Walk this May

It’s possibly the 2 bank holidays that mean 2 long weekends. Or it could be the 5 o’clock sunrises and the 9 o’clock sunsets that promise long, lazy walking days. Or maybe it’s because the month starts in spring and ends in summer. Whatever the reason, I reckon; all in all, May is my favourite walking month.

Get Walking Week in HillingdonI’m obviously not the only one. The Ramblers, in association with Britain on Foot, organised Get Walking Week to include the first bank holiday weekend. Hundreds of short walks took place around Britain with thousands of people taking to their feet alongside local Ramblers groups around the country and Walking for Health schemes in England. Not forgetting there was plenty of family fun to be had on the Big Welsh Walk which took place across Wales over the bank holiday weekend. So much fun in fact that I’m already looking forward to next year’s Get Walking Week which will take place from 3-10 May 2014!

I spent part of Get Walking Week in Cardiff (unfortunately not during the Big Welsh Walk) and was able to grab an hour or so to visit the Tiger Bay area. By now the Cardiff Ramblers (Cerddwyr Caerdydd) short walks programme for summer is in full swing. They organise walks on Wednesday, Thursday evenings, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for walkers of average fitness. So check them out if you’re around Cardiff this summer.

The second week of May sees Living Street’s Walk to Work Week. I’ve taken part in this for a good few years now but don’t think I’ve ever walked to my own place of work as I always seem to end up walking with various friends to their workplaces. It's definitely improved by company.

A misty Richmond ParkThis year was no different when I set off from home at 6am heading towards Crystal Palace with Clare. Although this might sound like a sacrifice, the early morning effort is more than rewarded by the pleasure of walking through Richmond Park and across Wimbledon Common soon after dawn. A mist hung over the park and the grass showed signs off a light overnight frost. Cyclists and deer, but not together, loomed in and out of view. Magical. I peeled off at Streatham Common after 9 extremely pleasant miles of walking, chatting and tweeting. Perhaps next year I’ll get it together to walk to my work.

Me and Clare spent the second bank holiday weekend in Worcester. This was my first ever visit there and a very nice place it is too. We were joined by the sun; its presence very welcome. If Worcester City is famous for anything it is the cathedral which dominates the skyline and is a fine example of medieval architecture. Its west facade appeared on the back of the £20 notes along with local boy Elgar from 1999 to 2007, so you might find it eerily familiar.

Inside are the final resting places of King John and Henry VII’s oldest son, Prince Arthur. It’s quite difficult not to indulge the ‘what if... ‘ strand of history on this patch of hallowed ground. Built between 1084 and 1504 (yep, you read that right it took 420 years to finish) it not unsurprisingly includes everything from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic. Lifting your eyes from the royal tombs you can see the effects of the Black Death all around the church. In many places the carvings are delicate and intricate whilst in others they are plain and rudimentary or just not there. A great many craftsmen died of the plague and the work had to go on with untrained labourers.

Elizabethan barn in WorcesterOur Saturday walk had taken us through the city and then out along the Worcester and Birmingham canal. On Sunday we drove a short way to Inkberrow. This picturesque village is thought by many to be the model for Ambridge, the setting of BBC Radio 4’s long-running serial The Archers. This soap opera is older than me, for pity’s sake, and was first broadcast on Whit Monday 1950.

Parking near the Old Bull we headed out into the rolling Worcestershire countryside. The sun shone for the whole 8 or so miles and it was all rounded off nicely with a refreshingly welcome pint of Wye Valley Brewery Hereford Pale Ale. I’d found this walk from the Worcester News website featuring Julie Royle’s local walks. You needed a map and basic map reading skills but other than that it was fairly plain sailing.

Earlier in the month the Guardian had published a great article, Route Masters, in their Saturday Travel section by Jennifer Cox about Ramblers Routes. This initiative aims to create an online library of British walks and so far over 2,000 walks have been uploaded. The routes are flying in through the ether and the Ramblers is actively seeking checkers to keep up with the supply. (Visit the Ramblers website if this appeals to you.)

Another great aspect of walking in May is that it seems to really whet your appetite and I reckon I’ll be returning to the Worcester area soon. It's very close to the Malverns, which is great walking country and the inspiration for many an Edward Elgar tune. And talking of appetite whetting during the month, I paid a fleeting visit to the Cotswolds, specifically Painswick, for a memorial to longtime Ramblers stalwart Tony Drake. All walkers, whether Ramblers members or not, owe an immense debt of gratitude to Tony. He was responsible, for amongst other things, establishing the Cotswold Way, the Cambrian Way and the Offa’s Dyke Path. For years he carried out the prosaic work of contributing to the Gaps, Gates and Stiles committee – so give him a thought next time you’re climbing over a stile.

For me, I’ll always think of him when I’m poring over an OS map and notice a ‘white road’. They are listed in the legend as ‘other routes with public access’ and colloquially known as ‘orpas’. It is almost entirely thanks to Tony, who wouldn’t take no for an answer, that they are included. Can’t help thinking it would be more fitting to call them ‘Drakes’ in the future.

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