Walton- on-Trent, Derbyshire
With the backdrop of a village cricket green, this meander of the River Trent, backed by meadows and lined with willows, offers a retreat from modern life. Swim (or walk when water levels are low) to the little river island where a rope tree-swing is waiting.
Nearby is one of the country’s newest wetland nature reserves, Tucklesholme, created in an old quarry. Spot oystercatchers and plovers, or hear a bittern boom. The village pub, The Swan, provides a mix of Asian and Italian food, with a huge wood-fired pizza oven at its heart.
Getting there Walk downstream from the bridge 500m, or park at Tucklesholme nature reserve and follow the path around the wetland to a gate on the right near the river. Coordinates: 52.7651, -1.6851.
River Arrow, Studley, Warwickshire
Flowing through the meadows east of Studley, the River Arrow provides a secluded swimming hole under the shade of an ancient tree. The river is a short walk along the footpath leading down from the Norman stone church, with its intricate herringbone masonry. A fallen tree in the field makes a perfect picnic seat and is great for climbing.
Getting there From Studley parish church, walk to the kissing gate along the lane to the right and follow the footpath down to the river. Coordinates: 52.2713, -1.8835.
Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire
Slip into this part of the River Soar and (on occassion) float among the lily pads in the shades of the willows. The riverside walk passes twisted oaks and ancient meadows with several beach-y areas down to the river. At the Moorings pub, the riverside garden here has a small pontoon and is popular with canoeists – it is possible to boat down to the Navigation Inn on the other side of town. Nearby is the Swithland reservoir – no swimming but a secluded lake and nature reserve skirted by a pretty lane that is good for cyclingor an easy walk.
Getting there From The Moorings pub, cross the river bridge then turn right along the river bank path for ⅓ mile. Coordinates: 52.7534, -1.1574.
The Windpump, Cottingham, Northamptonshire
Here, the Jurassic Way meets the River Welland by a little bridge. A pebble beach shelves into a deep, wide pool, big enough for a decent swim. The old windpump is long gone but the tree-lined banks and distant views make this a picture-perfect swimming hole. If hungry, follow the river downstream, about six miles along pretty lanes, to find the Barrowden and Wakerley Community Shop, staffed by volunteers and stocked with homemade cakes and local picnic produce (shop open, cafe currently closed). More river pools and beaches can be found in the meadow behind, which is a short walk down Mill Lane.
Getting there Take Ashby Road north from Middleton, signed for Ashley. After 600m at the bend, find the track and barrier and follow for 400m to the bridge. Coordinates: 52.5103, -0.7678.
Hermit’s Cave, Dale Abbey, Derbyshire
In steep, dense woods is this ghostly rock house complete with two windows and a door. Legend says the cave was created by a Derby baker, Cornelius, in the 12th century, who was called to live a life of prayer and solitude by a vision of the Virgin Mary. Inside, there is a cross etched on the back wall, a niche for a candle and a peephole for the inhabitant hermit to look out of. In fields nearby, a vast stone arch, once the east window, is all that remains of St Mary’s Abbey, founded here in 1200.
Getting there From Dale Abbey village, follow the dead-end lane to All Saints church, then the footpath to the right that leads behind the church up through the woods. Coordinates: 52.9420, -1.3484.
Haughton Chapel, Haughton, Nottinghamshire
The remote ruins of this early Norman church are in a copse alongside the River Maun. The arched walls include lancet mullions and stone masonry. At sunset a golden light is cast across the ornate tombs and tumbledown stones, providing the ideal picnic location. The ruins are all that remain of the village of Haughton whose land was enclosed by the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1509. From here the Robin Hood Way leads to Elkesley Woods and a three-mile loop returns via Bothamsall. Getting there From the car park at the bend on the B6387, follow the path east along the river for ½ mile to ruins. Coordinates: 53.2494, -0.9657.
Horsley Castle, Coxbench, Derbyshire
Overlooking the Derwent valley, little remains of this 12th-century castle except fragments of the tower and sections of high walls. The motte-and-bailey site is surrounded by defensive rings of undulating earthworks, now covered in forest. Wild daffodils and bluebells carpet the woods in spring. Pop into Fresh Basil Deli in Belper, which stocks the award-winning Grumpy Farmer goat’s cheese.
Getting there In Coxbench, turn right off the main road onto the lane opposite Horsley Lane by the A38 bridge and park. Walk on past the driveway to the left and follow the path into the woods. Coordinates: 52.9849, -1.4427.
White Ladies Priory, near Wolverhampton
The beautiful Augustinian Priory of St Leonard was once home to the White Ladies, renowned for their habits, fashioned from undyed cloth. Along a wooded footpath, surrounded by countryside, the perimeter walls survive, together with a bank of seven Romanesque-style arched windows and finely carved column heads. This Tudor manor, a mile down the lane, is open to the public, and is famous for its oak tree in which Charles II is said to have hidden, in 1651.
Getting there Seven miles east of Telford, turn off the A5 signed Boscobel House at the crossroads. Follow the road for 1½ miles to turn right to Boscobel House. White Ladies Priory is ¾ mile down the lane. Coordinates: 52.6656, -2.2582.
Ancient forests and trees
Loynton Moss, Norbury, Staffordshire
This is a place of changing landscapes: snowdrops in winter, lichen-laden trees in autumn and flowering butterfly meadows in early summer. The wetlands were created by retreating ice sheets 10,000 years ago. “Kettles” gouged out by the ice later filled with water to create a mere (or moss). Nearby, Aqualate Mere is another large, natural wetland and good place to view birds and wildfowl.
