There’s something about the idea of a journey that is endlessly exciting. When you combine a journey with a holiday, it’s even more appealing. With various restrictions on overseas travel and socialising with friends there’s never been a better time to get away from it all and explore the wonders that the UK countryside has to offer.
From coasts to crags, mountains to moors, this country has a wealth of spectacular scenery to explore – and going by foot, at your own pace, allows you to discover some of the UK’s best kept secrets. In our current climate it makes sense to avoid the heaving tourist traps and head somewhere a little more off the beaten track – so with that in mind, here are five lesser known, but inspiring ideas, to get those walking shoes on.
1. Northumberland Coast Path, England
Northumberland may not be as well known for its beauty as the Lake District or the Yorkshire Moors, but this county boasts some of the most dramatically beautiful scenery in all of England. If you like being by the coast and have at least six days to spare, walking the Northumberland Coast Path will be a wonderful adventure. Beginning in the village of Creswell, this 72-mile trek takes you up to Berwick-on-Tweed on the Scottish border. On the way you’ll pass sweeping beaches, historic fishing villages, ancient castles, craggy cliffs and secluded coves. This region is steeped in history: human activity has been documented here as far back as 7,000 years ago, and the route will take you past some of the UK’s most splendid castles.
From Creswell, head north to the picturesque coastal village of Alnmouth, stopping off to visit the well-preserved medieval castle of Warkworth (you currently need to book your visit in advance). The route then takes you to Craster (famous for being the home of smoked kipper), where you’re in easy reach (4 miles) of Dunstanburgh Castle – again, you’ll need to book your visit in advance. You’ll then get to the popular harbour town of Seahouses, which is the gateway to the Farne Islands; one of the best places to see puffins and seals in the UK. The islands are currently closed, but you can still book boat tours and spot wildlife from the sea.
Though the scenery along the Northumberland Coast Path is dramatic, the route is pretty much level, with few steep climbs. If you want to take time to thoroughly explore this area, you might want to give yourself 10 days to complete the trek. This will give you plenty of time to visit the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which became a centre for Christian learning and a popular place of pilgrimage. You can browse accommodation along the route here, and download an official Northumberland Coast Path Guidebook here. The guidebook is an essential companion for the trek, and is packed with information about the route and places to see along the way.
2. Glyndŵr’s Way, Wales
Mid-Wales is one of the most sparsely populated areas of the UK, so if you really want to feel like you’re getting away from it all, walking the length of Glyndŵr’s Way might be the perfect break for you. This 135-mile trek allows you to follow in the footsteps of Owain Glyndŵr, the legendary Welsh leader who led a successful rebellion against the English in 1400. You’ll walk through a beautiful and diverse range of scenery and terrain on this route – from lush valleys, ancient woodland and wild, open moorland, this peaceful trail has it all. To properly explore this unspoilt region, it’s a good idea to allow at least nine days.
The route begins in Knighton on the Welsh/English border, and follows a horseshoe line through the secluded countryside of the Radnorshire Hills. You’ll pass through Llanidloes, a historic market town that’s popular with hikers. With plenty of excellent restaurants and shops and cosy places to stay, it’s a lovely place to spend the night. You’ll then hike past the stunning Clywedog Reservoir, where you can enjoy some sailing and bird-watching (the visitor centre is open). If you take a slight detour from the trail you can climb Foel Fadian hill, where after a 1,530ft climb you’ll be rewarded by sensational views of Snowdonia to the north, and Cardigan Bay to the west.
The route then takes you past moorland and lakes before hitting Machynlleth, where Glyndŵr held Wales’ first Parliament. This is a great place to learn more about Welsh history, and while you’re here, you may want to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology, an eco-centre that inspires and informs people about sustainable development. Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can walk Glyndŵr’s Way, although you should be aware that it is very hilly, and there are often multiple ascents a day. Because the route crosses the countryside, it can sometimes be a little rough, (though as a National Trail, the path is well marked), so sturdy walking boots are a must. Part of the appeal of this trail is its remoteness, but this should be considered when making your plans and carrying provisions. You can find out more about planning this walk here.
3. Speyside Way, Scotland
Just like certain regions of Wales, much of Scotland remains wild and under-explored, and it makes another ideal destination for an inspiring walking holiday. Speyside Way is a leisurely walk through the eastern highlands of Scotland, and the 65-mile route takes you past ancient pine forests, mysterious lochs, and the dramatic mountains of The Cairngorms, Britain’s largest National Park. For whisky fans, this route has another perk – the fact that it takes you deep into Scotland’s Malt Whisky country, where there are more malt whisky distilleries than anywhere else in the world. Six nights is usually enough to complete the trail, but it’s sensible to add on a few more days if you want to try all the fabulous food and drink this region has to offer.
