Country Walks provides carefully-researched and crafted walks in the special landscapes of the UK and Europe. We promote appreciation, respect and enjoyment of the countryside, not only by example but through informative commentaries. We are sensitive to the need to protect the environment and actively promote sustainable practices that will help protect precious landscapes for future generations. We believe that by encouraging walking, the least carbon intensive way to travel, the environmental impact of our groups is kept to a minimum. Where it is necessary to travel by means other than on foot, we encourage the use of public transport. We aim to balance the environmental impact of travelling with the immense benefits sustainable tourism can bring to rural destinations and to local economies. We focus our walks on areas that are as much as possible ‘off the beaten track’, providing our clients with authentic experiences and, as a result, a memorable holiday very far removed from mass tourism. Since launching Country Walks in 1995, we have introduced thousands of people to the benefits of walking in the countryside, experiencing good, clean air, exercise, companionship and natural beauty.
Through our commentaries on the countryside and rural life, its folklore, traditions and history, we encourage people to be aware of the unique value of the natural environment. This provides an extra dimension of meaningfulness to our clients’ experiences of the countryside and an enhanced understanding and respect of the people who live and work in it, past and present. We periodically remind people about the fragility of the countryside and how they should protect it and observe the Country Code. We also use the commentaries, an important feature of our walks, to promote an appreciation of nature, the trees, flora and fauna, food production, geology and we help people to identify plants, trees, etc. We discuss local architectural practices, cuisine, wines, festivals in which we participate whenever there is an opportunity to do so. We introduce literature and poetry into our walks to illustrate how the countryside and the natural objects in it have inspired some of the greatest poetry of the English language.
We use only established rights of way and public footpaths and avoid those which have become eroded through over-use. On walking holidays and weekends away we aim to restrict the size of our groups to 12 to minimise our impact on the local countryside.
We participate in campaigns to support local farming communities such as Tyting Farm in Surrey which was threatened by redevelopment; we succeeded in persuading our subscribers to support the campaign which resulted in a satisfactory outcome for all parties concerned. We are sympathetic to all campaigns directed to protect the natural environment and rural life and we actively encourage our walkers to also support these important environmental campaigns.
Our clients are sent accurate pre-trip information, including on our overseas trips, popular phrases in a foreign language to encourage them to be able to engage with local people. At the same time, we remind our clients not to take photographs of people without their permission. Their pre-trip information also includes a reading list to enable clients to understand something of the politics and history and culture of the country they are visiting. In certain destinations, such as Cyprus, we ensure that our clients are aware of the importance of conserving and protecting precious water supplies and we select hotels such as The Natura Beach Hotel in Polis for their efficiency, for example, in rainwater harvesting, in the use of solar energy for water heating and use of low-consumption appliances. We ensure that our clients are aware of specific waste disposal practices necessary in some destinations. We applaud hotels who use electric rather than power showers and showers rather than bathtubs and discourage the practice of changing towels on a daily basis. We communicate these best practices to our clients.
In our office and home we recycle as much as possible, in particular paper, cardboard, ink cartridges, to reduce the waste in landfill sites. We recycle printed material by using it for message-taking, etc, being constantly alert to ways in which we can improve our recycling practices. We purchase recycled printer cartridges, paper, envelopes, labels, pens, toilet tissue, bin liners, etc. We reduce energy use through our ‘switch it off’ campaigns, turning off printers, photocopiers, computers, battery chargers and transformers, and personal gadgets at the end of each day. We further conserve energy by avoiding the use of ‘screen savers’ on our computers. We use only energy-efficient bulbs and opt for low-energy appliances wherever possible. We are meticulous in conserving water and during winter months cut our annual CO2 emissions by maintaining heating thermostats at the lowest comfortable setting, preferring to wear extra layers rather then turn up the thermostat. We use environmentally-sound products. We discourage the use of disposable plastic bottles in the countryside, instead promoting the use of water bottles manufactured by companies such as Zigg.
It has been our policy for some years now to avoid printing unless it is absolutely necessary. We keep our customers informed electronically via email, electronic newsletters and our website. We do not send out paper invoices unless specifically requested by a customer. Instead we encourage our clients to remit their payments to us electronically via PayPal or by bank transfer.
We include on our walks visits to local projects, craftsmen and artisans; for example, in Portugal, our clients are encouraged to buy baskets from an elderly craftsman who uses for his materials the reeds growing beside his modest home. On our visits to the Amalfi Coast we visit a local papermill to witness the process involved in the traditional manufacture of high-quality paper still made by hand. Invariably people buy the paper as gifts or souvenirs. We make a practice of introducing our clients to the local liqueurs, such as Limoncello, grown from local lemons. In Majorca our clients visit an ancient house where for centuries the same family have produce their own olive oil from their own presses and our walkers buy the good quality olive oil to take home.
