Growing up in the 1970s on a desolate hill where ABC was the only TV station available, I was exposed to a lot of quaint British programming. The Good Life, Worzel Gummage, The Famous Five, To The Manor Born, All Creatures Great and Small…you get the drift. All of which were evoked in full rolling-hills-and-howling-hounds effect during my most recent adventure.
You might be aware: two of my biggest passions are hiking and eating and I try to combine the two whenever I get a moment’s leave. I always try to orchestrate it so that I hike a good 5-6 hours, from one foodie village to another foodie village (you can catch up on previous efforts here and here). It creates a destination to aim for, a sense of adventure, a “point”.
During my most recent trip (you can catch up on it here and here) I took four days off in a mad-busy schedule to do a walk in the Southwest of England. Some careful planning – totally aided by the team at Foot Trails – saw me hike and eat my way along the most perfect little route, foodie village to foodie village around the Dorset-Somerset-Wilshire borders. Added bonus: quaint hills, hounds, brambles, bleating lambs, brooks, eccentric folk in tweed ensembles, pints and soup in cosy inns and the whole clichéd shebang!
This is how I packed:
The pictures kind of sell the trip best. But I’ll expand with a few words, too, focusing on the highlights.
Sustainable eating and tweeded folk at The King John Inn, Tollard Royal
My trip kicked off in Tollard Royal a short cab ride from Gillingham station (I caught a train from London – an easy two hours). The place is as twee as the name suggests and a great base for a few day-walks. I checked in and did a three-hour jaunt up into the hills, passing through Guy Ritchie’s estate and by many pheasants (evoking many James and the Giant Peach memories).
Back at the inn, I settled in by the bar for some seriously local fare (Simon the chef personally hunts the venison and some of the other meats). Totally my kind of food! And my kind of vibe: there were actually real life people (other patrons) wearing tweed caps! And coats with reinforced elbows! I ate the devilled kidneys and the lobster. Simon also made a sugar-free chocolate and orange parfait for me, too.
The Stapleton Arm, Buckhorn Weston
The next day I packed up my kit and hiked a full day through bluebelled woods and cow-smattered dells and ancient towns dripping in Domesday history. I saw not a soul – apart from the toffy gents at the pub at lunchtime where I arrived with sodden feet (I spent much of the day squelching through fields in water and mud up to my knees) – until I arrived at the delightfully named Buckhorn Weston. I took up a position in the window seat and had some of the best lamb of my life – local and prepared by a future MasterChef contestant (the whole village – read pub – was talking about it, even though it’s meant to be a secret).
The Queens Arms, Corton Denham
The next day I set off into Somerset. It was a wonderfully moody day and I was chased by cows, sloshed my way through fields and forests and arrived to this…
The village of Corton Denham is about as idyllic as an English village comes. And the Arms drips in ye olde-ness, including a bull’s head mounted over the fire pilfered from one of the “Carry On” movies. Serious. The menu here is astounding. I could’ve eaten the whole lot. Instead I settled for…
The owner casually mentioned that everything – I mean everything – on the menu comes from either their farm 10 metres from where I sat or the farm next door. Oh, except the lobster. Which comes from 20 miles away. He almost apologised for this lapse in authenticity.
And on the last day…the sun rose again. My goodness England transforms in the sun. I followed the path used by pilgrims making their way to the Sherborne abbey back in the olden days. The town is totally Saxon and the abbey is the final desination – it’s where King Alfred’s family are buried and the front door and other bits of the building date back to the 7th Century. I met Alison here and we sat in the sun and debriefed and watched locals being…quaint.
You’ve probably gathered by this point that I had a stupendously good time on this hike. And ate incredibly authentic and mindful and REAL food along the way. It all totally surpassed my expectations. I particularly liked the fact that the area is not on the obvious tourist list of destinations…but every Brit I spoke to got all misty-eyed when I mentioned I was heading there, adding that it was one of the most beautiful parts of the country (with a solid foodie scene). I just love how when I go with my gut, things work out. This trip was very much like this. Which brings me to Food Trails. I was connected with Alison and her team and I knew right away that she “got my brief”…I wasn’t “sold” on the Dorset area straight away…but my gut said to trust Alison’s insistence that it would be right what I was after…
A bit about Foot Trails:
There are a bunch of outfits doing walking tours across the UK (their ads now all follow me around the internet!). But few “get” the whole foodie/eco/adventure thing. Alison and David at Foot Trails do. They’re like-minded. This is how I navigate my life now…always toward like-minded folk.
- They’ve won Green Tourism Business awards and are the first travel company in England to achieve the Big Tick for Rural Action, awarded by Prince Charles’ charity Business in the Community.
- They recycle everything…mindfully. They print their maps and instructions on special paper that can be reused over and over. They supply an envelope and discount on future hikes for anyone who bothers to return them after their hike. These small things always count.
- They mostly do week-long hikes where you stay two nights at each place (so you can really explore the area)…but because I LOVED my itinerary so much, they’ve offered to do these mini-hikes for any of my readers keen to have the same experience. Feel free to mention this when you contact them.
- They’ll fall over themselves to make the experience special. I spoke to people (inn keepers etc) along the way who told stories of the extra special touches they drip-feed in to their trips.
** Please note: I did the walk as a guest of Foot Trails, however, as always, views are all my own and I communicate this clearly to anyone wishing to host me. You’ll find my position on sponsored posts and advertising here.
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