The best places on earth to lace up your hiking boots? Christopher Somerville, writer of our Walk of the Month column, makes his choice.
'A journey as much spiritual as physical': trekkers cross the Gangotri Galcier in theHimalayas Photo: John Cleare
By Christopher Somerville
12:22PM BST 12 Sep 2008
Everyone is walking these days, all over the world. Travel has never been easier; guided walks and the companies that offer them have never been so thick on the ground. Who doesn’t know someone who has hiked to Machu Picchu, or climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, or gone trekking in the Himalayas? And yet some of the best walking in theworld lies right on our doorstep in these fortunate isles where fantastically rich and varied geology, history, wildlife and humanity jostle for a walker’s attention at every step.
Right now is a brilliant time to be lacing up the hiking boots. In Britainthe colours are on the turn, the hedges are full of blackberries at their sweetest and, after the miserable summer we’ve endured, the Clerk ofthe Weather may yet compensate us with a fine Indian summer of an autumn. Farther and higher afield the snows have yet to hit themountains, and the big chill is still a month or two away. School children are back at the chalk-face, too, so good deals are on the table, thecliffs and beaches are emptying and the upland tracks are losing their crowds.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world: walking is the way to go. It’s clean and green, of course (or it should be, if you plan your own trip or go with a reputable company such as those recommended below). But more than that, it’s the best, in fact, the only way to get at the heart and soul of a landscape. Fly, sail or drive it, train it or bus it or bike it: you won’t touch it as you could and should. On foot you talk to people at human pace in their own valley or on their native hillside. You not only see the wayside flower, the bird over the crags, the ruin on thepromontory; you stop and look, you scramble up to savour and to understand. In a world turning more and more virtual, homogenised and sanitised, walking is the true way to catch the magic of sometimes scary challenge, of communicating with real people in their everyday setting, of intense experience pouring in through all five senses.
Here is my personal selection of 50 of the world’s great walks. Some are short, some are long. There are easy strolls and demanding hikes; walks way out in the wide blue yonder, and walks near to home. Enjoy them tothe hilt!
Landslips have made Lyme Regis’s Undercliff uninhabitable - to humans.The narrow path threads through our own untouched “rainforest” landscape.
Lyme Regis to Axbridge, Dorset/Devon border; 3 hours; narrow woodland path - no escape routes; easy. Find nightingales, spring flowers, solitude, spectacular landslips; www.jurassiccoast.com; OS Explorer 116.
Follow the Peter Scott Walk for 11 miles around the Wash to King’s Lynn, savouring the marsh landscape.
Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire/Norfolk border; 4-5 hours; flat sea wall; easy. Discover huge skies, vast numbers of geese in winter; King’s Lynn TIC (01553 763044, www.visitwestnorfolk.com); OS Explorer 249.
In Upper Teesdale a delicate post-Ice Age flora is miraculously preserved along the Pennine Way beside the brawling River Tees.
Langdon Beck, Co. Durham/Cumbria border; 4-5 hours; meadow and moorland paths; moderate. Spot spring gentians, bird’s-eye primroses, Teesdale violets, nesting redshank and lapwing;www.ecn.ac.uk/sites/moorh.html; www.naturalengland.org.uk ; OS Explorer OL31.
A strenuous walk in wild Eskdale, the least frequented corner of theLake District, climbing to a 360º prospect from Bow Fell.
Brotherilkeld Farm, Eskdale, Cumbria; 6-7 hours; rough, stony and steep; hard. Face rock, water, wind, sky; 'A Pictorial Guide to theLakeland Fells’, Book Four, by Alfred Wainwright (Frances Lincoln,www.franceslincoln.com); OS Explorer OL6.
5 North Wales
Around the tip of the Llyn Peninsula.
St Mary’s holy well in the cliffs overlooks turbulent Bardsey Sound and Bardsey Island.
Aberdaron, Gwynedd; 6 hours; cliff and moor paths; moderate. See spectacular cliffs, St Mary’s Well (OS ref 138252), views of Bardsey;www.edgeofwaleswalk.co.uk; OS Explorer 253.
In the tumbled back country of Inverpolly, a boggy moor path and a scramble up the leonine mountain of Suilven.
