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The Powerful Purpose of Purple

During August and September, our moorlands and heaths are transformed into a vivid shade of purple as the heather bursts into its annual bloom. But aside from being a beautiful spectacle for walkers, the heather has an important purpose. It supports lots of wildlife by providing food and habitat and it has also played an important role in human history too. Discover why bees love purple and find the best heather walks...

heathercloseHeather, also known as Ling, is an abundant plant on heathland, moors, bogs and even in woodland with acidic or peat soils. Its delicate purple flowers appear from July to October and are a contrast to the tough, wiry, sprawling stems they grow upon.

Purple-carpeted heaths are an iconic feature of the UK's landscape and are the result of hundreds of years of low-impact human activities such as livestock-grazing and scrub clearance. Yet development and the decline of traditional farming methods have caused many of these precious habitats to be lost – more than 80% of lowland heath in the UK has disappeared in the last 200 years. The UK has a special obligation to conserve this habitat, given that it is home to about 20% of the lowland heath in Europe. 



Heathland is home to hundreds of highly specialised plants and animals...  

heathermoorAbout 5,000 species of invertebrates occur on heathlands including grasshoppers, bush crickets, beetles, dragonflies, moths, ants, wasps, bees and spiders, many of them rarities. Heathlands also support all six of Britain's native reptiles with the open sandy areas being perfect for basking in the sun. Remember though, only the adder is poisonous and all reptiles are shy, so leave them alone and they will do the same with you. Our rarest two reptiles, smooth snakes and sand lizards, are now restricted to heaths in southern England.

Several species of birds are particularly associated with heathland. Three of these, nightjars, woodlarks and Dartford warblers, are on the red list as their populations are endangered. Nightjars are summer visitors to England, whose characteristic churring noise can be heard on heathlands on warm, summer evenings. Heather is also important as a food source for a variety of bird species, including the red grouse which feeds on the shoots, flowers and seeds.

The heather is pollinated by insects, mainly bees. Scientific findings show that bumblebees favour purple flowers and for good reason, as these are often the most nectar-rich flowers. The light spectrum bees see is from 600 to 300nm; blue-green, blue, violet, and ultraviolet, with research showing that their favourite colour is what we see as purple. And honeybees are also lovers of heather, with the resulting honey taking on a delicious heathery tang.

Best iFootpath Walks for Heather...

heatherbobbie2As a place to visit for walkers, heathland has high intrinsic appeal and provides a special sense of wilderness. So many classic romantic novels seem to use moorland and heathland as a dramatic backdrop and there is no wonder. It really is worth experiencing, especially at this time of year. There are lots of iFootpath walks that take you through heathland, too many to mention them all here, but these are a few of our favourites that will give you your annual fill of purple…

Cannock’s Boulder and Memorials, Staffordshire 

Explore Surrey: Haslemere Hills and Heather, Surrey 

The Legends of Stiperstones Ridge, Shropshire 

Keys and Crown: The Snape Heath and River Pub Trail, Suffolk 

Win Hill from Heatherdene, Derbyshire

Ros Castle and Hepburn Wood, Northumberland 

Bronte Country: Haworth Moor and Top Withins, West Yorkshire 

May Beck and Sneaton High Moor, North Yorkshire 

20 August 2016 

iFootpath recommended by Wales Outdoors
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The length of our walking guides is given in miles and rounded to the nearest full mile (whole number) for simplicity. For short walks (of less than 2 miles) or walks that have a length that ends in .5, a more accurate walk length may be given in the first section of the walk introduction. For example, the Length in the header may be listed as 6 miles, and the introduction may confirm that the exact length of the walk is 5.5 miles. The walk length is calculated from the GPS file that was created by the walk author GPS tracking the walk whilst walking, using the iFootpath App GPS Tracker, meaning it is very accurate. Our bespoke tracker is particularly detailed and plots a walkers position about every 10 seconds. The tracker is calibrated to match two other reputable map and walking sources, Ordnance Survey and Nike. As with all standardised walk and map lengths, the distance does not take account of hills and slopes, just the distance you would measure using a piece of string on a flat map version of the terrain, so hilly walks will feel longer than stated. If you track the route using another GPS App or Tracker App or Fitness Device, you can expect the distance you record to be different due to different calibrations. This is particularly true of those Apps and devices that count your motion and steps – these can only guess the distance you have travelled with each step and so are much less accurate.

Grade (Boots)

The grade of a walk is an indicator of how difficult the terrain is that you will encounter along the way. This does not take into account the walk length but does suggest how challenging the walk will be. It takes into account things like hills, path surfaces and obstacles (like stiles, gates, steps and rock scrambles). An easy walk, graded as 1 (and shown as 1 Boot) indicates a walk that is essentially flat, has no sharp hills to climb, has no stiles, is easy to navigate (probably along a well-worn path) and is suitable for most levels of fitness. A difficult walk, graded as 5 (and represented by 5 Boots) indicates a walk that is strenuous and involves steep ascents and/or descents. It may be technically challenging involving difficult terrain or obstacles that require scrambling with your hands. Please note that the grading for walks is subjective and open to interpretation and should only be used as a guide when selecting a walk.

NOTE: Do be aware that the level of stamina required for any walk will vary depending on both the walk length and the difficulty grade - you should only walk within your limits.

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