The UK is criss-crossed by a network of trails, tracks and public footpaths that take you on some pretty magical journeys. If you let them. I’ve had the pleasure to hike and trek all over the world, but nothing gives me more pleasure than a walking long distance through the wilds of the UK. I’m equally at home taking walks near Thame and in Buckinghamshire. But today we’re going to explore some of the best long-distance walks (UK only – I’ll be adding more walks to cater for overseas visitors to my website).
First off, let’s be clear about what constitutes a long-distance hike, or walk: some of my outdoorsy-type friends told me that long distance is the kind of trek or hike that can take days. That’s probably a bit extreme for most so we came to an agreement – any route over 20 miles is classified as long.
Some of the routes below I’ve walked. Others are recommendations from friends. If you have any you think might be valuable additions to this post, please feel free to email me (details over on the contact page).
The Ridgeway Walking Route
I’m biased. I love the Ridgeway and have done since I moved to Bucks back in 2003. The ridge of lines is a crown in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside. A ‘mere’ 87 miles long, the Ridgeway officially starts at Ivinghoe beacon – a hot destination for hillwalkers tracing their way through the countryside – and ends in West Kennett, Wessex.
The Ridgeway has been in use for about 5,000 years so there’s no chance for any of us to consider ourselves trailblazing hikers on this pathway. According to historic records, the Ridgeway was long been used as a trading route due to the relatively dryness of the ground.
For anyone seeking that little extra, the Ridgeway ultramarathon is held every year. A perfect opportunity to run the full length of the route.
One of the real plus points of the Ridgeway route is that you can join it pretty much anywhere you want. But do checkout Ivinghoe Beacon – the views of the surrounding countryside, including the lion etched into the hill just below Whipsnade zoo, are amazing.
The West Devon Way
Another walk that I’ve had the pleasure to experience, the West Devon Way is tasty 37 mile route. The Way is a fraction of the distance of the 630 mile South West Coast Path, but it’s still tough going at time. You don’t have to walk the full distance. Like the Ridgeway, there are plenty of places you can join and leave the Way. Starting in Okehampton, near the Army Battle Camp, the trail weaves across the Dartmoor and heads south.
Keep following the tracks and you’ll eventually come to the city of Plymouth. Broken down into 8 stages, the route is waymarked. Each of the stages starts and finishes near a bus stop which is useful as parking can be an issue on the moors.
If you want to go one big step further, you link the West Devon Way with the Tamar Valley Discovery Trail and Two Castles Trail to create a huge 100 mile walk. I spent several days walking this route last year and decided to add a hug dogleg via Haytor.
Be warned: in winter this trail can be incredibly muddy. Dartmoor is frequently lashed by storms that roll in off the sea. Personally, I love this kind of weather. But make sure you have the appropriate gear for your walk.
Your list of hiking destinations would not be complete without a visit to the iconic Roman construction that is Hadrian’s wall. Built on the orders of Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD, the wall extends 87 miles across the north of England. Starting at Wallsend in Newcastle and ending in Bowness-on-Solway, this marvel of Roman engineering cuts through breath taking landscape. Although much of the wall is ruins, there are a number of watchtowers and forts that have weathered time well.
I’ve visited the wall and walked the route a number of times. The linear route is easy to follow and there are plenty of drop off points and B&B’s available to walkers.
South Downs Way
Our epic tour of the UK’s best long distance walks wouldn’t be complete without the South Downs Way. Stretching across the South Downs National Park, the route branches at Alfriston and continues on parallel paths which merge at Eastbourne.Given the ease of access, this section of the route can get pretty crowded at times. But please don’t be tempted to skip this part of the path unless you want to miss out on some truly stunning views.
The most popular hiking direction along the Way is west to east. Hikers kick off their trek in Winchester and finish in Eastbourne. To be honest, I’ve found the direction of travel irrelevant – it’s the beautiful views that make this an amazing and breath taking long walk.
The Pennine Way
Not for the faint of heart, the Pennine way is at the top my list of the best long distances walks in the UK. At 268 miles long it’s an epic route that hosts the Great Spine Race, an ultramarathon hosted and run every year by Montane. Starting at Edale, in the northern Derbyshire Peak District, the route snakes north across the Yorkshire Dales and the Northumberland National Park. The end point is at Kirk Yetholm, just inside the Scottish border. Like many of the routes in this post, it’s possible to the break your journey along the Pennine Way into sections of 20 miles. The Garrigill to Alston leg is a shade under 20 miles long (19 miles) and the Greenhead to Once Brewed is 23 miles long. Both routes have Youth Hostel, B&B and camping facilities at either end.
Numerous B&Bs are dotted along the route giving thru-hikers plenty of locations in which to rest and refuel. If you decide to attempt the full route give yourself about three weeks walking time. The Pennine Way Association can a full itinerary for anyone wishing to brave the full distance walk.
Which is Your Favourite Long Distance UK Walk?
So these are five of what I think are the best long distance walks in the UK. I’m sure you have your own opinions and I value your words so please do let me know your thoughts and recommendations. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiking, hillwalking or simply taking a leisurely 20 mile stroll I’d like you to share your views and recommendations.