From the rugged mountains in the Scottish Highlands to the sandy beaches along the Jurassic Coast, Britain’s landscape is far from boring and if there’s one thing Britain excels in, it’s long-distance walks. You only need to look at an OS Map to find an extensive network of footpaths and bridleways. There's no denying that some routes stand out from the rest. For many, these best British long-distance walks have almost become a rite of passage.
These routes are referred to as England and Wales National Trails, Regional Trails and Scotland's Great Trails, depending on their location and status. They are long-distance routes which allow you to see the best of Britain and most are well marked and maintained. You can walk them in one go (often referred to as thru hiking) or break them up into smaller day walks if you have less time or less inclination to plod onward day after day.
Most people have heard of the Pennine Way but there are plenty of other amazing long-distance trails you may not know much about. To help you plan your next walk, we’ve taken some of our favourite lesser-known long-distance routes from the book, Epic British Walks. The book has more detail about each trail including practical information as well as the best sections for weekend breaks and suggested short walks.
The Cleveland Way meanders around the top of the North York Moors National Park, starting inland at the market town of Helmsley before hitting the coast at Saltburn-by the-Sea. As a result, this trail offers an ever-changing landscape, from rich heather moorland to striking coastal cliffs. The varied nature of the landscapes through which the Way passes is such that many days have their own unique characteristics.
One of the highlights of the Cleveland Trail is Mont Grace Priory, a wonderfully preserved medieval Carthusian charterhouses, popular for day trips and short walks like this one.
This coast-to-coast trail across the heart of Scotland celebrates the life and work of John Muir (1838–1914), ‘The Father of National Parks’ in America. The Way, which also accommodates cyclists, traverses the heart of Scotland, exploring places that enshrine the nation’s natural, cultural and industrial heritage and takes in Scotland’s first National Park, the beautiful Loch Lomond and The Trossachs. On route you’ll pass mountains, lochs, canals and coastline from the shores of the Clyde to the North Sea. The hills along the John Muir Way are reasonably tame and amenities well-spaced out, making it suitable for a first long-distance walk.
The Ceredigion Coast Path follows the Welsh Heritage Coast from Cardigan northwards along Cardigan Bay to Ynyslas, near Borth, to the north of Aberystwyth. It crosses a varied landscape that includes the dune system at Ynyslas, high cliffs, sea caves, sandy bays and storm beaches. The Ceredigion Coast Path is now part of the larger Wales Coast Path, but it has managed to keep its individual identity and appeal. There are some testing climbs on route but good transport links and amenities make it easy to break it into manageable sections.
Aberystwyth is a thriving, diverse and vibrant settlement, located nearer the end of the trail and well worth a stop. Just before it (south) is Pen Dinas, an Iron Age hill fort topped with a towering memorial to the first Duke of Wellington.
The Ribble Way follows the River Ribble upstream from the Lancashire coast up into the hills above Dentdale and Wharfedale in North Yorkshire. Along the way, the trail encounters tidal marshes, riverside meadows, farmland, limestone gorges, quiet lanes and moorland terrain; it fashions an elegant route from Preston to Roman Ribchester, historic Clitheroe, Settle and Horton-in-Ribblesdale. The Way takes the most delightful passage, making the most out of the beautiful countryside - there’s certainly no shortage of beautiful views.
It’s worth deviating from the route slightly to take a short walk around the Ribblehead Viaduct, a mile west from the Ribble Way. With 24 arches and over 440 yards in length, it’s one of the enduring iconic images of Yorkshire.
The ancient Ridgeway is one of the older tracks in Britain and was part of the so-called Greater Ridgeway from Lyme Regis in West Dorset to Hunstanton in Norfolk. Like the South Downs Way (another National Trial) most of the route sticks to the ridge up on higher ground, making it a feast for the eyes. The Ridgeway will show you some of the best views in the North Wessex Downs and The Chilterns. Its history is given away by a preponderance of Neolithic long barrows, Bronze Age round barrows, Iron Age forts and white horses (huge stylised figures cut into the chalk).
There is so much to stop and look at along the Ridgeway including the Uffington White Horse, cut into the chalk countryside in the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age. Take a short walk around the chalk figure to fully appreciate it.
The Speyside Way generally follows the course of the famed salmon river and links the Moray coast with Aviemore and Newtonmore in Strathspey, on the northern edge of the Cairngorms National Park. The route meanders through a theatre of spectacular scenery, including coastline, birch woods and pastureland of the Spey, where moors are gradually replaced by uplands. The Speyside Way flourishes with wildlife and is dream come true for nature lovers. Look out for red and roe deer, red squirrels, grouse, ptarmigan and even the endangered Scottish wildcat.
Anagach Woods makes the perfect diversion with several walking paths within it. Situated on the edge of Grantown-on-Spy, Anagach Woods is a charming natural pine forest that provides shelter for capercaillie, so get your binoculars out!
London's Capital Ring is a 78-mile (126-km) walking route encircling inner and central London and passing through no fewer than 18 of its boroughs. The circuit may be completed as a continuous undertaking but breaking it up in sections will allow time to fully appreciate the abundance of London’s green spaces. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city but don’t have the time to travel, then London’s Capital Ring is the walk for you. You’ll see some of London’s finest scenery and pass through open spaces, commons, nature reserves, ancient oak woodland, remnants of the Great North Wood, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. London’s Capital Ring is a gentle long-distance walking route suitable for all.
Hackney Wick has dramatically changed in recent years. Still rich in history, it now boasts a vibrant creative flare with an abundance of art galleries, cafes and restaurants. A stroll along the River Lea makes a pleasant day trip.
The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail combines two separate trails which run in a great arc from inland village Knettishall Heath to and along the East Coast. Most of the trail goes through the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, passing sand dunes, reedbeds and tidal salt marshes. The Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path National Trail is guaranteed to bring you wildlife, militaria, ancient churches, forests, heaths and river valleys. It’s an easy going walk due to its relatively flat profile.
Look out for Pingo Ponds on route or take a day trip there. Pingo Ponds are a rare type of waterhole found in the Brecks of Norfolk. It’s by far the largest collection in the UK and dates back to the end of the last ice age.
Getting to the start of the Severn Way will take up half of the first day and by evening you will reach the same point where you set off that very morning. This is certainly no pitfall as these first few miles will take you up through incredible lush forests and wild bogs, where you’ll walk on a platform. It’s mostly all downhill from there, although you will have a couple of inclines to contend with. Most of the Severn Way follows the River Severn but it does loose its company at various points along the first part of the trail. From rugged, boggy, windswept uplands, the Severn Way is a fantastic long-distance route that will take you through history, nature, industry, heritage and architecture.
The Ironbridge Gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known throughout the world as the symbol of the Industrial Revolution. There’s a delightful short walk, following part of the Severn Way to admire the Ironbridge close up and from afar.
The Two Moors Way is a delightful coast-to-coast route (south to north Devon) across the moorlands and barren landscapes of Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. The route also takes in a lesser-known section of Devon’s finest countryside and even here, there are plenty of hills to keep you busy. The trail finishes at the coast in Lynmouth where you will be greeted by the weather-beaten sea cliffs. The contrast of pastoral expanses, river valleys and high moorland is a combination that brings pleasure and quality, moments of reflection and breezy heights.
Grimspound is a late Bronze Age settlement and consists of 24 hut circles surrounded by a stone. It’s an interesting sight to see and well worth a stop for photos.
If you’d like more information about each route and you’d like to discover more epic walks across Great Britain, then the Epic British Walks book is available from the OS Shop.
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