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The latest travel news, interviews, traveller reviews, inspiration & advice on cycling and walking holidays in the UK and Europe..
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The Cyclist’s Coast to Coast
Get ready for a special 142 mile ride from the harbour at Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to the Abbey and castle at Tynemouth on the shores of the North Sea. Taking a different route to the Coast to Coast walk, it serves as a brilliant way to see northern England and how the landscape changes as you cycle along. There is so much to see, including the Cumbrian Lakes and Fells, the bleak Pennines, beautiful Dales, towns and villages of all sizes. You should also have some time to enjoy the gorgeous tea shops, traditional pubs and interesting historical and industrial sites along the way.
Find out more about The Cyclist’s Coast to Coast here
Cornish Cycle Tour
This bike tour takes you on a journey through a varying landscape of Cornwall, filled with inland heaths and downs, rolling hills and tumbling coastlines. There are also sheltered coves and beautiful rivers, castles and gardens to visit along the way. With the daily rides being around 30 miles (50km), this allows plenty of time to see Cornwall the way that you want to.
Find out more about the Cornish Cycle Tour here
Cotswolds by Bike
This trip is a great introduction to cycling in the English countryside. A week of marvellous rides will take you through one of the most beautiful and historic parts of England. Honey coloured stone villages, wooded valleys and Roman roads are the background to famous gardens, a Roman villa and welcoming inns. The tour starts and ends in elegant Cheltenham, riding through the Cotswold Water Park and past the Chedworth Roman Villa then on the final day you will visit the historic 15th century Snowshill Manor and enjoy the wonderful views from Broadway Tower.
Find out more about Cotswolds by Bike here
Cycle the Wine Regions of Tuscany
Prepare yourself for a thrilling ride through the landscapes of the Val d’Orcia in southern Tuscany. Pedal through vibrant fields of sunflowers and past rolling hills covered with vineyards to the heart of the Brunello wine district and cheer with a glass of the famous local Vino Nobile when you arrive at Montepulciano. Joining in the serene medieval town of Buonconvento and from the hot spring hamlet of Bagno Vignoni to the heavenly Renaissance city of Pienza, the itinerary is dotted with captivating palaces, Romanesque churches and, of course, prestigious wineries!
Find out more about Cycling the Wine Regions of Tuscany here
Lochs and Bens Cycle
The Scottish Highlands have long been a favoured destination for those keen to experience the mountain peaks, shimmering lochs and pretty glens. During this week long trip, you will take the backroads and country paths, visiting charming historic towns with ancient castles and monuments such as Dunkeld, and the peaceful lochside towns of Kenmore, Lochearnhead, and Killin.
Find out more about the Lochs and Bens Cycle here
Scottish Highlands Cycle
This is a truly stunning cycle route from Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands, along the shores of Loch Ness to Fort William. En route, you may be lucky enough to spot the wildlife of the region including red deer, stag or golden eagle. It also wouldn’t be a trip to the highlands without a day in Fort William to rest or ascend Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain!
Find out more about the Scottish Highlands Cycle here
Isle of Wight Cycle
This is a lovely short break for cyclists who want a beautiful sightseeing tour, in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty no less, with a good mixture of town and country. The ride starts in the old seaside town of Ryde, passes through Cowes, famous for its regattas then tracks inland through the estuary around Newport to the old town of Yarmouth. And, if the weather is on your side, you can follow the Tennyson Trail to Brighstone, then onto the ship wreck capital of the island, Chale. Followed by the scenic coastal stretch back into Ryde.
Find out more about the Isle of Wight Cycle here
Exploring Tuscan Hilltop Towns
The Tuscan landscape of the Val d’Orcia will open your eyes to its natural beauty. This walk takes you along steep valleys, dense forests, rivers and the legendary “badlands” eroded clay slopes. Walk by quintessential farmhouses nestled amidst olive groves, vineyards and fig trees on your way to the hot spring hamlet of Bagno Vignoni and the Renaissance city of Pienza. On this week long exploration, you will visit palaces, Romanesque churches, thermal baths, and wineries serving the divine local red “Brunello”.
Find out more about Exploring Tuscan Hilltop Towns here
Walk from Chipping Campden to Bath through a patchwork of rolling hills dotted with picture-postcard villages. The Cotswolds is one of the most quintessentially English parts of the country, with a wealth of castles, manor houses, abbeys and Roman villas.
Find out more about the Cotswolds Way here
Highlights of the Dolomites
The Dolomites are gigantic, chiselled monuments to the powerful forces of glacial erosion. Although not exceptionally high – the highest peak is Marmolada at 3,342m – they are amongst the most striking of all European mountains, coloured in weathered hues of rose, yellow, white and grey and rising in steep spires of fantastic form. Panoramas unfold with each turn of the paths and crossing of the passes and there are also opportunities (for the not-so-faint-hearted!) to stand on a couple of summits and peer down almost vertical rock faces to the valleys far below.
