When you’ve been cooped up in a stuffy car for longer than you care to mention, there’s nothing like unfurling your legs, straightening your spine and stalking out across open countryside. Here are some of our favourite places to fill our lungs near the motorway.  

Crook Peak  

Looking west to Crook Peak - Wavering Down, Somerset, UK. ID DSCN1860
Looking west to Crook Peak – Wavering Down, Somerset, UK. ID DSCN1860

M5, Junction 22. 

You’ve probably clocked Crook Peak from the motorway, thanks to its distinctive conical summit. It’s the highest of the Mendip Hills with splendid, and often blustery views over Somerset. From the top you can glimpse the Black Mountains of South Wales, Cheddar reservoir and Glastonbury Tor. The walk up can be steep in places, taking in the old hunting ground of King’s Wood and a section of the West Mendip Way, but the length can be varied to suit. Park in the lay-by on the A38 or National Trust car park at King’s Wood, and reward yourself afterwards with tea and crumpets at the Almshouse Axbridge. (Photo by www.jeffbevan.co.uk)

Coaley Peak 

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M5, Junction 13 

Pack your kite, because this is the place to fly it. Coaley Peak picnic point is at the edge of the Cotswold Hills overlooking the Severn Estuary, and its 12 acres of meadow and woodland catch the breezes channelled up it. It’s little leg and wheelchair-friendly, being fairly flat at the top of the hill, with panoramic views towards the Forest of Dean and Malvern Hills. Take a short walk with the dog, explore the Neolithic long barrow (a fascinating, chambered tomb), fly that kite and picnic in the wild flower meadow. The Vestry Café at Prema is the place to head afterwards for warming hot chocolates.  (Photo by Matt Bigwood)

Nicky Nook 

Nicky-Nook-12

M6, Junction 33 

Suitable for Sunday strollers, Nicky Nook has gratifying views from the top over the Bowland Fells and Morecambe Bay (look carefully and you can pick out Blackpool Tower) despite being just 215m above sea level. There’s a short 1.5 mile loop from Scorton to the summit and back down to Grizedale, but you can easily extend a hike by heading to the reservoirs or exploring Wyresdale’s woodland.  Parking is plentiful, there’s a grassy picnic site nearby at Scorton on the Wyre riverbank, or you can reward your efforts with a hunk of cake at the Apple Store Café. (Photo by Bowland Walks)

Flatford Mill 

Flatford-Mill-Pond

A12, Dedford 

Walk in the footsteps of Suffolk’s most famous resident, painter John Constable. Some of his most famous works (‘The Mill Stream’, ‘The Hay Wain’) took inspiration from strolls around Flatford and the River Stour valley and the landscape has changed very little.  Park up in the large National Trust car park and head past the idyllic mill scenes and Flatford hamlet to catch the Stour Valley path as it crosses the Cattawade Marshes, a haven for birdlife, and complete the circle via the handsome village of Dedham. Picnic afterwards at the Dedham Boat House, where you also take beautiful wooden boats out onto the water, or stop into the Sun Inn for a meal.  (Photo by Building Panoramics)

Gog Magog Hills 

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M11, Junction 12 

As well as a lovely name, this low ridge of chalk hills, a few miles south of Cambridge, has a fine view over the city and pretty riverside paths to explore around the river Granta. There are plenty of footpaths to explore (and even a 25 mile Roman Road striking out towards Haverhill), but we recommend picking up the footpath in Stapleford and crossing the river on your way up to Copley Hill before returning via Wandlesbury Country Park and Magog Down and the panoramic finale.  (Photo by www.gogmagog.co.uk)

Bamburgh Castle 

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A1, Bamburgh 

Bamburgh Castle, majestic and uplifting, stands on a basalt outcrop on the Northumbrian coastline, overlooking the grey North Sea and hallowed Lindisfarne Island. The coastal views are splendid (imagine the Viking hoards arriving in 993AD) and there’s a sedate, 4-mile, circular loop from the village along the wide, sandy seashore and across the dunes to the wildfowl reserve at Bundle Point, which allows you to study the imposing castle from every angle. Drop into the White Swan at Belford after working up an appetite, or take a trip to the Farne Islands to see the puffin colony.  (Photo by Gareth Evans)

Teign Gorge  

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A30, Whiddon Down  

Make time for this Dartmoor-taster walk while visiting Castle Drogo, a moderate four miler taking in high level moors around Hangingstone Hill and swooping down the deep, forested gorge to the placid River Teign. Start at Fingle Bridge and head up a steep hill in the direction of the Castle, past a series of rocky outcrops; Sharp Tor is the loftiest. Follow the Fisherman’s path to the north of the river to see the rushing weir and Drewe’s pool, popular for a dip on hot days.  (Photo by Alex Nail)

Ogmore-by-Sea 

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M4, Junction 35 

This is one of our favourite walks, taking in roaring surf, a warren of rolling dunes, green flats and ancient castles. Park at Ogmore-by-Sea, a flat beach popular with kite surfers year-round (pay-and-display; there’s a smaller, free carpark further up the river), track the River Ewenny round to the ruins of Ogmore Castle (said to be haunted by the White Lady) before striking right up over the common and dropping down into St Bride’s and back to pebble-strewn Dunraven Bay. Make time to detour to the ruins of Dunraven Castle which has striking views over the wave cut platform towards Traeth Mawr. Track the coastline back to the car and beeline to Cobbles for celebratory cake. (Photo by Skinny Dog) 

Winwick 

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M1, Junction 18 

It’s cliched to refer to Northamptonshire as England’s best kept secret, but its honey-coloured houses, twisting lanes and luxuriant woodlands really are undeservedly overlooked by many. Parking can be a little tricky, but stop at the hamlet of Winwick for a blissful leg stretch.  Head past the church (St Michael and All Angels, a beautiful, 13th century building that’s worth a peep) and grand Winwick Grange to catch the Grand Union Canal (137 miles of waterway linking London to Birmingham) to Elkington and up to the Honey Hill viewpoint on the Jurassic Way footpath, which peers over five counties. The full loop is a respectable 7 miles, so refuel afterwards with fresh sandwiches and pots of tea at Coton Manor’s tranquil gardens.  (Photo by Rotary Northampton)

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