Going Our Way: A roamin' holiday in Britain

By K.C. Summers
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Who: Sarah Williams, 47, of Springfield and five family members and friends ranging in age from the 40s to the 70s.

Where: Hadrian's Wall, the Ridgeway Trail and other historic footpaths in England and Wales

Why: The group has a thing for history, hiking and pubs, not necessarily in that order

When: Fall 2010 for 12 days

Budget: $3,000 per person

"What appeals to me and my sister is that this is someplace our father really wants to visit. Sharing 'wow' moments at amazing sites would be grand. Not to mention hanging out in pubs."

London's wonderful and all, but many people believe that to experience the real Britain, you need to venture out to the countryside, head for the nearest footpath and start walking.

Rambling, as it's called, is something of a national obsession. Walking clubs and Web sites abound, keeping the populace up to date on trail openings and providing answers to such pressing questions as "What should I do if I am chased by aggressive cows?" (Basically, walk, don't run, to the nearest field exit.)

Sarah Williams and her dad want to explore two of England's most scenic and historic trails -- Hadrian's Wall Path in the north and the Ridgeway Trail, which begins about 80 miles west of London -- but they wonder whether such a trip could accommodate the non-hikers in their group as well. Will there be cute towns, museums, shops, pubs and B&Bs along the way, where the less energetic could hang out? And could they also fit in a visit to Wales?

Yes, ducks, you can do it all -- sort of. Both the Hadrian's Wall Path and the Ridgeway are designated National Trails -- long-distance routes for walking through some of the prettiest and most dramatic landscapes in the country. And they wend past small towns and villages where you can stop for refreshments, shopping, museums and lodging. The trails are far too long to cover completely on such a short trip, especially if you add a stop in Wales. But since they offer circular as well as linear hikes, you can dip into all three easily.

Here's a sample itinerary that will take you from London north to Hadrian's Wall, then south to the Ridgeway and west to Wales's Pembrokeshire National Park. But first, a few tips:

-- Consider using a guide service to plan your trip. An experienced company can provide detailed maps and directions to points of interest, book B&Bs, arrange ground transportation and the like. Among the companies recommended by the National Trails folks are Explore Britain (011-44-1740-650-900, http://www.xplorebritain.com) and Footpath Holidays (011-44-1985-840049, http://www.footpath-holidays.com). You can choose from guided or self-guided trips or request a custom itinerary.

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