Find out more about Highlights of the Dolomites here
Thames Path East
This is the shorter 'Half' of the Thames Path National Trail and the transition between fresh water and tidal sections of the Thames from Teddington Lock. There is an amazing amount of history and mixed scenery along this walk such as Hampton Court Palace and Syon Park, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London, plus many wildlife reserves. If you want to see England’s capital from a different perspective, this is a great one for you!
Find out more about Thames Path East here
Cycle the Wine Regions of Tuscany
A brand new itinerary dotted with prestigious wineries! Pedal through fields of sunflowers and past rolling hills covered with vineyards to the heart of the Brunello wine district and cheer with a glass of the famous local Vino Nobile at Montepulciano.
Find out more about Cycling the Wine Regions of Tuscany here
The Cumbria Way: Crossing the Lake District
From the historic town of Ulverston to the ‘Great Border City’ of Carlisle: cross through the heart of the Lake District as you walk the full 74-mile length of the well-established path, providing a complete south-to-north crossing of the county.
Find out more about The Cumbria Way: Crossing the Lake District here
Julie and Rich are from California and first started their walking journey in 2008. Since then, they have been on many walking trips and have definitely got the bug for it. Read on if you want to find out about their favourite adventures and and biggest surprises along the way!
What is your walking history?
In 2008, thanks to the guidance of Sherpa Expeditions, we put our “boots on the ground” for our first, very long walk, the Coast to Coast across England. Though we had been hikers and, generally, spend a lot of time outdoors, as most folks in California do, we had not done a long-distance walk. The 192 mile walk from St. Bee’s to Robin’s Hood Bay couldn’t have been a better choice.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
The UK is a perfect place to walk, in particular because of the attitude of the country towards walking across what, in the US, would be private land. There is both a respect for the land and a willingness to share access to it. At the time we did the walk we managed about 15 miles per day; now it would be less! The terrain was varied, from deep muck and bogs to gravel trails; the weather a mix of everything from rain to drizzle to sun. We learned the importance of having all tools available to make one’s way when dense fog made using certain tools impossible. Nothing like a paper map when all else fails. We also learned that the trails as described in the notes and even maps can change after the information has been shared by Sherpa. Flexibility and adaptability are key, though they can be learned on the way!!
How did you prepare?
Our preparation for that trip was intense as we had no idea what to expect. We walked every weekend for six months and did back to back long walks across San Francisco in order to get a sense of what walking daily might be like. In the end, our preparation paid off but, as I will note further on, such intense training is probably not required (since 2008, with a walking trip almost every year, our regimen has become considerably more limited and we rely on our daily exercise to keep us ready. Of course, readiness is affected by age and that has increased since our first walk!)
Also, in addition to building stamina and strength, there is planning for what one should pack. Although Sherpa and other companies provide lists, determining what and how much you will need and how you will limit it to one 20 kilo bag takes work. Over the years we have scaled back our tendency to “overpack”, learning that things can be purchased on route. One critical factor is how one can wash clothes and, more importantly, dry them!! On some of our trips there were clothes lines and the ability to wash in large sinks but, for the most part, one relies on hotel or B&B small sinks and decorating the room with laundry to dry, using hair dryers in emergency, and the heat racks that are for towels but work well for socks too! There are places that will not allow you to do laundry in your room but they are few and far between.
What was your favourite destination?
It has been 11 years since that first long walk. During that period we walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the islands of Kerry and Beara in Ireland, the Via Fracigina in Italy, the Dordogne in France. There were also treks in Nepal and a bicycle trip from Berlin to Copenhagen. This year we just returned from walking across Scotland on the John Muir Way. Although it has not always been the case, we have sought walks that were destination based, the Coast to Coast walks being the pinnacle of that kind of walking. There is a great deal of satisfaction in walking across a country, most particularly the chance to immerse ourselves in the variation of the lands, the economies, the cultures, the history as we cross.
What has been the most challenging aspect?
Each walk we have taken has challenged us in different ways. On our first walk the challenge was simply to persevere, to walk daily, rain or shine, through rabbit holes, peaty soil and getting lots in the fog. Walking in Italy, from hill town to hill town in Tuscany, challenged us to walk UP hill at the end of every day !! And the hills were steep and long. Whew! And walking the John Muir Way in Scotland challenged us because there were unexpected obstacles and diversions that added to the length of our days when, as you might have guessed, our energy was flagging.
Best food & drink?
