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Walking with Peter

Inntravel , 26 February, 2021
Inntravel’s Peter Williamson spent much of last summer and early autumn travelling through the UK, scouting out the routes for our new walking holidays. We thought it was about time we caught up with him, to find out about his experiences.
 

Q: Your first destination was the North Norfolk coast; what were your impressions of the area?
I have family in Norwich but had never explored this area before. We normally go to the Broads or out to the east coast and so when the chance came to explore north Norfolk I couldn’t wait to go. I was lucky with the weather and it was really beautiful – brilliant colours glistening in the sunshine, from swathes of purple sea lavender on the tidal marshes and multi-coloured beach huts lining golden sands, to the red pan-tiled roofs of old cottages, the doors framed by hollyhocks, and brightly coloured boats bobbing along winding channels that led to small, pretty harbours or staithes. It was truly stunning, idyllic and very photogenic. I hope to return one day soon...

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the Inntravel walking routes?
Although this is in essence a coastal walk, there are opportunities to explore the hinterland, too, from the royal parkland of Sandringham and stately grounds of Holkham, to wooded hills near Snettisham and quiet country lanes around Wiveton. I say ‘hills’, but this is a very flat landscape and you will barely notice the ascents. There are bustling seaside towns but you soon leave the crowds behind as you head out along the coast path that meanders from one small harbour to the next. It is easy walking with plenty of time to stop and enjoy the view. And you can always jump on a bus at many points along the route if you’ve had enough for the day.

Q: And did you spot any of the famous birdlife?
The birdlife is ever-present and great flocks of shore birds and waders fight for your attention at every turn, including ‘exotic’ species like avocets, white egrets and black-tailed godwits. You can visit several nature reserves during the week, but for me the highlight came when I reached North Fen ponds near Stiffkey and saw a flock of spoonbills – something I’d never seen before! These iconic visitors to our shores are well-named and certainly stand out from the crowd! North Fen is managed by the Buxton Conservation Trust which has restored drained farmland to its former state – a wetland of fens, reedbeds and freshwater lagoons, making it the perfect habitat for spoonbills.

 

Q: Next up were the Scottish Borders; how did they compare?
As you might imagine the Tweed Valley was very different. Here, the walking is also pretty level, following the routes of old railway lines and delightful riverside paths but with the added dimension of dramatic heather-clad hills surrounding you each day, some of which you have the opportunity to walk up. There is a completely different atmosphere from the big skies and wide open spaces of the Norfolk Coast – it’s more intimate, more about the detail and the immediate landscape, though if you crave a far-reaching panoramic view there are plenty of vantage points along the way – you just need to head up!

Q: Is the walking difficult?
The main routes are pretty level, as mentioned above, but we include the opportunity to walk up a couple of small hills if you wish, one from Innerleithen and one (or more) from Melrose. Ascending these hills is purely optional and they are an added highlight rather than an integral part of the holiday. From Innerleithen, Pen Lee is a delightful heather-clad cone that offers fine views not only along the Tweed Valley but also back over the rolling hills to the north. The Eilden Hills, meanwhile, are an iconic trio of volcanic peaks that overlook Melrose and from the summit you can enjoy an unobstructed 360-degree panorama over the surrounding countryside for miles and miles. They are steep and rocky in places, albeit quite short climbs – but I am sure, like me, you will find the rewards well worth the effort.

Q: What kind of things are there to see and do en route?
The Tweed is probably Scotland’s most lauded river, famous for its salmon and you’ll see plenty of anglers as you walk. Not all will have the skill to hook the ‘big one’, though, unlike the osprey I was thrilled to see swooping down to take a fish near the village of Walkerburn – as iconic an image of Scottish wildlife as you’ll ever see. This is the land of the Reivers, a land of towers and castles, and a vigorous history that once played out along its banks, inspiring the likes of Sir Walter Scott, whose home at Abbotsford you can visit. Not to be missed is the magnificent Traquair House just outside Innerleithen, a stately baronial pile that has been occupied by the Stuart family for over 500 years; plus Melrose Abbey where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried. Each town has its own story to tell and wandering around their historic streets is the best way to get to know a place – and the best way to find a tempting restaurant or sitooterie for a moment’s quiet contemplation and relaxation.

