Touring afoot has long been a British tradition.
But the practice of seeing a country by (as my mother used to call it) shank's mare is growing in popularity elsewhere around the world. Even Americans, long noted for eschewing any form of transportation that didn't involve a motor -- or, at least, wheels -- have taken to the world's sidewalks, paths and trails.
Now two major publishers of travel guides -- Fodor's and Frommer's -- have launched a series of guidebooks for the independent traveler afoot. The information is complete, the maps are detailed, the instructions are clear, and the books are ++ organized well in both series. Beyond that, the two series have little in common.
The Fodor's "Short Escapes" series (France and Britain are the first two guides on the market; $13 each) takes the traveler away from major cities and out into the countryside. The subtitles for each book are "25 Trips to Villages, Landscapes and Historic Places Tourists Never See."
Conversely, each book in the Frommer series, "Frommer's Walking Tours," focuses on a major city (London, New York, Paris, San Francisco et al.; $12 each) and directs walkers to the sights and sites that the tourists always see.
The Frommer guides break a city up into neighborhoods and districts and offer a dozen or so walking tours. In addition to directions on how to get to the starting point of each tour, the guides tell walkers how long each tour takes, the best time of day to take the walk, where to stop for refreshments and whether there are hills that the less-than-fit walker might want to avoid. There is also plenty of information on history and architecture.
The front section of each Frommer guide provides a brief history of the subject city, an overall city map, basic information on public transportation, business and banking hours, currency exchange -- the fundamentals found in any good travel guide. There is no information on lodging, little on dining.
The Fodor series is aimed at the traveler who has seen a country's cities, traipsed through its museums, and now wants, in the words of the books' all-purpose introductions, simply to "escape to the peace of the [fill in the blank -- French, British] countryside and soak up a more complete sense of the way life once was, and is today."
As with the Frommer series, the Fodor books give walkers an indication up front of what to expect from each tour (the Fodor guides can get a little precious; they refer to each tour as an "experience," as in "Experience 7: Avebury") in terms of distance, time to cover the ground and degree of walking difficulty.
Since the "Short Escapes" books take the travelers into the countryside, the Fodor series provides extensive information on dining and accommodations. Instructions for each tour contain suggestions for visits to historic or other important sites.
The new Fodor's and Frommer's series are by no means the first walking-tour guidebooks -- nor even the first series of such guides. But the entry of these two giant travel-guide publishers into the market underscores the increasing popularity of walking tours.