Hiking At Its Best
I know it may sound strange, rambling in a city, but there’s really no reason why a ramble should have to be a rural activity. How often have you paused on a walk to admire an uplifting view of distant hills? Who’s to say that a magnificent building — museum, town hall or cathedral — should not inspire the same admiration? On a rural walk, you pause for refreshment in the corner of a sunlit field, or resting against the weathered stones of an ancient boundary wall.
But your packed lunch is equally at home in a city park, and a quick break in a convenient snack bar won’t ruin your rambling mood. Obeying traffic signals is just like obeying the countryside code. And as long as you don’t ‘cheat’ by hopping on a bus or taking time off to go shopping, urban rambling is a rewarding occupation.
I do it a lot — mainly in London. But if ever a city was designed for the activity, it’s New York. Its avenues run north–south, its conveniently numbered streets bisect them east–west, and it’s impossible to get lost if you have a decent map and a rudimentary sense of direction. That’s why I really fancy Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ nine-day trip, which takes you around all five boroughs and is based in a modest but highly thought-of hotel on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I’ve had varied experiences in New York hotels, including one I was booked into by accident that was more used to renting rooms by the hour.
My assistant cameraman freaked out when he found a dead body in his room. I’ve also stayed at ultra-luxurious places, which provided all manner of expensive bells and whistles — and thanked my stars that I was on expenses at the time! However, I like the Hotel Newton, which is at 2528 Broadway Avenue. Although it boasts just two stars and has a very modest exterior, it’s one of New York City’s top mid-priced hotels. But you don’t have to take my word for it, because the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Newsday have all said exactly that. It’s close to Riverside Park, Central Park and Columbus Circle — as well as the 96th Street subway station, which you use to get to various locations and the particular walks they provide. Using the subway to get quickly to your various starting points is definitely not ‘cheating’.
Although you spend the most time on Manhattan Island itself, the programme of half-day walks will take you to the Bronx and Brooklyn, to Queens and Staten Island. You’ll also go on a day trip to Irvington and the village of Cold Springs way up in the Hudson River Valley. At this point, you may be thinking you could manage an expedition like this by yourself. No doubt you could. But going with a group is more enjoyable, and having the services of a knowledgeable guide lets you take a hearty bite out of the Big Apple, discovering places and snippets of history you would probably otherwise miss.
You’ll get to the Upper West Side, Midtown and the Garment District on one of the half-day excursions, taking in Times Square, the heart of theatre-land, and a ride to the top of the Empire State Building. You’ll go to Ellis and Liberty Islands (you can’t ignore the lady with the lamp when you’re in her city), and take the ferry to Staten Island (did you know there’s a nature reserve there?). You’ll also go to Harlem, where you can visit the famed Apollo Theater and the Studio Museum of Harlem and its displays of African-American art. Other walks will take you to Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village, Washington Square and Ground Zero. There’s so much to see in New York that one visit can’t do it justice, but the itinerary for this holiday literally covers more ground than any other I’ve seen. And remember that no matter how much you plan, the city will always surprise you.
Once, I found a working brewery in a converted electricity sub-station on the southern tip of Manhattan. It brewed very strong ale and was run, of course, by an Englishman, who delivered the beer in wooden barrels to bars throughout Manhattan. He kept a dray and two shire horses for the purpose — they grazed in Battery Park when they weren’t working. On my next visit I’ve promised myself I’ll visit one of the morris dancing ‘rings’ that are based in the city. Morris dancing, real ale and rambling — who’d have expected to find all that in New York? Walk the world and help the work of the Ramblers too. Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ charitable trust is a major contributor to the Ramblers.