Our green and boggy isle may be small, but one thing's for certain: it's home to some of the most magnificent landscapes in Europe, if not the world. Sure, our much lamented climate means you'll likely get a soaking or three (four if you're in Scotland), but with everything from coastal strolls to fearsome scrambles, British boots were, surely, made for some serious walking. Here are 10 of the best hikes in the UK.
How to prepare for a hike in the UK
Though walking might seem like an easy pastime, it pays to come prepared. Some of the best hikes in the UK are actually fairly demanding – at least in part – and being caught out on the top of a mountain, as the weather quickly turns, can be dangerous. Dressing for the weather is important: bring several layers, and pack a good waterproof to keep out the rain. Sturdy walking boots are a must, too. If you've bought a new pair for the trip, be sure to wear them in around the house before your hike – you'll be glad you did when you arrive back home blister-free.
You'll want to invest in some basic hiking supplies, too. A good map is essential, as is plenty of food and water, while you may want to think about bringing a compass and a small first-aid kit (including blister plasters). If it's hot, you'll want to think about a hat and suncream; if you're camping en-route, don't forget a head torch (and of course all the camping essentials). Be sure to use a sensible hiking backpack.
And, as ever, don't forget your trusty Rough Guide. Try the Rough Guides to Great Britain, England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. If you're based in the capital, better still, plump for Walks in London and the Southeast.
1. Hadrian’s Wall Path
Distance: 84 miles
Start/Finish: Wallsend, Newcastle upon Tyne/Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria
From the suburbs of Newcastle to the Solway Firth, Britain’s most iconic Roman monument makes for one of the best weekend hikes in the UK (even if you only complete a section of it), marching some 84 miles across northern England’s most bracing and barren terrain. Sure, you’ll need some imaginative licence in places but enough stones remain unturned – and forts excavated – to project the rather ascetic lot of a second-century legionnaire, blistered feet no doubt included.
There are plenty of atmospheric places to stay en-route, many tying in with the Wall and its history. Try Hadrian's Barn near the start of the route for cosy B&B vibes.
2. West Highland Way
Distance: 95 miles
Start/Finish: Milngavie/Fort William
As Scotland’s inaugural long-distance path, the 95-mile West Highland Way did much to raise the profile of the hiking opportunities on Glasgow’s doorstep. It’s a rites-of-passage trek that segues beautifully from city suburbs to the forests of Loch Lomond, the desolation of Rannoch Moor and the drama of Devil’s Staircase, eventually winding up near the foot of Ben Nevis: all in all, a perfect introduction to the Scottish Highlands. The brooding Scottish landscapes are a far cry from the rolling hills of your typical English country walks. In high summer, though, it’s also a potentially not-so-perfect introduction to the dastardly Highland midge. Forget that repellent at your peril…
Book to stay at the West Highland Way campsite, just off the trail. Bring your own canvas or bed down in a luxury safari tent or a delightful shepherd's hut. If you're short on supplies, note that packed lunches are available on request.
West Highland Way scenery © andy morehouse/Shutterstock
3. Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall
Distance: 7 miles
Start/Finish: Kynance Cove
You likely won’t see any lizards on this Cornish peninsula (the name rather has its roots in the native tongue), but you will breeze through some of Britain’s most spectacular coastline, complete with exotic subtropical plants, rugged caves and exquisite coves, and an endlessly churning sea. And though it makes up a mere fraction of the marathon six-hundred-mile South West Coast Path, you could happily spend days exploring its serpentine nooks and filmic crannies.
If you're travelling on a budget, book into the YHA Lizard, housed in a fabulous former Victorian hotel. Sea views complete the package.
4. Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands
Distance: Various walks in the area with different distances
Start/Finish: Varies depending on route
Since Monty Halls turned his back on the twenty-first century in favour of the simple life as a crofter in The Great Escape, the coast of Wester Ross has become as popular with would-be escapees as its mighty Munros have long been with hill-walkers and climbers. While both Applecross and the Loch Torridon settlements of Shieldaig and Diabaig all make great bases for some gloriously scenic and relatively easy-going sea walks, the ancient, fortress-like peaks of Torridon itself, not least the twin-pronged bulk of Liathach, the famous horns of Beinn Alligin and the gleaming, quartzite-crowned massif of Beinn Eighe, offer some of the most dramatic ascents on the British mainland.
If you've got four-legged friends in tow, make for Hartfield House, a gorgeous (pet-friendly) hostel set in beautiful grounds in Applecross (private rooms available). In Shieldaig, plump for Rubha Lodge, a cosy stone cottage.
Beinn Alligin © Duncan Andison/Shutterstock
5. Helvellyn, Lake District
Distance: The shortest route (from Thirlmere) is just over 2 miles, but there are plenty to choose from. The route up Striding Edge (from Glenridding) is around 4 miles. These distances are a little deceptive, given it's a steep climb.