Each walk has had different culinary offerings the best of which were found in France and Italy. The other walks, including our most recent walk, seemed to have the same menu during a good part of the trip. The variations came when we came to a bigger town or city (like Edinburgh) when we could enjoy cuisines from around the world. As walkers, a hearty breakfast is critical and, though the delicious food found in Italy and France made for lovely dinners, the breakfasts were largely something sweet and coffee, so sometimes we found ourselves supplementing with local cheese and fruit. We also brought an array of protein bars to carry us through the energy gap. England and Scotland win the prize for a substantial breakfast albeit one filled with not such healthy sausages, pudding, hash browns as well as eggs, beans, bacon, tomatoes. It should be noted that in the UK one could get a vegan, vegetarian, lactose free or gluten free meal everywhere too, if required.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of these walking trips, from our first to our most recent, is the level of detail in which we immersed ourselves as we walked. The myriad questions about what we are seeing made for a very stimulating experience in every case. And, although not an entire surprise, indeed a great pleasure, is the kindness of strangers. We have been rescued from bad judgments, bad weather, bad signage and fatigued bodies by so many folks whether we could speak the same language or not. The best example of the kind of help we received was during our Coast to Coast walk when, upon arriving in a tiny village, it appeared our supposed host was in crisis and had locked his inn. At a loss for what to do, we were approached by a local woman who invited us to stay with her for the night and she arranged for dinner as well. What’s not to like about that!
Obviously I could write on and on but, if you take away nothing else from what I have written, know that long walks, supported by having your luggage carried, your lodging taken care of, and your routes provided, is the best way to see the world step by step!!
To celebrate the start of a new decade, we have put together the ultimate list of the best trips to go on over the coming year; from catching some winter rays in the Canaries, to beating the crowds on the Amalfi Coast and bringing out your inner foodie in Burgundy.
JANUARY - Beat the winter blues in the Canary Islands
Even during the winter months, La Gomera gets 9 hours of sunshine daily, with the average day temperature close to 22°C. Despite being easily accessible from Tenerife (the boat trip takes just an hour), the surprisingly lush green island remains largely untouched by mass tourism.
Find out more about our Exploring La Gomera trip here
FEBRUARY - See the orchids in bloom in Madeira
In the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira enjoys an impressive year-round flowering season thanks to its subtropical climate. The best time to catch the orchids in bloom is in February and you can even find a dedicated Orchid Garden with more than 7,500 species.
Find out more about our Madeira Island Walking trip here
MARCH - Have the Amalfi Coast for yourself before the crowds arrive
Few trips in Italy take in such a diverse combination of iconic highlights, making it impossible to escape the hordes of crowds that head to ‘Nastro Azzurro’ (Blue Ribbon) in the summer months... but come in March and you will have the Amalfi Coast just to yourself.
Find out more about our Amalfi Coast trips here
APRIL - Walk through bluebells in the Cotswolds
April marks the beginning of the bluebell season across the country. If you are looking to admire these quintessentially English carpets of blue, you do not have to travel far, head to the Cotswolds countryside and get inspired by this spectacle of nature.
Find out more about our Cotswolds trips here
MAY - Cycle through the Scottish Highlands at their sunniest (and driest!)
May is not only the driest month in Scotland (less than 80mm of rain) but with approximately 170 hours of sunshine it is also the sunniest. Although the Scottish weather is notoriously changeable and often localised, this is when you are least likely to avoid a downpour.
Find out more about our Scottish Highlands Cycle trip here
JUNE - Explore England before schools break up for summer
If your plans are not determined by the school summer holidays, travel in June for a quieter countryside and a less busy coast. June sees the longest day of the year (an average of 16 hours of daylight) so you can maximise your time outdoors on the most classic of all UK hiking trails, like the Coast to Coast.
Find out more about our Coast to Coast trips here
JULY - Visit the Yorkshire Dales ahead of the TV remake of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’
Channel 5 is reviving in 2020 the much-loved TV series about a rural vet in the Yorkshire Dales, which was based on James Herriot’s real-life memoirs. The remake is scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original publication of James Herriot’s ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.
Find out more about our James Herriot Way trip here
AUGUST - Cycle your own Tour of Britain in Cornwall
Cornwall will host the Tour of Britain for the first time ever in September 2020, which will see riders travel over 100 miles through the Cornish countryside. It will be the biggest ever sporting event to take place in the county, so if you want to avoid the (extra) crowds travel a few weeks earlier.
Find out more about our Cornish Cycle Tour here
SEPTEMBER - Swim through rock arches in Sardinia
The weather in Sardinia in September is still warm and pleasant, with the lower humidity making outdoor activities much more enjoyable. Explore secluded bays and ancient watchtowers, swim through rock arches and watch the sunset turn the cliffs to shades of yellow and pink.
