A choice of two short walks on the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire border, with an abundance of nature regardless of the season.
Distance: 3 miles extending to 4 and more.
Terrain: easy with some moderately steep climbs. Fields and a bridleway.
Height: up to 450 feet.
Starting Point: Motte & Bailey Pub, Pirton, nr Hitchin, SG5 3QD
You’re getting two walks for the price of one here. Both routes are on the edge of the Chilterns and around 3 miles long. The first is circular, done clockwise or anti-clockwise. The second is straight up the hill to the edge of Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve and back. If you want to extend your walk, you can follow the way marks from this point and go further into Bedfordshire, although an OS map would help! Part of the route is on the Icknield Way, which extends from Dorset to Norfolk and has the claim of being 'the oldest road in Britain' as it is made up of prehistoric pathways.
Both walks start in Pirton, a small village forty miles north of London, on the border of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Just thirty minutes by train from Kings Cross, it makes an easy escape from the city and the chance to breathe in some fresh air. Plus you'll get to see a traditional Doomsday village complete with old cottages, two pubs, a duck pond and Highdown House, an old Jacobean mansion with an interesting history.
Although this walk is popular with families on Boxing Day, any other time of year you won't typically pass more than a couple of dog walkers making it a good option to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. There are a couple of steep hills peaking at around 450 feet. In summer you can get by with almost any type of shoes, but if it’s been raining you need boots because part of the lane gets muddy. I’ve ended up on my bottom more than once, but thankfully no one saw me. In early autumn there are plenty of blackberries, so take a container or eat as you walk. What’s nicer than a warm, juicy blackberry, straight from the hedge?
I walk from my front door as I work mainly from my home in Pirton, but if you're travelling in, park outside the Motte and Bailey pub. If you have caught a train from London, get off at Hitchin Station and get a taxi to the pub in Pirton (it's about a 5 mile trip and will cost approximately £8). From the pub, walk left to the main road to Hitchin, passing a wooden Pirton sign with hands holding straw on your left. In case you're wondering about the straw sign, this walk is part of the Straw Plaiters walk. In the 19th century, Pirton’s women and children collected the straw, from wheat growing on the chalk soil, for the hat making industry in nearby Luton.
Cross the road and go straight ahead to Wood Lane, with a large house on your right. You can walk up the shady lane which has a canopy of trees or, for better views, walk along the edge of the field running parallel, where an ‘unofficial’ path has been worn. After a quarter of a mile or so there is a path to your left across the open field (waymarks are here.) Turn left if you want to walk clockwise. Carry straight on for an anticlockwise route, turning sharp left at a wooden seat. Go straight on up the hill for the second walk to Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve.
These directions are for the clockwise route. Follow the path over the field and keep right to a kissing gate. Go through the kissing gate and climb the steep hill. Highdown House, a Jacobean mansion once a Cavalier stronghold, is on your left. There is supposedly a ghost in it and a headless horseman who rides across the field on 15 June.
As you walk, keep your eyes open for wildlife: free range guinea fowl belonging to the house, muntjac, pheasants, buzzards and roe deer.
At the top of the hill pause and look across the fields. You can see for miles and there are usually buzzards circling overhead. This is a great spot for a picnic – a couple of massive old oaks and soft grass.
Don’t go to the end of this field, but bear right down the hill to another kissing gate. In spring there are masses of bluebells in the wood to your left - Tingley Wood. (You can’t go in- it’s private – but you can stand at the gate and admire the view.) At the bottom of the hill there’s a wooden seat – a favourite picnic spot for walkers. You’d complete the circuit by turning right. For the second walk, turn left at the seat and continue up the hill.
At the top of the hill, bear right towards a wood. Very soon you will see the sign for Knocking Hoe Nature Reserve opposite a seat with a wood behind. There is public access into Knocking Hoe, but the footpath to further routes continues outside the reserve, down the hill, where there are some way markers. These can take you to the B655 road which you cross to access other walks.
In the Nature Reserve in summer you will find lots of butterflies and wild flowers, some of them rare. The views are lovely, it’s usually quiet and you can easily find a sheltered spot to eat or drink. Definitely worth the climb to get there!
Moray coastal walk (North East of Scotland)
Cullen to Findochty
Distance: 12km (7.5 miles)
Type of terrain: beach, cycle path, village streets
Start point postcode: Cullen - village square. A98 post code for sat nav would be AB56
Resources: OS Map 425
Everyone needs that one place where they go and all their troubles melt away, a place to think, plan and breathe. Cullen is that place for me and this walk is my go to walk when I just want to chill out. There’s something about the air on the Moray coast. It’s cleaner, fresher and just altogether better.
This is an easy walk with no need for any special walking gear. It is along a section of the moray coastal trail of around 12 kilometres taking around 3 hours to complete. The path is on a well-established cycle route and via village streets. I walk a section over the beach, but this can be missed out if you’re not the sand between your toes type.
