Feeling frazzled from a busy term? Getting outdoors during the Christmas break could be the perfect way to recharge your batteries ready to tackle holiday assignments and the new term. Sarah Ryan tells us why the hills are the ultimate screen break for weary minds.
After weeks of reading, seminars, lectures and parties your brain may start to feel as though it's reached the limit of its capacity and tipped over into the kind of scattered madness that makes you try to pay for lunch with your library card. Sometimes there is just too much knowledge and information going in. Though it's mostly useful, it can feel like gorging yourself on good food: at some point you need to excuse yourself from the table, waddle over to a sofa, sit down and digest. Similarly, at times you need to abandon the information platter. At these points, hitting the hills or the crag is one of the best things you can do.
I could quote some science backing up how and why getting outdoors and away from your screen is so great for you but I think it's self-evident. Anyone who has already done it is likely to have experienced the benefits, even in the rain. Switching your cooped up room for a wide open landscape doesn't just fill your lungs with fresh air but can give you some mental room to breathe too.
It's in these moments, with your brain in a low gear, that you can really process your thoughts. You might find the solution to that awkward essay question three quarters of the way up Kinder Scout or halfway along Bristly Ridge, precisely when you're not occupied with it. Regardless, you're likely to return from a weekend outdoors feeling as refreshed as if you'd had a two-week holiday and ready to re-enter the glowing world of laptops and libraries.
With that in mind, we've compiled a list of places that are relatively accessible (all have public transport links) and which should provide some rest and respite in the most exhilarating and knackering way possible.
Don't forget, the winter hills are a different kettle of fish from the same hills in summertime and the winter conditions will bring about a new set of challenges. Check the conditions and check out the BMC's essential winter know how.
Snowdonia, North Wales
If you want dramatic, toothy mountains or a massive rocky playground then head to North Wales. Whilst Wales' highest mountain, Snowdon, often has top billing with walkers in summer, once winter kicks it is only a suitable venue for experienced and properly equipped walkers. Even if that's you, your best bet may be to forsake the high peaks and discover some of the quieter hills away from the honeypots of Snowdonia.
Snowdonia has a many suitable walks which do not require special equipment in addition to the usual equipment required for mountain walking. Pointing out a few options, Helen Pye, Snowdonia National Park warden said: “For example, in the north of the national park, the Cwm Penamnen walk near Dolwyddelan is a six-mile journey that follows part of the old Roman road, Sarn Helen and takes you past the Tai Penamnen archaeological dig.
"In the central area of the park, the Cynfal Falls walk near Llan Ffestiniog has superb views of the Foel Ysgyfarnogod, Foel Penolau and the Moelwynion mountains as well as Cardigan Bay. And, in the southern area of the park, the Foel Caerynwch walk near Brithdir gives you one of the best views of the Meirionnydd hills."
You can find out more about walking in Snowdonia on the Snowdonia National Park website.
If you do want to base yourself near Snowdon, the Pen y Pass youth hostel in the heart of Snowdonia allows easy access to the shattered peaks of the Glyderau and that other little thing, Snowdon. You'll need to catch either the S2 or S3 bus towards Llanberis and get off at the Pen y Pass youth hostel (see www.traveline-cymru.info). You can rave about your adventures at the YHA over a pint of local ale.
Which map? British Mountain Map - Snowdonia
Weather watch: visit the Snowdonia National Park page of the Mountain Weather Information Service. It's always a good idea during winter to check out the ground conditions tab on the Met Office's Snowdonia forecast.
The Peak District
There are so many ways to access and explore the Peak District I can't even pretend this is remotely comprehensive. One way in is to catch the train from Sheffield or Manchester for Edale, from here you can access the rugged folds of Mam Tor or climb Kinder Scout's heathy pleateau.
This sprawling, flattened summit is one of the most accessible of the Peak District, with Edale station nestled quietly at its foot. There are many routes up but one of the most straightforward starts by linking into the clearly signposted Pennine Way, follow the path up towards Jacob's Ladder and on until you reach Kinder Downfall on the edge of the plateau. This 30 metre waterfall is spectacular in spate and breathtaking when the wind is up, when the water can be seen blowing back up the hill or exploding in a cloud of fizzing mist. From here, a narrower 'path' (bog field) cuts across Kinder Scout's summit and leads back down to Edale where cafes, pubs and pints await.
It's also worth checking out the TransPeak bus service from Derby, Nottingham and Manchester which runs straight through the National Park. If you're coming from London, catch the National Express 440 which ends at Manchester but stops at various towns in the Peak District en-route.
Check out the Peak District National Park website for all the information you'll need on public transport access there.
Which map? British Mountain Map - Dark Peak
Weather watch: Mountain Weather Information Service and there's also a webcam for Kinder Scout at Kinder Weather
You can literally get off the train at Okehampton and walk straight into Dartmoor. It's as easy and straightforward as that. Buckfastleigh is another option for quick access and a bus runs into the moor in the summer months. The hills may not be as high here but there's a wind-blasted wildness to the moor.
Yes Tor and the nearby High Willhays are the highest points in Dartmoor, in fact of anywhere south of the Peak District but it's not for verticality that you'll go there. What you'll find is a wild walk from Okehampton across moor with footpaths unclear. You'll need your navigation skills about you and a map and compass handy but the walk is imbued with a sense of drama and spookiness that is unique to this high moor. Dartmoor is also the only place in England and Wales where wild camping is completely legal so take a tent, a sleeping bag and a stove and bed down for the night under a broad dark sky.
Which map? British Mountain Map - Dartmoor
Weather watch: Met Office
We haven't even mentioned the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, the Northumberland coastline or any of the other wild places you can go for a weekend. The important thing is to get a map, co-ordinate some good friends, awesome hills, a decent pub and just go. As always, don't forget your torch, even more important for the short winter days.
If you're heading for the hills in winter, check out the BMC's essential winter know how.
This article is part of BMC Student Season, a term's worth of student-friendly articles and social media banter to help students get the most out of climbing and walking. Please tell us what you think of the BMC by completing our young people survey aimed at 14-25 year olds.