Best UK treks: Top 18 routes for long distance trekking in Britain

Apr 23, 2021 BY AWE365 Team

Fancy completing one of the best UK treks this year? From the Highlands of Scotland to the coast of southwest England the United Kingdom offers stunning destinations, incredible variety and plenty of challenging multi day trails. So check out what we consider to be the top 18 routes for long distance trekking in Britain.

Best UK treks: Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales Copyright Matt Lynch

Best UK treks

Long distance trekking in United Kingdom

According to the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association) the United Kingdom has over 1,600 long-distance trekking trails. This abundance of footpaths, cover all parts of the country and offers many years of walking adventures.

The British Isles are lucky to have a rich variety of terrain, habitat, and landscape to explore. There are mountains that can be hiked in a day, long sweeping beaches, steep exciting scrambles and wild coastlines.

Our forests, although few in number, are riddled with folk law and history, with ancient trees that have seen generations of change. And our rolling moorlands pose a challenge to even the best navigators.

Top 18 routes for long distance trekking in Britain The South Downs Way Wikimedia image by Gottik666

Many of the best UK treks also pass through, or near, places of cultural and or historical significance. In fact even a never-heard-of village or tiny nondescript church is often hundreds of years old with its own interesting story. You’ll also come across ancient hill forts, stone circles and even castles you can stay in all over the country.

Top 18 routes for long distance trekking in Britain

With such a variety on offer it’s challenging to pick which trail to trek. So we’ve pulled together this guide to 18 of the best UK treks if you are looking for a long distance hiking challenge. The treks below are in no particular order, it was hard enough narrowing it down to 18 (it was originally intended to be a top 10!) let alone ranking them in order.

Pennine Way, England

  • 268 miles
  • 16 to 19 days walking
  • Edale to Kirk Yetholm

As the first National Trail, the Pennine Way seemed a logical place to begin this list of the best British long distance treks. Opened in 1965 the route is steeped in history. It follows the rocky spine of Britain through beautiful scenery, wild places and historic locations.

Best UK treks flickr cc image of Pennine Way by walkinguphills

Starting in the hills of the Derbyshire Peak District it moves onto the Yorkshire Dales. Passing through the stunning Swaledale Valley, across the North Pennines and over Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. Finally, you trek through the Cheviot Hills to the finish in the Scottish Borders.

The trail is hilly and remote with more uphill than the height of Mount Everest. Many consider the Pennine Way to be the most difficult National Trail in England and it’s recommended for experienced walkers. The terrain varies from smooth and firm paths, to narrow and uneven, to wet and boggy.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Wales

  • 180 miles
  • 15-18 days walking
  • St Dogmaels to Amroth

The Pembrokeshire Coast Path follows where the Pembrokeshire National Park meats the sea. Each turn reveals a new perspective of this excellent coastal walk. The route will take you to secluded beaches, hidden from tourists. You will discover a variety of wildlife, including dolphins, puffins and seabirds.

Guide to Pembrokeshire Coast Path trek Wales trekking holiday review Photo Copyright Matt Lynch

The full 180 miles of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path doesn’t have to be walked in one go. However, once you set foot on the trail it’s unlikely you will want to stop until you reach the end. Which for most people takes around two weeks.

If history interests you then you are in for a treat with a wealth of highlights on the trail. Discover the Bronze Age standing stones, Iron Age fortifications, and a 6th Century monastery founded by the Patron Saint of Wales.

Overall, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is an excellent walk for hikers of all abilities. It offers some challenges, yet the ups and downs are mostly short-lived. And the stunning coastal views will take your mind off any aches and pains. Read this guide to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path to find out why it is one of the best UK treks.

West Highland Way, Scotland

  • 95 miles
  • 5-8 days walking
  • Milngavie to Fort William

The West Highland Way is one of the best treks in Britain and is considered a classic globally. It is also one of the busiest routes for long distance trekking in Britain. This Scottish National Trail runs from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow to Fort William, at the foot of Ben Nevis.

