07 Nov, 2017
It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the landscape in Britain can change or how varied it is. One minute you can be on wild moorland, and the next in tame arable fields. Walking is one of the best ways to experience the wealth of geographical differences that Britain has to offer.
Here are some walks that either we, or friends, have done; or ones that are high on our to-do list. However, do make sure you consult a map as the routes below simply sketched outlines designed to whet your appetite for The Great Outdoors.
- BOASTY WALKS -
These are walks that you do with your competitive nature to the fore, not just for the pleasure of walking in the fresh air and countryside.
The Saint's Way - Padstow to Fowey
The Saint's Way is a one-day 28 mile hike through the wonderful Cornish countryside.
Legend has it that the pilgrims from Ireland crossed the Irish Sea and came up the River Camel as far as they could sail and then walked for about four miles across to the River Fowey where they picked up another boat and sailed down the Fowey and over to Spain to carry on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The route changed over the centuries as both the Camel and the Fowey silted up, and the walking part grew longer and longer, resulting in today's route. This walk is both exhilarating and fascinating thanks to the historic remains, ancient footbridges, forgotten granite stiles that dot the way. Sadly, there isn't a truly fantastic pub for lunch, so take a picnic and have it at Helman Tor, overlooking the whole country. As it isn't a circular walk, you can either leave a car at one end, drive a second car to the other and then go back and collect it, or park at one end and take a taxi to the other end.
The Mounth Road
Mount Keen and The Firmounth and Fungle Road's Glen Tanar, Aberdeenshire to Glen Esk, Angus and back.
This is a two-day circular hike that follows three of the ancient drove roads and trading routes in the Grampians, and takes in Mount Keen, the most easterly Munro. The route is well marked, and the going is steady, and if actually climbing the Munro isn't for you, there is a path that takes you over its shoulder. On a clear day, the views are spectacular, and you can see all the way to the sea in one direction, and the Cairngorms in the other. You can camp if you are intrepid, or there is a B&B, The House of Mark, in Invermark, Angus to break your journey. I stayed here when I did the walk in 2002, and the welcome was very warm and hospitable, and the beds comfortable.
Hadrian's Wall Path
Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway
Hadrian's Wall is one of Britain's best-known historical landmarks and as such, surely deserves a bit of exploration. It is definitely on my 'walks to do before I get too old' list, together with John o'Groats to Land's End, and following the Thames from source to Estuary. Hadrian's Wall Path stretches for 84 miles from Wallsend on the east coast to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast, and runs alongside the Roman fortification which, when first built by its eponymous emperor in AD 122, was around 4.5m high. The walk is obviously not something to be undertaken in one day and you can easily choose one section or another to tailor-make your ideal walk. The walking is not difficult, and there are several companies that will help you plan an itinerary that suits you. Some will move your luggage from one B&B or campsite to the next, meaning that you need only take with you what you need for that day. The highest and wildest part of the path runs between Chollerford and Walton, and it is from here that you get the best view of the Wall, including several important forts.
THE HOME COUNTIES
The Ridgeway Path follows an ancient chalk road used by soldiers, shepherds, and travellers. It stretches for some 87 miles from Ivinghoe Beacon, north of Tring in Hertfordshire through the Chilterns, over the Thames and through the North Wessex Downs to Overton Hill. The walking is not very difficult, and the countryside and villages are very scenic. And while you can embark on the whole 87 miles, staying in pubs along the way, it is also very easy to do sections of it. Charlie and his friend Freddie walked two sections of the Ridgeway on a walking and talking weekend in 2011. They stayed at a nice pub called The Boar's Head in Ardington, near Wantage. From there it is a 30 minute walk to the Ridgeway and they walked east one day and west the next, returning to the pub for the night.
- SENSIBLE WALKS -
These are walks that may take only a couple of hours, but are every bit as worth the effort of pulling on the walking boots as the boasty walks are.
Dovedale, Ormaston and Alstonefield
The Peak District in Derbyshire is a gloriously beautiful place to walk at any time of year, and many of the walks that you can follow are steeped in local or national history. We have a great friend who lives in Derbyshire and has suggested three excellent walks that he regularly does and loves. All three are circular routes.
The landscape here is amazing with spectacular views over the rocky hills and the River Dove, well known for its ancient stepping stones. The closing scene of the 2010 Robin Hood film, with Russell Crowe, was shot in an area called Thorpe Pastures which stretches down to the Stepping Stones.
This is a lovely walk, and relatively easy-going, unless it has been raining hard. The only problem is that on a sunny Sunday in summer the path can be quite busy.
Some of the route on this 4.5-mile walk is quite steep, and can get a bit muddy, but the reward of lunch at The George in the village is a more than worthy pay-off for your hard work.
