THERE'S the chance to ramble into the new Millennium when thousands of people take part in the Festival of Winter Walks at the end of the year.

The walks will give experienced ramblers the chance to start the year as they mean to go on.

But they also offer inspired new walkers the opportunity to get involved in a new, healthy pastime.

Many of the walks will start shortly before midnight on the last day of the 20th Century and some will start at the dawn of the 21st Century.

More than 350 walks have been organised around England, Scotland and Wales for this year's extra special winter walks' festival, staged by the Ramblers' Association.

The great news is that the walks are free, open to all and range from four to eight miles in length.

If you're new to walking there will be a great offer of 20 per cent discount on membership to the Ramblers' Association.

Rambling is an extremely popular activity in the Bolton area and the lovely local countryside provides great potential for walkers.

On December 26 you'll be able to walk off that Christmas Dinner with an "easy to moderate" walk starting at the Moss Bank Park car park at 1.30pm. For more information about this walk contact Sue Stephenson on Bolton 692458.

As a great introduction to walking why not get involved in the Calderdale Walking Festival which runs from September 25 to October 10.

The festival offers variety, fun and fitness and you'll be sure of a warm Yorkshire welcome.

This year there are walks ranging from one mile, for those who enjoy a short, brisk stroll, to 20 miles, with plenty in between.

There's also a special challenge unguided walk of 28 miles around the South Pennine moors.

Special interest walks cover topics such as local history, geology, the environment, urban regeneration and the popular fungi forays. The festival also pays a special tribute to the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, with a poetry walk visiting locations which inspired his work.

Some of the shorter walks are ideal for families and people who don't want anything too strenuous, while there are two special walks for people with disabilities.

There's also the opportunity to walk all the Calderdale Way in five stages and the canal towpath throughout Calderdale's length, again in five stages, with a certificate awarded to anyone completing either walk.

If you fancy making a short break of it there are plenty of reasonably-priced places to stay.

For details of the Walking Festival and information about places to stay contact the Tourist Information Centres as Halifax on 01422 368725, Hebden Bridge on 01422 843831 or Todmorden on 01706 818181.

If you fancy a short stroll around Bolton Town Centre then why not take a look at the New Elephant Walk, and you'll be amazed to see just how many elephants there are in Bolton.

The mighty animal has long-been associated with Bolton and this walk, ideal for families, will prove that point.

The walk has been devised and sponsored by the Crompton Place in association with Bolton Council.

The council's Tourist Information Centre has booklets giving you information about the walk and where to find the elephants. 1 Start at the Crompton Place where you'll spot a plaque on the exterior wall.

2 Then go into Victoria Square where you'll find an elephant on either side of the war memorial.

3 If you walk across the square to Newport Street, to the canopy on the south side of the square, and you'll see the elephant on the Coat of Arms on the glass screen and on the roof two cast iron elephants which once stood on the gate pillars of Bridson's bleachworks in Chorley Street.

4 There are elephants in the pedestrianised side of Newport Street .

5 Walk back into Newport Street and turn left into Newport Arcade. Walk past the Octagon Theatre and along Ashburner Street, keeping your eyes peeled for another elephant on the corner of Bolton Market.

6 Turn right along Blackhorse Street to the last platform of the bus station and walk past stands W to Z, to see the two elephants on the glass screens on the right.

7 Walk back along the platform the way you came and turn left in Blackhorse Street towards Deansgate. There aren't any elephants on this part of the walk so look out, instead, for the lion and unicorn on the court buildings and on the post office, in Deansgate. Turn right into Deansgate and follow the road left into Knowsley Street. On the right look up above the Market Hall entrance and you will see an elephant above the coat of arms. Walk back up Knowsley Street the way you came and turn left into Corporation Street.

8 Continue along Corporation Street and round the corner of the Market Place to the Bridge Street entrance where you'll find three elephants, one over the door, one on the left-hand plaque commemorating the original opening of the building and one on the right marking its refurbishment.

9 Turn back and go up Bridge Street and left along Deansgate to the Natwest bank, where there is an elephant high up on the roofline and best seen from the opposite side of the road.

10 Turn back and left into Mealhouse Lane towards C and A and back to Crompton Place. Go to the Exchange Street entrance where there is a plaque on the wall.

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