Three top walking destinations in the UK

As autumn arrives, it’s time to get your boots on and head for the country, says Chris Carter

This week, keen hikers are heading to South Wales for the Gower Walking Festival (gowerwalkingfestival.uk), which runs until Sunday 19 September. The festival, postponed since June and pared back this year due to the pandemic, aims to celebrate the peninsula’s landscape and heritage with events that vary in terrain, distance and setting, says Liz Edwards in The Sunday Times. Of course, walkers can and do come here all year round, but the festival brings together visitors and locals, and attracts new walkers. Even locals don’t know all the footpaths, which is what makes the guided walks so interesting. The main event on Sunday is a free, family-friendly rock-pooling walk in Bracelet Bay. “At low tide we found limestone rocks knobbly with limpets, glossy heaps of bladderwrack, carrageen and laver seaweeds, and countless pools”, says Edwards, on a preview visit. “It was empty… and at each new pool we felt like explorers.” 

Hurrah for the lumberjills

Thetford Forest, Britain’s largest lowland forest, straddling the Suffolk-Norfolk border, hasn’t been a forest for very long, says Nick Hallissey in Country Walking magazine. This ancient region, called the Brecks, was originally sandy heathland, and in Neolithic times, it was worked heavily for flint-mining. In the Middle Ages, the land was broken up (“Brecks” means “broken land”) into tithed parcels for cultivation, which led to damaged soil, unmanaged irrigation and stripped woodland. Sand blew in and eventually the landscape came to resemble a sandy desert. During World War I, Britain developed a thirst for timber, and the area was identified as a prime planting zone. The new forest was tended to by the Women’s Land Army during World War II, who, as “lumberjills”, tended to every aspect of its management. Today, Thetford Forest, “mature and proud”, abounds with trails. It is a place “where wildlife can thrive, kids can play and walkers can walk”.

Ireland’s Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail wasn’t content with its thousands of kilometres spanning the eastern US, says Sarah Baxter for Wanderlust magazine. The International Appalachian Trail (IAT) has spread across borders, linking what was once a single mountain range “rippling across the supercontinent of Pangea 175 million years ago”. The IAT’s Ulster chapter (walkni.com/iat) runs 485km along the north of the island of Ireland and has just been improved with new signs and trail art. It’s a diverse route, starting on the Atlantic coast by the “sea-smacked” peak of Slieve League. It then heads into the Blue Stack Mountains, “past peaceful Lough Eske and Killeter Forest, via the Sperrins (Glenelly Valley is a highlight), along the rocks and bays of the Causeway Coast and through the glens of Antrim, finishing by the Irish Sea at Larne”.

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