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Great Walks

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A backpacker
There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.
- Paul Scott Mowrer

There's nothing like a good walk to clear the fog from the head, to commune with nature and to get a good dose of rest and relaxation. So, if you'd like to take a walk with us, we'll lead you on a little virtual trail of some of the world's finest walks...

At the time of writing, there are hundreds of cases of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK and more appearing on the Continent. Before embarking on any of these walks, phone the local tourist board or MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture Farming and Fisheries) to see if there are any restrictions to national parks and walkways.

From Arts et Métiers to Étoile, Paris, France

The following walk should take you about an hour without any stops or up to three days if you decide to take in everything along the way. First of all, get out at the Métro station Arts et Métiers (the station itself is a marvel, it is like a long copper tube with exhibits of various arts and crafts of the area) and take the exit which says Rue des Vertus. Cross the road and take a left at the crossroads. You are now on the Rue Beauborg. As you walk down the road, you'll notice there is little of any note - it is a road like any other. However, to your right you have Les Halles and to the left you have Le Marais - two areas that you'll need to discover on another occasion.

Halfway down the Rue Beauborg you'll see the building that the Parisians call Le Beauborg and the rest of the world call the Pompidou Centre. The centre itself is really worth only a cursory expedition but is an absolute must for some of the best views of Paris. Sadly this is no longer free but is still worth the expense - there is nothing quite like going up the escalators on the outside of the building and seeing the Sacré-Coeur rising handsome and proud over the city.

Once you're on the Rue Beauborg again, head in the same direction as you were before your little detour. When you reach the bottom of the road, you'll see the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and its square. It's well worth a photo opportunity and the square often hosts markets and exhibitions from the various regions of the country.

Imagine that you have just reached the end of the Rue Beauborg. Now take a right and cross the road and walk up - you now pass some of the most famous sites that Paris has to offer. The first is the Palais du Louvre, home of La Jaconde (the Mona Lisa) among other priceless works. The Louvre is actually free to visit during the first Sunday of every month but arrive early because queues soon start. It is actually best to enter the forecourt of the Louvre, but still walking in the same direction as before. When you enter you'll see the infamous glass pyramids. As you walk down, you enter the Tuilleries - the gardens beautifully created by André le Notre. When you walk down, you'll see a small Arc de Triomphe in the grounds, in a direct line, and behind that you'll see the larger, and much more famous Arc de Triomphe. Even further behind this is the Grande Arche de la Défense; the three arches are built in a perfect line. The story of the small arch is that Napoleon ordered a copy of a triumphal arch he saw in Italy. When he saw the results he was bitterly disappointed and ordered a larger Arc de Triomphe to be built - the ironic thing is that it took so long to build that Napoleon never saw it completed. As you walk through the grounds you'll pass the Orangerie which is home, or at least used to be, to various Impressionist paintings.

When you reach the bottom of the gardens, take the exit on the right hand side as you leave; on the wall on your left you'll see a chilling reminder of Paris' darker past. Lining the wall are seven or eight plaques dedicated to those people who were shot in the days when the Nazis were withdrawing from the city.

At the very end of the gardens is the Place de la Concorde which is Paris' largest square. It was the principal site of executions during the French Revolution and was where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed.

You now start the long walk up to the Arc de Triomphe. This is the boring part of the walk. The Champs-Elysées is basically a very broad street where you can find the usual shops and eateries that are endemic to every major tourist city in the world. However, this walk is highly recommended at night in December. The Champs-Elysées is lit up with strings of little white lights and is beautiful - French elegance and finesse reigning supreme. The end of this walk is when you arrive under the Arc de Triomphe. If you still have the breath, take the walk to the top - you'll see the little arc in the Louvre and if you turn round you'll see the über modern Arche de la Défense.

By now you should be completely knackered - never fear, you are just above Étoile station...

