Six of Britain's best ‘spring heartland’ walks

The entire British landscape is reborn in spring, but some ‘ultra-special places’ merit a seasonal pilgrimage, says nature writer Matthew Oates
10 more spring walks

Spring is primarily about transformation and the promise of summer. It fights a titanic struggle, for winter is loath to let go. Eventually spring wins through, and greens the drab-brown land until its flowers cover winter’s grave.

Above all, spring is a mighty metamorphosis that would turn any caterpillar green with envy. Wave upon wave of rejuvenation occurs, over entire landscapes, over whole countries. At its zenith, massive changes occur daily: swallows arrive one day, orange-tip butterflies appear the next, then nightingales, and so on. It offers us new epiphanies each day, each sunny hour.

So, spring can transform us, too, if we allow it to enter into us, and we into it. Fortunately, there are many ultra-special places – spring’s heartlands – which can help us be enriched by the season.

Silverdale, north Lancashire

Leighton Moss nature reserve, Silverdale, Lancashire.
Peat’s sake … Leighton Moss nature reserve, Silverdale, Lancashire Photograph: Alamy

Spring makes the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty a place of essential pilgrimage. The AONB is spread over undulating countryside of rocky limestone hillocks, peaty valleys and coppice woods, linked by a labyrinthine network of lanes and footpaths, perfect for pottering and second honeymoons.

Magical places abound, such as the Fairy Steps, the Trough (a shallow gorge), the nature reserves of Gait Barrows and Leighton Moss and, a short way to the north, the towering massif of Arnside Knott. Best of all, there is limestone pavement aplenty, banks of primroses and choirs of willow warblers.
Just off Junction 35 of the M6,, OS Explorer map for SE Lakes (OL7)

Cwm Soden, Ceredigion coast

The boulder beach at Cwm Tydu, Ceredigion.
Be so boulder … the beach at Cwm Tydu Photograph: Alamy

This undiscovered sea combe running into Cardigan Bay, in the secret land of Ceredigion, is Wales at its very best – full of legend, myth and mystery. The rushing, gushing stream recites poetry, in Welsh. Spring sparkles here. You will leave part of your soul behind.

There are two options on this National Trust route: for the longer “butterfly walk”, park at Cwm Tydu bay and follow the coastal path north over Caerllan Cliffs, looking out for carpets of sky blue spring squill and listening out for displaying choughs. It’s best to turn inland towards Pen-y-graig and then descend the valley (following numbers 1, 2, 6, 5, 4 and 3 on the NT route). For a shorter circular walk, miss out the first stretch of coastal path, by parking near Pen-y-graig church.
Route details at

Heddon Valley, Exmoor

the Heddon Valley running down to the sea.
Devon knows … the Heddon Valley running down to the sea Photograph: Alamy

Warning: leaving this piece of paradise-on-earth hurts. This valley in the north-west corner of Exmoor national park has it all: intimacy, hanging oak woods, bracken, gorse and scree slopes, a stream with dippers, firm footpaths leading to a rocky cove with memorable views along the Exmoor coast, easy-access routes, loos, a National Trust shop with ice-cream and a picturesque half-timbered Victorian pub, and afternoon tea. Yet it remains unspoiled (though midweek visits are the quietest).

Strangely, this valley stands apart: it is like no other on Exmoor, and it has its own sunny, sheltered climate. Buzzards circle overhead. You can plan a route in advance, or just arrive and be guided by the spirit of the place.
There are several walking routes on offer, some gentle, some challenging (especially on the upper slopes),

Kingcombe Meadows, mid-Dorset

spring flowers at Kingcombe
Daisy, daisy … spring flowers at Kingcombe Photograph: Alamy

A relic Thomas Hardy landscape, this secluded valley escaped (or resisted) the ravages of late 20th-century agriculture. It is a mosaic of small, old-fashioned flowery meadows, separated by tall and outgrown hedges offering blackthorn snow in spring, and a meandering alder-lined stream. Kingcombe Meadows are so far off the beaten track that the track petered out some while back, but it is vaguely near the village of Maiden Newton. The infernal combustion engine cannot intrude here.

If you want peace and songbirds, you’ll find them, once you have found your way in. Kingcombe is run as a farmland nature reserve by the Dorset Wildlife Trust: it’s grazed by a few cattle and sheep, with some meadows cut for hay.

Ashford Hangers, Petersfield, east Hampshire

The view from Shoulder of Mutton Hill in Ashford Hangers near Petersfield, Hampshire,
Poet’s corner … Ashford Hangers is where Edward Thomas lived and wrote Photograph: Alamy

There are dreamscape vistas over the Low Weald of West Sussex and along the western South Downs from this east-facing wooded chalk escarpment. It is the heartland of the poet Edward Thomas, who dwelt, mused and wrote here. Birdsong reverberates, brimstone butterflies wander ceaselessly, carpets of bluebells and ransoms thicken, and spring reigns supreme.

Parking is limited, off a miasma of sunken lanes, and the numerous footpaths are steep and/or muddy, but this is one of the most wondrous places in the UK, especially in early spring when the chiffchaffs are arriving. Read Thomas’s poems March and Home (Often I had gone), before visiting. There are some excellent pubs around the village of Steep.

Avebury, Wiltshire

The standing stones of West Keenet Avenue at Avebury Stone Circle
Standing order … Avebury Stone Circle is an open access site Photograph: Alamy

History is everywhere, and in almost everything, at this open-access stone circle within a world heritage site landscape, and partly within Avebury village itself. Yet nature is omnipresent, especially in the vast, changeling skyscapes. Park in the National Trust car park and wander into the cul-de-sac village. Celandines abound. Swallows nest in the Victorian lychgate to St James’s church (kept open). Lichens grow in hieroglyphs on the ancient standing stones.

But look up, for Avebury is run by its jackdaws and rooks. There are several rookeries, one by the church. Jackdaws peer down from chimney pots and parkland trees. If you want to lose yourself, wander the paths on to the nearby downs, such as Windmill Hill, and dream awhile.

Matthew Oates is the author of Beyond Spring (Fair Acre Press, £10.99), available from

Matthew Oates

The GuardianTramp

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