My advice for long distance walking trips in the summer of 2021? Book your table for the pub before you go

Published 18 July 2021

I’ve just got back from a glorious seven days of long distance walking in Northumberland and Berwickshire. 90 miles of glorious coastal walking, most of it in the company of a good friend.

It was wonderful. A great opportunity to relax and unwind in the craziness of the world right now. Although not one without its trials and tribulations. Not least the constant worry about whether something would happen to stop one – or (very unlikely) both – of us from going. In the run up I was taking pretty much daily lateral flow tests for Covid. Just in case. Given the two of us would be in close proximity for six days and mostly sharing rooms, neither of us wanted to give each other anything. And neither of us wanted to find ourselves stuck in some remote B&B with Covid symptoms wondering how they hell we’d even get a test, yet alone self-isolate, and get home.

Thankfully that didn’t happen. But I did learn one very big lesson. This is the year when it’s pretty much essential to book your place in the pub before you get there. Especially if there’s only a handful of places to eat.

We’d booked the trip a few months earlier, way before the Delta variant started ravaging the UK. Before Covid-19 rates started flying through the roof. A lot of legal restrictions are about to be removed very soon in England at least, but don’t count on that meaning everything’s going back to normal.

On our trip there were six nights where consuming food needed to be done. And on three of them there were problems. And we hadn’t expected any of them to happen.

The first came in a village with two pubs and a hotel. Now we knew one of them was temporarily closed (it reopened days after our visit) but we still figured there were two options. Until we got there and found the other pub was closed due to the owners having to isolate. Still there’s the hotel, yeah? Well frankly they were distinctly unhelpful telling us bluntly they were fully booked, and no they couldn’t fit in two weary walkers. Later that evening I walked past said hotel a whole 45 minutes before the time their kitchen advertised they stopped serving. The place was mostly empty. A big sign on the door said they did takeaway. We would happily have waited a bit. Had a few drinks whilst waiting. But the utterly unhelpful member of staff simply didn’t care enough to even suggest that as an option.

The following night we stayed in a larger village with two pubs, an award winning hotel, and a restaurant. The restaurant was small and popular, and we could see online it was fully booked. So we discounted that. But still, three options, yeah?

We tried one of the pubs first. Fully booked inside. Their unreserved outside area was closed due to staff isolating. The award winning hotel’s kitchen was closed for four days for undisclosed reasons, but hey, let’s take a guess. We just about got in at the other pub – which was absolutely heaving. But it could have so easily gone the other way.

A couple of nights later, once my friend had departed, I was in a small fishing village. There were a couple of food options but I opted for the pub that was below my accommodation as many of the other eat-in options didn’t look particularly great. It was half seven. This pub had one free table. It was due to serve until 9pm. They told me they couldn’t fit me in. I have no idea if this was Covid or just general disorganisation. But the kitchen was apparently so busy it had closed 90 minutes early.

I’m not going to name venues or get nowty with anyone. Well I’ll get nowty with that hotel cos frankly they were so unhelpful it hurts. But I get it. We are living in weird times. There are things going on outside their control.

And that’s why my advice is simple. If you’re off on a multi-day walking trip this year and will need food in the evening, research it in advance and get your table booked. It may not save you if a venue has to abruptly closed, but it should make your life easier.

Also have a backup plan if you can. On that first night we were saved from starvation by having a pizza delivered to our accommodation. But only after much woe where we tried to work out what to do. In that fishing village I ended up having takeaway fish and chips in my room (for thankfully there was a chippy.)

I wouldn’t normally say this. On previous walking trips I’ve just rocked up wherever I have been and always got food. But 2021 is weird, and although the UK government may be happy for us to throw off our masks and get back to the bar, Covid-19 rates are high. It will do you no harm at all to be prepared and have booked a table in advance. Or to have a takeaway menu for someone who delivers. Perhaps even pack a knife and a fork. That would give you more food options if the worst came to the worst.

And my advice to pubs and hotels in areas with limited places to eat is also simple. When someone’s on a walking trip, they can’t just leap in a car and drive off somewhere else. Be nice to walkers. Try and squeeze them in. Really, don’t be that bloke at that hotel who basically told us to f-off. He hasn’t done it yet but my friend’s still contemplating giving them a very bad review…


Michael H

22 August 2021 at 8:57 am

I’ve just gotten back from walking the Wainwrights Coast to Coast and had an identical experience in what we called the “Inhospitable North”.

It certainly made the walk more challenging as it meant we had to carry enough food with us so we weren’t caught out by the pubs!

Noteworthy exceptions, were the Fox and Hounds at Ennerdale Bridge, New Ing farm at Shap and the Church Holme Campsite at Danby Wiske. Who were all beyond excellent!

It’s a real shame as you can’t help but come away from some of the other places and think… Well, they’ve got me this time, as we’re all stuck holidaying in the UK this year.. but after this, I’d genuinely avoid those areas in the future.


27 August 2021 at 7:23 am

Great tip, We had similar issues in 2020 Isle of Wight coast walk, after the first night not getting in to any of the main pubs & restaurants in Ryde (saved by a pop up vegan pizza – how modern!) I realised everywhere was busy with tourists & short on space due to social distancing & not going to be better in the smaller places we’d walk through.
So I managed to Google & book ahead for most of our next nights, a shame to lose the spontaneity/flexibility but 100%worth it as going without dinner is my worst nightmare let alone after a long day walk! We ended up with one booking at 5.30pm as the only option and one town didn’t have anywhere that took bookings which was nerve wracking!

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