Long distance walking is more popular than ever in the UK. GetOutside Champion Phillipa Cherryson heads out on a two day hike to explore some of our amazing countryside.
You don’t have to take weeks or months out of your life to complete a long distance trail. Phillipa hadn’t camped for more than 25 years, when she donned her walking boots, put a tent in her backpack and set out with friends for a weekend hike in Wales. Now she’s a convert and she’s got some great tips for starting out.
Phillipa map reading
Long distance trails
Did you know there are more than 1,500 long distance paths in the UK, stretching for an incredible 88,000 miles?
I didn’t either until I got bitten by the weekend hiking bug a few years ago. I loved heading out into the countryside for day walks, but I always thought that long distance paths were the reserve of hardened hikers who spent weeks or even months on the trail.
With a full-time job and a busy life, I thought it was something I would never be able to do. That was until I realised you don’t have to hike for hundreds of miles. A weekend, overnight hike is an incredible experience and still gives you the feeling that you’ve been on a real journey.
Planning for a two day hike
I’m lucky enough to live on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, in Wales. I’d always wanted to walk the 99-mile Beacons Way, but could never fit it in with my other commitments and me and my walking friends were never free at the same time. But once I broke it down into three weekends, it was so much easier to fit into my busy life and organise with friends.
We camped and carried everything in our backpacks. But you don’t have to. Why not make it easier on yourself and stay in a hostel, a B&B or even a nice hotel? Just don’t forget to take spare clothes!
There is so much information on the internet to help you plan a long distance walk. Including information on where to stay, what to take with you, what the conditions are like on the trail and transport links. Also, don’t be afraid to ask on social media walking groups and pages. You’ll always find someone who has walked at least part of the route who can offer advice.
Phillipa and her walking friends
The route on OS Maps
I loved walking the Beacons Way. It starts at the Skirrid (Holy Mountain) in the east of the Brecon Beacons National Park, near Abergavenny, and goes right through to the park to its western boundary at the hamlet of Bethlehem.
The route included climbing Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales; walking through Fforest Fawr, a UNESCO Geopark and Dark Skies reserve and following the shoreline of the haunting Llyn y Fan Fach, with its Lady of the Lake legend.
We camped next to the ruins of Llanthony Abbey, watched shooting stars and shared jokes, memories and dreams as we walked.
It was tough at times, but it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.
I felt like I had achieved something special and it felt like so much more than just a weekend away. Now I’m hooked on my weekend adventures and that first walk has given me the confidence to go on and do many more.
Phillipa's Beacons Way section – Abergavenny to Crickhowell, with an overnight at Llanthony.
Phillipa's top tips
- If you haven’t done a multi-day hike before stay local. Use OS Maps to find out what long distance paths you have on your doorstep or create your own route using local footpaths and bridleways.
- Use OS Maps online to work out how long your planned route will take you. The app and web version works out the walking time, but remember to add on extra for food and photo stops. If you use the fly-through feature it will give you a great idea of what terrain to expect.
- Do your research. The trickiest part can be arranging transport to the start and from the end of your trip. Circular routes are easiest, but plan ahead. If you are driving, ring campsites, pubs and hotels to see if you can pay to leave your car in their car park. Or else organise a taxi or check out bus routes from train stations.
Phillipa up Pen y Fan
Walking the Beacons Way
- If you are walking a named route, Google it or ask for advice on social media. Chances are you’ll be able to find someone who’s already walked it.
- Support the local economy. Instead of bringing everything from home, use local cafes, shops and pubs along the route. If you contact them in advance most can arrange packed lunches to take away.
- Wear comfortable boots or shoes. Painful feet can end your hike. Don’t wear brand new boots or shoes, wear them out a few times first.
- Keep your backpack weight to a minimum. Think long and hard about each item you take as it all adds to the weight. However, even when camping I always add two luxury items – my Kindle and a scented mini pot of foot cream. Find more tips on how to pack your bag here.
Other two day walks
Here’s a few ideas for two-day weekend walks to get you started!
- Lairig Ghru, Scotland. This 18 miles wild walk has two good bothies to stop off at for the night – the Corrour Bothy or the quieter Bob Scott’s Bothy. If you fancy a challenge you can extend this route to go from Aviemore to Braemar which is just over 30 miles.
- White to Dark Peak Way, Peak District. From Bakewell to Hope, a total of 25 miles, stopping at Hathersage for the night – the resting place of Little John and in the heart of Bronte Country. See the route of day two here.
- South Downs Way, Sussex. A 21-mile section of this popular route. You start at Steyning, north of Shoreham on Sea, with a night at Ditchling and then on to Southease, where there’s a railway station for onward transport.
- The Mournes Way, Co Down. A 23 mile walk traversing the foothills of the Mourne Mountains from Newcastle on the Irish Sea to Rostrevor on Carlingford Lough. Enjoy fine views of coast, sea and countryside.
- Saints Way, Cornwall. Start at Padstow on the north coast and follow a 27-mile ancient pilgrim’s route to Fowey on the south coast. Overnight in Bodmin.
And there are so many others too! You could pick a section of the Pennine Way, the South West Coastal Path, Norfolk Coast Path, the Ridgeway or how about a city break on the Thames Path? Your only limit is your imagination!