New fitness trend alert: urban hiking
I love walking and I love cities. So outdoor clothing specialist Regatta’s new ‘urban hiking’ trail in the heart of London is quite literally up my street.
Devised by outdoors explorer Anja Phoenix, her Secret Cities route proves you don’t have to live in the country to get the physical – and mental – benefits of hiking.
I join a huddle of intrepid urban hikers to do a swift circuit led by Phoenix, up and around Covent Garden, weaving our way past hordes of tourists and shoppers as we go. It’s an area I thought I knew pretty well, but Phoenix takes us into narrow Dickensian passageways, and tiny tranquil squares I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know existed. On boutique thoroughfare Floral Street, we spy strange sculptures of ‘human ears’ high above shop-fronts; who knew? Then we dive in and out of boho Neal’s Yard and past magical antique booksellers, that look like they belong in Diagon Alley.
A sense of adventure
The key to successful urban hiking, according to Phoenix, is ‘having a sense of adventure,’ preparing for the elements (all of them, this is Britain), and moving at a decent pace – we’re only managing a measly 2K an hour as we keep stopping to take in sights. But you should be able to speed up to 5K-plus for proper heart-healthy benefits. According to scientist, just 20 minutes of walking a day helps prevent early death.
Take inspiration from Phoenix’s top urban hiking tips:
1 Kit yourself out
Wear the right clothing, the same as you would in the country – base layers, fleeces, a waterproof, breathable outer layer, comfy walking shoes. ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing. Even on a short hike in the city, look at the forecast before you head off. If you stay warm and dry, it makes such a difference to how enjoyable it is.’ Regatta’s range is stylish, practical and affordable.
2 Hike as a family
Upgrade your Sunday stroll to something more energising, and get younger and older generations involved. ‘The great thing about walking is that different age groups can do it together. You can go with the kids and with granny,’ says Phoenix.
3 Build in other exercise as you go
The city is just one big outdoors gym if you’re prepared to open your mind. ‘If you see a park bench, do a few triceps dips, or why not jog up and down the steps at the Tube station,’ says Phoenix.
4 Don’t worry if you get lost
‘Part of the charm of an urban hike is having a sense of adventure and discovering new things,’ says Phoenix. ‘It can be as exciting as a rural trail if you approach it with the right mindset.’
5 Start slow, then speed up
Hiking is a great way for exercise newbies to build fitness. ‘A 5k walk is achievable if you haven’t exercised for a while, but still gives a good workout,’ says Phoenix.
6 Read up on the history of your route
Phoenix was full of facts to help bring our trail’s history to life. That Seven Dials was one of the worst slums in Northern Europe in the 1600s was just one thing I learnt – and also that Covent Garden’s streets funnel winds directly over the Channel from France…
7 Look up – in fact, look everywhere
Urban hiking is about spotting those little things you might miss otherwise – fabulous trees, gargoyles on buildings, wonderful city architecture. ‘Look above you and think about what’s below you,’ says Phoenix. ‘You never know what you might spot. Some of the coolest things are in unexpected directions.’
If you’d like to try Regatta’s Secret Cities trail, you can find the map here.
Head to the Ramblers, for more great walking ideas.