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There's a reason that so many people choose to do a walking holiday in the UK - in fact there are many reasons! The benefits of a UK walking holiday are both physical and spiritual - here are a few of the best...
An obvious one to start off with. Everyone knows that the best way to get fit and stay fit is to find something active that they enjoy. For some that might be running on a treadmill in the gym – but can you really think of a better way to get your body working hard and your heart pumping than climbing to the top of a steep hill or mountain and drinking in a beautiful view? Do that every day for a whole week, or longer, and just imagine how good you’ll feel. Of course, not all walking holidays have to be hard work – some of the UK’s best walking tours are gentle rambles through largely flat landscapes, but the exercise is still an important part of the experience.
This lot are working hard - just imagine how fit they'll be at the end of their trip!
It isn’t just your physical fitness that benefits from a walking holiday. It’s long been proved that exercise, fresh air, connection with nature and exposure to glorious views and wide open spaces are good for both the body and the soul. And at the end of the trip, the sense of achievement you get from having completed the challenge is something that will stay with you for a very long time. Sure, a week lying on a beach is all well and good (for some), but how long do those memories last compared to the ever changing landscapes of a walking holiday?
These two look pretty happy, don't they?
Wide open spaces and magnificent views - good for the soul!
The UK countryside isn’t just about glorious views – there’s some fascinating history to delve into on many of the popular routes. There’s Offa’s Dyke, built in the 8th century by Offa, the King of Mercia, to keep out the Welsh marauders. Or Hadrian’s Wall, started by the Roman Emperor in 122 AD to separate the Roman Empire from the ‘barbarians’ to the North. Then there’s the smuggling history all round the Cornish Coast, Queen Victoria’s connection with the Isle of Wight, and so much more. Wherever you decide to walk, there are stories to learn, and famous footsteps to walk in.
Osborne House, Queen Victoria's retreat on the Isle of Wight
Food and Drink
Traditional British food has taken a bit of a knock in years gone by, compared to our European neighbours. But not anymore – people have woken up to the choice and quality of traditional dishes served up in regions across the UK, and now the food is one of the highlights of any walking holiday in Britain. Throw in some of the finest beer and ale to be brewed anywhere in the world, and you have a recipe for a delicious meal at the end of each day’s walking.
Here are just a few of our favourite regional specialities to be found in the UK:
Cornwall - Stargazy Pie: A classic fish pie, made with pilchards or sardines, eggs and potatoes, covered in a pastry crust. Whilst recipes vary, the one common feature is fish heads protruding from the crust, as though their gazing at the stars, which is where the pie gets its name from.
The Lake District – Cumberland Sausage: Why have individual sausages when you could have one long sausage, coiled into a ring so it retains all of its juices and peppery flavour. Often served on top of a bed of creamy mashed potato and covered with rich gravy.
Yorkshire – Parkin: A moist, spicy, sticky, gingery cake. Perfect with a good cup of Yorkshire tea!
West Highland Way – Seafood: Scotland offers some of the best seafood in the world – and on the West Highland Way you’ll be savour some of the tastiest. Oysters, crab, lobster, razor shell clams – fresh from the sea.
This is just a start – there are so many classic dishes around the UK, you’ll have to keep coming back to make sure you try them all!
A typical Scottish seafood platter
Nature & Wildlife
Wherever you walk in the UK, you’re quite likely to encounter some fantastic wildlife – birds of prey, red deer, grey seals and shaggy feral goats are just some of the animals you might come across. And if fossils are more your thing, then the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and the Isle of Wight offer some great opportunities for fossil hunting on your route. As for flora and natural phenomena, there are waterfalls, rivers, spectacular rock formations (such as the famous Durdle Door in Dorset), flowers, grasslands, hedgerows and pretty much every other type of natural landscape you can imagine. For a pretty small country, the UK certainly packs a lot in!
