Actress Shobna Gulati put on her walking boots for the BBC’s River Walks programme. She talks to Naomi MacKay about her love of the UK’s countryside – and the surprising reason she travels to cities across Europe
When Shobna Gulati – best known as Sunita Alahan in Coronation Street and Anita in Victoria Woods’ much-loved Dinnerladies ¬– took up the challenge to walk the Severn Way, which follows the course of the River Severn, she had little idea of what would be in store.
‘’I didn’t know it was such a great walk,’’ she says. “Nor how fantastic the area was – sometimes you just don’t know about the places on your own doorstep.’’ And as a fan of the countryside, wildlife and roiling hills – the bleaker and moodier the better – this was the ideal opportunity for Shobna. ‘’Rivers have always fascinated me. There’s so much of life that goes on around them, and they’re the arteries of our world. They’ve fed industry and the development of our communities.’’
The holy river
One river she would love to walk along is the Ganges, going back to her family’s roots. Shobna has many strings to her bow – as well as being a talented actress, she is a classically trained Indian dancer, and used to fly to India for classes. She’s travelled across much of India, and one of her favourite destinations is Kerala. ‘’It’s got such a multitude of geography: mountains, rivers and beaches if you want them, even rainforest,” says Shobna. “You can see why it’s called God’s own country.”
She also loves to visit visit European cities for a weekend; many of which are chosen so she can follow her beloved Manchester United: ‘’I’ve seen some great cities thanks to football.’’
As well as watching the beautiful game, Shobna enjoys hunting down cafés and restaurants that serve Indian food. ‘’In France and Paris I seek out North Indian food, similar to that in Manchester or North London. In Milan, you find chickpea curries in Italian cafés.’’
When travelling Shobna loves to learn about social history, which was made easy when she was filming the Severn Valley programme. She climbed aboard a steam train on the Severn Valley Railway at Bridgnorth, and even got to ride on the footplate.
This love of history was sparked by her dad, who used to take the family off around the country – Ireland, Cornwall and the Derwent Valley – and there would always be some history involved. ‘’I learnt a lot as a child,” she laughs.
I love the Malvern Hills too. There’s no phone signal; all you can do is walk and take photos. Walking is really important to me, it clears my head.’’
As well as rivers, she loves reservoirs, and there are lots of them in the north of England. “I learnt to sail on a Trimpley Reservoir for the TV programme, and I’d never done that before. The joy of doing these walks for the telly is that you actually get into the community. It’s like living history. I guess I’m carrying on from my dad!’’
• River Walks aired on BBC One on 10 December. Each of the 11 English regions saw its own episode, and the entire series is available nationwide on BBC iPlayer.
• Shobna leaves the West End musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the end of January, and heads to the globe for an all-female production of Richard II.
“I love the Malvern Hills. There’s no phone signal – all you can do is walk and take photos”
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