Is it possible to explore the best of Britain’s cities on foot while avoiding all the traffic? Mark Rowe thinks so with this list of serene urban rambles
KNOWN FOR: Brown Ale, maniacal football fans, and hardy lasses short-skirted in all weathers.
HIDDEN CHARMS: Newcastle is a vibrant city, whose central Grainger Town area is lined with impressive, handsome buildings. And then, of course, there’s the iconic
Tyne Bridge. In complete contrast, just a short Metro journey from the centre is Jesmond. This leafy suburb is home to many peaceful attractions, including the Mansion House, the old cemetery and Jesmond Dene – a landscaped haven of exotic trees and shrubs.
BEST TRAFFIC-FREE SAUNTER: You have to dart across the odd road before you get to nose around the quayside that has been central to Newcastle’s modern-day regeneration. Head for Trinity House and Broad Chare to reach the river and cross the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (above) – the world’s first tilting bridge. The design incorporates two steel arches that resemble a winking eye when the bridge is tilted. Call in at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art (with great views along the Tyne) and then make for The Sage Gateshead international music venue and cross the Swing Bridge back to the centre. [5km/3 miles]
URBAN ATTRACTION: The 12th-century Castle Keep (www.castlekeep-newcastle.org.uk), on Castle Garth, stands on the site of the Norman ‘new’ castle that gave the
city its name.
FURTHER INFO: www.newcastlegateshead.com
City of London
KNOWN FOR: Old boys’ networks, a palpable air of wealth and superiority, and the odd May Day riot.
HIDDEN CHARMS: The Inns of Court, with their courtyards, churches and fountains, seem frozen at some point between the 12th and 17th centuries. On a working day, barristers bustle across the cobbles, but at the weekend the place is so quiet you can almost hear the ghosts of the medieval Knights Templar clanking around.
BEST TRAFFIC-FREE SAUNTER: From Temple station, make for Temple Lane and the small wooden opening. Explore Temple Church,
then nose around the Inner Temple and Middle Temple Hall (above), in Fountain Court, one of the finest examples of an Elizabethan hall in England. [3km/2 miles]
URBAN ATTRACTION: Fans of The Da Vinci Code will get twitchy at the prospect of Temple Church (www.templechurch.com), featured in both the book and film. Look for the gripping Purbeck marble tombs of the Knights Templar, the crusading monks who built the church.
FURTHER INFO: The Inns are private land – visitors are welcome but are requested to be respectful. Middle Temple Hall (www.middletemplehall.org.uk) is open 10am-11.30am and 3pm-4pm Monday to Friday but closed at weekends, in August and on Bank Holidays.
KNOWN FOR: Its dramatic castle, sardine-packed summer arts festivals, and sneering opinion of Glasgow.
HIDDEN CHARMS: Edinburgh’s bustling streets are packed with impressive medieval and Georgian architecture, yet sunk below the city’s main street are the peaceful Princes Street Gardens. Once a foul-smelling, effluent-laden loch, today it makes for a serene place to dawdle that is strangely overlooked by many visitors.
BEST TRAFFIC-FREE SAUNTER: Arthur’s Seat (pictured in the background) is the destination, and boasts arguably the finest city vista in the UK. Ascend steeply from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Holyrood Park, to follow a path directly below Salisbury Crags. Then climb to the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel and upwards again to Arthur’s Seat (251m/402ft). The superb panoramic view stretches north to the Firth of Forth, south to the Pentland Hills, and east to the Isle of May and North Berwick Law. Return via Dunsapie Loch. [61⁄2km/4 miles] URBAN ATTRACTION: Gladstone’s Land (www.nts.org.uk/Property/25), on Lawnmarket – an arcaded six-storey, 17th-century townhouse, thoughtfully maintained with period furnishings.
FURTHER INFO: http://walking.visitscotland.com/perfect-walks
KNOWN FOR: Strong cider, an even stronger West Country accent, and that glorious bridge.
HIDDEN CHARMS: Bristol actually has more listed Georgian buildings than Bath, its well-to-do neighbour down the M4, and frequently wins awards as one of Britain’s greenest cities. Cycling and walking are determinedly promoted, and several hills – such as Brandon Hill – bring lofty green spaces right into the heart of the city.
BEST TRAFFIC-FREE SAUNTER: From the top of Blackboy Hill, on Whiteladies Road (A4018), you can explore the Downs – a huge area of open parkland that sits above a limestone ridge. Follow the park’s circular road to the sheer limestone cliffs of Sea Walls, or strike out across the delightful tree-lined Beech Avenue. In spring, you’ll see peregrine falcons darting across the Avon Gorge. Finish along the shaded promenade to the Clifton Suspension Bridge (above). [6½km/4 miles]
URBAN ATTRACTION: The Georgian House (www.bristol.gov.uk, under ‘museums and galleries’), on Great George Street off Brandon Hill, is the former home of John Pinney, who earned his fortune from Caribbean sugar plantations on Nevis. A fascinating and honest insight into Bristol’s shameful role in the slave trade.
FURTHER INFO: www.visitbristol.co.uk
KNOWN FOR: The Millennium Stadium, rugby fans who constantly hark back to the grand old days of the Seventies, and the rebooted Doctor Who.
HIDDEN CHARMS: There’s a tangible historical character and flavour to Cardiff, which claims to have a greater area of parkland per head of population than any other in Britain, and a substantial clutch of fine Edwardian, neo-classical civic buildings. Bute Park is a green sanctuary – if busy by day – flanked by Cardiff Castle (pictured) and the River Taff. Cardiff Bay, with its iconic modern structures, stands witness to a latter-day regenerative shot in the arm.
BEST TRAFFIC-FREE SAUNTER: From the Cardiff Bay waterfront and the Techniquest science centre, make for Hamadryad Park, passing the mouth of the River Taff, and onwards to graceful Sophia Gardens. A little further on, before returning to the centre, follow the River Taff and drink in the avenues of lime and horse chestnut trees of Pontcanna Fields and Llandaff Fields beyond a sweep in the river. [6½km/4 miles]
URBAN ATTRACTION: Cardiff Castle (www.cardiffcastle.com) is a classic must-do tourist attraction, oozing history from every crevice, be it Roman, Norman, or some jarring Victorian embellishments.
FURTHER INFO: www.visitcardiff.com; www.tafftrail.org.uk
For more fantastic urban walks, pick up the Spring 2011 edition of walk.
Newcastle photo: The Gateshead Millennium bridge photographed by Adrian Myers. London Inns of Court photo: Marc Baronnet. Arthur’s Seat photo: Globaltraveller. Bristol photo: Philip Halling via geograph.org.uk. Cardiff Castle image by Million Moments.