Easily one of the lesser-known of all the long-distance walking holidays in the UK, walking the Monarch’s Way offers some historical interest without the blockbuster fame of Hadrian's Wall path.

The route loops down from the West Midlands to the south coast of England, following the lengthy route taken by Charles II to evade capture following defeat by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

UK Stow on the Wold Monarchs Way

Stow-on-the-Wold, a classic Cotswolds town on the Monarch's Way

Walking the Monarch’s Way

The Monarch's Way

Distance: 615 miles/990km

Duration: 30 - 60 days, or shorter sections

Start point: Worcester

End point: Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

Difficulty: Easy to medium

Suitable for: History fans and walkers who enjoy discovering little known patches of rural England

With the roundheads in hot pursuit and a large bounty on his head, Charles took a roundabout route via Bristol, Yeovil and Salisbury before finally escaping by boat to France. Charles II took six weeks but he had to hide in trees and barns. Today the walk should be much more relaxed—especially if you break it up into separate sections!

The paths and bridleways are usually well maintained and signposted with a logo of the Royal Oak tree (where Charles famously hid). It is also marked with a string of diamonds on OS maps.

It’s England’s longest inland waymarked hike and is characterised by its leafy well-established paths that include plenty of canal towpaths and disused railways. The gradients are mostly gentle, the terrain cultivated and much of the route passes through little-known rural areas.

UK Worcester Cathedral Monarchs Way

Worcester cathedral makes a fitting start point for the Monarch's Way

The Monarch’s Way route

It’s customary to start at Worcester, as Charles did. He escaped rapidly after watching the Royalist defeat in the final battle of the English Civil War from the cathedral tower, so the grand gothic church is a good place to begin.

The path loops north to Bosbobel and the famous Royal Oak tree where Charles hid, then heads into Shropshire as Charles tried to escape to Wales. It turns south to Stratford on Avon and through the Cotswolds to Bristol. Then crossing over the Mendip Hills, it continues to Wells and down to Charmouth on the Dorset coast. The final loop curls back over the Chalk Downs of Wiltshire and Hampshire to Shoreham in Sussex.

The Monarch’s Way sections

The Monarch’s Way is so long that it is usually broken into three sections for convenience of description and mapping. Each of these could make a one to two week holiday depending on the speed of walking.

Section one: Worcester to Stratford (180 miles/290km)

Through the West Midlands and Shropshire, highlights include following a network of historic Industrial Revolution canals, seeing a descendant of the Boscobel Royal Oak and reaching Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon. Less celebrated discoveries along this section might include the romantic ruins of White Ladies Priory and Moseley Old Hall, both used as hiding places by Charles.

Section two: Stratford to Charmouth (210/340km)

Crossing the Cotswolds and Mendips are the most arduous parts of the Way but the compensation is a sequence of some of the finest English country towns and villages, including Stow-on-the-Wold, Cirencester, Tetbury, Wells and Montacute. Lesser known highlights include the classic thatched cottages in Upper and Lower Qunton in Warwickshire, the thick woods at Abbots Leigh above the winding Avon Gorge and pretty South Cadbury nestling under its mysterious hillfort.

Section three: Charmouth to Shoreham (225miles/360km)

The Way loops from the Jurassic Coast inland along the ridge of southern England’s chalk downland, passing the major attraction of Stonehenge. Memorable less crowded (and less expensive) discoveries along the route might include the vast hill fort at Old Winchester Hill, crossing the parkland under the ramparts of Arundel Castle and the view from the great cliff peak at Golden Cap, the highest point on England’s south coast.

Need-to-know

Worcester and Shoreham are easily accessible by road or rail, as are many spots along the Monarch’s Way. It doesn’t cross wilderness areas, so refreshments, accommodation and transport links are never far from the trail.

A path this long can be walked in smaller sections of course and detailed mapping and guides are available for specific stretches provided by various local authorities and walking groups.

The Monarch’s Way Association is the best source of detailed information. It publishes three books on the route and offers up-to-date online news about work and conditions on the trail, including via social media. Visit: www.monarchsway.50megs.com

Did you know?

The original Royal Oak, where Charles II took shelter, is long-gone. But the tree’s descendents live on in Boscobel and, in a more figurative sense, across the country, as the country’s third most common pub name.

About the author

The Monarch’s Way

Daniel McCrohan

Daniel is a prolific guidebook writer who divides his time between exploring Asia for Lonely Planet and Britain for Trailblazer. As well as writing close to 50 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, he has worked on more than a dozen Trailblazer walking guides, and has hiked and camped his way across many parts of the UK, China, Mongolia and India.

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