Puffins on St Cuthbert's Way
A grey seal
The Dorset Coast with Durdle Door in the background
If this has inspired you to book a walking holiday in the UK, you can browse our full programme here.
By John Millen, Sherpa Expeditions' resident guide and walking expert.
I was walking on the Norfolk Broads last weekend and met up with an old friend, now into his eighties. I hadn't seen him for 7 years but he used to amble along puffing his pipe, eyes bright and twinkling full of ideas. He is a landscape painter and still manages to paint three pictures a week. He sells quite a few of them and you could see him analysing the light, colour, changing clouds and the harmony of the perspective before him. The pipe smoking stopped when his son started medical school and forced him to quit, and the walking slowed, but never stopped. The little pearl of wisdom that he gave to me at the weekend was a succinct piece of Latin which can be applied to all our walking - solvitur ambulando, which literally means 'it is solved by walking'.
If the ancients knew this, then it also applies so much to our lives today. Of course running and cycling also provide an endorphin rush, which is not quite the same thing, and although you can get lost in the act of exercise, you really only get to think deeply when you have fewer distractions such as traffic or uneven paving, and when walking in beautiful landscapes. It is more the view, the smells, the sounds and the brush of the air and how they play upon our mind, mixing up emotions, memories, nostalgia and thoughts. The time and space created by walking allows us to disentangle thoughts, put things in perspective, calm down and figure out ways of sorting out issues in our often-complicated lives.
Just a couple of hours of walking certainly solved a couple of things for me. I hadn't seen a barn owl for two years, and then one flew out of a woody thicket. Two rare marsh harriers skimmed the backlit reed beds in scything silhouettes, mewing to each other.
So many people walk to clear their minds, solve problems and reach for ideas. We can think of Charles Darwin at Down House in Kent. After he bought the property he laid down various walking loops around the estate and spent much time walking and pondering the theory of natural selection, evolution and where that placed religion. CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein walked together, discussing literature and religion - and wrote some rather famous books about it! Nan Shepherd, in a beautiful short book called The Living Mountain, talked about how, as we walk, we become one with the landscape and nature and, in her mind’s eye, actually entered into the mountain – in her case the Cairngorms of Scotland.
All of this points to the benefits of walking, and what better way than to take a Sherpa Expeditions walking holiday for a bit of solvitur ambulando?
One of the most important ways of ensuring you get maximum enjoyment from a walking holiday is to make sure your fitness levels are up to scratch.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be super fit and able to scramble up a mountain in mid-summer heat without breaking sweat! All trips bring their own challenges, and require higher or lower fitness levels depending on the terrain, weather and distances covered. But even the most moderate trips will be more enjoyable if you have a decent level of fitness.
Here are a few tips for getting fit in advance of your walking holiday.
Sounds obvious, right? But the truth is that many of us don’t walk nearly enough in our day-to-day lives, especially if we have desk jobs. Whilst it’s great to get out into the countryside for a proper walk, busy lives often make this difficult. But there are ways you can fit some walking into your everyday: walk to work, or the kids to school, if it’s not too far; take the stairs in shops, office buildings and stations instead of lifts and escalators; get off the bus or train a stop early and walk the rest of the way; try and get out for a walk at lunchtime, especially if you have a desk job. Even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes, the exercise and fresh air will do you good.
When you’re out walking, try and wear the shoes or boots that you intend to wear for your trip as much as you can. You can read our guide for looking after your feet here.
Find some stairs and climb them as often as you can!
Build your muscle strength
The amount of strength you’ll need in your leg muscles depends on the type of trip you’re preparing for. If you’re heading to the Alps for the Tour du Mont Blanc or the Via Alpina, or a challenging UK walk like the Pennine Way, you need to prepared for plenty of ascents and descents, so strengthening your legs is vital.