West Highland Way one of the Top 18 routes for long distance trekking in Britain Pixabay royalty free image

The route takes you through epic stunningly beautiful countryside making it one of the best UK treks. It works its way through low-lying woodland and loch side walking before climbing to wild moorland and on towards stunning mountains.

There are some interesting detours along the West Highland Way. For example, you can ride the Harry Potter Steam Train or attempt to climb Ben Nevis at the end of the trail. Do you like Scotch Whiskey? There are distilleries on route for those hoping to sample the Scottish staple.

Great Glen Way, Scotland

  • 73 miles
  • 5-7 days walking
  • Fort William to Inverness

Did the West Highland Way leaves you yearning for more of what Scotland has to offer? Then fear not, because the Great Glen Way may provides more of the same. This 118.5km route takes walkers from Fort William, the finishing point for the West Highland Way, to the coastal city of Inverness.

Great Glen Way at Laggan Loch in Scotland Pixabay royalty free image

The Great Glen Way is particularly interesting from a geological point of view. It follows a major fault line of the Grey Glen which makes a clear divide of Scotland from coast to coast.

The Great Glen Way is ideal for walkers wanting to experience the sheer beauty of Scotland but without the climbs. Unlike the West Highland Way it stays at lower levels, and has far less gradient. However, it’s not without dramatic views.

But if you like some climbing there are high-level alternatives offering more of a challenge. Ultimately, this is one of the best routes for long distance trekking in Britain if you want to keep the hills to a minimum.

Hadrian’s Wall Path, England

  • 84 miles
  • 5-8 days walking
  • Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway

The Hadrian’s Wall Path follows Britain’s most prominent monument for 84 miles. Hadrian’s Wall was built to protect the northwest Roman border from 122-128 AD. There is excellent walking alongside interesting history. This impressive trek is considered to be one of the world’s best historical hiking holidays.

Hadrian's wall one of the top 10 cultural trekking breaks Royalty free image by Wallpaper Flare

Because the route can be completed in less than a week it’s great for adventure holidays. There are only a few steep ups and downs making it one of the best long distance trekking routes in Britain for first timers. It’s the ideal walk for those wanting an inspirational trail as an introduction to long distance treks.

However, taking your time will allow you to enjoy the many museums, forts, and well preserved sections of the wall. Plus it is worth exploring the small towns and villages along the way.

Highlights of the route include the excellent Vindolanda Roman Fort, where you can walk through the streets of the uncovered settlement. It’s worth staying in the historic walled City of Carlisle for a few days after the walk to enjoy its impressive Cathedral, Castle, art galleries and pubs.

Glyndwrs Way, Wales

  • 166 miles
  • 9-11 days walking
  • Knighton to Welshpool

The National Trails are a selection of the finest long-distance routes. This means they are well funded, and therefore very well maintained. However they come at a price – they are, at times busy. You will usually see a high number of other walkers in the peak season (May-September).

Glyndwrs Way near Llangunllo Creative Commons image from Geograph.co.uk © Dave Kelly

However, the Glyndwr’s Way has achieve the status of National Trail, while remaining somewhat overlooked. The reasons are a mystery – meaning it’s one of the top routes for long distance trekking in Britain if you like a bit of solitude.

Glyndwr’s Way has fabulous views over the Cambrian Mountains and Cadair Idris. As walkers reach the highest point at Foel Fabian, Cardigan Bay can be seen on a clear day. Throughout you are treated to the finest Welsh landscapes including the Radnorshire Hills.

The Glyndwr’s Way starts in Knighton, and finishes in Welshpool. A great alternative or addition to the trail is the Offas Dyke Path which also ends in Knighton. But choose the Glyndwrs Way for one of the best UK treks to avoid the crowds.

