You’ve decided you want to take a walking tour but you’re not sure how to pick one. This is where the fun begins! Now the daydreams take form, colored in by the information your about to sift through.
First, determine how many days you want to walk and how much mileage you are comfortable walking in a day. Multiply your desired walking days by the daily miles and you’ve arrived at a rough mileage goal for your walking tour. Now that you’ve narrowed down some variables, it’s time to start researching.
If this is your first foray into a walking tour in the U.K., start by looking into one of the U.K.’s national trails. National trails are well maintained by the government and are therefore well signposted, providing the walker with a trail that will require little navigational skill. Additionally, you should have no problem finding information, including detailed guidebooks, lodging and travel information for a national trail.
The distance of the national trails ranges from 80 miles all the way up over 600 miles, with most in the 100-200 mile range. Narrow your choices down to trails that meet your mileage goal. Now research each of the trails and see if any are particularly interesting. Would you prefer pastoral countryside or rugged coastline? Scenic villages or historically relevant cities? Wales? Scotland? Find a trail that excites you.
If there is a trail that you’d love to walk but it’s too long, don’t be afraid to walk the most interesting stretch. Many people walk trails in segments. There are no rules here.
Another great way to research trails is to look at websites selling self-guided walking tour services. These sites often have great descriptions of the trails with pictures and reviews. Also, these sites will advertise popular, safe and well-marked trails that are not necessarily national trails. I particularly like Macs Adventure. If you want to really geek out, visit The Long Distance Walkers Association website, which details over 1,400 routes in the U.K.
Keep in mind that not all mileage is created equal; some trails are more challenging than others. Make sure your research includes an understanding of the terrain you will be walking.
The walking season in the U.K. is generally April through late Septemeber or early October, with August being the busiest time of year. If you decide to try for a hike in Spring or early fall, check historical weather data for the area. Temperatures averages can change significantly week to week during these months. Winter hiking is not unheard of, but many accommodations shutter during the winter.
Whenever you go, be prepared for rain. There’s simply no way can guarantee a dry walk but historical weather data is helpful hedging your bets.
There are a couple considerations when deciding which day you should start walking. First, plan to stay near the trailhead the night before you start. Secondly, consider starting on a day other than Saturday. Saturday is a popular starting day. Not only do you run the risk of a lot of traffic on the trail but lodging along the trail will be more difficult to reserve.
Planning a walking tour requires quite a bit of planning and making reservations. Generally, it’s not something you can do a few weeks before you leave. On the popular trails, during the summer months, you’ll likely need two months at a minimum.
Do you need to be in shape to walk a long distance British footpath? Yes and no. Yes, you should be able to walk at least 10 miles a day. No, you don’t need to be an athlete or experienced hiker. Remember, British footpaths are generally not nearly as rugged the average mountain trail in the U.S. Most of the time you will be walking through cleared pasture, which means there are very few obstacles. Many people well into their 60s and 70s can be found on the footpaths. On the last mile of the Dales Way, I encountered some Americans (the only Americans I ran across the entire trip) just finishing up the same trail: a group of rotund Alaskan women near their sixties. How fit do you need to be? As fit as a rotund Alaskan woman near her sixties.
Common sense rules here. Comfortable hiking gear and walking distances you know you can handle will make the difference between a wonderful stroll and a mildly taxing hike. Know your limits and learn to take your time and enjoy the journey. If you’re just plain out of shape, don’t try to walk 15+ miles a day and choose a trail that is not hilly or boggy.
I love walking alone. I encourage anyone who thinks they might like walking alone to give it a try. For those who would rather be with other people, limit your group to roughly four people. Many of the accommodations on the trail have limited lodging. The more people in your group, the more difficult it will be to secure lodging for the whole group in the same area every night.
This has been Part 2 of The American’s Guide To Planning A British Walking Tour, for Part 1: The What And Why, click here, and Part 3: The How.