Cover story: 10 of the best new walking trails
Get closer to your destination and lace up your boots for a trekking trip — relying on a map and negotiating tracks under your own steam is as rewarding as it is healthy. Whether you’re keen to pace the Wales Coast Path, walk in the shadow of Caribbean volcanoes, or tackle the Himalayan peaks, here’s our guide to the world’s best new walking routes.
Abraham Path, Middle East
“I started walking these hills when I was seven, collecting wild honey with my father,” says Habib, my guide. We’re in the northern West Bank. From east to west, he points out the outcrops of Jordan, the banks of the Dead Sea, an Israeli settlement, two Palestinian villages, pale hills, Ramallah city and, in the distant haze, Jerusalem. It’s a lot to take in. “I still love to walk. It’s in my head, in my heart. If I have a problem, a big thing to think about, I come here and walk,” Habib adds.
In the Middle East there are a lot of big things to think about. It’s one of the reasons the Abraham Path — a long-distance hiking trail that, once complete, will stitch a route across almost the entire region; through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel — is such a singular project. It currently comprises over 280 miles of trails, with more added each year.
The route is based on the ‘cultural memory’ of Abraham — a key figure in Islam, Judaism and Christianity — and loosely traces the on-foot journey he made some 4,000 years ago. The overarching idea is for the path to build a connection between Middle East communities and visitors from across the world.
In the village of Al Mughayir, there’s a disturbance going on. My group is walking a three-day, 32-mile section of the path through the West Bank, winding along stony hillside tracks from the northern city of Nablus down to the outskirts of Jericho. It’s our second day, and after a morning spent passing through wheat fields and olive groves we reach the village as the day’s heat takes hold. But we haven’t banked on coinciding with school break time. Spying the walkers, children begin charging at the playground fence: 10, 20 — suddenly more than 100. Their faces are urgent, their voices a frenzy. Through it all, it’s possible to pick out individual shouts. “How are you? Hello!” “Welcome to Palestine!” “What’s your name?”
The landscape has a hardiness that conceals gifts: mistletoe, wagtails, dragonflies and pink cyclamen. And the walking is often dramatic, particularly in the canyons of Wadi Auja, where the only sounds are birdsong and footfall on loose rock.
We sleep in welcoming homestays. I learn that lamb-filled flatbreads and pomegranate juice make good hiking fuel, and the valleys glow gold at first light. There are surprises too, not least in the Christian town of Taybeh — pre-trip, I hadn’t envisaged myself ordering locally brewed beer from a nun.
It’s a spirit-lifting hike — and Habib provides an all-seeing eye throughout. Here the smoke from a Bedouin camp, there an Israeli military base. Here a porcupine print, there a sacred mountain. And this sense of immersion is what makes the Abraham Path project so extraordinary — it gives travellers the chance to shape their own perspective. abrahampath.org
Best for: Those looking for more than a scenic trek.
Difficulty rating: 6/10.
How to do it: In the West Bank, the Siraj Center runs tours along the Abraham Path from $650 (£398) for four days, including transfers from Jerusalem. EasyJet flies to Tel Aviv from Luton and Manchester; British Airways from Heathrow; El Al from Heathrow and Luton; Jet2 from Manchester. The airport is 27 miles from Jerusalem, with regular public transport. sirajcenter.org easyjet.com ba.com elal.co.il jet2.com
If you can do this, you’ll want to do… The Jesus Trail, a 40-mile pilgrimage and hiking route through Israel. jesustrail.com