You could hit the weights at the gym, but if that’s not your scene, try some simple exercises at home. Place your back against a wall and bend your legs as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair. Hold the position for as long as you can, and gradually increase the time you can keep it going. It’s great for the quads (the muscles on the front of your thighs), which is what you use when you’re ascending or walking up steps.
There are plenty of traditional, simple exercises like this you can do at home without the need for any equipment or weights – such as squats.
If you're heading somewhere like the Alps, you'll need to get your leg muscles nice and strong.
Increase your cardiovascular fitness
This relates to the first point about walking. Whilst the muscle exercises give you the strength to walk without getting aches, your cardiovascular fitness is what gives you the ability to exercise for long periods of time without getting breathless. Walking, running, cycling and swimming are all great for this – the more you can do the better, even if you’re booked onto a fairly moderate trip. Stopping to enjoy the view from time to time is great, but you don’t want to be doing it every 5 minutes!
If you’re someone who enjoys a walking holiday, it probably means you’re a fairly motivated person, otherwise you’d spend your holiday lying on a beach! But we can all lack motivation sometimes, especially if the weather’s bad and going outside doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Set yourself goals – if you’re walking, cycling or swimming, try to increase your distance each time you head out, or if you’re restricted to a particular distance, try and beat your time each time you tackle it. Listen to some music whilst you’re exercising - or a podcast, audio book etc. This can really make the time fly.
At the end of the day, it’s not about putting yourself under pressure and doing anything you don’t enjoy. You’re going on holiday after all, not running a marathon! But it is important to properly prepare for your trip – and if you have any questions about how challenging a tour is, you can give us a call and ask us, as well as reading the information that we include on our website about the fitness level required for each trip.
Some people are a bit squeamish about feet. Others think they’re the most beautiful parts of the human body. But whatever your view, there’s no denying that your feet are one (or more precisely two) of the most important bits of kit on a walking holiday.
Problems with your feet can really curtail your enjoyment of a walking trip, so it pays to do everything you can to prepare them in advance of your trip, and look after them once you’re hiking, trekking or walking.
Here are a few tips to ensure your carefully laid holiday plans aren’t trampled upon by problem feet.
1. WEAR THE RIGHT WALKING BOOTS
We won’t go in to too much detail here – you can read our guide to choosing walking boots that we published last year. The important thing, if you’re buying new boots for your trip, is to spend enough time researching and trying on boots, and to allow enough time to wear them in before you start your holiday. If you buy some new boots a couple of days before you’re due to start, and you wear them for the first time on your first day’s hiking, you’re asking for trouble!
There’s a huge amount of choice out there these days – gone are the days when all walking boots were made of stiff, heavy leather. Waterproof materials like Gore-Tex have meant that modern walking boots can be flexible and lightweight, and more closely resemble sturdy trainers. But it’s important that your boots still give you the support you’ll need for the type of walking you’re doing. A good outdoor shop will have staff that will spend time talking to you about your needs and will help you choose the right boots. You can even get custom-moulded footbeds to go into the bottom of your boots to give you more support and comfort – any skiers out there will certainly be able to tell you about the benefits of these!
Sherpa Expeditions travellers receive a discount at Cotswold Outdoor, one of the biggest outdoor chains in the UK, with knowledgeable staff and an excellent choice of boots.
2. WEAR THE RIGHT SOCKS
Socks and technology aren’t often two words that go together – but as with boots, there have been great strides (no pun intended) in the technology used to make socks especially designed for walkers. Obviously your choice of socks will be influenced by the weather – an October walk in the Scottish Highlands and a walk on the Amalfi Coast in August will clearly not require the same type of socks! But the main thing to bear in mind is that friction and moisture are your two worst enemies when it comes to blister prevention. Merino wool is particularly good for keeping feet warm without being too thick, and is great for drawing moisture away from the skin. It also has natural anti-bacterial properties.
Some keen walkers swear by wearing a thin pair of socks next to the skin, and a thicker pair on top for warmth, which can help to reduce friction.