The Slim Buttes, South Dakota

The Slim Buttes (pronounced 'buets') is a small range of limestone hills in north western South Dakota. There are over 1000 acres of coniferous trees, limestone cliffs, and several hidden lakes that are absolutely teeming with excellent trout. The only way through the hills is by all-terrain vehicles or four-wheel drive trucks; forest service fire trails are the only roads you'll find here. There are no prepared camping places or facilities and one gets the full effect of 'roughing it' in the wild. A firewood permit is required to cut wood and fires are allowed only when the fire danger index is below the 'high' category, otherwise there are no restrictions.

I have spent innumerable weekends driving the trails in my father's pick-up or riding my dirt bike. 300-odd miles of trails criss-cross the hills which are great for off-roading. Almost every year since I can remember my family has gone to these hills to cut a live tree for Christmas. It is one of the few times our family can be together as a whole. It is truly a 'great walk'.

The Thames Path, London

Here's one Researcher's reminiscence of a classic London river walk. One quickly gets the impression of a 'tale of two cities':

This summer I walked the Thames Path from Windsor to the Thames Barrier. I would recommend this experience to anyone - it is extremely well sign-posted and generally well paved. You get a fantastic perspective on the contrasts in our society from extreme wealth to extreme poverty, passing through some of the most lush countryside to a brilliant walk through the heart of London. It is also easily accessible by public transport - we did it in about 15 mile chunks and you can't easily get lost - after all the river is quite noticeable! If you are a confirmed city dweller then just do the London bit from Richmond to the barrier; it does give you a different perspective on some famous landmarks. I used a guide but it really wasn't necessary as the way-marking was generally good. Oh, and there are any number of outstanding public houses all along the way including The Dove near Hammersmith Bridge which is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the smallest bar!

Two more highly recommended pubs to look out for along this Thames walk are the old Ship Pub near Hammersmith Bridge and the Founders Arms by the new Tate Gallery.

From the Monument to St Paul's via Bankside, London

This is a particularly nice Sunday afternoon walk that takes in some of the most interesting sights and sites of central London, and has many nice pubs en route for those who might like a leisurely pint or bite to eat mid-walk.

Starting from Cannon Street station, look out for the 'London Stone' as you head eastwards towards the monument. This is quite difficult to spot, as it is in a small and dirty window set very low into the side of the Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation. This stone is reputed to be the keystone of the Roman gatehouse. It might well back to an even earlier age and has certainly been thought of as a mystical and ancient symbol of pre-Dark Ages London for as long as records began. There are a couple of informative paragraphs which reveal some of the stone's history on display in its window.

Upon reaching Monument tube station, walk south along King William St towards the Thames. On the left rises the Monument itself, a golden statue of fire atop a 222ft column. Its height is also the distance it stands from the reputed source of the Great Fire of London in 1666, which it commemorates.

Walk across London Bridge, paying particular attention to HMS Belfast to your left on the south side of the river. This is a decommissioned British naval warship from the Second World War which now has a permanent mooring on the bank of the Thames and is open to visitors.

On the South Bank, stroll past Southwark Cathedral to your right on Southwark Street. Buried in this cathedral's graveyard is the poet John Gower, one of Chaucer's contemporaries, and (if the more scurrilous historians are to be believed) his lover too. Gower achieved poetic prominence mainly for his massive work, the Confessio Amantis, which is a huge work about love written in Middle English, Middle French and Latin. An easy read it isn't.

Turning right down Stoney Street, underneath the railway line leads eventually to Clink Street, where the museum of the infamous prison (which became the origin of the slang usage of 'clink' to mean a prison) stands. Follow this road westwards and cross over Southwark Bridge Road. Staying as close to the river as possible, stroll along Bankside. The views across the Thames along Bankside are great, but only because of St Paul's Cathedral. Most of the other buildings on the northern side of the river are, in the opinion of many, hideous mid-20th Century concrete monstrosities.

