The best way to enjoy the wonderful scenery of the UK is on foot, including these unmissable places. If you have a hiking bucket list, have you included our top ten destinations?
Cornwall has some of the most stunning scenery in the British Isles. The South West Coastal Path includes the entire coastline of the county, so there are plenty of walks to choose from. But beware - the ups and downs of coastal walking mean that most walks will take longer to complete than a similar walk on flatter terrain! At the very western tip of the peninsula, Land’s End and the Lizard are both stunning headlands with breathtaking views. An easy circular walk of 3.5 miles starts at Lizard village and takes you down past the lighthouse to the most southerly point of the UK, returning past the collapsed cave of the Lion’s Den and the beautiful footbridge at Housel Bay. A moderately strenuous walk of 11.7 miles from Sennen Cove to Lamorna takes you through the tourists at Land’s End onto a rugged coastline with fantastic views out to the Isles of Scilly. Bird lovers should look out for rock pipits, fulmars and peregrine falcons.
The South Downs
A very different sort of landscape can be seen in the South Downs. The area was designated as a national park in 2010, and the South Downs Way is a trail covering 99 miles from the ancient city of Winchester all the way to Eastbourne on the coast. A lovely moderate 7 mile walk from Pyecombe to Lewes takes you past the ‘Jack and Jill’ windmills up to Ditchling Beacon, the highest point of the South Downs, with wonderful views over the rolling hills. After that, the route drops down to Lewes, a beautiful town with lots of interest and many fine pubs and restaurants.
A great historic walk is Hadrian’s Wall. This long-distance path stretches 84 miles from Newcastle in the east to Carlisle in the west, through some of the wildest landscapes of the north of England, with the romance of Roman ruins thrown in for good measure! The central section of the trail is probably the most beautiful and a lovely moderately difficult walk of 12 miles starts at Chollerford and continues to Steel Rigg. Take time to visit the Roman forts at Chesters and Housesteads. Near Housesteads you can see some of the most spectacular views of the wall, as it swoops up and down the undulating landscape, taking advantage of the natural defences of this dramatic landscape. It is also the only part where walkers are allowed to walk on top of the wall itself. There are plenty of circular walks from Hadrian’s Wall as well, with different degrees of difficulty.
The Lake District
Perhaps the most famous area for walking in the UK is the Lake District. Its extraordinary beauty has attracted writers and artists for hundreds of years, and it remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK today. However, it’s relatively easy to escape the crowds and enjoy the astonishing landscapes which make the Lake District so well loved. There is a wealth of information on walks here, but nobody has done it better than the great Alfred Wainwright - so much so that the 214 fells of the Lake District are now known as the Wainwrights, and ‘Wainwright bagging’ is a target for committed fell-walkers. To get a taste of this unique area, try an easy 4-mile walk from Ambleside to Grasmere, where Wordsworth lived and wrote much of his poetry. At the other end of the spectrum, a demanding 9.5 mile walk from Seathwaite to Scafell Pike takes you to the peak of the highest mountain in England, with spectacular views.
A completely different landscape, and wonderfully easy walking, can be found in the Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk. The lack of hills and cliffs is more than made up for by the huge dramatic skies and the unique patterns of fens, rivers, marshes, farmland and woodland, eventually reaching the wide, dramatic coastline of East Anglia. The Broads are home to some of the rarest plants and creatures in the UK, but they are in fact a man-made environment. Originally formed by peat excavations, they later flooded, making an extraordinary network of waterways, many of which are navigable by boat. These wonderful wetlands are a prime area to see some wonderful birdlife, including cormorants, great crested grebes, marsh harriers and bittern. The Wherryman’s Way runs for 35 miles from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, with many circular walks based around it, giving you the opportunity to explore this extraordinary landscape, together with its historic towns and villages.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Walking in Scotland is a very great pleasure. There is something for everyone, from historic cities, great castles, romantic coastline and of course the drama of the Highlands. A great place to start is the area around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Loch Lomond is Britain’s largest freshwater lake. There are many easy walks on its shores, but that doesn’t mean the scenery is any less spectacular. To the north-east, there is more demanding walking in the Trossachs, sometimes called ‘the Highlands in miniature’. The numerous lochs there are surrounded by dense woodland, which is vibrantly colourful in the autumn. On Loch Katrine, the steamship Sir Walter Scott crosses between Trossachs pier and Stronachlachar daily during the summer season and less frequently through winter, so you can combine a passage over the loch with your walk.
The Pembrokeshire Coast Path covers 186 miles of the South Wales coast, from St Dogmaels to Amroth. The coast itself is composed of a wonderful variety of scenery, including limestone cliffs, red sandstone coves, volcanic headlands and broad beaches. There are interesting towns and villages along the way, including Solva, Tenby and St David’s (actually the UK’s smallest city) for walkers to take a break. The whole thing would take roughly 10-15 days to complete, and the total of the climbing up and down is said to be the same as climbing Mount Everest! Luckily, it’s easy to choose a shorter section to follow and there are many bus services specifically for walkers, covering the whole of the route. Alternatively, pick one of the many circular walks available to fit your capabilities and the time you have.
The Mountains of Mourne
The most popular area for walking in Northern Ireland is in the romantically named Mountains of Mourne, in County Down, just 31 miles south of Belfast. With stupendous views out over the Irish Sea and many paths weaving over the peaks, this area offers a huge variety of landscapes and should be on any hiker’s bucket list. One of the most popular walks is from Trassey to Bloody Bridge via the Brandy Pad. Bloody Bridge acquired its gruesome name from a massacre in 1641. The Brandy Pad is so called because it was a route for smugglers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They would unload their contraband at Newcastle, at the foot of the Mournes, then load it onto horses and trek over the mountains to Hilltown.
The Shropshire Hills
A lovely area to walk is in the Shropshire Hills. In the heartland of England, there are the rolling fields and charming villages you would expect, but there is also surprisingly dramatic scenery. A challenging walk of 5 miles takes you to the head of the Carding Mill Valley, then up to the highest point of the Long Mynd. From here, there are fabulous views out over Shropshire and beyond, in a brooding, breathtaking heath and moorland landscape.
Finally, a great favourite for walkers is Exmoor. There are over 600 miles of footpaths and bridle paths, with lots of short walks and longer distance hikes too. There is a wealth of different scenery to enjoy - as well as moorland, there are woodlands and waterfalls, and spectacular cliffs offering fabulous views out to sea. There is very special wildlife here, including red deer and Exmoor ponies, and it is also one of the most important areas in the country for butterflies. A great place to come for a few days, Exmoor’s towns and villages have plenty of inviting places to stay.