Long distance paths
Whether you want a short walk or an epic challenge, long-distance paths have a lot to offer, and provide some of the best ways of exploring the stunning landscapes of the British Isles. Here's a guide to some of our favourites.
Looking for a walk? There are 15 National Trails in England and Wales, 26 Great Trails in Scotland and many paths recommended by Walk Northern Ireland. Plus there are many more long-distance walking routes which aren't designated as National Trails. So many choices, but where to start? We've listed some of the best below.
Before setting off on any of these trails you'll need sturdy shoes, comfortable clothes, water and snacks and, for some routes, map-reading skills. Go at your own pace: a very fit walker might average 20–22 miles a day, whereas some people will be more comfortable doing 10–12 miles a day. And remember, these routes can all be broken down into smaller sections for a manageable day of hiking.
See our interactive which lets you explore other long distance paths around the UK.
Wales: Ceredigion Coast Path
You’ll pass an ancient submerged forest, Aberystwyth and, near New Quay, a former home of Dylan Thomas. This is actually a manageable segment of the much longer Wales Coast Path. If you want a bigger challenge, try the full 870- mile route (not necessarily all at once).
Length 62 miles
Average time 3–5 days
Difficulty Easy: the route is mostly flat and not too challenging, but make sure you wear waterproof footwear, as part of the trail covers wetland.
Landmarks Cardigan Castle has just reopened to the public following extensive renovations. Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, on top of Constitution Hill, is one of the longest funicular railways in Britain.
Wildlife Dolphins and porpoises can be spotted swimming in Cardigan Bay, which is also a breeding spot for Atlantic grey seals. Birds Rock in New Quay is a great place to spot birds and is home to oystercatchers, cormorants, guillemots and razorbills.
Wales: Offa’s Dyke path
This substantial walk through the Welsh Marches roughly follows the English/Welsh border, crossing it 20 times and taking you through eight counties. You’ll also walk across the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Length 177 miles
Average time 12–16 days
Difficulty Despite some flat sections, the ups and downs and number of stiles add difficulty. Walking south to north clocks up an ascent of 8,500m – the height of Mount Everest.
Start Sedbury, England
End Prestatyn, Wales
Landmarks Look out for Offa’s Dyke itself, which is a bank and ditch, hand-dug in the eighth century at the command of King Offa. It probably acted as a barrier between his kingdom of Mercia and territories of rival leaders in what is now Wales.
Scotland: Great Glen Way
Chris Booth / Via Flickr
A variety of pace and views make this a real adventure. Starting by Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles, you’ll end up at Inverness Castle, where you can explore the manicured grounds. Spot illicit wooden whisky stills, manmade caves, waterfalls and the sole island of Loch Ness along the way.
Length 79 miles
Average time 5–6 days
Difficulty Moderate: mostly low-level towpaths and woodland trails, but there are some challenging sections. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can choose to climb the Munros or Corbetts too.
Start Fort William
End Inverness Castle
Landmarks Inverlochy Castle, built in 1280, is one of Scotland’s first stone castles. During renovations, a walled-up human skeleton was uncovered here. Wildlife You may encounter red deer, wild boar and Scottish wildcats, as well as countless species of bird, including black grouse, buzzards, merlins, kestrels, woodpeckers and osprey.
England: Hadrian’s Wall
Spanning the far north of England with stunning views of Northumberland and Cumbria, Hadrian’s Wall is a historically interesting hike. The wall itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are chances to stop and examine Roman archaeology.
Length 84 miles
Average time 5–8 days
Difficulty Moderate: there are many short climbs and descents on grassy paths, but the route is clearly marked and the first few miles are on tarmac.
Start Wallsend, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
End Bowness-on-Solway, Cumbria
Landmarks Roman forts, including Segedunum, Chesters, Housesteads and Birdoswald. Look out for Sycamore Gap (made famous by Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), where a large tree sits in a dip forged by the flow of ancient meltwater.
Wildlife Deer, red squirrels and sparrowhawks. The route ends by the wildfowl-rich Solway salt marshes. Seals and dolphins frolic offshore here too.
England: Grand Union Canal
Created between 1894 and 1929 when existing canals were merged, the Grand Union passes west London, rural Slough and Warwickshire, ending in Birmingham’s suburbs. Stop at the Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne to find out more.
Length 147 miles
Average time 6–7 days
Difficulty Easy: the route is flat and mostly paved. It passes through many towns, providing refreshment options.
Start Paddington, London
End Gas Street Basin, Birmingham Landmarks Blisworth Tunnel, at 2.8km, is Britain’s third-longest canal tunnel.
Wildlife Birds galore at Tring Reservoirs.
Ulster/Ireland: Ireland section of International Appalachian Trail
The Ulster–Ireland section of the International Appalachian Trail was developed in 2014. It starts in the province of Ulster, crosses Donegal’s Blue Stack Mountains and then enters Northern Ireland, where the path takes you along the Giant’s Causeway, the north coast and the Glens of Antrim. The route is divided into 10 segments; doing one or a combination of two or three could be a good option if a 12-day trek is a bit intimidating.
Length 280 miles
Average time 11–18 days
Difficulty Challenging: expect obstacles and there is not always a formal path, so map-reading skills are essential. There are also a number of steep slopes, some without steps, and peaty ground in places.
Start Bunglas, Donegal, ROI
End Glenarm, Antrim, NI
Landmarks There are amazing views from the Antrim Glens; on a clear day, you can see across the sea to Scotland.
Wildlife Look out for brown trout, salmon, eels and lamprey in the streams of the Sperrin Mountains. Glenarm Nature Reserve is home to many birds, including the kingfisher, grasshopper warbler and spotted flycatcher.
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Tim Kington and Jacob Thrall, experts at Cotswold Outdoor, advise us: “When choosing a pair of walking boots, the first thing to bear in mind is the terrain you expect to go into, as boots are made with a specific environment in mind.
Everything from the stiffness of the sole or height of the ankle is designed for the demands you will face.
Next, make sure they fit. Here, shape matters as much as size. While you’re getting fitted, check out socks, too. The right socks – with perfect padding, insulation, wicking and elasticity – make a big difference to the feel of your boots.”