Start/Finish: Dependent on chosen route
It’s not the highest peak in the Lake District, but it can still stake a claim as the most romantic, with a capital “r” or otherwise. Beloved of Wordsworth, Wainwright and generations of walkers, England’s most popular mountain is a study in contrast, its summit flat enough to land a plane and its deceptively named western arête, Striding Edge, sharp enough – terrifyingly so – to evoke the Sublime in even the most hardened scrambler.
There are plenty of quaint, cobblestone accommodations to choose from in the drop-dead gorgeous Lake District. For lovely valley views, try the Borrowdale Gates Hotel, a family-run affair serving fresh local produce from its on-site restaurant.
6. Wessex Ridgeway
Distance: 137 miles
Start/Finish: Marlborough, Wiltshire/Lyme Regis, Dorset
A different kind of ridge entirely from the arêtes of Lakeland, if no less steeped in history, this archaic highway has been chalking up foot traffic for centuries, threading as it does into an old Devon to Norfolk trade route. Its 137-mile course passes through some of the loveliest landscapes in southern England – think intimate woods, hidden valleys and open downlands with views that go on forever – taking in Avebury’s stone circles, the fringes of Salisbury Plain and ancient droving trails in Hardy’s Dorset, en route to the chalk giant of Cerne Abbas and the coast.
At the end of your route, put your tired feet up at the Old Monmouth B&B. Attentive hosts serve a hearty breakfast, and one of the rooms has a grand four poster.
7. Tryfan, Snowdonia
Distance: The direct distance up Tryfan is only 1.8 miles, but don't let that fool you: the steep ascent can still take 4–5 hours
Start/Finish: There are various routes up Tryfan; most scramblers start from Llyn Ogwen
It may slop and squelch under some of the heaviest rainfalls in Britain, but Snowdonia is hard to beat. Its serrated, slate-lined peaks cater for a range of abilities, yet it’s also home to the only mountain on the British mainland that demands scrambling as part of the main ascent: regal Tryfan. The famous north ridge route in fact pans out far less intimidatingly than its razor-like fin suggests from the ground, but once you reach the summit – and leap the five-foot gap between the iconic Adam and Eve rocks – you’ll feel like a true mountaineer.
For true Snowdonian romance, check out Little Kestrel Cabin. For cabin-in-the-woods cosiness, there's no beating this cute little affair, with wood burner, patio and panoramic views. A real gem.
8. Southern Upland Way, Borders
Distance: 212 miles
The Scottish Borders are perhaps still more identified with horseriding than hoofing it, but this coast-to-coast, Irish to North Sea odyssey – 212 miles in total – may one day change that. And while the dome-like hills of the Southern Uplands mightn’t match the Highlands for drama, they more than match them for sheer remoteness – chances are you’ll have your trail to yourself, even in summer. If you don’t fancy hiking the full hog, the thirty-odd-mile Moffat to Traquair stretch makes for an evocative sampler, encompassing the ancient remnants of the Ettrick Forest, St Mary’s Loch and the splendours of Traquair House.
For quaint charm, book Wee Cordorcan, along the route in Bargrennan. The gorgeous garden – complete with lily pond – raises the stakes.
9. South Downs Way
Distance: 100 miles
Cradling a hundred-mile swathe from the historic city of Winchester to the spectacular white cliffs of Beachy Head, this clement landscape of ancient woodland, open heath and chalky downs may lend itself more to rambling, cycling and horseriding than hardcore hiking, but its national park status reflects a rural charm wholly distinct from Britain’s remoter corners. One of the most popular trails in the UK, tackle it from west to east to take advantage of the prevailing wind, and the psychological appeal of finishing at those vertiginous cliffs.
Park House Hotel in Bepton is tucked inside an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It's pretty plush, too, with tennis courts, golf course, spa and outdoor pool.
10. Stanage Edge, Peak District
Distance: 4 miles, but varies depending on route
Start/Finish: Hathersage (and others)
Of all the hiking trails in England, a climb up Stanage Edge offers some of the most memorable vistas. A kind of Peak District Table Mountain in miniature, the four miles of gritstone cliff that make up Stanage Edge have been scaled since the nineteenth century, while the surrounding dry-stone dykes, historic buildings and emaciated moors have been sewn into England’s cultural and literary landscape for much longer. Various walks take in the famous escarpment, most conveniently setting out from the village of Hathersage. Whichever route you take, though, you’ll be rewarded by spectacular views, not to mention the haunting debris of long-abandoned millstones and the hair-raising sight of people inching up the Edge’s profusion of iconic climbs – you may even be tempted to don a hard hat yourself.
Highbury Cottage in Hathersage is a cut above the competition; the building, with its handsome stone walls and wooden beams, is to die for.
© Matt Gibson/Shutterstock
Inspired? You can add any of these routes to a UK holiday of your dreams. Book a tailor-made trip with Rough Guides and we can take care of all those pesky details for you.
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