Poets and painters, authors and broadcasters have extolled the greatness of the UK’s land and seascapes for many years. With some of the finest collection of protected landscapes, including national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and long-distance walking trails, walking holidays in the UK are one of the best ways to garner a deep understanding of all of its four nations’ natural and cultural heritage.
For self-guided tours, UK walking spectacles cover all countries in a spectacular way, with Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast, England’s Hadrian’s Wall, Wales’ Pembrokeshire Coast Path and Scotland’s West Highland Way marking out just some of each country’s finest hiking havens. It’s also easy to travel by train on many of our UK hiking holidays, giving you the freedom to just ride, ramble and relax.
Where to go
South West Coast Path
The longest UK walking trail, at over 1,000km, the South West Coast Path clings to the north and south coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. Following ancient trails that were created to stop smugglers or invaders, but also to access spiritual or agricultural sites, it’s one of the most outstanding UK hiking holidays. Walk one of three Cornwall segments of the Path, or all three if you are lucky enough to have the time, staying in hotels and guesthouses along the way, with your luggage transported for you.
Hadrian’s Wall Path
Created as a way to conquer a country, it’s now a perfect way to commune with nature across the whole width of it. You can follow Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail (135km), along this UNESCO site over the course of a week to ten days, depending on how quickly you want to journey between the North and Irish seas. Traditionally, you walk east to west between Newcastle on the North Sea and Bowness on Solway on the Irish sea, staying in small locally-owned accommodation along the way, with your bags transported for you.
West Highland Way
This is one of the best walking holidays in Scotland, covering 154km between Milgavie, just north of Glasgow up to Fort William on the shores of Loch Linnhe, with the foothills of Ben Nevis proffering a perfect finale. Our West Highland Way hiking holiday books up quickly, and not surprisingly given that, in ten days you walk through splendours such as Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the wilds of Rannoch Moor and alongside many ‘ben’ beauties in the Scottish highlands. It’s also accessible at both ends by train.
Coast to Coast Path
Although the Hadrian’s Wall path is also coast to coast, this one is much wider at 293km and is generally walked west to east. The Coast to Coast Path was created by the UK’s famous fell walker and writer Alfred Wainwright and documented in his 1973 book, A Coast to Coast Walk. To date it isn’t an official national trail, but this is due to happen by the mid 2020s. Wainwright was right to highlight its wonders though, as it traverses three national parks, without tough ascents or descents. You can do the whole thing in 15 days, or break it up into east or west segments.
The word ‘wold’ is ancient English for gentle hill, and the Cotswold Way is also a gentle but very gorgeous way. Spend ten days on a self-guided walking holiday in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, between the medieval market town of Chipping Campden and Bath, covering an undulating and undeniably charming 163km. You can also opt to divide it into sections, taking on a north or south circuit, basking in the beauty of the area’s iconic honey-coloured cottages, meadows, mills and myriad foodie stops such as Cheltenham.
Things to do
- You can eat, drink and be merry on walking holidays in the UK but sometimes it just needs a bit of planning in advance, to make sure you tap into a sustainable and slow food scene on your journey. The Cotswolds is brimming with gastropubs, markets and fine produce, including Single Gloucester cheese and Gloucester Old Spot pork, both recognised by Protected Designation of Origin status. In Cornwall, cream teas and Cornish pasties are at every turn, along with traditional inns, fisheries and local beer.
- Raise a glass of local whisky in Scotland or whiskey in Ireland, to toast a good day of walking. Although spelled in different ways in each country, the name derives from the Gaelic meaning ‘water of life’. You can also visit distilleries on several of our walking holidays in the UK, such as Bushmills on the Northern Ireland’s Causeway coast tour, Glenfiddich and Glenlivet while walking Scotland’s Speyside Way or Dewars Distillery along the Southern Highlands’ Rob Roy Way.
- Go in peace along UK pilgrims’ paths and ancient spiritual ways. St Patrick’s Way takes in cultural and Christian heritage sites between Armagh and Downpatrick, as well as the natural spectacle of the Mourne Mountains. The Kent Downs was the serene route taken by Archbishop Thomas Becket on his Pilgrim’s Way from London to Canterbury Cathedral, which you can join up with at Rochester. Or experience some cross-border serenity along St Cuthbert’s Way between Melrose Abbey in Scotland and the iconic Lindisfarne or Holy Island along the Northumbrian coast.
Responsible travel tips
- Many of our walking holidays in the UK are made even more sustainable by the fact that they are accessible by train making your overall carbon footprint very light indeed. The god of train geeks, The Man in Seat 61 gives all the tips on how to get cheap train tickets but, in short, book in advance when possible. Tickets aren’t generally released until around eight to ten weeks before travel and most train operators have a ticket alert system, such as this one on LNER, whereby you are notified as soon as bookings are open. Also, getting a Railcard is nearly always worth it, with a variety of choices from Senior to Two Together Railcard. You can download one in minutes nowadays, so it’s both speedy and sustainable.
- If you want to include some wild swimming on your self-guided tours, UK water pollution app Safer Seas and River Service, operated by Surfers against Sewage is an invaluable source of information to check that the beach or river where you hope to swim is clean enough to do so. Do also support their work by becoming a member, donating or supporting a clean up, as well as sharing their vital activism and lobbying around water pollution.
- The UK is blessed with an impressive network of long-distance walking trails, and it is worth remembering that these are maintained by many groups such as National Trust, local councils and regional conservation organisations. In many cases, access to these splendid trails have been achieved through hard-won negotiations with farmers and other private landowners, so it’s important to respect this, not wander off the trails and to keep them free of litter.
- The UK is also blessed with biodiverse walking trails, and it’s worth reading up on the flora and fauna of a region before walking there, as you will gain so much more out of it, but also be incentivised to protect it for future generations. Once you start to research properly, you will find yourself going down a rabbit hole into a biodiverse wonderland. The South West Coast Path, for example, is home to choughs and seals and the West Highland Way protects habitats for deer and golden eagles. The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty also has an impressive programme to restore many of its grasslands back to wildflower meadows and, thus, bring back bees and rare butterflies for pollination purposes.