Lots of Footpaths in England…
England is a hikers paradise. For someone from the United States or just about any other country, the mass profusion of walking trails in England is unbelievable. It is no exaggeration to say that they’re everywhere. Whether you’re looking at a local map or driving on one of the roads, you will see public footpaths scattered (in the immortal words of my grandmother) from hell to breakfast. It is so easy to find great trails in England, I won’t even try giving suggestions. It would be like standing on a bleak deserted island in the middle of the night, looking skyward and asking, which is your favorite star? There are just too many choices. Instead, I will provide you with the four most important pieces of equipment/clothing to take on your British footpath holiday:
- a decent map is a must – Remember, the good news is… there are a lot of trails. The bad news is… there are a lot
of trails. Yes, most of them are well marked… most of the time. But even the most seasoned local can get turned around & end up on the wrong footpath.
- sturdy walking shoes – The vast majority of trails in England are NOT technical. But the terrain can be tricky and slicky; so have good shoes with good traction.
- raingear – From my experience (four trips) in England, the whole rain thing is a little overblown. I have had wonderful weather on every trip. But I’ve also only visited in the summer. And even at that, I did encounter some rainy days. From what I’ve heard, the winter can be pretty darned soggy. So it’s best to be prepared for the famous England rain. Pack both a rain jacket and rain pants. Make sure you’ve got a decent waterproof hood on your jacket as well. Plus, you may also want some sort of rain gator for your hiking boots/shoes.
- Plenty of water – This has nothing to do with England and everything to do with staying hydrated. No matter what
the weather, you will need plenty of fluids to keep you happy and healthy. And water is still the best fluid for active travelers.
- a camera – Even if it’s just your cell phone camera (also known as the only camera I ever use these days) you should be prepared to take lots of memorable shots. Whether it’s an adorable flock of sheep, a flower strewn field or a breathtaking seascape, you will never run out of scenic photo opportunities.
Now of course you will have plenty of other personal needs, depending on your own experience and preferences. Some of you wouldn’t leave home without hiking poles, specific trail snacks and maybe even little extras like a shirt and some underwear. But I’m going to assume you already have those bases covered.
Few Bike Paths in England…
A bike trail by any other name would smell as sweet. It may be a horrible Shakespeare paraphrase, but it brings up an interesting & frustrating point. Before you visit England looking for bike trails, it’s important to know that it’s nearly impossible to determine what is actually a bike path. For example, none of the following necessarily mean you will be riding on a dedicated bicycle trail: bike route, cycle route, bike path, cycle path or greenway; in fact even the phrase traffic fee cycle route is seldom really traffic free. England has a great organization, called Sustains, that promotes alternative transportation including safe bicycle routes. Last year, when I was in England, I picked up a book entitled Sustrans Traffic Free Cycle Rides. Once I got the book home and started browsing through it, I
realized that few of the Traffic Free Rides were actually and completely traffic free.
On my most recent trip to England earlier this month, the only two dedicated, traffic-free bike paths I was able to ride while in England were both near Stratford-Upon-Avon. One of them was the Stratford Greenway path and the other was the Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal Cycle Route. The longest of these two cycle paths is only five miles long, so neither one can be considered a long-distance bike path by any means. However, after spending three weeks cycling on narrow British roads, I was happy for whatever bike trails I could find.
It’s a bit of a mystery to me why England (Great Britain, UK) doesn’t have more bike paths. Many British people are avid cyclists and there are plenty of potential bike paths. Take a look at any detailed countryside map, and you’ll discover the place is crawling with abandoned (they say disused) railroad lines and canal towpaths. That along with the wonderfully communal property laws in England and the potential for oodles and boodles of awesome multiuse bike paths is tremendous. But for some reason, the bike trails are few and far between. And long-distance bike paths are nearly non-existent. That is truly a great loss for both citizens of the UK and her visitors. I wonder if British officials realize all the potential commerce they could generate if they developed more bike paths. Keep in mind, bicyclists need to eat, sleep somewhere, rent bikes, hire tour guide, buy souvenirs, etc.
I will be discussing more about British trails in a future Trailsnet blog post. But for now, a brief summary is as follows:
- Public Footpaths – the best and most abundant in the world
- Traffic-Free Bike Paths – so much potential, so little follow-through