Martin Shepley

Walking Holidays: A Leader’s Year

Martin Shepley
Walking Holidays: A Leader’s Year

We leaders tend not to be asked or told where to go, we ‘apply’ for the tours and may or may not be offered our choice. This year I feel rather lucky as I start with a fortnight in Hong Kong. February is quite a good time to visit. It is cool and pleasant, ok maybe a bit of rain, but we Brits are used to that and if the temperature is around 20 C who cares about some precipitation?

It will be a relief to get away from all the cold rainy weather of last year and the recent snow. On top of that, we will have the excitement of the Chinese New Year festivities midway through the tour. Eleven walks are already planned for islands, remote corners and city areas of this fascinating former colony and a variety of meals have been pre-booked by me to give a regional taste to the two weeks.


With 23 clients the biggest problem will be trying not to lose anyone on the various methods of transport we will use.

By contrast, in April I will return to Sicily for a week and lead jointly with a colleague. We will split the walks into moderate and not so moderate between us. I think I will do the moderate ones, but who knows we might swap around mid-week.

I am really looking forward to visiting Etna again, even in April there will be deep snow and the effect of strong sunshine on the glistening slopes is quite majestic. At lower levels, we will see the orange orchards and the hill top villages. On a walk down to the sea, we will visit the Greek and Roman remains in Taormina and all the while Etna will dominate the horizon.


Over-eating might be a problem at the hands of our indulgent hoteliers, but I will try to be more restrained this year. I think there are still places available on this tour.

May, well I was supposed to have May off, but a private walking group have booked a week in the Gargano peninsular on the east coast of Italy. You know, the bumpy bit on the right. It was such a delight to lead two groups of clients there last year that I could hardly refuse when asked to return.

We should see lots of wild flowers, butterflies and birds. The walks are mainly gentle and generally end on a beach (usually with a bar). We will have a coastal boat journey with lots of surprises and Italian meals, which are quite amazing. Private bookings are a growing trend for Ramblers Worldwide Holidays and a cost effective way for a group of friends to enjoy walking together abroad.

June I am off to Canada and the Rockies, an area, I have to admit, I do not know. However I have the notes, the maps, the thoughts and advice of previous leaders and a strong desire to visit and enjoy.


My group and I will explore the magnificent landscape together with two weeks of walks in the Cascades, the Rockies and in Jaspar National Park. We might see elk and marmots and, I hope, bears — at a distance.

So far the tour is just over half full, so if lakes and mountains are what you want to see, you know what to do.

July sees me on a gentler walking trip to the Baltic States of Latvia and Lithuania. Lots of city walks with palaces, castles and spires and a fair number of National Parks all at a gentle pace. This tour is so popular that it is already nearly full in January. Why? I wonder


I suppose it is a mixture of a desire to see unknown neighbouring states with their historic towns that have been largely untouched by the unpleasantness of the 20th century. There are only two places left so join me if you can.

August is more of a challenge, as I have applied for a really vigorous tour in Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains. Here, I will have the services of a local guide, so I can concentrate on the needs of the clients and leave the route finding to an expert.

We will be seeing unspoilt highlands, lakes and medieval villages that few of us have visited before. And the advantage of having our Bulgarian expert is that we are very unlikely to get lost! So this is one for the more adventurous and should give great rewards for just a bit of effort.

My leading season ends in September, with a return to one of my favourite tour destinations, Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus (the Turkish bit), for one week. There is so much to see here, that we generally manage two interesting events each day.


Maybe a gentle walk in the morning and a castle in the afternoon or a city walk through old Nicosia followed by a climb along a Crusader path to an ancient abbey. We walk to remote restaurants for Turkish mezzes with splendid views and visit empty beaches with Roman remains just lying there.

For two nights we leave the hotel and go in search of a meal in one of the local restaurants. We can choose a fish restaurant on the quay in Kyrenia town, or maybe a barbecue in the grounds of a villa in the hills. Whatever we choose, the food will be excellent. These tours are just starting to sell so plenty of time to book a week in the September sun and extend your summer by just a bit.

October is when I can look at the new brochure and apply for next year’s tours.

Where next? Who knows?

It’s a hard life, but someone has to do it.