Along Bankside is the wonderful Tate Modern gallery. The building that houses it - the erstwhile Bankside Power Station - is a beautiful testament to how brickwork can look amazing in itself, conveying a sense of scale and power like few other buildings in this part of London. Shakespeare's Globe theatre also lies along this stretch of the Queen's Walk, and on a hot summer's day, performers in period dress keep the sightseers happy with 'olde worlde' street theatre. Around this part of the walk are pubs like the Founder's Arms, The Anchor, and Doggett's Coat & Badge1, any of which make a nice and convenient break for a meal or a beer.

Walking round Hopton Street and turning right into Southwark Street, Head towards Blackfriars Bridge. On reaching the northern side of the Thames, head north up New Bridge Street until reaching Ludgate Circus. Turn right along Ludgate Hill, which leads directly to the most impressive approach of St Paul's Cathedral, from the west. St Paul's tube station lies to the north of the cathedral, on Newgate Street.

There is also the Museum of ...This is a museum that rotates its exhibits every 16 weeks and challenges the visitor to participate - this time it is the Museum of the Unknown where you have to guess what the function of various objects are, have body parts photographed etc. Previous incarnations have included the Museum of Emotion. It's in Butler's wharf. One Researcher recommends avoiding Gabriel's Wharf which is also on the way - 'it's good artisanal stuff but hideously over-priced'.

The Liffey Walk, Dublin

The Liffey Walk is a brand new boardwalk (except made of steel) along the Northern bank of the River Liffey, in Dublin. The walk in the day is nice in that it gets you away from the terrible traffic, but it is best experienced at night - the lights from all the buildings reflecting off the river, and the coloured lights on the bridges combine to make the river shimmer in a thousand colours...

Hilbre Island, Wirral, Merseyside

The Route

Setting off next to the Marine Lake in West Kirby, head out to the closest of three small islands, Little Eye. Go behind Little Eye, then do a right angle and turn to the right and head towards Middle Eye, otherwise known as Little Hilbre Island. Upon nearing Middle Eye, make sure to pass this in front and not behind. From here it's a clear run to Hilbre Island.

Things to See and Do

Hilbre Island acts as a resting point for many sea birds. As long as the other visitors are as conscientious as you are, the resting birds ought not to be disturbed and you can enjoy seeing many interesting breeds while sitting down with a picnic and enjoying the sea air. If you are so inclined, you can stay on the island for the duration of the tide coming in, meaning a stay of around eight hours until it retreats again. At this point, not only will the bird activity increase, but seals come and swim very close to many vantage points at the island. The walk is entirely flat all the way and so is suitable for people who might be deterred from other more strenuous walks. It takes roughly 45 minutes to get to Hilbre using the steps. Given the nature of the island, it is suitable for children as well there being rock pools to paddle in and sand to play with. Generally, a very accessible and enjoyable walk for any involved.

Things to Consider

On the way to Hilbre, there are many permanently flowing tidal streams with extremely strong currents. These have been located and mapped, hence the odd fashion required to reach Hilbre. Straying from the route, although possibly quicker, is a lot more dangerous because you can find yourself left with no option but to tackle one of these seemingly easily conquerable flows. If the tide then starts coming in, it is possible to become trapped. Again this walk is only dangerous if you stray from the given route - other than that it is as safe as any other walk. The areas around the island are quite rocky and due to the nature of the sea vegetation clinging to the rocks being constantly lubricated by the tide, these areas can be slippy. Appropriate footwear is recommended as you can suffer a nasty fall. Hilbre Island is also a registered nature reserve; it is necessary to maintain discipline regarding rubbish such as wrappers and so on. Treat it with respect.

This is a highly enjoyable and bracing walk, with lots of fresh crisp air to blow away any cobwebs. It is well worth the effort, with great views, much wildlife and plenty to do and see.

Pen-y-Pass to Snowdon Summit, Wales

This is a tough but immensely enjoyable walk.

