This season it’s the little things that can make your heart glow – look out for and take pleasure in the wintery wonders of walking that makes you glad its cold outside!
The benefits of walking have been known for centuries since Hippocrates declared ‘walking is man’s best medicine.’ It seems it’s only become truer in our busy, modern lives. The NHS suggests a ten minute, daily brisk walk can prompt health benefits, including building stamina, burning excess calories and a healthier heart (nhs.co.uk). We’re hoping that our top ten reasons to get out and about this season and our suggestions of some fabulous walks in and around Chester will help tempt you to ditch the TV and get outside!
Photo credit: Ellena Mcguinness
Why we love walking in Winter:
A perfect red-green-gold leaf floating onto the path in front of you
Crisp winter skies with bright, bright stars
Seeing your breath …haaaaaa
A cold face and warm cosy gloved hands
The rewarding summit sip of hot coffee
Super thermal socks come out – super snuggly!
Sunrise is late in the morning – time for a little lie in and still making first rays
Your favourite scarf soft against your skin. And Bobble hats!
Ice-topped puddles – that satisfying craaaack
Thawing out during a pub lunch
Where we like to walk:
At 558m (1818ft), my favourite hill Moel Famau (that I’ve just found out means ‘Mother Mountain’ in Welsh!), is the highest point in the Clwydian hills and just a thirty-minute drive from Chester. An AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the heather covered mound is just as beautiful as the far-reaching views the summit rewards you with; that stretch to Snowdonia, the coast, and all the way over to Liverpool and the North West.
It’s a three mile round trip up and down from the ‘top car park’ (Bwlch Pen Barras) to the Jubilee Tower on a wide path that intersects with Offas’ Dyke trail, with steep sections that get the lungs and legs working. But, taken at a stroll, it’s suitable for most, even small children. It can get busy, but it’s easy to vary your route and go a little off-piste on the many paths that wind around the slopes to the summit. If you’re feeling full of energy, you can extend the route to Foel Fenlli – a lush, grassy peak the other side of the car park with the remains of a hilltop fort encircling the top, or onwards from the Jubilee tower to Moel Arthur, or even down the other side to Loggerheads.
If you want to learn more about the hill, you can access an MP3 file on the website to hear experts talk about key points of interest from geology to biodiversity. If you’re local you’ve probably done this walk as a kid, I’ve done it hundreds of times and each time it’s always a little different. You take the time to notice the seasons, the colours, the weather, the extent of the view and my favourite, the stunning sunsets that fill an endless expanse of sky; always offering something new to appreciate while you breathe in the fresh, fresh air.
If you work up an appetite, Caffi Flo at Loggerheads Country Park or The Druid Inn further down the A494 offer good hearty food to warm and fill you up.
Photo credit: Ellena Mcguinness
Old Pale and Delamere Forest
Twenty minutes away by train or car, Delamere Forest, the largest woodland in Cheshire, is the start point for any number of walks. Straight from the visitor centre and car park there’s a short steadily steep path to the top of Old Pale (1.9 miles/3.1km round trip, hard stone paths). You’ll want to spend a moment on the benches strategically placed on the way up and at the top gathering your breath if you’ve hoofed up hard and fast, before the fully circular view of seven counties takes your breath away again.
Take time to read the stone slab that quite poetically offers insight into the history of the site. Back on the flat, the waymarked Blakemere and Linmere forest trails are easy, short and take in some beautiful parts of the forest, including Blakemore Moss, popular for birdwatching. It’s really family focused with a Gruffalo trail with sculptures dotted along the way, a Gruffalo orienteering activity map to follow (small fee applies) and a Snarkhunter digital app for games along the trails.
If you fancy something a little different you can also book on Nordic Walking guided tours – burning 20-40% more calories than a normal stroll, details on the website here. For the forest purist, like me, you can wander through miles of quieter paths through the 2400 acres it covers, maybe even have a go at a spot of ‘forest bathing’.
Shirin-yoku is a Japanese concept coined in the 1980’s that was so effective it became a national health programme. It not only puts a name to the feeling of grounding and being re-set that time spent re-connecting deep in nature affords you, but it’s also based on scientific analysis of specific health and anti-stress benefits generated by time spent surrounded by trees. To try it for yourself, simply take a mindful approach to time spent in the forest – slow down, engage and open all your senses, take time to really listen to the surrounding sounds, touch the bark and the leaves, see the tiny details and the wider view, breathe in the smells, note how the ground feels underfoot, lower your shoulders, soften your jaw, connect with your breath and drink it all in.
