Best Walks with a View – a new TV series of beautiful, bracing walks all across the country, fit for all the family. An enticing offer for any broadcaster, surely? Well, this one anyway. As the legendary Mae West once said, ‘I generally avoid temptation, unless I can resist it.’ And this – it’s a no-brainer.
I’ve done a lot of things on the telly – from laying hedges with Prince Charles to having the late, great Robin Williams nibble at my stilettos (yep) – and I’ve spent a considerable amount of my telly life climbing mountains, romping across weather-beaten fields, chatting up shepherds and even burying cow shit (while investigating biodynamic farming), but out of everything, Wainwright Walks, a series commissioned with possibly the smallest of expectations, is the thing that has probably had the greatest long-term impact on my life and career.
Julia’s coastal walk in episode one takes her to Pilot’s Cove, Anglesey
Filmed for the BBC, the series was a particular highlight for me because: a) I love hiking and have done ever since my dad used to lead me out like a puppy; and b) it was completely different to anything I’d filmed before. I had developed a niche in consumer and factual programme-making and when we starting talking about the Wainwright series, I was presenting Watchdog on BBC1, alongside Nicky Campbell. The walks were a complete antidote to that kind of programme and they were a ‘break-out success’, which basically means they were low budget, didn’t have marketing back-up – but lots of people watched them anyway.
If you don’t know who he is, Alfred Wainwright (who also features in this book prominently) is a walking hero who fell in love with the Lake District and wrote lovingly about it in the 1950s and 1960s. His pictorial guides have become somewhat biblical for outdoor types. I’m probably his complete opposite, but following in his footsteps is a recipe that seemed to work.
So, after that, we made more walking programmes – and not just Wainwrights. I’ve now hiked across swathes of the Great British Countryside and been as far as South Africa, Germany and Iceland. Canals, railways, rivers – I’ve hiked a fair few, but it’s actually been about eight years since that original series (a lifetime in telly), which is why I’m so excited to be back out here, this time doing my own unforgettable walks with unforgettable vis. And, perhaps more importantly, there’s always a good pub along the way for that important ‘pie-and-pint’ moment at the end of a hard slog.
Throughout my life, walking has been important to me. Although I now live in London, I spent my childhood in Sheffield and Rutland, so grew up living and breathing rugged green valleys and undulating hills. But my real passion for the countryside comes from my dad, Michael, who was born in the Peak District and, nearly 75 years later, is still a great devotee. Our walks together, which were usually just the two of us, began my lifelong love affair with walking and inspiring landscapes.
My mum, Chrissi, couldn’t be described as the outdoor type herself – her Greek ancestry has created an aversion to cold wet environments – and, perhaps oddly, even though I love stomping around hills and fields, I’ve inherited that from her. But Mum would provide iron rations and logistical support by meeting us at an agreed venue – usually a pub for Dad’s benefit.
What I vividly remember from those childhood days with my dad is the huge satisfaction of reaching the end of a walk, often tired, wet and muddy, but certainly very content and also that feeling of great euphoria directly linked to the great outdoors. And, once you’ve experienced that, it’s hard to let go. At heart, I guess, I’m a country girl and will always have an abiding passion and appreciation for our countryside and green spaces.
Julia with mussel-picker Shaun Krijnen on the bank of the Menai Strait, Anglesey
Best Walks with a View has been a very different experience for me because I put on the hiking boots as a mother of three, something I still can’t quite believe. After my little boy, Zephyr, was born four years ago, I had this deep longing to give him a brother or a sister – pretty much as strong as the urge to become a mother in the first place. I was 40 when I gave birth to Zeph and Number Two proved to be a bit more difficult to achieve. However, after a tricky ascent and a few stumbles along the way, I am now the proud mama of twins, two girls, Zena and Xanthe.
I have often been curious about families heading up into the hills with a horde of kids in tow, especially as soon I’m going to be one of those parents. And the magnificent walks featured are suitable for families and are less than 16km (10 miles) in length. Some have particularly personal resonance, as I walked them with my dad when I was a child, and now I look forward to walking them with my own children, probably with dad in tow.
Best Walks with a View begins on Friday 19th February on ITV at 8pm.
To order Unforgettable Walks by Julia Bradbury for £14.99 (RRP £16.99) free p&p, call the RT Bookshop on 01326 555752.
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