It’s been nine years since the first series of Wainwright Walks... but 2016 saw the triumphant return of Britain’s most welcome walking evangelist, in ITV’s prime-time Best Walks With a View.
Congratulations on the new series, it was great to see primetime TV putting it’s faith in walking again. Why do you think it scored such a scheduling bullseye?
I think it’s partly walking and the countryside are a bit of a guilty pleasure – certainly for a lot of city dwellers – and partly that more and more people are realising how important it is to have time in that green space. And how amazing some of our iconic locations are, how on a world scale we compare. You only have to go walking in some of our most popular spots and people from all over the world are coming to see our landscapes.
Do you have a personal sense of mission to get people walking?
I just don’t see how you could not! You pick up the paper and almost on a weekly basis and study after study tells you if you walk for twenty minutes three times a week you alleviate your chances of cancer, or that you’re going to sleep better, or feel better. I'm proud to be an advocate of something that actually isn't that hard, is relatively easy to get into and has amazing benefits that go with it.
Why do you think it’s a guilty secret?
I don't know why there has been this fuddy duddy image to it. I really don't get it. Maybe it’s because it’s one of those things you did with your mum and dad. I've been walking since I was six years old with my dad, been adventuring all over the world with my job and walking and I think it’s not just the best way of seeing a country it’s the one thing that everyone has in common.
How was filming with your dad?
Yes – and it was very special to me. We filmed it up in the Edale Valley because it's my old stomping ground and where he first introduced me to the great outdoors with my Dad. We sit down on a bench and have a good old chat together and then it's slightly bitter sweet for me because I leave him behind as I head off to climb Kinder Scout the walk because his knees have gone now and he can't come with me these days. But I meet him in the Nag's Head for a good pint in Edale afterwards and tell him all about it. I can't wait to take my own children to that very spot and that’s the premise of the series – that these are all accessible and relatively easy walks, in as much as you can do them in half a day or a day, and you can do them with the whole family.
How does filming a walk differ from a normal walking day?
I bump into people all the time and they are always amazed by the kind of things we are doing. Some people think it’s like a documentary; I’m going on a walk and the crew are just following me, but to capture the best possible walk in a very limited amount of on-screen time you can’t do it like that. For example, on one of the days I was filming in the Lake District I was interviewing Mike Hartley – a long distance runner, who did the Pennine Way in the shortest time ever – two days 17 hours. I’d arrived at location at lunchtime, we all had a pub lunch and a meeting about stuff and then Mike had to leave soon after. But before he did we had to get him to the very top of the walk to do the interview. So we bundled into Land Rovers and drove up as far as we could. I bumped into somebody at the pub afterwards and he said ‘It should be called Julia Bradbury’s Drives not Walks – I gave him a wry smile. We were doing the walk for real the next day! For your finished walk seen on screen, your twenty four minutes, we’ve filmed for three days and that’s before days and days of production that goes into making that. As a rough rule of thumb you spend a day for each two or three minutes of television.
It must be hard to stay jolly for so long!
It's funny, I read people saying she's a bit 'jolly hockey sticks' and I don't think of myself at all as jolly hockey sticks, I feel I'm enthusiastic. And anway I'm not always in good spirits, I'm very bad in the mornings – ask the crew. They don’t try and film anything too talky before lunch – I’m monosyllabic and grunty! But I like the process, I like the people and it's always very rewarding when you’re making something people enjoy.
You’ve done canals, railways, Wainwright, the Coast-to-Coast. Do you have any more walking ambitions personally or for TV?
Yes loads! I’d love to do some urban walks – there are some very peaceful places within cities – there are rivers, there are the Munros, all sorts of themed walks you can do.
What do you think the secret of your popularity is?
I think walking’s just a nice way to do travel – a good way to take in a story of a place and show off beautiful places. I’m not trying to be Bear Gryllis or be a great adventurer. I'm just enthusiastic and don't mind walking in the rain and everyone can do what I do.
How many miles do you think you walk in the course of an average year?
I try to do a minimum of 5000 steps a day but when I’m doing a walk that doubles or trebles easily. so I think that's pretty good mileage. I think goals like #walk1000miles are great – it pushes you along a bit. It could be enough to motivate to walk to get the paper or the bread instead of driving. Small things make a big difference!
What difference do you think would make to an average people’s life to walk every day?
I think from a parent perspective it makes a tremendous difference to children and their whole outward being. From an adult perspective, I can only say if I’m having a moment or need to think something through or feeling a bit tired, I get up and put the trainers or walking boots on and just go for a good brisk half-hour walk, and I feel like a different person. Even if you can just do that every day you’re changing your life.
You’re often cited as people’s dream walking partner; who would be yours?
In this series I walked to the top of Castle Crag in the Lake District with the charming mountaineering hero Sir Chris Bonington, so that’s a box ticked. I’d either go for entertainment value and walk with someone like Nicki Minaj or Jack Nicholson – not sure about his fitness levels mind?! – or I’d invite Joe Simpson to tell me all about his Touching The Void experience, that incredible journey through snow and ice with a broken leg.
INTERVIEW: GUY PROCTER
This interview originally appeared in Country Walking Magazine