For such a small country, the UK’s rich variety offers unlimited opportunities for hiking, from the mountains of Scotland to the southern coastline. From easy walks to extreme trekking, there’s something for everyone, and it’s free, it’s fun and a great way to keep fit and enjoy the great outdoors at the same time. Some of the most spectacular countryside and some of its greatest views are only accessible by hiking, and each season has something different to offer, from colourful spring blossoms to the magical snow scenes of winter. Here are a few of the best places in the country to put on your hiking boots…
The Lake District
The Lake District is rightly feted for its beautiful trekking. There’s something for all levels of fitness here, from the greenest novice to the most experienced hiker, and it’s great for families too. The walk to Easedale Tarn is ideal for those with a bit of walking experience but who are new to mountain terrain, and want to try a bit of both. Although this area is isolated, it is within easy reach of the village and gives a real experience of the mountains and some fantastic views without having to resort to extreme hiking. There are 4.5 miles of mostly straightforward walking and then a steep climb to Easedale Tarn. Along the route to the tarn is a Wordsworth memorial and some textbook examples of dry stone walling – and look out for an incongruously-sited monkey puzzle tree. The proximity to the village means you can reward yourself with a pint afterward – or put back on all those calories you lost with a cream tea.
The Striding Edge walk is one for those who want to live more on the, er, edge. A notoriously dangerous walk, it leads from Red Tarn to the summit of Helvellyn, one of the Lake District’s most popular peaks. The narrow, winding path with steep ground on both sides means you need boots with a strong grip, along with a strong heart. This is not one for wimps or those with a fear of heights, but you are rewarded with stunning views along with a real sense of achievement. Other highlights in the Lake District, according to Rod Boothroyd from Lake District Guides, include Blea Tarn and Wansfell.
The Peak District
The Peak District attracts less attention than its Lake District cousin, but has some equally spectacular hiking, from riverside paths to exposed moorland, and from leisurely strolls to the Pennine Way. The walk up to Lantern Pike, at just over four miles, begins with a tree-lined path, passing through the Pennine Bridleway and then a stony path to the summit. The stunning vista that awaits at the top takes in Hayfield, a patchwork of countryside and heather moorland on the slopes of Kinder Scout. On the descent the path goes through fields of Highland cattle (more friendly than they look), towards Little Hayfield, where you may well be tempted by the Lantern Pike Inn.
Another trek of note is Dove Dale and Bunster Hill, at 8.5 miles, which takes in a spectacular limestone gorge and Thorpe Cloud, a former reef knoll that grew from the sea bed over 300 million years ago.
Glastonbury has become famous for a certain music festival, but it’s not all about the music here. For those with a penchant for paganism and wizardry, this is one of the most mystical and spiritual places in the country, and is considered a sacred site where many ley lines meet and diverge. Here it is easy to feel as though you are in another world altogether. A mix of Christian and pagan heritage, Glastonbury’s abbey used to be one of the wealthiest abbeys in England (pay it a visit before or after your walk). For an easy, leisurely 2.5 mile trek, you can take a path to the top of Glastonbury Tor and its medieval tower. The tor used to be an island in a lake of the Somerset Levels, and is beautiful and isolated, with views across the Mendips and the Quantocks. Forget the crowds at Stonehenge and come here for some true solitude.
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England has some dramatic coastline (over 5000 miles of it) and some equally dramatic coastline treks, such as around Pembrokeshire in Wales and Durdle Door in Dorset- but one of the most spectacular has to be the coastal path around the famous white cliffs of Dover in Kent. From Langdon Cliff to the South Foreland Lighthouse is four miles, with some uneven ground and steep slopes- beware of the cliff edge! For those with an interest in flora and fauna, there’s an abundance of plants and wildlife, such as spider orchids in the spring, and you can also hike past the remains of a military prison. The South Foreland Lighthouse was the first electrically lit lighthouse and the site of the first international radio broadcast to France, and is now a National Trust property. The views across the English Channel and to the French coast are unsurpassed. Faced with the vast expanse of sea and coastline, you feel like a tiny pinprick against the might of the forces of nature.
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Built in 122 AD to ‘separate Romans from Barbarians’, the marvel of ancient engineering that is Hadrian’s Wall originally ran for 73 miles from Wallsend near Newcastle in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria to the west. It was eight feet wide and 12 feet high, with 16 Roman forts built along its route. The wall today offers a range of walks to suit all ages and abilities. The 84-mile National Trail runs from Tyneside to Cumbrian countryside to the marshes of the Solway Estuary, via the cities of Newcastle and Carlisle. The trail links to over 80 shorter walks, including accessible routes. This landscape is like going back in time, and for a bit of history and education along with your trekking, this one’s hard to beat.
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Coast to Coast
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, longer treks include the Coast to Coast walk from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, which is nearly 200 miles and takes in three national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors. The brainchild of Alfred Wainwright, and recently televised by Julia Bradbury, this is not only considered one of the best treks in the country, but regularly features on lists of the best treks in the world. And then there’s the South West Coast path, which runs from Somerset to Dorset, taking in towns, beaches and dramatic countryside. For those who want the ultimate challenge, this 630-mile trek should do it.