhos' for moor.
As it turns out, I had actually skirted Rosedale when I did the coast to coast, but didn't realise where I was at the time (I was a little preoccupied with the blisters on my feet having just walked 25 miles in a single day).
But the best finds are often completely unexpected, so let me rewind.
A friend had called to say that she was spending a night in a shepherd's hut somewhere remote. I invited myself along. Armed with just a postcode and a couple of bottles of champagne, I drove from York, to Pickering, then across to Hutton-le-Hole. As I climbed across Spaunton Moor out of Hutton-le-Hole, I was greeted to a breathtaking sight of heather as far as the eye could see. Daft sheep kept wondering across the narrow road, which meant I had to drive slowly giving me ample time to take in the vista. I was listening to Cold Play's A Sky Full of Stars as I drove, and the combination of uplifting music and stunning scenery plastered a smile of my face while simultaneously moving me to tears. It was simply jaw dropping.
Bracing myself for a perilously steep drive down Chimney Bank (there is a carpark there where you can take in the view - post code YO18 8SE), I noticed old stone structures on the side of the hill and wondered what they were. I found out the next day....
I made my way through the ridiculously pretty town of Rosedale Abbey and still the road continued. Eventually I could drive no further as the path petered out. Stopping the car I climbed out and found my friend, wearing fluffy slippers, sitting in the sun outside the shepherd's hut, located at the aptly named Dale Head farm. It was indeed at the head of the Dale and you could travel no further by car.
We enjoyed home baked cake and tea in the pretty tea room and garden. When all the other walkers had disappeared, we were left to enjoy our champagne, a BBQ and a good long chat outside our hut, while we watched the sun set and the stars come out. After a slightly tipsy stroll that evening, we decided that a walk was in order the following day.
The full Yorkshire breakfast nearly put paid to that idea, but we huffed our way up the forest line to the old railway track that runs midway along the ridge. It used to cart trains filled with ironstone ore off to Teeside. We turned right and walked to the old calcining kiln remnants where the ore was blasted to remove impurities, making it lighter to ship. Despite being industrial relics, the ruins were beautiful and ghostly. These were like the buildings I'd seen the previous day and I learned that the entire area was dotted with old mines and kilns.
We could - from Dale Head Farm - have climbed up to the same abandoned railway line track and turned left, following a three mile path around the head of the Dale, until reaching the Lion Inn at Blakey, where you can enjoy a meal or pint, before walking another two miles back down into the valley to the farm. For a day trip, that would make a lovely 5 mile walk, very do-able with children.
However, having waved goodbye to my friend and driving back to Chimney Bank (where I'd seen the old stone kilns and mining buildings the day before), I spotted an inviting path heading north west in the direction of the Lion Inn. Carpe Diem! I ignored the fact that it was Monday and that I should be working, put my boots on and followed the path. This too was an old railway line, the tracks long since gone, but the flat path makes easy walking. Heather lined both sides of the route while sweeping views across the valley below were wonderful.
By my estimation it's roughly 5 miles from the Chimney Bank car park to the famous Lion Inn pub at Blakey Ridge, situated at the highest point in the North Yorkshire Moors. This pub is a haven for walkers, being on the Esk River Valley route, the Coast to Coast and the Samaritan Way. It is also the only place to eat and rest for miles. I decided that I'd walk to the pub, get a cold drink and then walk back again. And then I realised that I'd left my wallet in the car.....But I used the pub to refill my water bottle and luckily had a few snacks in my pack to make an impromptu lunch, which I had sitting on a stone taking in the views.
During my walk, I stopped to chat to a man who had been in the fire service for years and who had now retired. He spends every Monday walking somewhere beautiful - lucky him. He had started his walk at the Lion Inn and was walking to Chimney Bank, down into Rosedale Abbey, through the village, up the other bank and along the track I'd walked that morning, continuing all the way around the top of the dale, before returning to the Lion Inn. I have tried to map that out (see below) and I believe it will be about 11 or 12 miles - but it may be a bit more. There will be one very steep downhill and another steep uphill during the walk if walking anti clockwise.
But it got me thinking that it would make a fine one-day walk. You could stop for lunch in Rosedale Abbey. If you felt the need, you could stop again at Dale Head farm with its tea garden (although you will be adding in another climb for yourself). And then you could return to the pub for a well deserved pint! Alternatively, you could go for a weekend, and start in Rosedale, break the walk by staying at the Lion Inn and then completing it the next day.
There are many different ways to tackle this particular part of North Yorkshire Moors - but whichever way you do it, I can highly recommend you go. August is when you'll see the heather in all its glory. February is when you'll see the wild daffodils (although Farndale - the dale on the other side of Blakey Ridge - is where the best daffodils are on display). In winter, dress for extreme cold and don't attempt driving Chimney Bank in icy conditions. The walking - while on the old railway line - is mostly flat. The views - assuming you have a clear day - are spectacular.