 

Q: You then visited Northumberland; what is it that makes this such a lovely area to walk in?
Northumberland is relatively quiet and largely unspoiled. Yes, there are busy places, like Alnwick, Seahouses and Bamburgh, and the magnificent beaches will always draw people out for an invigorating stroll even when the weather is less than clement. Yet it’s still possible to experience a sense of freedom and isolation as you walk through meadows and woods, or along golden sandy beaches backed by tall dunes - and always with a brooding castle in the far distance to entice you on, or a rocky island just out to sea, home to myriad seabirds. There are bustling fishing villages but no heavy industry; there are seaside towns but no ‘resorts’; and there are even red squirrels in the woods if you look hard enough!
 
Q: Describe your favourite route here.
I do love walking along the coast. The ever-changing sea is always mesmeric and the crashing (or lapping of waves) creates a soothing backdrop to the otherwise noisy clutter in my head. Having said that, one of the walks I most enjoyed – probably because of the contrast – was a circuit around Hulne Park, laid out by Capability Brown for the Dukes of Northumberland. I like the fact that the gatekeeper opens the gates at 11 o’ clock and not a moment sooner; there is no traffic to worry about (apart from the occasional farm vehicle); dogs are banned; it’s beautifully maintained; and hides a folly tower, the private cemetery of the Percy family, a hermit’s cave, a hill-top priory, an ancient abbey gatehouse and hundreds of spectacular mature trees – oh, and there are lots of sheep. It’s a short walk from the centre of Alnwick yet is an oasis of calm serenity and quiet common sense. I was fortunate to be there in September when the trees were displaying their full autumn glory! It was a magnificent sight.
 
Q: And which castle were you most impressed by?
The castles at Warkworth, Alnwick, Bamburgh and Lindisfarne are all magnificent in their own right and worthy of serious admiration, if not veneration. However, the one that really evokes a true sense of the region’s rich and turbulent past has to be the romantic cliff-top ruin of Dunstanburgh, set upon a rocky promontory a short walk north along the coast from Craster. It doesn’t suddenly sneak up on you but can be seen from miles away, drawing you ever closer and adding a touch of majestic, if somewhat dilapidated, grandeur and wonderment to an already beautiful landscape. And when you get there you suddenly realise how small you are, dwarfed by its immense drum towers on either side of the gateway, their dark window openings like soulless eyes staring down at you and wishing you could see all they have seen over the centuries. That’s the thing about ruins as opposed to lived-in castles – you don’t need to read the guide book, you can let your imagination run wild and invent its past.

 

Q: A final question. Peter, you must have walked all of our UK holidays; do you have a favourite?
Funnily enough there are still a few I have not walked, the South Downs and Dorset, for example – and going forward we are increasing the number of our UK holidays which members of the whole team will need to walk as soon as we are able. I have to confess I do have my eye on one – but I cannot reveal the location just yet (watch this space…!). As for the walks I have really enjoyed, I absolutely loved the beach walking in Northumberland; climbing the Eildon Hills in the Borders; seeing kingfishers on the Waveney in Suffolk; and the final approach to Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. However, I think I shall have to say that the Yorkshire Dales holds a special place in my heart and has done ever since I first went there on family holidays as a child. The names of the hills, rivers and villages roll off the tongue like old friends and whenever I go, it’s a joy to find myself in the middle of some Dales’ town, watching the world go by while I lace up my boots ready to set out on a walk, whether that’s past the raging torrents of the Aysgarth Falls, or into the courtyard of the austere looking Castle Bolton, or winding through flower-filled meadows along the valley of the Ure to reach the market town of Hawes. It’s a magical place.

 
 

Related holidays

2021 is set to be the summer of the great British break, so start planning your next getaway. Following the recent Government announcement, we are accepting bookings for our Scottish walks from 1 May, and for our English walks from 17 May.

View our full UK walking collection >
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