Walking Britain - new trails to trek
by Jenny Speller
There is an intricate network of routes around Britain where traffic jams are unheard of, the views are spectacular, and your fellow travellers are as likely to be birds and butterflies as humans. They are called footpaths and they have been perfectly shaped and designed over hundreds of years for simply walking.
These paths, and the longer distance National Trails, offer plenty of opportunities for a few hours' walking as part of a touring holiday, or a gentle stroll, as well as exciting challenges for the more serious walker.
Several new National Trails are opening this year and next, in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. One follows the remnants of the most northerly fortification of the Roman Empire; another is named after the last of the native Welsh princes, Owain Glyndwr; and a third cuts through the heart of the Scottish Highlands.
VisitBritain has produced a free illustrated map, "Walking Britain", which details 40 of the best routes - a useful aid for armchair hikers.
From March, the new Great Glen Way in Scotland will link the two Highland centres of Fort William and Inverness. It is a spectacular route with superb views over mountains and lochs. It starts near the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain and skirts the shores of lochs, with the longest section along Loch Ness, home of the legendary water monster, nick-named ‘Nessie’.
The Great Glen follows a major geological fault line created 380 million years ago and, in effect, links the Atlantic Ocean with the North Sea.
Much of the route follows canal tow paths and rivers and is fairly flat but there are some steep climbs on forest tracks. It runs through waterside, woodland and moorland habitats – with their unique wildlife including skylarks, kestrels and buzzards. You might even spot a rare osprey. It is also home to the mountain hare, which turns white in winter!
There are commercial campsites and Youth Hostels along the way. For bed and breakfast accommodation, local tourist information centres can help.
From early May, Glyndwr’s Way follows a spectacular route through Mid Wales. It begins in Knighton, a town on the England/Wales border and at the mid-point of another, the Offa’s Dyke Path.
It is named after Owain Glyndwr, whose military campaigns against the English led to him becoming Prince of Wales in 1400 and, since then, a figure of romance and Welsh patriotism. He set up a parliament at Machynlleth and the Parliament House, reputedly on the original site, has an exhibition about him.
The trail runs through wild hill country, moor and woodland, river valleys, gorges and an ancient ridgeway, offering superb views, before ending at the market town of Welshpool. It is 132 miles/213 km long and offers guest house accommodation both on, and a few kilometres off, the route. Some provide a baggage forwarding service and pick-up from the route.
For city lovers, walking is also an ideal way to visit London’s landmarks. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, opened in 2001, follows a seven-mile route through the capital’s Royal Parks. You will see Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace and other places known by Diana.
Looking ahead to spring 2003, the Hadrian’s Wall Path will run for the first time along the length of this frontier of the Roman Empire (and allowing walkers to avoid trekking along 30 km of busy roads).
Constructed on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian in AD122 to act as a barrier against invasion by the Barbarians, it was built of stone and ran for 80 Roman miles (73 modern miles or 117 km) right across Northern England. Much remains, together with ruins of forts and a wealth of archaeological sites.
The trail is best described by a walker who has already sampled much of the new route: “You start in Newcastle in the heart of the once great shipbuilding industries, with the spectacular bridges across the Tyne. Within a few miles you are in rolling countryside; you climb onto windswept ridges with views across the remote dramatic landscape of Northumberland, knowing you are treading in the footsteps of 2,000 years of history. At the end there is the desolate silence of the Solway Estuary with only the sound of the curlews calling – it is magnificent and moving."
Among the other National Trails to enjoy are:
The Thames Path follows the length of the River Thames from its source in the glorious Cotswold countryside into the centre of London. Plenty of day-trip options with pubs and tea-shops nearby. 184 miles (294 km).
The South West Coast Path is the longest trail, 630 miles (1014 km) up and down cliffs, across streams, beside coves and into fishing villages. It includes Land’s End – the extreme ‘end-of-England’ and ultimate goal of many long-distance walkers.
Pembrokeshire Coast Path, in South Wales, has dramatic cliff scenery, teeming birdlife and welcoming harbour-towns. The smallest cathedral city in Britain – St. David’s – can be explored nearby. 186 miles (300 km).
VisitBritain's "Walking Britain" map is available free from its overseas offices, or look on the companion Website www.visitbritain.com/walking. It's the first step to a holiday with a difference.