A hike along the hedgerows

For millenniums people have seen Britain best by foot and today is no exception, writes the aptly named Leanne Walker.

'I REMEMBER the first time I stepped out on a long day walk in the Yorkshire Dales," says Australian tourist and frequent bushwalker John Baker as he pauses before mounting a stile and marching up the trail that leads to the high moorland of Bleaklow.

"It was breathtakingly wild, yet all the while I knew I had only to descend and I could be warming my feet in front of an open fireplace in some local pub. That's what I love about walking in Britain; and I've been back ever since."

Walking in Britain is without a doubt one of the best ways to experience this gem of an isle. The countryside, on offer to those with a heart to follow their footsteps, is beautiful at every turn. There are mountains and hills, valleys and rivers, heather moors and sea cliffs combining in a pageant of colourful scenery. And for those keen on one of the many long-distance national trails, a hearty meal and a warm bed at the end of each day makes it a walking-holiday destination hard to beat.

While the boom in popularity is relatively recent, walking has been a way of life for millenniums.

Many of today's routes follow prehistoric paths and evidence along the way in the form of Neolithic and Bronze Age burial mounds, Iron Age hill forts, Roman ruins and Norman castles to name a few give the term "time travel" a whole new meaning.

There really is something marvellous about accidentally coming across an ancient Celtic cross hidden in a hedgerow or tramping along the paved way of a Roman road and stubbing your toe on a ledge where countless Roman soldiers may have, too.

Britain has something for every type of walker from lovely half-day rambles through gentle farmlands stopping off in picturesque villages for a bite to eat in a tea shop or inn, to long-distance trekking routes over mountains and moorlands and all in between.

While the south of England may not offer the wild ruggedness of Wales, the north or Scotland, it more than makes up for it with the beauty of its countryside, its picturesque villages, the shady green woodlands, breathtaking coastal scenery, extensive Bronze Age remains and other historical sties.

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The South West Coast Path, Britain's longest long-distance path (1014 kilometres) runs from Minehead in Somerset, along the north Devon coast, around Cornwall via the most westerly and southerly points of Britain, then along the south Devon coast to Poole in Dorset in a roller-coaster of stunning scenery. Cosy accommodation is ample in the many traditional mining and fishing villages along the way.

The full length takes eight weeks, while the most dramatic section, between St Ives and The Lizard, can be done in just six days. Various sections make great day walks using the bus service that runs through the coastal communities to return to your accommodation.

The well-known Cotswolds Way is 163 kilometres long and takes six to eight days running from Chipping Campden to Bath. This is a walk through English history with stately homes, Saxon and Civil War sites, Bronze Age hill forts, Roman ruins and more.

Passing through outrageously pretty countryside, the way drops in on villages so postcard perfect with their golden stone walls, thatched roofs and rambling gardens that you'd be hard pressed to take a bad photo. Situate yourself in any one of the many B&Bs and you'll find many splendid spots from which to conduct days walks.

In the north of England, the Coast to Coast long-distance path is one of the most popular in the country.

Running 304 kilometres from St Bees Head on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea, this is a walk with a very definite goal: to cross an island.

The countryside travelled is extremely beautiful and varied, crossing England and enjoying three spectacular national parks: The Lakes National Park in Cumbria, and the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors in Yorkshire.

Traditionally completed from west to east, it takes about 14 days and also offers brilliant short day-walks by basing yourself in any of the numerous villages along the way.

The Dales Way, the challenging Pennine Way and the Cumbria Way are other great walks in the north.

Mount Snowdon in north Wales is the highest peak in that country and offers some awesome day walks one of which, the Snowdon Horseshoe, is considered to be one of the best mountain adventures in Britain.

Taking in the main summit via a route of sharp ridges with dramatic drops on either side, it also includes Crib Goch Ridge and three other peaks that form an ancient volcanic crater rim.

Many of Scotland's islands offer wonderful walking opportunities, too.

The Isle of Arran is described as a miniature Scotland, and Goat Fell, at 874 metres, offers good mountain walks and the Cock of Arran coast walk stunning coastal views. The Isle of Skye offers some of the most impressive mountains in the British Isles, with the Black Cuillin and Red Cuillin hills.

Many walks follow in the post-Culloden wanderings of the great pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The Southern Upland Way is Scotland's coast-to-coast long-distance path crossing mountains, moorlands and major rivers for 341 kilometres and taking between 12 and 20 days.

The West Highland Way (153 kilometres taking between six and eight days) passes through some of Britain's most spectacular scenery flanked with wild mountains, lochs and a series of fast-flowing rivers.

All in all, Britain is a walker's paradise. When celebrated author and rambler Mark Wallington wrote that "there's something peculiarly and wonderfully English about spending your holidays wading through peat bogs in the rain", most of the people who constitute more than 100 million day visits to Britain's National Parks annually would probably agree.

And I have to say I do, too not that it rains all the time, mind.

TRIP NOTES

· Accommodation: In peak season B&Bs need to be booked in advance but in shoulder/off season you can often phone the day before as you go. For those wanting to do a series of short walks and be based in one area renting a cottage for a week is a good option and the internet is a great reference for what's on offer. Camping is also an option in some areas if you don't mind carrying the gear. Nearly all land is owned by someone so it is important to obtain permission from the farmer. Many long distance walks can be done with 'pack horse' operators who book your B&Bs in advance and transport your pack to your next day's accommodation. Check out http://www.sherpavan.com

· Also see these websites: http://www.countryside.gov.uk/nationaltrails; http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk; http://www.ramblers.org.uk; www.thepennineway.co.uk; and http://www.coast2coast.co.uk.

Victorian-based Outdoor Travel's The Walkers' Britain brochure features Inn-to-Inn walking holidays in some of the most spectacular National Parks of Britain including the charming Lake District, the challenging Coast to Coast route, Cornish Coastal Path, the Dorset coastal path, Shakespeare's Cotswolds - plus a new walk for 2005 along the 'Lady Anne Way' from Skipton to Penrith across the north Yorkshire Dales. Phone 1800 331 582 or 03 57551743. Email: info@outdoortravel.com.au or see http://www.outdoortravel.com.au.

Guide Books: Lonely Planet's Walking in Britain is the quintessential guide to the best of Britain's long and short distance walks. It also offers a B&B selection for each day leg of the walks covered.

Ordnance Survey publish regional pathfinder guides with excellent maps.

For more information see http://www.visitbritain.com.au or phone 9021 4400 or 1300 85 85 89. For the best air fares to Britain see agents.

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