Our Favourite Long-Distance Walking Trails
If you want to immerse yourself in some of the most dramatic landscapes the UK has to offer, the best way to do so is to go on a long walk. The UK is blessed with some spectacular long-distance walking trails - routes and pathways that take us on journeys through the history, wildlife, remoteness and iconic landmarks of our island. Whether you experience them in short sections over years, or take on their entirety in one go, we’ve rounded up a list of our favourites to inspire your next big walking adventure.
Image: South West Coast Path
South West Coast Path
At 630 miles, the glorious South West Coast Path is the UK’s longest national trail, and despite there being no mountains along the route, it’s also pretty high. Complete the whole thing from Minehead to Poole, and by the time you add up all of the ups and downs of this rollercoaster route, you’ll have climbed the equivalent of four times the height of Everest. Six to seven weeks is usually enough to walk the whole thing, provided you don’t get too distracted by the endless sea views, picturesque towns, dramatic headlands, hidden coves and amazing beaches along the way. Stunning from start to finish.
The 268 mile Pennine Way is the oldest and arguably the most iconic, of England’s national trails. From Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, you’ll walk your way through three National Parks (Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland), passing through geological wonders like Malham Cove and the glacial chasm of High Cup Nick en route. Because of its relative remoteness, the 16-19 days it takes to complete are often described as England’s toughest.You’ll need to be prepared for a mixture of some short and exceptionally long stages to fit around accommodation stops or go equipped to wild camp for much of the route. However you choose to take it on, this one’s a challenge.
Images (clockwise from top): Pennine Way, Cotswold Way, Monarch's Way
The 102 miles of this scenic, undulating route between Bath and Chipping Campden has a decent claim for being the prettiest long-distance walk in the UK. It’s certainly one of the most accessible, with a huge array of picturesque towns and villages dotted along the way in which to rest tired legs or enjoy a hearty lunch before progressing leisurely onward. With stunning views across the Severn Estuary, beautiful architecture, idyllic countryside and the smell of wild garlic in your nostrils, there are few better places on earth to spend a week on your own two feet.
This fascinating 588 mile stomp is based on the lengthy route taken by King Charles II during his daring escape after defeat by Oliver Cromwell at the battle of Worcester in 1651. From there, in a convoluted attempt to evade capture, the then 21-year-old King was hotly pursued for six weeks by Parliamentary troops, which saw him first attempt to escape into Wales, before travelling onward to Bristol disguised as a servant, then down to the south coast disguised as an eloping lover. Finally, he rode east along the coast to Shoreham, where he took a coal boat to France and exile. For your own trip, you’ll take in some of the Charles’ hiding places like Boscobel (the Royal Oak Tree), Stratford upon Avon, the Cotswolds, the Mendips and a dramatic stretch of the South Coast near Charmouth. All at a pace that hopefully allows you to appreciate the stunning scenery on offer that was, in all likelihood, probably lost at the time on the evading King.
Image: Hadrian's Wall Path
Hadrian’s Wall Path
It takes approximately one week to walk from one end to the other of this famous frontier, which formerly marked the border between Roman Britannia and unconquered Caledonia to the north. Following its line from coast to coast, this celebrated 84-mile pathway passes through diverse landscapes of bracing moorland and copses that open out onto sky-filled vistas before eventually giving way to dynamic city streets. A true classic of UK walks, you’ll follow in the footsteps of Romans and encounter rich history, dramatic ruins, as well as iconic viewpoints like Steel Rig and Sycamore Gap at regular intervals, whilst trekking alongside this iconic ancient monument.
The Thames Path National Trail follows one of England’s great rivers for 185 miles from its trickling source close to our head office, just outside Kemble in the Cotswolds, to its vast presence at the Thames Barrier just a few miles before it meets the Channel. Over the 14 days or so it will take you to complete, you’ll be treated to tranquil water meadows, fabulous wildlife, quaint villages, historic market towns, gothic towers, bustling cities and many, many locks. Most people walk it west to east to take advantage of any prevailing wind from the South West, but there’s also something fascinating about seeing the river grow and change as the walk progresses before reaching the iconic sights of London near journeys end. But whatever direction you take, walking this path is a joy.
Images (clockwise from top left): Shropshire Way x2, South Downs Way, Thames Path
South Downs Way
Stretching from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in East Sussex, the 160km South Downs Way is one of the more challenging of the UK’s National Trails. For approximately eight days you’ll be following old routes and droveways along the northern escarpment of the chalk Downs and enjoy extensive views across the Weald to the north and over rounded hills and valleys to the sea in the south. In the early stages, you’ll see the Isle of Wight, and the sea is a constant companion throughout the journey, as are Bronze and Iron Age hillforts, cross dykes, dew ponds, and Saxon churches. A special highlight though is saved for near the end, with the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters providing a suitably spectacular sight to round off this fantastic feast of walking.
Some of England's most serene and beautiful scenery is on offer here, as this route winds its way up and through the best bits of the glorious Shropshire Hills. There’s a reason this place is designated an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB), but it’s not just great scenery you’ll find here. Key historical sites line the route too, including Ironbridge, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and Much Wenlock, home to the Wenlock Olympian Games, which are thought to have inspired the first modern Olympics in 1896. In short, it’s a route full of surprises. At 182 miles in length, you can think of it as two loops, or one large figure of eight, with Shrewsbury in the middle. It will take you about a week to do each, and both are equally spectacular. Do yourself a favour and take on it all to experience every ounce of the enjoyment you can muster from this glorious walker’s paradise.
