The increasing challenges with planning your own walk

Published 10 December 2023

A boarded up George and Dragon Inn in Garrigill
The George and Dragon Inn, Garrigill, boarded up in 2010.

The most visited part of this website is the Planning Your Own Walk section. Given how much effort I put into the rest of the site, I try not to take this personally. On the other hand, through donations and affiliate links, it raises money to pay the bills for the rest of the site. So I can’t grumble about it.

The Planning Your Own Walk section has guides to plan your own walk for every major trail I have done.

Lots of websites have these kinds of guides. But quite often the author will crank write something up, and then leave it. The number of times I’ve been trying to plan my own walk and come across a website or page about a walk, and found it’s ten years out of date… Well it’s been more than a few. It’s infuriating to find accommodation guides that point to websites that have long disappeared from the internet, mention hostels that closed a decade earlier, push you to guide books that are long out of print, or point you towards a bus route that no longer runs.

Which is exactly why every autumn I go through each of my own guides. I review anything that may have changed in the previous year. Guide books and maps. Accommodation availability. Any and every bus I mention. And I click on every single link, to make sure it works. At the same time, I review if there’s any new information I can add that will be useful. I’ve been doing this since the site launched in 2011 when there were only a handful of guides. Now there’s 23 of them, and most years at least one gets added.

It’s not the quickest of jobs, especially given the number of guides to update, keeps growing. But it’s worth it.

It can also be a bit depressing. For in recent years, there’s been a couple of trends over time that make planning your own walk so much harder. If you only looked at one trail, you may not notice. If you only looked once, ditto. But across multiple trails over multiple years, it becomes very noticeable.

Facilities have been disappearing.

One clear trend is hostel disappearance. After the Covid-19 lockdowns, several YHA hostels never re-opened for individual bookings. For example, Honister Hause, in the Lake District. It’s right next to the Coast to Coast. But you can’t get in unless you hire the whole place. It’s not the only one. On the North Downs Way, Tanners Hatch is in a similar position. The hostel situation is likely to get worse. This year the YHA put 20 of its hostels up for sale – a third of its network. This, amazingly, included their popular hostel in Patterdale in the Lake District. In the Peak District, Hathersage was also put up for sale.

Now it’s possible not all of them will be sold (this isn’t the first time Patterdale’s been put up for sale). And some will be sold to independent operators and kept as hostels. However, to be blunt, some won’t.

It’s not only in the YHA either. Over the years, several independent hostels and bunkbarns have also disappeared. Many of them are now self-catering holiday lets.

It’s not restricted to hostels. Several B&Bs I have stayed in are no longer operating as such. But if you want to self-cater there for a week, you’re sorted. I noted this year that an absolutely wonderful farmhouse B&B I stayed in only two years ago, is now no more. You can hire the whole place, and that’s it.

I don’t blame the owners. It’s no doubt far more financially lucrative, and – I am sure – a lot less hassle. No need to cook breakfasts. No stripping of beds every morning. And no need to worry about putting all the effort in when only one bedroom is in use. Especially when you’re a rural B&B where finding customers is going to be harder. So I understand.

If the B&B hasn’t gone self-catering, it may have closed. If I’m honest, the majority of smaller, rural B&Bs I’ve stayed at have been run by 50-something women. And as the owners get older, the more likely they are to close up and retire.

And then there’s pubs. Pubs have been closing at a ridiculous rate across the country anyway. Covid followed by insane energy costs and a cost of living crisis, have seen many pubs close their doors. For the communities they serve, that can often mean that valued facilities disappear and never come back. For visitors, it takes out places to get food, drink, and – if they offer it – accommodation.

For walkers passing through rural areas where there’s limited facilities, and even more limited bus routes, the consequences are that a section of a walk can be so much harder.

Speaking of buses, oh yeah, the state of public transport… Hey, local buses have been in long term decline everywhere outside of London for a long time. But in the last few years it’s been noticeable that services have been slashed in many rural areas. Today I looked at a bus route that a few years ago ran every two hours. Now there’s three buses a day.

All this stuff has repercussions for people planning their own walks. And whilst they’re not insurmountable, they add their challenges. And the more difficult it is for walkers in certain places, the fewer people are likely to do a particular walk. Yes, walks themselves run the risk of going into terminal decline.

So what’s the solution? Sorry, I have no idea. Other than that the only thing you can really do is make the use of local facilities when they exist. Get a drink and a meal at the local pub. Buy your lunch from a local shop or café. Stay at the smaller businesses. Board that rural bus. If you need a taxi, book from one from a local independent operator. Because only if people use the facilities that are there, will they stand a chance of survival. For once they are gone, they’re unlikely ever to come back.

The photograph at the top of this page is of the George and Dragon pub in Garrigill, close to the Pennine Way. When we went past in 2010 it had recently closed. It later re-opened, and has since closed. Thankfully it does appear to have some future as it’s undergroing a huge refurbishment and restoration project. It’s hoped it will re-open in 2024. It is one of the fortunate ones.

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