“Rambling,” “Walking”

This post is a ruse. That is, I know very well that rambling and walking are not not-one-off Britishisms. They are not even one-off Britishisms. They have chipped away exactly zero at the U.S. equivalent, hiking. (I would be interested in knowing the difference, if any, between the two in the U.K.)

The ruse is that I am actually looking for some walking, or rambling, advice. My wife and I ware planning a trip to England this summer, and would like to spend three or four days of it on a walking holiday. We are looking for a place where we could travel fairly easily from London (without a car) and go on a few beautiful, moderately strenuous 7-10 mile hikes walks. One option we’ve been looking at is the South West Coast Path, but which of its 630 miles, I have no idea.

All suggestions appreciated.



49 thoughts on ““Rambling,” “Walking”

  1. I think hiking is more determined, more energetic than rambling. Rambling implies a certain aimlessness; even if the destination is known, the destination is not the point.

  2. Have you seen David Crystal’s travel guide to sites important to the development of the English language? http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199668120.do. I think all the hikes therein are short, and he had a car to get to them. But there might be some ideas. The Lake Country has many marvelous hikes and, once again, great literary history. It’s not a bad journey by train and bus, er, coach. I’ve never been southwest, but I’ve heard good things.

    1. (The Lakes and the Moors are a long way from London by British standards, but are both accessible by train)

      Buy an OS map for wherever you walk – it’s not that expensive, and it’s worth it.

    1. Thanks. If we did South Downs Way, is there somewhere you’d recommend as a place to stay–accessible from London, and two or three good walks emanating from there?

    1. Thanks, Steve–your blog is cool. Is there a certain place on the Way you’d recommend that’s accessible from London and would serve as a base for 2-3 good walks?

  3. Rambling is more determined ( usually) with full equipment, boots,maps etc. Walking implies more amateur efforts, although not always ( see Wainwright).
    As a Brit who, in the post war lean years was forced to do this every Sunday in the Peak District, I have found my spiritual home in the concrete canyons of New York and the subway.
    But have you considered the Chilterns? North West of London, very pretty, edging on to the Cotswolds which are more touristy.

  4. I live near Plymouth Devon. I would be tempted to say take the train to Totnes ( pronounced Tot Ness). Look at perhaps taking a boat or bus ride to Dartmouth. South west cost path walks along Slapton sands. There is quite a bit of WW II history here related to the US. Or, go to Salcombe and look at walking Bolt Head to Bolt Tail in going westward or walk round to Prawle point and perhaps Start point going eastwards. This would not be a day trip from London! As a rough guide, the train from London to Plymouth takes about 3 hours. There is one bit of the train route at Dawlish which is very pretty. During the winter the track was washed away but it has been recently repaired and in use again.
    Anyway, I hope you make the trip and get some rambling hike walking in.

    1. How about Brighton (or even Cuckmere Haven) to Bournemouth via Birling Gap & Beach Head, along the cliffs and Seven Sisters (a UK Windows 7 wallpaper!)

    2. Arthur, thanks. So would you recommend Dartmouth or Salcombe as a base? We are definitely not planning a day trip from London. Were thinking of a three or possibly four-night stay.

      And Dan, that’s 88.7 miles. We have maybe 25 miles max in us. What portion would you recommend?

      1. Sorry Ben. I have been traveling and reception is poor. Probably Dartmouth. In addition to the south west coast path you could also visit Agatha Christies home at Greeway greenway@nationaltrust.org.uk near bye or there is a steam train trIp from Kingswear on the other side of the river from Dartmouth which goes to Paignton in Torbay. I would NOT recommend staying in Paignton but the scenery from the train is nice. From memory there is a bus train boat circular trip which includes Totnes Dartmouth and Paignton. If you have any interest is United States military history, there is a a memorial on Slapton sands which was the scene of a military blunder. At the southern end of the sands a local man salvaged a Sherman tank which fell of a landing ship during the abortive exercise and placed it in a car park as a memorial. I think some German ships got amongst the naval ships and the radios didn’t work so about 400 or so Americans were killed. It was meant to be a practice for D Day. This June is of course the 70 th anniversary of the invasion
        In my usual indecisive way though the walks out from Salcombe are probably less hilly and there is another NationalTrust property at Overbecks on the walk out to Bolt Head. As ever always weather dependent but if you come and hate it, give me a call and il buy you a drink!