Derwent Valley Heritage Way, England

  • 55 miles
  • 4-6 days walking
  • Ladybower to Shardlow

Streams, rivers, canals and other waterways are steeped in history due to their ability to power the industry of old through watermills. The River Derwent in the Peak District through Derbyshire is no exception. So follow the Derwent Valley Heritage Way the full length of the river to take a journey through time.

ladybower reservoir Derwent Valley best british trekking Pixabay royalty free image

The route starts in Ladybower, the source of the river, and finishes in Shardlow, where the river meets the River Trent. Walkers will be delighted with easy riverside walking along quiet routes with numerous points of interest.

Enjoy the Peak Railway, the Arkwright, Claudwell Mill, the prestigious Chatsworth Estate and much more. Each stop documents a different time in history charting the industrial revolution and how this changed the United Kingdom.

Thames Path, England

  • 191 miles
  • 11-15 days walking
  • Kemble to The Thames Barrier

Like the sound of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way and relaxing riverside walking? Then the almost four times longer Thames Path may pique your interest. It is one of the top routes for long distance trekking in Britain if you are looking for a relaxing and very easy riverside walk.

River Thames through london part of Thames Way Snowdonia, Wales, camping, long distance trekking in Britain Pixabay royalty free image

The River Thames needs no introduction. You might imagine a busy, muddy city river. But in fact it’s a tranquil and verdant river for much of it’s length. The Thames Path National Trail starts from the source in Kemble, where the river is just a trickle. It passes through the city of London and finishes at the impressive Thames Barrier where the river meets the sea.

The trail treats you to a mix of rural landscapes like the Chimney Meadows National Nature Reserve plus places of historic interest such as Abingdon Abbey and Hampton Court Palace. There are historic, and usually prosperous, towns and villages on the banks of the Thames with many luxurious homes along the riverfront.

Isle Of Wight Coastal Path, England

  • 71 miles
  • 4-6 days walking
  • Starting and finishing in Ryde

The Isle of Wight is a small island off the south coast of England. It is well worth a visit for its beautiful coastal scenery and laid back atmosphere. But there are also many great Isle of Wight adventures to try.

Hiking one of the best IOW activity holiday ideas image copyright of www.VisitIsleOfWight.co.uk

The IOW Coastal Path which wraps around the island is a great walking experience with a huge variety of scenery. Those interested in bird watching are in for a treat, with Peregrine Falcons, ravens, terns, warblers and chats all residing, or migrating through the island.

Scenic points of the walk include The Needles chalk stacks and the “Blue Flag” beaches at Ventnor and Sandown. The Isle of Wight is one of the warmest places in the UK and has less rainfall than the mainland. So the weather is far less ‘British’ than you would expect, making it one of the best UK treks for fair weather hikers.

South West Coast Path, England

  • 630 miles
  • Approximately 30 – 40 days walking
  • Minehead to Poole Harbour

Most walking routes are created for recreational use. However, the South West Coast Path (SWCP) was developed in the 19th Century so the coastguard could catch smugglers between lighthouses. Some old look-out huts and shelters are still standing today.

South West Coast Path is one of the best routes for long distance trekking in Britain Pixabay royalty free image Cornwall Pixabay Image

At 630 miles in length it’s longest National Trail and is maintained by the SWCP Association. The Cornish coastline hosts much of the path but it begins in Somerset and also crosses Devon and Dorset. Because of its blue skies, pristine beaches and stunning scenery the south west is frequently voted Britain’s favourite holiday destination.

However, don’t let the beautiful scenery fool you into believing that this is an easy trek. Walking the SWCP is a tricky undertaking even for experienced walkers. It has many ups and downs, with short, sharp climbs, and some long days in remote locations.

But it’s also not a walk to be missed – even if completed over several trips. In addition to sharp cliffs, and hard climbs expect pretty fishing villages, incredible fresh seafood, a strong community feel, Cornish Pasties and plenty of cream teas.

