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Discover the countryside by bridleway

Tiffany Francis-Baker
By Tiffany Francis-Baker

England is criss-crossed by bridleways, ancient and modern – and where better to enjoy the view and search for stories in the landscape than from the seat of a horse’s saddle, says Tiffany Francis-Baker.

Whether you’re planning a wintry countryside visit, or want to look ahead to warmer days, find your next inspiration with these stunning bridleways. And don’t worry, if you can’t (or don’t want to) ride, these bridleways are perfect for walking too!

Studland Bay, Dorset

With three miles of golden beach and sand dunes, acres of forest and heathland, and even a freshwater lagoon known as Little Sea, Studland Bay is considered one of the most beautiful riding spots in the south west. The beach itself is a bridleway, open to all riders with a daily or annual permit. In April 1944, a full-scale dress rehearsal for the Allied invasion of Europe took place in the bay, overseen by Churchill and Eisenhower from nearby Fort Henry; wartime relics can still be spotted as you ride, such as the concrete anti-tank defences known as Dragon’s Teeth. Closer to the ground, Studland is one of the only places in England where all six species of native reptile can be found, including the rare but harmless smooth snake and sand lizard.

Horse riding at Studland Bay
Strudland Bay, one of the most beautiful riding spots in the south west | Nick Boreham / Alamy Stock Photo

Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

From stone circles to smugglers’ inns and medieval chapels, the bleak and beautiful landscape of Bodmin Moor is the perfect place to gallop back in time. A densely populated area during the Bronze Age, the moor is littered with relics from past centuries, including stone circles and megaliths, windswept churches and holy wells. One of its most interesting bridleway routes begins in the village of South Carne, passing the stone circles of Leskernick Hill and finishing in the dark, foreboding forest of the Halvana conifer plantation. Elsewhere around the moor, keep an eye out for medieval clapper bridges made of stone slabs, such as Delford Bridge near St Breward, which were later used by packhorses to transport tin and copper during the Cornish mining boom.

Endurance long distance horse rider on Bodmin Moor
Bodmin Moor, the ‘perfect place to gallop back in time’ | Farlap / Alamy Stock Photo

Pennine Bridleway, Derbyshire to Cumbria

Opened in 2012, this 205-mile bridleway designed with equestrians in mind includes two large loop sections that are perfect for a weekend of riding. It weaves through a variety of landscapes and trackways, some of which were created for the route, while others are ancient highways once used as drovers’ roads or packhorse trails. Look out for the Grade II listed water trough, a refreshment stop for packhorses in the 18th century, at Mankinholes, Calderdale.

The Pennine Bridleway below Great Knoutberry Hill with Ingleborough in the Distance Dentdale Yorkshire Dales Cumbria England
The Pennine Bridleway stretches over 200 miles | Mark Sunderland Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Peddars Way, Norfolk

An ancient path once used by Roman legions as they marched through East Anglia, the Peddars Way later became a popular route for pilgrims who walked or rode to the village of Walsingham to visit the priory there. The majority of the 46-mile route can be used by horse riders, and it takes you through tranquil woodlands, open heathland, flintstone villages, medieval gates and stretches of dead-straight tracks shaped by Roman soldiers. The Norfolk coast is also a hotspot for migratory birds in autumn, so keep an eye on the skies as you ride.

Peddars Way route sign in Knettishall Heath
Peddars Way was a popular route for pilgrims | Derek Mitchell / Alamy Stock Photo

South Downs Way, Hampshire and Sussex

At 100 miles long, the South Downs Way follows the farmland routes and chalkland droveways of the south east, beginning in historic Winchester and ending at the white cliffs of Eastbourne. The trail offers hours, days or weeks of riding, depending on fitness and time commitments, but it’s worth the effort to take in the beautiful South Downs countryside on horseback, with its pretty villages, traditional pubs, dramatic views and rare wildlife. Highlights include the enchanting yew forest at Kingley Vale, the hillfort at Cissbury Ring and the ancient sunken lanes of Blackdown Hill.

Woman on horseback, horse riding in South Downs National Park, Sussex, England., on a warm afternoon in summer
It’s always worth the effort to take the South Downs way on horseback | Ann O'Toole / Alamy Stock Photo

About the author

Tiffany Francis-Baker is an author and illustrator from Hampshire. Her latest book, The Bridleway: How Horses Shaped the British Landscape is out now.

Two riders on the Pennine bridleway above Feizor in North Yorkshire
Malcolm Walker / Alamy Stock Photo


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