Raynor Winn’s 6 Favourite Days Walking Across Britain
After sharing her incredible story of walking the South West Coast path with her husband, award-winning author, Raynor Winn decided to take on a new challenge. Documented in her new book, Landlines, together they take on their most ambitious journey yet. In this blog, we’re proud to share six of Raynor’s favourite days from her epic adventure.
In 2021 I stood on the north western corner of Britain with my husband Moth, two rucksacks and a tent. We were about to a walk the Cape Wrath Trail – 230 miles through some of the wildest and most remote countryside in the UK. We didn’t know then that our walk wouldn’t end in Fort William as we planned, but that we’d carry on walking, along the many trails and footpaths that cross Britain, until we reached the south coast of Cornwall, 1000 miles later. A journey that became my latest book, Landlines.
Before that 1000-mile walk, I’d already explored much of Britain, if not walking then certainly by car, so I thought I understood its varied wildlife and vegetation. But it wasn’t until we crossed it on foot that I realised how wild and diverse Britain really is, and how each walking trail has its own identity, its own sense of place within our landscape and culture. The highlights of that trip are beyond a short list, but here are a few walking days that provide a glimpse of this incredible island, days that were so special I know I’ll return again and again.
Lochinver to Elphin Tearooms – 16 miles
We didn’t want to leave Lochinver, a fishing village on the north west coast of Scotland. A small collection of houses, accommodation and places to eat spread along the shoreline as it runs down to the harbour, where deer sit contentedly on doorsteps, or graze the football pitch. It felt like a last refuge before we fully committed to the long journey south. But this tranquil place is much more than just a harbour. Sitting in the shadow of the Assynt mountains, it forms a gateway to a wild landscape, where huge fins of ancient rock dominate the skyline. This is a day walk, that starts along an easy stone track, but it gets harder so don’t forget to take a map. In May the hillsides are covered in gorse in full flower, filling the air with the scent of coconut and a faint yellow glow.
The outlines of Suilven and Cannisp are ever present, growing darker and more overpowering as you pass between them. But as the sheer-sided mass of the two mountains grows small behind you, the path becomes less trodden, heading past lochs and rocky outcrops, through a landscape that belongs only to the deer that watch your movements from the high hillsides. These are wild miles, where the emptiness of the landscape allows you to simply be a human passing over the land on foot, as humans have for millennia. Until of course the path winds past the head of a small loch, at the end of a tiring but spectacular day, and you find yourself back on the NC500. Make a quick dash south along the grass verge to the haven of the Elphin Tearooms and look back across the remote landscape you’ve just crossed.
Kinloch Hourn to Inverie - 15 miles
This walk starts in the tiny hamlet of Kinloch Hourn, at the farthest reach of the sea loch, Loch Hourn, as it stretches inland from the coast and at the dead-end of a 22-mile single track road. You’re walking into the remote wilderness of Knoydart, reachable only by boat or on foot.
The path hugs the loch side through bracken, rhododendrons and the remnants of rare temperate rainforest, before climbing over the shoulder of a hill. This is a wild land of eagles, otters, ticks and midges, but as you round the corner and catch the view seaward and to the heights of Ladhar Beinn, you’ll know every hard-won mile will be worth it. The path falls to the shoreline of Barrisdale Bay, a beach of crushed oyster shells and a sea that shimmers like crystal in the sun beneath towering, quartz-strewn mountainsides. Linger a while, there’s something magical here that will stay with you long after you leave. The path climbs from the bothy and campground over a steep bealach where the view behind, back across the bay is something you’ll want to lock into your memory for years to come.
Down now through rugged mountains, past a loch where Highland cows stand knee deep in the cool water and eagles cross the dark hillsides, through shady woodland to the shores of Loch Nevis and the scattering of houses that are Inverie. A village whose single road leads nowhere. Stop at the pub, savour the tranquil, idyllic view across the loch and the memories of the day, before catching the ferry out of Knoydart to Mallaig.
Dufton to Middleton-in-Teesdale – 19 miles
Walking through a day of torrential Pennine Way rain we met a man walking in the opposite direction. In his very Pennine accent he told me not to mind the ‘clag’ because soon we would be on the Dufton to Middleton-in-Teesdale section, and it would make the slog of the trail worthwhile. He wasn’t wrong.Dufton is a picturesque little village at the foot of Knock Fell where you might not want to leave the pub, or the café, or the campsite. This will be a long day but filled with the wonders of nature and worth every step. Follow the Pennine Way south and the climb up from the village leads to a geological marvel.