Lochinver, NW Highlands; 8-9 hours; moorland track, bog, steep climb, some scrambling; hard. Enjoy empty wilderness, seeing golden eagles and otters and climbing Suilven;www.walkhighlands.co.uk/ullapool/suilven.shtml; OS Explorer 442.
7 Hermaness, Shetland
The most northerly place in Britain — wind-blown, lonely and breathtaking.
Burrafirth, Isle of Unst; 3 hours; hill track, exposed moorland; moderate. Discover nesting (NB — and aggressive) great skuas, puffins, Britain’s most northerly point; www.unst.org; OS Explorer 470.
8 Northern Ireland
To the 1,880ft summit of Slieve Gullion, County Armagh’s gorse-yellow mountain.
Slieve Gullion Courtyard Centre, Co Armagh; 4 hours; forest, then rubbly tracks; moderate. Marvel at wonderful views, legends of Fionn MacCumhaill, Stone Age chambered tombs;www.newryandmourne.gov.uk/tourism/activities/walking/slievegullion.asp; OSNI Discoverer 29.
9 Republic of Ireland
A challenging 30-mile day hike through the uninhabited mountain range of Nephin Beg, along the waymarked Bangor Trail.
Bangor Erris to Newport, Co Mayo; a very long day; rough, wet, boggy, steep in places; hard. Enjoy utter silence and isolation, wild mountains;http://mountainviews.ie/mv/index.php?walk=56; OSI Discovery 23, 31.
10 Republic of Ireland
A Dingle Peninsula delight — stroll down the eight-mile beach of theMaharees sandspit beside Brandon Bay, with Brandon Mountain as a backdrop.
Fahamore, near Castlegregory, Co Kerry; 3 hours; firm, sandy beach; easy. Enjoy superb beach walking and views of Mount Brandon;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maharees; OSI Discovery 70, 71.
Poignant walks along the front lines of the Battle of the Somme. How and where (but not why) 300,000 men lost their lives.
Near Peronne; 4 days of different walks; field paths, tracks; easy. Learn from an expert commentary about the battlefields, War memorials and cemeteries; www.holts.co.uk.
The Alentejo region of Portugal, facing the Atlantic, has bracing salt breezes, flower-spattered fields and long, uncluttered beaches.
Around Porto Covo or Vila Nova de Milfontes; as long or short as you like; long open beaches; easy. Wander around Peach Tree Island Beach, Zambujeira do Mar and its cliffs, Odeceixe, lagoons of São André and many more; www.infohub.com.
From the monastery of Montserrat, with its many art treasures, walk steeply up to a vast view among rock pinnacles.
Montserrat; 3-4 hours; rugged path; 1,300+ upward steps; moderate. Explore Montserrat monastery, funicular railway, wild flowers, summit pinnacles; www.abadiamontserrat.net; www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk (Walk 3 in Sunflower Landscapes: Costa Brava).
Autumn is the season to hike in the extensive, wild and gorgeous forests of the Ardennes region, changing colour day by day.
Around La Roche; as long as you like, from gentle walks upwards; forest tracks; easy/moderate. Discover the beauty of the forest in autumn, along unfrequented tracks; www.walkingworld.com;www.europaventure.be.
When General Winter invades Stockholm, the city’s waterways freeze. Stroll through snowbound streets and parks, then out across the canals and sea inlets.
Stockholm; half a winter’s day; ice; easy. Enjoy Stockholm under snow and the thrill of ice walking; www.stockholmtown.com.
16 Eastern Hungary
A September stroll across grassy plains among acrobatic horsemen and traditional shepherds. From the viewing tower near Tiszacsege, marvel at the evening flight of thousands of cranes.
Hortobagy National Park; a few hours; grassy plain; easy. Observe traditional farming, cranes in flight; www.hnp.hu.
The High Tatras are full of champagne air, waymarked walks from gentle to very serious and wonderful views.
Poprad, High Tatras National Park; several waymarked, all-day mountain walks; rugged mountains; moderate/hard. Explore towering mountain walls, flowery upland meadows and inhale bracing, clean air;www.tanap.sk.
