This is a guest blog post by Luke Scrine, accessories buyer at Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports, who offer outdoor clothing and equipment online plus excellent walking, biking and hiking kit advice in any one of their 25 outdoor shops in the UK.
With so many footpaths and bridleways criss-crossing the UK it would be possible to spend a lifetime walking the length and breadth of the country, exploring its hidden nooks and crannies, marveling at its favourable green vistas and stopping off at one or two excellent watering holes, all without being troubled by too much traffic. Although many people think of walks as being a countryside pursuit some of the walks we’ve picked out as our favourites also pass through towns and even cities, where you will see urban landscapes reveal themselves in a fresh new light.
All the walks can be split into smaller sections for shorter day or weekend walks; after all we don’t all have time to take off a couple of months to walk the entire length of the South West Coast Path in one go. Some of the walks below are well known and loved National Trails so they are well marked while others are a little more challenging and will rely on your excellent map reading skills, stamina, endurance, good kit and clothing!
Here are 10 of our Favourite Long Distance Walks in the UK.
South West Coast Path 600 miles (965 km), SW England
Starting at Minehead in Somerset and ending at Poole Harbour in Dorset, the Southwest Coastal Path is the longest waymarked path in the UK. This spectacular path threads its way around the coastline, through seventeen Heritage Coasts, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a National Park, two World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO Geopark and Britain’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Taking in superb and varied coastal scenery, wildlife and heritage the route hugs the coastline passing through Somerset, North Devon, round Cornwall, South Devon and finally into Dorset. Its highest point is at Great Hangman in North Devon where the cliffs rise 320 m (1043 ft) above the sea with breathtaking views of Exmoor, the Welsh coast and Lundy. From the wild cliffs of Cornwall to the wonderful coastal villages and towns of Lynton, Ilfracombe, Bude, Boscastle, Tintagel, Padstow, Newquay, St.Ives, Penzance, Falmouth, St.Austell, Looe, Salcombe, Lyme Regis, Weymouth and Swanage.
The coast at Brixham, with secluded cove and turquoise waters. This is not a walk where you will escape people as it’s a well trodden path, but half the fun is meeting and talking to people along the way; there are plenty of colourful characters ready to share their tales.
Highlight: The rugged west coast of Cornwall, traversing the jagged cliffs of Cape Cornwall, passing above hidden sandy bays and the crashing waves of the Atlantic on your way to the incredible Minack Theatre perched high above the tropical white sands of Porthcurno beach. Look out for huge basking sharks here!
The West Highland Way 95 miles (153 km), Scotland
With terrain ranging from old military tracks, lowland moors, solid narrow paths in dense woodland and rolling hills, to the high mountainous regions of Scotland this walk takes in some of the most spectacular and remote scenery in Britain. From Milngavie and the rolling hills north of Glasgow to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. The scenery ramps up before reaching Loch Lomond where a good stretch along Scotland’s longest loch leads walkers into mountainous country and some breathtaking views, setting a theme for the rest of the route. The Way skirts Rannoch Moor to reach the head of Glencoe, finally approaching Glen Nevis through a high valley with Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, towering above you at the end of this incredible walk. It’s not an easy walk but it’s not too difficult either, in parts pleasant and relaxing, in parts strenuous and rough.
There’s a variety of welcoming accommodation for weary walkers along the route; just remember to watch out for bad weather when you get to the mountainous stages and always check ahead before setting out for the day. If you fancy walking further join the relatively easy Great Glen Way at Fort William and carry on for 79 miles (125 km) up to Inverness.
Highlights: Ascending from Loch Lomond into mountain country the views are the best you’ll get in the UK. Standing at the foot of Ben Nevis you can’t fail to be awed and perhaps inspired to take part in a climb!
The Thames’ Path 213 miles (341km), across middle England
Follow The Thames, the greatest river in England, as it rises from its source at Kemble in the Cotswold Hills to the Nore, where it flows into the busy shipping routes of the cold North Sea. Passing through peaceful water meadows, unspoilt rural villages, historic towns and the cities of Oxford, Reading and of course finally through the heart of London, to finish at the Thames Barrier in Greenwich. With plenty of accommodation enroute and easily accessible by public transport this is a good, relatively level walk for people of all ages and abilities.
Best times to walk the path are April through to November when there is little risk of flooding, and wildlife and views are at their best. Up river of Oxford is particularly prone to flooding during winter months.
Highlights: Watching boats rise up and down through the 47 locks along the walk and seeing the incredible urban sprawl of London gradually give way to the North Sea where the estuary reaches 16kms across.
Offas Dyke 168 miles (270 km), Welsh/English Border
A stunning walk of varying scenery, from valleys to moorland and mountains, following the Welsh border with England and linking Sedbury Cliffs on the banks of the Severn estuary with the coastal town of Prestatyn on the shores of the Irish sea. The path takes its name from the defensive earthwork dyke built about AD 785 by King Offa of Mercia, England and represents the boundary secured by his wars with Wales.
It passes through eight counties, three areas of natural beauty – the Wye Valley, the Shropshire Hills and the Clwydian Hills, and plays walking hokey cokey by crossing the England/Wales border no less than 20 times! There’s rumours that some hardened (or perhaps slightly mad) individuals have taken just four days to complete the walk but for most of us two weeks of good sturdy walking, camping, hosteling and B&B’s should do the trick.
Highlight: The 18 mile section between Pandy and Hay-on-Wye takes you through the Breacon Beacons via a dramatic upland section in the Black Mountains and along the spectacular Hatterall Ridge before descending into Hay-on-Wye, where you might want to pick up a good paperback for the rest of the journey.
