Stunning vistas, mesmerising wildlife and the feel-good rush of endorphins; these are just some of the benefits of a ramble through the countryside. To celebrate September’s Book of the Month, 100 Nature Walks, we asked National Trust Director-General, Hilary McGrady, and other staff members to share their favourite walk and what it means to them.
From the breathtaking landscapes of Snowdonia to the wildlife-rich expanses of East Anglia, read on to find out which walks they picked and why – and get some inspiration for your own nature ramble this season.
Divis and the Black Mountain Trail, County Atrium
Chosen by Director-General, Hilary McGrady
Where mountain meets city meets sea. Divis and the Black Mountain trail is a particular favourite of Director-General, Hilary McGrady. A stone’s throw from where she grew up and still lives with her family, collie and several ducks, Divis is now her local running spot.
Opened to the public in 2004 after decades of private ownership, Divis allows vital access to the wilderness of the countryside from the urban sprawl of Belfast and surrounding towns. The route sweeps around the mountain ridge, offering exhilarating views along the way. On a clear day, you can see as far as Scotland, the Isle of Man and Cumbria.
" Divis is one of my favourite places in Northern Ireland. When I was growing up, it was home to an army base and it was totally off limits. When the National Trust bought it, almost overnight, it became a neutral space. Somewhere where everyone could go to refresh and recharge. The sense of freedom when I run there now is such a stark contrast, and something I never take for granted."
Llyn Ogwen Circular Walk, Wales
Chosen by Liz Nelstrop, Active Outdoor Consultant (Walking Lead)
Standing on the shores of Llyn Ogwen in Snowdonia is an unforgettable experience – a deep blue lake with steep mountains rising from all sides. It’s special to me because it was here that I gained the skills to walk confidently in wild landscapes, which has led to some great hiking adventures.
" That is what I love most about this site; there’s an option for everyone to experience the majesty of the mountains, whatever their experience or ability."
From the car park at Ogwen Cottage, you can choose the main route around the lake where you’ll have the towering Carneddau mountains on one side and the Glyderau range on the other. Pausing on the far side of Llyn Ogwen to soak up the atmosphere will provide a moment of true ‘soul food’. You’ll be looking up to Tryfan (‘three rocks’), one of Britain’s highest mountains. If you’re lucky, you might see a feral goat skittering between the crags or birds of prey soaring on the thermals.
For a more accessible route, it is equally scenic to go the other way from the car park, towards Llyn Idwal – the first nature reserve in Wales and a favourite spot for Charles Darwin. Without walking far, you find yourself in a dramatic mountain amphitheatre, the ice-carved ‘Devil’s Kitchen’, named after a waterfall which occasionally ‘steams’ at the back. For the curious amongst you, there’s an information centre at the car park, with excellent models showing the area’s history and geology.
Wildlife Ramble at Arnside Knott, Cumbria
Chosen by John Deakin, Head of Trees and Woodland
Arnside Knott is a place I hold very dearly in my heart. My uncle and auntie owned a hotel in Arnside, and I had many family holidays there as a kid. I spent a huge amount of time exploring the beach and woodlands. Any time I go back there, or even think of it, I have happy memories of seeing my grandparents, uncle, auntie and cousins.
Arnside Knott is quite close to where I now live, and it’s a lovely spot to enjoy. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so the scenery is stunning. You have extensive views out towards Morecambe Bay and down the Kent Estuary, and northwards into the Lakes and towards the Pennines.
" There’s a rich mosaic of ancient woodlands, with – typical for limestone escarpments – yew, ash, hazel and other native broadleaf trees. The woodlands have been grazed over the years and so they’re open in character, with sunny glades that are home to species-rich grasslands."
The effects of ash dieback are becoming more prevalent, which is worrying. It’s sad to see the ash trees dying, but it will provide opportunities for other things to thrive while the woodlands recover with different species in time.
The area transforms over the seasons. Early purple orchids come out in May; they’re the first bright flowers to appear, and they’re followed by lady’s bedstraw, wild thyme and harebells. As the summer progresses, different colours carpet the ground. With such a myriad of things going on, there’s always something interesting to see.
Wicken Fen Wildlife Walk, East Anglia
Chosen by Sean Douglas, Senior Podcast Producer
I used to think walking was just a means to get somewhere – that it was more exciting to do something else. But I remember my first big walk – Kinder Scout in the Peak District. It was the first time I’d ever experienced true silence. I thought that was quite epic.
So when I was told I was going to East Anglia, which is synonymous with being flat, I thought: well, this is going to be fun. But what’s great about this walk at Wicken Fen is that it can be as intriguing as going up a mountain, because you have no idea what you're going to see.
" You’re in a maze: your path is flanked by these six, seven, eight-foot reeds on either side. All you can see is the sky, and what’s directly in front of you or behind you. You can hear all these noises, and all this water, but you’re not quite sure where it is or what it is."
And then you find the hides, where you can encounter wildlife. From one hide, you can see Konik ponies. Another opens out to a kind of savannah where there’s a massive lake and loads of bird life: the hides are like windows into different worlds. So if walking isn’t usually your thing, there's lots on offer along the way.
A walk through ancient wetlands in East Anglia
Wicken Fen in East Anglia was the first nature reserve to come into our care. Discover how the landscape still supports wildlife today.