River Walks aired on BBC One last month – each of the 11 English regions saw its own episode, and the entire series is now available nationwide on BBC iPlayer. Here, the show's presenter, actress Shobna Gulati, tells us about her love of the UK’s countryside…
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."
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!’’