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Pay a visit to England’s mysterious landscapes

Jini Reddy
By Jini Reddy

If you fancy an adventure this winter, look no further than these atmospheric and haunting spots, hand-picked by travel writer Jini Reddy.

During winter, it can be difficult to muster the motivation to venture outside. But, some of England’s iconic landmarks and landscapes really come to life during the chillier, darker months. Jini Reddy has chosen five of her favourite places to visit during winter that are full of wander and intrigue.

The Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire

White chalk horse in landscape
Uffington’s white horse is ancient yet has a modernist feel. | Nigel Francis/Alamy Stock Photo

The mysterious figure of a white horse gallops across the Berkshire Downs near the village of Uffington. Cut up to a metre deep into the chalk grassland, the equine enigma has a long tail that merges with its body, stubby hindquarters and spindly forelegs. Visible from over 20 miles away, the horse dates back 3,000 years and is believed to be the oldest of the English hill figures.

This chalk figure owes its longevity to chalking and cleaning rituals; a tradition that continues today, albeit now carried out by a small group of National Trust volunteers. No one knows who created the horse or why, though some believe it is a fertility symbol – hence its rumoured popularity among courting couples. Others say it guarded the souls of ancient Britons.

St Nectan’s Glen and Waterfalls, Cornwall

Waterfall cascading into pool below surrounded by moss covered rocks
Bathing in the pool at the St Nectan’s waterfall is said to be healing

As legend has it, before King Arthur set off in search of the Holy Grail, he and his errant knights would stop at St Nectan’s Glen to be blessed by the monk who lived in a hermitage above the waterfall.

To reach it, you walk along a mile-long trail through the Rocky Valley, between Boscastle and Tintagel. This takes you alongside the River Trevillet, and the ancient woodland with its moss-covered rocks and fan-like ferns is eerily quiet. Some (including this writer) have sensed a watchful presence, while sightings of glowing spheres, monks and a grey lady have been noted. The waterfall itself tumbles into a basin, and bathing in it is said to be healing. Visitors also like to spend time in the tiny meditation room, at one time the monk’s cell.

Stanton Drew Stone Circles, Somerset

Stanton Drew Stone Circles during a misty winter sunrise
A winter sunrise at Stanton Drew Stone Circle | Stephen Spraggon / Alamy Stock Photo

Often overlooked in favour of Stonehenge and Avebury, this site is hidden away in a quiet field in the Chew Valley. Though you enter unceremoniously through a gate, the circles are a wonder, all the more appealing for the lack of crowds. Thought to have been constructed between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, this is the third-largest complex of prehistoric standing stones in England. The Great Circle has 26 surviving upright stones.

There are smaller circles in the vicinity, including ‘The Cove’ in the garden of the village pub. Was Stanton Drew the site of ancient rituals? We’ll never know for certain, but if you rest your hands or back on the stones, it’s said that they radiate a mysterious warmth – even on a wet, chilly day!

Lindisfarne, Northumberland

A night time view of Lindisfarne on a clear night
A clear night at Lindisfarne | Shutterstock

We may not all be astronauts, but we can immerse ourselves in the mysteries of the cosmos, just as mariners and others have done for aeons. For a night under wild, dark skies, head to the tidal island of Lindisfarne, a wildlife haven and place of pilgrimage.

Although its castle is shut in winter, the island remains beautifully atmospheric, and the mournful call of the seals is haunting. Lindisfarne is also a hop, skip and a jump from the county’s International Dark Sky Park. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way, made up of billions of stars. Here it dazzles, a hazy belt of shimmering light; one galaxy among billions that make up the known universe. Now that’s a mystery worth contemplating.

Pendle Hill, Lancashire

A stone column at the top of Pendle Hill
Pendle Hill, Lancashire | Ewan Bullock / Unsplash

Four hundred years after the infamous witch trials of 1612, the spirits of the accused are still said to haunt Pendle Hill. This moody-looking summit rises 557 metres above the Forest of Bowland, an ancient hunting ground once home to wolves and wild boar. It’s a steep climb to the top, but the well-kept trail is easy to follow.

In this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, your efforts will be rewarded by panoramic views. On a clear day, you can see across to Wales. In the villages and hamlets below, you can walk trails that pay tribute to the area’s dark past and tell the story of the persecution of 12 innocent women by the authorities, on behalf of King James I.

About the author

Jini Reddy is the author of Wanderland: A Search for Magic in the Landscape (Bloomsbury). The book was previously shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Award for Travel Book of the Year and the Wainwright Prize.

A version of this article was originally published in CPRE’s award-winning magazine, Countryside Voices. You’ll have Countryside Voices sent to your door three times a year, as well as access to other benefits including discounts on attraction visits and countryside kit from major high street stores when you join as a CPRE member. Join us now.

Sunset over the mudflats of Lindisfarne
Sunset over the mudflats of Lindisfarne Jesse Carson / Unsplash


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