Just after the ravages of the Second World War, Britain entered a period of austerity- rationing continued for some years, and jobs were in short supply as thousands of soldiers were “de-mobbed”. With money for pleasure and entertainment in short supply, a new fad gripped Britain at the beginning of the 1950’s; hiking in the hills and downs of this green and pleasant land. Walking the countryside became almost a national pastime and Ramblers clubs sprung up all over the country.
While our lifestyles and the countryside may have changed significantly in the last 7 decades, our love of rambling hasn’t. Governments had the foresight to protect footpaths and bridleways from landowners who might want to fence in their fields with no access. The National Trust purchased large areas of land for the nation to enjoy, and that includes almost all the coastal footpaths around the edge of Britain.
Enough of the history, let’s get down to business and look at five of the best hiking trails in the UK. I should say that I am defining “long-distance” as a trek on a trail that will take more than a day to complete; say over 31 miles. You’ll need to plan ahead to book yourself into camping sites, hostels or guest houses.
5. THE COAST TO COAST WALK
This is one of my favourites and will take a couple of weeks to complete because it is a whopping 182 miles long. As the name of the walk indicates, it goes from one coast of Britain to the other; East to West (or West to East if you prefer!)
Starting at the Irish Sea coastal town of St Bees in Cumbria you’ll trek across some great landscapes to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire where you can dip your toes in the North Sea. It encompasses parts of three national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors. It was first described by the well-known Cumbrian aficionado, author and illustrator, Alfred Wainwright in his 1973 book A Coast to Coast Walk.
4. THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY
This trail is only half as long at the previous walk, and should take just over a week to complete. You’ll see some great Scottish areas of outstanding natural beauty; Glen Coe, Loch Lomond and Rannoch Moor. The trail stretched from the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William and the foot of Ben Nevis. The West Highland Way isn’t a particularly difficult trail and due to its popularity it can become quite busy in the summer months.
3. THAMES PATH
Ok. This may not guarantee you a stunning view at every twist and turn of the great river Thames, but at nearly 200 miles you will certainly see some interesting things. It’s also a good walking experience for the new hiker as it is virtually all flat. You’ll start in Kemble, Gloucestershire and finish at that engineering marvel, the Thames barrier in Charlton. There are plenty of shops, pubs and hotels along the way. This is a real ideal introduction to long-distance walking.
2. GLYNDWR’S WAY
Glyndwrs way is 135 miles long and will take 9-11 days, depending on how much you want to push yourself! Glyndwr’s Way is named after Owain Glydwr, the last true Prince of Wales. It takes you though some stunning scenery beginning in Knighton on the English border and cuts its way through open moorland and rolling farmland covered in woodland and forests to end at Montgomeryshire Canal in Welshpool. There are a lot of hill climbs and there are not many hostelries pubs or guest houses on the route, so you’d better take a lot of provisions with your tent!
1. SOUTH WEST COAST PATH
Finally we have a biggy, at 630 miles this is the granddaddy of both long-distance trails and coastal footpath walks.
The trail starts in Minehead, Somerset and finishes in Poole Harbour, Dorset and takes walkers through two World Heritage Sites: the Jurassic Coast and the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. The walking can be tough, up and down coombs and is not great in poor weather. But you will have a true sense of achievement if you complete this!