Walk in Britain
Meet the People and Explore the Countryside
By Kathy Widing
A British footpath leads the author toward a field of rapeseed.
While in Britain see museums, architecture, and sights. But also do as the locals: lace up your walking shoes and don a daypack for a walk through the British countryside.
The British love to walk, whether it’s a day walk or an extended “walking holiday” of a few days to several weeks. Crisscrossing England and Wales is an extensive 140,000-mile network of public rights of way, footpaths that anyone has a legal right to use. Scotland too boasts about 10,300 miles of paths claimed as rights of way.
Public footpaths are marked with directional yellow arrows or signage indicating one of about 600 designated long-distance routes such as the Coast to Coast Walk, St. Cuthbert’s Way and the Pennine Way. Often it is necessary to go through a farmer’s latched gate, and it is expected that the gate will be closed after use. Sometimes when on private land the yellow footpath arrow will indicate the need to climb over a fence. In this case wooden steps or a climbing stile are provided.
Over the years I have ambled on day walks along many of these wonderful footpaths. In the Cotswolds I strolled through picture-postcard villages that look like they haven’t changed in centuries. From Cambridge it was a delight to take a path along the River Cam to an orchard where one can take tea under the apple blossoms. And in Cornwall I chose a section of the Coast to Coast Path to Land’s End.
Last spring I trod well-marked footpaths on opposite ends of the British Isles, beginning with a week’s walk from B&B to B&B on the Northumberland coast, then headed south for day walks in the Channel Islands (see Widing’s article “The Channel Islands” in Transitions Abroad Nov/Dec 2003).
The Northumberland Coast, offering mile upon mile of beach walks, is probably one of the most unspoiled sections of Britain’s coastline. Strategically placed castles lining its shores testify to the hundreds of years of struggles as this area went back and forth between Scottish and English rule.
My trip began in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a lively town as far north as you can get on England’s east coast, nudging Scotland, just four miles away. The following 61 miles covered long stretches of sandy beaches broken by tiny fishing villages, grand castles, expansive coastal views, and inland pathways through farms, fields, and forests.
Good maps are plentiful, and it’s easy to find a friendly bed and breakfast. Lighten your load by carrying basic clothing and personal necessities, and don’t forget the rain gear.
At every lodging the morning begins with a copious English breakfast: plates brimming over with eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, and toast. For those preferring lighter fare, fruit and cereal are usually offered in place of the traditional breakfast. And of course the ubiquitous is always at hand, or coffee for those who prefer it.
B&Bs and inns also abound in the Channel Islands. Select one as a base for day walks. On Jersey, the largest island, you can follow a round-island itinerary of several days, walking from one lodging to the next.
The islands are idyllic: pretty villages, imposing castles, velvety green pastures, quiet forests, abundant flora and birdlife. Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark all boast magnificent cliff paths that hug the coast high above stunning harbors and rocky seascapes before dipping down into picturesque coves and villages. Jersey’s “Green Lanes” are country lanes where priority is given to walkers and cyclists.