Stretch those legs!
If there’s one thing the British know how to do, it’s take a hike. The pastime’s influence pervades the work of England’s seminal Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Keats; Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was partially born out of her rambles in the husky, untamed Yorkshire Moors and no shortage of material has sprung from the dynamic Welsh, Scottish and Irish landscapes. However, you don’t need prodigious literary credentials in order to appreciate these walks. Just a waterproof. And shoes that can take a beating. Here are some of the most quaint, refreshing and gobsmacking to get to while the sun’s still… never mind.
1. Snowdon (Watkin Path), Snowdonia
Heralding Britain’s first designated public footpath, the tallest mountain in Wales should be a rite of passage for any avid walker. The Watkin Path takes visitors though a highlight reel of the national park’s most gorgeous vistas, beginning with hearty woodland that breaks out into panoramic valleys, with those iconic pyramidal peaks looming in the background. The middle portion of the trail is lined with slate and the enigmatic remnants of a mine and other structures, along with a rushing stream that descends in waterfall fragments and clear pools. The last leg of the ascension is steep, taking you into atmospheric heights and a truly sweeping view of the range. Expect pit stops in abundance though, as this can take around six hours to the summit and back for the average hiker.
2. Cumbria Way, Lake District
Beginning in the cobbled market town of Ulverston, this varied walk showcases many of the characteristic features of the region that make it one of Britain’s favourite get-away spots. The Way will see you traversing across crooked becks, along wide lake bodies, though woods and, naturally, up some pretty coarse terrain. Being the Lake District, the landscape is marked by rugged mountainous features and sprawling spaces, the perfect antidote for home-office angst. Those needing a full urban detox can make the most out of the official route which spans a slightly intimidating 72.5 miles from Ulverston to the city of Carlisle, a stone’s throw away from the Scottish Border. Thankfully there are a number of towns and villages – Coniston, Keswick and Caldbeck – to punctuate the journey and replenish your spirits. Bringing a map is advisable, as the waymarking is not too generous.
3. Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
To visit Edinburgh and not consider this hilly climb would be an insult to the Scots. Rising above the city in a mass of lavish green, this long dormant but nonetheless invigorating volcano site transcends the urban sprawl into the heights of an ancient Scotland. While the name is of ambiguous origin, it is known to have erupted 340 million years ago at a time when the country was close to the equator, giving it its striking topography. As a result, the area has major geological significance, particularly by association with the ground breaking (literally) James Hutton who used its rocks to uncover Earth’s vast timeline. However, the hillfort ruins at its summit also imbue it with an intriguing heritage. Approachable from many sides, generally with an initial gentle incline, this trek should appease both the hobbyist walker and anybody still standing after making it through the gauntlet of trendy bars in Scotland’s capital.
4. Worm’s Head, Gower
Wales has no shortage of fine beaches. Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsula, however, is easy to recommend for the initial high vantage cliff point which provides both a staggering sense of scale for the beach and, more uniquely, a snapshot of its headland lingering in the distance. The Worm’s Head, which takes its name from the Viking word for dragon, has captured the imagination, and in some cases, disdain, of travellers for millennia. The trek itself is a slightly fraught one which requires adhering to a strict time window, in which the tide recedes and the headland is accessible by a causeway. Once firmly on the Worm you will alternate between hobbling across jagged bridges of rock and respiting on mossy grass while the sea froths and throttles around you. If you’re feeling imaginative you can put yourself in the (wet) shoes of Dylan Thomas who was once stranded on the promontory, inducing a brief moment of horror and the impulse behind his short story ‘Who do you wish was with us?’. Those with steady nerves and feet will be swept away (figuratively) by the isolated beauty of this piece of rock.
