week Walks logo and strapline - having a mini adventure

Why Week Walks?

The GR5 in Alsace, France
1. Discovering the pleasures of linear walks
Back in June 1992 we tried a walk from Walker's Britain 2, going from Settle to Grassington in the Yorkshire Pennines. It took two days (and an age to get back to our car) but we noticed that it had given us something that a circular walk did not - a sense of adventure. [Note, 2017: Twenty-five years later we did this walk again, and it is here.]

Soon after that we bought Weekend Walks in the Peak District by John and Anne Nuttall (out of print, but you can get it on the net). We have now done most of their two-day walks, and get the same extra satisfaction from them.

Trekking in, say, the Himalayas, has to be the most spectacular walking experience, but this takes a big investment in both time and money. In September 2008, while the West's financial system was wobbling, we were in Austria on a 4-week charity walk from Salzburg to Vienna. (There is a blog of it here.) This was hugely satisfying, but quite stressful too; we began to wonder if it was possible to experience the quality of such a trek, but on a smaller and less challenging scale.

a real nomad and a bourgeois nomad It is. For the past few years we have being picking bite-size linear walks that have given us holidays to cherish, and this web site is one result.

In the past we might take a tent and food, but we are now quite old and keep our backpacks as light as possible. We also like comfort and cossetting at the end of the day. If there is something nomadic about a linear walk, then we are 'bourgeois nomads'.

This was brought home to us in December 2011 when we crossed the Jbel Sahro in Morocco and met this real nomad; Jeremy was meanwhile complaining about the lack of a pub in this beautiful but remote landscape.

The GR52A footpath near Breuil, France
2. What does a linear walk offer?
Well for a start, it is, as our strapline says, a mini-adventure. As you walk out of your front door, pack on back, there is immediately a sense of excitement, commitment, and vulnerability, even though you may be just walking to the tube. You have already become a tourist, moving into a new scene, observing it, enjoying it, and moving on.

All the regular activities with which one fills ones days are left behind. The goal here is very simple - to get to a designated place. When you arrive, you have achieved your goal and can relax with a completely clear conscience.

The tempo of the day is walking pace. There's no running for a bus. If you want to stop you can. Your progress is being done by you, entirely under your own steam. If you come across, for example, a field of wild flowers, it's as if you have discovered it for yourself, and the pleasure is the greater.

This sense of discovery is enhanced by the fact that we almost never meet anyone else doing a similar kind of walk. More famous walks can perhaps be crowded, and when we are near a tourist attraction we might meet people out for a stroll; but mostly we have the place to ourselves, as you can see from the photos.

We have found that a day spent on the move benefits not only our bodies, but also our minds. We often notice that when we discuss, for example, our current projects, that we gain a new perspective on them - and indeed we find ourselves reflecting on our lives in general from a slightly different point of view. More prosaically, there are always the pleasures of chatting with people you meet on the trail, having conversations you wouldn't have in 'normal' life.

When you are just walking, the rules change. You see things differently, but other things change too. After six hours' walking, an instant coffee at a B&B can taste really good! And you may find yourself reading - and enjoying - magazines or TV programmes you wouldn't normally admit to knowing anything about.

The last ups and downs before Bigbury-on-Sea, Devon
3. Does length matter?
When we talk about our walks, by far the most common question (usually asked in slightly reverential tones) is 'how many miles a day do you do?'. It's as if for some people a walk should be a challenge, something to be overcome. Challenges are important, but that is not our purpose here, which is to savour the experience of moving through beautiful countryside. If we are stressed or exhausted, the first thing to go is the pleasure. We also aim to end the walk in better physical shape than when we started - not worn out.

That said, we look for a length that makes us feel well-exercised, which is between 10 and 12 miles on undulating territory, or less than this if there are serious ups and downs. Whether a particular day is longer or shorter also depends on the available accommodation; we look on the net for B&Bs, small hotels, or hostels as near to the path as we can find.

As for the overall length of a walk, some of the shorter walks on this site are as little as two days including travel from London. Delightful they are, too, but we do find that the sense of achievement is the greater the more distant the destination seems when you start out. A week walk is not a challenge but it does repay commitment with satisfaction.

4. Is it dangerous?
la Dent de Lièvre, seen from the Col des Champs (2045 metres) just before Colmars on the GR52A You do hear of walkers getting lost on the hills, but statistically it's less dangerous than crossing the road. All the paths in these walks are clearly marked with paint or signs; if they are not we have indicated this in the text. If we don't see paint any more, we are very rigorous about going back to the last paint, knowing how easy it is to compound any error. Then we look around for the next one. If the clouds come down, or the rain starts, we are extra careful to follow the signs. In practice, the only times we get lost
is when we're so engrossed in conversation that we forget to look.
(We don't use GPS.)

Or you might have an accident. The paths themselves are not tricky to walk (unless we mention it in the text), but you might put your foot down carelessly and sprain an ankle. Don't admire the scenery while walking on a knobbly path! Jeremy ignored this in 2016, injured a ligament, and we were out of serious walking for nine months. A related issue here is, if the worst happened, how near are you to help? Crossing the impressive Col des Champs on the GR52A in this picture, and not having seen a single walker all day, we put our feet down very carefully (it was a brilliant day, by the way - a true mini-adventure).

