Friday, June 3, 2016

Walking England - Three Trails Diverge

The U.K. is blessed with a network of great walking trails.  I suppose there are many reasons for this. Walking is a longstanding tradition there, no doubt encouraged by their "Right to Roam" that allows the public access to traditional paths across private property.  And of course it is a smaller country than the U.S., so it is practical to ramble about with the assurance of a pub somewhere in range when the need for a pint or a roof over head becomes acute.

In recent years my wife and I have walked on three different trail systems.  Of course we have not managed to walk any in their entirety, and with the exception of the Hadrian's Wall path have likely only managed less than 10% of each.

Still, it is enough to form opinions, so for my fellow countrymen considering a walking tour I offer a comparison of the three trail systems.

Note please that I have only walked these in the spring time.  Also that my criteria may well be different from yours.

Hadrian's Wall Path

Runs from coast to coast following Hadrian's Wall.  Approximately from Newcastle to Carlisle, the best bits are in the rustic central third of it.  My rankings:

Beauty:  Stunning, if a bit stark.
Ease of travel:  fair.  Hadrian picked this site for the imposing hills and they are still there.
Amenities:  again, only fair.  No bathrooms about, pubs and cafes are few.  Plenty of B&Bs have popped up in recent years.  A handy shuttle bus is reasonably close for the sore of foot.
How easy is the path to follow:  Rather.  The Wall is a good clue.
How much History underfoot:  Tons.
Authenticity:  Well, the Wall has been helped out here and there with rebuilding, but most of what you are seeing is the Real Deal.
Would I do it again: I have done the best parts already, so probably not.

South West Coast Path

Follows the Cornwall coast.  This is the far southwest of England and has much milder winters than the rest of the UK. Heck, bamboo and bananas can be grown in a few sheltered spots.

Beauty:  I, being a non coastal person, may be biased...but it was stunningly beautiful.
Ease of Travel: fair to difficult.  Lots of ups and downs.  Every little creek has washed a deep ravine into the sea side cliffs.
Amenities: few and far between.  Little fishing villages here and there.
How easy is path to follow:  Keep the ocean to one side and keep walking.
History underfoot: Not much Roman stuff but WWII forts, smuggler's caves, etc.
Authenticity: Seems unspoiled.
Would I do it again?  Yes, but I'll train a bit more next time.  It is very nice in early spring when they have gardens strewn with fallen white flowers at a time when Wisconsin is deeply buried under a different sort of fallen white stuff.

Walking in the Cotswolds

West Central England, out past Oxford.  An area of quaint villages and rolling hills.  It was "discovered" by artistic types in the 19th century.

Beauty:  Very nice
Ease of Travel: no serious walking challenge really.
Amenities:  Lots.  Villages are close together.
How easy is path to follow: Actually a few challenges as there are many overlapping trail systems here.  Pretty good sign posting though and you can always call for a taxi if necessary. (Try that in Cornwall!)
History underfoot: Plenty of Roman about.
Authenticity:  Alas, it felt a bit contrived to me.  Olde England theme park in a way.  London money has come west and bought the place up for Preservation.  Better I suppose than letting it decay.
Would I go back: I would need an additional reason to.

Naturally I don't wish to give short shrift to any of other Trails that I've yet to experience.  Wales has some great ones.  Scotland takes the stark natural beauty of Hadrian's Wall and goes even "starker".

I would caution the casual American walker to keep a sense of perspective.  For many UK and European walkers this is a dead serious undertaking.  They are going to put up some serious daily mileage totals and will trek on without regard to weather or blisters.  If like me you actually want to spend time enjoying scenery - and the occasional pub - you have to accept that your daily walks will be 5 to 10 miles, not 10 to 20.  I think it is acceptable to be a little vague over B&B breakfasts regarding your previous and future stopping points!

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