The village of Cullen is where I start this walk. It’s famous as the birth place of the famous Cullen skink soup, which is a delicious creamy fish soup. If you have time for a bowl I would highly recommend it.
The village has a few cafes and antique shops to browse. You can park in the village square. Parking here is free and there are public toilets. This is on the A98 post code for sat nav would be AB56.
I would walk back up the hill as if heading back out of the village and follow the signs for the caravan park. Once at the caravan park there is a path which leads along the cliffs and towards a view point known as Nelsons Seat. This is a great spot to gaze over the Moray Firth and if you’re lucky perhaps spot a dolphin.
From here continue on the path down toward a small rocky beach which on a sunny day is perfect sun trap and has few visitors. Be warned if you fancy a paddle here it’s very rocky and not the safest without some sort of water going footwear.
At this point you would have 2 choices you could follow the path on the right which takes you along the cliff side and on to Sunnyside beach and Findlater castle. I have never been able to take this path as I have a fear of heights and find it too much to pass over the narrow path. I therefore take the path round to the left and if you follow this you will head back to Cullen. Just before you re-enter the village you pass a small pet cemetery. I find this quite a touching place to have a look around and a reminder of how special our animal friends can be.
Once back in the village I follow the street past the harbour and head towards the beach. You will see the rock formations known as the Three Kings and then walk along the beach. There is a path just off the beach which heads through the golf course that connects to the main cycle route. Then follow the cycle path to the village of Portknockie and onwards to Findochty.
Once in Portknockie you head off the cycle path. The next part of the cycle path is signed posted, follow these through the village and admire the lovely village homes before picking up the cycle path again to Findochty. This section is quite exposed to in parts and can be cold on a windy day but has amazing sea views. The path continues on past Findochty to Buckie and Spey Bay and beyond.
My last visit to this route was early spring and I left it a little late to continue along the path, on reaching Findochty I took the same route back to Cullen and ended the day with a lovely coffee and brownie in the Rockpool café.
This post was contributed by Glamorak Linda Chessor
I’m 43 years old. I live in the north east of Scotland. I do mainly coastal or forest walks. I'm not the best at hills, but do attempt them now and again. My sister is lucky enough to live in the Cairngorms so she does occasionally get me up a hill. I'm a nurse and work 12 hour shifts, so walking for me is the best way to unwind from work and gives me four days most week to get out and about weather permitting. I occasionally walk with my www.borrowmydoggy.co.uk friends Bix and Hunter.
Five years ago a man called Alastair Humphreys gave the speech day address at my children's school. He was on a mission to get people to have microadventures - a mini adventure that you can fit into every day life. It should challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone but still be achievable.
That speech inspired me and soon afterwards I started walking, having my first microadventure when I set off walking 14 miles on my own and staying in a hostel. Since then I've gone on to have plenty of adventures, but I had yet to wild camp. So when I saw that Alastair was running his Summer Solstice Microadventure challenge, I knew it was time to push my comfort zone a little bit further.
My plan had been to go wild camping on the summer solstice (21 June) but despite having arranged childcare and having my bag fully packed, the Met Office put out a yellow warning for thunder, lightning, gales and very heavy rain showers with the potential for localised flooding. That didn't sound particularly sensible to be camping in, particularly on the top of a hill. I had to put my plans on hold and wait for better weather.
Last night that weather arrived. Once again I packed and this time headed off, leaving my husband and children at home, all three thinking I was daft in the head. My microadventure would see me do three things I'd never done before:
1. Carry all the kit I needed on my back for an overnight stay
2. Wild camp
3. Camp on my own
My comfort zone was going to be well and truly pushed. But too many women - particularly mothers and those whose 20s and early 30s are well behind them - spend their lives observing life through their kids or doing things for others instead of experiencing life first hand. I'm on a mission to change that and I can't tell others to do it if I don't do it myself.
But first things first.....
Where to wild camp?
My biggest challenge with wild camping was trying to find somewhere to go. In England, legally you are not allowed to camp anywhere you like. You're supposed to get the land owner's permission. But that can be very tricky to do and it spoils the spontaneity of it. The advice is to find somewhere tucked away, out of view, don't make fires and don't leave anything behind. Arrive late, leave early and no-one will be any the wiser.
I spent a good amount of time trying to find a suitable spot by looking at maps. I wanted somewhere remote, but not so remote that if anything happened I'd be in tricky spot. I didn't want to run the chance of bumping into people. I wanted views and it had to be not too far from my home in York.
After doing some research, I found the very spot. Hawnby Hill in the North Yorkshire Moors. It was 50 minutes drive away, was a short walk from a pub/civilisation, but was remote enough to not be found. And it had stunning views.
What to take wild camping?