Suppose you just get tired and feel you just can't go on? It is in the nature of these walks that some days are longer than others; being aware at the start of a day how much you've got to do helps the body to pace itself. Maybe there are more ups and downs on the path than you have anticipated, but if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you will get there. Related to this is the question of whether to pre-book the B&B or hotel. On the whole we do, because even though we lose flexibility this way, the knowledge that up ahead is a bed with our names on it is a great motivator.

Arriving at the Verdon river, GR49
5. Other practicalities
Planning our walks normally starts with an inspiration from somewhere - a book (such as the ones mentioned above), a conversation, a trawl of the internet, or a map. You will notice walks here in Provence, France. These come from perusing the French Institut Geographique National (IGN) map number 165 - a wonderful depiction of Provence showing it criss-crossed with red walking tracks. We also look at the established UK walking trails, trying to find sections of them that fit our criteria.

We then go on the net, looking for accommodation at suitable intervals. Some paths have sections that are just too long and/or too high for us.

We also look for walks that are easy to get to, and get away from. We have now sold our car, which to our surprise has made us freer in our walking choices. We enjoy using the train, and for example, get to Nice from London by Eurostar and TGV. It takes longer but is much less stressful than by plane. (Nice does also have an airport.) In the UK we look for starts and ends that can be reached by train. Coach is also possible, and can be very cheap, but also very slow.

We've managed to get this far down the page without talking about the weather, perhaps because it doesn't matter as much as you might think. After a shower you can dry out, and there's always the evening. But continuous heavy rain is a downer, and it's why we're reluctant to walk in areas with high rainfall, such as the Lake District. If you're high and there is no shelter, as in the Alps, the experience can be miserable. (We have found the Alpes Maritime above Nice to be fine.) Sunshine (winter or summer) is a definite plus. It gives the surroundings a depth, a variety and a vibrancy that can turn an enjoyable day into a joyful one. We tend to walk in spring or autumn (Europe) or summer (UK). In the winter we go further south, or risk short UK walks.

6. What makes a good week walk?
It is no surprise that the most popular walks are pilgrimages - you need a satisfying end. But it doesn't have to have a religious connotation. Coming to the outskirts of Vienna after four weeks in rural Austria was brilliant, as was arriving at the Gorge du Verdon in France at the end of the GR49. The drabness of Fort William in Scotland made completing the West Highland Way for us a bit of a let-down, only countered by climbing Ben Nevis the following day.

And the starts must be good too. For us Londoners, walking out of a medium-size town into the countryside is a very satisfying beginning to a walk. We often decide to arrive at our starting point early enough to begin the walk immediately, so that the first night is spent by the path.

As for the middles, the scenery does not have to be stunning. Indeed, going to a 'beauty spot' is perhaps more relevant to someone who has driven there by car, marvels, and drives away again. Our initial reaction to the Peak District was that it seemed a bit ordinary, but it is now one of our favourite areas; walking through it is a constant delight.

Nor does a walk have to be entirely rural; walking through towns can be fun, as long as they are not too big. For us, variety is the key. This might mean walking across the grain of the land, or perhaps changing the scenery by walking into and out of woodland. Walking along a river or up a valley can be also be fascinating, as the landscape around you gradually evolves. Ideally, each day should have something unique to offer.

We don't rule out a walk even if a section of it looks boring, if it doesn't last too long and leads us to more pleasures further down the path. We get through it by saying to ourselves we are 'walking the concept'.

We have tried to explain why we find our mini-adventures so satisfying, and we wanted to share our enthusiasm. We think it's not just us; there is endless evidence how central walking is to human beings - think of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, the Kalahari Bushmen, the Songlines of the Australian Aboriginals, or the contentment of a baby being carried in a papoose. These and numerous others (there are some nice examples at www.quotegarden.com/walking.html and some more on the Resources page) illustrate the stimulation and imagination to be had from this personal motion. Why not have a look at our suggestions and give it a go?

Jeremy Polmear and Diana Ambache

River crossing, GR52A
Appendix: Luggage
If you are doing an established walk there are companies that can fix everything for you (B&Bs, maps, luggage etc). And there are companies which will just transport your luggage. Or B&B owners who will transfer luggage to the next place.

All this means that you could take everything, or could do camping, including bedding and cooking. However, our fantasy is that we are intrepid explorers, so none of this would work, and we go for packs as light as possible. We like just packing everything up and walking out the door.

Pack: we go for packs that could be called 'daypacks' - 35 litres or so - but have proper back and hip support so we don't get sore shoulders. Boots: we look for lightweight, waterproof boots. Diana's current Brashers fit this category; for my size 12 feet I have heavy leathers or lighter goretex - moderately waterproof if I spray them. Walking poles if there are long ups and downs, we have one pair Brasher Hillmaster Classic but have not used them for several years. Hats - I have a Tilley Hat which has a firm brim, good for keeping the sun out, and also stopping my raingear flopping over my face.
Inside, lightweight waterproof tops (250g) and bottoms (160g) that pack up small; and (either wearing, or in watertight containers): T-shirts, walking trousers, trousers for evenings, a shirt or two, thin jersey-type garment, underwear, socks, light shoes for evening wear, toiletries (small versions), maps, passports, insurance and other paperwork (if abroad), silk sleeping bag liners (if using hostels), sunscreen, insect repellant, whistle, LED torch, survival blanket, compass, battery razor, pen, pencil and sharpener, medical kit including Compeed plasters and (for me) Profoot Soft Gel Bunion Protectors, spare glasses, smartphone with charger plus two sets of earpieces, crosswords, cards, cribbage board, picnic knife unless travelling by air.