Find out more about our Saunter in Sardinia trip here
OCTOBER - Plan a grape escape in Tuscany
October is grape harvest time in Tuscany. Pedal past rolling vine-covered hills to the heart of the Brunello wine district, meet local winemakers and wander through ochre-coloured vineyards. When you get to Montepulciano, cheers with a glass of the famous local Vino Nobile.
Find out more about our Cycle the Wine Regions of Tuscany trip here
NOVEMBER - Experience the ‘real’ Burgundy
By late autumn the crowds in Burgundy have thinned, the weather has cooled and the autumn temperatures will not let you get overly warm while pedalling. Do not miss the major International Gastronomy Fair in Dijon – it takes place every November and the foodie inside you will thank you!
Find out more about our Burgundy Vineyard Trails here
DECEMBER - Follow in the footsteps of smugglers in Andalusia
Today the Sierra de Aracena Natural Park is a walker’s paradise – but during ‘el hambre’ (the hunger) after the Spanish Civil War many of the locals became ‘Mochileros’ (packmen) smuggling goods using remote high paths, many of which are still in use.
Find out more about our Smugglers Trails of the Sierra de Aracena here
From film releases to sporting events and notable anniversaries, there are so many reasons why you should holiday in the UK in 2020…
Travel to the Yorkshire Dales ahead of the TV remake of All Creatures Great and Small
Channel 5 is reviving in 2020 the much-loved TV series about a rural vet in the Yorkshire Dales, which was based on James Herriot’s real-life memoirs. Starring Samuel West, Anna Madeley and Dame Diana Rigg, the remake is scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original publication of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.
The James Herriot Way
takes in some of the countryside that James Alfred Wight, the vet who wrote about his experiences in the Yorkshire Dales as James Herriot, was so fond of; departs March-October. Find out more here
Follow in Kate Winslet’s footsteps along the Jurassic Coast
Ammonite, the latest project by acclaimed writer-director Francis Lee, sees Kate Winslet starring as Mary Anning, the ‘unsung hero of fossil discovery’, whose worked concentrated on Britain’s rugged southern coastline. Shot extensively on location in Dorset and Surrey and co-starring Saoirse Ronan, the film is set to be released in the UK in early 2020.
As you walk along the Jurassic Coast on the Dorset and Wessex Trails
find yourself immersed in the world of Mary Anning; departs March-October. Find out more here
Celebrate the ‘Year of Coasts and Waters’ in Scotland
With a coastline that extends to well over 10,000 miles, nearly 800 islands and more than 30,000 lakes of all sizes, water is the life-blood of Scotland. 2020 is celebrated as the ‘Year of Coasts and Waters’ across the country, making it the ideal time to explore the magnificent coastline, uncover the secrets of its coastal fortresses and enjoy some delicious, freshly caught seafood.
Head ‘north of the border’, hike through the Scottish Highlands and find your favourite loch along the Great Glen Way
; departs April-October. Find out more here
Relive the legend of a notorious outlaw
2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Rob Roy film, which recounts the battles of notorious outlaw and folk hero Rob Roy against a duplicitous aristocrat. Starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange, the film was shot entirely on location in Scotland. Today there is a dedicated Rob Roy Way that goes through classic Highland scenery and areas that were his old haunts.
The Rob Roy Way
begins at Drymen, whose Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland and would have been known by Rob Roy as it was run by his sister; departs April-October. Find out more here
Immerse yourself in the timeless landscapes of the Lake District
The Lake District has been celebrated by the poetry of Wordsworth and the stories of Beatrix Potter for centuries. With next April marking the 250th birthday of the founder of English Romanticism (and author of the well-known Guide through the District of the Lakes) and a widely-anticipated new Peter Rabbit film, 2020 is a great time to revisit these timeless landscapes.
Take in the celebrated landscape, hailed over the years by Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth, on the The Cumbria Way: Crossing the Lake District
; departs March-October. Find out more here
Cycle your own Tour of Britain in Cornwall
Cornwall will host the OVO Energy Tour of Britain for the first time ever in September 2020, with the Grand Depart seeing riders travel more than 100 miles through the Cornish countryside. The biggest-ever sporting event to take place in the county, the route will start in Penzance and will visit St Ives, Falmouth, Truro, Newquay and the award-winning Eden Project.
Ride your own Cornish Cycle Tour
from Padstow to Lands End through Lizard Point, the southernmost point on mainland Great Britain; departs March-October. Find out more here
Find the ‘new’ Secret Garden
The English children’s classic is getting the big screen treatment in 2020 in a new film starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters. The scenes at the secret garden – which, according to the story, is locked by Mr Craven after his wife’s accidental death – were shot at the five-acre Helmsley Walled Garden at Helmsley close to the North York Moors, where the Cleveland Way National Trail starts.
