In Patrick Norris’s second article for his column A Walker’s Guide, he examines the health benefits of walking and how a small amount of walking exercise can have startlingly positive effects on your physical and mental health.
In the 1990s walking as a form of exercise began to gain some momentum and the term ‘health walks’ strode onto the national scene. It was something that a large sector of the population could do and had access to.
Health walks or walking for health was the brainchild of Dr William Bird, a GP from Berkshire, who realised that our cities, towns and villages have within them and are surrounded by largely accessible rural and urban countryside. There is a network of paths and public open spaces, which were little used and felt by him to be a resource that could or should be used to bring health benefits to a wide cross section of society.
After all, if walking in the rural (and urban) countryside made him feel better and healthier, why should it not have similar benefits for others, wherever they lived and whatever their state of health.
The health benefits of walking have been researched extensively in the last 10-15 years. Scientific studies demonstrate that that the now well-known 30 minutes of moderate physical activity such as walking, undertaken five times a week can help to reduce stress levels, change the way people feel about themselves and help them to manage their weight.
In addition, when you walk with other people, there is an opportunity to socialise and make friends. One of the original aims of the health walks programme, was that participants would go on to become independent walkers, form their own groups, join the Ramblers www.ramblers.org.uk perhaps and generally be more active; I hope that’s the case, because Great Britain and Northumberland in particular, is an amazing place to discover and walking really is one of the best ways to explore it.
As an example, the Northumberland Heritage Coast, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with its medieval castles, miles of golden sandy beaches and abundant wildlife provides generally easy walking. It’s mostly on the flat, there are teashops and pubs along the way and it has regular buses and two train stations, one at Alnmouth, the other in Berwick-upon-Tweed. So, the walks can be linear or circular and that means they become very accessible. You can walk quite a long way up and down the coast and if you plan things carefully, there will be a bus along before too long to take you back to where you began. Or, you can just turn round and walk back the way you came, the view is different as you travel in the opposite direction and who knows what you might see or who you might meet on your travels.
With a bit of prior preparation, your walk along the Northumberland Heritage Coast will provide plenty of low level exercise; you’ll get loads of fresh air, marvel at the remarkable scenery, work up a healthy appetite, which can be satisfied in a teashop, and share your experiences with your friends and family. I hope you’ll feel so much better physically and mentally, so much so that you will want to come back to Northumberland and do it all again or even better discover new places to walk in and explore in this amazing county!
You can find out more about walking for health by visiting www.whi.org.uk. There is likely to be a health walk near you; it offers a perfect way to exercise and it’s well worth checking out.
For public transport information, visit www.arrivabus.co.uk or www.nationalrail.co.uk. The Coast and Castles connection bus services 501, 505 and 518 serve the Heritage Coast and special fares such as the Coast Rider ticket are available.
- Patrick and his wife Louise Almond-Norris own and operate Footsteps in Northumberland, a guided walks company.
Category: Northumberland Walker's Guide