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Scafell Pike header image - mountains and lake

6 alternatives to crowd-magnet mountain walks

On paper, Britain’s wonderful hills, mountains and upland landscapes are some of the most heavily-trodden in the world. 

 

Part of the reason for that is simple – there are 60 million of us on this one island. Not surprisingly, some mountain routes can feel a bit crowded at times – particularly the ‘classics’. It’s a simple fact that some walks, like Helvellyn via Striding Edge, or Snowdon via Crib Goch, are just brilliant experiences, and will always be popular.

 

But it’s also true that we can be guilty of ‘following the crowd’. Once a particular walk reaches a certain point in popularity, word spreads, and before you know it you have processions of people all trying to achieve the same aim. This can produce a ‘honeypot’ affect where some routes, walks or challenges are busier than Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday, but other, no less worthy alternatives are unjustly overlooked.

 

The Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal is run by the BMC, with headline sponsorship provided by Cotswold Outdoor and Snow+Rock. In conjunction with the UK’s National Parks we aim to raise £1 million to fix the most heavily eroded walking routes across Britain. Most of us have used one or more of these routes, so we encourage all fans of the outdoors to donate, raise money and spread the word.

 

But there is also something to be said for being a bit different, for thinking outside the chocolate box. If more of us made that bit of extra effort to seek out less obvious routes we could ‘spread the load’ and lessen the need for campaigns like Mend Our Mountains in the first place. 

 

What’s more, when you get off the beaten track, you discover that Britain isn’t half as busy as you’d expect. 


The crowd-magnet: The Great Ridge

This sweeping, photogenic ridge connects the famous Mam Tor with Lose Hill via the wavelike crest of Back Tor. Its accessible nature, spectacular views and proximity to the honeypot villages of Hope Valley make it one of the most popular walks in Britain. Be a star and donate towards the £140,000 repair effort for the Great Ridge in the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal.

1. The alternative: Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill

These spectacular, fantastical looking mini-mountains are in the lesser-known south of the Peak District National Park, in the limestone landscape known as the ‘White Peak’. They might not be big, but they are surprisingly steep in parts – watch your step! 

Length: 5 miles  Walking time: 2-3 hours  Difficulty: moderate

Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill in the sunset

Chris Owens


The crowd-magnet: The North Ridge of Tryfan

A Snowdonia classic, with the Grade 1 scrambling starting more or less as soon as you leave the A5 and not stopping until the 917 metre-high top of this wonderful, bristling mountain. The challenge of jumping from the rock pinnacles of ‘Adam and Eve’ often has queues and a crowd of onlookers.

2. The alternative: The Crib Lem Spur

This is a harder scramble to get to, being hidden away on the north side of Carnedd Dafydd, but the payoff is (probably) having this excellent, angular Grade 1 scramble to yourself. 

Length: 6 miles  Walking time: 4 - 5 hours Difficulty: hard walk, easy scramble

Ray Wood


The crowd-magnet: Scafell Pike via Brown Tongue from Wasdale

The most direct way to England’s highest mountain (and the route typically taken by Three Peaks Challengers), this route sees six-figure foot traffic annually – with predictable results in terms of erosion. Donate to its £100,000 repair effort here – you know you want to!

3. The alternative: Scafell Pike via the Corridor Route from Seathwaite

Described as the ‘connoiseur’s route’ up Scafell Pike (watch a BMC video ), this longer but more rewarding way to reach England’s highest point takes in the atmospheric Styhead Tarn and a winding route under the foreboding crags of the Scafell massif. 

Length: 9.5 miles  Walking time: 6 - 8 hours  Difficulty: challenging

Matt Gibson


The crowd-magnet: The National Three Peaks Challenge

No one really knows how many take part in The National Three Peaks Challenge (climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours, connected by bleary-eyed driving) every year, but it’s a lot. For many people, this is their first and only taste of hill walking, and participants raise a lot of money for charity. But overcrowding, disturbance, litter, erosion and sanitation can all be unpleasant offshoots.  See here for advice on how to organise a responsible Three Peaks. 

4. The alternative: Lake District Three Peaks Challenge (with bikes)

Many of the unsavoury aspects of the National Three Peaks stem from the driving between the peaks. Why not cut this out and do an alternative Three Peaks in just one national park? The Lake District Three Peaks connects Scafell Pike, Skiddaw and Helvellyn. On foot it’s a Herculean task – but cycling between them is within the grasp of a mere (albeit very fit) mortal.

Length: 45 miles  Walking time: 16 - 18 hours  Difficulty: very challenging

Joe Dunckley


The crowd-magnet: The Yorkshire Three Peaks

A rite of passage for Yorkshire folk, this famous 23 mile route (the ‘original’ Three Peaks) lassos together Pen y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough – humble hills in themselves, but a formidable challenge taken together. Maintaining the paths on the route is an ongoing challenge – you can help by donating to repair Whernside here.

5. Alternative: The Wharfedale Three Peaks

The hills above Wharfedale offer the most satisfying hill walking in the Yorkshire Dales outside the ‘Three Peaks’ area, and this 22 mile challenge connects Birks Fell, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside. If you fancy doing it with others, you can take part in the Upper Wharfedale Fell and Rescue Association’s annual fundraising event (with shorter alternatives available). 

Length: 22 miles  Walking time: 10 - 12 hours  Difficulty: challenging

 Andrew Roland


The crowd-magnet: Ben Nevis via the Pony Track

The ‘easiest’ way to the highest point in Britain is predictably busy, with tens of thousands walking it every year.

6. The alternative: Ben Nevis via the Carn Mor Dearg Arete

The Carn Mor Dearg Arete is a longer, wilder, more exposed and altogether harder way to reach the top of Ben Nevis, but it rewards with incredible views of the mountain’s famous North Face and a breathtaking scramble over a sweeping narrow ridge.

Length: 12 miles  Walking time: 9 - 10 hours  Difficulty: challenging

Kevin Wells


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