  5. Another option, if you’ll be based in London, might be to walk a few sections of the London Loop. This wouldn’t require you to forsake your London base; most sections begin by rail or tube stations in zone 6, so you can use your Travelcard/Oyster, and the average length of a section is 10 miles. You’d get to know a different side of London and walk through some remarkably wild spots.
    Wherever you choose to go, I hope you have good weather and a lot of fun.

  6. As I see it, in the three degrees of effort – fast, faster, fastest – it’s walking, rambling, hiking.
    Apologies for lack of walking holiday advice.
    I’m a Londoner, and urban walker by obligation, but believe there is some delightful walking out beyond the metropolis.

  7. We use ‘hike/hiking/hiker’ in the UK as well. I think a hiker goes out with more earnest intent and probably has a much larger back pack than a rambler and may well camp instead of staying in B&Bs or returning home immediately afterwards.

    To go for some nice rambles without straying too far from London you should try the London Outer Orbital Path (LOOP).

    Far too many American tourists bond themselves to London. Do please consider staying in some other places (and I don’t just mean the figure-of-eight which is London, Bath, Stratford-on-Avon, York, Chester/Liverpool). The entire UK is smaller than Oregon but with a lot more railway track and stuff going on.
    You’re welcome!

  8. As I understand it, hiking is usually presented as a form of exercise (“I enjoy soccer, swimming and hiking”) whereas rambling is more for relaxation (“I enjoy chess, real ale and long, aimless rambles across the Yorkshire Dales with my elderly border terrier”). I know which one I’d prefer to see in a dating profile.

  9. Further from London but The Lake District national park is close (within a bus ride, at least) to the west coast main line. Absolutely beautiful and there’s lots of different difficulties of hike. Alfred Wainwright’s guidebooks are really useful, and little works of art themselves.

  10. Malvern Hills? Great Malvern is accessible by rail from London via the Oxford & Cotswold line or via Birmingham (aka Mordor) & Worcester.

    Thames path? Follows the Thames (bet that surprised you eh?) towards (or away from) London. Starts near Cirencester (by rail from Paddington, Kemble), but you can pick it up and at various points on the Great Western line and head back toward London. Not hugely strenuous.

  11. Walking implies a day trip in the countryside – principally on public footpaths. A walk can still be quite strenuous. Hiking is something far more serious, and possibly involves several days, and either camping or staying in youth hostels. Although Wainwright calls them walks, I would describe fell walking in the Lake District as hikes.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pictorial_Guide_to_the_Lakeland_Fells).

    Other than in the context of Rambling Syd Rumpo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBZGW9cguTs), rambling is an organised group walk (for example – assuming you are Jewish (??) – at this time of the year our synagogue organises a matzah ramble).

    We have homes both in London and in South Devon (adjacent to the SW Coastpath), and the SW Coastpath – particularly along the South Devon coast, is very beautiful.(http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/ and http://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/) The stretch from East Dorset to Brixham has recently been designated a world heritage geopark because of its important geological features (http://www.englishrivierageopark.org.uk), and much of the marine environment is also protected. But this is not a day trip from London. You would need to allow at least 4 hrs on the train from London Paddington to either Totnes or Paignton (and from Paignton you could take the steam train to Kingswear, and then the ferry across the River Dart to Dartmouth which would be a good place to base yourself).. South Devon depends on tourism, and there are many good hotels and guesthouses. The South Hams District Council’s tourist website (http://www.visitsouthdevon.co.uk/) is full of useful information). If you are going to go to Devon, you should also try to get up to Dartmoor (Ivybridge has a station, and is a good startting point for circular walks onto the moor).

    But you should be aware that parts of the coastpath have been diverted due to storms – see the SW Coastpath website for details. Some of the ferrys across the many rivers are seasonal, and if no ferry is running, the walk inland to the nearest bridge (if one exists) can be very long. Again the website has details. The key is to plan ahead. Also book your train tickets in advance through the First Great Western website – Advance tickets are considerably cheaper than turn up and go tickets.

    Your other option is to take day trips into the countryside from London. This may end up being more expensive, as the cost of hotel rooms in London is outrageous. But you could consider walking in the Cotswolds, the Chiltern Hills, the South Downs – all within an easy day’s journey from London.

