How to find a good country walk
Walking in the country without a plan can be a haphazard affair (and if you are headed somewhere isolated and remote it can be downright dangerous). First you have to find somewhere appropriate to park your car, then you have to find a footpath, then you have to be 100% confident it’s ok to tramp across a farmer’s field or through someone’s garden. And most importantly, you have to be sure you are going to eventually end up back at your car.
When we published our Hambleden walk last summer an Australian friend got in touch to ask me how to actually find a walk. She told me that she and her partner often took day trips from London (where they live) but were at a loss as to how to start a walk when they arrived at their destination. Instead of having a good stomp across some hills they'd end up wandering aimlessly around a pretty village with no idea of where to go and indeed where they were actually allowed to walk.
To help you if you are in the same predicament, and to stop you from getting lost in the countryside never to be seen again, here are the ways I find a good walk to do, wherever we happen to be.
OS PATHFINDER GUIDES
For areas I know we will visit frequently, or where we are staying for a few days at least, we usually invest in a Pathfinder walking guide. We’ve tried a few different brands of walking books but in our opinion these are the best. There are around 80 in total so you're sure to find one to suit and each one is circular which means you'll always find your way home.
The walks are categorised by duration and ability and so are perfect for whether you want a ten mile trek up a mountain or a quick 90 minute scoot around a tarn to build up some appetite for a pub lunch. And because the walks are curated, they are all pretty good so you’re not going to get a walk with a few miles along a main road or through a housing estate in the middle.
What I really like as well about Pathfinder books is that you can set yourself the challenge of completing all the walks in a book over a period of time. I know that we are all terrified for some reason of writing in books, but if you can get over this it’s a good idea to make notes against each walk so you can remember in future which ones you loved and want to do again.
ORNDANCE SURVEY MAPS (OS)
Being proficient at using an OS map is a joyful thing. It's in the same category as driving a Land Rover Defender, using a rolling pin or operating a canal lock - something that works so wonderfully well that there has been no need to update it for the modern world, it's reached its ideal design and can sit there quietly now in perpetuity. And spreading one of these enormous maps over the breakfast table in your hired cottage really makes you feel you are living inside a curated instagram life.
They are also a safety necessity if you are walking anywhere remote. I would not walk in Snowdonia, the Lake District or in the Scottish Highlands without one and I think it is dangerous to do so. They are they only way to be really sure about where you are if you get lost (forget using Google Maps, great if you are on a road, not great if you’re not).
However the neutrality of an OS maps means that although you can use it to plan a walk, it cannot tell you whether that walk will be pretty or not, or whether the pub shown will be any good for lunch. So we tend to use them as a backup for the Pathfinder books as the OS extracts can be a bit small to read, or if we are walking straight from our accommodation without a plan, it can point us in the right direction and keep us aware of our general location so we always know how to get home.
TOP TEN ARTICLES
The Telegraph and The Guardian online travel sections in particular are great as they often have articles on 'top ten' walks and many pleasingly involve pubs. And as someone has taken the trouble to write the article (often an expert guest writer), you know that it has been researched and the accompanying photographs will help you decide if the walk is for you. These articles usually have a link to a downloadable version of the walk but you will probably need either an OS map or a Pathfinder book if not.
Here are a few to get you started.
THE NATIONAL TRUST
As the second largest landowner in the UK (after the Forestry Commission), The National Trust has a LOT of walks. Their website and brilliant app are a mine of inspiration for finding somewhere to go whether it’s a walk around the wider estate of a country house, a descent down steep steps to a hidden cove or a tramp up an enormous mountain.
All of their walks are on their website here and if you are a member you get to use their car parks for free, which is especially useful in Cornwall.
HOTELS, INNS & COTTAGES
If you are staying in a cottage there will invariably be some walking maps in a drawer somewhere, lifted from the local Tourist Information Centre. If you are staying in a hotel or inn ask at reception as they often have maps and know their area better than you do.
It can be a bit hit and miss, we once stayed at Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk and were sent on what is now called ‘the worst walk ever’ in our house. It involved a two mile walk through shoulder-high stinging nettles and an hour spent in a Little Chef waiting for my husband to walk along the pavement-less main road to get the car.
But we have had some lovely walks recommended, including one from the Hare & Hounds at Bowland Bridge in Cumbria which was only hampered by the fact the map had been photocopied so many times the last letter of each line was missing which caused some issues on the instances where that word was either left or right and up or down.
And finally, instagram. This is where I find out about a lot of the places I want to visit. If the photo isn’t geo-tagged then just ask the owner of the account where the picture was taken and for information about their walk. People on Instagram love helping in my experience and even if they can’t give you much information it should be enough to do some googling and find a good walk.
Good luck and happy adventuring.
If you like this, you might also like A Day Trip to Hambleden