We’re not suggesting you do all ten in a weekend! But from secret places to navigation by the moon to Britain’s most dangerous walk, there should be something here to get you moving. By Susan Gray
Long summer walks in the country with ye olde worlde pubs and final ascent on the tea shop can be nice. But if you are game for a seasonal change, these ten walks with a difference should put a spring in your step.
The ultimate path less travelled is the one you create for yourself. iFootpath has user-created routes in all parts of the UK, ranging from short circular walks taking in landmark pubs to long cross-country yomps. The Ramblers also has a downloadable route builder that enables you to create and log your walks, and share the route card with others.
2 Go retro with a paper map and compass
Paper maps and a proper compass keep you safe when batteries fail and phone signal coverage is non-existent. The beautiful Ordinance Survey Explorer maps also let you see the bigger picture, so there’s a sense of where you are in the landscape, beyond the confines of a screen. Cotswold Outdoors stores are a good source of information for novice navigators. And in November the Royal Geographical Society is holding an Expedition Weekend, for would-be Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
4 The city at night
Night walking is more demanding on the body than daytime treks, but even your own neighbourhood takes on a different light under the stars. I had never heard the the call to prayer at the mosque until I walked down my local high street at dawn.
Currently charities have cornered the market in walking through cities at night. Breast cancer charity Walk the Walk organises the Moonwalk, which attracts tremendous celebrity and public support. Or, for one of the last big charity night walks of the year, try the Fright Hike in Sherwood Forest on 25 October, or the Forest of Dean and Epping Forest on 1 November. You can nominate your own charity, if the good cause close to your heart isn’t already on the Fright Hike’s impressive list of supporters.
Wild country walks are also do-able at night. Natural navigator Tristan Gooley teaches how to navigate in the wilds at night, using the moon, North Star and the behaviour of nocturnal animals.
iPhones are a gift for walking harder and faster. The MapMyWalk app uses GPS to show where in your daily routine you do the most walking, so you can tweak your schedule to fit in more activity. Pedometer apps and the Moves app show you your daily tally of steps, so you can easily see if you hit the health target of 10,000 steps a day. Simple pedometer apps are ideal if life events or work pressures make regular exercise routines difficult: simply shoehorn a few laps around the block at the end of the day to up your total and ensure your fitness does not take too much of a hit.
Many of the footpaths and rights of way we enjoy today are due to the historic mass trespasses of people such as conservation activist Benny Rothman, who led the mass walk in 1932 on Kinder Scout to open up the Peak District (now a National Park) to the public. If you feel that publicly funded spaces should be accessible to citizens, Oxford researcher and place hacker Bradley Garrett will take you on a journey into the unknown. Garrett’s latest book on exploring what is nearby but often off limits in Subterranean London: Cracking the Capital.
Even perfectly normal walks can take on a new aspect if we pay attention. Thickets of butcher’s broom in a new development indicate a ghost wood, with the built-over ancient woodland trying to re-assert itself. Clumps of nettles can be feeding on the nitrogen-rich soil of past latrines. A patched-up end-of-terrace house with a gap, or a new building next to it, indicates a WW2 bomb hit. The slower we walk, the more we experience.
The Broomway, taking you from near Shoeburyness in Essex across mud flats to Foulness Island, is known as the deadliest walk in Britain. The tide comes in quicker than humans can run, making timing and use of the Tide Timetable for Southend essential. The mud can suck people in up their waist, so they are sitting ducks for wind-driven incoming tides. Although the expanse to the island looks flat, there are undulations as high as sand dunes, blocking visibility, and disorienting walkers as to whether they are heading towards Essex, Kent, Foulness itself, or further into the mud. And access to surrounding land is controlled by the Ministry of Defence, so the only way on to and off the island is via the Broomway, a ten-mile trek in total. Still game?
10 Get lost in an enchanted forest
Sara Maitland, author of Gossip from the Forest, which looks at how forests have shaped our cultural life, says her favourite forest is the little-known Staverton Thicks, near Orford in Suffolk. It is filled with ancient oaks, pollarded oaks and holly bushes, and part of the forest was a mediaeval deer park. Access is patchy, almost guaranteeing you will have the enchanted forest to yourself.
Britain’s magnificent National Trails are empty once summer is over. So if you fancy following Julia Bradbury on the Coast to Coast, or Tony Robinson on the South West Coast Path, now is the time. There are all sorts, from a short hop along the Thames Path, to a 630-mile adventure along the south-west coast. Sought-after B&Bs are more likely to have vacancies outside traditional holiday times, and the open roads and magnificent landscapes will be yours to enjoy in all their glory.