Here's what I took. You could get away with less:
I set off from York at 6.20pm on a Sunday evening and drove north, past Helmsley before arriving 50 minutes later in the exceptionally quaint hamlet of Hawnby. I knew it had an Inn, but I hadn't realised it also had a tiny tearoom and shop, which amazingly was open at 7.15pm on a Sunday evening. I popped in for my crisps and chocolate bar and asked which hill Hawnby was (there are two - Easterside and Hawnby). She pointed out the hill to me and said I could park my car behind the village hall. That was handy to know as there is nowhere else suitable to leave your car overnight. I tucked mine out of sight behind the hall and set off up the hill.
I guess you could ask The Inn at Hawnby if you could park there for the night and it would save you a 500 yard steep climb up a hill lugging a backpack. But I didn't. Once you reach the Inn, directly in front of you (just to the left of the phone box) is a public footpath sign that points you up between some houses. Follow that and you get to a stile/kissing gate. Go through that and head straight up to the top left corner of the field. Don't take the appealing looking waymarked route lower down on the left. Head to the top corner to find a gate with a map of the hill. Then follow the path straight up.
And I mean, straight up! It was exhausting. But it was a short brutal walk - only about 15 minutes - before I was on the top of the hill with magnificent views on all sides. To my right was Easterside Hill, another tabular shaped hill, while straight ahead you look towards the moors.
I followed the path along the ridge line, looking for somewhere to make camp. I reach the cairn on the hill summit and noticed several dips off to the left hand side just before the cairn. They would be out of sight of anyone on the path and out of sight of anyone below. They were also slightly less exposed to the wind than on the very top. Because the thing about hills is that they're high up and therefore windy!
I chose a little dip that had a tiny tree for a bit more shelter and attempted to pitch my tent. This proved a challenge as the ground had a layer of soft spongy moss to lie on, but a layer of solid rock just beneath it, making it impossible to get the pegs to grip. But I finally managed it and rewarded myself with my glass of red wine and an exceptional sunset.
It truly was magnificent. The bright daylight had transformed into an array of purples, pinks, corals and golds. Every five minutes it would change, each more stunning than the last. It hit me that the sun setting really is an artistic masterpiece that is available for free every day to every person - you just have to step away from your screens and head outdoors. I watched the wind blow through the grass, saw birds swooping for a late supper of bugs and heard their night time calls, while sheep far below were baaing to their lambs. It was truly magical.
Unlike an inside space, the great outdoors is always moving, whether it's clouds scudding past or long grass waving, there is a sense of perpetual movement. As the night sky darkened, it seemed as though the stars themselves were racing across the sky, but it was just a trick played by the clouds rushing along. I tried to read my book, taking nips of cherry liqueur as it grew colder, but my attention kept getting distracted by the view.
Just after 11pm I decided to retire. It was a battle between my closing eyelids and my desire to wait until it got truly dark. But my eyelids won and I slunk into my tent and fell asleep instantly.
I'm not sure what time it was, but possibly 1am I woke to the sound of wind howling around the tent. Having pitched next to a tree for shelter, the wind sounded even louder as it funnelled its way through the branches. I lay listening to it a while, wondering if my tent would take off, with its poorly secured pegs. I must have drifted off again as I had a really odd dream about an adventurer (a real life one who I know) who was shaking me awake. In my dream I sat up and said, 'Oh, I thought I was dreaming but here you are.' We had a good long chat. It seemed so real that when I eventually did wake up in the morning, I was surprised that he was no longer there. About 4am the rain started to come down but the sound was soporific and I went back to sleep until 6am.
I woke to a very wet morning. A brief respite in the rain meant I could make a cup of coffee, have my sandwich and pack up before it started again. I just managed to get everything put away when the heavens opened. I bid a hasty farewell to my campsite, making sure I'd left nothing behind. The only trace that I had been there was a slightly flattened bit of grass.
I headed back the way I'd come the day before. Any plans for a longer walk home were binned as the water poured down the back of my neck. I'd failed to pack waterproofs!
It was a brilliantly refreshing start to the day. Instead of chivvying kids into uniforms or sitting in traffic, I got rain pelting my face, sheep to yell good morning to and views of rolling green hills.
So would I recommend it?
Hell yes. It seems much more scary in the planning than it actually is to do it. I loved going on my own as there is something beautiful about solitude. But I can imagine that going with a friend would have a completely different feel and would be a lot of fun.
If you want to feel alive and come home grinning from ear to ear, go wild camping. It doesn't matter how old your are or that you're a woman (it's not just for blokes!). Go have a microadventure. You'll be so glad you did.
Watch the video below for a taste of what it was like. And don't forget to join the free Facebook group for likeminded ladies who love to walk and sign up for the Glamoraks newsletter to find out about events you can take part in.
If you are a woman who loves to walk and write, I want to hear from you. Glamoraks is a group for women around the world who love to walk. I want to be able to share walks, thoughts and inspiration from likeminded women no matter where in the world they are. And to do that, I need guest bloggers from every corner of the globe.