The Cleveland Way
begins at Helmsley, so you can start your trip by taking a peek at the ‘new’ secret garden; departs March-October. Find out more here
Andrew and Sandra are experienced walkers from South Africa, who have walked many of the great long distance walks in the UK as well as within Europe. Read on to find out more about their trip along the Dales Way and why it has a special place in their hearts.
What is your walking history?
Sandra and I walked the Dales Way in August 2019. The previous year we walked a portion of the Via Francigena in Tuscany, Italy, also booked & arranged through Sherpa Expeditions. We live in South Africa and are keen walkers, and love the scenery and excellent public transport systems that make walking in Europe so enjoyable. We have walked extensively in Cornwall, along the South Coast path, and also in Yorkshire, along the coast, and in the Lake District. The Via Francigena was our first long distance walk together, and we enjoyed it so much we decided to tackle other long-distance walks of about a week’s duration.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
We chose the Dales Way for our most recent walk because I was born quite close to Ilkley, the start of the walk, and although I have walked quite a lot in the areas around Burnsall, Grassington & Kettlewell, I have seldom ventured into the northern Dales. The area has outstanding natural beauty, so much so that several times during the walk we just stopped dead in our tracks, rendered almost breathless by the often stark beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.
How did you prepare?
Although both around the 60-year-old mark, we are quite fit and active. Sandra and I go to gym and yoga respectively, and walk at least 10 km per day three or four times a week. In preparation for this walk and the previous one in Tuscany, we maintained our normal exercise routine, just making sure that our walking shoes were worn in before departing, as most of our walking here in South Africa is bare foot on the beach or in sandals.
What was your favourite destination?
We enjoyed every hamlet, village and town along the route. Ilkley is a wonderful starting point and we booked an extra night prior to starting the walk, just to get over the long journey from South Africa. Burnsall is a beautiful village, of which I am particularly fond as my Mother’s ashes are scattered under one of the arches of the bridge over the Wharfe. Grassington is interesting, as the main town for walking in Wharfedale and all the tea rooms and narrow back streets; Kettlewell brings back childhood memories of sitting outside the Blue Bell with my parents on long summer evenings; Hubberholme & Cowgill we enjoyed for their remote location and friendly welcome at our overnight stops; Sedbergh is an amazing town with its bookshops, cafés and dramatic position under the Howgills.
Best food & drink?
Our favourite overnight stay was probably the George in Hubberholme, partly because we spent the evening with a group of fellow walkers around a roaring log fire, (yes, in August!), and also because the route along the river Wharf, branching off just before Hubberholme, was beautiful, even though the river was flooded in places, with our destination coming slowly into view as we left Buckden. The food was excellent at the George, a hearty pie after a hard day’s walking, and the wine selection good for such a small place.
We had many surprises along the way, several sightings of deer, usually in the early morning, many raptors circling overhead looking for prey, but the real surprise was seeing an otter in the swollen river Wharfe, just before Buckden. We stood for several minutes watching him swim backwards and forwards to his den on a small island in the river.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
The walk was more strenuous than we anticipated, but manageable all the same. The stretch from Hubberholme to Cowgill was particularly challenging, especially in strong wind, driving rain and very cold weather for most of the day. During the section along the Pennine Way, we had to stop several times just to catch our breath in the face of very strong wind gusts. Our sense of achievement on completing this section was very rewarding, especially as a group of much younger walkers looked in worse shape than us on reaching Cowgill!
The last day’s walk, from Burneside to Bowness was also quite strenuous, made more so for us as we stayed quite a way out of Burneside, making the last day longer than anticipated. The views over Lake Windermere, as we dropped off the high ground down into Bowness, were truly breathtaking.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Dales Way adventure, the scenery, history, sights along the way and hospitality at the overnight stops were all amazing. We’d have no hesitation in recommending this walk.
You can enjoy 10% off all our holidays until 25th October 2019 with our Early Bird deal
, including our top bucket list trips! Read on to find out more.
1. Coast to Coast
Described by Alfred Wainwright as “one of the world’s great walks”, the idyllic Coast to Coast is widely considered as the most classic of all UK long distance trails and one that has stood the test of time. The trail runs all the way across England, from the Irish sea coast to the North sea coast over nearly 200 miles and traverses three National Parks. We offer a few different options, including self-guided and guided versions of the full route, as well as shorter walks for those wanting to do part of the route.
