Travel: the world’s fifty best walks Charlotte Metcalf
From Cotswolds country strolls to Himalayan hikes, one man is visiting the greatest places to stretch your legs, says Charlotte Metcalf
Ex-lawyer-turned-artist William Mackesy, 58, confesses to being an ‘overenthusiastic walker’. He grew up walking in Wales and Scotland and literally walked out of the City, quitting his Hong Kong firm to go travelling. He later read in a self-help book that some of the world’s unhappiest people are corporate lawyers in their fifties, because they can’t evolve. ‘That nailed it!’ says William. ‘I hadn’t wanted to go there.’
Mackesy’s first post-career walks were along the Silk Road through western China and the ’Stans.
‘I began wondering how to identify and list the world’s best walks,’ he says and, in 2008, he launched Walkopedia, with an assessment system that ‘only a tragic ex-lawyer could evolve’. The site now features more than 1,000 walks, ranging from a mighty 3,000-mile trek along the Patagonian Way to an hour’s potter through Stowe House’s gardens in Buckinghamshire. At the heart of the site is Mackesy’s project to walk the world’s 100 best walks himself.
‘But physical collapse may get me first,’ he says. ‘I’m an overweight asthmatic with dodgy knees.’
Though Walkopedia is ‘a proudly uncommercial labour of love’, the site received around 900,000 page views last year. ‘It’s about fascination with the world, its people, landscapes and wildlife, and I’m confident that it is thrilling enough to count as walk porn.’
This year, he plans walks in Lanzarote, Corsica and Iceland, on the Curzon Trail in India’s Himalayas and in his beloved Cairngorms.
‘I still think the best walk in the world is the circuit of Mount Kailash in Tibet,’ he says. ‘It’s got everything – extraordinary beauty, pilgrims tramping round the sacred kora. They can wipe away a lifetime’s sins with one circuit.’
His top fifty ‘doable’ walks (see overleaf) are of varying difficulty but none is miserably demanding. ‘I’m reasonably fit, but my body is definitely no temple,’ he says. ‘If I can do these, so can most people. And walking is a brilliant way of refreshing your mind as the mundane world seeps away.’