Walking the Walks
Thanks to copious television programmes, ranging from explorer Levison Wood on the Nile to Julia Bradbury experiencing Wainwright’s Walks, trekking is becoming a popular pursuit and Iain Robertson reviews three recent guides that prove their worth.
Take a hike! Truth is, I need to. One of the biggest problems confronting writers and journalists is that the bulk of their work is sedentary. It helpa heaps with bulking-up. It is not that I am bone idle but, rather, that my work often manacles me to my desk, where I eat, drink and slave over a succession of stories, without paying attention to my personal health and well-being.
For me, it is a double dose of irony, as I travel to and from events and experiences by car, or boat, or plane and a combination of them all but seldom contemplate the health-enhancing qualities associated with walking anywhere. Yet, the idea of indulging in a walk, of moderate distance, in my own time, has developed a growing fascination, helped assuredly by the aforementioned televised treks.
Cicerone Press is acknowledged as a leading publisher of guidebooks for walkers, trekkers, mountaineers, climbers and also cyclists. Its international range includes a Tour of Mont Blanc, to the Atlas Mountains and Kilimanjaro to The Himalayas. An excellent ‘The Way of St Francis’ will appeal to pilgrims. Yet, its UK Walks have been augmented recently by both ‘Offa’s Dyke Path’ and ‘The Great Glen Way’ guides.
The Great Glen Way
By Paddy Dillon
Known more famously for the lake that fills its Scottish Highlands valley, Loch Ness and whichever tales you might care to believe of its mythical monster are central to an outstanding walk that can be taken over the course of just a week. The total distance is 79-miles, from Fort William, in the lee of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, to Inverness on the east coast. It is an official National Trail that includes easy, level stretches alongside the Caledonian Canal but that also takes in undulating forestry tracks, lakeside pathways and old drovers’ routes. With interesting military roads, dating back to General Wade and earlier, accompanied by the sweet scent of peat bogs, the ample sights of purple heather, sightings of red squirrels aplenty and the fascinating conurbations at either end, it is a fascinating trek and a brilliant route to experience as an introduction to long-distance walking.
The plastic-covered guidebook, practical for resisting the effects of Scottish rainwater, is packed with detailed and concise information and useful 1:25,000 scale maps, complete with relevant OS Explorer map legends. It is an ideal size, as are each of this selection of three guidebooks, for slipping into a jacket pocket, or a side pocket of a rucksack. A list of accommodation providers at either end and at intervals during the walk is most useful, as are the helpful directions for reaching start points at either end of the suggested trails.
Offa’s Dyke Path
By Mike Dunn
Once known for serving a similar defensive purpose as Hadrian‘s Wall, the ancient Offa’s Dyke is also a National Trail. It runs for 177-miles along the English-Welsh border, between Sedbury, which is near to Chepstow, and Prestatyn, a delightful resort on the north Wales coast. The walk also links the River Severn estuary and the Irish Sea, which ensures an amazing blend of air types, natural features and an array of wildlife. Aimed at the more experienced distance walker, the guidebook divides the route into twelve separate stages and suggests usefully alternative eight and sixteen day schedules. It needs to be said that it is not a difficult route but breaking it down does allow walkers to return to complete it.
Described as ‘varied’, the Path takes in the bleak moorland of the Black Mountains, the farmed pastures of the borders country and the fascinating geographical features of the Dee rift valley and the drama of Eglwyseg’s limestone mountains and escarpments. You might already know that around 60 miles of it are the original Saxon earthworks, which simply adds to the fascination. Again, maps and geological information are detailed as described above.
The Way of St Francis
By The Reverend Sandy Brown
Taking a walk in Europe can be especially rewarding and you do not have to be a regular church-goer to appreciate the ramblings of St Francis, or his relevance to pilgrims of many religious denominations. While tackling the entire route would be a serious undertaking, as it is around 550kms in length, the guidebook does break it down into 28 different stages, with ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’ options. While there is no requirement to equip yourself with climbing gear, there are some vertiginous climbs and steep descents.
It is suggested that you would need a month to complete the trek, which commences in the gorgeous surroundings of Florence, a place worthy of cultural holidays at any time of the year. It continues through the picturesque forests of Tuscany and the stunningly beautiful hill-top villages of Umbria, before reaching the final destination of St Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican State, within the spectacular City of Rome. Naturally, it also includes St Francis’ home town of Assisi.
The trek combines the places and paths that were important in the life of the Franciscan monk (after all, he did start the order), who is also Italy’s patron saint. Walking through what the Italians call ‘Il cuore verde d’Italia’ (the green heart of Italy), you will be beguiled by olive groves, avenues of cypress trees and ancient ruins. The historical detail in the guidebook is wonderful and it also contains appropriate maps of the routes.
These superb guidebooks are available on-line, direct from cicerone.co.uk, or via Amazon and good quality bookshops.