Brits have rediscovered the bicycle: A National Cycle Network covers about 16,000km (10,000 miles) throughout the country. The network runs from Dover in southeast England to Inverness in the Highlands. Go to www.sustrans.org.uk for route maps.
Most routes cross old railway lines, canal towpaths, and riversides. Among the more popular routes are the Sea-to-Sea Cycle Route, a 225km (140-mile) path linking the Irish Sea with the North Sea across the Pennine Hills and into the north Lake District and the Durham Dales. The Essex Cycle Route covers 402km (250 miles) of countryside, going through some of England's most charming villages; the Devon Coast-to-Coast route -- our favorite -- runs for 145km (90 miles) in southwest England, skirting the edge of Dartmoor; the West Country Way for 399km (248 miles) links the Cornish coast to Bath and Bristol; and the Severn and Thames route for 161km (100 miles) links two of Britain's major rivers.
For a free copy of "Britain for Cyclists," with information on these routes, call the British Tourist Authority (tel. 800/462-2748 in the U.S., and tel. 888/847-4885 in Canada) or contact the Cyclists Touring Club, Parklands, Railton Road, Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX (tel. 0870/873-0060, or 01544/370666 in Wales; www.ctc.org.uk), which can suggest routes and provide information. Memberships cost £36 a year.
A leader in these biking tours since 1974, Euro-Bike & Walking Tours (tel. 800/321-6060; www.eurobike.com in the U.S. and Canada) is currently the best outfitter. For more information, you can also write to Euro-Bike & Walking Tours, P.O. Box 990, DeKalb, IL 60115.
Fly-fishing was born here, and it's an art form. Local fishing guides are available to lead you to English waters that are well stocked with trout, perch, grayling, sea bream, Atlantic salmon, and such lesser known species as rudd and roach.
If you prefer to go it alone without a guide, contact the Salmon & Trout Association, Fishmonger's Hall, London Bridge, London EC4R 9EL (tel. 020/7283-5838; www.salmon-trout.org), for information about British fishing regulations.
An excellent guide to fishing is Where to Fly Fish in Britain & Ireland, available on Amazon.com. To learn about fishing holidays, contact Angling Direct Holidays, The Homestead, Thurgarton Road, Aldborough Norfolk NR11 2NY (tel. 01603/407596; www.anglingdirectholidays.com).
Though the sport originated in Scotland, golf has been around in Britain since Edward VII first began stamping over the greens of such courses as Royal Lytham & St. Annes, in England's northwest, or Royal St. Georges, near London.
The unyielding reality is that golf in Britain remains a clubby sport where some of the most prestigious courses are usually reserved exclusively for members. Rules at most British golf courses tend to be stricter in matters of dress code and protocol than their equivalents in the United States.
If, however, your heart is set on enjoying a round or two on the emerald-colored turf of Britain, Golf International, 14 E. 38th St., New York, NY 10016 (tel. 800/833-1389 or 212/986-9176; www.golfinternational.com), can open doors for you. Golf packages are arranged for anywhere from 7 to 14 days and can include as much or as little golf, on as many different courses, as a participant wants.
Worthy competitors that operate on a less comprehensive scale than Golf International include Adventures in Golf, 22 Greeley St., Ste. 7, Merrimack, NH 03054 (tel. 877/424-7320 or 603/424-7320; www.adventures-in-golf.com); and Jerry Quinlan's Celtic Golf, 1129 Rte. 9 South, Cape May Courthouse, NJ 08210 (tel. 800/535-6148 or 609/465-0600; www.celticgolf.com). Each of their tours is customized and usually includes lodging in anything from simple guesthouses to five-star deluxe manor houses.
Hiking, Walking & Rambling
England and Wales alone have some 161,000km (100,000 miles) of trails and footpaths. The Ramblers' Association, Camelford House, 87-90 Albert Embankment, 2nd Floor, London SE1 7TW (tel. 020/7339-8500, in Wales 029/2064-4308; www.ramblers.org.uk), has several books and maps on hiking and walking in Great Britain. Prices range from free to £15.
Wilderness Travel, Inc., 1102 Ninth St., Berkeley, CA 94710 (tel. 800/368-2794 or 510/558-2488; fax 510/558-2489; www.wildernesstravel.com), also specializes in treks and inn-to-inn hiking tours.
English Lakeland Ramblers, 15404 Beachview Dr., Montclair, VA 22025 (tel. 800/724-8801 or 703/680-4276; www.ramblers.com), offers 7- or 8-day walking tours for the average active person. On its Lake District tour, you'll stay and have your meals in a charming 17th-century country inn near Ambleside and Windermere. A minibus takes hikers and sightseers daily to trails and sightseeing points. Experts tell you about the area's culture and history and highlight its natural wonders. There are also tours of the Cotswolds, as well as inn-to-inn tours and privately guided tours.
