Great walks through UK cities
Urban Rambles is a record of a series of walks through Britain’s cities. So far we have completed 31 and, eventually, aim to do them all – there are 69 in total, so it might take a while! (51 in England, 7 in Scotland, 6 in Wales, and 5 in Northern Ireland). Annie Britton, who is based in Edinburgh, is looking after all the Scottish cities. Sarah Stirling, who lives close to our smallest city, St David’s, will be looking after the Welsh side of things. And just occasionally we will head off-grid and go abroad if someone suggests a really great route – for example, the High Line in New York.
For each city, we describe in detail a route which takes you through as many green spaces as possible whilst not neglecting the major landmarks.
We aim for each walk to be about 10kms (6 miles) in length, to be done in a morning so you can wind up for lunch somewhere; and then maybe make a trip to one of the sites in the afternoon. Or pause along the route and make a full day of it.
Each walk focuses on the green spaces of the city (its parks, gardens, squares, cemeteries, rivers , canals and lakes) and its architectural highlights; and it suggests the best spots for stunning cityscapes, great ‘pit stops’, quirky shopping and places to visit. It also lists the major festivals and events of the city, so you can plan when to visit.
Our aim is that even if you have never visited the city before, in half a day or so you will feel that you have learnt more than a tourist could in several days. The blog gives you everything that you need to get going: a map, detailed directions and a commentary on the most interesting things along the route to look out for.
What inspired Urban Rambles?
Our inspiration was the realisation that cities have become much more enjoyable places to walk through than they used to be.
Town planners have at last come to realise that a great city is one that is ‘connected’; where you can easily and enjoyably walk around the centre; where the car no longer has the ascendancy; where there are plenty of ‘shared spaces’ in which the vitality and energy of the city can be expressed; and where people can relax and be active outdoors. If you want to read more on the subject, ‘Walkable City’ by Jeff Speck is a brilliant book; or watch him on YouTube. And developers are also cottoning on to the importance of walkable cities. Arup recently produced a very interesting report called Cities Alive; Towards a Walking World.
It’s easy to think of a great walk as always being a country walk; but you will come to realise that, if you can find the right urban routes, there is so much of interest to look at and enjoy in a city, not least the architecture and people going about their daily lives. And you can go just as you are, no fancy kit or knapsack required.
So which cities score best for walkability? Well, in our experience these are the features that make a great walking city:
- Lots of green spaces well looked after
- ‘Shaped’ open spaces, not prairies
- Trees, trees, trees
- Vistas, hills, water
- Stimulating architecture
- Walk-friendly pedestrian routes – minimal underpasses, bridges, railings; generous crossing times, straightforward junctions, broad pavements
- Interesting, varied routes which connect
- A vibrant street scene – people, independent shops, cafés – ‘outdoor living rooms’
- Culture & history
- Cars in their place i.e. secondary to pedestrians
- Extensive, regular, easy to use public transport
Now some cities do this much better than others, but almost all the cities that we have visited so far do this considerably better than they used to – which is progress we should celebrate and encourage. But we need to be ever watchful. Green spaces always need vigilant guardians to keep the developers at bay and ensure that they are lovingly looked after. Worryingly, the renaissance of many green spaces over the last 20 years is now under threat as austerity squeezes local authority budgets, and parks suffer disproportionately as they are not a statutory service. Take a look at this important recent article in the Guardian: ‘UK’s public parks face decline and neglect’. On a more positive note, The Communities and Local Government Committee has recently published its findings on an inquiry into public parks to examine the impact of reduced local authority budgets on these open spaces and consider concerns that their existence is under threat. the report can be found at Future of Public Parks inquiry.
How have the routes through each city been selected?
We have tried to maximise the % of a route which goes through green spaces, looking for the ‘rus in urbe’ in every city. We follow rivers, conduits and old canals, pass through ancient graveyards and stroll through Victorian parks, pause at Botanical Gardens and Town Meadows; some constructed by man to bring a touch of the country to the city (city parks), some the result of agricultural development (meadows) and others that do it quite inadvertently (disused railway lines).
But it has not always been possible to walk through green spaces. In their absence, we have looked for streets with character i.e visual appeal, independent shops, markets or some other quirky features of interest. This is more necessary in some cities than others. Manchester, for example, has very few green spaces in the city centre, but a fascinating street scene.
One final note: we have tried to pass many of the landmarks of each city, but also to cover some of the less well-known parts of a city so that in a very brief period of time you get a real sense of its personality. One or two sections of the walks are decidedly less salubrious; it’s all part of the experience!
Who will Urban Rambles appeal to?
Hopefully, Urban Rambles will appeal to:
1) Established country walkers who want more variety and interest in their walking and have never been much exposed to city walks
2) City visitors who want to get ‘under the skin’ of a city in a short break
3) People who are fascinated by urban green spaces, architecture, cityscapes and people watching
4) Inhabitants of a city who want to find out more about their own backyard.
We would love to have feedback; comment on the walks online or tweet us at @urbanrambles.
Picture caption: The view south across the Thames at the top of this page is by www.carryakroyd.co.uk , a favourite artist