A winter wonderland walk to deep-frozen Oeschinensee among towering, snow-capped Alps; then warm up with hot chocolate at the lake restaurant.
Kandersteg, Bernese Oberland; half day; forest and mountain paths; easy. Take a ski lift to a frozen lake and high mountain views;www.inntravel.co.uk.
Along a peachy section of the Adlerweg or Eagle’s Way, a spectacular 175-mile (280-km) hike through the Austrian Tirol.
Karwendelhaus near Innsbruck, to Lamsenjochhütte above theAchensee; 2 days; rubbly mountain paths; moderate/hard. See glorious mountains and sleep in the Falkenhütte mountain inn; www.tyrol.com;www.adlerweg.tirol.at.
Ascending Slovenia’s highest mountain, three-headed Triglav (9,396 feet), is one of the great delights of walking the beautiful Julian Alps.
Start from Pokljuka plateau near Bled; 2-3 days (1-2 nights in mountain inns); rough mountain paths, steep in places with sections of via ferrata (incorporating fixed cables and steel ladders); hard. Get a bird’s-eye view of majestic Julian Alps scenery, topping out on Triglav, Seven Lakes Valley; ProMontana & Lifetrek Outdoor Agency (00386 4 578 0662/00386 4 177 0823; email@example.com).
From coastal Amalfi, climb stepped paths through sweet pepper and nut tree gardens to Pontone, high overhead, with sensational views over Amalfi.
Amalfi; 4 hours; steep steps, field paths; moderate. Take in fabulous traditional gardens, mountain and sea views; www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk— walks 6, 12 and 16 in 'Landscapes of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast’ by Julian Tippett .
Machu Picchu is famous, and crowded. The White Rock Trek is something else: a head-spinning trail through dramatic mountains to theremote Inca ceremonial site of Choquequirao.
Vitcos, High Andes; 11 days’ trekking; steep mountains and valleys; hard. Discover Inca remains and spectacular mountain views by taking a road rarely travelled; www.himalayankingdoms.com.
23 Patagonia, Chile
From grass paths to mountain tracks, wonderful views and pristine environment are guaranteed in this region of glacial lakes and towering rock spires.
Torres del Paine National Park; from 1 to several days; grassy pampas, lakeside paths, mountain tracks; easy to hard — your choice. Explore sensational unspoilt crags, grassy pampas and lakes;www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk.
24 South Africa
Everyone sees it from the city, and many set out to climb it: Table Mountain, symbol and icon of Cape Town. A hot, demanding hike with a mind-boggling view from the top.
Lower to Upper Cableway Station; 1-3 hours; stony, steep path; hard. Explore the narrow Platteklip Gorge with sensational views over Cape Town; www.tablemountain.net/visitor_info/hiking.html.
A never-to-be-forgotten trek to the Fann Mountains on the Uzbekistan border, among people who rarely see a stranger, let alone a Western tourist.
Fann Mountains; 2 weeks; harsh mountains; hard. Discover theturquoise jewel of Alauddin Lake and remote mountains of stunning beauty; www.steppestravel.co.uk.
26 Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
Through the majestic Tien Shan Mountains, high and remote country amid mind-bending mountain scenery.
27 North India
A journey as much spiritual as physical, through lush green hills to Hindu devotions at Gangotri, the sacred source of the Ganges, among dramatic Himalayan mountains.
Garhwal Himalaya; 10 days; forest and mountain paths; hard. Discoverthe source of the Ganges, breathtaking mountains, terraced hills and forests; www.himalayankingdoms.com.
Strange rock shapes, pinnacles and spires emerge at low tide. Walk out to 18th-century Seymour Tower — but watch the tides!
La Rocque; 2-3 hours; flat sand; easy. Check out weird rock formations, rock-pool wildlife, sea-surrounded Seymour Tower;www.thisisjersey.com/community/history-heritage/violet-bank; OS Leisure Map of Jersey.
Cross the tidal flats of Langeoog Island at low tide, with black mud squidging between your toes, and glee is guaranteed.
Langeoog, Friesian Islands; 2 hours; mud flats; easy. Spot wild birds on a wild coast, with mud up to your knees; www.langeoog.de.