Here's a taste of what it looks like like, although no pictures can do it justice.
Here's a rough map plotting out of the entire circular loop taking in both the east and west sides of Rosedale. But the best bet is to get an OS map (number OL26) and have fun plotting out your own route, depending on how far you want to go!
A choice of two short walks on the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire border, with an abundance of nature regardless of the season.
Distance: 3 miles extending to 4 and more.
Terrain: easy with some moderately steep climbs. Fields and a bridleway.
Height: up to 450 feet.
Starting Point: Motte & Bailey Pub, Pirton, nr Hitchin, SG5 3QD
You’re getting two walks for the price of one here. Both routes are on the edge of the Chilterns and around 3 miles long. The first is circular, done clockwise or anti-clockwise. The second is straight up the hill to the edge of Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve and back. If you want to extend your walk, you can follow the way marks from this point and go further into Bedfordshire, although an OS map would help! Part of the route is on the Icknield Way, which extends from Dorset to Norfolk and has the claim of being 'the oldest road in Britain' as it is made up of prehistoric pathways.
Both walks start in Pirton, a small village forty miles north of London, on the border of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Just thirty minutes by train from Kings Cross, it makes an easy escape from the city and the chance to breathe in some fresh air. Plus you'll get to see a traditional Doomsday village complete with old cottages, two pubs, a duck pond and Highdown House, an old Jacobean mansion with an interesting history.
Although this walk is popular with families on Boxing Day, any other time of year you won't typically pass more than a couple of dog walkers making it a good option to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. There are a couple of steep hills peaking at around 450 feet. In summer you can get by with almost any type of shoes, but if it’s been raining you need boots because part of the lane gets muddy. I’ve ended up on my bottom more than once, but thankfully no one saw me. In early autumn there are plenty of blackberries, so take a container or eat as you walk. What’s nicer than a warm, juicy blackberry, straight from the hedge?
I walk from my front door as I work mainly from my home in Pirton, but if you're travelling in, park outside the Motte and Bailey pub. If you have caught a train from London, get off at Hitchin Station and get a taxi to the pub in Pirton (it's about a 5 mile trip and will cost approximately £8). From the pub, walk left to the main road to Hitchin, passing a wooden Pirton sign with hands holding straw on your left. In case you're wondering about the straw sign, this walk is part of the Straw Plaiters walk. In the 19th century, Pirton’s women and children collected the straw, from wheat growing on the chalk soil, for the hat making industry in nearby Luton.
Cross the road and go straight ahead to Wood Lane, with a large house on your right. You can walk up the shady lane which has a canopy of trees or, for better views, walk along the edge of the field running parallel, where an ‘unofficial’ path has been worn. After a quarter of a mile or so there is a path to your left across the open field (waymarks are here.) Turn left if you want to walk clockwise. Carry straight on for an anticlockwise route, turning sharp left at a wooden seat. Go straight on up the hill for the second walk to Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve.
These directions are for the clockwise route. Follow the path over the field and keep right to a kissing gate. Go through the kissing gate and climb the steep hill. Highdown House, a Jacobean mansion once a Cavalier stronghold, is on your left. There is supposedly a ghost in it and a headless horseman who rides across the field on 15 June.
As you walk, keep your eyes open for wildlife: free range guinea fowl belonging to the house, muntjac, pheasants, buzzards and roe deer.
At the top of the hill pause and look across the fields. You can see for miles and there are usually buzzards circling overhead. This is a great spot for a picnic – a couple of massive old oaks and soft grass.
Don’t go to the end of this field, but bear right down the hill to another kissing gate. In spring there are masses of bluebells in the wood to your left - Tingley Wood. (You can’t go in- it’s private – but you can stand at the gate and admire the view.) At the bottom of the hill there’s a wooden seat – a favourite picnic spot for walkers. You’d complete the circuit by turning right. For the second walk, turn left at the seat and continue up the hill.
At the top of the hill, bear right towards a wood. Very soon you will see the sign for Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve opposite a seat with a wood behind. There is public access into Knocking Hoe, but the footpath to further routes continues outside the reserve, down the hill, where there are some way markers. These can take you to the B655 road which you cross to access other walks.
In the Nature Reserve in summer you will find lots of butterflies and wild flowers, some of them rare. The views are lovely, it’s usually quiet and you can easily find a sheltered spot to eat or drink. Definitely worth the climb to get there!
You'd think that walking in summer would be the easiest of all the seasons. Right? Glorious sunshine on your back and not having to contend with blizzards or deluges or biting winds.
But walking in summer can actually be a bit of a challenge. Here are my top six summer walking hazards and how to deal with them.
