England has a rich and varied landscape, making it ripe for exploration on foot. Rolling meadows, ancient woodlands and verdant fells combine with dramatic coastlines, dismantled railways and even the odd snow-capped mountain to offer a range of fantastic walking routes for all ages and abilities. We've picked some of our favourites from around the country below.
The Chilterns offers plenty of opportunities for walking, from hills to riverside paths to woodland. The Chiltern Way (220 miles) offers a circular route around the region, comprising an original 134-mile route, a northern extension, a southern extension and a Berkshire Loop. If you prefer your walks to be riverside affairs, you could try part of the Thames Path, which in total is a 184-mile walk between its source in the Cotswolds and the Thames Barrier. Or you can follow the Ridgeway, an ancient trackway described as Britain’s oldest road, which forms part of the Icknield Way, an ancient trading route from Norfolk to Dorset. The route was adapted and extended as a national trail in 1972.
Walking in the Chiltern Hills © mikecphoto, Shutterstock
Recommended Walk: Dunstable Downs to Whipsnade
Starting at the corner of the Chilterns Gateway Centre, this walk combines the extensive views from Dunstable Downs including the Whipsnade White Lion, with the small village of Whipsnade and its unusual tree cathedral. Refreshments are available at the Old Hunters Lodge pub at the halfway point, or at the Chilterns Gateway Centre. It also includes part of the ancient Icknield Way, said to be the oldest road in Britain.
It’s as if the Cotswolds were made for walking, with the option to admire the views from the hills or stick to the riverside paths in the valleys. And for solitude, there are plenty of hidden valleys and wide expanses of hilltops to escape the crowds. The Cotswolds has eight Walkers are Welcome towns, which means each has joined a national initiative to ensure their locales are attractive for walking, offering information on nearby walks and keeping footpaths and signposts well maintained. You’ll find many pubs and cafés bearing the Walkers are Welcome window sticker: feel confident that they will not mind your muddy boots and wet-weather gear.
Walking holidays are a huge draw to the Cotswolds © Garry Johnson
Recommended walk: Leach Valley
For an appealingly tranquil village-tovillage walk along country lanes and riverside footpaths, take a circular amble from the Eastleaches via Fyfield to the equally idyllic village of Southrop, where you can stop for something to eat at the Swan Inn. The valley here is at its quietest and arguably most scenic; by spending even a rewarding hour or two, you can get to grips with the rural aspect of the Leach.
Dartmoor has always attracted creative people; perhaps it’s to do with all that space and wildness. Some imagine walks on Dartmoor to include waist-deep bogs negotiated in driving rain, and being lost for days in landmark-obscuring mists. But you'll be excessively pleased by the reality – strolls along tumbling brooks, walks through bluebell woods, striding out along a disused railway with the knowledge that it won’t suddenly take me up an energy-draining hill, and grassy paths up to tors with a 360-degree view.
You're likely to encounter the Dartmoor pony during walks on this vast landscape © Visit Dartmoor
Recommended walk: Fingle Bridge and the Teign gorge
This 3½-mile ‘circular’ (oblong really) is one of the most popular walks on Dartmoor, takes you from the picturesque Fingle Bridge, south of Drewsteignton, along the Fisherman’s Path which hugs the north side of the River Teign, passing through deciduous woodland and mossy rocks, and returning along the higher Hunter’s Path beneath Castle Drogo.
Dorset’s varied countryside and coastline provide excellent opportunities for walking. The standout piece in Dorset’s repertoire is the hugely popular South West Coast Path, which combines heritage, flora, fauna, geology and spectacular coastal scenery. The UK’s longest national trail, it runs for 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset’s east, tracing the coastlines of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset on the way. The Dorset section offers some of the most spectacular seaside scenery and the path provides access to the entire length of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, which runs from east Devon to Old Harry Rocks, off Studland.
The Jurassic Coast is home to some of the UK's most spectacular scenery © John, Shutterstock
Recommended walk: Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door
One of the most rewarding walks is the section between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, two of the most spectacular features within the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Durdle Door, a near perfect coastal arch of limestone rock, lies half a mile to the west of Lulworth Cove. The walk involves some moderately steep climbs along a remarkably well-preserved and photogenic section of coast.
Norfolk abounds with walking potential, from linear coastal strolls to circular walks through forest and open farmland. The going is mostly easy and so walkers just need to decide how far they are prepared to walk if attempting a route. Any obstacles, such as they are, are limited to nuisances like overgrown nettles, hungry mosquitoes, obstructing herds of cows or the occasional recalcitrant bull. Otherwise, it’s ideal, especially when a walk takes in a country pub and/or an interesting village church to explore en route.
Berney Arms windmill © David Street, Greater Yarmouth Tourism
Recommended walk: Berney Arms
From Berney Arms station, head along the Wherryman's Way to the Berney Arms, Norfolk's most isolated pub. From here, the Wherryman's Way continues south all the way to Great Yarmouth along the north shore of Breydon Water, a large tidal estuary, wonderful for birdwatchers and a great place to walk, although it is quite an austere landscape, especially at low tide when glistening grey mud stretches to the skyline.
Home to vast sections of Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland is renowned for its walks and teeming with scenic options. Naturally, the most popular routes tackle various stretches of the Wall itself, yet the region has a number of notable alternative options that include the Northumberland Coast Path and St Cuthbert's Way.