Find out more about the Coast to Coast here
2. Tour du Mont Blanc
The Tour du Mont Blanc is easily one of the most spectacular walks you will ever do. This extended itinerary circumnavigates Mont Blanc and explores the surrounding alpine region, affording unsurpassed views of the different faces of the massif, as well as glittering glaciers, lush valleys and of course the highest point on the route, the Grand Col Ferret at 2,537m.
Find out more about the Tour du Mont Blanc here
3. The Bernese Oberland and Reichenbach Falls
If you enjoy being able to personalise your days a bit more, then this is the trip for you! This route is great for those wanting an introduction to the Swiss Alps, with a range of walks often with differing grades and distances. On many of the days, you can decide whether you tackle a high mountain trek along a Bergweg mountain path, or a valley stroll on a Wanderweg lower level trail. There are also lots of sightseeing opportunities, from the peaks of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau that overlook the valley towns of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, while the celebrated mountain town of Zermatt lies just below the towering Matterhorn.
Find out more about The Bernese Oberland and Reichenbach Falls here
4. Walking in the Dolomites
Although not exceptionally high (the highest peak is Marmolada at 3342m), the Dolomites are amongst the most striking of all European mountains. The walk starts with the spectacular Tre Cime di Lavaredo and the scenery continues to impress with new panoramas unfolding with each turn. The cliffs of the Tofana, Sella and Marmolada massifs tower above the winding paths and to cap it off, there are opportunities to stand on a couple of summits and peer down almost vertical rock faces to the valleys far below…definitely not for the faint of heart!
Find out more about Walking in the Dolomites here
5. West Highland Way
This rather special and ever-popular follows the 96 mile national long-distance trail of the same name through the south-western part of the Scottish Highlands. Starting at the village of Milngavie just outside Glasgow, it includes Loch Lomond, valley routes through the mountains round Crianlarich and open heather moorland across the Rannoch Moor wilderness area. It passes close to Glencoe, and finishes at Fort William near the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak, which can be readily ascended by experienced clients if they choose to spend an extra day.
Find out more about the West Highland Way here
Lisa and Bill Cumming from Bay Village, Ohio, are avid walkers with a great love for the outdoors. Having walked many trails in America, Canada, Europe and more, they chose to visit somewhere they hadn't yet ventured...Scotland! Read on to find out all about their adventure, some of their favourite stops on route and where they are planning on heading to next.
What is your walking history?
We both grew up as very active children and into adulthood. Bill was a multisport athlete throughout school, and Lisa an avid hiker and naturalist. Together we have hiked extensively throughout the United States (Acadia National Park, Glacier National Park, Edisto Beach State Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Picture Rocks National Lake Shore, and many more), Canada (Rocky Mountains, Lake Louise and many more), Europe (Italy, Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, and more), and Central America (Belize, Baja California and more). Every moment that we can we are on the move – exploring, taking photos, and just enjoying the stroll.
Why did you choose to walk where you did?
There were several reasons that we chose to walk the John Muir Way through Scotland: neither of us had ever been to Scotland, John Muir was instrumental in setting up the national parks in the United States, and Bill’s family immigrated from Scotland in the 1800’s to Canada.
How did you prepare?
We live in a very walkable community located on the shores of Lake Erie, and our county has an incredible park system nicknamed the Emerald Necklace as it forms a green half circle through the county. We made every effort to get out and walk in both of these areas as much as possible – from 1-mile walks to 15-mile hikes. Walking is just a normal part of life for us so we just kept walking!
What was your favourite destination?
There were several favorite stops on this trip. Dunbar, which was the terminus of the trail, was this incredible coastal and historical town with such great pubs and restaurants. Linlithgow was a friendly little town with a fantastic B&B, great places to eat, and interesting period architecture. South Berwick, which was a coastal town, had interesting rock formations. We went to a pub here and so felt a part of the town as we interacted with locals during a football game.
Best food & drink?
Oh the food! We had great food in almost every town and village but 4 really stood out. In Strathblane we had a locally sourced and thoughtfully prepared dinner at the Kirkwood Inn, where we were staying. A steak and pork dinner with sides that were just out of this world! The second dinner was in Glasgow, a stop we made after we finished our walk. We ate at the Ox and Finch – a small plate restaurant. We chose 4 different small plates for sharing: the most tender and flavorful squid; a salad with fennel, pomegranate, pecorino, and truffle; a curried duck leg confit; and a dessert with apricots, yogurt, almonds, and lemon thyme. It was literally other-worldly! In Edinburgh we visited a Nepalese restaurant close to the B&B on the recommendation of the B&B host – what incredible flavors! We had the best Indian food in Falkirk – the nuances in the flavors of the food were amazing – no one flavor overpowered the other!