In the UK at least, it rarely feels hot enough to worry about overheating. But a long march across a shade free field in blazing sunshine can get very hot and it's easy to get sunburnt. And if you're in a hotter country, it's easy to get heatstroke if you're not used to walking long distances in high temperatures. Always apply sunblock, take a sunhat and drink plenty of water. And I mean a lot of water. Drink little and often to stay hydrated as you go. I just carry a water bottle for a short walk, but for a longer hike, I'll fill my 2 or 3 litre hydration system to ensure I don't run out. If you are hiking long distances, make sure your backpack is well ventilated, with space between your back and the pack, to allow air to flow through. You stay much cooler and less sweaty that way. I use this one, which works great.
2. Nasty plants
One of the joys of winter walking is that you don't get nettles. Well not many. As soon as summer comes round, many of the footpaths become massively overgrown and nettles threaten to sting your legs as you brush past them. They're particularly prevalent at styles and kissing gates, where you have to squeeze past while the nettles prickle menacingly through the gaps. Wear lightweight long trousers (I swear by these Craghoppers), rather than shorts. This will give your legs some protection. Also, find a Nettle Stick* or use a walking pole. (*A large stick to hold nettles and other overzealous plants back as you squeeze along a track - they're free. Look on the ground!) This stick will come in handy for hazards 3 & 4 too. If you do get a nettle sting, look for a dock leave and rub the leaf on the sting. It helps relieve it (a bit).
Another poisonous plant to look out for is Giant Hogweed. This can grow up to 5 metres tall, and is normally found along footpaths and riverbanks. If its sap gets in contact with your skin, it can cause really nasty burns, which are made worse by sunlight.
It's not just poisonous plants that can cause problems. All the vegetation suddenly springs up and unless the keepers of the footpath or farmers are on the case, you can find yourself walking along paths with plants that are neck height. Not fun. Firstly, you can lose track of where you are as the paths are more difficult to follow. Secondly, it's much easier to go over on your ankle as you bash your way through. Thirdly, your trousers get soaked from the dew or condensation on the plants. Use your stick as a walking aid and as a weed thrasher. Even though it's hotter wearing walking boots, you may find they give better ankle support on uneven, overgrown ground. And wearing gaiters can help keep the bottom of your trouser legs dry as you bash your way through.
Cows and their calves (and often the big bulls) are out in force at this time of year. Cows can be dangerous and very protective of their young. I use my nettle stick as a form of comfort when I have to walk through a field of cows. Knowing that I have a large stick makes me feel slightly braver (even if it wouldn't really do much against a charging bull!) With cows, I tend to walk as close to a fence or wall as possible so that should I need to escape a field in a hurry, I can. Walk quietly but with purpose, around the herd if possible - they will typically get out of your way but do assess them before you head into a field. I was once held up for about 40 minutes by a field of young bullocks who were simply curious more than anything else, but it didn't feel safe going into their field. In situations like that, try to find an alternate path. Be even more careful if you have a dog with you.
The warm weather brings out bugs of all kinds, but midges, mosquitoes and horseflies are the most painful. Carry insect repellant on you and if you're going somewhere super midgey you may want to get a face protector too. It ain't sexy - but then again, neither is a face full of bug bites. Bitey bugs also don't like the smell or taste of garlic or vitamin B, so grab a handful of wild garlic you'll find growing in early summer and carry it with you. Or eat marmite sandwiches. Seriously. Apparently midges fall into the Marmite Hate It camp. Who knew!
In the UK there is only one venomous snake - the adder. It has a dark brown, reddish or black zig zag from head to tail with spots on its sides. Some (rare) are entirely black. They typically have their babies in late summer and will mostly be seen basking in sunny spots, in heathland, bogs, moorland, woodland edges or rough grassland. They are shy and will only bite when cornered, alarmed or picked up. I have never seen one in the UK (unlike in my native South Africa where I had a puff adder sidle under my sun lounger one day!) If you see discarded snake skin or winding trails in dirt tracks, be aware there may be snakes about. To scare off snakes, stomp your feet as you walk. Snakes pick up on vibrations through the ground and will disappear. They're more afraid of you than you are of them. Again, walking through long grass means gaiters, long trousers and sturdy boots gives you more protection should you stand on a snake (highly unlikely!)
Although snakes, poisonous plants and grumpy cows may seem alarming, walking in the UK really is pretty safe. These few hazards are simply worth being aware of and preparing for. If you are walking elsewhere in the world - particularly in a country you're less familiar with - take a moment to look up any local plants, animals or pests that could pose a danger. Better to be safe than sorry.
Now head out and enjoy that sunshine! And remember, one of the best things about walking in the summer is the longer days and evening, meaning you can still fit in a good length walk after work and enjoy watching the sunset.
Got any other summer walking tips? Share them below.
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