The Perils of English Country Walks

Copyright Siri Paulson, 2007

Five years ago, I went to England for Christmas.

I used to hike in the Rockies every summer with my family. So when I discovered there was such a thing as “self-guided walks”, I was thrilled. Three days of strolling through the picturesque English countryside like a couple of Romantic poets? Three nights of sleeping in bed & breakfasts in tiny villages? With our luggage driven ahead to the next night’s stay so we didn’t even have to carry it? And no giant tour bus whisking us from place to place at breakneck speed?

Sign me up! What could possibly go wrong?

First, I was sick. I’d had a cough since just about the moment we landed. Our activities in London had been seriously curtailed, and I was hoping that those quiet days would bring me back to health. But my usually sharp mental faculties might not have been all in place.

Second, the weather was damp. After all, we’re talking about England in the winter. (Side note: there’s a reason Ireland is as green as it is….) But what I had failed to think of was the mud that resulted. At least we had decent boots, but mud does slow one down. A lot. Oh, and we got drizzled on, too…meaning even more mud.

Third, although we had a map provided by the tour company, it wasn’t exactly the most detailed…and it turns out we both suck at route-finding. I, the possessor of the map and determiner of the route, spent the whole time terrified that we were going in the wrong direction. My travelling partner offered advice that invariably turned out to be wrong. We clearly weren’t cut out for this at all.

We finally hit the first day’s “lunch” stop in mid-afternoon — after miraculously not getting lost, just travelling too slow and stopping too often to stare at the map for long stretches. In a tiny pub filled with hunters (did I mention it was hunting season? And that I’m afraid of dogs?), we decided to cut our losses.

We called a cab to take us to that night’s B&B. (Even that had a momentary blip. Who knew there was more than one village in the area with the same name?) The next day, we simply caught a ride with our luggage to the last B&B. The lovely English countryside had defeated us.

In fairness, here’s the flip side…

Buttery yellow stone. Notice the complete lack of rain? | Copyright Siri Paulson, 2007

First, our tour took us through the Cotswolds — an area of insanely picturesque villages. We stayed in cottages that were hundreds of years old, ate at local pubs, and marvelled at the butter-yellow stone that the Cotswolds are famous for making buildings out of.

Second, we did get a chance to see the countryside…from a completely different viewpoint than what the highways allow. While the highways run as straight and flat as possible, we walked through a landscape of rolling hills and tiny valleys, meadows and forests. I’m glad I got to experience that.

Third, we loved staying in the B&Bs. Because we were there at low season, the two of us were the only guests. Once we got over the weirdness of staying in someone’s home, we really enjoyed the intimacy and the friendly proprietors. We found it much cheaper than hotels, and a great way to travel.

And…now we know what not to try next time we travel!

Have you ever gotten lost while travelling, or otherwise gotten in over your head?


7 responses to “The Perils of English Country Walks

  1. Lol! Brill post! I would love to have had this adventure. Going tramping around in the mud and fields of the Cotswolds sound like a great time to me. πŸ™‚

  2. I remember the crazy mud in England! A number of years back, my cousin and his wife decided we would go for a New Year’s day tromp through the English countryside. It was a lovely day, as it happened, but there was still plenty of mud, and by the time we got back to their place we all had thick mud caked up well past our ankles–but it was such fun! Since we didn’t have any specific distance to cover, we had a great time squishing through mud, across meadow and dale and then back to the house to change out of our muddy clothes and head off to a pub for some late afternoon fare!

    It does put all those Austen and Bronte books into a different context though, with Elizabeth, Jane and Catherine wandering about the countryside through such mud and the like in their lovely dresses and bonnets!

  3. Catherine Johnson

    I think I’ve I’ve been to the Cotswolds before, i do miss quaint old English villages. I hope you enjoyed your trip!

  4. prudencemacleod

    Oh I can relate. My last trip to Scotland was in early winter. Cold, damp, wet, muddy and more, but I gained a whole new appreciation for fine woolens to keep you warm and dry. Next time let’s all try a summer trip. πŸ™‚

  5. Peggy, there were definitely things I loved about it!

    Kat, sounds like a fun outing. I guess the mud could explain why, in P&P, everyone is so shocked that Elizabeth walks three miles cross-country to care for her ill sister.

    Catherine, those villages really are as gorgeous as they look in photos, aren’t they?

    Prudence, what a great idea!

  6. I’ve been to the cotswolds, but a walking trip is something I’ve long wanted to do… Sounds awesome

  7. Ellen, I think it would have been awesome if we were more confident route-finders and outdoors-people (or if we’d gone with people who were). Seeing the countryside that way really was beautiful!

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