What is it with the British and long walks?

A Cotswolds view
A Cotswolds view

Being a country girl at heart and finding myself temporarily stuck in the city (25 years and counting…), I take any opportunity I can to head out from London into the lush green fields of the English countryside (Scotland, Wales and Ireland being a bit too far for a weekend).

Going for a walk

‘We’re going for a walk’ was a phrase which used to put dread in my heart, since my parents were avid walkers (still are, despite being in their 80s and my dad being blind). When you’re a child, you do not understand why anyone wants to ‘go for a walk’. It’s boring. When they were younger and more malleable I managed to get my kids to come along for short walks, with promises of trees to climb and going ‘just to that next stile’, but now they're teenagers I’ve long since given up trying to get them to come with me.

If you're British, you may remember television presenter John Noakes and his Border Collie Shep tackling the Pennine Way. My memories are of lots of misty moorland and long, wet nights in tents, and Noakes’s infectious good humour despite the weather (and Shep never quite behaving). Great Britain is blessed with thousands of miles of public rights of way, and enough people who care about them to ensure they stay public.

Living landscape

Walking is a peculiarly British pastime. In Italy, for example, the locals generally see walking as an adjunct to eating, with family expeditions focused on finding the best funghi porcini rather than the best view. Unsurprisingly, the British have cornered the market in walking in Italy, and some excellent specialist outdoor travel companies organise guided walks across the country.

We love to go walking for walking's sake. And anyone with the stamina, sturdy boots and time to give it a go can experience the delights of such wonderfully named walks as the Bog Dodgers Way and the Dunnerdale Horseshoe. There are, of course, the better known routes: Coast to Coast (made famous by Alfred Wainwright's classic 1973 guidebook), Offa’s Dyke Path, the South Downs Way and the Pennine Way, running up the spine of the country.

Walking brings out the best in us – a long walk is one of the few times when you say hello to complete strangers – and reminds us how beautiful our country is. One day my kids may thank me for dragging them out, and hopefully inflict the same on their children.

For more on long distance walking, check out Insight's Great Britain and England travel guides. For guided walking in Italy, see Insight Guide Italy.