Walking In The UK

The Best Walking Holidays In The UK

The Best Walking Holidays In The UK
By Simon Heptinstall

You may think you know the UK but there are plenty of surprises yet to be found and a walking holiday is the best way to do it.

Wherever you live, don’t let the cosy familiarity of the UK’s cultural icons and famous landmarks deter you from exploring the rest of it.

These four nations are densely packed with variety. Away from Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, there are an enormous number of sights that most people, locals and visitors alike, have never heard of. And there's no better way to see it all than on a walking holiday, following the countless miles of footpaths through landscapes that are always rich in tradition, varied in scenery and full of history.

UK Lochranza on the Isle of Arran

Lochranza, on the Scottish Isle of Arran

Top walking holidays in the UK

Wherever you find yourself you'll never be far from a public footpath of some sort and, once outside of the urban sprawls, almost any patch of countryside makes for a pleasant stroll. But for a truly special trip, here are a handful of the UK's top-rated walking holiday regions.

Scotland West Highland Way 2

Following the West Highland Way from Glasgow to Fort William

The Highlands

This vast, sparsely populated area is the closest thing to true wilderness in the UK and is a justifiably popular region for serious hikers and casual walkers alike. There are plenty of waymarked long-distance routes, along with some excellent places to base yourself for a centre-based walking holiday.

Top walking holidays

The Great Glen Way: 78 miles from Fort William to Inverness, over five to seven days. Suitable for all levels, and supported by abundant accommodation and organised walking holiday companies.

Cairngorms National Park: The largest national park in the United Kingdom, with several long-distance routes (65-mile Speyside Way the 64-mile Cateran Trail) but also a great place to base yourself for a centre-based walking holiday.

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park: Bordering Scotland's populated Central Belt, the Trossachs is a great spot for an accessible but varied walking holiday.

Jacobs ladder kinder scout peak district england uk

'Jacob's Ladder' – the ascent to Kinder Scout, in the Peak District

The Peak District National Park

The Peak District is the UK's first national park, established in 1951 to carve out a protected space between the encroaching industrial cities of the midlands and northern England. The national park and the UK's 'right to roam' laws owe their existence to the struggles of ordinary working people who, in the 1932 Kinder Trespass, forced private landowners to grant public access to the nation's beautiful but previously restricted countryside.

Divided by a geological fault line between the gritstone 'Dark Peak' and the limestone 'White Peak', the landscape switches from open, even severe-looking, moorland to the north and secluded dales and quaint farming villages to the south.

Its proximity to motorways and several major cities means the Peak District gets busy in places, particularly around pleasant but popular honeytraps such as Dovedale, Castleton and Matlock. But with nearly 2,000 miles of public footpaths and rights of way, it's still very easy to find yourself alone and enjoying empty trails and wide open views. The Dark Peak is generally quieter, as is the far south on the border with Staffordshire.

Top walking holidays

Edale & Kinder Scout: Base yourself in Edale, Castelton or Hope for easy access to the famed Kinder Scout and surrounding area. You can spend three or four days in the area, good day walks include the climb up to Kinder Scout (check conditions, it can get treacherous up there) and the popular ridge walk from Castleton to Lose Hill via Mam Tor.

Lathkill Dale: Base yourself in Bakewell, Monyash or Over Haddon for access to the stunning and historical Lathkill Dale, which you can follow all the way to Youlgreave and beyond.

The Pennine Way: The 251-mile waymarked route begins in Edale and runs north all the way to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. Can be booked as an organised self-guided or guided walking holiday, most commonly broken up into shorter segments. Read more: The UK's best long distance walks.

Peak District Boundary Walk: Roughly 190 miles following the boundary of the entire national park. Can be booked as an organised self-guided walking holiday, 11 to 16 nights in total but can be broken up into segments.

UK Northumberland Lindisfarne Holy Island

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, on the Northumberland Coast Path

Northumberland

There’s a large area between the Tyne and the Scottish border that is little troubled by tourists but full of walking possibilities. It’s not a widely marketed destination for inn-to-inn walking holidays and luggage transfer services may be patchy. In fact England’s least populated countryside includes no cites and few towns, so expect to have to plan inn-to-inn holiday routes carefully around limited accommodation and transport links. Much easier is a centre-based walking trip, either based on the coast or in the Cheviots.

Top walking holidays

The craggy Cheviot hills in Northumbria National Park offer some of the quietest and most remote walking in England. St Cuthbert's Way cuts through here en route to Scotland, and the Northumberland Coast Path follows the county's historic and extremely scenic coastline.