30 Faroe Islands
The Faroes are other-worldly, fabulously remote in the north Atlantic. Rasmus Skorheim, a farmer on Eysturoy island, takes guests up the hills to mindblowing viewpoints.
Rasmus Skorheim’s farm, Selatra, Eysturoy; an hour or more; steep, grassy slopes; easy/moderate/hard. Look out over rocks, water, wind, rainbows, sea and seabirds; www.visiteysturoy.fo.
GR20 is just about the toughest of the Grandes Randonées, traversingthe very rugged and mountainous backbone of Corsica amid spectacular scenery.
Start at Calenzana, near Calvi; 15 days; rubbly mountain tracks; hard. Explore rugged mountains, gorges and pine forests; www.sherpa-walking-holidays.co.uk.
32 Tuscan Archipelago, Italy
Wandering the winding paths of the isles of Elba, Capraia, Pianosa, Giglio and Giannutri is a rare delight.
Ferries from Elba to Capraia and Pianosa; Porto Santo Stefano to Giglio and Giannutri; an hour or longer; hilly tracks; easy/moderate. Wander through fragrant macchia scrub to tiny traditional villages – with few other walkers; www.elbapromotion.it.
When it’s hot, hot, hot in Sicily, make for the cool beech forests, wildflower meadows and lakes of Nebrodi National Park, with Mount Etna rising majestically beyond.
Start from Portella Calacudera, between Cesaro and San Fratello; 5-6 hours; forest tracks; moderate. Cool off in beech forests among ancient trees, flowery meadows and lakes; www.nozio.com;www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk (walk 15, Monte Soro and the Lago Biviere,in Landscapes of Sicily by Peter Amann).
Malta’s “little sister” island tempts walkers with its networkof field tracks through herb scrub, all leading to steep cliffs, wave-cut arches and tiny stone-built villages.
All over Gozo; variable; stony, uneven; easy/moderate. Follow walled field tracks past salt pans and strange weathered rock formations;www.breakaway-adventures.com.
The south-west is a flowery paradise in spring. Walk an early-day circuit from roadless Loutro up the mountain to Anopolis, returning down theAradena Gorge.
Loutro, near Chora Sphakion; 5-6 hours; steep, rubbly paths; hard. Find spectacular flowers, and breakfast on yogurt at Anopolis in preparation for a tricky but exciting gorge descent; www.west-crete.com.
36 Tenerife, Canary Islands
The island offers all grades and kinds of walking; the Masca Gorge, a gasp-inducing descent to a beach, is one of the finest.
Start at Masca; return by ferry to Los Gigantes, bus to Masca; 3-4 hours; descent by steps, boulders and rubble; hard. Explore a spectacular gorge, pools, flowers; www.gaiatours.es.
37 El Hierro, Canary Islands
Up in the misty forests of El Julan, beyond the chapel of Virgen de Los Reyes, walk through groves of sabines — twisted, ancient junipers, bent to the earth like sorrowing women.
Parque Natural de El Hierro; 1-2 hours; rocky paths; easy. Wander among ancient sabines with mountain-ridge views; www.elhierro.es.
The island’s scary levadas (irrigation channels) traverse tunnels, ledges and waterfalls, with immense drops only a step away.
Ribeiro Frio to Portela; 3-4 hours; extremely narrow path - not for vertigo sufferers; easy. There is the double thrill of spectacular mountain scenery and a narrow path; www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk (walk 27 inLandscapes of Madeira by John and Pat Underwood).
39 Porto Santo, Madeira
A dry volcanic island with splendid peaks. Waymarked track leads from pass under Pico de Cabrito to the summit of Pico Branco and to Terra Cha viewpoint. Three hours, there and back; steep, dusty, hot; moderate/hard. Enjoy the grandeur of peaks, sea and island views;www.madeira-web.com/PagesUK/p-santo.php .
40 Grand Canyon, Arizona
Hike down 3,000 feet to a camping ground, descend sheer cliffs, leap off ledges into rapids, swim in turquoise pools — all in side clefts of theGrand Canyon.
