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LDPs Regional Summary

East of England

Walking Routes & Trail-miles: 171 main routes / 13248 miles - 89 waymarked / 6460 miles

Areas: Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Suffolk

National Parks: The Broads  

Principal AONBs: Norfolk Coast, Suffolk Coast & Heaths, Dedham Vale, The Chilterns (part)

World Heritage Sites: Blenheim Palace

Heritage Coast: North Norfolk, Suffolk

European Long Distance Paths (E-Routes): E2 variant: Middleton in Teesdale to Harwich

National Trails: Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path, Ridgeway (part), Thames Path (part)

Resident population: 9 million

Regional Trails Summary - East of England

This is an already populous area with a still-growing population, and an economy increasingly based on new technologies. Deposits of sands, gravels and till (boulder clay) left by the glaciers cover much of eastern England and East Anglia, particularly, is a traditional agricultural heartland too, with rich soils, easily worked, in the vast fields of the flat fenlands and in the fertile lowlands further inland. This is lowland England at its most characteristic, where the walker looking for less challenging routes can savour its gentle countryside, with languid rivers, miles of often deserted, seemingly remote beaches, and wide estuaries with abundant bird life. There are quintessentially English pastoral and riverside scenes, redolent of Constable's paintings. Flatford Mill is in the Stour valley in the Dedham Vale AONB. There are many picturesque villages, where reeds from the marshlands have found valuable uses roofing the pretty thatched cottages.

The coastline includes the eastern side of The Wash, and the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, with their varied scenery of low cliffs, wide beaches and mobile shingle spits (the 'nesses' - Orford is Europe's second largest). Just inland, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads is Britain's largest protected wetland and third largest inland waterway. It has national park status, but with its own legislation, giving equal status to navigation of the waterways, and to conservation and public enjoyment. The Wash is itself a large estuarine system, with the River Great Ouse and the Nene draining the flat fenlands, assisted by networks of man-made 'drains', that carve straight lines across the wide landscapes. Further south, the Essex coast includes the estuaries of the Stour, Chelmer, Blackwater, Colne, Crouch and Roach, and the wide estuary of 'Old Father Thames' himself. Here are winding, shallow creeks, and mudflats. The East Coast is an eroding shoreline, with sea levels rising inexorably, and with its dune systems fed by crumbling cliffs. It all provides ideal habitats for bird life, with some major RSPB reserves linked, or visited, by the many walking trails.

Towards the west are the Chiltern Hills, with this region's main downland areas. These provide miles of walking in beech woods with, in season, spring bluebells and golden autumnal colours. There are sharp slopes on the western scarps, and many long 'dry valleys', relics of a past era when this area was tundra on the southern edges of the great ice sheets. On longer walks, the undulating Chiltern terrain can be quite challenging. In Oxfordshire Lambourn Downs is another prominent chalk ridge. There are other ridges and hills, notably the Greensand Ridge across Bedfordshire, and in Leicestershire the ancient hills of volcanic origin at Charnwood Forest that is part of the National Forest. Oxfordshire has the limestone Cotswold fringes around Wychwood. There are heathlands, such as the Brecklands, with its fine wind-blown sands, and pingos, shallow glacial hollows. In Rutland, Rutland Water is a major inland reservoir circuited by easy trails.

The region includes three national trails. The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail provides both inland and coastal walking. The Peddars Way is one of the links in a prehistoric route, often called the Greater Ridgeway, from The Wash to the South Devon Coast, and is a Romanised section of the prehistoric Icknield Way Path, itself one of the links in this ancient route. The Greater Ridgeway also includes the Ridgeway National Trail. The Thames Path National Trail also has a section through Oxfordshire.

The Angles Way, that includes waterside and heathland walking, was devised by the Ramblers and, together with the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path and Weavers' Way, it forms the triangular 228-mile Around Norfolk Walk. The Angles were an ancient people who lived in East Anglia. Another tribe, the Iceni, is marked in the Iceni Way, and in the Boudicca Way, remembering the Iceni's legendary warrior queen.

Among the heritage routes two link Blenheim Park, a World Heritage Site of architectural importance: the Wychwood Way, a walk around the heart of the ancient forest of Wychwood, and the Oxfordshire Way. Two more routes were devised for, respectively, the Queen's Golden and Silver Jubilees: the Jubilee Way (Bernwood), on the boundary of an ancient Forest, and the Jubilee Way (Leicestershire). The North Bedfordshire Heritage Trail passes through 23 villages.

The Chiltern Hills are the focus for the Chiltern Way that links many sites and characteristic landscapes in the Chiltern Hills AONB. The Chiltern Heritage Trail links the towns and parishes of Chiltern District. Both routes include much beech woodland, and woodlands also feature on the Beeches Way south of the Thames through the famous Burnham Beeches. The Swan's Way crosses the Vale of Aylesbury to meet the Ridgeway near Princes Risborough and then follows the chalk slopes of the Chilterns to the Thames at Goring. In Essex, the Forest Way (Essex) links Epping Forest and Hatfield Forest, via commons.