We’re not sure that we were surprised by any aspect of this trip. Instead we were glad that the route was well-marked, the accommodations were fantastic, the food was great, the countryside was beautiful, and the people were so hospitable.
What aspect of the trip did you find most challenging?
Honestly, no aspect of the trip was particularly challenging. We were definitely prepared for it physically, we love travelling and are quite adept at it, and we love an adventure! We have already started to plan the next one – perhaps in Ireland or Tuscany!
Who doesn’t love a cup of tea with a traditional Scottish all-butter shortbread, especially after a long walk or cycle. And it’s even better still you're actually in Scotland, right? In celebration of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight, we thought now was the perfect time to shine a light on Scotland’s best walking and cycling routes. Plus, if you’re lucky you will be able to enjoy some of the countries specialities along the way, such as haggis, fresh Scottish lobster and Cullen skink, all washed down with a wee dram of the finest whisky around!
THE GREAT GLEN WAY
This iconic tour starts at Fort William, near the foot of Ben Nevis (Britain's highest peak, which can be readily ascended if you choose to spend an extra day) and follows the shores of the famous Loch Ness, 23 miles long and the second deepest Loch in Scotland – depths of up to 750 feet. The walk finishes at Inverness, Scotland’s north-most city and the “capital of the highlands”. Most of the walking is straightforward, along canal towpaths plenty of elegant bridges and locks as well as forest tracks, but there are some more challenging sections on the last couple of days.
Find out more about The Great Glen Way here
JOHN MUIR WAY
Completed in 2014, the John Muir Way is a 134 mile route that symbolically links Dunbar with Scotland’s first national park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and with Helensburgh in the west, forming a Scottish coast to coast path. It provides an accessible and varied route across the Scottish low lands, following a mixture of seaside, river and canal side paths, with some forestry walking for good measure. This route links together some fine landscapes, countryside and places of historical and natural interest.
Find out more about the John Muir Way here
ROB ROY WAY
The Rob Roy Way is a 124km walk linking Drymen with Pitlochry in Perthshire. The route joins paths and tracks through highland scenery, taking advantage of attractive villages and small towns. The walk begins in the pretty village of Drymen, whose Clachan Inn is the oldest registered licensed pub in Scotland and would have been known by Rob Roy as it was run by his sister! It then passes through the forests of the Trossachs, crossing the River Forth at Aberfoyle and down beside Loch Venachar to Callander, before leading out through fine glens by Loch Lubnaig and Glen Oich to Killin. From here the route climbs high into the hills on the remotest stretch of the walk, before descending to follow the quiet path along the southern shores of Loch Tay. Descend to Aberfeldy via the famous Birks, and the final stretch along the river and over the moors to Pitlochry.
Find out more about the Rob Roy Way here
THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY - 10 DAY
This 10 Day tour follows the 96 mile national long-distance trail of the same name through the south-western part of the Scottish Highlands. It is claimed by some to be the most popular long distance trail in the British Isles. Starting at the village of Milngavie just outside Glasgow, it includes Loch Lomond, valley routes through the mountains round Crianlarich and open heather moorland across the Rannoch Moor wilderness area. It passes close to somber Glencoe, famed for its massacre of the MacDonald Clan, and finishes at Fort William near the foot of Ben Nevis, which can be readily ascended by experienced clients if they choose to spend an extra day. The West Highland Way is a well-established and popular route, containing some landscapes of great beauty. The altitude range is from sea level to 1850 ft (4408 ft if Ben Nevis is climbed). An 8 Day route is also available.
Find out more about The West Highland Way - 10 Days here and 8 Days here.
LOCHS AND BENS
The Scottish Highlands have long been a favoured destination for cyclists and walkers keen to experience the mountain peaks, shimmering lochs and pretty glens. During this week long trip, you will take the backroads and country paths where cycle touring is pleasurable. En route you will visit charming historic towns such as Dunkeld, and the peaceful lochside towns of Kenmore, Lochearnhead, and Killin. A rest day at Killin is included to allow you time to visit the Falls of Dochart, sail the Loch or walk up Ben Lawers. There are also opportunities to take a forest walk or visit one of the many castles and ancient monuments found along the way.
Find out more about Lochs and Bens here.
SCOTTISH HIGHLAND’S CYCLE
Cycle from Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands, along the shores of Loch Ness to Fort William. During this week long trip we cycle along scenic paths and quiet forest trails with opportunities enroute to spot the wildlife of the region including red deer, stag or golden eagle. A day in Fort William is set aside to rest or ascend Ben Nevis. A train journey takes you across desolate Rannoch Moor to Loch Rannoch, where you continue on bike to the Victorian resort town of Pitlochry, nestled in the Perthshire hills.