Wouldn't it be great to see walks in Croatia or Japan or Argentina or USA or Botswana or anywhere? If you're in the UK, what about walks in areas you've not visited or even new walks on your doorstep? It doesn't matter which country you live in or visit, if you have done a great walk there, I want to know about it. They can be short walks, day walks, multi-day walks or adventures/expeditions involving walks. So please share this far and wide. This is your chance to be part of a global voice of women who are heading outdoors in search of themselves. If you want to know more about what a Glamorak is, you can read about it here.
I welcome guest bloggers. Here's what I need from you to have your story published on this site:
Please send your blog post or post idea with one image to email@example.com - if I can use it, I will ask for further images (if you have them).
Become part of a global voice of women who love to walk!
Terms and conditions for guest bloggers:
By submitting a blog post to Glamoraks, you acknowledge that you understand and comply with the following:
Distance: 5 miles (more if you get lost)
Difficulty: Moderate (some hills to climb and map reading required)
Type: Farmland, forest
Start point postcode: YO62 5HH - Cowhouse Bank Carpark, North Yorkshire, UK
After days of being trapped indoors due to a combination of work and utterly foul weather, I decided to head off on an easy 5 mile walk on the edge of the North York Moors. I have a little book called Short Walks in the North York Moors, by Collins. Now this book has given me plenty of really good walk suggestions and the instructions are typically easy to follow and as each walk includes a map, there is no need to take an additional big map with you.
The walk I chose was one called Upper Riccal Dale, that starts from a Forestry Commission carpark called Cowhouse Bank. To find it, head out of Helmsley, through a tiny hamlet called Carlton and shortly thereafter you find the exceptionally quiet carpark. There is bench with lovely views over Bransdale from the carpark.
I parked up, the only car there and got that lovely sense that I was the only person in the world. You start out by crossing the road you've just driven in on and heading off down a forest track. Through gaps in the trees you get glimpses of the views over the dale below, dotted with sheep. The path was exceptionally boggy underfoot on account of the three days of torrential rain we'd just had but I didn't care. It was peaceful and quiet. If it's been raining, wear gaiters!
The path went back on itself down the side of the hill until reaching a farm track. It was here that my first navigation issue arose. According to the book, 'Go right on the farm road. Cross the bridge and climb through two fields away from the stream towards Howl Wood Farm.' But at the entrance to that farm road were two big signs saying PRIVATE - NO ENTRY. That's never a welcoming sign. I couldn't see any right of way signs or footpath signs but everything else seemed to indicate that this was the way I should go. So I went in.
Although there was a stream (very pretty) and a bridge, there were no fields to climb through. Just a track that made it's way up to the farm buildings. I figured it must be right, so I kept walking. The book said, 'Go left through the farmyard and left through a gate beyond the farm tip to follow a faint track ahead.'
I really, really don't like walking through farms. Firstly, it feels as though I am trespassing on someone's property - and the big PRIVATE - NO ENTRY signs certainly reinforced that. Secondly, there are always old, empty barns creaking in the wind, with rusty hooks and other dangerous looking pieces of equipment lying around. I always expect a scary bloke to come out carrying a bloodied meat cleaver while spitting out chewing tobacco, telling me to either 'Get orf my land' or 'To come in for a visit....' (I have an over active imagination.)
Add to that, there is invariably at least one (in this case four) farm yard dogs that aren't known for their friendliness. They started barking furiously, while a gaggle of geese hissed at me as I passed them. Then the cows (luckily behind a wall) started to add to the cacophony, lowing their discontent at my presence. Luckily there was a single footpath arrow on one of the gates, so I headed at pace for that and made it through the other side breathing hard. I am very rarely scared walking on my own but on remote farms, my heart does race a little.
After that excitement, the next set of instructions was simply, 'Cross the stream by the footbridge'. I was still following the 'faint track' as described by the book but eventually I reached the end of the wall line and my path was blocked. I had obviously missed a path down to the stream where the footbridge was, but there really hadn't been a path anywhere! I retraced my steps, found no path but eventually followed sheep tracks down to where I could hear the stream flowing. Reaching the stream, there was no footbridge. So I bashed my way along the stream edge until at last I found the footbridge. Somehow I had obviously missed the path down. My advice if you're doing this walk, is when the 'faint track' starts to bend slightly north, head down the hill to your west.
Crossing the bridge, I headed up through two fields until I found a rough bit of grazing land and the Forest Chapel that the book mentioned. Like something out of Hansel and Gretel, the chapel was very sweet tucked into the forest (picture top right above). But here again, the instructions were light to say the least. 'Cut across an area of rough grazing and walk towards the road, aiming to the left of the forest chapel. Cross the metalled road and go onto a forest road.' I stood in an overgrown field with no signs of a road. Beginning to despair of my navigation skills, I saw the first - and only - person I encountered all day. A cyclist, or rather a cyclist's head, whizzed past. That must be the road!
