A long walk in the country
WE live in the West Country, with some of Britain’s most spectacular coastlines and stunning landscapes. We are also lucky that much of this wonderful countryside is accessible, whether it’s the Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks, the vast open downlands of Wiltshire, the forbidding stony plateau of the Mendip Hills or the breathtaking cliffs and coves of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.
With all the emphasis on avoiding flights, holidaying at home, reducing your carbon footprint and making the most of our own beautiful country, here are nine walks and trails which will provide you with a lot of fresh air and healthy exercise, and the opportunity to see Britain’s history and culture under your feet and all around you.
The South West Coast Path – if you have the time, the sturdy footwear and equally sturdy legs, the 630-mile South West Coast Path is the best way to see much of this beauty. It starts at Poole Harbour and ends at Minehead in Somerset and along the way you walk the whole of the Jurassic Coast, into Devon, across the English Riviera, round Cornwall from Daphne du Maurier’s smuggler-haunted southern creeks to Poldark’s deserted tin mines and fierce tides and on along the romantic lonely heaths of Exmoor, where marauding robbers from the Doone family may still be lurking!
The Pennine Way – this is not the longest footpath (that honour belongs to the South West Coast Path), but is regarded as one of the toughest, and one of the most spectacular. The 268-mile trail runs from Edale, in the northern Derbyshire Peak District, north through the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Park and ends at Kirk Yetholm, just inside the Scottish border. The path runs along the Pennine hills, which are often described as the “backbone of England”.
The Ridgeway – there are various Ridgeway paths including, in our area, the 17-mile South Dorset Ridgeway, which is part of the South West Coast Path, and the old Ridgeway drove from near Shaftesbury to Salisbury. The official Ridgeway, part of the National Trail network, is one of Britain’s oldest pathways, and has probably been walked by humans for at least 5,000 years because of the high, dry ground that made it a reliable trading route. The 87-mile path crosses the North Wessex Downs and the Chilterns, starting at Overton Hill in Wiltshire and ending at Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire.
Wainwright’s Coast to Coast is not an official National Trail, but it is one of the best known and most challenging long-distance walks. It crosses the north of England, via the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. It was devised in 1973 by the legendary fell walker Alfred Wainwright – who also gave his name to the 214 hills (known as fells) within the Lake District National Park, all but one of which are over 1,000 feet. The 192-mile Coast to Coast path starts at St Bees Head, Cumbria, and finishes at Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire, and typically takes 12 days to complete.
The South Downs Way – said to be the most-walked of the National Trails, this 100-mile hike starts in Winchester and ends in Eastbourne, and is et entirely within the South Downs National Park. Like the Ridgeway, the path is over chalk downs and valleys and is mainly dry, with fabulous views over Hampshire and Sussex to the English Channel. tt typically takes seven to nine days to complete..
The West Highland Way – Scotland’s first official long distance path, this 96 mile trail starts on the outskirts of Glasgow and ends at the foot of Ben Nevis. Along the way is passes the famous and beautiful Loch Lomond and the atmospheric and remote Rannoch Moor. It is considered the perfect introduction to Scottish walking, because despite the length it is not tough (like the Pennine Way, for example). It’s recommended to hike out of season, if you can, because it can get crowded in high summer.
The Southern Upland Way – now this, on the other hand, is described as very tough. It is a 212 mile trail spanning the width of Scotland from Portpatrick in Dumfries and Galloway, to Cocksburn in the Borders. The terrain includes challenging mountains, bleak moorland and thick forests, and places to stay are few and far between, so anyone planning to complete the whole trail will need to carry a tent and plenty of supplies. But if you don’t know this area, you are in for a matchless adventure.
Glyndwr’s Way – this is a challenging 135 miles trail in the Welsh borders, through Powys between Knighton and Welshpool. It is estimated to take between eight and 11 days and covers some of mid-Wales’ most remote and unspoilt landscapes, including the Radnorshire Hills, the Clywedog Reservoir and the Plynlimon massif. The highest point is Foel Fadian (510m), which can be difficult in bad weather – good navigational skills are important.
The Hardy Way, bringing us back to Dorset, where we started, is less demanding than some of the northern trails, but at 220 miles it is one of the longest. It starts at Higher Bockhampton and covers some of the most beautiful scenery in Dorset and Wiltshire – chalk downlands, woodland, peaceful villages, river valleys and dramatic coastal scenery.Part of the route runs parallels to the18-mile Chesil Bank from near Bridport to Portland.