For those wanting a more strenuous walk, the Sandstone Trail runs through the forest. The point to point trail is 34 miles in full and normally billed as a three-day hike, so it’s best to tackle a section at a time unless you are up for a challenge. The Baker Way is a 13 mile, mainly flat route that goes from Chester Station to Delamere Station – the idea is to get the train one way and walk back or vice versa. Part of the path follows the canal and gives a nice opportunity to visit some of the pubs and eateries along the waterside.
For food, the cafe at the visitor centre does a great bacon butty and lovely cake. The Fishpool Inn is a short drive away with hearty pub food to reward your efforts.
Photo credit: Ellena Mcguinness
No need to drive for this one! Starting from the Handbridge side of the river, you can explore the riverbank all the way to the blue iron bridge that crosses the river from the Eaton estate to the village of Aldford. (The very hardcore can continue on to Farndon from the Aldford side but we reckon you’ve earned a pint and pub lunch by then!)
For the shortest route, cross the suspension bridge at The Groves in Chester, walk along the riverbank to the meadows – an open area of public land that follows the curve in the river, taking the chance to see all the beautiful houses that have direct access to the Dee and decide which one will be yours when you win the lottery.
You can follow the path around and back up to cut back through Handbridge for a short, circular walk. Hickory’s and The Moorings are on hand for a good feed if you fancy (back on the Chester side). To get a few more steps in, (three more miles) you can continue along the riverbank towards Eccleston – a beautiful sandstone village a few miles on. You’ll pass along the edge of fields bordering really tranquil parts of the river with the occasional kayaker, rower or the hourly pleasure boat tours passing by. Look out for heron, and I’ve heard but not yet seen kingfishers. As you edge the river from Eccleston towards Aldford, you will be skirting the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton estate, you might be lucky and see some deer grazing in the grounds. At the blue bridge around 2 1/2 miles on from Eccleston, cross into Aldford and rest up for a while at The Grosvenor Arms – great for food, gin and beer, before retracing your steps back to Chester (or possibly a taxi or leave a car at one end!). The pub also runs their own occasional Sunday walks and have details of a shorter village walk on their website if the food, not the walk, is your priority.
Photo credit: Geraint Price
Classic, simple, full of history, views, and opportunities to dip into the eateries you see along the way, the two-mile route that encircles Chester (we’re the only city in the UK to still have a full city wall in place) is a must do for visitors, and for residents who have a spare hour or feel like stretching their legs. Accessible at multiple points around the city (although there is currently some repair work that restricts some small sections to be aware of), for your Walls walk just choose a starting location and follow it round. Stop to read the history plaques that are at intervals along the way and take in the views – even if you’re a long term Cestrian, you’ll learn something interesting. Stop off for coffee at Gustum by Northgate, or head down the stairs to Porta for fantastic tapas if it’s the evening.
This disused railway line is a shared space for pedestrians and cyclists and is a pleasant off-road route for a stroll – extending from Mickle Trafford Station Lane (Meadow Lea Farm Coffee Shop is a great refreshment stop) you can continue all the way to Connah’s Quay. Best city access points are Brook Lane and Newton Lane, see the Sutrans website for a detailed map.
Caldy Valley Nature Park
A small green oasis of calm, with slow streams and still pools, wooden sculptures and benches dotted around. A one mile circular easy walking route that can easily be extended to the surrounding quiet roads or connect to canal walks half a mile away. Just three miles from the centre of Chester, it’s small but ideal when you’re short of time and need a quick nature boost.
Round the block
The beauty of walking is that you can pretty much do it anywhere! Walking daily, getting short fresh air breaks when we are hunkered down inside through most of the day during the winter months can drive real benefits. A morning or evening stroll, or a lunchtime brisk walk not only improves your mood, it can boost vitamin D levels and help keep your heart healthy.
Photo credit: Geraint Price
Want someone else to take the strain of deciding or organising, feel like you want to gain confidence with a group before walking on your own or fancy being social and meeting other walkers? Group guided walks might be for you!
Pro-Fit Adventure Club – personal trainers run an adventure club that organises walks and other activities – check out their events on the Facebook page – free or nominal fees.
Chester Running Tours do a great guided walking food tour of Chester – combine two favourite activities and earn your treats!
Chester Walking Club offers 3 grades of walk every Sunday – you can trial the club before joining to make sure it’s right for you.
Why not set up a closed Facebook event and invite your friends to one of the walks we have listed?
Car parks may be chargeable and have opening times, and dogs may need to be on a lead – check out websites before you go. Always be safe and have the right kit especially in winter conditions check out https://www.mountain.rescue.org.uk/stay-safe-out-there to know before you go!