Walk this way…
There’s nothing quite like a scenic walk or bike ride for working up an appetite, so if you can follow it with an unforgettable meal, you’ve got the perfect combination of pleasures.
Travel writer David Wickers picks six of his favourite mixed doubles.
Ups and downs
The South Downs is Britain’s newest National Park, with some 600 square miles of rolling chalk hills stretching from close to Winchester in the west to Beachy Head in the east. This perfect hiking countryside can be walked from end to end, following the South Downs Way along the line of Kipling’s “whale-backed” hills. But you can also focus on a smaller area, branching off on feeder paths to enjoy the area’s rich stock of country pubs offering great food, local ales and soft beds to ease those weary limbs.
The Spread Eagle
One particularly comfy approach is to stay at the
(01730 816911), a sumptuous old coaching inn complete with oak beams and open fires in the historic West Sussex town of Midhurst. The hotel has teamed up with a local company called
, experts in guided and unguided walks in the area. One, for example, will take you from nearby Cocking Hill along the South Downs Way and up (and further up) to the Iron Age hill fort atop Beacon Hill. After a rest and refuel at the charming
Three Horseshoes Pub
in Elsted (01730 825746) – superbly cosy in winter, but also with pretty gardens in summer – continue your walk through Treyford. The final leg is a gentle climb back to base for a much-deserved pint in the fine, wood-panelled bar.
(01325 729999) in Co Durham, newly converted from a 19th-century stately pile with modern additions, has introduced a new twist to putting one foot in front of the other. Nordic walking, using a pair of sticks to give the upper body a workout at the same time as the lower limbs, is a highly recommended way to lose body fat, improve your posture and generally increase your feel-good quotient. The hotel offers two options: a guided wellness walk around the 375-acre estate for those who want a gentle introduction, and a vigorous workout in more contoured countryside, past the picturesque church at Croft, which Lewis Carroll attended, then along the River Tees back to Rockliffe.
The hotel’s big draw, aside from its rural riverbank location (yet just a five-minute taxi ride from Darlington railway station), 18-hole golf course, huge spa and 20-metre pool, is the Orangery restaurant run by top chef Kenny Atkinson, one of the winners of the BBC’s Great British Menu in 2009. Born and bred in Newcastle, Kenny champions food from the Northeast, using local venison and rabbit, line-caught mackerel and North Sea halibut.
Cider rules OK
Herefordshire must have been hiding when the Industrial Revolution came calling; its rich red soils still support a cornucopia of prize agricultural produce. It’s England’s ‘Big Apple’, the traditional home of cider, but you’ll also eat well as you journey around this lush larder of a county, and memorably so at the
(01544 230221) at Titley, near Kington, which was the first pub in Britain to gain a Michelin star. You could stop by in the morning, pick up notes on their suggested Titley Loop (4 miles/2 hours) or Loops (7.5 miles/4 hours), both walks taking in parts of the Mortimer Trail, and be back in time for a long, lazy lunch. Or you could stay a night or two – the Stagg has six rooms, three above the pub, three down the road in a Georgian-Victorian vicarage.
Serious walkers are also within striking range of Offa’s Dyke, for a trail that follows the distinctive earthwork built in the 8th century by King Offa, along the border between England and Wales. Or, for more pastoral landscapes, head to the Golden Valley, named after its river Dore (from the Norman for ‘golden’ – d’Or), where you’ll find several circular, well-mapped walks, details of which are available through local pubs/guesthouses. Try the
, Dorstone (01981 550273), one of the oldest pubs in the UK and worthy of high praise for its fine food served in a setting of ancient timbers, worn flagstones and a huge fireplace.
Flat is beautiful
North Norfolk’s coastline is one of the best protected in Britain. Start your shore wanderings with a swanky first night at
(01263 741041), a small, brick-and-flint country-house hotel, overlooking the creeks and salt marshes. Dinner is the big draw, a four-course gastronomic menu (no choice – though they’ll check if you have any particular dislikes or allergies) prepared by owner Galton Blackiston. There are just 13 rooms and it’s a treat to pad upstairs to bed after the feast, conserving those newly acquired calories for a long walk next morning.
