INSPIRATION • March 2020
Daffodils and wild garlic, the start of the dawn chorus and new-born lambs gambolling – nothing beats a walk in the British countryside in spring, especially if there’s a lovely pitstop for a pint and spot of lunch. Food and travel journalist, Rachel Truman recommends six trails with picture-perfect pubs
An easy drive from London, the Sussex Downs are a spectacular place to clear the cobwebs on a revitalising spring walk. There are many wonderful trails on the South Downs Way and plenty of welcoming pubs in which to rest weary legs. One good stomp to well-known beauty spot Devil’s Dyke starts at the Shepherd and Dog in the village of Fulking. Wend your way up the walking path to see the UK’s longest, deepest and widest ‘dry valley’. As well as stirring views, there are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort and Victorian funfair. In spring the banks will be covered in cowslips, blackthorn bushes will be in bloom and the first skylarks start to appear. Loop back to the pub, where four-legged friends and muddy boots are welcome and local ales await.
The Pembrokeshire coast path wows throughout the year, but spring brings sunnier days, along with wildflowers and returning seabirds. For a dose of sea air, park at Porthgain Harbour on the north coast of St David’s Peninsula and follow the path to St David’s Head (or as far as energy levels allow). The walk is bumpy in places so watch your step. Gawp down to rocky bays below – come back in late summer and autumn to spy grey seals – and peer over to bird sanctuary Ramsay Island, an important breeding site in spring. The headland is also the site of an Iron Age coastal fort. Head back the same way to Porthgain Harbour – a pretty little place with galleries and a café – and slip into the adorable 18th-century Sloop Inn for crab sandwiches or something heartier.
Britain’s bluebells are at their best in April and May when the flowers shoot up in sun-dappled woodlands. Head to the Chiltern Hills and you’ll find a landscape alive with wildflowers, wild garlic and birdsong, including ancient beech woods carpeted in the bell-shaped bloom. Start your ramble from the King William IV pub in the village of Hailey, which recommends three trails from its door. A six-mile route takes you through Wicks Wood and along part of Icknield Way, an ancient ridgeway. You’ll walk along Grim’s Dyke, a linear earthwork built by the Celts in the Iron Age, which has spectacular views. Head back to the pub from Nuffield – looking out for red kites – to either warm up by the roaring fire or soak up the sun in the beer garden.
Wildflowers, wildlife spotting and warmer days (not to mention no midges) make spring a glorious time to get out in Scotland’s countryside. The fields are filled with wobbly-legged lambs, and migrant birds return. Lochside banks are lined with ramson, primroses, bluebells, wood sorrel and wood anemone. Hike part of the 96-mile West Highland Way, from Drymen to Balmaha on Loch Lomond’s eastern shores. This eight-mile route takes you through forests and along footpaths with incredible views. You’ll need to tackle steep-sided Conic Hill, although your reward is more staggering views of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. After descending the other side, you’ll soon reach Balmaha. Take a seat at the Oak Tree Inn for a well-deserved bowl of cullen skink, then enjoy a boat trip to Inchcailloch Island.
Another flower synonymous with spring is the daffodil, whose yellow hue trumpets the start of warmer, lighter days. Head to the valley of Farndale on the North York Moors to see them in their full glory. Follow the clearly marked signs along the River Dove and into Daffodil Valley. As you meander along the tranquil trail you’ll see a dazzling display of daffs, which carpets the meadows and riverbanks. They are the smaller wild native species and protected by Farndale Local Nature Reserve. Complete the day with a game pie at the Feversham Arms Inn in the village of Church Houses. Energy to burn? Head to Duncombe Park in nearby Helmsley, whose woodland and gardens were a location for The Secret Garden, due out this year.
You’ll have to be up with the larks to join one of RSPB Minsmere’s guided walks this spring, but it’s worth it. Spring is a wonderful time to visit the bird sanctuary on the Suffolk coast. Join the Dawn Chorus (4.30am start) or Sounds of Spring (7.30am start) walks and experts will reveal the reserve’s sights and sounds, from booming bitterns to warbling warblers, followed by a hearty breakfast. Other stars of the show are nightingales, which can be heard singing in the deciduous woodland, plus nightjars, breeding avocets, gulls and terns – not to mention the flowers, butterflies, dragonflies and insects that return to life. Tread softly and you may spot muntjac deer. Old smugglers’ inn The Ship at Dunwich is nearby, where fantastic fish and chips or a cracking fish pie await.