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The Pub Strolls series of books is published by Countryside Books, and covers 22 areas of Britain, from Devon to the Yorkshire Dales. Each Pub Strolls book is a slim paper back measuring 15cm by 21cm (just a little too large to fit into your pocket), and contains at least thirty circular pub walks that begin and finish at a good pub. Alan Charles is a walking enthusiast living in Hertfordshire and has published several other local walking guides.
Pub Strolls in Hertfordshire targets the casual rambler, rather than the serious walker. The word 'strolls' is not used lightly, as the 30 walks in this book range from 1 ¾ to 3 ¾ miles long. Many walkers would feel that a walk of this length is more of a warm-up than a serious way to spend an afternoon!
With this in mind, Pub Strolls in Hertfordshire can offer a great deal to anybody who wants to explore the area. Hertfordshire is a very popular county for walkers, offering a network of footpaths that take you through picturesque villages, rolling hills and atmospheric woodlands.
Each walk is numbered. The first page of the walk has a half page colour photo of the pub in question - every one delightfully quaint and olde worlde. The name of the village attached to the pub becomes the title of the walk, with the name of the pub just underneath it. The distance of the walk is on one side of the page, and the OS map reference on the other. Clear directions on how to get to the pub and where to park are found underneath the title. All of this essential information is very clear and well laid out, so that you know exactly what you are letting yourself in for before you start.
A brief account of the village starts the walk, and this is where Alan Charles comes into his own, as delightful descriptions of calling skylarks, historical buildings and superb views whet your appetite for your stroll. The next page contains a detailed description of the pub, including the history, the menu and a lot of personal opinion! Phone numbers are given for bookings.
A simplified colour map, together with yet another colour photograph of a local scene, takes you into the instructions for the walk itself. The walk is numbered, and these numbers coincide with the numbers on the map, taking you step by step away from the pub and back again. The directions are very easy to follow, and the walk follows well trodden paths that are not difficult to negotiate. Another little bubble of information on the page indicated places of interest to visit nearby. ~~
Although this book is well designed professionally produced, it fails for me on several counts. I have used many of this type of book over the years, and the most successful ones point out features of interest as you follow the route. These features can be natural, historical or just plain unusual, but they add a great deal to a walk and keep your motivation and attention levels high. I have also found that looking out for these features can make a walk a lot more interesting for children, as they can make a game out of being the first to spot a particular detail, and take turns to read out the information about it. This book has a very practical instruction for each walk, but makes no attempt to add interest.
Although there are 30 walks to choose from, there is not much variation in length. A good walking book will cater for a range of abilities, and also assume that a walker who begins with a short walk of a couple of miles, will graduate onto harder and longer walks. All 30 of the walks in this book are very safe, very short and completely unchallenging, which is a real disappointment.
Hertfordshire has a great deal to offer the walker, ranging from ancient dykes, to iron age forts, almshouses and Jacobean houses. Reading about the history of the countryside as you walk through it is a real pleasure, and although this book is beautifully produced and well designed, I would recommend searching out a book that will give you a real insight into the countryside, rather than a brief race back to the comfort of the pub.