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Hiking has got to be one of the most immersive ways to explore our wild landscapes. The simple act of slinging on a backpack and stepping one foot after the other is the ideal way to challenge ourselves, experience new environments and discover ancient history. When we look at long distance trails, iconic far off routes like the Camino de Santiago, the Pacific Crest Trail or the Inca Trail might be among the first to spring to mind; but here in the UK we have our own plethora of incredible hiking routes to chose from, with a huge variety of landscapes and historical sites along the way.
Whether you opt to wild camp, stay in campsites, seek out bothies, or stick to hostels and B&Bs, there are plenty of options to choose from across all corners of the British Isles. With our friends at komoot, below we take a look at six of the best long distance multi-day hiking trails in the UK. We’ve included a route overview for each along with the full embedded route information through which you can download the GPX files and take them on yourself.
West Highland Way
Scotland’s Most Iconic Long Distance Trail
96 miles / 6-8 days
From the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William in the heart of the Highlands, the rugged West Highland Way is not only Scotland’s first long distance trail but also arguably its most iconic.
96 miles long, the route explores some of Scotland’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. From the tranquil water side trails of Loch Lomond, through ancient woodland, along crystal clear rivers, lonely moorland, serene glens and epic towering mountains. These lands are rich with wildlife, including golden eagles, peregrine falcons, wild goats, and red deer.
The Scottish Highlands are home to the biggest, wildest landscapes on the British Isles so what better way to experience them than by hiking right its epicentre? You’ll also have the opportunity to sleep in some of the finest wild-camping spots too.
Most people opt to walk the route from south to north, but it could be done in either direction. In 2017 Rob Sinclair completed the West Highland Way in an impressive 13 hours 41 mins setting the fastest known time on the route. To really enjoy this route though you’ll want to take your time, with most people hikers finishing the route in six to eight days.
Two Moors Way
Devon’s Wild Coast-to-Coast
112 miles / 6-8 days
Across two national parks, the Two Moors Way is an epic coast-to-coast hike across Devon with wild moorlands, ancient woodlands, prehistoric sites, and breathtaking coastal scenery at both ends.
Travelling 112 miles from the National Trust coastline of Wembury, across the heart of Devon – England’s largest county – through Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks to finish on the high cliffs of Lynton on Devon’s untamed north coast.
You can expect incredible variety along the way, from the sheltered golden coastline on the south coast to the exposed barren landscapes of Dartmoor, steeped in history with the highest concentration of Bronze Age sites in Britain.
The Cotswold Way
History, Tradition and Beauty
103 miles /6-8 days
Quintessentially English, The Cotswold Way cuts a line through the stunning countryside, magical woodlands and ancient villages of one of England’s most picturesque regions.
Starting in the classic market town of Chipping Campden. The route passes through ancient commons in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Neolithic burial barrows, and historic battle sites with ever-changing views across rolling countryside towards the River Severn and the Malvern Hills. The trail finishes 103 miles later in the World Heritage City of Bath with a plethora of iconic Roman historical sites.
The most easily accessible of the trails in this list, The Cotswold Way is very well marked making following the route pretty straight forward. It’s also far less isolated than some of the others meaning anyone who is reasonably fit can take it on.
The Pennine Way
England’s Ultimate Long Distance Trail
280 miles / 15-20 days
Following the spine of England, The Pennine Way is an epic long-distance trail that explores the wildest and most spectacular scenery the country has to offer.
More than just a means to walk a long way, as the first of England’s National Trails, the Pennine Way is a route of upmost historical significance, paving the way for public access to some of England’s wildest landscapes, exploring a region famed for harsh weather conditions and isolated hill tops.
From the Peak District, the Pennine Way follows England’s rocky spine through the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines and over Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland to the Cheviot Hills –which on a good day will provide views reaching as far as Edinburgh – ending in the Scottish Borders in Kirk Yetholm.
The Beacons Way
The Emerald Spine of South Wales
99 miles / 7-10 days
Crossing the three major ranges that make up the Brecon Beacons National Park, this route is known for its big open spaces, and epic night skies.
Starting in Abergavenny, the Brecons Way travels east to west almost 100 miles across some of the UK’s wildest and most remote landscapes ending in the village of Llangadog.
On the Brecons Way, you’ll experience a huge diversity of landscapes, passing historical villages, castles and canals as well as summits with far reaching views, vast moorland and stunning waterfalls and serene reservoirs. You’ll also be travelling above large and complex cave systems including the deepest in the UK and longest in Wales.
This is a particularly good route for spotting birds of prey with red kites, buzzards, kestrels, peregrine falcons all likely to be spotted overhead.
The South West Coast Path
The UK’s Longest Trail
631 miles / 49-56 days
There’s no better way to discover the epic coastlines of Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset than by hiking the South West Coast Path (SWCP).
Although this path follows the coast the entire way, you can expect massively varied landscapes, from huge cliffs, to sheltered pebbled coves, long white sand beaches to tiny fishing villages.
There’s a huge amount of history along the SWCP too with its origins as a coastguard patrol trail to counter smuggling. Today it winds through a number of areas of particular interest, including several National Nature Reserves and Heritage Coasts, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, two World Heritage Sites, a UNESCO designated Biosphere reserve and a Geopark and one National Park.
Unless you’ve got a really solid block of time available or perhaps are trying to bag an FKT, this one is probably best broken up and with easy access from towns and villages along the way, how you choose to approach this hiking path is totally up to you.
While the routes above all vary somewhat in distance and terrain making for a range of different challenges, for all of them, whether you set out to complete the route in its entirety or just a small section you’ll need to make sure you’re adequately prepared. That means packing suitable clothing, not just for the conditions at the time, but for worst case scenario should the weather take an unpredictable turn. You’ll need a map, compass, first aid kit, food and a head torch as standard. You’ll find a range of accommodation options available on each of the trails but it’s always worth doing your research to understanding local camping laws and to book campsites or rooms in pubs, hostels or B&Bs in advance if needed.
There are of course many more hiking trails across England, Wales and Scotland. What’s your favourite? Perhaps it’s one we haven’t included – we’d love to hear your experiences and perhaps what you have planned. Let us know in the comments below.
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