Have you ever wondered when humans began to see the act of walking or hiking as something that could actually be fun? What led to this evolution of thought? To find answers to those questions, I decided to step back in time. What I discovered is the place that not only gave birth to the idea of pleasure walking and hiking is also where the world's longest coastal footpath will soon be unveiled.
Recently, I discovered that the act of taking a walk in the countryside for pleasure was an idea borne in 18th century England, when there was a shift in attitudes and peoples' connections to the natural landscape during the Romantic movement. Previously, walking had been associated with vagrancy and considered an indicator of poverty. However, in 1778, an English priest named Thomas West, popularized the idea of walking for pleasure in his guidebook, A Guide to the Lakes in Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire. In the book, West encourages visitors to take in the vistas simply for their beauty and aesthetic value. Shortly thereafter, more well-known authors, including English poets William Wordsworth and John Keats, undertook self-guided walking tours in Britain and on the Continent and wrote about their wanderings, thus sparking an interest in walking tours, as well as the emergence of a genre of literature known as travel writing.
During the time of industrialization in Europe, when city living became more prevalent, people would often escape to the countryside for fresh air and open space. However, in England, much of the land around urban centers at that time was privately owned and trespassing on private land was illegal. So, self-organized rambling clubs rallied together to campaign for the "right to roam" - or "everyman's right" which allows citizens the right to access both public and privately-owned property for recreation. This 'right of public access' is, of course, interpreted differently around the world. But in late 18th century England and Wales, access to uncultivated land was a bit more limited than in other European countries. Today we can see the results of the efforts of local chapters of Britain's Ramblers' Association (est. 1934) and its predecessors; the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (known as the CRoW Act) now guarantees the 'right to roam' in the UK.
These days, walking or hiking in the English and Welsh countryside or on coastal pathways is not only beautiful, and invigorating... it's also historic. Personally, I find it remarkable to be able to follow in the footsteps of some of the pioneers of leisure walking and travel writing while also at the forefront of what we now know as "active travel."
Backroads Walking & Hiking tours in both England and Wales are designed with itineraries full of wonderful trails that allow active travelers to experience carefree two-footed adventures in the rolling pastoral countryside as well as along the rugged coastlines of the British Isles.
A noteworthy cause for celebration among active travelers in the British Isles can be found along the coast of the beautiful country of Wales. As the first country in the world to provide a walking path along a majority of its coastline, Wales now provides over 870 miles of trails. The Wales Coast Path runs along the entirety of the Welsh coastline from Chepstow, in the south, to Chester, in the north. The trail also passes through eleven National Nature Reserves and includes the iconic Pembrokeshire Coast Path in the southwestern corner of the country. This section of the trail includes a wide variety of maritime landscapes, including limestone cliffs, volcanic headlands, sheltered coves and harbors, glacially cut valleys, estuaries and glistening beaches. Backroads Wales Walking & Hiking Tour spends three days on this incredibly picturesque section of trail, exploring the beautiful nooks and crannies of this rugged and scenic coastline.
England also boasts an extensive country-wide trail system that you can experience intimately on Backroads England Walking & Hiking Tour. This trip takes advantage of trails and pathways in the Cotswolds. The celebrated Cotswold Way offers over 100 miles of stunning walking trails that take you through charming villages and past famous historic sites. In addition to England's inland trail system, there are currently eleven individual walking trails along the coast. There are plans in the works that will connect these trails to establish one continuous pathway that will eventually trace the entire English coastline and ultimately will add up to almost 2,800-miles of walking and hiking trails. Even better, a proposed National Trail called the England Coastal Path, is under development with plans to complete the project by 2020. When it's finished, it will mark the first time in history that any country will guarantee its citizens the right to access the entirety of its shoreline! Ultimately, the grand plan is for both the England Coastal Path and the Wales Coastal Path to be connected, which would then likely re-classify this coastal footpath as one of the longest hiking trails in the world.
In the UK, the coastal paths are well marked and easy to follow. They are undulating, varied and incredibly scenic. You can walk miles and miles just taking in the surrounding landscape of jagged cliffs, estuaries, pastoral hillsides, countryside villages and perhaps marine life frolicking in the water just off shore.
The future looks very bright for the impressive walking and hiking trail systems in the UK! Not only does this already provide incredible opportunities to follow in the footsteps of the 18th century adventurers who spearheaded the art of walking and hiking for pleasure, it also allows for the expansion of enjoyment for locals and visitors who choose to walk or hike simply for the pleasure of experiencing the awe-inspiring natural beauty in this corner of the world.