Most walkers are drawn to Northumberland for its stretches of Hadrian's Wall © duchy, Shutterstock
Recommended walk: The Hadrian's Wall Path
The 84-mile long-distance trail from Bowness-on-Solway on the Cumbrian coast to Wallsend, east of Newcastle city centre, is fully accessible to walkers and is well signposted. What many visitors would call ‘the best bit’ is the well-preserved central section of Wall that largely falls within Northumberland National Park, roughly between Chollerford and Greenhead. This stretch of grassy, welltrodden path rollercoasters for 12 spectacular, thigh-busting miles, holding the Wall to the sky and out of the reach of builders of past centuries. Though the Wall and path stay within view of the military road, it doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the landscape: all Wall, basalt and grassland with plunging views of inky lakes and distant plantation forests.
The Peak District
There’s no better way to see the Peak District than on foot. Many of the scenic dales have no roads running through them, while the open moorland often stretches out far beyond the nearest highway or lane. The same goes for most of the magnificent ridge and edge walks across the Peak District. The dismantled railways offer flat easy walking with great views and are well facilitated with car parks, kiosks offering snacks and drinks, and picnic benches along the way. It may be slightly more demanding, but you can make the dismantled railway walks more interesting by climbing the stiles on to the uplands.
There's no better way to explore the Peak District than on foot © David Hughes, Shutterstock
Recommended walk: the Longdendale Trail
The Longdendale Trail forms part of the Trans Pennine Trail that runs from Liverpool to Hull. This section follows the line of the dismantled railway from Hadfield to Woodhead Tunnel (closed off). It’s superb for ramblers, offering various access points along the trail leading up on to the moorland or down to the reservoirs, making for interesting circular walks. Come on a sunny, windless day when the reservoirs sparkle blue in the sunlight and the moors rise up in shades of greens and browns. With the five reservoirs spreading out along the valley floor – Bottoms, Valehouse, Rhodeswood, Torside and Woodhead – Longdendale is one of the most scenic dismantled railway trails in the Peak District.
Shropshire is a wanderer’s dream; you can spend hours traversing hills, forests, valleys and bogs without encountering any traffic. Sometimes you won’t see another human being. Several major walking routes pass through Shropshire (including two sections of the Offa’s Dyke Path), while the Shropshire Way – a huge project to link walkers’ favourite routes and scenery – offers waymarked footpaths which cross the length and breadth of the county. The county has ten Walkers are Welcome towns, which means each has joined a national initiative to ensure their locales are attractive for walking, offering information on nearby walks and keeping footpaths and signposts well maintained. You’ll find many pubs and cafés bearing the Walkers are Welcome window sticker: feel confident they’ll not mind your muddy boots and wet-weather gear.
The Wrekin is known as Shropshire's 'little mountain' © Christopher Elwell, Shutterstock
Recommended walk: ascending the Wrekin
It’s no Ben Nevis, but the Wrekin – or ‘little mountain’ – symbolises home to many people who live in Shropshire. According to local tradition, you may only consider yourself a true Salopian once you’ve passed through the cleft in Needle’s Eye, an outcrop of rock near the summit.
Suffolk abounds with walking potential, from windswept coastal strolls to circular walks through forest and open farmland. Walking in Suffolk is rarely very demanding thanks to the reasonably flat topography. The going is mostly easy and so walkers just need to decide how far they are prepared to walk if attempting a route. Any obstacles, such as they are, are limited to nuisances like overgrown nettles, hungry mosquitoes, obstructing herds of cows or the occasional cropped field that bears no trace of the footpath. Otherwise, it’s ideal, especially when a walk takes in a country pub and/or an interesting village church to explore en route.
Walkers enjoying the 60 mile idyllic route of The Stour Valley Path © dedhamvalestourvalley.org
Recommended walk: The Suffolk Way
For those who enjoy long distance walks, the longest of all is the Suffolk Way, a 113-mile route that begins at Flatford and crosses central Suffolk to finish at Lowestoft. You can always sit back and take a break at one of the country pubs along the way.
Sussex and the South Downs are extraordinarily rich in good walks – author Tim Locke has written numerous walking guides in the past, and this area really stands out for walks worth travelling across the country to do. Somehow the excellent rights-of-way network and diversity of the scenery, and a good smattering of viewpoints and manmade and natural places to discover, all combine to make this high-quality walking terrain.
The Seven Sisters © Honourableandbold, Dreamstime.com
Recommended walk: Beachy Head & the Seven Sisters
Plenty of permutations exist here, from easy saunters lasting half an hour to more demanding explorations taking most of the day. Getting lost is not a problem, except in Friston Forest, where you’ll certainly need to follow an OS map.
The scope for exploring on foot in the Dales is extensive, from the three official long-distance paths that pass through the region, the Ribble Way, Pennine Way and Dales Way, to the scores of shorter rambles and ambles you’ll find described in leaflets which you can pick up at national park and tourist information centres. The best-known route to traverse is the Three Peaks, an unofficial 24-mile challenge of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent. Or, for a more secluded ramble, head up onto some of the emptier fells for spectacular views and scenery.
Every year, Richmond hosts a walking and book festival for avid ramblers and readers © Richmond Walking & Book Festival
Recommended walk: The ascent of Great Whernside
This impressive fell (not to be confused with Whernside) rivals the Three Peaks for altitude but has far fewer visiting walkers. The outward route begins in Kettlewell, touring the whole length of the village before heading straight up the slope to the summit. Once there, you will have earned the next flat mile of ridge walk north, with glorious views of Nidderdale to your right and Wharfedale to the left (weather permitting). After a steep descent to Tor Dike the return route is an historic one along ancient bridleways.
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