Walking holidays: 10 of the best walking and hiking routes in the UK
Want to climb a mountain? Fancy staring down a steep granite ridge or skirting a gritstone cliff? Or perhaps you’d prefer a coastal walk atop brilliant white cliffs or above the crashing surf on a series of tunnels and bridges?
The UK has it all – and plenty more besides. Lace up those hiking boots and put your best foot first on our pick of the UK’s top trails.
1. Studland village to Old Harry Rocks, England
Difficulty: Simple Distance: 4 miles (6.5km) Duration: 1hr
The South West Coast Path traverses some beautiful coastal scenery in England’s south-west – but the full route takes a minimum of a month! Instead, sample the short and straightforward four-mile section from Studland out to the piercing white chalk stacks of Old Harry Rocks. Look across from here to the Isle of Wight – and Old Harry’s siblings the Needles – and watch out for large flocks of wood pigeons on migration. The path passes the gates to the Pig on the Beach, which is surely the perfect excuse for a lunch break in the highly regarded kitchen garden restaurant (book ahead).
2. Mawddach Trail, Wales
Difficulty: Simple Distance: 9.5 miles (15km) Duration: 3–4hrs
Disused railway lines make great walking tracks and this easy well-marked trail along the southern edge of the Mawddach estuary makes for a gentle stroll (or even bike ride) from the market town of Dolgellau through wetlands and across the railway bridge at Barmouth. It’s 9.5 miles in total but can be shortened by two miles by joining the trail at Penmaenpool. Make time to sit and watch the shifting sands of the estuary – and look out for all manner of birds including pied flycatchers and wood warblers. For more outdoors adventures read this article about Wales' most beautiful coastal spots.
3. Sandwood Bay, Scotland
Difficulty: Simple Distance: 8 miles (13km) Duration: 4–5hrs
With its miles of golden sand dunes, dramatic cliffs and offshore rock stack, Sandwood Bay on Scotland's north-west coast is one of Britain’s loveliest beaches. Reach its sands by walking in from Blairmore car park, along the wide track that crosses the peaty moorland. You’ll pass the outflow of several lochs, perhaps using the stepping stones to cross the water, and a ruined crofter’s house at the large, freshwater Sandwood Loch before the beach swings in to view. Look out for dolphins here.
4. Helvellyn, England
Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 7 miles (11km) Duration: 6hrs
Ok so it’s not England’s highest peak, but there’s something beguiling about Helvellyn – and Wordsworth would certainly have agreed, having written several times about the mountain. The most popular route up is the rocky ridge of Striding Edge which is accessible for most competent hill walkers and this also offers the most direct access to the summit. Alternatively, climb the less demanding (and less exposed) Swirral Edge; either way this is your route back down. The summit comes as a surprise to many – it’s a near-flat plateau that saw Britain’s first mountaintop plane landing (and take off) in 1926. Allow six hours for the seven-mile round trip to the summit, and don’t even think about it in bad weather.
5. Stanage Edge, England
Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 9 miles (14.5km) Duration: 6hrs
Stanage Edge in the Peak District may be one of the country’s most popular climbing venues, but there’s plenty for walkers too, including a nine-mile (six-hour) walk skirting the gritstone cliffs on a loop out from Hathersage car park. You’ll climb Jacob’s Ladder to reach the clifftops before walking along through heather moorland and gritstone with Yorkshire on one side, Derbyshire on the other. From the cliff edge path out to Crow Chin you’ll see plenty of rock climbers, as well as the Derwent and Hope valleys and the peak of Kinder Scout.
6. West Highland Way, Scotland
Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 96 miles (155km) Duration: 7 days
Scotland’s first long distance walking route runs for 96 miles from Milngavie just north of Glasgow to Fort William and the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. To complete the whole route you’ll need a week spare and a moderate level of fitness: the path generally passes between mountain peaks rather than over them. The scenery only gets more spectacular as you stride north and you’re likely to see some of Scotland’s rarer wildlife, including red deer and the soaring golden eagle. Be sure to book your accommodation in advance and walk between Easter and October if you want to make use of baggage transfer services. Avoid a Saturday start to skip the worst of the crowds. If you like the image below, check out our gallery of stunning Scottish destinations here.
7. Pen Y Fan and Corn Du, Wales
Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 4 miles (6km) Duration: 2–3hrs
The gently undulating route up Pen y Fan is just a bit too easy to turn off most weekend walkers. Strike out on your own and combine the Brecon Beacons’ highest peak with its second highest, Corn Du, and make a loop around the sandstone ridge. You’ll walk up from the Pont ar Daf car park and ascend the southern slope of Corn Du, before traversing the saddle to reach the summit of Pen y Fan. You’ll descend along the well-trodden path to the Storey Arms and return along the road to Pont ar Daf.
8. The Gobbins Path, Northern Ireland
Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 3 miles (4.5km) Duration: 2.5hrs
Originally built at the start of the twentieth century, this jaw-dropping coastal route recently reopened and is surely Northern Ireland’s most exciting walk. Enter through the narrow opening of Wise’s Eye to find a thrilling route of steps, tunnels, bridges and caves that takes you along the very edge of Ireland, at times making you feel as if you’re quite literally walking on water. Access is by guided tour (operating every hour) only and since opening in August most tours have been sold out, so book online in advance.
9. The Quaraing, Skye, Scotland
Difficulty: Moderate Distance: 4.5 miles (7km) Duration: 3hrs
Munro-packed Skye is a hiker’s paradise – they have twelve in total, enough to fill a separate article with routes solely on this spectacular island. Only got time for one? Make it the 4.5-mile circular route around the Quaraing, which starts with a steep climb up into the clifftops, looking down over The Table, a sunken grassy platform produced by a rock slip. After a steep descent you’ll walk along the cliff bottom though the heart of the Quaraing, making out the dramatic triple summit of The Prison and the teetering rock stack of The Needle. You can drive to the Isle of Skye, crossing by bridge from the mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh, or take the ferry from Mallaig which takes about 30 minutes.
©P. Tomkins / VisitScotland
10. Schiehallion, Scotland
Difficulty: Challenging Distance: 6 miles (10km) Duration: 4–6hrs
Want to bag a Munro? Schiehallion is one of the easiest to conquer, with the 6.25 mile ascent up from Braes of Foss car park taking between four and six hours. The path is sturdy and straightforward for most of the way, with only the final section up to the summit requiring a scramble over boulders. Look north into the Highlands for inspiring views – and to pick your next target – and call in to the Loch Tummel Inn for a restorative pint of real ale and views back onto the often misty conical peak. It’s so symmetrical that it was chosen for a scientific experiment in the eighteenth century which led to the invention of contour lines.
If we’ve omitted your favourite rambling route then let us know in the comments below for a chance to have it included in our next readers’ tips feature.
Looking for fun day trips, longer staycation inspiration or you’re visiting the UK for the first time? Read on for more tips and ideas on what to see and do:
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Written by Helen Ochrya for Skyscanner.