Hiking in Britain

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      A couple of North Americans have asked me recently about hiking here. There’s a sense that we’re a very overcrowded little island, but in fact we have large areas of beautiful unspoiled countryside. And the whole country is crisscrossed by ancient rights of way/public footpaths. We tend to walk, or climb, rather than ‘hike’, but you wouldn’t be disappointed. There are walks to suit all tastes, long, short, easy or hard, mountainous, hilly, coastal or flat, along canals. Isolated (as in some of the moors) or village to village, with churches, castles, ancient earthworks, standing stones or other focal points along the way.

      There are well-known long walks, such as the Coast-to-Coast Path or Wainwright’s Way, which crosses the narrow bit of the north of England, going through the Lake District, the Peak District and part of the Yorkshire Moors, which takes about 10 days to a fortnight. Or Offa’s Dyke Path, which goes north-south down the old border between Wales and England. With all the longer paths there are organised walks, if you prefer, where your luggage is carried from one night’s lodging to the next for you, but you can walk either in a group, or on your own. And there are hostels, rooms in pubs or B&Bs you can stay in along the route.

      Lovely walking areas I know about are the Long Mynd in Shropshire and the Lleyn/Llyn Peninsula in North Wales. Coastal paths such as the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, or the North Cornwall Coastal Path.

      Some people like to tick things off, such as the Munros, all the mountains over 3,000 feet in Scotland – about 280 of them I think. Or there’s the Three Peaks Challenge, where you try to climb the three highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland, Snowden, Scafell and Ben Nevis, in 24 hours – you need a good driver and to be aware that you’ll be climbing one of them in the dark.

      All of these have their own websites. Other helpful sites are those of the Long Distance Walkers Association, the Ramblers Association, the Youth Hostels Association and the National Trust. Plus there are Ordnance Survey Maps (1:25,000 I think) covering the whole country, which show all the paths, and are indispensable walking companions.

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