I found a gate that led to a very overgrown track to meet the road. Should you be doing this walk, don't worry about the fact that you can't see the road or a gate or a sign of any kind. Just keep walking towards the fence line and it shall reveal itself to you.
After that, it was a simple case of following the forest track back up a steep bank to get more lovely views over Bransdale. Even though I thought I was home and dry at this point, I made one final mistake. The book said, 'At the open field, turn left away from the road on a path between forest and the field's upper boundary.'
I found the open field and turned left, but the word I missed was UPPER boundary. I turned left to soon and ended up back on the road. By which point, I thought 'Sod it' and walked back up the road to find my car where I'd left it.
The moral of the story: When going on a walk, take your time to read the instructions VERY carefully and look VERY closely at the map. Tiny signs like contour gradients, side paths and streams all give clues if the instructions aren't very detailed. I couldn't even blame my getting lost on chatting too much - which is normally the reason I go wrong.
Despite getting lost, what made this walk lovely was the remoteness of it and the fact that I didn't see another soul (other than the cyclist). If you want to escape the world for a bit, get expansive views and see plenty of wildlife, this is a great walk. Besides all the farm animals, I saw plenty of birds, hares, bunnies and a gorgeous roe deer. And now that I've found out that you can walk through the farm despite the no entry signs, you can do so with the confidence I lacked.
Below is a little video of my experience.....
If you are a woman who likes walking - either on your own or with others - please join the FREE Glamoraks groups on Facebook, where you can share your walking experiences, get inspiration or find people to walk with. Also sign up for the Glamoraks newsletter to get details of any events we have planned.
Distance: 10.6 miles
Ascent: 597 metres
Type: Rural, farmland, moors
Terrain: Tracks (some overgrown), dirt tracks, stone slabs
On 17 June 2017, a brand new long distance UK trail opened. Called The Boundary Walk, it is 190 miles long running around the edge of the Peak District National Park. A few Glamoraks and I headed off to have a first footing of the path. We decided on the Greenfield to Marsden leg (stage 5) mainly because it had a train station at the start and end of the stage. It also looked - on paper - as though it would cover some wild moorland and had a good amount of hills in it.
Catching a train from York at 8.30, we were in Greenfield for 9.40 and were kindly picked up by the walk organiser's friend who took us to the start at Dovestone Reservoir (although you could walk from the station and simply pick up the path from Hollins Lane). Despite looking around for others who were meant to be walking the same leg, we couldn't find anyone, so at the allotted start time of 10am, we set off. We did ask around at the car park but whenever we mentioned we were walking to Marsden, we were greeted with open mouthed disbelief or teeth sucking as though we were out of our minds for walking such a long way (it really isn't that far!)
We used the newly published guide book (pic below). Almost immediately we were slightly puzzled by where we should be going. The words and the map in the book didn't quite correlate. Switching on google maps on our phones, we finally figured out where we should be heading and got started. (Top tip: if you're doing this leg, when you get to the Dovestone Reservoir carpark and you're at the public toilets, you walk away from the sailing club and out of the carpark along the road you would have driven in on, until you hit the main busy road ahead. The instructions in the book make sense from there).
Almost immediately, the 597 metres of ascent made itself felt as we began a long, hot climb to the top of a hill where an impressive obelisk awaited. We caught our breath and had a snack while we admired the expansive views from the hill top.
We set off again along the edge of Saddleworth Moor, with stunning scenery off to our right. Just as we were getting into our stride, we had to descend again down to a small village called Pobgreen. It had an inviting looking pub and we were ready for our lunch by this point, but we had to soldier on as we had a return train to catch. Just a note here: as you head down the lane to Pobgreen you will get to a point where you can keep following the lane or take a stile and footpath sign directly in front of you. Stay with the lane.
Leaving Pobgreen behind us, we climbed another hill before descending again to another little hamlet. It was here that the guidebook left us feeling a little confused once again. The book said: Follow the lane downhill and once rounding a slight bend, you should see the public footpath fingerpost on the right hand side of the lane, at the edge of a property. Continue past the property and along a narrow fenced-in path.
We had no idea whether that meant we had to take the footpath or walk past the house and take the next footpath. We walked back and forth a few times before deciding to take the very narrow path behind the house as indicated by the fingerpoint sign. And it was the right choice. We soldiered on through fields of sheep, before crossing a bridge, and heading up another hill with the sound of a shooting range echoing around us. At last we got to the Brun Clough Reservoir, where we had a brief picnic lunch and aired our hot feet. Until this point, the sun had stayed hidden behind clouds but it was super humid.
After lunch we joined the Pennine Way and made our way across the gorgeously wild and remote moorland, passing several reservoirs as we went. The sun was now blazing and the brown peaty water looked very tempting for a dip. At one of the reservoirs (Black Moss) there was even a tiny beach, which would make an idyllic wild camping spot.
