The Long Distance Walkers Association

Active travel, as it is known, is set to become even more popular as people rediscover the riches of the UK’s natural and cultural heritage.

Don’t be put off by the L-word in the name of this society: whilst the website of the Long Distance Walkers Association defines ‘long’ as more than 20 miles, the FAQs are quick to reassure newcomers that there are shorter events, including 15-mile ‘Social Walks’, and that you ‘don’t have to be a fanatic to enjoy our walks’.

The 12-mile Cuckmere Pilgrim Path takes in Alfriston’s 14th-century Old Clergy House, the first property to be acquired by the National Trust; Berwick church (above), with its Bloomsbury Group wall paintings, ancient yews (below), and wildflower meadows.

The LDWA will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, having been formed in 1972. Since then, it has acquired over 9,000 members, most of whom belong to one of the 43 local groups that organise walks and social events throughout the country. These are listed in the LDWA’s 100-page journal, called Strider, published in April, August, and December each year. Each Spring Bank Holiday Weekend sees the LDWA’s flagship event, ‘the 100’, which entails walking 100 miles in 48 hours. To take part you must already have completed one of the LDWA’s Challenge Events, finishing a walk of 50 miles in 24 hours (but such events always include shorter options).

The 16th-century chalk figure known as the Long Man of Wilmington (bottom).

For those of us who like a more leisurely pace, laced with visits to churches, monuments, viewpoints, or even a mid-walk picnic, one of the best features of the LDWA’s website is its comprehensive guide to the UK’s designated long-distance paths, ranging from the Dylan Thomas Trail (25 miles, doable over a weekend with plenty of pub stops, naturally) to the mighty 861-mile Wales Coast Path. You don’t have to be a member to use the guide, which is packed with useful information, including an overview of the route, references to relevant guidebooks, and accommodation tips.

Complementing the work of the LDWA is the emerging Slow Ways movement, which aims to create a UK-wide network of paths linking every major settlement, ideally with good transport links and toilets, cafes, and accommodation along the route. Many Slow Ways are five miles or so in length, and these can be joined up to create longer walks. Active travel, as it is known, is set to become even more popular as people rediscover the riches of the UK’s natural and cultural heritage, and all the health and wellbeing benefits of a good walk, whether long-distance or short.

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PHOTOS: Kate Owen.