Walking the English countryside

This article appears on page 52 of the April 2010 issue.
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A path through the English countryside beckons.

by Dee Poujade, Portland, OR

Imagine a week in an English country house enjoying tasty meals and comfortable accommodations and heading out every morning with experienced guides to hike the beautiful countryside. That’s how I spent the last week of July ’09 — staying at Harrington House in Bourton-on-the-Water and hiking in the Cotswolds.

Making arrangements

The British call this type of vacation a “walking holiday” and, while I never did learn the difference between an American “hike” and a British “walk,” I did find the experience most enjoyable.

My goal when booking the trip was to find a walking holiday where I could sleep in the same bed every night, hike with only a daypack and follow guides who knew where they were going. HF Holidays (Hertfordshire, UK; phone + 44 [0] 20 8732 1220) filled the bill admirably!

Due to a last-minute cancellation by my traveling companion, I traveled alone to Bourton-on-the-Water, taking the train from London to Oxford, then a local bus. There I met my walking companions over tea in the comfortable lounge of Harrington House, one of a number of country houses that HF Holidays owns and/or leases throughout the British Isles. In addition to serving as accommodations for walking holidays, HF houses are also bases for holidays focused on dancing, bridge, music and a number of other interests.

Harrington House in Bourton-on-the-Water.

Walking, though, is how HF started, more than 50 years ago. Then, holiday-makers were housed in dormitory accommodations and alcohol on the premises was strictly forbidden. Times have changed! Now the accommodations are comfortable bedrooms with facilities en suite, and the bar is open from the time guests return from their day’s walking until bedtime.

The schedule

Every evening, before dinner — a tasty meal which we had ordered the previous evening from a choice of four or five selections — the 16 walkers in my group gathered to hear the three walk leaders describe the next day’s walk.

Would it be an “easy” walk (up the gentle side of the Windrush Valley for six miles with 400 feet of ascent), a “medium” walk (on field paths to the picturesque village of Lower Slaughter, with the River Eye flowing through it, covering 8½ miles and 675 feet of ascent) or the “harder” walk (climbing the valley below Kiftsgate Court for 10½ miles with 1,300 feet of ascent)? We would choose, and each day new choices were offered.

The countryside was beautiful, the pace of my chosen walks (three “medium” and two “harder”) worked well for me, and my travel companions, mostly retired Brits seeing more of their own country but also some overseas visitors, were friendly.

We walked mostly on “public footpaths,” which in the UK can traverse farm fields and will almost certainly include climbing stiles or going through “kissing” gates. We also walked along country roads and made frequent stops, visiting quaint 16th-century churches, historic dovecotes and picturesque Cotswold villages.

The details

For my week’s stay I paid £619 ($969) for room and board, including three very filling meals each day, guide service and transportation by coach to and from the start and finish of each day’s walk. My only additional costs were my bar bill and souvenir shopping.

I would highly recommend HF Holidays and their “classic walking holidays” for anyone who has contemplated walking in the English countryside but doesn’t want to deal with carrying large backpacks or arranging the logistics of accommodations and meals, much less figuring out Ordnance Survey maps!

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.
A path through the English countryside beckons.

by Dee Poujade, Portland, OR

Imagine a week in an English country house enjoying tasty meals and comfortable accommodations and heading out every morning with experienced guides to hike the beautiful countryside. That’s how I spent the last week of July ’09 — staying at Harrington House in Bourton-on-the-Water and hiking in the Cotswolds.

Making arrangements

The British call this type of vacation a “walking holiday” and, while I never did learn the difference between an American “hike” and a British “walk,” I did find the experience most enjoyable.

My goal when booking the trip was to find a walking holiday where I could sleep in the same bed every night, hike with only a daypack and follow guides who knew where they were going. HF Holidays (Hertfordshire, UK; phone + 44 [0] 20 8732 1220) filled the bill admirably!

Due to a last-minute cancellation by my traveling companion, I traveled alone to Bourton-on-the-Water, taking the train from London to Oxford, then a local bus. There I met my walking companions over tea in the comfortable lounge of Harrington House, one of a number of country houses that HF Holidays owns and/or leases throughout the British Isles. In addition to serving as accommodations for walking holidays, HF houses are also bases for holidays focused on dancing, bridge, music and a number of other interests.

Harrington House in Bourton-on-the-Water.

Walking, though, is how HF started, more than 50 years ago. Then, holiday-makers were housed in dormitory accommodations and alcohol on the premises was strictly forbidden. Times have changed! Now the accommodations are comfortable bedrooms with facilities en suite, and the bar is open from the time guests return from their day’s walking until bedtime.

The schedule

Every evening, before dinner — a tasty meal which we had ordered the previous evening from a choice of four or five selections — the 16 walkers in my group gathered to hear the three walk leaders describe the next day’s walk.

Would it be an “easy” walk (up the gentle side of the Windrush Valley for six miles with 400 feet of ascent), a “medium” walk (on field paths to the picturesque village of Lower Slaughter, with the River Eye flowing through it, covering 8½ miles and 675 feet of ascent) or the “harder” walk (climbing the valley below Kiftsgate Court for 10½ miles with 1,300 feet of ascent)? We would choose, and each day new choices were offered.

The countryside was beautiful, the pace of my chosen walks (three “medium” and two “harder”) worked well for me, and my travel companions, mostly retired Brits seeing more of their own country but also some overseas visitors, were friendly.

We walked mostly on “public footpaths,” which in the UK can traverse farm fields and will almost certainly include climbing stiles or going through “kissing” gates. We also walked along country roads and made frequent stops, visiting quaint 16th-century churches, historic dovecotes and picturesque Cotswold villages.

The details

For my week’s stay I paid £619 ($969) for room and board, including three very filling meals each day, guide service and transportation by coach to and from the start and finish of each day’s walk. My only additional costs were my bar bill and souvenir shopping.

I would highly recommend HF Holidays and their “classic walking holidays” for anyone who has contemplated walking in the English countryside but doesn’t want to deal with carrying large backpacks or arranging the logistics of accommodations and meals, much less figuring out Ordnance Survey maps!