Hiking is a popular outdoor activity — a great way to stay in shape while soaking up some of the best scenery and wildlife in Britain. Show and Stay takes a look at some of the UK’s wildest and most beautiful routes for walking, whether you’re a keen beginner or a seasoned hiker.
Thames Path, South East England
Liven up your London break with a hike along this National Trail, which runs for 180 miles along the riverbank from the capital all the way to Gloucestershire. There’s a wealth of sights to appreciate along the way, from the regal maritime history of Greenwich to the iconic landmarks along the South Bank. Venture past Embankment through West London and you’ll encounter pretty villages and rural countryside, skirting Hampton Court Park and the meadows of Runnymede. The flat, easy-to-walk terrain stretches as far as Cirencester, the source of the river, and takes in the beautiful towns of Henley-on-Thames and Oxford along the way.
Ben Nevis, Scottish Highlands
Not a walk to be taken lightly, Ben Nevis is a 4400ft ascent, so be sure you’ve packed your map and compass before setting out. June is an ideal time to climb, with clement weather and plenty of daylight hours. The easiest route is via the Pony Track beginning at the Glen Nevis Visitor Centre, although it’s worth bearing in mind there’s an arduous schlepp to the snow-covered summit. Cloudy days can make it difficult to navigate the rock debris using only the series of cairns to guide you, so wait for clear weather if possible and allow yourself 3-5 hours to climb plus 2-3 to get back down again.
This north Wales region has it all, from accessible footpaths to craggy mountain trails, which makes it a popular spot for families and serious hikers alike. The most popular routes are probably those that head up to Mount Snowdon’s lofty peak, and there are several to choose from. Llanberis Path is the longest and easiest, whereas the Miner’s Track is somewhat shorter but significantly steeper to climb. The Pig Track offers a rocky zig-zag route for intrepid walkers, while the Watkin Path has by far the most spectacular views. Seasoned ramblers will want to check out the Snowdon Horseshoe on the way up to the summit, a well-known ridge walk along knife-edged rock seams.
Lake District, Cumbria
Perfect for a short break or long weekend of walking, this mountainous region offers some of the finest fell-walking in the country. The Lakeland Way Walk from Borrowdale to Langdale is an ideal three-day hike with a choice of both high and low-level routes to follow. Highlights include the waterfalls at Galleny Force (where you can enjoy a refreshing dip in summer months), stunning panoramic views of the North Lake peaks from the Cairn, and Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England, from whose summit you can see Scotland on a clear day.
Peak District, Central and Northern England
This diverse National Park covers a whopping 555 square miles and incorporates the southern end of the Pennines, commonly known as the ‘backbone of England’. There’s lots of varied terrain to cover on foot, from peaceful riverside strolls to rugged moorlands. One of the most popular hikes is the trail up to Lantern Pike — just over four miles of tree-lined footpaths and stony tracks. Look out for wildlife on the Birch Vale Reservoir, where you’ll often spot mallards and grebes. The summit provides breathtaking views of green valleys and heather-covered grasslands as far as the eye can see. And be sure to stop off at the Lantern Pike Inn on the way down for a well-deserved pint of local ale!
Brecon Beacons, South Wales
The National Park of Wales has all sorts of terrain for exploring, from moors to mountains, plus steep limestone cliffs, wooded ravines and picturesque waterfalls. There are four mountain ranges within its perimeter: the eastern Black Mountains (with high ridges for excellent hill-walking), Fforest Fawr (a forested upland known for its lush countryside and arctic-alpine plants), the western Black Mountains (remote and rugged open country with sheer limestone cliffs and dramatic views) and the Brecon Beacons themselves — red sandstone peaks with plenty of hiking potential. The highest point is Pen y Fan, offering excellent views north from its plateaued summit.
Dartmoor, South Devon
The Dartmoor Way cuts right through the heart of the granite hills of Dartmoor, but if the prospect of hiking the whole route is too daunting, you can undertake small sections such as the Meldon Reservoir or the Lustleigh Cleave, both of which are lovely in late spring when wildflowers are in full bloom. A firm favourite is the Teign Gorge track, which follows the Two Moors Way, passing through the Castle Drogo Estate, along meadowlands and rocky trails towards the Prestonbury Castle Iron Age hillfort. Be sure to take a picnic, as there are lots of pretty spots to enjoy lunch along this scenic circuit.
North Downs, Kent and Surrey
This ridge of chalky bluffs runs from Surrey all the way to the famous White Cliffs of Dover in Kent. A walk along the entire route traverses countryside rich in history and scenery, including grassy heaths, woodlands, rolling countryside and orchards. Follow in Chaucer’s footsteps along the Pilgrim’s Way from Farnham to Canterbury, passing a Roman villa, castles, medieval churches, cathedrals, a Napoleonic fort, World War II dugouts, picture-perfect villages and hillside chalk figures. For those with just an afternoon to spare, there are circular walks ranging between 2 and 8 miles in length that will suit walkers of all abilities.
Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire
Like the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales has mountaintop trails and valley walks that stretch across the Pennines, although here they reach all the way to the Cheviot Hills. For a leisurely family walk, the Aysgarth Falls trail offers a straightforward circuit that takes in the River Ure’s stunning waterfalls. The highlight is sure to be High Force, the highest tier of the falls, where Kevin Costner battled Little John in the 1991 classic movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. For more experienced walkers, the Three Peaks Walk offers the fells of Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough to climb, so you’ll need to be fit, but the staggering views of the Dales are well worth the effort!
New Forest, Hampshire
Perfect for family treks, this ancient woodland and wild stretches of heath and bog offers 193,000 acres to explore, with 143 miles of gravel track to cover. You’re sure to spot wild ponies and cattle on your travels, as well as a profusion of other wildlife for those with a keen eye. In March and April the forests are carpeted with bluebells, plus you’ll see the newborn foals roaming free on the heathlands. Blackwater, just south of Lyndhurst, offers easy walks among the firs and redwoods of the region. The Tall Trees Trail takes you past the two tallest trees in the Park as well as the Blackwater Arboretum, a beautiful collection of trees from around the world.
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