Other contenders include Country Walkers, P.O. Box 180, Waterbury, VT 05676 (tel. 800/464-9255 or 802/244-1387; www.countrywalkers.com). This company's "walking vacations" last 7 days either in the Cotswolds region or the Lake District.
To explore the mountain activities of Wales's Snowdonia National Park, contact Bob Postings at Pathfinder, Clynnog Fawr, Tan-yr-allt, Caernarfon, Gwynedd LL54 5NS, in North Wales (tel. 01286/660202; www.pathfindersnowdonia.co.uk). Bob and his skilled team specialize in walking the summits, rock climbing, kayaking, and rafting, among other activities.
One of the best outfitters for walks through the West Country and the Cotswolds is Walking Holidays (tel. 01761/233807; www.bathwestwalks.com). On these guided tours you take in such attractions as the Wiltshire Downs and the Mendip Hills, as well as the coastal scenery of Exmoor.
To read about the vast hiking possibilities of Britain, you can purchase on Amazon.com a copy of Stilwell's National Trail Companion (Stilwell Publishing, 2001), by Tim Stilwell, the ultimate where-to-stay guide for walkers, which also documents an extensive national system of 48 hiking trails through Britain.
Horseback riding is one of the reasons many visitors head to England in the first place. It is a country of great horsemen and horsewomen (no pun intended). For details about how to have such a vacation, contact Eastern Trekking Associates, P.O. Box 357, Thomson, GA 30824 (tel. 888/836-6152 or 706/541-2450; www.horsevacations.com). Small groups of around six riders each are taken on tours of the Exmoor region, arguably the most beautiful district of England. Horseback riding holidays are also arranged in Wales.
A number of American companies offer horseback-riding package tours of Britain. Equitour, P.O. Box 807, Dubois, WY 82513 (tel. 800/545-0019 or 307/455-3363; www.ridingtours.com), is one such firm, specializing in package tours for riding enthusiasts who want to experience the horsey traditions of the land of foxes and hounds. Two types of tours can be arranged: stationary tours, with instruction in jumping and dressage during a 7-day period at a stable beside the Bristol Channel or on the fields of Dartmoor, and a "progressive" tour in Wales, with a 7-day trek. Most riders, eager to experience as wide a view of England as possible, opt for the latter, spending nights at different B&Bs or inns and lodging their mount at nearby stables. Accommodations are simple, and prices are kept deliberately low.
Devotees of English literature and bookworms in general can explore England as it was seen and observed by famous writers, not just Shakespeare, but the Brontë sisters who lived in Yorkshire, or Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth, who wrote of the glorious landscapes of the Lake District.
The best such escorted tours are offered by Lynott Tours, 205 Mineaola Blvd., Ste. 1B, Mineola, NY 11501 (tel. 800/221-2474; www.lynotttours.com). Tours can be arranged by calling the company during business hours Monday to Friday. Accommodations, including breakfast, dinner, and afternoon tea, as well as a full-time guide, are included in their jaunts. Their most popular tours include "Much Ado About Shakespeare," "Literary Cotswolds," and "The Brontës Literature and Countryside" tour of the dramatic moors of Northeast England.
University Study Tours
You can study British literature at renowned universities such as Oxford and Cambridge during the week and then take weekend excursions to the countryside of Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and Hardy. While doing your coursework, you can live in dormitories with other students and dine in elaborate halls or the more intimate Fellows' clubs. Study programs in England are not limited to the liberal arts, or to high school or college students. Some programs are designed specifically for teachers and seniors.
Affiliated with Richmond College, in London, American Institute for Foreign Study, River Plaza, 9 W. Broad St., Stamford, CT 06902 (tel. 866/906-2437 or 203/399-5000; www.aifs.com), offers 4 weeks and up of traveling programs for high school students, and internships and academic programs for college students. There are also programs leading to the British equivalent of an MBA.
Institute of International Education (IIE), U.S. Student Programs Division, 809 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212/883-8200; www.iie.org), administers a variety of academic, training, and grant programs for the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), including Fulbright grants. It is especially helpful in arranging enrollments for U.S. students in summer school programs.
Worldwide Classrooms, P.O. Box 1166, Milwaukee, WI 53201 (tel. 414/224-3476; www.worldwide.edu), produces an extensive listing of schools offering study abroad programs in England.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.