High Cup Gill is the edge of the Whin Sill, a layer of volcanic rock that forms the bedrock of Lindisfarne, crops up as the escarpment of Hadrian’s Wall and again here. Gill is old Norse for valley, but this is more than a valley, it’s a perfect U-shaped half-pipe of a valley where each side is topped with crenelations of dolerite crags. If you can tear yourself away, you’ll cross a moorland where ground-nesting birds are protected, until you reach a waterfall where the water falling from the Cow Gate Dam becomes the start of the river Tees. Following the river as it calms and grows wider, through a narrow valley where Dippers bounce at the water’s edge, then out onto farmland where the increasingly rare lapwing fly in numbers. You’re into the Tees valley proper now, where in early summer the riverbanks and meadows are a mass of wildflowers of every description. Follow the river on an easy path, you might even stop for a swim, before reaching Middleton-in-Teesdale and a well-earned carton of chips from the not-to-be-missed chippy on the Market Place.
Montgomery Canal, Frankton to Welshpool – 14 miles
I would never have considered walking the canal towpaths, we only discovered them while looking for a way to connect the Pennine Way to Offa’s Dyke. But there’s something addictive about walking these flat, straight paths where miles disappear with ease.
The Montgomery Canal is so much more than just a waterway, it’s a haven for nature and wildlife. Much of it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with most of the Welsh section being designated as an area of international importance, a Special Area of Conservation for its aquatic plants. It starts at Frankton Junction, the junction with the Llangollen Canal, but as you step onto the towpath you enter a world apart and all other landmarks become unnecessary. You slip into a day measured by the metronome of walking, beside water overhung by wild abundance, through air full of insect life.
This is only a 14-mile stretch, but you’ll need time to stop and watch families of ducklings, or moorhens swimming among the reeds. Then stop again to watch dazzling blue dragonflies, butterflies, or swallows swooping low over the water. There’s a calmness here, a stillness that’s almost therapeutic. You won’t want it to end, but Welshpool has many places to drink tea and reflect on the day.
Hay-on-Wye to Pandy – 15.8 miles
Hay-on-Wye, perched just on the Welsh side of the England/Wales border, is probably not the best place to start a walk from. The eclectic market town, whose streets are lined with bookshops and wonderful places to eat, could be difficult to leave. But Offa’s Dyke Path runs through the town and the draw of the Black Mountains is stronger than the shops. From lowland meadows the path rises sharply through woodland, then out to the lower slopes and the dark ridgeline that gives these hills their name.
This is a wide-open space of short grass, gorse and wild ponies, where the wind rarely drops, and you can see a storm coming from miles away. A stiff climb up the nose of Hay Bluff and you’re on the ridge. You’ve just walked nearly five miles uphill, but this is why you’re here. The views stretch away into Wales in the north and west and Herefordshire in the east. But you’re turning south along the Hatterall Ridge and a walk of nearly ten miles on a broad plateau of rock, heather and wind. The views into the valley are of ancient field systems and old orchards, barely changed over generations and south now into Monmouthshire, almost as far as the Bristol Channel. It’s rare to walk on an easy flat path at 600m, where the clouds roll below you and the sun shines above. The ridge ends, with lowlands rolling out ahead and a path that descends rapidly to the small hamlet of Pandy and the Old Pandy Inn, a good place to celebrate the end of a magnificent day.
Tavistock to Plymouth – 20 miles
A long day, but worth every step and it’s mainly downhill. Tavistock is an artisan town full of makers and bakers, where it’s most definitely cream first on your scone. When you’ve finished eating leave town on Drake’s Trail, it’s a cycle route, but take the walking diversion that leads up onto the western edge of Dartmoor. The moor rises to the left as the path skirts its fringe through tangled woodland filled with wild ponies and birdsong, then back out onto bracken covered moorland and the hamlet of Clearbrook.
You might think this day is impossibly long, but take a moment at the Skylark pub. Just down the road the path rejoins the cycle route and it’s downhill all the way. Down, down, down on the trackbed of an old railway shared with cyclists and squirrels. Under bridges, over viaducts, through the edge of Plymbridge Woods, where in early autumn the path is strewn with hazelnuts and as you cross the viaducts the red and gold of the tree canopy stretches out into the wooded valley. A quick area of concrete and fumes leads under the A38 and out into the light and the grounds of Saltram House. You’re following the River Plym, crowded with gulls, swans, geese and ducks, walking faster and faster now as the path heads downhill towards the sea. Across the Laira Bridge, past the Aquarium, to the Rockfish chippy and a great sunset view of the harbour – fill your plate, you deserve it today.
A big thank you to Raynor for sharing her favourite days walking across Britain with us. We hope they’ve inspired you to explore new landscapes, take on new challenges and most importantly, enjoy our great outdoors. Where will you adventure next?
Raynor's newest book, Landlines is available in all major retailers, you can buy it now at Waterstones.com
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