This time of year, it’s tempting to want to curl up in front of a fire and drink stout from under a blanket. To snap out of this stupor, I find it helpful to remind myself of the fact that pints of beer have always tasted so much better to me after a little bit of exercise and some fresh air.
A couple of weeks ago, I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by hiking into the Grand Canyon. Not all the way in of course (the tricky snowy paths at the top saw to that), but certainly far enough to appreciate the sheer majesty of giant slabs of rock rising up through my periphery as I descended towards the ever-clearer Colorado river basin below. Afterwards, it was time for a well-deserved pint. But given that the eateries in the Grand Canyon National Park itself are most likely what could properly be called ‘tourist traps’, we had to hop back in the car before hitting an excellent brew pub.
Having spent much of this year in the mountain west of the USA, my walking boots have never been so well loved. With an extraordinary range of spectacular hiking opportunities and great craft beer alike close by, I definitely feel very lucky indeed. That said, there’s something quintessentially British that I particularly miss; the pub walk.
A true British pub walk should not be too strenuous or too long – about an hour, and between 2.5 – 4 miles, depending on one’s natural pace. This should be enough to warm the bones a little, without breaking a sweat or feeling worn out. The set off point could either be home, or a carefully curated car parking spot. But the key is that the walk’s destination – the finish line – must be a cosy country-style pub serving excellent ales, with a comfy pew to rest one’s feet before embarking on the return leg of the journey.
Britain has a high volume of areas perfectly suited to this most satisfying of Sunday afternoon activities. As a child, the Thames was virtually on the doorstep, and my parents would drive us to some lovely parts of Surrey and Middlesex each weekend, where we could enjoy a spot of fishing before a leisurely stroll to the pub for some well-deserved lunch. More recently, I lived next to the Grand Union canal, and towpath walking became a favourite serene pastime. A stretch I particularly loved was the picturesque Apsley Lock to the Rising Sun pub in Berkhamstead. At 4.5 miles, often with a few muddy patches, this walk was definitely on the more ambitious end of pub walks, but the splendid views of canal life and pretty narrowboats made it worth it. The pub itself is a local institution; year-round outdoor bunting decorates the facade, perfectly kept local ales are served, local bands play in the tiny back room on the weekends, and there’s plenty of places to perch outside to watch or help the passing boaters to navigate the lock.
So whilst Britain might be lacking in the mountain ranges, panoramic views and hefty summits that I’ve become used to, I can’t wait to return home to enjoy a little stroll along some stretch of water or other, followed by a delicious pint of cask ale to celebrate my small efforts, in a truly national style.