When you think classic walking in the UK, all the high places spring to mind – Scotland, the Lakes, Wales, Peak District etc. They’ve all got lots of bumpy bits. But lowlands can have a lot going for them too.
I moved from the North down to Essex, and you don’t get much flatter than that – local hills would be regarded as little more than speed bumps in the more hilly regions. However, it just takes a change of mindset to really appreciate the great lowland territory.
The first thing that strikes you are the big skies. 360 degrees of open heavens – changing with the weather. You can have a whole palette of cloud formations just by turning slightly. From wildly dramatic cumuli to wispy alto stratus. Weather can be ‘seen coming’ miles away.
Wind can be challenging – what cyclists refer to as dutch hills. Rambling in salt-marshes can be quite as demanding as fell-walking as you realise it’s not the inclines but the terrain that provides the work.
Essex has an enormous coastline, being sliced by wide rivers fed by multiple narrow creeks. It can be disconcerting when crossing open landscape to see the sails of boats apparently crossing deep inland. Planning routes can be fun and take some imagination.
When calculating time required for a walk, you realise that ascent is not the only criteria and in Essex – you can throw Naismith’s Rule out of the window. The basic rule advises – Allow 1 hour for every 3 miles (5 km) forward, plus 1 hour for every 2000 feet (600 metres) of ascent. However, terrain also comes into play. Anyone who has walked over soft sand-dunes, ploughed fields, pebbly beaches or rock-strewn paths will testify to their delaying and stamina-sapping properties. Essex has its share of all of those with a large helping of London clay thrown in.
I smiled when the 2012 Olympics chose Essex for the mountain bike event! But when I saw it I understood the reality. 20 x 100′ slopes is the same as one 2000′ slope. The track up and down the sea-cliffs around Hadleigh Castle was certainly challenging.
I’ve certainly changed my mindset. Flatter landscape can allow you to take in longer walks which pack in more variety and points of interest. I’m no longer a ‘hill-snob’.