Best foot forward: walking festivals

Step into the great outdoors with these scenic events

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While many turn to the gym to get their health kick, sometimes taking things a little slower can reap the greatest benefits for both body and mind. Walking can not only be a gentle but effective form of exercise for all ages, but offers a rare opportunity to shut off, log out and connect with nature. For a full digital detox, ditch the GPS altogether and embark on a guided tour at one of the many walking festivals around the UK, allowing you to admire the breathtaking landscapes without worrying about directions or right of way. Here are some of the top dates to put in your diary this year.

Isle of Wight Walking Festival

Home to some of the most stunning coastal scenery to be found in Britain, the Isle of Wight is easily explored by foot via its extensive network of over 500 miles of pathways. Throughout its annual festival, over 90 expert-led guided walks take place covering a wide range of abilities and interests, allowing you to discover the surrounding flora, fauna and fossils at your own pace. More ambitious ramblers may want to sign up for the yearly Walk the Wight, the largest sponsored walk of its kind in Europe, which this year will take place on Sunday 13 May to raise funds for the island's Earl Mountbatten Hospice. More strenuous still is the Isle of Wight Challenge, a 24-hour-plus endurance event that takes you across white cliffs, beaches and coastal paths.

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28 April to 13 May 2018; visitisleofwight.co.uk. Image visitisleofwight.co.uk

Suffolk Walking Festival

Featuring over 120 walks across its three weeks, 2018 is set to be the biggest year yet for Suffolk Walking Festival. The county boasts two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while there's also plenty of opportunity to tour the picturesque Wool Towns or take in the local historic architecture. A number of special activities will give a new perspective on this popular pastime; join a dawn chorus walk to hear the birds sing in a new day, or give Nordic walking a go, which involves the use of specially designed poles for a full-body workout.

12 May to 3 June 2018; suffolkwalkingfestival.co.uk

Malvern Walking Festival

This festival may not be the biggest but it is one of the best, taking place in the beautiful countryside of the West Midlands. Whether interested in geology, history, wildlife or simply getting some rigorous exercise, there will be a trail that will appeal. Bookings are already open for all the guided walks, whether you opt for one of the multi-day challenges, such as the Three Choirs Way that takes in the trio of cathedral cities and towns of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford, or opt instead for a gentle, family-friendly stroll.

26 May to 3 June 2018; malvernwalking.uk

(Image credit: Chris J Parker Photographer 2013)

WalkFest

Taking place over the spring bank holiday in and around the North York Moors, this festival has a concise programme that makes the most of the area's rich heritage and incredible natural beauty. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's landmark journey on the HMS Bark Endeavour, and you can delve into the important landmarks of his childhood with a 6.5 mile route that goes through Little Ayton up to Captain Cook's Monument on Easby Moor, before journeying to the house where his family lived during summer months. You can also discover the region's industrial past and present, from a first-hand look at the impact ironstone mining has left on the landscape to the chance to visit the only new working mill in Yorkshire.

26 May to 28 May 2018; northyorkmoors.org.uk. Image by Chris J Parker

Talgarth Walking Festival

Talgarth's close proximity to the Brecon Beacons makes the ancient market town the perfect base to explore the national park by foot. Get a little navigational help by signing up to one of the festival's guided walks that range from one-hour jaunts to full-day excursions. Capture the views with prize-winning photographer Tony Bennett, bring your sketch book for an outdoor art masterclass or brave an overnight stay camping under the stars on the Black Mountains.

4 May to 7 May 2018; talgarthwalkingfestival.org

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