The Speyside Way trail begins in the town of Aviemore, which is popular with travellers due to its proximity to the mountain trails, lochs and forests of the Cairngorms National Parks – though once you leave, things get far more remote. You could always spend a few days in Aviemore before walking to the next town, Grantown-on-Spey. This is a long stretch of the trail (17 miles), and while it’s across easy terrain, you might want to stop for a night in between, either at Nethy Bridge or Boat of Garten (the latter has an excellent golf course, if that helps you decide!). The route is easy to stick to, as you’re mainly following a disused railway line that winds its way past pine forests, through farmland, and over gentle hills. As you head north from Grantown, you’ll reach the splendid Ballindalloch Castle, which has its own distillery – or you can visit some nearby distilleries like Glenlivet or Macallan, where you can enjoy a tour and some tastings.
If you haven’t had your fill of whisky yet, there’s good news: the next stops are Craigellachie and Dufftown, from where you can walk to the Glenfiddich distillery, where one of the world’s most famous malt whiskies is made. The next part of the walk is through forest and down a tough tarmac road, but you can rest your tired feet once you arrive in the charming village of Fochabers. This is the home of the famous Baxters food brand, so if you’re a fan of their jams and biscuits, be sure to stop at the visitor centre, which has shops and villages. As you continue to your final stop, the small fishing town of Buckie, keep an eye out for dolphins and seals, particularly at the point where the River Spey meets the Moray Firth. You can view accommodation options along the Speyside Way here, and find out more about planning your Scottish walking holiday here.
4. The Pilgrim’s Walk, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is famed for its dramatic natural beauty, and one of the best ways to explore this is by walking the newly launched hiking trail, Saint Patrick’s Way. Also known as ‘The Pilgrim’s Walk’, this is an 82-mile walking trail between the towns of Armagh and Downpatrick that takes you past spectacular scenery as you make ten different stops. The Pilgrim’s Walk is a great way to discover the diversity of the Northern Irish landscape. You’ll walk through rolling coastal farmland and over towering mountains, and visit medieval castles, bustling towns, and state-of-the-art visitor centres. The trail usually takes between six to 10 days depending on your pace, and is a relatively gentle long distance trail.
Beginning in the county town of Armagh, you’ll pass through lakes and forests as you head south towards Scarva, a town with award-winning floral displays and pretty canal paths. Then you’ll follow the canal towpath to Newry, where you can take advantage of the good restaurants, bars and shops. Things become much more remote once you leave Newry, as the route then takes you through the midst of the awe-inspiring Mourne Mountains, and through the quiet mystery of Tollymore Forest Park. The penultimate section of the trail leads past the seaside town of Newcastle, through the wild country of Murlough Bay Nature Reserve, and along the stunning sand dunes of Tyrella Beach. You’ll finish in the rural village of Downpatrick, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried.
While this walk follows in the footsteps of Ireland’s patron saint, you don’t have to be Catholic, or even religious, to find meaning on this route. You’ll experience peaceful solitude along the quiet stretches of the trail, but should you get the urge to experience some hospitality or see a friendly face, a warm welcome awaits in the region’s many excellent pubs. To make the walking experience that bit more fun, you can pick up a ‘Pilgrim Passport’ at the start and get it stamped at each of the 10 locations. When you finish, you can collect a completion certificate from the St Patrick Centre. You can find out more about The Pilgrims Walk accommodation options and discover places to eat by reading this helpful guide.
5. Shropshire Hills, England
If you don’t have much time on your hands – or you just fancy a short break – why not think about heading to England’s Shropshire Hills? This region is perfect for people who like climbing hills and admiring views, and though there are plenty of summits here, the trails aren’t too strenuous and can be completed in two to four days, depending on your pace.
As you explore one of England’s quietest counties you’ll amble over heather-covered hills, through ancient woodlands, past rivers and down valleys, and get to explore iron age forts and picturesque rural villages. You can spot wild ponies and circling buzzards as you trek through thick heath and moorland, and while it does feel like you’re way off the beaten track, all the trails are well marked, so you don’t have to worry about losing your way – only enjoying the scenery.
One of the best routes here will take you in a loop from the historic market town of Church Stretton through the village of Bishops Castle, and there are plenty of gorgeous stops along the way. You can admire picture-postcard views from the top of Caer Caradoc hill and the rocky Stiperstones, and trekking up Long Mynd plateau will be well worth it once you reach the summit and see the panorama unfold beneath you. You can find help with planning a route through the Shropshire Hills here, and see local accommodation options here.
It’s no secret that walking can be hugely beneficial for the mind as well as the body. There are many different types of walk to enjoy, but there is something particularly energising about heading off on a walking holiday. While some of these trips stop off at lively towns and villages, it’s entirely possible to plan for a more isolated walking holiday, one where you don’t have to worry about social distancing. Should you wish to do this, it’s best to book accommodation in quiet B&Bs or cottages in more rural locations.
Because walking helps boost your mood and alleviate stress, a walking holiday can be a wonderful way to find respite from the stresses of our everyday lives and the current climate. On foot, we can travel to some of the most secluded and spectacular parts of the country, and experience things you might miss by car. Plus, the fact that we’re improving our health and fitness while discovering some of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of the country is just an added bonus.
Have you been on a walking holiday before – or are you now thinking about planning one? We’d love to hear about your rambling adventures! You can join the conversation on the Rest Less Community or leave us a comment below.