    And you shouldn’t forget the Ramblers’ Association (http://www.ramblers.org.uk/), not only as a source of organised walks (which might be fun), but as a source of information and publications. There are lots of other walking resources (such as http://www.walkingworld.com/). Make sure you have a map and compass. Also either buy a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile phone in the UK (from Carphone Warehouse for example), or if your own phone isn’t locked to a network, go into a supermarket such as Tesco or ASDA (Walmart’s UK subsidiary), and get a free (or nearly free) UK pay-as-you-go SIM card.

    The English countryside is very beautiful, and because English geology is so varied, you do not have to travel far to experience different kinds of terrain. Good luck.

    1. Nick, many thank. It sounds like Dartmouth would be a good place to base ourselves. If we did that, do you have any recommendations for walks to take on two successive days?

      1. Dartmouth would be a good place to base yourself, as not only are there good walking options, but also things to see and do if the weather is inclement. Dartmouth is a pretty little town, it is the location of the Royal Navy’s academy. I think the Pilgrim Fathers started off from Dartmouth, but had to put in for repairs at Plymouth. Don’t know when you are planning to visit, but avoid the regatta, when Dartmouth will be extraordinarily busy and prices will increase.

        You can walk both East and West from Dartmouth along the coast path – take the ferry across the Dart and walk East towards Man Sands beach – one way along the coast path and the other way inland via Coloton. At Coloton you can visit Coloton Fishacre, the country house of the D’Oyle Carte family (owners of the Savoy Hotel and the Savoy Theatre, and producers of Gilbert and Sullivans Savoy Operas). It’s a very liveable arts and crafts house, with an exceptional garden that tumbles down to the coast. They used to have their laundry sent up on the train to the Savoy Hotel, and have their meals sent down on the train from the Hotel! If you are up for it, continue past Man Sands beach to Brixham and Berry Head (a national nature reserve with ruins of Napoleonic forts). The Guardhouse cafe at Berry Head is a good stop for walkers, and has a webcam online if you want to check out the views. Brixham is a working fishing port, and has good fish and chip shops/restaurants. You could then take the bus back to Kingswear for the ferry to Dartmouth.

        Walk West towards Slapton Sands and Start Point. Slapton Sands was where the Allied forces practised for the Normandy invasions. Have fish and chips at the Start Bay Inn (some of their fish is landed on the beach in front of the Inn). Bus or taxi back to Dartmouth.

        Check bus times before you set out!

        Both walks would be strenuous as the path steeply slopes (up and down). There are considerably less strenuous options too – as you can turn inland to have a circular walk back.

        You should also walk on Dartmoor – I haven’t had a chance to check whether there are buses to Ivybridge, or how long they would take – but Ivybridge would be a good place to start a circular walk up onto the moor.

        As well as walking, you can visit Coloton Fishacre (see above), Greenways (Agatha Christie’s home). A ferry from Darmoor will take you to a landing just below the house. As well as the house, Greenways has a lovely garden sloping down to the river. Dartmouth Castle is worth visiting, and you can take a ferry up to Totnes (another pretty town, with a castle at the top of the hill. You can walk the town walls, and look at the many alternative lifestyle shops full of crystals and pyramids. The steam railway does a circular tour involving train, ferry and a historic double decker bus. If you can get to Plymouth, you can take a photo at the Plymouth Steps in Sutton Harbour, where the Pilgrim Fathers finally left for America.

  12. In fairness, I think Ramblers have a refutation for vigilance in keeping rural routes and bridle ways, rights of way etc open. In a small crowded island they may have a point. I still think a Rambler is an obsolete American car made by Chrysler Corp. …..

    1. My first car, c. 1968, was a used Nash Rambler. It looked better on the outside. (Apologies of Doctor Who.)

      1. That must have looked pretty stylish standing next to the coke bottle shaped Galaxies and Impalas of 1968.. I think about the same time as Ramblers were being things of the past, the British motor industry was losing many well known brands too.

    1. The Ramblers Association do take (legal) action to protect the rights of walkers, and prevent landowners from blocking up or removing public footpaths – indeed that is part of their raison d’etre. They were very active in the campaign to create a statutory right to roam.