Routes following other landscape or geological features include the Greensand Ridge Walk, tracing the line of a greensand ridge and passing Woburn Abbey. The Jurassic Way follows the band of Jurassic limestone along Northamptonshire's northern boundary. The Cotswold Round is a variant within the Macmillan Way's network of charity routes that generally follows the oolitic limestone belt across England.

The many river routes include the Fen Rivers Way that explores the fenland waterways of the rivers Cam and Great Ouse. The Weavers' Way (Norfolk) runs in Broadland river valleys. The Ouse Valley Way is a source-to-sea route on one of England's longest rivers. The Peter Scott Walk remembers a noted local naturalist in going along the Great River Ouse to the Wash and on the sea wall. The Stour Valley Path (East Anglia) follows this river's valley downstream. The Tas Valley Way follows the Tas's course up to its source. The Kingfisher Way follows the River Ivel. The Mid Suffolk Footpath covers the Dove and Gipping valleys. The Nar Valley Way lies within the Nar's watershed. The Nene Way in the Nene Valley includes canalised riverbank. The Colne Valley Path (Essex) and the Lambourn Valley Way follow these two river valleys. The Lea Valley Walk joins the Lea's source near Dunstable Downs to London's Docklands and its outflow into the Thames, passing the main 2012 Olympic Park. The broadly parallel New River Path traces a man-made channel, cut to bring clean water to London. The South Bucks Way follows the Rivers Misbourne and Colne to reach the Grand Union Canal. Shakespeare's Avon Way follows the River Avon's course through the Bard's Stratford upon Avon.

Estuaries are explored by the Roach Valley Way on the coastal margins of the Roach and Crouch. Linking Felixstowe to the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Path, the Stour and Orwell Walk follows the coast and heaths along the estuaries of the Orwell and the Stour going around the Shotley peninsula.

Coastal routes in Suffolk use riverside, forest and heathland paths to visit significant lowland habitats. The Suffolk Coast Path itself runs along the Suffolk Heritage Coast, while the broadly parallel Sandlings Walk generally takes an inland line.

There are routes associated with past heroes and military battles. The long Nelson Way links locations associated with Horatio Nelson between Norfolk and HMS Victory at Portsmouth. The Battlefields Trail links three significant battlefields in the heart of England. Byrhtnoth's Last Visit is named after a Saxon hero. Other routes remember historical and literary figures or fictional characters. In Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire the John Bunyan Trail marks the Puritan Evangelist and author of the book 'Pilgrim's Progress'. The Ivanhoe Way in Leicestershire includes Charnwood Forest in the countryside of the famous novel by Sir Walter Scott, written in 1819 and set in 12th century England.

Several routes make county traverses. The past Suffolk saint and king, St Edmund, is marked in the St Edmund Way route across the county. The Saffron Trail traverses the county of Essex from south-east to north-west. The Cross Bucks Way is a west-to-east crossing of Buckinghamshire. Edgar Eastall's Church 'Fields' Way links Essex churches in eight settlements with names ending in 'field'. The Hereward Way is a Ramblers' jubilee route that links the Viking Way and Peddars Way across country associated with Hereward the Wake.

City, town and borough circuits abound: the Aylesbury Ring lies in the Vale of Aylesbury below the Chiltern ridge; the Stort Valley Way goes around Harlow; the Waveney Way goes around Waveney District; the Kesgrave Outer Ring encircles this district; the Leighton - Linslade Loop encircles Leighton Buzzard; the Oxford Green Belt Way is a CPRE jubilee route around Oxford marking the Green Belt's importance; and the Southend Millennium Walk, devised by the Ramblers, explores many aspects of the town. County circuits comprise the Leicestershire Round and two routes around the smaller counties - the Hertfordshire Way and the Rutland Round. The Three Shires Way is a bridleway route that includes the conjunction of the boundaries of 'Bucks, Beds and Northants', and it also makes a circuit of Graffham Water.

Other routes designed for a range of users include the very lengthy Midshires Way, linking the Ridgeway National Trail with the Trans Pennine Trail across the shires of Middle England. The Hanslope Circular Ride is in open north Buckinghamshire countryside.

Routes with a railway theme include the East Suffolk Line Walks that traverse unspoilt Suffolk countryside, using stations along the way. Marriott's Way goes along a former railway line, near to the River Wensum. The West Anglian Way makes use of the Cambridge to Liverpool Street railway line's stations.

Anytime Challenges are offered by Adrian Moody with the Chequers Challenge that passes the famous Chiltern political residence. Derek Keeble provides many Essex routes, including the Whamblab Extravaganza and Lasso Essex.

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