Coast to Coast – approx 200 miles (325 km), Northern England
Unlike the well marked National Trails the Coast to Coast walk across the north of England is largely an unofficial route that uses a series of public rights of way (public footpaths, tracks, and minor roads). The route, first laid out by avid walker, author and illustrator A.Wainwright in his 1973 book “A Coast to Coast Walk, crosses the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors covering rugged mountain and moorland scenery.
At the west end of the walk you can start or end at St Bees, Whitehaven or Workington on the shores of the Irish Sea. At the east end dip your toes in the sea at Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire. If you prefer the easy life then walk west to east to avoid sometimes brutal headwinds coming off the Atlantic Ocean. But if you are a sucker for punishment then head east to west and your reward will be the the glorious unfolding of the Lake District at the climax of your walk.
Highlight: Ennerdale to Stonethwaite in the Lake District where you can stay in one of the most remote youth hostels in the UK at Black Sail Hut, with the looming peaks of The Pillar, Haystacks, Green Gable and Great Gable towering above.
Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path 94 miles (151 km)
Peddars Way starts in Suffolk at Knettishall Heath Country Park and follows the route of a Roman road to Holme-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast, where it meets the Norfolk Coastal Path as it heads east to Cromer. The gentle terrain of this walk make it ideal for all levels of walker and the pastoral scenery and landscape will make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time to simpler days.
The majority of the path runs through the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Brecks, a unique area of forest, heath and low river valleys. There’s also plenty of picturesque villages, a great set of ruins at Castle Acre, salt marshes, sand dunes and golden beaches.
Highlight: Holkham Beach and Dunes where you can throw caution to the wind and take a well earned skinny dip in the sea to refresh your aching muscles before reclining for a nap (pants on please) in the undulating dunes. Or if you fancy a more adrenaline fueled activity stop off for some kitesurfing at Brancaster.
The Ridgeway 85 miles (137 km)
Follow prehistoric travelers, herdsmen and soldiers along the ancient grassy track of The Ridgeway, through the rolling landscape of five of England’s downland counties. Start out in the secluded valleys round Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire and pass through the bucolic hills of five different counties, finally emerging in the megalithic monument of Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire. Although this part of the UK is pretty busy, the path takes you well away from it all for considerable sections, depositing you gently in pleasant villages and towns every now and then to pop into a pub or stock up on supplies.
Highlights: Walking unhindered among the incredible stones of the Avebury monument
The Pennine Way, 256 miles (412 km), north Midlands to Scottish Border
Here’s one to test your stamina. Over 250 miles that will take you from the Edale in the Peak District National Park along the Pennine ridge through the Yorkshire Dales, up into Northumberland, across Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviots, setting you down in the Scottish Borders at Kirk Yetholm.
This is Britain’s first designated Long Distance Path and serves up hill, mountain and moorland scenery for the intrepid walker. Occasionally you will stumble across an inn perched on the path when you most need it but careful planning is needed if you want to use accommodation as much of this route is remote. The Pennine Way takes you into isolated country and that’s part of the exhilaration, a proper challenging walk with just you and the elements… never underestimate the British weather, it can be fickle and up high it can be dangerous.
Highlights: A respite from the high desolate peatlands – from Middleton in Teesdale the Trail follows the River Tees up to its source above Cow Green Reservoir. The Tees is one of the most beautiful rivers in England and walking along its banks gives great views of the spectacular waterfalls of Low and High Force and Cauldron Snout and the meadows of Teesdale.
Llyn Coastal Path, 96 miles (154 km), coastal north Wales
From Caernarfon head off round The Llyn Peninsula (an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), along the north coast to Uwchmynydd, and then finish up along the southern coast to Porthmadog.
As the name would suggest the walk will show you the best of all coastal terrains – coves, beaches, wind-whipped cliffs and steep hills. To top it off Snowdonia, Wale’s biggest National Park can be seen to the east and the wild Irish Sea to the west. The weather might be unpredictable in these parts but you can definitely rely on incredible views and if you are lucky some spectacular rainbows.
There’s plenty of heritage and history enroute as well, with standing stones at Clynnog Fawr, prehistoric hut circles at Trear Ceiri hillfort, and not one but two medieval castles – Caernarfon (a World Heritage Site) and Criccieth. If you like your coastal walks, wild, rough and a little mystical then this one’s for you.
Highlights: Seeing a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins playing in the surf anywhere round this stunning coastline is always a real treat. Standing high above the sea and still feeling the spray as it whips around your face.
Cape Wrath Trail, 200 miles (320 km) northwest Scotland
The most challenging of our favourite walks and one for experienced walkers who are good with a map and a compass as there’s no formal marked route. Starting from Banavie near Fort William the described route takes walkers through some of the wilder areas of the Northern and Western Highlands to Cape Wrath at the far North West corner of the Scottish mainland, passing stunning Sandwood Bay on the way.
You’ll have to be well prepared with a light weight tent, food and essential camping gear as there are long stretches through remote, untamed country where there is no accommodation. This is not one for the faint hearted and you could go for a good long while without seeing another soul. If that sounds like paradise the scenery will do much to justify this assessment as the natural splendour of the Scottish North West unfolds before you in unbroken panoramas.
Highlight: The wildest and remotest stretch of all through the mountains of Inchnadamph and Kylesku, below the shadows of Arkle and Foinaven to Rhiconich. Being able to pitch up anywhere, brew a cuppa and knock up a simple meal, the scents and sounds of nature all around you.