      However I wouldn’t describe their approach as anything like that of the hunt saboteurs!

  13. Well Ben! That seems fairly settled! “Nick A” and I largely agree on where to visit and I guess “Nick A” may live near me? I believe there may be a future NOOB as English people call the “Pilgrims”, “Pilgrim Fathers”.
    I think there is a group in Plymouth liaising with counter parts in Plymouth MA for a joint celebration in 2020. 400th anniversary of their sailing from Plymouth Devon. I really hope you make the trip and enjoy this part of England!

    1. We’re on the outskirts of Brixham (when in the South West) (we used to be just north of Kingsbridge, but moved last year) – and are close to Hampstead Heath in London. Both are glorious in their different ways.

      Just spent the afternoon at Coloton Fishacre with children and dog on an Easter Egg hunt – the garden is beautiful today with spring flowers and sunshine. A contrast to yesterday’s rain and grey sky. Am writing this at the dining table at home, looking out over fields to the Channel and listening to the birds singing (and the inevitable Gulls!). Bliss.

      Devon is glorious – but do think about the journey time. Think about getting an early (around 07:00) train down in the morning (it will be a little more expensive, but if you choose the right train, it will have a proper restaurant car, with a kitchen and chef, and will serve a proper English breakfast), and a late train back. That will allow you effectively a couple of extra days to explore Dartmouth and its immediate environs, as well as two full walking days.

      If you are only going to walk for two days, I would think about spending one day on the coast and one day up on the moor. You can’t come this far and not visit Dartmoor – and the contrast is striking. If you really want to go “native”, you could go letterboxing on Dartmoor (the predecessor to geocaching).

      So much to do, and so little time to do it.

      1. Nick and Arthur, you lot are brilliant. Thank you so much. I will report on our plans in this space when they are better formed.

  14. We used to live in Kingsbridge but now live in Wrangaton just inside the Dartmoor National Park following very recent retirement. I didn’t know about Coloton Fishacre till your post but I see from the Web it’s another National Trust property. It looks worth a visit. I did find Greenway interesting. Not that I am a Agatha fan!

    1. We were at California Cross – so not far from you at all!

      Would recommend the Coloton garden above Greenways (but not much in it). I haven’t visited the Greenways house (the house was only opened to the public relatively recently), but the Coloton house is arts and crafts/Art Deco at its best. If you have a car, then of course Castle Drogo is a Lutyens masterpiece, and the garden is strongly influenced by Gertrude Jekyll.

  15. All three of my daughters worked part time at the BP service station at California Cross during student holidays over the past years. You’ve probably met them Nick!

  16. I meant to add that Greenways the house was used by the US military during the WW2 and a Navy Lieutenant billeted there did some art work on the walls of one of the rooms which the Christie family decided to keep when they regained occupancy after the war. I found it interesting when it dawned on me the military just came along and told people “get out! we need your house!”
    So I haven’t been to Coloton, but would suggest Greenways is worth a visit. Castle Drogo. Gosh.. I definitely agree. Again it’s a National Trust place but you would need a car!
    I don’t know about Ben but this is inspiring me to get out and do some walking along the coast path!

  17. How about a 3.5 hr train to Yorkshire? If you are coming after the 1st week in July the Tour de France can help show off our hills and Dales beforehand… The county is so set up for tourists at the moment.

    Leeds is a good base for a trip to the Wuthering Heights of Haworth as well as David Hockney’s wolds. The Pennine Way takes in the hills, but even the Yorkshire Sculpture Park needs a good pair of walking boots to get round it all (and it’s free). And any excursion out of London that can also take in an ale trail is worthy of consideration. A train that meanders through the hills of West Yorks dropping passengers to walk to pubs that brew their own beer (don’t do it on a weekend – too many stag parties!). I might even join you 😉

  18. From Leeds, following Carolyn’s suggestion, you can also board the train to Settle and the delights of Ribblesdale and Dentdale, with wonderful walks and plenty of places to stay.

  19. Ben, did you make it to the UK – or are you planning to come? If you are going to be walking the SW Coast Path during the first couple of weeks in August, do please let me know as we will be down in Devon – perhaps we can meet up at the delightful Berry Head Guardhouse Cafe (http://guardhousecafe.com/)?

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