5. St Michael’s Mount, South Cornwall
South Cornwall distinguishes itself from other parts of the English coastline, with its verdant flora and subtropical undertones. The dynamic landscape is expressed generously in the nine-mile coastal stretch from Lamorna Cove to the civil parish island St Michael’s Mount. Along the way you will slip through the picturesque Mousehole, with reams of yellow gorse and wildflowers decorating the cliffside. The bustling Newlyn fishing port is a good chance for a break, otherwise it’s onward to Marazion, and if your legs are still functioning, across the granite causeway to the foreboding castle that sits atop St Michael’s Mount.
6. Brontë Country, West Yorkshire
Colloquially named after the famous literary sisters, this area of the South Pennines, including the village of Haworth, contains a number of overlooked walks. In three miles you can go from the charming, though extremely popular, village up a straggling footpath to Top Withens, the dilapidated farmhouse that inspired Wuthering Heights and finally the serene Brontë Waterfall. Another option is Penistone Hill, right by Haworth, a gorse and meadow flower strewn park in the classically untamed Yorkshire fashion. Interestingly, this site was a hotspot for gambling around the time its sandstone was quarried, though nowadays the heather moorland is primarily of interest to walkers, with its high vantage points allowing for a detailed surveyance of the rambling scenery.
7. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
Now Ireland is altogether quite a different story. Anybody new to this lush and lyrical island would be remiss for not treading on the enchanting Giant’s Causeway, a natural cathedral of hexagonal basalt columns which lend it an unworldly feel. However, you can take full advantage of experiencing the Northern Irish coastline by wandering from Portstewart Strand to Ballycastle. Along the way you’ll spot the ruined 17th century Dunluce Castle and drift though the relaxing Curran Strand, a nice coastal detour, before reaching the iconic UNESCO world heritage site. You will undoubtedly feel embroiled in the mythos of the place, where two giants apparently built and destroyed a massive bridge. We do know at least that the formations are owed to volcanic eruptions 60 million years ago, in which molten rock spewed up through fissures in the chalk bed before cooling into the distinct pillars. It’s easy to be blown away – not just by the sights though, the wind can be unrelenting!
8. Broadway to Chipping Campden, Cotswolds
The Cotswolds is such a large and varied area – defined by its rolling hills and bedrock of Jurassic Limestone which lends many of the towns and villages their affluency – that it could easily swallow up several walking trips. A sure bet, though, is the route between the quintessential Broadway with its honey-coloured 16th century architecture and arts and crafts associations, and market town Chipping Campden. Along the way you will spot Broadway Tower, a tall, albeit petite, ‘castle’ in the heart of the rich countryside, and Dover’s Hill, with its expansive views and remains of a Roman vineyard.
9. Kent Downs and the South East Coast
The full reach of the North Downs spans from Surrey to the outskirts of greater London, though its arguable centrepiece is the final stretch of the historic Pilgrims’ Route, where Thomas Becket resolved his fateful journey to Canterbury Cathedral before meeting a gruesome end. An appendage to this famous rut winds through Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone; beginning with Boughton Lees, you can see Godmersham Park, Chilham and the extensively-referenced walled city before crossing through Kent’s fruit fields to the white cliffs, and the charming port town of Folkestone. At this point you may as well visit Sandwich and Deal too, the hidden gems of Dover.
10. Salcombe estuary and coast, Devon
The overgrown and frankly Mediterranean stylings of South Devon are aptly represented in the marvellous town of Salcombe and its surrounding nature reserves. It can be appreciated on any number of ambles, but particularly popular is that from Salcombe to Gara Rock. This trail begins with a ferry ride from the town across the turquoise estuary, or alternatively, the car parks at Mill Bay and East Portlemouth. Then it’s up the wooded hill and along the path, where you’ll catch a glimpse of the secluded Sunny Cove, break through dense canopies and emerge, almost unexpectedly, at the Jurassic coastline. The beaches themselves are unbelievable, reaching levels of wild, rocky, dramatic beauty not usually associated with the English coastline. Inevitably you will be itched by the question: what if I just stayed here?