At over 5,000 years old, The Ridgeway Trail, may well be the oldest road in Britain. Drovers, traders, invaders and travellers of all sorts have all tramped this prehistoric path and today you can too. The trail meanders for 139 km (87 miles) over rolling, open downland to the west of the River Thames, and through secluded valleys and woods in The Chilterns to the east, never far from a cozy English village and lodging. This makes for great walking, whether for a multi-day itinerary or just for day walks. Along the way expect to encounter burial stones and barrows left by prehistoric man. You can read more about the Ridgeway Trail at the website.
Cicerone Guidebooks publishes a detailed guidebook for the walk called The Greater Ridgeway.
Every summer Bill Bryson and a couple of his buddies walk a section of one of Britain’s long-distance paths, and this past June they invited John Flinn, travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and a friend of Bryson’s, to tag along.
It’s the type of walking Bryson likes, as he puts it: “It’s civilized and comfortable. The landscape is gentle, you can stop at a pub for lunch, and at the end of the day you can have a hot bath, a cold beer, a good meal and a soft bed. It’s wimpy walking, but I like it very much.”
This year they were walking part of the Ridgeway, an ancient footpath that wanders through the North Wessex Downs and Chiltern Hills for 87 miles.
For a fuller review of the memorable walk read John Flinn’s full humerous account of it at the San Francisco Chronicle website.
There is a new walking trail in England, or relatively new, The Herefordshire Trail was launched in 2005, and it comprises a large circular loop of about 240km/150 miles around the county, passing through market towns and villages and as it winds its way through the scenic countryside of woodlands, hills and farmlands. The route was put together by members of the Herefordshire Ramblers and they have published a ringbound travel guide dividing the trail into 15 manageable sections of about 15km/10 miles each, along with detailed route descriptions, maps and linking public transportation. The Herefordshire Ramblers website has further detailed information.
The Heresfordshire Trail itself, has its own website and describes the trail: “It links the five market towns of Leominster, Bromyard, Ledbury, Ross-on-Wye and Kington along with some of the picturesque villages and hamlets for which Herefordshire is renowned. The 150-mile route takes walkers through spectacular countryside enabling them to enjoy unequalled views across our county and neighbouring counties. The landscape varies from the Malvern Hills in the east to the Black Mountains in the west, through rich arable land, apple orchards, hop fields, woodlands speckled with wild flowers, and river valleys.
Along the way are pretty rural churches, castle ruins and other historic features together with country inns and farmhouses offering bed and breakfast. The market towns each have their own character but all have a range of hotels, guest houses, restaurants and pubs.
Whether you walk the entire route in one continuous journey, choose small sections at a time, or simply retrace your footsteps over the bits you like best, we believe there is no finer way to enjoy the beauty of our county than from the Herefordshire Trail.”
The county of Herefordshire also holds a walking festival each year. This years festival was held for nine days from June 17 – 25.
There are plenty of tour companies offering both guided and self guided walking tours of the Chianti area of Tuscany, but its not hard to cobble together your own itinerary with the aid of a good detailed map or a book like Lonely Planet’s Walking In Italy, or James Lasdun and Pia Davis’s Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria both of which feature similar walking routes in the Chianti.
We chose to do the “Chianti Excursion” from Walking and Eating etc. but didn’t realize that a new edition of the book was out, and so we took along the 1997 edition. We walked from Greve in Chianti to the chapel and former villa of Parco San Michele, now a hotel/restaraunt. The route is a gradual uphill climb on a gravel road–not particularly enjoyable as it climbs to the highest point in the Chianti, although there are some nice views, particularly looking back at Greve.
From San Michele we hoofed it over to Radda in Chianti on a winding tangle of a trail (got lost just before we got to the village of Volpaia). We had lunch in this beautiful village and then continued on through the most scenic part of the route into Radda.
