Forget summer. Winter’s here and, as our panel of celebrities, experts and readers show in this extract from Lonely Planet magazine, it’s well worth getting excited about. Here are some great ways to take the chill out of winter:
1. Stroll back in time as London awakes
Dan Cruickshank, writer and broadcaster
A walk around the City of London provides fragments of a long past world, a time when the city teemed with life and people lived and worked in a complex network of communities, organised around its trade, markets and churches. Visit early on a winter morning and, in stark contrast to normal daily life, all will be still, empty and quiet. It’s a time when lurking ghosts, like that of Marley in Dickens’s Christmas Carol, fill the empty courts, squares and churchyards. In Spitalfields, I often make my way to 18 Folgate Street – an early 18th-centuryhouse transformed by the artist Dennis Severs into a weird and wonderful time-machine. It takes you on a helter-skelter trip into a rich history of London and of Spitalfields, a world of Huguenotsilk weavers, frightful poverty and Jack the Ripper. The house is a powerful and personal evocation of the past. It’s quite an experience.
2. Snowballs, sledging and TV blizzards
Carol Kirkwood, BBC weather presenter
I love the beauty of the snow, the gentle way it cascades out of the clouds down to the ground. When it snowed in the West Highlands village where I grew up, the children congregated at a big brae and went sledging on trays, careering into trees. It was such fun. Once, I was caught in a blizzard on air. The presenter burst out laughing because there I was, with an umbrella going every which way. It was so bitterly cold that my lips froze, so I could hardly get my words out. They all found it hilarious, and it did make great TV.
3. The coast of North Norfolk
Paul Rose, Polar explorer and diver
The Norfolk coastline reminds me of the peace of the polar regions. There’s a tremendous amount of wildlife – seals, tons of fish, even Minki whales – and over 200 shipwrecks. To walk through that peaceful scenery, knowing that there’s all this incredible life nearby – clam beds, eels, starfish, seals too – is wonderful.
4. Climbing in the Peak District
Dame Kelly Holmes, Olympic champion
Rock climbing is a great winter sport – I used do it a lot when I was in the army, before my athletics career, and since retiring I’ve taken it up again. There’s a huge crag called God’s Own Rock at Stanage Edge in the Peak District, which is a real challenge to climb – it’s four miles long with over 1,000 climbing routes. But it’s the challenge that attracts me. The scenery in that part of Britain is beautiful in winter, there’s an oddly eerie bleakness to it which is unique. You get a fantastic sense of freedom when you’re out there scrambling up this huge wedge of rock. You feel a real connection to nature.
5. Camping in the woods
Robert Macfarlane, writer
The Black Wood of Rannoch is one of the last relict fragments of the great northern pinewoods that covered Scotland until around 3,000BC. Woods become, in snow, realms of austere beauty and tremendous adventure. The Black Wood has a special power to enchant: between its trees, you get glimpses of the surrounding mountains, and of the great Loch Rannoch that borders its northern edge. Spending a winter night deep in the Black Wood is something you’ll never forget.
6. Meeting reindeer
Tilly Smith, reindeer herder
We’ve got about 130 reindeer in our herd in the Cairngorms. It’s exactly like their natural habitat here, very similar to the Arctic circle. They have uniquely shaped antlers, like fingerprints, and fabulously thick coats, which protect them so well they don’t have to seek shelter. We go away with the reindeer for big Christmas shows all over the country. They always put a smile on people’s faces, but you do get people who do not believe that reindeer exist. They think they are a myth, like Santa.
7. The first taste of Oysters
Tom Aikens, chef
Winter is a really excellent season for fish. Sea bass comes into season in October and it’s delicious throughout the winter. Native oysters are particularly spectacular. They come in so many varieties it’s ridiculous, and the quality is terrific. Every chef rubs his hands when he knows the first British oysters are on their way.
8. Windsurfing in West Wales
Bryony Shaw, Olympic windsurfer
People often look at windsurfers a bit strangely when we say how much we look forward to cold, blustery winter days, but it’s true. There’s a great beach in West Wales called Rhosneigr, which is beautiful in the winter and is exposed to the Atlantic, so really gets the swell rolling in. The waves kick up like massive ramps, and you sail off high in the sky.
9. Photography in the snow, frost and ice
Geoff Leone, Lonely Planet magazine reader
Winter offers a wealth of creative photography opportunities – snow covered trees and mountains, subtle changes in light and the unusual patterns made by the frost and ice.
10. Visiting a festive winter market
Sam Gray, Lonely Planet magazine reader
'Winter markets are a real delight. I love cradling a hot mug of glühwein or tasting Continental cheeses and fat garlicky olives as I make my way through the twinkling festive lights.'
11. Logs, fires and a perfect pint
(Ok, ok, we just couldn't keep this list to 10 as there are far too many things to love about Britain in the winter).
Fiona Stapely, editor, The Good Pub guide.
The two things you need for a great winter pub is an immediate sense of welcome and a really good fire. For me, Groes Inn, in Ty’n-y-Groes, north Wales has both – it’s an exemplary country inn that makes you feel really good the moment you walk in. There’s a hot stove and great logs glowing in the back bar’s monumental fireplace. Interesting decorations and some antique furnishings give great character to the rambling series of linked rooms, and its low beams and massively thick walls are the classic antidote to chilly winter weather. From the comfort of the bedrooms, you can gaze up at the snowy peaks of Snowdonia or down over the morning frost silvering the Convy Valley.
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