We didn't have a swim but carried on as the temperature rose. The book said that we should look out for a stone platform and little mast, which we found. But - a note of caution for anyone following the book - at this point you need to turn the page and read the next set of instructions, rather than blindly following the path (as we did). As a result, we missed a steep path that ran down the side of the hill that we should have taken. Luckily, the path we took eventually reconnected with the path we should have been on, and we got to avoid a knee killing downhill plus we got to see a pretty waterfall. So I'm not sure why the route we took isn't the actual route, but there you are.
By this point the temperature was in the high twenties, not a cloud in sight. We had a choice. Continue with the route as per the book, which would have meant a longer, much steeper climb up to the ridge line. Or follow a path alongside the reservoirs and get into Marsden to catch the train on time. We chose the latter!
This last stretch was baking. I'm sure the views from the ridge line would have been more spectacular, so if you're doing the walk on a cooler day, I'd suggest you do it!
At last we got into Marsden where crowds spilled out of the Riverhead Brewery Tap, ice cold pints in hand. They looked thoroughly tempting and should you be doing this walk, this would be a good place to stop for a refreshing drink.
Sadly we had to rush on to get to the station, where we ran into a hilarious group of young men on a stag party, stopping at each station on their way to Leeds for a pint. They were only three stops in and things were starting to get messy. We bid them farewell and got back in York by 5pm having walked just under 11 miles. I'd got to see parts of the Peak District I'd never seen before that were stunning, wild and good for the soul. And we'd done a good amount of hill climbing. I got through 3 litres of water! If you go on a hot day, take a lot of water with you.
Then it was time for a quick shower and transformation into evening wear for a ball. And that's what it means to be a Glamorak! Squeeze a bit of the outdoors into the everyday.
You'd think that walking in summer would be the easiest of all the seasons. Right? Glorious sunshine on your back and not having to contend with blizzards or deluges or biting winds.
But walking in summer can actually be a bit of a challenge. Here are my top six summer walking hazards and how to deal with them.
In the UK at least, it rarely feels hot enough to worry about overheating. But a long march across a shade free field in blazing sunshine can get very hot and it's easy to get sunburnt. And if you're in a hotter country, it's easy to get heatstroke if you're not used to walking long distances in high temperatures. Always apply sunblock, take a sunhat and drink plenty of water. And I mean a lot of water. Drink little and often to stay hydrated as you go. I just carry a water bottle for a short walk, but for a longer hike, I'll fill my 2 or 3 litre hydration system to ensure I don't run out. If you are hiking long distances, make sure your backpack is well ventilated, with space between your back and the pack, to allow air to flow through. You stay much cooler and less sweaty that way. I use this one, which works great.
2. Nasty plants
One of the joys of winter walking is that you don't get nettles. Well not many. As soon as summer comes round, many of the footpaths become massively overgrown and nettles threaten to sting your legs as you brush past them. They're particularly prevalent at styles and kissing gates, where you have to squeeze past while the nettles prickle menacingly through the gaps. Wear lightweight long trousers (I swear by these Craghoppers), rather than shorts. This will give your legs some protection. Also, find a Nettle Stick* or use a walking pole. (*A large stick to hold nettles and other overzealous plants back as you squeeze along a track - they're free. Look on the ground!) This stick will come in handy for hazards 3 & 4 too. If you do get a nettle sting, look for a dock leave and rub the leaf on the sting. It helps relieve it (a bit).
Another poisonous plant to look out for is Giant Hogweed. This can grow up to 5 metres tall, and is normally found along footpaths and riverbanks. If its sap gets in contact with your skin, it can cause really nasty burns, which are made worse by sunlight.
It's not just poisonous plants that can cause problems. All the vegetation suddenly springs up and unless the keepers of the footpath or farmers are on the case, you can find yourself walking along paths with plants that are neck height. Not fun. Firstly, you can lose track of where you are as the paths are more difficult to follow. Secondly, it's much easier to go over on your ankle as you bash your way through. Thirdly, your trousers get soaked from the dew or condensation on the plants. Use your stick as a walking aid and as a weed thrasher. Even though it's hotter wearing walking boots, you may find they give better ankle support on uneven, overgrown ground. And wearing gaiters can help keep the bottom of your trouser legs dry as you bash your way through.
Cows and their calves (and often the big bulls) are out in force at this time of year. Cows can be dangerous and very protective of their young. I use my nettle stick as a form of comfort when I have to walk through a field of cows. Knowing that I have a large stick makes me feel slightly braver (even if it wouldn't really do much against a charging bull!) With cows, I tend to walk as close to a fence or wall as possible so that should I need to escape a field in a hurry, I can. Walk quietly but with purpose, around the herd if possible - they will typically get out of your way but do assess them before you head into a field. I was once held up for about 40 minutes by a field of young bullocks who were simply curious more than anything else, but it didn't feel safe going into their field. In situations like that, try to find an alternate path. Be even more careful if you have a dog with you.