From Radda we opted for the San Sano destination, as opposed to going to Vagliagli. We didn’t bring much food, because we were hoping to have lunch at the recommended restaraunt, Il Poggio, just before San Polo. However, upon arrival, we were told that this restaraunt had been closed for a couple of years, and there was nothing else. Hopefully, this will be noted in the new edition of Walking and Eating. We ate the little food we had brought with us and straggled into the beautiful little village of San Sano. First stop was a tiny grocery store/trattoria, where we revived ourselves with, first, gelato ice cream and then cafe lattes. Thankfully, we had phoned ahead to make reservations at Hotel Residence San Sano, a renovated 13th century fortress, the only hotel in town and well worth the price. The meal there was also exceptional.
Thus ended our Chianti excursion. The next day we bused to Siena and then on to Montalcino to taste the famous Brunello wine first hand.
The authors of this popular book (first published in 1997) have at long last released an updated edition. Actually it was released in 2005, after the authors revisited in 2004. We visited Italy ourselves in 2005 and walked two of the author’s routes. If only we had known that there was an updated edition! That might have saved us from getting lost on one occassion and from getting trapped in the grounds of a former Francisan monestary on another…and of course there was the time we were counting on a lunch in a one restaraunt village, only to discover upon arrival that the restaraunt had closed a couple of years before! Anyway, we are hoping to discovering more of Italy in the future and look forward to perusing the pages of the new edition.
The authors also have a website worth visiting at http://www.walkingandeating.com/
The website states:
“James Lasdun and Pia Davis offer forty walks through the spectacular countryside of Tuscany and Umbria. Arranged for the utmost flexibility—from half-day outings easily accessible from a city base to day walks that can be linked together in a series—the itineraries combine the pleasures of walking and eating with one of the most enchanting landscapes in the world. Calling at medieval hill towns, secluded Benedictine abbeys, spring-fed pools, and Etruscan ruins, Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria enables travelers to discover Italy’s finest delights in a singularly rewarding way.”
We can’t wait!
Walking village to village is a unique way to explore the villages of Europe–and not just the villages themselves, but what is so often missed–the spaces in between them. This form of travel is the ultimate “slow travel”– savouring the tiny details of each and every step along the way; eating in small family run restaurants, or picnicking along the way, and spending the night in small, cozy hotels or country inns. It is the way travellers have travelled for hundreds of years. It’s for those who don’t want to see the world go by through the window of an air conditioned bus, but who want to get out and breathe the air and let the villages come to them one step at a time.
I have spoken to travellers who, zipping along from village to village in the comforts of their rental car scratch their heads about just which villages they have been to and which ones they are headed to next. “It’s another hilltop village,” they would say, “probably has a castle on top and another church.” And then admit, “They all run together after a while.”
It’s when you approach them slowly, not on a highway, but along centuries old footpaths and old country roads and actually see the villages begin to grow out of the landscape, that you can truly get to know and appreciate the countryside and villages in an intimate way. They become more than just “another village with a castle and a church”. Somehow, by experiencing the world this way you become a part of it, a traveller in the landscape, and not just an observer heading from one tourist attraction to the next.
Europe has a wealth of history and culture to experience and I can think of no better way to encounter it first hand than by walking the centuries old footpaths and old county roads that link together its many charming and picturesque villages, like beads on a necklace. It’s an experience you won’t regret. A journey that will stay with you forever. If this kind of travel is for you then I encourage you to string together your own necklace of villages and embark on your own adventure. Not sure about doing it on your own? Then there are many walking and trekking companies offering packages of both guided and self guided trips, taking care of hotels, luggage transportation, and other details.
A trip like this is more about the journey than the destination. The journey, in fact, is the destination.
Bruce LeFavour’s book France on Foot is a great book for anyone desiring practical information on how to walk the French trail system. You won’t find any specific walking routes in this book, but what you will find is a wealth of information on how to go about doing it: how to find good meals and lodging, what to bring, how to pack, what it will cost and how to navigate the France’s 18o,000 km (110,000 mile) trail system. The book is availabe through Bruce’s website (see below) and at Amazon
Also worth visiting is Bruce’s website France On Foot although is it hasn’t been updated in a few years.