We asked top bloggers, the Family Adventure Project, to join us on a walking break and share with you their favourite places to go walking in the UK.
This husband and wife team with three growing children are all about doing adventurous things together as a family, exploring the world on their doorstep and beyond. Follow the award-winning bloggers as they discover rock pools, poppies and exotic llamas along the John Muir Way walk in Scotland.
Have you tried to get your kids out of the bedroom for a walk lately? You may fare better if you get them away from the house altogether, for a night, or a weekend. And don’t make it all about the walking. If you choose the right route they won’t even notice they are putting one foot in front of the other.
How often do you notice or connect with your environment, even when out for a walk? Today we poke sticks into rock pools checking for sookin-in-goats. We follow a squiggle of worm casts to discover what lies beneath, and learn from interpretation boards how red and white campions breed baby-pink hybrid blooms.
Why are we so diligent? Because this is the John Muir Way. The Scottish writer, mountaineer and campaigner made it his mission to discover, explore, conserve and share the natural world. And through the John Muir award, many thousands of people worldwide still follow these principles. As eleven year old Hannah is soon to start her John Muir Award programme, we thought we’d put the pioneer’s theories into practice on the walk named after him.
Our day begins at the Premier Inn Newcraighall, near Edinburgh, with a delicious cooked breakfast and a planning session. The low-level John Muir Way runs coast to coast of central Scotland for over 134 miles. It stretches from Helensburgh in the west through to Dunbar in the east, and we thought we’d start at the latter - Muir’s hometown, where a little museum shares tales of his life and work. It’s impressive to see how much of the globe he travelled before planes were invented. But for John Muir it wasn’t about the big stuff. It was about the detail.
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” - John Muir
Today we have resolved to follow a section of his trail in glorious close up. And from the pretty Victoria Harbour in Dunbar onwards we do see it in a different way. We feel the sea as it blasts through rocky channels of ‘the Bathe’ like trumpet song and just as suddenly retreats to draw new breath. We notice the rocks that provide stepping stones to the snails and limpets that have resisted a swim.
At Belhaven Bay we cross a bridge over Biel Water and consider dropping playfully from the girders into the channel that the tide left behind. We march past exotic llamas and emus at East Links Family Park and focus instead on the smell and feel of native pine cones. At the edge of crop fields, we press our cheeks against silky red poppies and tell the time by blowing dandelion clocks into the sunset.
We abandon our plan to reach North Berwick by nightfall as ‘noticing things’ takes time. John Muir himself once said people ought to ‘saunter’ rather than ‘hike.’ So we don’t rush. We wander by the River Tyne where weeping willows tickle our foreheads. We finish up at the quirky C17th Preston Mill when we are tired.
After a dream filled sleep in our trusted hotel we return refreshed to tackle the last stage; the conical North Berwick Law. ‘Live for the moment’ reads an inscription on the monument at the peak. It’s something I suspect John Muir would have approved of. But as the sea draws our eyes to a place on the horizon where seagulls dive like Olympians into pools of cloud, we also feel we could live forever.
From one great explorer and educator to another: Alfred Wainwright’s hand drawn guides to the Lake District fells are beguiling whatever age you are. There are plenty of Wainwright trails and if you like art you can have a go at drawing your own map as you walk. The Premier Inn in Penrith or Kendal make a good base for central and north Lakes fells; we tackle Skiddaw and promise the kids sausage butties at the top. The views are joyful on the way up; Derwentwater sparkles like Tinkerbell and we sit and watch paragliders puff and fly. We make our sandwiches in the shelter of a cairn, with Wainwright’s peaks spread out below.
The Forest of Dean is a tale of the unexpected. Young children who can’t walk far are dazzled by the twisted yew roots and brooding scowles of Puzzlewood Forest. (Teens will also like it if they are into film; it has provided locations for Doctor Who, Merlin and Star Wars Rogue One.) If you want to stretch your legs a bit more there are some easy walks in the Wye Valley. Or tackle the 177 mile Offa’s Dyke Path up the Wye Valley, past book capital Hay-on-Wye and into the Shropshire and Clwydian hills to Prestatyn. Base yourself in Monmouth Premier Inn and perhaps visit the gelato house Green and Jenks after your walk. It has a gin bar for grown-ups.
Simon Armitage’s contemporary poetry reaches out to everyone, and the kids will enjoy the tech aspect to an audio trail that places poems in the landscape. They’ll also enjoy being allowed to keep their headphones on! As the names suggest, the ‘Poems in the Air’ only exist in the ether, accessed through an app at six places in the Northumberland National Park. Between poems the kids can also seek out a secret waterfall, a memorial to two shepherds lost in a blizzard and an abandoned medieval village. Enjoy a stay at Ashington or Newcastle while you are there.
The Doctor has been to Dorset many times over the decades. Winspit Quarry near Worth Matravers once doubled for a volcanic island above Atlantis. The sandpit on Gallows Hill was used as the planet Exxilon (apparently Daleks and sand don’t get on very well.) But former Doctor David Tennant is most closely linked with the area through his role in Broadchurch. Stay in Premier Inn Dorchester and visit locations at West Bay where the TV series was filmed or walk a section of the South West Coast Path stretching 95 miles along the Jurassic Coast.
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