This year, embark on a journey that will sate your wanderlust and immerse you in the great outdoors: a long-distance hiking trail
“Who has not felt the urge to throw a pound of tea and a loaf of bread in an old sack and jump over the back fence?” – John Muir
It’s a distinctly Tolkien-esque ideal, exploring the lands right outside your front door. There’s the promise of adventure, whether in the form of experiencing local forests and fields with fresh eyes or heading further afield and journeying from the comfort of home to new lands. That concept of a setting out on a journey is one that we’ve all considered from time to time, though it often seems too grand and too difficult to work around day-to-day life. Well, allow us to propose a solution: long-distance hiking trails, all to be found here in the UK.
From the Highlands of Scotland to the coastal cliffs of Devon and Cornwall, we’ve gathered together the details on seven extraordinary hiking trails, ranging from 87 miles to 630. Each of them offers the chance to experience a grand journey: hiking over hills and through forests, stopping each night to light a campfire or enjoy the comforts of an inn, far from the stresses of everyday life. For each, we’ve outlined the key details you need to start planning your trip, including our favourite inns, cafes and tour providers along the way. To experience an adventure and start living a life with fewer bounds, a long-distance hiking trail is the perfect place to start.
#1 West Highland Way
One of the UK’s most infamous long-distance trails, the West Highland Way encompasses some truly phenomenal terrain along Scotland’s west coast. From Milngavie, north of Glasgow, to Fort William by the north shore of Loch Linnhe, the 96-mile path carves through mountain passes, skirts along loch edges and strides out over windswept moorland. Thanks to that often-daunting terrain, the Way can take hikers up to a week, though many complete the whole trail in five days. Most hikers plan to traverse the Way from south to north, since the third quarter is regarded as the most challenging – from Tyndrum to Kinlochleven, the ascent regularly climbs to above 500m.
Traversing the entire Way under your own steam is challenge that many hikers take on, carrying their own provisions and camping along the way. Although a worthy pursuit, anyone who’s spent any time in Scotland’s west Highlands knows that sleeping under canvas can be risky at best, and since the summer is most popular time to walk the Way, midges are an extra issue for campers. That swift one-two of unpredictable weather and midges helps to explain the popularity of hiker-friendly inns and B&Bs at regular intervals along the route, though we reckon the promise of a shower and hot meal after several days of trekking will help, too.
The Kingshouse Hotel in Kinlochleven is a popular final stop for travellers taking the classic northerly route up the West Highland Way, partly explained by its proximity to the trail and partly by the “Way Inn”, a bar designated for outdoor hikers since the 1750s.
Food & Drink
A homely cafe located roughly halfway along the West Highland Way, Country Mumkins is an artisan cafe serving coffee, sandwiches, chowder and cake – essentially, everything a hungry hiker needs.
Hiking alone in any terrain can be a challenge – hiking the West Highland Way solo is an even more daunting feat. With Thistle Trekking, you not only are guided by an experienced mountain leader, you’ll hike with a group and have all your accommodation provided along the route.
Visit the official West Highland Way website
#2 Pennine Way
Carving a path through the centre of northern England to its border with Scotland, the Pennine Way is one of the UK’s best-known trails. From the picturesque village of Edale, nestled in the Peak District, the path snakes across moorland, through valleys and over misty fells to its end at Kirk Yetholm, on the far side of the Cheviots. The Pennine Way was the UK’s first official National Trail and is by far one of its most popular – its southern section through the Peak District is particularly well-walked throughout the summer months. It also hosts the Montane Spine Race, a gruelling non-stop winter trail run over the entire 256-mile path – though not all attempts have to be that intense.
Hiking the entire route will take the best part of three weeks and the recognised direction is to travel north, starting in Edale and finishing in Kirk Yetholm. Simon Armitage, the poet whose account of walking the entire Pennine Way as a modern troubadour, Walking Home, has inspired many hikers, travelled south from the Scottish border and gives a detailed account of the terrain along the way. Camping is an option but the weather can be fierce, particularly across open moorland where fog increases the danger of losing your way. B&Bs cater to hikers along the entire route and the Pennine Way Association gives a detailed itinerary for those aspiring to walk all the way.
Roughly a third of the way along the Pennine Way, travelling north, Malham is a key stop for thru-hikers, marking the transition from the South Pennines to the Yorkshire Dales. While there, be sure to stop at The Lister Arms, a homely inn with comfortable rooms, hearty food and a log fire to relax in front of.
