Herefordshire-based geographer, walk leader and Slow Ways champion Nic Howes gives us his tips, his keenly observed reviews, and a chance to find out more about his motivation
A really exciting thing about Slow Ways is the way it inspires such knowledgeable, energetic people to get involved. One such person is Nic Howes, who walks, reviews and promotes Slow Ways in the West Midlands. He’s taken it upon himself to present Slow Ways in detail in route guides like this one from Hereford to Ross, has been on local radio promoting Slow Ways, and has generally gone above and beyond. Thank you Nic!
We also enjoy his reviews, which bring in geology, architecture, conservation and even maths, thanks to his sharp mind and keen observation skills. Scroll down to read his review of a walk in the Forest of Dean!
Nic has covered a lot of Great Britain in his 60 years of walking, from Mersea Island in the moonlight to the rugged Dorset coast near Kingston. He’s been on Claire Balding’s Ramblings, blogs for Hereford Wildlife Trust, leads walks at walking festivals and supervises Duke of Edinburgh Awards. He was a geography teacher for over 30 years and testimony to his teaching is this Facebook group of previous pupils who organise field-trips with their ‘legendary’ former teacher!
“The prospect of a walk is always exciting”, he says. “I am trying to bring local and national attention to Herefordshire’s Slow Ways. I am particularly interested in diversifying the walking community and was impressed with Slow Ways on BBC Countryfile in Warwick recently.”
Nice to hear! So, why do you walk?
I’m a geographer with a lifelong fascination with place. The best way to explore a place is on foot. Both urban and rural environments benefit from the greater understanding and more informed decision-making that comes from close encounters, and only walking can provide that.
I’m comfortable walking alone or in a group. Circumstances mean that my ‘modal class’ of walking is alone but it’s not a preference.
How did you find out about Slow Ways?
I cannot remember accurately, but BBC Midlands Today had a David Sillito report from Ledbury, and that was early in my contact. (Before Slow Ways) I think Dan was at Hay Festival 2011 with a group of guerrilla geographers and coincidentally I led an ‘Edgelands’ walk in Hay then as a fringe event. Also Dan was interviewed on BBC Countryfile about making London’s green/blue corridors a National Park.
Do you prefer country walks or urban walks?
I have no preference; I find interest on every walk. My approach to walking shares some principles with psychogeography – reflecting on places while walking through them. I’m definitely not a ‘flaneur’ though. My walks have a purpose, for example trialling Slow Ways.
How many Slow Ways journeys have you been on? What’s been your most memorable journey?
Then I went on to a gathering of more than 120 citizen scientists from all over the Wye catchment, beside the river at Hay; it was a display of strength, a further call to action and a social gathering. The Wye’s plight is now regularly featuring in national media and the photographs of the event should be out there over the coming weeks.
Nic’s review of Cinderford to Mitcheldean in the Forest of Dean
“I walked this route on 8.5.2022 and found no problems or any need to suggest a better alternative. My direction was from Mitcheldean to Cinderford but since it’s named Cinmit I have ordered my comments below from Cinderford to Mitcheldean. There is a great deal of variety in a short distance due to the route crossing several different rock types with distinct associated building materials, landscapes and wildlife habitats. Waymarking is best across Forestry Commission land and is patchy elsewhere and pretty much absent in urban areas.
Cinderford is an interesting town with a proud industrial heritage. Near Cinderford bus station you will find a mural celebrating the mining heritage of the Forest of Dean. Just up the hill from the mural is a functioning cinema with an old facade. Nearby is “The Fern”, which lays claim to being “the only gastropub in Cinderford”. North of Cinderford the route crosses a patch of heathland on which I fancy I heard a nightjar in broad daylight – probably wishful thinking. Further north you will pass among tall communication masts sited on the route’s highest point, 279 masl; these masts are prominent in distant views for miles across the region.
On the descending track towards the A4136 crossing, look out for a boulder that blocks vehicle access to a branch track to the right. If you take this branch track and cross a stile into the enclosed area you can mosey around to see a quarry where the markedly steep dip of the sedimentary rock layers is exposed (photograph 4). Nearby – partly protected by a fence – is the concrete cap of Edge Hill mine shaft, sunk in 1837. Timing the drop of a stone through the grating set into the concrete cap usually gives a time of 5 seconds before a faint final “clack” is heard deep below, indicating a depth of at least 400 feet (s=ut + 0.5 x a x t squared – long-remembered thanks to my Maths and Physics teachers).
Once off the concrete cap and safely across the A4136, look for a path left to view a very different habitat – a fine pond. Just before starting the steep descent to Mitcheldean, look out for the walled enclosure of “The Wilderness”, a residential centre for Gloucestershire schoolchildren for more than 50 years. On the steep descent itself, it is worth pausing to take in the view of Mitcheldean in the foreground, with May Hill in the near distance and the Malvern Hills in the far distance.”
Have you had any interesting encounters whilst out walking?
In 60 years? Oh yes! One of many interesting encounters: on a windy day in early spring my partner and I walked down to The Carracks from Wicca Farm, on the wild Cornish coast between St Just and St Ives.
We met two inshore fishermen who were unable to put to sea and were checking their pots and buoys from the cliff path. We had an interesting and informative discussion about the state of the UK inshore fishing industry – in a beautiful place where that industry has great significance.
Do you have any advice for walkers?
My advice to would-be walkers is to invest in good socks and to learn to read a 1:25,000 OS map (I’m a convert to the OS map app, and it’s great for beginners and old hands alike). If you are keen to walk longer distances, I would advise using a pair of walking poles to take pressure off joints and prolong walking into later life.
Could you champion Slow Ways in your area?
- Walk and review some local routes
- Ask your local council to support Slow Ways. Here’s some information you can share with them
- Encourage local people to help with Slow Ways through your local media. Write a story for a local paper or magazine, call into a radio show
- Running an event? Perhaps you could suggest that people walk there via a Slow Way
- Inspire others by going on a Slow Ways journey and sharing your progress on your own social media. Use the hashtag #SlowWays so that we can share what you are up to!