Walking with smugglers, ghosts and Viking warlords

Whenever I find it hard to write, I walk. I fix whatever problem I’m facing while I’m wading through mud or battling with stiles, in wellingtons or walking books, come rain or shine. In Japan, forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) is a visit to a wooded area, intended to relax and rejuvenate. Research has shown that fresh air is good for you and has numerous benefits, including boosting the immune system and increasing happiness. For a writer, the outdoors is also an invaluable source of inspiration. Below are four walks, ones that have helped me fill my mind with stories or clear it altogether. There is no better escape than rambling through the wilderness, surrounded by myths, legends and forgotten history.

Killigerran Head

A walk along the coastal paths at Killigerran Head.
A walk along the coastal paths at Killigerran Head.

There’s a footpath that shifts from sand to hard, compacted soil, coiling around the rugged, Cornish coastline of Killigerran Head, on the Roseland Peninsula. It’s a place for smugglers and pirates, for crooks and a Cornish welcome. In the 1770s, when Britain was on the edge of bankruptcy due to war and taxes were high, smuggling took root. Goods smuggled into Cornwall included tea, brandy, gin, rum and tobacco. The path leads round to Fraggle Rock Lighthouse, revealing a bay glancing over to St Mawes. The route passes an old war bunker established in the Napoleonic era and built upon during WWII. Nearby is where a customs officer, realising that Porthscatho smugglers were watching the hills over the harbour (to ensure a quick get-away if a revenue boat approached) mounted a surprise attack. St Mawes itself was where Robert Long, a 17th century smuggler, was executed and his body hung in chains along the roadside, to deter any others who would follow in his footsteps. For a real taste of the region, stop at a nearby pub for a pint of Cornish Knocker, a beautiful golden-ale with fruity hops and a malty undertone.

Glastonbury Tor

Climb to the top of Glastonbury Tor and you’ll be flying. The wind pulls at hair and worms into sleeves, as though it would drag a hiker off over the views of the Somerset Levels that stretch on for miles. Legends of King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon (Ynys yr Afalon) surround this breathtaking location. There is even talk that the sacred spot is where the Holy Grail was hidden. You can almost feel its power underneath your boots with each step. A perfect walk for a writer to let their imagination get the better of them. Though your legs may ache when you reach the summit, there is no better reward than the sight that greets you.

Castle Combe

The woods at Castle Combe, flooded with wild garlic in the spring.
The woods at Castle Combe, flooded with wild garlic in the spring.

A chocolate-box Cotswold village, Castle Combe has been used as a backdrop for many films, including War Horse and Stardust. Above the butterscotch-cottages is a woods that cradles the valley. Wild garlic, bluebells, violets and tall, distinguished trees line the paths – a peaceful contrast to the battle that once raged upon those hills. Ghostly sounds – metal clanging against metal, shouts and guttural cries in an old language – have been heard by walkers. In 877, the mighty Viking Guthram marched his army against King Alfred of Wessex during a Christmas feast and in retaliation, a later ambush took place – legend has it, upon the hills at Castle Combe.

Corfe Castle

A rugged ruin on a hilltop surrounded by yellow gorse and placid sheep, the National Trust site was once the setting for a wretched betrayal. In the 1640s, a civil war gripped England. Corfe Castle was in the hands of the Royalist Bankes family who found themselves in a precarious position when Dorset fell under control of Parliament. In 1643, Lady Mary Bankes and a garrison of 80 soldiers saw off a six-week siege and her reputation was firmly set as a courageous, brave woman. However, a later feud led to enemy troops, disguised as reinforcements, to take Corfe Castle from within. All her efforts had failed.

Do visit the Model Village Courtyard Cafe, as they have the best apple cake you will ever taste. I still have daydreams about sitting under a garden umbrella, with rain pattering down, a sleepy dog across my feet, while I tucked into a sweet cake slice the size of a doorstop.

If you have a favourite walk, historical location or setting that inspires you, share it below: I am always after new places to explore. For more photographs and walks, visit my Instagram.

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