Hualapai and Havasu Canyon; 3 days’ hiking, 2 nights’ camping; day 1: steep stony paths; day 2: scrambling, jumping, swimming; hard. Enjoy sensational Grand Canyon views, walking 3,000 feet below the desert, flowers and blue pools, adventure and challenge all the way; www.aoa-adventures.com.
Drop nearly 5,000 feet to the tropical floor of the vast, little-known Copper Canyon, where oranges and avocados grow, for a walk through a strange lost world.
Start at Areponapuchi, on the railway between Chihuahua and Los Mochis; 7 days; forest, mountain and ravine; moderate/hard. Take inoakwood forests, tropical depths, breathtaking canyon views;www.himalayankingdoms.com (NB: new trek, call 01453 844400 for details).
Learn bush lore and medicine on a guided hike in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Jamaica as you walk the Vinegar Hill Trail and climb jungly Mount Horeb.
Many tracks start at Newcastle, inquire locally; all day; jungle tracks, dirt roads; easy/moderate/hard. Discover unspoilt jungle, sensational views, seldom-heard folklore; www.great-adventures.com; Peter Bentley, Sense Adventures, Box 216 Kingston 7, Jamaica (001 809 927-2097).
43 British Columbia, Canada
The 47-mile West Coast Trail is a tough but amazing way to see thecoast of British Columbia; a satisfying, challenging walk in a very wild place.
Bamfield to Port Renfrew; 5 days, camping out; muddy, often slippery trail with some tidal crossings; hard. See bald eagles, whales, seals, sea lions and black bears, ancient forests, huge mountain views plus occasional wolves and cougars; www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/index_E.asp.
44 Ontario, Canada
The Bruce Peninsula sticks out 50 miles into Lake Huron. Self-guided hikes in this wild, natural and rugged national park are graded from easy to challenging.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, Tobermory; from 1 hour to all day; limestone paths, lakes, forest; easy to hard. Explore forests and clear lakes to spot bears, orchids, red squirrels; http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/on/bruce/activ/activ1_e.asp#hiking.
Walk through the rainforest canopy (superb butterflies, monkeys, birds — go at 7am to avoid the crowds); then hike at ground level to learn forest lore and medicine.
Kakum National Park, near Cape Coast; half day; narrow aerial walkway (it sways!), then forest tracks; easy. Have your own intimate view of rainforest from up above and down below;http://wikitravel.org/en/Kakum_National_Park.
46 South India
Every January 14, a male pilgrimage moves off from the Pamba River to worship Lord Ayyappa in the mountain temple of Sabarimala. All men are welcome.
Sabarimala, near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala; 6-7 hours; steep, dusty jungle track; moderate/hard. Enjoy the company of fellow pilgrims, Pampa River bathing scenes, devotional activities, Sabarimala temple;www.cyberkerala.com/sabarimala.
Gain an introduction to north-east Cambodia in a series of easy-paced walks.
Start at Ratanakiri; 5 days of gentle walks; lakeside, jungle and hill paths; easy/moderate. See elephants, exotic birds, hill villages, Angkor Wat and take boat trips; www.himalayankingdoms.com.
48 Northern Territory,Australia
Circle Uluru (Ayers Rock), the gigantic whaleback of sandstone rock, inthe dawn hush, and watch as the rising sun makes it glow fiery orange, as if from within.
49 Queensland, Australia
The Thorsborne Trail threads the rainforest of Hinchinbrooke Island, a tough, magical hike punctuated by beachside camping and waterfall swims.
Hinchinbrooke Island; 4 days (3 nights’ camping); bush and mountain trail, steep in places; hard. Uncover wildlife from crocs to lizards, go waterhole swimming and relish the isolation;http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/projects/park/index.cgi?parkid=244.
50 New Zealand
Fly by helicopter deep into the bush along the twisting Mohaka River; hike and fish for your supper in the trout-filled waters.
Mohaka River, North Island; 24 hours; forest tracks, river bank, some river walking; easy. Enjoy the lonely forest, spectacular river gorge, wilderness fishing and camping out; www.chrisjolly.co.nz .
Many thanks to Andy Harrison, Lou Somerville, Doug Clark, Julian Chichester and Hugh Thomson for their help and advice.