The warm weather brings out bugs of all kinds, but midges, mosquitoes and horseflies are the most painful. Carry insect repellant on you and if you're going somewhere super midgey you may want to get a face protector too. It ain't sexy - but then again, neither is a face full of bug bites. Bitey bugs also don't like the smell or taste of garlic or vitamin B, so grab a handful of wild garlic you'll find growing in early summer and carry it with you. Or eat marmite sandwiches. Seriously. Apparently midges fall into the Marmite Hate It camp. Who knew!
In the UK there is only one venomous snake - the adder. It has a dark brown, reddish or black zig zag from head to tail with spots on its sides. Some (rare) are entirely black. They typically have their babies in late summer and will mostly be seen basking in sunny spots, in heathland, bogs, moorland, woodland edges or rough grassland. They are shy and will only bite when cornered, alarmed or picked up. I have never seen one in the UK (unlike in my native South Africa where I had a puff adder sidle under my sun lounger one day!) If you see discarded snake skin or winding trails in dirt tracks, be aware there may be snakes about. To scare off snakes, stomp your feet as you walk. Snakes pick up on vibrations through the ground and will disappear. They're more afraid of you than you are of them. Again, walking through long grass means gaiters, long trousers and sturdy boots gives you more protection should you stand on a snake (highly unlikely!)
Although snakes, poisonous plants and grumpy cows may seem alarming, walking in the UK really is pretty safe. These few hazards are simply worth being aware of and preparing for. If you are walking elsewhere in the world - particularly in a country you're less familiar with - take a moment to look up any local plants, animals or pests that could pose a danger. Better to be safe than sorry.
Now head out and enjoy that sunshine! And remember, one of the best things about walking in the summer is the longer days and evening, meaning you can still fit in a good length walk after work and enjoy watching the sunset.
Got any other summer walking tips? Share them below.
Remember to join the free Glamoraks Facebook group.
I put my boots on. My backpack has water, a little picnic lunch, a map. I start to walk. If I'm lucky, there is no-one there except me. The crunching of my boots, the sound of birdsong, the steady crash of waves or the gentle baa-ing of lambs are my soundtrack. My muscles start to warm up and my shoulders relax. I feel the sun on my face or the wind in my hair or the gentle tickle of drizzle or the sharp bite of cold. The weather works its deft fingers into the tight knots of my soul and frees them. I breathe deep. I am alone but I am not lonely.
Walking solo is one of the finest gifts you can give yourself, whether you're a man or a woman. But many women shy away from it. Some think they will get lost. Others worry that something might happen to them. And others are simply so used to company that the concept of being entirely alone makes them uncomfortable.
That's not to say that walking with others is bad. On the contrary, walking with others helps you connect at a far deeper level than our instant society normally allows and the joy of an experience shared is joy doubled. But as the Byron quote says, 'I love not Man the less, but Nature more.' And it's true. As wonderful as it is to walk with someone, there is a healing power to solitude that is unrivalled.
Without human company, you get time to simply be. Your thoughts are free to fly in and out of your mind with gay abandon. There's no need for conversation, although talking out loud to yourself can be liberating. As is singing loudly without a care about being off key. You have the time to absorb the beauty of the world and marvel in it. And being witness to the magnificence of nature feels like a secret gift that is yours entirely. Your time is yours, the pace your own. You choose when to stop, when to move on. Added to all of it is a slight frisson of fortitude. You are alone and that in itself is a brave thing in an overcrowded world. Your inner spirit of adventure will raise its head and you will want to yell, 'I am woman, I am fearless. Hear me roar!'
And when you're on your own, you can literally roar. Stand on a hilltop and bellow into the wind. Let your pent up tension be carried off on the thermals. Rediscover that person you are underneath the layers of labels given to us by human life. Simply be.
There are no words that quite capture the rare combination of freedom, tranquility, excitement, sadness and joy that comes from complete solitude in nature. But words aren't really needed. You simply need to feel it. Once you do, you will hold it inside you like a balm for your soul.
Tips on walking solo
Share your solo walking experiences with me below. And feel free to join the Glamoraks group over on Facebook so that on the days you do want walking company, you can find someone to walk with. Also be sure to sign up to the newsletter to be kept abreast of walking ideas, events and initiatives.
I'm often asked about what snacks and food I take when going for a walk. My answer is: it depends on the length of the walk!
The food you take on a walk or hike is more than the energy you need to keep going. It's the morale boost you look forward to when you're running out of steam or want to take a break and rest your feet. Some of my best walking moments are those where I am tucking into a squashed egg sandwich in a field or a well timed jelly baby. But beyond your foil wrapped sandwich or sugar laded treats, energy-giving snacks are a must. I take a snack of some kind with me on most of my walks, unless they're very short. There is nothing worse than being a long way from civilisation and realising you're starving and have nothing to keep you going.