Find out more about the Scottish Highland's Cycle here
It’s often said that if you do enough exercise, you can eat virtually anything you like. And after a couple of hours of hard walking or cycling, it’s very hard (in Britain, especially) not to pass up the opportunity of having a piece of cake or a cream tea of scones and jam in a local café... it can be all too easy in fact, to eat too much!
Therefore, it’s important to make sure you have a balanced and slowly continuous food intake, where possible; little and often being the key. You don’t need to eat a whole energy bar in one go for example, have a little bit and often. Endurance athletes know the problem, the best of them have a highly trained musculature that takes a long time to suffer from the glycogen exhaustion that a lot of beginners are effected with when blood and muscle glycogen levels fall. It is said that, at least for running, you only have enough glycogen storage for a 90 minute sustained effort, walking perhaps 3 or 4 hours, so you need to be replenishing long before you anticipate an energy crash coming.
With this in mind, we have put together some simple nutrition tips for the best things to eat and drink to provide you with sustained energy whilst staying active and training for a big walking or cycling trip.
STARTING THE DAY
The first, and one of the most important things, is starting the day right. A cooked breakfast might seem like the way to go, but with a very high concentration of fats, protein and salts it can leave you feeling sluggish in the morning as you set out, whilst your body tries to digest everything. A better, and just as filling alternative, would be a nice bowl of porridge, perhaps with banana and honey or yoghurt stirred in. If you’re extra hungry, some toast with marmalade on the side wouldn’t go amiss. This will set you up with slow release carbohydrates as well as a good supply of initial sugars to get you going.
A very popular breakfast hailing from Switzerland is Bircher muesli, a creation of Maximilian Bircher-Benner, a Swiss doctor and nutritionist. He developed it for patients at his Zurich sanatorium in the late 1800s with the aim of making his patients eat more raw fruit. The rolled oat based muesli is often soaked overnight in Swiss yoghurt making it easily digestible and then lots of mixed fresh and dried fruits are added. Within this you will get a mixture of complex carbohydrates, fruits, salts, sugars and fats. Fruits are an excellent source of elements, such as potassium in banana and vitamin c in berries and citrus fruits. It is also thought that vitamins help with energy processing, as well as promoting general wellbeing.
DURING THE DAY
Once you are out and about what should you take with you? Of course there are an array of different sports bars, sports drinks and energy gels, which can be confusing. These vary in quality, some are nutritionally balanced and some are little more than sugar. Either way, they are not always necessarily the best option, and there are good alternatives that can be found in most supermarkets, usually in multiple packs.
If you want to keep things more affordable, go for items such as Snickers bars or peanut M&Ms which have a good slow and fast energy release ingredients – glucose and protein. Nuts are more expensive, but if you add a few to some some dried fruit (such as raisins) and M&Ms, you have a reasonable trail mix that you can graze on throughout the day. Also, it’s always recommended to have a packet of Jelly Babies to hand as they are pure glucose, which gives us a hit of energy and are much more palatable than energy gels. A couple of apples are also handy. However, too much fruit and vitamin c can lead to RBM (rapid bowel movement), so don’t overdo it!
If you’d rather have a convenient bar to suit all needs, energy bars which have a mix of carbohydrate, protein and fat, such as the Clif Bar are great. They generally aren’t chocolate covered so won’t melt easily, but can crumble. Anything labelled as a 'nutrition bar' is intended as a meal replacement, providing vitamins and minerals and often having more calories and protein.
Rehydration is also very important, as you need to get a balance of liquid and salts without flushing the salts out of your system (hypernatremia). The easiest way to do this is to buy a tub of rehydration powders to fill your water bottles with in the morning and then take a trusted brand of soluble rehydration tablet to put in your bottle for further refills during the day.
ENDING THE DAY
When it comes to any strenuous exercise, the way you end your day is just as vital as the way you start. So once you’ve finished a long days walk or cycle, a lot of people feel either too tired to physically consume anything, or eat far too much without thinking about it. In Britain, it also seems to be customary to end your walk at a pub with a cold beer. This is definitely not to be sniffed at, as beer drinking is sociable, contains over 300 calories a pint (plus vitamins) and is easily consumed. The thing to remember is not to drink too much and remain hydrated, so a couple of pints is fine. Alongside your drink of choice, you should ideally eat something easily consumed straight after the exercise and then a little later have some protein to help with muscle repair.
Don't forget, it was only a couple of generations ago, that good hikers were completing extraordinary walks relying on jam sandwiches, homemade cake and a thermos of sweet tea (and some still do!) Food to is meant to be enjoyable and walking sociable, so the key is to listen to your body and perhaps don’t turn up that chance for a cream tea!