Lonely Planet's David Else: My Five favourite English walks
Saturday 20 June 2009
For a peaceful walk away from the crowds, I love the paths that follow the coastline of Norfolk, especially the stretch from Burnham Deepdale to Cley. The walking is flat and easy, so drifting off into daydreams is no problem, and the landscape is unexpectedly varied – with paths meandering around salt marshes, through fields and meadows, over sea walls, along shingle beaches and across wide stretches of sand. The company of birds is constant and delightful – some of the finest wildlife reserves in England are found here, attracting flocks of bird-watchers year-round.
Another delight is the many old fishing villages that line the coast, some complete with old-style country pubs offering crab sandwiches, a pint or two, and the chance for more contemplation.
For a serious walk with proper mountains and big views, my favourite place in England is the Lake District. Scafell Pike is the highest point and best-known of all the peaks here, but is a summit best looked at, rather than from, so my favourite walk for views goes to the summit of Scafell – close to its namesake but a totally different mountain. Set out from the end of the road at the top of the valley of Wasdale. From the top of Scafell, if the weather is kind and the cloud is high, you get views of the whole Lake District.
Looking west, the summit of similarly named Snaefell on the Isle of Man seems just a hop away, with the hazy outline of the mountains of Ireland visible beyond. To the north, the Southern Uplands of Scotland can be seen beyond the Solway Firth, while on a very clear day the peaks of Snowdonia in north Wales can be seen. Views of four (or five) countries for the price of one. Great value!
A long-distance path called the Dales Way winds through the some of the most beautiful valleys on the Yorkshire Dales on its way to the shores of Windermere in the Lake District. Sure, the Yorkshire Dales is a popular and sometimes busy walking area. But it's popular for a reason: because the walking is straightforward and the scenery is beautiful. My favourite walk follows a section of the Dales Way along lovely Wharfedale – cut by the River Wharfe, one of the largest and best-known dales in Yorkshire – then winds through the small and hardly known valley of Littondale, home to the River Skirfare.
A good place to start this walk is the little village of Kettlewell, a popular walking base and the location for Calendar Girls, as well as home to two great pubs, The Bluebell and The Racehorses. Much of the walk is through fields and meadows, many a riot of wildflowers in the spring (especially in Scoska Wood National Nature Reserve).
This is the kind of walk to be done at an easy pace with friends or family, ideally including a picnic or pub lunch.
For the coast...
My favourite coastal walk is the South West Coast Path, an epic national trail that rollercoasts around the south-west peninsula. This is the longest national trail in the country: it runs from Minehead in Somerset, along the north Devon coast, around Cornwall, then along the south Devon coast to Poole in Dorset. The walking is often surprisingly hard: countless valleys running down to meet the sea means there's very little flat ground here, and steep drops or stiff climbs are the order of the day.
The best stretch of the South West Coast Path is, in my book, through Cornwall from Padstow to Falmouth, a two-week extravaganza where the English coast is at its most dramatic and beautiful. This path never lets up for a moment – but that's its attraction – and provides everything from busy ports and kiss-me-quick seaside beaches to tranquil coves and airy cliff-top views. Add to that the chance of spotting seals, dolphins and a wide range of bird life, and it's easy to see why this walk has its own fan club.
Hadrian's Wall is, of course, one of the best-known ancient monuments in England, and one of the most dramatic. It's also the setting for my favourite walk with a great dash of history. For long-distance walkers, the relatively new Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail strides across the country from the appropriately named Wallsend, now a suburb of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to Bowness-on-Solway on the north Cumbrian coast – around 85 miles.
My favourite section is the central 20 miles between Chollerford and Gilsland, where Hadrian's Wall itself is dramatic and the landscape at its most magnificent. Along the way, the route passes many Roman forts and some excellent museums.
This is a long walk in a day, though perfectly possible in summer; or it can be split over two days, overnighting at the delightfully named settlements of Once Brewed or Twice Brewed.
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