Two Moors Way, England

  • 114 miles
  • 7-10 days walking
  • Lynmouth to Wembury

The UK has quite a few ‘Coast to Coast’ routes that stretch from one side of the country to the other. But one that slips under the radar is the Two Moors Way. Overshadowed by the nearby South West Coast Path, the Two Moors Way is a walking experience with contrasting landscapes.

Dartmoor in England great for trekking Pixabay royalty free image

The route starts in the coastal town of Wembury and finishes In Lynmouth in Devon. Leaving Ivybridge you trek across the wild windswept Dartmoor. You will then hike across open agricultural countryside before walking through Exmoor National Park.

There are plenty of interesting towns and villages dotted along the route, including Hawkridge, Exmoor’s oldest and most remote village. The Two Moors Way makes for an excellent, and far quieter, alternative to the popular SW Coast Path.

Cumbria Way, England

  • 78 miles
  • 5-6 days walking
  • Ulverston to Carlisle

If a visit to the Lake District is on the cards, then the Cumbria Way is one of the best routes for long distance trekking in Britain. This 73-mile trail explores the Lake District National Park, from Ulverston to Carlisle via Keswick. The route winds its way through a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage landscape.

The trail is graced with an abundance of quintessentially English villages. There are a fine range of accommodation options and good places to eat and drink. Much of the route is on lower ground, with lakeside walking paired with stunning mountain views. Undoubtedly one of the best UK treks.

The Cumbria Way is a great option to enjoy the Lake District while avoiding the crowds on the higher peaks. Most walkers hike to the summits of Helvellyn, Scarfel Pike or other famous peaks. Meanwhile you will be on quieter trails, sheltered from the mountain weather.

Coast to Coast, England

  • 192 miles
  • 12-16 days walking
  • St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay

Wainwrights Coast to Coast walk crosses three National Parks – the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. On the way you’ll pass through some beautiful scenery and fantastic examples of British history. Highlights include the idyllic grassland valleys of Borrowdale, Grasmere and Patterdale.

UK Coast to Coast Trek one of the best treks in Europe. Image courtesy of Cloud 9 Adventure

You can stop off in quaint tea shops or enjoy the views to have packed lunch in the wilderness. It is an unofficial hiking trail, so the route is largely un-signposted. But this top British long distance trek is easy to do self-guided. There are companies offering luggage transfers if you don;t want to carry your gear.

Coast to Coast is one of the best UK treks and very popular. So you’ll run into many other people along the way and probably build some great camaraderie. A highly experienced mountain guide for Cloud 9 Adventures included Coast to Coast in her list of the best treks in Europe, so it is well worth checking out.

Cleveland Way, England

  • 111 miles
  • 5-10 days walking
  • Helmsley to Filey

The Cleveland Way is a walk of two halves. The first half is an excellent section of walking along the North Yorkshire Moors. You’ll amble through woodland, over grassy dales, and navigate through impossibly pretty heather moorland.

Cleveland way one of the best routes for long distance trekking in Britain Creative commons image by Photoeverywhere from freeimageslive.co.uk

Eventually the route leads to the coast, and you hike from the historic seaside town of Saltburn By The Sea down to Whitby – famous for its fish and chips – via the fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay. Here the best of the Yorkshire coastline opens up with sharp unforgiving cliff edges, each revealing a new view.

There are interesting towns and villages to visit along the way with some very good pubs. Overall the Cleveland Way combines the best of both worlds – excellent upland walking plus a well-trodden coastal path. Making it one of the best UK treks.

South Downs Way, England

  • 102 miles
  • 7-9 days walking
  • Winchester to Eastbourne

Trekking through the South Downs National Park is an excellent way to enjoy some downtime. This series of mostly gentle chalk hills are known as the ‘Lungs of South-East England’. It’s full of pretty towns and villages, each with their own English charm and picturesque pubs. Although if you visit them all you’ll double the distance walked!