Clachnaben is the granite tor that sits perched on top of the little mountain behind our house in Scotland. Legend has it that the Devil took a bite out of the hillside and found it so unpalatable that he spat it out on top of the mountain, so the small valley at the bottom of the little mountain is locally referred to as The Devil's Bite. The walk takes a couple of hours, and the going is very easy for the first half, but then gets gradually steeper and steeper as you near the top. The path is very well maintained by a local trust, which raised a considerable amount of money to pave some of the path that was being very badly eroded by weather, walking sticks and mountain bikes. The views from the top are spectacular. The only caveat is that the weather can change dramatically very quickly. Our daughter Xanthe and her friend Georgie set off up Clachnaben with a picnic about five years ago, and by the time they got to the top, they warm spring day that they had set off in had changed to a snowstorm.
Port Isaac to Port Quin
There are two options for this walk, you can either follow the coastal path, which our friend Harry describes as gorgeous but tough, or the gentler and easier inland route If you strike out form Port Isaac along the coastal path, you will be faced with 200 steep steps, and that is only the first challenge. But although the route is 'severe', the views over the sweeping Cornish coastline and the invigorating sea breeze are fitting compensation for your efforts. There are plenty of great pubs in Port Isaac -if you can, wait till you have completed the circuit for that well-earned pint, or you can buy something to have when you stop to rest at the deserted village of Port Quin.
Every May, for the Hay Festival, we go and stay with some friends who live very close to the Black Hill in Herefordshire, made famous by Bruce Chatwin's novel of (nearly) the same name. More often than not, we find time to squeeze in a walk, and here are two of the best, appropriately with a literary twist.
The Cat's Back
The Cat's Back, so called because it looks like a cat waiting to pounce if you look at it from the Herefordshire side, is the spur that leads up to Black Hill. From the top, you look over the Olchon Valley, below Offa's Dyke. It is a glorious, circular walk, and isn't that hard, especially if you have the lure of lunch at The Bull's Head in Craswell at the end of it. Park in the Black Hill car park and walk from there. Owen Sheers' wonderful novel Resistance is set there.
Hay Bluff to Hatterall Hill along Offa's Dyke
This walk marks the Herefordshire/Wales border. It is a longer walk, about nine miles, but athough this is a one I personally haven't done, the lunch stop at Llanthony Priory, just below the ridge in Llanthony Valley is, we've been told, more than adequate recompense for the energy expanded and the views are fabulous.
I am always amazed at how it feels I'm out in the great outdoors when I am walking the dogs on the very urban Wormwood Scrubs. For anyone who doesn't know them, or it, the Scrubs is an area of land owned by Hammersmith and Fulham Council in the west of London. Made infamous by the proximity of the prison and the fact that for a long time it was a wild area of heathland populated by gangs and drug lords, it is now a local nature reserve and is a joy to walk on. You meet all manner of people there: cheery dog owners, committed runners, out in all weathers, an old chap who has a gypsy pony and trap that he trots around the outer path, and at weekends, the designated football pitches are well used by local teams, and the model aircraft area is buzzing with activity. The cavalry practises manoeuvres for big displays, and there is a little area where meadow pipits are left in peace to breed. And you can barely hear the roar of London traffic.
North Antrim Coast
I am told reliably by a great friend, Emily, that one of the most spectacular walks in Northern Ireland is the Giant's Causeway and along the cliffs of the North Antrim Coast. Even though she and her family have been there hundreds of times, it still never fails to impress, and they always take friends there when they come to stay. The Giant's Causeway is a site composed of 40,000 regular-shaped basalt columns packed closely together. They were formed by the cooling and shrinking of molten lava over 60 million years ago. Although the stones are a huge tourist attraction, most people never venture beyond these. However, if you do go beyond this point (which Emily always does) there is a wonderful walk at sea level and then you climb 162 steep steps up to the cliffs above. From here you have amazing views across to the Scottish Isles on a clear day. It is a circular walk and takes around an hour and a half and is about two miles long. There is a car park at the visitors centre, which is owned by the National Trust and so you will have to pay to park your car unless you are an NT member. At the entrance to the car park there is an old Victorian schoolhouse that has been converted into a pub called The Nook. It is a great pit stop at the end of the walk for a pint of Guinness and they do good fresh fish and chips, seafood chowder, Irish stew and other traditional food. They often have live Irish music playing and there are open turf fires. The nearest town is Bushmills, which makes the finest Irish malt whiskey in Ireland. Here you can visit Ireland's oldest licensed whiskey distillery, although no one under the age of eight is allowed! And if you want a real adrenaline rush, then rive ten minutes further on from the Giant's Causeway, following the signposts to Carrick-a-Rede. This is a somewhat terrifying rope bridge that is part of a two-mile circular walk, but great fun if that's your thing.
Taken from The Pedlars Guide to The Great Outdoors by Charlie and Caroline Gladstone with Kate Burt.
Illustration by Matt Blease