So when I was sent a box of CLIF Bars to try out, I was very pleased as it meant I could keep a ready stash of them in my backpack. CLIF Bars are a US brand, which claim to be America's favourite energy bar. They use natural ingredients (even if some of them sound a bit scientific) and include things like organic rolled oats and organic dates plus 11 vitamins, protein and fibre. In short, they are designed to slowly release energy as you need it.
The bars comes in seven different flavours in the UK: Chocolate chip, Crunchy Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin Walnut, Blueberry Crisp, Chocolate Almond Fudge, White Chocolate Macademia Nut and Coconut Chocolate Chip.
I took these bars on my West Highland Way walk of 96 miles and they were my 'keep me going' food on the longer days.
The less positive
If you're after a good energy bar made of natural ingredients that aren't overly sweet and don't turn into a pile of crumbs despite being bashed around, these are definitely worth trying. Just save the blueberry ones for me please.
In the UK, you can buy these bars from Boots, Tesco, Holland & Barrett and independent health food shops. They cost £1.60 a bar. You can find out more about them at www.clifbar.co.uk.
So what snacks do you take on your walks? Feel free to share your recommendations below. Don't forget, if you're a woman who loves walking, join our free group over on Facebook and be sure to sign up for the Glamoraks newsletter to stay up to date on any events or walks we have.
It's Mental Health Awareness Week. So I wanted to take some time out to write about how walking has helped me with my own mental health. And I'd love for you to share your stories about how walking has helped you.
About ten years ago I went to see a therapist. I can't even remember why I went to see her. Obviously I really hadn't been feeling happy to warrant me going. Anyway, during our first session together she asked me if I suffered from depression. I laughed and said of course I didn't. After all I was running my own business and looking after two young kids and was on the go all the time. In my head, depression meant sitting in a semi comatose state, crying a lot and barely leaving the house. That wasn't me.
But she made me take a little test to check for depression and I was astounded that I was indeed suffering from mild to moderate depression. I was just a high functioning depressive. In other words, I kept busy all the time so that I didn't have to feel what was really going on underneath. I was constantly critical of myself. And I packed a lot in as a I worried about 'wasting time'. No matter what I achieved, I never got a sense of true happiness or satisfaction.
So I embarked on some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helped a bit and made me more aware of how I was feeling. I did some other crazy things to try to regain control and a sense of purpose - like sailing across the Atlantic with 18 strangers on a boat. And while that experience certainly gave me some highs, I simply returned to normal life and felt the same (only now I knew that I could achieve incredible things if I wanted to).
The years went on and I would feel better for a bit, but it was always there. It's like I was sleep walking into unhappiness. It took a major personal crisis to get back to a therapist and a coach. Talking helped. Yoga helped.
But it was only when I started walking, that I felt a shift in me. That first proper walk I did entirely on my own, left me feeling alive like nothing else had (except for a few moments on that yacht in the Atlantic). The more I walked, the more I realised that no matter how down or tense or angry I was feeling, a couple of hours walking shifted the mood.
I have been on numerous walks where I have literally stomped out the door in a rage. Like this time. And while the rage is great for getting a lick of pace on, as time passes, my pace slackens, my heart rate slows and my mind settles. I breathe. I notice the little things like bugs, plants and quirky signs. I see the expansive views and the space around me. I feel that sense of happiness that has no purpose, other than just being.
Now there are all sorts of scientific studies that show the benefits that walking has on peoples' mental health. I won't go into those because I'm not a scientist. I simply know that forests and nature and sea air and hills all have a way of restoring my sanity and calming my soul.
Am I fixed? Do I still have depression? Do I still suffer from low self-esteem? Do I still cram my days full of things to avoid feeling or to find something to make me feel alive? Well I don't think I'm entirely fixed. I still cram a lot into my life and I am still my own worst critic. But in general I have more days that I feel happy than not. And on those bad days, I now have a tool that acts as a salve as and when I need it.
I just slip my boots on, put a pack on my back and walk. Whether that's entirely on my own or with company, it's the act of slowing down, breathing, feeling the pull of nature, having that tingle of adventure and simply becoming at one with my surroundings that works.
Walking is the best form of therapy there is. It's free and entirely natural.
I've written this because I want people to realise that mental health issues come in a variety of ways. Even if someone looks 100% fine to the outside world, inside they may not be. But if you have a niggling sense that perhaps all is not well, I suggest you take that person on a walk. And if that person is you, take yourself on a walk. You may just find yourself again.
If you are a woman who likes walking and enjoys the benefits it brings, feel free to join the free Glamoraks group over on Facebook.
I'd love to hear how walking has helped your mental health, so feel free to share it in the comments below.