As with your boots, the important thing is to find the best option for you, as there is a huge amount of choice out there. Once again, the staff at a good outdoor shop will be able to give you some good advice and talk you through the options.
Finally, if you’re on a trip where your luggage is being transferred for you, as with all Sherpa Expeditions holidays, it’s worth taking a clean pair of socks for each day’s walking. If this isn’t possible, then try to ensure that your socks get properly dried out each night.
3. USE TAPE ON PRESSURE POINTS
There are many types of blister tapes out there, but the best ones these days are made from the same material you sometimes see sports stars wearing on various parts of their body to help protect and stretch muscles. The trick is that this type of tape is moisture (i.e. sweat) resistant, so the tape won’t come away from your skin if your feet get a bit damp. Leukotape is a well-known brand, but there are plenty of others available.
You can use the tape as prevention for blisters on the areas of the feet that receive the most pressure – the ball, the heel, the bottom of the big toe. But really, as everyone’s feet are different, you can put tape on any parts of your feet that you know are susceptible to rubbing against the inside of your boots.
4. CLIP YOUR TOENAILS
This is a simple one – keep your toenails short! If they’re too long they’ll rub against the front of your boots and this will cause damage and pain to your toes. It’s amazing how quickly your toenails can grow as well – so if your trip is a week or more long, it’s worth packing some nail clippers so you can keep them trimmed throughout your walk. Experts recommend cutting straight across the top of the nail rather than a rounded shape, as this stops the corners of the nails digging into your toes, and reduces the risk of ingrowing toenails. Filing your toenails also helps to ensure you don’t have any rough or sharp edges that can do damage to your toes.
It’s a really good idea to keep your feet moisturised to stop skin drying out ,which in turn causes friction and makes blisters more likely. You can use a standard skin moisturiser or specialist foot cream – rub it all over your feet, and especially in between your toes before you go to bed each night, and again before putting your socks and boots on in the morning. Some people like to use petroleum-based products such as Vaseline if their skin is particularly dry, but many experts say that this traps in moisturiser and makes you more prone to developing athlete’s foot.
There are also some really good foot balms on the market that you can use after a day’s walking, that use natural ingredients to soothe your feet and can even help to strengthen the skin, which protects against blisters.
6. TREAT BLISTERS BEFORE THEY GET TOO BAD
This cannot be stressed to much. People often start to feel pain when out walking, but decide to carry on until the end of the day – sometimes because they don’t want to feel like they’re holding up their fellow walkers. But blisters can develop very quickly, and a few minutes treating the early signs of a blister, or ‘hot-spot’ can save a hug amount of time, and pain, in the long run.
If you feel a hot-spot start to develop, take off your boots and socks and try and dry your feet as much as you can. Apply some foot cream and blister tape to the affected area. If you’re carrying a spare pair of clean, dry socks in your bag, now is the time to use them – if not, try and dry your socks out as much as possible in the time you have available before you put them back on. We can’t guarantee that this will stop a full-blown blister developing, but it’ll give you the best chance of getting through to the point when you can give your feet a proper clean and rest.
7. REST YOUR FEET WHEN YOU CAN
We’re guessing that most walkers won’t need too much persuasion with this one after a long day’s walking! But it’s worth mentioning because of its importance. If you’re walking somewhere dry and warm, take your boots and socks off when you stop for lunch or a break – even just a few minutes in the fresh air will be enough to dry away any moisture. Try to wash, dry and moisturise your feet as soon as you can after you’ve finished your day’s walking. If you’re heading back out, hopefully to a nice pub for some dinner and a well-earned drink, put clean socks on and some fresh shoes if you’ve packed them (and if you’re using Sherpa Expeditions’ luggage transfer, why wouldn’t you?!). But as soon as you’re back in your hotel room or tent, let those feet breathe and repair themselves ready for the next day.
Follow these tips and you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of keeping your feet happy. And happy feet make happy walkers!