Park, if you can, in the Pen-y-Pass young persons accommodation car park, and head up the steepest thing you can see (a track on the right, adjacent to the road to Llanberis). Don't follow the tourists round the Pyg Track as this means a long, slow scree climb up the cwm2 to the final ridge. Keep on top of the ridge, walk round Cryb Goch and Cryb-y-Dysgol, over the ridge and up to the summit following the line of cairns placed in case of poor weather.

On the way up you will (hopefully) see amazing scenery, lots of fluffy white sheep and a clear view of the coast (including - for the keen-eyed - Caernarfon Castle). At the top, if you are lucky, there will be no cloud and a spectacular view as far as Ireland. If you are really lucky, you'll be above the top of the clouds and get the most spectacular view in the British Isles - mountain tops sticking up through fluffy white cloud. Fantastic! You can also enjoy a feeling of smugness at having come up the hard way, and not on the train.

Go back down the same way you came up, and afterwards go to the Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel for a cream tea. You've earned it! Alternatively, walk down one of the other paths and get someone to meet you at the bottom (you can't guarantee you'll make that bus, as you have to go at the pace the terrain demands). Beddgelert is particularly nice and you can blow a few quid on cheap outdoor goods at Y Warws.

The walk will take from two and a half hours (very fit) to over six hours ('You really do need the exercise, don't you ?' - Editor). Children below the age of about six are unlikely to be able to manage it, and you sure won't feel like carrying them up the final slope. You might also want to take some money to buy tea at the café on the summit, and to post a postcard in Britain's highest postbox.

Warning: This is a mountain, and every year several people die on it. Don't be scared, be prepared. Never walk on mountains without proper equipment: wear strong shoes or walking boots, carry plenty of water and some high-energy food (Kendall mint cake is the classic, but unsalted peanuts, muesli bars and such are pretty good), and carry a waterproof even on a sunny day as the wind on the summit can be incredibly strong. For best results carry a Trangia stove and the necessary stuff for making tea. For some reason, tea made on mountainsides tastes much better than ordinary tea.

Here's a personal account of walking to the Pen-y-Pass to Snowdon Summit...:

An absolutely top class walk is that. Doing it in summer can mean that you're following a line behind a lot of other people. Unbelievable as it might seem, I have returned sunburned from this walk. At this time of year (January) it is a completely different prospect with snow and ice all over the rocks. If you do it, make sure you've had experience and training for the conditions you'll encounter - very cold temperatures, very high wind speeds, snow and ice - and that you carry the correct equipment. Snowdon summit station does provide some shelter from the wind but not a great deal.
For the return journey on a nice day how about continuing round the horseshoe. The start is behind the summit station initially following the line of the Watkin path going down to Bwlch y Saethau. When you get to the start of the climb of Y Lliwedd break from the path and follow the edge of the cliff up. Don't get too close to the edge as the drop is several hundred metres and it would hurt - lots - if you fell. When you drop down after the summit of Lliwedd you'll probably want to travel over towards Llyn Llydaw and pick up the miner's path at the eastern end of the lake. When you're back on the miner's path it's a short trip back to Pen Y Pass where you started from. If a drink in the Pen Y Gwryd isn't your thing then travel down into Llanberis and see the people getting off the train and go to Pete's Eats café for a well earned chip butty and large mug of tea.

... and another!:

A fantastic walk - although I went via the Pyg track up. That scree slope is a beast!
At the Pen-y-pass car park there is a weather report posted that I would strongly recommend reading! Take note in particular of the cloud base - if it's lower than the summit remember you will be climbing the last bit in low visibility and in the cold and wet.
I started at Pen-y-Pass (in May) in dazzling sunshine and a t-shirt. 1,000 feet below the summit all the woolies and weatherproofs went on. To really rub it in, we had no view, the café was shut, and never, ever bank on getting the train down - the day we went it wasn't running so we couldn't cheat on the way down!
If you do get the Sherpa bus from one of the other paths back to Pen-y-Pass, it's a great ride with lovely views of the valley while you take the weight off your weary feet.