Image: Cape Wrath Trail
Cape Wrath Trail
This is the big one. The 240 mile Cape Wrath Trail is an unofficial, unmarked and magnificently wild long-distance route from Fort William to the most north-westerly point of Scotland - the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. This superb and challenging route traverses some of Scotland’s wildest and most spectacular landscapes. Widely regarded as the toughest, long-distance walk in Britain, primarily because of the weather and terrain, it takes between two to three weeks for experienced backpackers to complete. Other than the occasional pub or café enroute, expect to be self-sufficient when it comes to shelter, food and kit, with plenty of overnights in bothies thrown in too.
Rob Roy Way
One of Scotland's Great Trails, the Rob Roy Way stretches for 79 miles between Drymen and Pitlochry through the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands. The trail takes its name from Rob Roy MacGregor, the famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Beginning in the Trossachs, where Rob Roy spent most of his time, throughout the route, there are many connections with events in his colourful life, including Loch Tay, the Macnab Burial Ground near Killin and Robert Burn’s Seat at the Birks of Aberfeldy. Add in ruins, waterfalls and the mountains that make up the unique scenery of the Scottish Highlands, and you’ve got a week of walking that will live long in the memory.
Images (clockwise from top): Great Glen Way, Rob Roy Way, Speyside Way
Great Glen Way
With 79 miles of path, track, canal and loch to discover, the Great Glen Way has something for everyone. Starting at Fort William near the foothills of Ben Nevis and ending at Inverness Castle, as you travel through Scotland’s longest glen you’ll enjoy extensive views of Scotland’s highest mountain from Neptune’s staircase, walk the towpaths of Thomas Telford’s historic feat of engineering – the Caledonian canal, and look down upon Loch Ness. Keep an eye out for osprey, golden eagles, red kite and deer whilst enjoying the views. Either way, four to seven days of glorious walking await. Or if you prefer, it’s possible to cycle or paddle the whole length of this one too.
The Speyside Way runs from Buckie on the shore of the Moray Firth coast, south-westwards to Aviemore on the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains. A distance of approximately 65 miles, as well as great scenery, the Spey valley is also saw the birth of legal Whisky distilling, and you’ll get to visit many great distilleries along the way - especially at Aberlour and Glenlivet. Suitable for all walkers and well-marked, there’s so much to see from coastal landscapes, pine forests, open moorland and river valleys. You can throw in viaducts, interesting bridges and the Strathspey steam railway too. All in all, you’ll enjoy great scenery from start to finish, never more so than from the Tomintoul spur on your way to the highest village in the Highlands.
Image: Offa's Dyke Path
Offa’s Dyke Path
Roughly following the border between England and Wales, the Offa's Dyke Path is one of the most historic trails in the UK. World-renowned, it’s named after, and often follows, the spectacular Dyke King Offa ordered to be constructed in the 8th century, probably to divide his Kingdom of Mercia from rival kingdoms in what is now Wales. Linking Chepstow on the banks of the Severn estuary with the coastal town of Prestatyn on the shores of the Irish sea, the 177-mile path passes through no fewer than eight different counties and crosses the border between England and Wales over 20 times. When you think that it also links three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the Wye Valley, the Shropshire Hills and the Clwydian Range / Dee Valley, you begin to realise why this is one of the most spectacular walks you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Swinging a wide arc through the beautiful landscapes of mid-Wales, the 135 miles that make up this memorable route from Knighton in the south to Welshpool in the north take in some of Wales’ most magnificent scenery and interesting history. Having only become a National Trail in 2002, the route is still relatively unknown compared to others on this list, and coupled with the fact it passes through some sparsely populated areas, walking here is usually a wonderfully quiet experience. Nine days of solitude walking through some the very best landscapes Powys has to offer? Yep, it’s as good as it sounds.
Images (clockwise from top left): Glyndŵr's Way, Cambrian Way, Pembrokeshire Coast Path (x2)
Described as the mountain connoisseur's walk, this 298-mile high-level coast-to-coast walk traverses some of the highest and wildest parts of Wales and involves nearly 70,000ft of ascent. If that sounds like it requires a lot of stamina to complete, you’d be right. Good navigational skills are also essential. In short, this one’s tough and shouldn’t be underestimated. On the plus side, you’ll be walking through pretty much everywhere that you’d hope a route would go in order to experience all the wild, dramatic beauty Wales has to offer. Take the whole route on and from the south coast at Cardiff, you’ll take a meandering northerly course over the equally incredible Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons, Carmarthen Fan, Plynlimon, Cadair Idris, the Rhinogs, the Snowdon massif and the Carneddau ranges, before finally stumbling across the welcome sight of Wales’ north coast. Good effort!
Pembrokeshire Coast Path
Stretching from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is a spectacular 186-mile long trail covering some of the most varied coastal scenery in Britain. Opened in 1970, the path was the first National Trail in Wales, and as well as offering walkers spectacular sea views, the route winds its way up, down and across a variety of landscapes, from high cliff tops and secret coves to sweeping estuaries and wide sandy beaches. It also supports some of the finest habitats in the UK. Keep your eyes peeled for everything from razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars on the clifftops, to grey seals, dolphins and porpoises in the sun-dappled coastal waters.
Images: The Ulster Way
The Ulster Way
The brainchild of Wilfrid Capper MBE, who in 1946 had the inspiration to create a circular walking route taking in the six counties of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Way is one of the UK’s longest waymarked trails, and one that lets you experience the very best Northern Ireland has to offer. Essentially a 636-mile network of walks looping the circumference of Northern Ireland (with some small sections crossing over into the Republic of Ireland too), the path is a magnificently varied and beautiful undertaking, during which you’ll discover everything that’s wonderful about the iconic landscapes of the Mourne Mountains, Giant's Causeway, Cavehill and the Sperrins.
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