There was a lot of mud. There were bodies in bright outfits all shuffling together. And it was certainly noisy – the wind hollered and buffeted like heavy metal at full volume. But there ended the likeness to a traditional British festival. Up on the top of Mynydd Troed in February, I’d joined ramblers rather than ravers for this outdoors celebration, the Crickhowell Walking Festival. No camping. Better food. And a chance to discover whether countryside hiking – often undertaken to escape the crowds – is actually best done with other people.
A walking festival, in Wales, in winter? A supremely soggy but super commission!
Walking festivals seem to be cropping up all over the place these days, and – as someone who usually prefers to walk alone – I was keen to find out what the fuss was about. So I pitched a piece on Crickhowell Walking Festival to the Telegraph, which involved heading to south Wales on a damp weekend to get out into the hills with a load of other people.
The result? Rain, of course. As well as excellent food and company, and the sort of scenery that’s a joy to behold – and leaves you vowing to return on a weekend with better weather.
Accompanying the main first person piece was a round-up of other great walking festivals across the UK this year. Time to start planning…
Sitting atop a 180-year-old stallion, just off Britain’s ancient Ridgeway, I watched a man meditating inside an extraterrestrial doodle. From my vantage, by the rump of a huge chalk figure – Hackpen Hill’s White Horse – I saw the man stroll amid a crop circle of alien (or prankster?) flattened wheat before pausing in the centre to commune, I presumed, with Martians or Mother Nature. This is the sort of thing that happens when you go walking in Wiltshire, a county whose maps are scrawled with more gothic font than you can wave a dowsing rod at.
It’s funny. Sometimes you can spend an age coming up with exotic feature ideas about far-flung lands in an attempt to secure that editor’s commission. Then sometimes you just happen to go on a lovely little local walk, for fun, and subsequently manage to sell multiple pieces without even thinking about it.
When the boyfriend and I set off on the Great Stones Way (which runs from ‘exotic’ Swindon to Salisbury), it was for his belated birthday present. But I thought I’d take my notebook, just in case…
As so often happens when you’re not supposed to be travelling for work, the trip turned out to be a great story. When we got home, I pinged out a few emails and managed to place pieces with the Telegraph (extracted above), Wanderlust, Wild-Bounds.com and English Heritage. The perfect scenario.
So the moral of this tale? Obviously I need to pitch more stories on Swindon!
I have just read your amazing feature in Wanderlust. It’s brilliant! I am thrilled and can’t wait to send it to everyone in Tassie. Thank you so much again. You have been magnificent.
Forgive me. Own trumpet blown. But this was the delightful message I received from Susie de Carteret at Tasmanian Odyssey, who supported my press trip to Oz earlier this year. One of the resultant features has now been published in Wanderlust, in which I was able to combine Tasmania’s new Three Capes Track with lashings of convict history. So satisfying that I was able to turn a terrific trip into a not-too-shabby feature!
The main lesson I’ve learned from writing this book is that there is history to be found everywhere. Whenever and wherever you walk, someone or something has almost definitely gone before. This enriches every ramble. It means we can stride out amid landscapes made wonderfully weird by geothermal activity. We can stroll via crumbling castles, walls that kept people in, walls that kept people out, furrows made by slaves and escapees, streets lined with epoch-defining architecture, or really, really old trees…
Oh my! I’ve written a book! A History of the World in 500 Walks (Aurum) has been published this month, the product of hours (and hours and hours) of hard graft, and decades of dreaming about being an author.
It was a real labour of love, combining my passion for walking with an ever-increasing fascination for history. I now can’t seem to go for a wander without wondering how long that building, mud bump or bit of rock I’ve just passed has been sitting there.
I’ve loved writing this book. I hope people enjoy reading it.