Two other things to do when taking routes like this: try and let someone else know what you are doing and the expected time it will take to do it (if you are staying at the hostel then this is a good place to leave details); and always carry a good whistle (preferably plastic). If you do get into trouble it is much easier to attract attention with a whistle rather than shouting. If you have a whistle, six short blasts every minute is the recognized way of indicating that you need help.

Oh, and two things that Pen-y-Pass to Snowdon lore suggests we should all avoid:

  • Taking the miners' path on the way up - killer

  • Cup of tea from the shop at the top - the water won't boil at 100'c at this altitude and so tastes like dishwater

Great Short Walk in the Maldives

For a very short walk, the walk from one end of Reefi Rah (small island in the Maldives) to the other is fantastic. It's a fairly easy walk, along a beach. The things to look out for include looking for the horizon (quite tricky on a clear day as it looks like the sky meets the sea), making sure you don't stand on the hermit crabs, and generally enjoying the beauty of it all.

At night the same walk will look very different, with the beauty of the night sky above, and even some glow-in-the-dark algae which makes it look as though the sea is watching you...

At the end of the walk there is the beach bar where it is possible to get a nice refreshing drink.

Walking in the Palatinate, Germany

As with most things in Germany, this is all very organised. The Pfälzerwaldverein contributes to this sense of organisation being a society which organises hikes, publishes maps, awards medals for diligent hikers and marks the walks in the woods. This is very useful and you can just stop at any car park and choose a route from the map displayed there. You then follow the 'number 3' or the 'yellow square' or various other symbols which are painted on rocks or trees on the way and getting lost is almost impossible.

It is lovely to walk or drive through the woods especially in the autumn. The raised altitude and the mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees provide a plentiful supply of good quality fresh air, and there is so much nature to keep children occupied. Younger children can collect chestnuts or pine cones or blueberries, depending on the time of year. They can do bark-rubbings or any of the usual activities that you can think up or remember from your scouting days. There is also a lot of history involved in this part of the world, being on the border to France, and there are many old castles and forts which suddenly appear between the trees. Some of these are reconstructed and do guided tours; many are just stones which the kids can clamber about on. This is sometimes forbidden for safety's sake - watch out for signs.

You don't need any equipment, although the Germans do tend to do things thoroughly and kit themselves out with special knickerbockers, shoes, and even authentic socks to look the part. Needless to say, good shoes, not too new, with a good tread on them, are vital.

There are lots of huts en route which offer a good hearty meal and a half-litre glass of the local wine or beer very cheaply. Of course, you can take your sandwiches in a backpack and sit at one of the many tables provided. These are usually found at the tops of hills, with a beautiful view over the woods, the vineyards and the Rhine valley (not so nice, all industry) - and on a clear day right across to the woods and mountains on the other side of the Rhine valley, the Odenwald.

It is worth spending a week in a guest house in a little village and just taking a different route every day. This gives you a chance to try out the wines in the evening, too. If you are a congenial type, you will have no problem finding some locals or fellow visiting hikers to chat with.

Sheldon Country Park

If you're in the Birmingham (UK) area, this is a great place to walk. One walk starts from the A45, practically opposite the junction with Lyndon Road. You can walk either side of the river and there are several bridges along the way if you think the grass is greener on the other side. Keep following the river, and cross over Sheaf Lane. Now you get to Sheldon Country Park proper - if you like, you can stop and look at (and feed) the animals. For the rest of the walk, you have to find your way through the park. Basically, you follow the paths until you see a big field with a car park next to it. This is behind St Giles Church (and is also a good starting point).

Now you just follow your nose - keep the tall trees on your right, and you can't go wrong. After half an hour to an hour, you'll come to the Southern perimeter fence of the Birmingham International Airport. People often go there to watch the planes. In spite of all the noise, it's quite relaxing. Anyway, you'll be wanting to get back. You can either walk back the way you came, or follow the wire fencing round to the right (you can continue in the same direction as you have been going, but you'll have to walk round the whole airport). You should see Hatchford Brook Golf Course to your right - you may even find a few golf balls that you can sell back to the golfers... If you keep walking, you will reach the A45. You can turn right, and walk back. Or, you can cross the road, and catch a bus.