The coastal path, much of it along the crest of sea wall above the vast spread of tufted marshlands and under some of the biggest skies this side of Wyoming, is magnificent. You could continue to Wells and the award-winning Holkham Beach, which stole the final scene from Gwyneth Paltrow at the end of Shakespeare in Love, and on to a second night at the 300-year-old
(01328 738777) in Burnham Market, which has become something of a celebrity roost. From there, carry on for a night on the coast at the
White Horse Inn
(01485 210262) at Brancaster Staithe, which serves seafood with coastal views from the conservatory dining room – although for even better food, hop across the road to
The Jolly Sailors
(01485 210314), which is back on form, serving homely fare such as mussels and chips, scampi, pies and pizza from a wood-fired oven, in proper pubby surroundings. This is a long walk, but remember two things. Noel Coward was spot on when he wrote, “Very flat, Norfolk,” and, even more reassuring, you can always just jump on the Coasthopper bus, which calls at all the villages along the shoreline (for details: 01553 776980 or see
The most rewarding way to explore the New Forest, William the Conqueror’s old hunting ground and now a national park, is either on foot or, better still, by bike. This splendid mosaic of woodland, heath, marsh and farmland is one of the most cycle-friendly areas in the country, with more than 100 miles of waymarked, off-road cycleways, gentle gradients and an overall speed limit of 40 mph – imposed for the sake of the ponies rather than respect for those on two wheels. A perfect day of good food and pedalling starts at Brockenhurst, easily reached by train from London’s Waterloo. Rent your bike from
(01590 622 627), conveniently found in the town’s railway station housed in a disused carriage. As well as mounts, helmets and padlocks, you’ll be offered a choice of routes.
I recommend the 20-mile circuit that will have you in Beaulieu in time for lunch at the Michelin-starred Terrace Restaurant in the
Montagu Arms Hotel
(01590 612324). In summer, book a table in the pretty garden with the giant magnolia. If you’ve time and energy after the pud, you could detour to Buckler’s Hard, where Nelson’s ships were built, before returning to Brockenhurst. And if you’re still feeling peckish at the end of the ride you’ll find the 17th-century
(01590 623090), just yards from the station, serving a full-on traditional tea. There are also rooms if you can’t budge another inch. Visit
for details of a wide range of local accommodation, pubs, attractions, bicycle hire outlets and events in the New Forest.
Cream of Cornwall
With some 258 miles of coastal footpath and a reputation for culinary excellence, Cornwall is a prime target for lovers of wonderful food and brilliant walks along one of Europe’s most dramatic shorelines. You could take a month-long holiday, walk the lot and be assured of a decent meal at the end of most days as well as a comfortable bed for the night. If you’re pushed for time but still want the full, stunning seascape-and-seafood experience, you could home in on one spot, Portscatho on the south coast and the
(01872 580644), which sits above the beautiful sweep of Gerrans Bay.
Driftwood has 15 bedrooms plus a two-bedroom cabin overlooking the sea, a kids’ games room, video library and a restaurant where chef Chris Eden’s focus is local fish and crustaceans, including diver-caught scallops and crab, plus organic veg and locally reared meat. Even the kids get to dine well, their early suppers prepared fresh – and with not a chicken nugget in sight.
Walkers just have to follow a path through the hotel’s terraced gardens to the beach – but then you’ve got a key decision to make: whether to turn left or right. Head east and you’ll come to the
(01872 501322;) at Portloe and the uber-smart
(01872 501111) overlooking glorious Pendower Beach. To the west lies the unspoiled Roseland Peninsula, St Mawes and Olga Polizzi’s
(01326 270055). Each of these luxurious hotels has an excellent restaurant as well as rooms that will put a smile on the face of the weariest walker.