Walking is the best way of getting to the pub. It’s free and, therefore, allows one to conserve funds to spend at the pub, and the physical exercise it provides is good for you. If the walk is long enough, there’s even an opportunity to burn off the extra calories from the pint or three you’ve sunk. This is such a simple, self-evident truth that I don’t know why every single pub in the land isn’t actively and regularly promoting the idea that walking is the best way to get there.
I’m aware there are breweries and pub chains that have done this before – and continue to do so – but given all the sticks used to beat people about eating too much and sedentary lifestyles, it seems an under-used promotional tool.
I was delighted then to hear it’s a tool that Shepherd Neame has decided to employ. Its new pub walks series kicks off with five guides written by local walking expert Lisa Filmer. They feature walks of between four and six miles, taking in a variety of terrains and environments, along with some of Kent’s most beautiful coast and countryside. And, of course, they all start and finish at a Shepherd Neame pub.
More than 150 people turned up for the launch – in winter, on the Kent coast. This is testament to the pulling power of walks, because I can tell you first hand that ‘bracing’ here means it’s mild. At this time of year, and especially with the weather we’ve had of late, the wind frequently feels like it will cut you in half – if it hasn’t managed to knock you off your feet first. But 150 people turned out for a pub walk. Imagine how popular it might be when it’s warmer, or for pubs in less exposed spots.
“One of the joys of being on holiday is renting a cottage that has a pub within a mile,” said writer Kelly Rose Bradford when I asked her about the relationship between pubs and walking.
“I always check that. It’s a huge part of the holiday experience for me.” But walking to the pub is not just something she does on holiday. “I almost always walk home from the pub if I go [ for a drink in the next town to mine]. When you know a pub is on a safe and pleasant walking route, it enables you to let your hair down a bit more – and perhaps even eat a bit more too,” she added.
I also asked Vic Norman, of Dragon and Flagon London Pub Tours, for his thoughts on the benefits of structured pub walks.
“Pub tours – organised by a knowledgeable guide – offer an experience that is more than the sum of its parts,” he says. “I [offer] nine tours. Each one takes in five or six pubs, with time for a drink in each, and a guided historical commentary en-route between them.
“Pubs benefit if they are on a guide’s itinerary because it showcases those pubs – meaning that guests on a pub tour will probably come back [another time].”
Production of guides
Another benefit of working with a guide is they can help find, but importantly help you show off, the best things in the area around your pub. This can take walking from merely being the act of putting one foot in front of the other to become an attractive reason for going to the pub.
As with any bright idea, I do try to bear in mind whether it’s a realistic opportunity for all pubs. So I asked Shepherd Neame what went into its project.
“It took roughly six months from the initial idea to actually having the [five] printed guides,” said spokeswoman Kathryn Tye.
She added, “For anyone thinking of putting together their own guides, the key is to find someone who knows the local area well and can come up with a walk that is not only interesting but can be completed by a wide range of people, whatever their fitness level.
“Once that is in place, you can spend as much or as little on the design as you are able to afford. For example, they don’t have to be printed, they could just be made available online.”
For Shepherd Neame it’s an investment that seems to have paid off – both in press coverage and punters. I really hope it’s an idea more pubs decide to capitalise on.