Guadalquivir, Cordorba, Andalucia, Spain

This walk has no real start or end. The best thing to do is choose one end of the city and walk along the river bank to the other end of the city. One great thing about smaller Spanish cities is that they just stop - there are no endless zones of suburbia, they just stop. The Guadalquivir is an old majestic lady of a river. She is lazy and almost creeps her way through the city. The river is seriously low and this has caused hundreds of islets which are home to thousands of birds. As you walk along the bank, it is possible to jump onto one of these islands and then another and another. This allows many to find that perfect picnic spot.

A walk along the Guadalquivir is an exercise in serenity. She is calm, life giving and captivates the casual passer-by. It's best to walk along after three in the afternoon - the sun is still burning but isn't scorching.

A walk along this river is a personal odyssey - you choose your own spot to rest and your own little islet for reflection.

Fontaine de Vaucluse, France

Fontaine de Vaucluse is a little village in the Haute Provence in the south of France. The walk takes about 45 minutes in total but takes in a great riverside walk, museums and a sight that should be included as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World but sadly isn't. The walk below is for autumn and winter. Fontaine de Vaucluse lies 30km east of Avignon. To get there, you need to take the bus from just inside the city walls in front of the train station. A return bus journey will cost you around £3.

When you get out of the bus, you'll see the river La Sourge - you want to walk against the flow of the river to get to your final destination. As you walk up the very rugged path, the hills of the region spring up around and you'll spot running through the brush various rabbits and lizards. The river is a deep emerald green and appears to invite the casual pedestrian to go for a paddle. Be warned, the water is exceptionally cold all year and diving straight in is not only discouraged but can be positively dangerous as the shock can be extreme.

The path is exceptionally rugged and starts to incline at a rather rapid rate, making this walk a tough one for the elderly or physically disabled. As you start your climb, you'll hear gushing and spewing, but this is the gem for the end of your walk. Along the way, you'll come across several museums but the two most highly recommended are the Museum of the Resistance which chronicles the fight of the macquis (the name given to some French Resistance groups) of the region which was ruled under Vichy France during WWII. As you come out of the museum, take another look around the hills and you'll see the reality of the habitat for many of the French Resistance.

As you continue up the rugged path, the rush of water is even louder but you still have time to take in a small museum. The museum of Pétrarque is dedicated to the 14th Century poet (this region of France was ruled by Italy for many years) who lived in the region. Pétrarque's most famous works are dedicated to a girl, Laura. The poet saw her from a distance, once, and was immediately love struck. He never saw Laura again as she died young but Pétrarque dedicated most of his work to her. Laura is buried in the little chapel on the Rue des Teinturiers in Avignon.

Still walking up, you will come across an old paper mill - this is basically the same as you can see all over the world but is worth a look nonetheless. They also sell some of the paper they produce too, making lovely but tacky gifts.

Anyway, you are now only a short distance from where you want to be... When you make the final trek up the top you'll see what appears to be a very calm lake of the deepest hue of green and blue. It is calm, eerily so, but the water cascades with a thunderous aplomb - it simply takes your breath away. This is the source of La Sourge and countless expeditions have yet to uncover just where this leads. This phenomenon only happens in the winter. In the summer, the water drops and exposes the caverns that remain hidden for half the year. In the summer months, you can take a boat ride in the caverns. This Researcher prefers to see the full power of nature rather than sit in a boat and gaze at what essentially is a cave - beautiful, yes, but still a cave.

1The Researcher of this particular walk begs the forgiveness of all those reading this entry if he/she has gotten some of the pub names slightly wrong.2Cwm is a Welsh word meaning 'valley' or 'hollow'.

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