South Downs Way one of the best UK treks in Sussex Pixabay royalty free image

While the highest point is just 270m the route is constantly up and down with over 4,100m of uphill. Despite that it’s still a relatively easy long distance trek in Britain. Walk through Bronze and Iron-Age hillforts, take in Beachy Head and the Chattri on the only National Trail to lie entirely within a National Park.

Follow the peaceful trail through corn and poppy fields and open grassland. The last section is across the iconic chalk cliffs of Beachy Head to Eastbourne. Most days are finished with a fine choice of accommodation, with some great pub food, and award winning local ales.

Snowdonia Way, Wales

  • 97 miles (122 miles mountain route)
  • 6-8 days walking (9 days mountain route)
  • Machynlleth to Conwy 

Trekking through the mountains of north Wales is an experience most hikers will love. The Snowdonia Way mainly follows easy well maintained and signposted paths in the lowlands with just a few higher crossings where necessary.

Snowdonia, Wales, camping, long distance trekking in Britain Pixabay royalty free image

However, each day also offers a higher more difficult ‘mountain route’. The mountain trail can be trekked during the summer but needs full on mountaineering gear in winter. Sign posts are few and far between so you need to be experienced at navigating, especially as at points there is no obvious path.

The beauty (excluding the views!) of the Snowdonia Way is that most days you can choose either the standard or the mountain route. So take a look at the weather, consider your energy levels and think about those high mountain views and decide which way to go. One of the top routes for long distance trekking in Britain if you are like plenty of options.

Ulster Way, Northern Ireland

  • 625 miles (408 miles on waymarked footpaths)
  • 21 to 41 days walking
  • Circular route start and end in Belfast if you wish

The Ulster Way is a great UK long distance trek which encircles Northern Ireland. It visits all six NI counties and even nips into the Republic of Ireland. The 625 mile trail includes various sections where you need to walk on roads. You can use public transport on the road sections which reduces the distance to 408 miles.

Ireland walking holidays Mourne Way one of the 15 best Irish hikes treks and walks Flickr CC Image by Thomas O'Rourke

The Ulster Way visits the Mourne Mountains, Giant’s Causeway, Cavehill and the Sperrin Mountains. Taking in stunning coasts, the best of the highlands, plenty of towns and villages plus many of the main places of interest in NI. It is without doubt one of the best UK treks.

The trail sections are well maintained and well sign-posted, but the roads are not great to walk on. Trekking the entire Ulster Way, including the roads, can be one in 41 days. If you choose not to walk the roads it reduces the Ulster Way to 21 sections, although some are up to 40 miles long so should be split.

The idea for the Ulster Way began in 1946, as a waymarked trail linking 15 youth hostels. Towards the end of the 20th century much of the trail fell into disrepair or became less walkable due to increased road traffic and problems with land access. But in 2009 work was completed to reopen the Ulster Way. It is now one of the top routes for long distance trekking in Britain.

Lands End to John O’Groats, UK

  • Around 1111 miles
  • 60-90 days walking plus rest days
  • Lands End to John O’Groats

No list of the best UK treks would be complete without the daddy of them all. There is no official route for trekking from Lands End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Caithness in the NE corner of Scotland. However, much of it can be completed away from roads and it is without doubt the ultimate UK long distance trek.

Highlands Scotland long distance trekking in Britain Pixabay royalty free image

Everyone takes a their own route to walk the length of Britain, so in theory you could end up walking much more than the above distance. Most people include sections of some of the above trails such as the South West Coast Path, Pennine Way and West Highland Way.

With at least 60 days of walking this is not a challenge to undertake lightly. It is recommended to to set off in April and complete it by the end of June. This gives you more hours of daylight, avoids the worst winter weather, has fewer midges in Scotland, and doesn’t clash with the Scottish shooting season.

We hope you found this guide to the top 18 routes for long distance trekking in Britain useful and interesting. If you want to take on one of the best UK treks then check out our United Kingdom trekking holidays.

 
 
     
     

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