Landscape of Horsey windmill on the Norfolk Broads england uk

Horsey Windmill on the Norfolk Broads

East Anglia & Norfolk Broads

Hillwalkers look away now. This is Britain’s flattest region with pancake landscapes stretching to the hazy horizon in all directions. Walkers will be able to explore easy flat paths through gorgeous examples of rural lowland England, with frequent pastoral scenes looking like Constable paintings. Expect a good transport network but plan accommodation ahead because in rural parts options can be limited whether you are travelling inn-to-inn or based in one spot.

Top walking holidays

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some delightful walking and the regional highlights, the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts, and the Norfolk Broads National Park, are a great place to base yourself for a centre-based walking holiday.

Way-marked, full-supported long distance trails include the 228-mile triangle formed by Peddars Way, Norfolk Coast Path, and the Angles Way while other less well-known routes celebrate local historical figures as divergent as Boudicca, Nelson and Hereward the Wake.

UK Gunnerside Swaledale Yorkshire England

Classic Yorkshire countryside in Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales National Park

Yorkshire

England’s biggest county includes the Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire Moors and a big chunk of the Peak District National Park, a Heritage Coast and dozens of outstanding natural areas. For walkers, its offerings range from challenging hill trails to more relaxed lowland hikes.

Top walking holidays

Most routes include some rugged moorland stretches and Yorkshire’s long distance trails include tough options like the Dales Top Ten, a 77-mile trek round the ten highest hills in the Dales or the Pennine Way, a 251-mile iconic trail along the mountainous spine of the country.

There is a good choice of guided walking holidays along waymarked long distance trails, or centre-based stays in any of the national parks. The availability of accommodation varies greatly between areas but all styles of walking holiday are possible, with choices like the Inn Way trails linking country pubs or circular centre-based routes skirting Barnsley, Sheffield and Hawes in the Dales.

UK Isle of Wight coastpath

Sea views from the Isle of Wight coastpath

The Isle of Wight

With a varied and fascinating coastline of 60 miles, the Isle of Wight is bigger than many outsiders expect. Safe, quiet and untroubled by mountains or wilderness areas, it has become one of England’s most popular walking destinations. There are no motorways or cities to avoid, instead expect peaceful, pretty landscapes, yachting harbours and wooded estuaries, old-fashioned seaside towns and rolling downland.

Top walking holidays

The 70-mile Isle of Wight coast path is a highlight but other routes criss-cross the island. Yarmouth, Cowes and Ventnor can serve as attractive centres for walking holidays too.

UK Hollerday Hill of the Valley Of The Rocks in Exmoor National Park

Valley of Rocks, on the Exmoor coastline

The Southwest

England’s southwestern peninsular of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire has the mildest climate and a varied coastline, which explains why it’s the UK’s most popular holiday area. Across the southwest walkers will find some serious wild moorland areas and a few cities, but generally the landscape comprises rolling farmland that’s never far from the sea. Expect crowds at holiday times but the positive side of the area’s popularity is a huge choice of accommodation that means inn-to-inn walks are an easy option. Organised self-guided walks are commonplace, with several specialist operators to choose from.

Top walking holidays

The 630-mile Southwest Coast Path encompasses it all but there are hundreds of others, from the 600-miles of trails in Exmoor National Park to circular day-walks like the National Trust routes around Cheddar Gorge or Stonehenge. They range in quality too: from sign-posted long distance national trails with luggage support and frequent refreshments to rugged lonely muddy tracks across Dartmoor where a compass is advisable.

UK England Lake District Buttermere surrounded by green hill in Englands Lake District

Buttermere, in the Lake District

The Lake District

Perhaps the most famous walking region in the UK, the Lake District offers a chance to wander lonely as a cloud amid impressive landscapes of mountains and water. The choices for walkers range from England’s most serious climbing routes to gentle lakeside circuits. The two main hazards to consider are that the main roads and towns get very busy with day trippers and tour buses in the summer months, while the fells include challenging terrain to be taken very seriously. Across the Lakes the transport network can be a limiting factor. Roads are narrow and sometimes jammed. Nevertheless there is a huge range of places to stay, from farm B&Bs and hostels to luxury hotels and suiting either inn-to-inn or centre-based walking holidays.

Wainwright who?

Prolific mountain walker, author and illustrator Alfred Wainwright was the father figure of Lakeland walking. His 60-year-old guides to the fells are still definitive volumes for walking in the Lakes and he was instrumental in establishing the popular Coast-to-Coast route from the Irish Sea at St Bees to the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay.