Food & Drink
The Old Nag’s Head in Edale, right at the start of the Pennine Way, might seem an odd suggestion for a place to eat along the trail, but it’s earned it. The night before you set off, grab a portion or two of beer-battered chips and a pint to match, amidst the exposed beams and low ceilings of this fantastic pub dating back to 1577.
Organising your own accommodation can be a faff – if you’re planning to thru-hike the Pennine Way, you don’t need any complications. Macs Adventure will arrange all your accommodation with breakfast included every day and luggage transfers, so you can concentrate on bagging the miles.
#3 South Downs Way
Although not an easy walk by any means – it still covers 100 miles across undulating terrain – the South Downs Way was designated as the UK’s first National Bridleway, which means its path is wider and steadier than those through the mountains. Running from Winchester to Eastbourne, the Way is a quintessentially English path, journeying across green fields and through sleepy stone villages. If you tackle the South Downs in summer, as most hikers and mountain bikers do, you’ll be treated to some beautiful views, particularly as you approach the white cliffs at the paths’ end.
The South Downs Way is a popular thru-hike – i.e. traversing the entire distance in one trip rather than walking it section by section with breaks between – thanks to terrain, location and availability of B&Bs and inns along its path. Although the route skirts past major cities such as Southampton and Brighton, for the majority of its course the path marches through exquisite countryside, giving hikers a true sense of escaping urban life and connecting with the natural world. It passes by five National Nature Reserves, so the chance of spotting wildlife is particularly high. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the South East, the South Downs Way is a true gem.
Once the home of Royal Navy trainees, Weatherdown Lodge has been refurbished to provide weary hikers with a comfy bed for the night. It’s located in the Sustainability Centre, an independent learning and study centre that has been awarded for its efforts to educate people on sustainability and environmentalism.
Food & Drink
A small establishment by the side of the South Downs Way, just north of Brighton, Wildflour Cafe is a hidden gem in the South East. Serving wholesome food, including delicious cakes, it’s a brilliant opportunity to kick off your hiking boots and refuel before getting some more miles under your feet.
HF Holidays offer a 10-day guided tour of the South Downs Way, beginning in Winchester and walking across the countryside to Eastbourne. An experienced guide will lead the way and impart local knowledge along the route, including the ancient history of the path itself.
#4 Offa’s Dyke Path
In the 8th century, King Offa of Mercia built an 8m rampart from Prestatyn to Chepstow as a defensive barrier against the Celts in Wales. More than 1,200 years later, that fortification is a National Trail that carves through unbelievable scenery across the length of Wales, one that spans 177 miles and takes roughly two weeks to traverse.
From Prestatyn, on the shores of the Irish Sea, Offa’s Dyke travels south through the Clwydian Range and the Marches, crossing between England and Wales more than 20 times on its path to Chepstow on the Severn estuary. Along its way, the Dyke passes through the Wye Valley – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and skirts along the edge of the Brecon Beacons. The terrain can be tough-going in places, particularly through the Clwydian Range and along the Brecons, but also features more gentle segments in valleys and along the Montgomeryshire Canal. The National Trails website states that the total ascent travelling south to north is 28,000ft, which is the same height as Mount Everest.
Built as a Coaching Inn in 1630, the Dragon Hotel is a historic, independent establishment in the picturesque town of Montgomery, roughly halfway along Offa’s Dyke. With comfortable, luxurious rooms, it’s the perfect place to take a rest day on your journey along this historic path.
Food & Drink
A country pub near Abergavenny, on the edges of the Brecon Beacons, the Hunters Moon Inn serves home-cooked food using locally sourced ingredients, including meat from farms nearby, but its ale is what draws most travellers. A member of CAMRA and in the Good Beer Guide, the Inn offers a wide variety of beers, all poured to perfection.
A self-guided expedition from Chepstow to Knighton provided by Sherpa Expeditions, this route covers the southern half of Offa’s Dyke and includes nightly accommodation, breakfast each day and luggage transfers over a week of hiking.
#5 Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast
Coast-to-coast attempts arise along the entire length of the UK but the Wainwright route has amassed a popular following since Alfred Wainwright first devised in in his 1973 guidebook. It’s perhaps because the 190-mile walk takes in some of the most spectacular scenery that northern England has to offer, from the Lake District to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. From towering mountains to windswept moors, the Wainwright Coast-to-coast is a journey through the beautiful but imposing landscape of the North.