We now operate two kinds of guided walking experiences; weekend breaks in the UK and walking holidays in Europe and in 2014 we launched a progamme of self-guided walking breaks and holidays in both the UK and Europe. We encourage walkers to travel to venues by train in the UK and where walks are not directly accessible from railway stations, we arrange shared 7 or 8-seater taxis. Some clients still prefer to use their own private cars rather than public transport but our policy over the past 19 years has significantly reduced their numbers. We put clients in touch so that where onward travel by public transport to more remote destinations is not possible, they can arrange to travel together and share taxis to final destinations. We ourselves carry out much of our research using public transport. We have successfully worked very closely with railway companies such as South West Trains and the former Thames Trains in collaboration with the Surrey Hills AONB to produce walks starting at railway stations.
See ‘Travellers Code of Conduct’ above. Also see ‘Education’ above
See under ‘Local Projects’ above. We visit local churches on our walks and encourage clients to contribute to the maintenance of ancient churches by purchasing postcards, booklets, etc. Wherever there is a building of historic or cultural interest or an ancient ruin, we arrange visits, for example to Roman villas at Lullingstone (Kent), Fishbourne Palace, (West Sussex); the Watts Chapel and Gallery at Compton, Corfe Castle (Dorset), Charleston Farmhouse and Monks House (East Sussex), Hever Castle (Kent), Darwin’s Down House, Kent, Denbies Vineyard (Surrey). Many walks are based around attractions such as: Chartwell (Kent), Hailes Abbey (Cotswolds), Llanthony Abbey (Wales). We include visits to ancient sites and landscapes such as Avebury in Wiltshire, providing our clients with background information on ancient rituals. We include visits to local museums, eg Alexander Keiller museum in Avebury, Dunwich Museum in Suffolk, the Bay of St Margarets Museum in Kent, the Foreland Lighthouse, St Margaret’s, Mountain Centre in Brecon, the New Forest visitor centre in Lyndhurst; to castles such as Orford Castle, Suffolk, Lewes Castle, Sussex and Corfe Castle, Dorset. We visit battle sites, eg Battle of Lewes in Sussex and the Battle of Ockley at Coldharbour in Surrey. We include visits to farms, eg Bockett’s Farm at Leatherhead and Donkey Sanctuaries at Weston in Devon and Hambledon in Surrey, to gardens such as Winkworth Arboretum, Polesden Lacey, Emmetts Gardens, Kent, for bluebells. We facilitate visits to local festivals and concerts when these coincide with the dates of our visits, eg Beaminster Festival of Music and Arts, Dorset, Ravello concerts on the Amalfi Coast, Evensong at St David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire. All of these establishments employ local people and where possible we arrange for short talks or guided tours by local experts. All the above illustrate how our countryside is a treasure house of interesting places which we and our walkers support, both through visits and donations.
We are members of FOC (Friends of Conservation), encouraging our clients to make donations to mitigate against some of the effects of air travel. Also, we are members of the RSPB, National Trust, English Heritage and Friends of the Watts Gallery in Surrey. During the summer months we include where possible visits to gardens under the National Garden Scheme to support their charities. We have participated in organising and supporting sponsored walks for Cancer Research and Age Concern among others.
We patronise local inns, pubs, restaurants and tearooms, selected where possible for their use of locally-sourced, organic food. On weekends away and on walking holidays we use only small privately-run hotels and inns, particularly those cultivating their own fruit, vegetables, oils, etc. Some of our suppliers, eg in Cyprus and in rural Italy, base their menus on fresh, home-grown produce harvested straight from the land they have cultivated for centuries, thus avoiding harmful transportation. In Mallorca our clients have picked oranges from the hotelier’s orchards and in Cyprus they have picked fresh herbs from the vegetable plots, picked olives and oranges and savoured cheese from the hotel’s goats and eggs from their hens. On holidays where packed lunches are occasionally required, we use local bakeries, delicatessens and fruiterers for our supplies. We use local transport companies employing local drivers, helping to increase their revenue.
Where appropriate we employ locally qualified guides in both the UK and Europe. For example on weekend breaks in Suffolk, we have employed a local RSPB expert at Minsmere Reserve to educate our walkers about the habitats necessary for the survival of birds. Similarly, we have employed wildlife specialists to accompany our walkers by boat to Ramsey Island to observe and better understand marine life and seabirds. On the Jurassic Coast, we have arranged for talks by local experts on fossils, following up with guided fossil hunts along the beaches. On our European trips to, for example, Cyprus, Italy and Austria, we liaise with local tourist offices for knowledgeable local guides to lead, in association with ourselves, some or our tours, thus ensuring our guests also benefit from specialist local knowledge. Currently, as a very small enterprise, we lead the majority of walks ourselves, accompanied by local guides on occasion. As our business has grown, we have employed more local guides to lead our walks after an appropriate period of training and familiarisation with our company’s approach to guided walking in the countryside. We currently have guides working in North Cyprus, Amalfi, London and Northumberland. We have provided employment to individuals and trained them as leaders, some of whom have now gone on to write walking books and to form their own walking groups, again promoting the countryside.
We believe that we have made valuable economic contributions to local rural businesses and over the years we have formed excellent relationships with local business owners, bringing them repeat business. it is our aim to continue to do so. Being a small family-owned company, we repeat the holidays to which we have referred on a cyclic rather than annual basis and many therefore do not currently appear on our website. However, all the planning and experience gained over the years is now being utilised for self-guided walking holidays which are continuing to grow.