Getting there Follow the A519 one mile south-west from Woodseaves. Park in the layby on the left just after the bridge or use the car park on the right 250m further, both with paths into woods. Head north east to the wetland and snowdrops near the canal footbridge. Coordinates: 52.8175, -2.3149.
Badger Dingle, Dingle, Shropshire
This steep, picturesque ravine was landscaped by one of Capability Brown’s most famous students, William Emes. Part of the grounds of a long-lost country house, Badger Hall, a circular walk now weaves its way around an ornamental lake, through woodland and by streams. The prize is a network of caves and follies, carved out of sandstone outcrops to create a romantic garden at the bottom of the chasm.
Getting there From St Giles church in Badger, walk 300m south to the footpath sign into the woods. Coordinates: 52.5908, -2.3445.
Hay Wood, Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire
Hay Wood is an ancient woodland interspersed with trails and bridleways. Muntjac deer are common, and dusk and dawn are great times to spot them. Baddesley Clinton house, a moated manor, can be reached by footpath from the woods, through fields past the church.
Getting there Turn off A4141 and onto Rising Lane signed Baddesley Clinton, turn left onto Haywood Lane after ½ mile, following the brown sign, and pull off left by the gated track after one mile. Follow track into woods. Coordinates: 52.3402, -1.6923.
Climbs and viewpoints
Tysoe Windmill, Windmill Hill, Warwickshire
Atop Tysoe Hill, this 12-sided, 18th-century stone windmill affords glorious views over the countryside of the Stour valley. The steep walk to the top through cornfields is worth the effort for the views, and it is also perfect for stargazing. There is an annual fundraising run to the top each June. Try the community-run store and tearoom in the village shop below.
Getting there In Upper Tysoe follow Shipston Road south-west out of the village. As you leave the village, pull off to the left on the bend just after the national speed limit sign. Walk up the road for 20m, turn left onto the footpath and follow the path uphill on the edge of the field. Coordinates: 52.0817, -1.5175.
Oldox Camp and Loath Hill, Oxton, Nottinghamshire
The oval enclosures, double bank and ditch are the remains of an iron-age hill fort, though there is still a mystery as to why it was positioned below the brow of the hill, rendering it indefensible from the north. It is accessed via a tree-lined lane and ancient holloway. In the village, the award-winning Old Green Dragon pub specialises in local real ale and ciders.
Getting there From the Old Green Dragon pub, follow Windmill Lane and footpath one mile straight up into the hills. Coordinates: 53.0721, -1.0547.
Four Stones, Clent Hill, Worcestershire
High on Clent Hill, aligned westward with the setting sun, you’d be forgiven for thinking these standing stones were megalithic. Actually, they were erected in 1763 by eccentric landowner Lord Lyttelton of Hagley Hall. The site has panoramic views across Worcestershire countryside as far as the Malverns. The family-run Stanley’s Farm Shop and Pick Your Own in Harvington provides goodies for a picnic.
Getting there The Clent Hills are signed from the A456 roundabout south-west of Halesowen. Follow for one mile to the T-junction, turn right, signed Clent St Kenelm’s Pass. Park at St Kenelm’s Pass, parking on the right after 200m and follow the footpath to the summit. Coordinates: 52.4209, -2.0988.
Bomb Rocks, Charnwood Lodge, Leicestershire
The “bomb rocks” were formed 600 million years ago, just as multicellular life was evolving, and brought here on immense lava flows. This is a good area for bouldering and rock climbing, or to spot fritillary butterflies in the grassland. Rare species of warbler and woodpecker can be found in the wooded glades. Despite its low altitude, the views of the Leicestershire countryside are sublime.
Getting there From Coalville, take Broom Leys Road/Meadow Lane east past Castle Rock School. Head straight on at the dogleg crossroads onto Abbey Road for 300m, park in the layby on the right and follow the path through the gate. Coordinates: 52.7295, -1.3194.
Camping and glamping
Etties Field, Ratcliffe Culey, Leicestershire
Dom and Linds share their passion for American Airstream caravans – choose from either Missori or Ettie, both provide cosy, stylish spaces. Or bring your own camper, they especially encourage vans and tents with a bit of style, from VWs and Teardrops to bell tents and tipis. While in the area take the opportunity to seek out the remains of Gopsall Hall Temple – where Handel reputedly wrote some of Messiah – or have a traditional Ploughman’s at the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company.
• Airstream from £140 a night, minimum two-night stay; campsite pitches from £28 a night ettiesfield.com
Farm on the Hill Camping, Prestwood, Staffordshire
A basic eco-campsite in nine hectares with large and private pitches, plus a secret garden, a newly planted woodland and a wildflower meadow. Each has a firepit and there is a wood-fired sauna. Bikes are available to hire, so explore the old railway path along the Churnet valley. Wild swims can be found in the River Dove at Ellastone and Toad Hole footbridge in Snelston.
• Manor House Farm, Prestwood, farmonthehill.co.uk
Tin & Wood, Plungar, Leicestershire
Discover wood-fired hot tubs and contemporary shepherds huts, made fromnatural materials, such as copper, slate and wood. With vistas of the Vale of Belvoir, the setting is a working farm. This is Stilton country, so don’t miss out on a visit to dairies at Cropwell Bishop, Long Clawson or Colston Bassett.
• Shepherd’s hut from £82 a night, canopyandstars.co.uk
This is an edited extract from Wild Guide Central England: Adventures in the Peak District, Midlands, Cotswolds, and Wye Valley by Nikki Squires, Richard Clifford and John Webster (Wild Things Publishing, £16.99)