Editor's blog: A Winter Wonderland

Some people just can�t wait to take their clothes off. Spas, swimming pools, the beach. You name it, they�re undressing for it. This, apparently, is their idea of fun.

I�m the opposite. What I want is more layers. Gloves that make my fingers so fat I can�t zip your coat up. A garish woolly hat rescued from the jumble. Thermal long johns, if I can get away with them. And a fleece. Lovely fleece, fashion�s answer to comfort food. There�s nothing like swaddling yourself so deep that the cold can�t get you. Maybe it�s a womb thing. 

This is my time. It�s winter, and I intend to go out walking. I�m glued to late-night radio, waiting for the magic words. Morning frost. Cold snap. Then it�s on with my clumpiest four-season walking boots. Stiff brown leather, the size of Baltic ice-breakers, they make my feet feel invincible. And I�m off - preferably into the delectable clutches of the Peak District

The Manifold Valley is white at the warmest of times, a place of splintery limestone crags, spuming streams and cantankerous sheep with frost in their eyes. On Sunday, it was positively pearly. The gable ends of the pale stone cottages were smudged with ice, the pine trees of a distant plantation stiff and white as bottle brushes. 

The first lungful of astringent air felt liberating, and soon I was really striding, the ground ringing under my feet. I was the warmest thing in the landscape, and my breath was coming in flying white streaks. Don�t tell anyone, but winter is a great time to have beautiful places like this to yourself. Paths slick with mud and thronging with dog walkers in summer are now glittery and deserted. The low sunshine and long shadows are all for you. On Sunday the valley was empty, and the air so cold it seemed to hum in my ears - or maybe that was just a trick of the silence. Across the river, birds scrapped for food in a tiny green pasture. Yet the hedgerows seemed to heave with winter nuts and berries. 

What I like about winter in the White Peak is how the layers of history shout out. From Beeston Tor, I could see a terrace of �strip lynchets�, where prehistoric farmers tried to stabilise the hillside; and the lost hamlet of Throwley, its towered hall standing proud through the bare branches. Also the knotty remains of Bincliff lead mine, where, in 1376, the vicar of Blore was prosecuted for stealing ore worth �10 - enough for an awful lot of church roofs. 

I didn�t stop until I was beneath Thor�s Cave. A natural wonder suspended 350ft above the dale, it gapes pink, a toothless man at the dentist. Still nobody coming the other way. For a mad moment I thought about a paddle in the river, to learn the true meaning of cold. Silly idea. It would take me too long to get my gigantic boots off. 

Instead, I made a beeline for Ye Olde Royal Oak, in Wetton, a pub as unpretentious as the limestone village it inhabits. Every summer in times past, the Oak hosted the World Toe-Wrestling Championships - but this is winter, and I�m not here for exercise. I settle for the gentle throb of chilblains in front of an open fire. 

The route:

From Wetton, follow the road that bears left beyond the church and out of the village. Where it splits, take a footpath south, which emerges after half a mile on Carr Lane. Bear right and right again on lanes, down into the Manifold Valley.

Now aim north on the Manifold Way beside the river, diverting after 20 minutes or so across a footbridge to the eastern bank, where a wooded staircase tunnels steeply up to Thor�s Cave.

Retrace your steps, continue along the river to Wetton Mill, then swerve north-east along a path which flanks Wetton Hill, and south again to the village, where the Royal Oak waits. 5 miles (8km); take OS Explorer map OL24 or see the map here.

Vincent Crump
is the editor of Country Walking magazine and a regular contributor to the Sunday Times Travel section.