Top walking holidays

There are world-class scenes to discover here whether Wainwright bagging or pottering in the footsteps of poets. Classic long distance trails include the 93-mile Tour of the Lakes circuit and the start of the Coast-to-Coast and Hadrian’s Wall routes - but there are hundreds of smaller less celebrated paths including classics like Striding Edge or Borrowdale. The former will be way-marked and popular with walking holiday companies. Luggage support should be readily available. The latter fall into the category of mountain walking and you may require more self-sufficiency regarding navigation and luggage.

Boat houses near St Davids Pembrokeshire

Boat houses near St Davids on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

South Wales

Don’t let an industrial heritage and string of dour coastal cities deter you from exploring this undervalued and less visited walking region. In fact you’ll discover that most of the southern half of Wales is rural, with the Brecon Beacons National Park providing southern Britain’s highest peaks, some impressive coastal walking further west and large areas of pristine countryside to explore.

Top walking holidays

Long distance walkers have a lot of choices of well-maintained and supported routes, including the 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path, part of the massive 870-mile Wales Coast Path or scenic walks through the Black Mountains that form the southern section of the 177-mile Offa’s Dyke Path along the Welsh-English border.

Read more: Best Walking holidays in Wales

UK Wales Dolbadarn Castle at Llanberis in Snowdonia National Park in Wales

Dolbadarn Castle in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales

North Wales

Many long distance trails span the two halves of this nation and if you completed them you’d find the north generally has a rawer, grittier nature. With the added attraction of Snowdonia’s mountain landscape and the remote rolling moorland of the Elan Valley in Mid-Wales, this is an area with rich pickings for walkers. All of Wales, like the rest of the UK, offers extremely varied landscapes and walking conditions. Research your routes in detail because some will have plentiful facilities on hand, luggage transfers and be an easy way-marked ramble—others will have scant infrastructure and may be a serious hiking challenge.

Top walking holidays

Choices range from major trails like Snowdonia’s 97-mile Eyri Way to day routes visiting Wales’ highest waterfall, Swallow Falls. Try walking around Anglesey, explore the Mawddach Estuary or discover the new Pilgrim’s Way (135 miles) that links ancient churches, crosses and stone circles across the North.

England South Downs Way 1

Chalk cliffs on the South Downs Way

The Southeast

You won’t find wilderness areas along the south coast between Kent’s ‘Garden of England’ and Poole Harbour. Instead walkers enjoy safe and generally easy, well-maintained paths with excellent infrastructure and access. Expect a mix of coast and well-manicured countryside with long stretches of chalk downland between the two. Most walks include pretty river valleys and rolling farmland with a scattering of affluent villages and towns serving London commuters or escapees. Accommodation and transport options are plentiful and varied, making the southeast suitable for most types of walking holidays.

Top walking holidays

Major walks include the South Downs Way and the 1066 Country Walk while smaller routes involve the region’s landscape highlights like the Seven Sisters, Devil’s Dyke, Leith Hill, Beachy Head or the White Cliffs of Dover.

UK Cotswolds Castle Combe England

Castle Combe, a classic Cotswolds village

The Cotswolds

For a glimpse of classic English limestone countryside with rolling hills, leafy vales, dry stone walls and pretty, if sometimes twee, villages, try some of the paths criss-crossing the Cotswold region. Footpaths are generally good quality, waymarked and well maintained, and the en-route facilities are good. The region suits either point-to-point trails or centre-based walkers. Walkers may find the honey-pot villages too busy with day-trippers at peak times but the comprehensive network of footpaths makes it easy to escape the crowds that rarely go beyond the teashops and car parks. Avoid the tour-bus problem altogether by sticking to the picturesque fringes of the region, like Warwickshire and South Gloucestershire.

Expect accommodation generally on the pricey but exquisite side. Gentrified gastro-pubs are plentiful, but you’ll need to search hard for traditional ‘working village’ pubs.

Top walking holidays

The Cotswolds are hilly but never hardcore. Examples of routes range between the 100-mile Cotswold Way from Bath to Chipping Campden, to small circuits like the craggy summit of Cleeve Hill, the Cotswolds’ highest point, or the around idyllic villages like Bibury.

The Best Walking Holidays In The UK

Simon Heptinstall

Former Top Gear writer Simon Heptinstall has slowed down a bit recently and now much prefers walking. His hikes have taken him as far as Svalbard, the Falklands and Budleigh Salterton. Find his travel writing everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to the Daily Mail.

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