From testing three week hill walks to easy-going riverside hikes, these 10 long-distance pathways are the perfect way to explore Britain’s countryside
1. The Ridgeway
Passing through the Chilterns, near Watlington | Visit Britain
One of Britain’s oldest pathways, travellers have been walking the Ridgeway for at least 5,000 years because of the high, dry ground that made it a reliable trading route. These days it’s part of the National Trail network, extending from Overton Hill in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, an 87-mile path which crosses through the North Wessex Downs and the Chilterns, both Areas of Outstanding National Beauty.
2.Wainwright’s Coast to Coast
Despite not being an ‘official’ route, the Coast to Coast is one of the UK’s best-known hikes, crossing England via the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. Devised in 1973 by legendary fell walker Alfred Wainwright, it starts in St Bees Head, Cumbria, and finishes at Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire, 192 miles later and typically takes 12 days to complete. Tough, hilly terrain, long sections and tricky navigation add to the challenge.
3. South Downs Way
The path is set entirely within the South Downs National Park | Visit Britain
The most-walked of our National Trails, this 100-mile hike starts in Winchester and ends in Eastbourne, taking in undulating rural scenery along the way. Sat entirely within the South Downs National Park, the chalk hills make for dry, mud-free walking with extensive views over southern England, the English Channel and beyond. It typically takes 7-9 days to complete, and is best walked from west to east, due to prevailing winds.
4. West Highland Way
Scotland’s first official long distance pathway, this 96 mile trail takes you all the way from the outskirts of Glasgow to the foot of Ben Nevis, passing beautiful Loch Lomand and remote Rannoch Moor along the way — the perfect introduction to Scottish walking. Despite it’s length, it’s not particularly tough, with around 30,000 people completing the route each year. Hike it out of the peak season to avoid the crowds.
5. Pennine Way
The Pennine Way is Britain’s original National Trail | Visit Britain
Spanning the spine of England, this colossal, 255-mile route takes around three weeks to complete, in which time you’ll experience some of the country’s toughest hillwalking. The Pennine Way is Britain’s first National Trail (established in 1965), and passes through three National Parks and landmarks such as Kinder Scout, Malham Cove, Pen-y-ghent, Tan Hill and High Force waterfall. Good fitness and navigation skills are both essential.
6. South West Coast Path
Fisherman’s cove, Cornwall – just one of many postcard views | Visit Britain
Clear your summer if you want to take on this 628.5 mile beast: following the coastline from Minehead, Somerset, to Poole, Dorset, it takes around 6-7 weeks to complete. As well providing outstanding views over coves, inlets and beaches, hugging the coast also means endless ups and downs, with the total height gain calculated to be 35,031 metres. On the plus side, navigation is fairly straightforward, just follow the coast!
7. The Thames Path
Starting at the source of the Thames, near Kemble, Gloucestershire, this path follows the river all the way to the Thames Flood Barrier in London. Passing through both gentle, remote English countryside and the hubbub of the capital, the path takes around two weeks to complete. 185 miles in total, the walking is flat and easy, well-signposted and surrounded by ample accommodation, making it an ideal introduction into the world of long-distance hiking.
8. Southern Upland Way
It doesn’t get much tougher than this 212 mile walk, which spans the width of Scotland from Portpatrick, Dumfries and Galloway, to Cocksburn, Scottish Borders. The terrain is testing (think challenging mountains, deserted moorland and thick forests) and accommodation is far and few between, so carrying a tent and plenty of supplies is essential, adding to the difficulty factor. However, the sense of remoteness and views of both coast and mountains are second to none.
9. Wales Coast Path
The walk passes through the beautiful Whitsands Bay | Visit Britain
Wales isn’t short of brilliant hiking but its youngest route, the Wales Coast Path is easily the most impressive. Covering 870 miles and following the entirety of Welsh coastline, it’s the first path of its kind in the world and takes at least two months to complete. If that doesn’t sound testing enough, it can also be linked up with Offa’s Dyke (177 miles long) to complete a circuit of the country.
10. Glyndŵr’s Way
Around eight days of challenging hiking will take you through some of mid-Wales’ most remote and tranquil landscapes, including the Radnorshire Hills, the Clywedog Reservoir and the Plynlimon massif. Starting in Knighton and ending Welshpool, the highest point of Glyndŵr’s Way is Foel Fadian (510m), which can prove challenging in bad weather, so good navigational skills are important.