The path begins in St Bees, Cumbria and charges straight into its most testing terrain, the Lake District. There are a few variations for the route, particularly through the mountains, but all are listed in Alfred Wainwright’s guidebook and other editions that have since been published. From the Lakes, the path continues east-to-south-east, carving through the Yorkshire Dales and across the centre of the North York Moors until its completion at Robin Hood Bay, north of Scarborough. Thanks to the often difficult terrain, the Wainwright is not a trail for inexperienced hikers – if the weather turns, as it often can across these three National Parks, the going can become difficult quite quickly. On a fair weather day, however, this coast-to-coast trail promises some astounding views across the North.
The Howgills are a range of fells midway between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, and so also a perfect opportunity to rest up between two challenging National Parks. Bents Camping Barn is an old shepherd’s cottage from the 1600s with 14 beds available, from £11 per person.
Food & Drink
A family-run bike shop, café and B&B in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, Dales Bike Centre is a great option for refuelling along the Wainwright Coast-to-coast. Their food is sourced locally and every effort has been made to improve the sustainability of the whole centre, from the bike shop to the café.
To help guide your way on the more challenging sections of the Wainwright, Footpath Holidays have broken the route down into three segments and offered a guided tour of each one, including daily transfers.
#6 The Ridgeway
Although the shortest trail on this rundown of long-distance hikes, the Ridgeway still weighs in at a lengthy 87 miles, easily taking your effort into several days of walking. From Avebury, a world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, the path meanders through rolling hills and forests, across the North Wessex Downs and the Chilterns, until its culmination in Ivinghoe Beacon. Marching almost entirely through Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Ridgeway is one of the most scenic and pleasant long-distance paths in the UK, perfect for hiking throughout the year.
What makes the Ridgeway truly unique, though, is its heritage. Often referred to ‘Britain’s oldest road’, the path follows a route used since prehistoric times by travellers, traders and soldiers, meaning that every step you take will be following in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors. Along the way, you’ll encounter ruins of old forts, Stone Age and Bronze Age barrows, white horses carved in the chalk hills, and other cultural treasures. To hike the Ridgeway is to take a step back in time, despite the multitude of modern pubs and inns waiting at the end of each day’s walk.
Located roughly halfway along the Ridgeway, the Fat Fox Inn is a superb place to stay for weary travellers, offering comfortable rooms and good food at reasonable rates.
Food & Drink
Nestled in the Chilterns, Aldbury is a picturesque town not far from the Ridgeway’s end (if you start in Avebury, as most do). And within the town is The Valiant Trooper, an 18th-century alehouse offering refreshment for those hiking this historic path.
Long-distance hiking is, in our opinion, best enjoyed with a comfortable bed and hot meal at the end of each day – and if your baggage is waiting for you at the inn, even better. Booking with Macs Adventure guarantees all of that and provides a detailed guidebook and map to help you along.
#7 South West Coast Path
By far the longest route in this collection, the South West Coast Path encompasses the entire coastline of Devon and Cornwall, from Minehead in Somerset, round Land’s End in Cornwall and along to Poole Harbour in Dorset. That 630-mile distance crosses some of the most dramatic and iconic landscapes in the British Isles, from the Jurassic Coast to the tin mines of Cornwall, with waves driving in from the Atlantic Ocean throughout. The drama of the South West Coast Path is one of the reasons so many hikers travel across the UK to walk sections of it.
Crossing between four counties, the sights to be seen and experiences to be had along the Path’s route are too varied to be shortly summarised – that’s the beauty of it. From surfing coves in North Devon to bustling promenades in Cornwall, it offers a huge wealth of outdoor experiences along its way.
Lizard village, often known as ‘The Lizard’, is the most southerly village on the British mainland, and the Top House Inn is your best bet for a comfy bed and hot meal in this dramatic location.
Food & Drink
A small cafe tucked away on the Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall, The Hidden Hut is truly a hidden gem on the South West Coast Path. By day, they serve delicious home-cooked food and drinks with views along the coast; by night, they host weekly ‘feast nights’ with themes such as Lobster & Chips and Sticky Ribs.
Organising your accommodation and baggage transfers, South West Coast Path Walking Holidays offer exactly what their name suggests, along various sections of the route, such as Plymouth to Torquay and Bude to Newquay.