TRAVEL / Hobby Holidays - Walking

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Whether you want to test yourself with a Himalayan trek, or meander through a string of French rural villages, there is a suitable walking holiday for you. Most operators give a clear indication of how demanding the walking is, using a grading system to help you choose a package that won't exhaust you. Prices are per person, including board, lodging and travel to overseas destinations unless otherwise stated. Programmes and prices may alter for this summer. You'll need walking boots and warm and waterproof clothing.

FINDING THE PATH: Anyone who enjoys walking, but not getting lost, can brush up on their map-reading and route-finding through one of the YHA's (0727 855215) 'Navigation skills' weekends in the Peak District, Wales and the Lake District. These range from 'Beginners' map and compass' ( pounds 69) to 'Winter Navigation and Survival' (from pounds 85). Also in the Peak District, Losehill Hall (0433 620373) has weekends teaching map-reading from pounds 99.

THE TREKKING FACTOR: Some of the most rugged trekking is offered by the Karakoram Experience (07687 73966) which operates in some of the remotest parts of central Asia and South America. But it's not cheap: 22 days among the volcanoes of Ecuador costs over pounds 2,000, for instance. One of the most extensive programmes of treks is run by Explore Worldwide (0252 319448). Highlights are a 23-day Everest trek to Base Camp (price on application) and a six-day hike up Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, for pounds 1,100. Waymark Walking Holidays (0753 516477) covers 20 countries and has a new 14-night tour of the Transylvanian Alps in Romania for the more experienced walker (or vampire).

TAKING IT EASY: InnTravel (0439 71111) claims to be a pioneer of 'comfortable' walking holidays. Its brochure includes holidays in France, Switzerland, Italy and Norway where you're booked into a string of hotels, choose your route and your baggage is transported for you. Prices vary widely but start at around pounds 300 for a week. Sovereign's Scanscape brochure (0293 599909) promises comfortable hotel accommodation for its walking tours in Iceland (from pounds 1,300). Abercrombie and Kent's (071-730 9600) Spanish 'Andalucian Safari' makes relatively modest demands on the walkers (from two to five hours of walking each day). Eight days cost pounds 940.

SPLASHING OUT: If money's no object, one of the most perfect combinations of wonderful walking country, superb food and luxurious accommodation must be at the Sharrow Bay Hotel (07684 86301) in the Lake District. A double room costs from pounds 170 per night, half board. For the more adventurous, a week of Helicopter Hiking in the Canadian Rockies will drop you on some of the remotest and most beautiful peaks. Seven nights with Accessible Isolation Holidays (0730 812535) cost pounds 1,150 from Calgary (international flights extra).

THE LONE WANDERER: Ramblers Holidays (0707 331133) says that its parties invariably consist of more single people than couples. HF Holidays (081-905 9388) has several walking holidays in Britain aimed at singles, including a

selection for 23 to 25-year-olds, single parents and a 'Walking for women' weekend.

FAMILY FAVOURlTES: Family holiday specialist PGL (0989 768768) runs one- or two-week activity breaks with options such as 'Gorge walking in the Ardeche' and treks into the Black Mountains or along the Wye Valley. Some have specific age limits (seven, for instance); single parents are welcome. Sun Esprit (0252 816004) offers a range of care facilities, including a creche and three evenings' free babysitting, for its summer breaks to Morzine (in the French Alps) where there are numerous marked paths and treks as well as other outdoor activities. French specialist Headwater (0606 48699) says it welcomes children on all its walking holidays ('people often take very young ones with them in papooses'), and HF Holidays (see above) has special programmes for families.

CUTTING COSTS: Short of taking a tent and catching your own fish, there are plenty of good-value holidays in this country. You can walk the West Highland Way with Scottish Youth Hostels (0786 451181) for pounds 245 including eight nights' accommodation, while Mountain Goat Holidays (05394 45161) offers a 'Mad-March Special' - five days' walking in the Lake District for pounds 279 (full board). Winter walking with the YHA (see above) starts at pounds 62 for a weekend in a Snowdonia Youth Hostel, rising to pounds 239 for a six-day winter walking skills course in Scotland. Also in Scotland, C-N-DO (0786 445703) puts together packages from pounds 59 for two nights' self-catering in Glen Doll. And Losehill Hall's holidays (see 'Finding the Path' above) are good value at around pounds 250 for a week.

INDEPENDENT WALKER: The Ramblers' Association is the main national walking club - for details of membership, publications and local events phone 071-582 6878. Among the hundreds of books, guides and local booklets of walks in Britain, the series of leaflets published by the Countryside Commission (0604 781848) on National Trails such as Offa's Dyke and the Pennine Way is particularly useful for those looking to make initial plans for a long walk. Across the Channel, France has one of the best marked and maintained networks of footpaths in Europe - from the long-distance grandes randonnees to local, circular petites randonnees. French IGN maps and the Topo Guide series (available from specialist travel and map shops) are the best sources for details. Those looking for a halfway house between planning their own holiday and remaining independent could try French Expressions (071-794 1480). Walkers are booked into a series of hotels in the Dordogne and given a map and guides to the walk, which varies between 12km and 19km a day. Seven days' half-board costs from pounds 650 including the ferry crossing. InnTravel (see above) arranges similar semi- independent programmes.

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