Get your walking boots on – and help save the British pub.
That's the call to action this week from the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (shropshirehillsaonb.co.uk).
With pubs closing at a rate of about five a day, and village shops struggling, too, this area of Shropshire is doing its bit with a series of 12 circular "Walking with Offa" routes. The initiative has been launched to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Offa's Dyke Footpath as a National Trail. Some routes introduce less experienced walkers to the more remote western reaches of the Shropshire Hills. Here, in the Welsh borderlands, where King Offa of Mercia built his dyke, they can rub shoulders with seasoned ramblers.
The aim is to entice novice ramblers to explore the beauty of the area's footpaths and country lanes – starting and finishing at a pub, village or town.
In order to appeal to those of us who might not otherwise take a hike, each of the new routes has been chosen to make the Shropshire Hills more accessible to individuals, families and groups. Carefully researched, mapped and waymarked, they have been selected for their manageable length and degree of difficulty, all of them taking a maximum of three hours.
The organisers believe this new generation of walkers could be the key to survival for some of the area's more remote pubs and shops. "We hope this new 'Walking with Offa' brand of trails will encourage people to go for a walk then stop for lunch and have a wander around," says Clare Fildes, development officer at Shropshire Hills AONB Partnership. "In so doing, they will benefit businesses and the local economy, while having minimum environmental impact."
What's more, the partnership has ensured that its latest campaign is integrated and sustainable – all routes are accessible by public transport, with details on each trail leaflet. "We hope this might keep a few more cars off the road," says Ms Fildes.
Walkers can also use a unique service – the demand-responsive ShropshireLink bus (bit.ly/ihyY9m). Unlike a traditional service, the buses travel flexibly to meet the demands of people who wish to travel to or from their nearest market town and it improves access to more isolated areas. The service, which must be pre-booked, can even pick up passengers from their homes or hotels, and connects with other local transport.
Now there's no excuse for not getting out on a ramble in this part of rural Shropshire. And what better reward than to raise a glass to help support the great British pub?