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Five of the best long-distance walks in the UK

Tom Cramp

Contributor

In April 2020, former British Army officer Captain Tom Moore walked 100 laps of his garden in Bedfordshire, England, and raised an incredible £32m for NHS charities. This staggering achievement is one of the most inspiring stories to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and along with providing essential funds to fight the virus, it has also given people hope that we can get through this with stoicism and solidarity. A centenarian walking 100 laps of a 25-metre garden is no mean feat, so why not stretch your legs and experience some of the best long-distance walks in the UK that feature stunning scenery and a few nights of cosy accommodation? Here are five of the best options.

The Cateran Trail, 65 miles

This circular route that overlaps the border between Angus and Perthshire in Scotland is a fantastic walk to spot wildlife and take in superb mountain views. The trail takes its name from thieves known as Caterans that would hide in the moorlands and steal the cattle that were grazing on the lush grass. At 65 miles from start to finish, the walk can be completed in 5 or 6 days if you’re walking at an easy pace.

The route starts in the burgh (small town) of Blairgowrie, taking walkers first to Kirkmichael, then on to the Spittal of Glenshee, then Glenisla, and finally Alyth, before ending up back in Blairgowrie. Each location has cosy accommodation options and much of the walk has pubs along the way, making a quick stop for food and drink simple enough. Highlights of the walk include Blackcraig Forest, Dalnaglar and Forter Castles, and Auchintaple Loch. There is also a shorter version of the trail that samples some of the best bits of the main train in a slightly more palatable two-day excursion.

Coast to coast, 182 miles

Created by well-known Lake District fell walker Alfred Wainwright, this epic walk starts on the western coast at St Bees in Cumbria and finishes in Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. The 182-mile journey is an arduous one, especially in the Lake District at the beginning, so it’s not to be taken lightly. Most people divide it into a 14-day trip with an average of 11-12 miles of walking each day, but there are options to either shorten or extend the trip with the 12 and 15-day itineraries.

Highlights are everywhere along the route. The picturesque Lakeland scenes in Borrowdale, Patterdale and Grasmere; the cosy Yorkshire tea shops in Muker and Reeth; the beautiful blossoming heather atop the North York Moors – the variety is astonishing. It’s no wonder that this walk is considered one of the best in the world, up there with the Inca Trail in Peru and the Milford Track in New Zealand. To find out more about the coast to coast trail, have a look at A Coast To Coast Walk by Wainwright himself. It contains a lot of history and information about everything from accommodation to equipment, along with maps and sketches. Also, it’s tradition to dip your feet in the sea at either end. If you forget, it’s back to square one!

The Thames Path, 184 miles

If you’d rather avoid hills, the path that follows the mightiest river in the UK is an excellent alternative. From the starting point at the river’s source in the Cotswolds, walkers will witness the many changes the river goes through as it passes through delightful riverside towns and villages like Wallingford, Oxford and Henley-on-Thames. Once in Greater London, the path you choose can be moulded and customised at your leisure – you might want to include certain tourist attractions or areas of the city you’d like to see.

Most people end up at the Thames Barrier in Woolwich, the end of the route, within 12-14 days of starting. One great aspect of this walk is that there is no shortage of comfortable places to stay overnight, particularly in London. Walkers can round the trip off in total luxury at the Corinthia Hotel London in one of the city’s most prestigious areas between Trafalgar Square and Embankment, or perhaps at the boutique Henrietta Hotel just down the road in Covent Garden. Have a look at the Trailblazer Thames Path guidebook for more information about routes, accommodation, pubs, maps and more.

The South Downs Way, 99 miles

This fairly gentle walk puts the very best of South East England on display. The walk starts in the ancient cathedral city of Winchester in Hampshire and ends in the coastal resort of Eastbourne in East Sussex, taking between seven and nine days to complete. The South Downs National Park envelops the entire route and includes stunning coastal scenery, lots of opportunities to spot wildlife and many quiet spots to rest your head at night in towns and villages such as Amberley, Upper Beeding and Lewes.

The Cumbria Way, 70 miles

The famous Cumbria Way bisects the Lake District from Ulverston and Carlisle and is one of the UK’s most famous walks. Most people that take it on are enamoured by the fantastic scenery of rolling fells, shimmering lakes and babbling brooks – it’s arguably the most scenic walk in the entire country.

Most tend to split it into five days although it can be extended to six. The route takes walkers past the beautiful Lake Coniston, through the intricate cobbled streets of Keswick and in between the trees of Skiddaw Forest. Despite stretching across a National Park famed for its tall mountains, the Cumbria Way is relatively low-level, allowing you to take in the sights without puffing and panting up hill after hill. For more information on this famous walk and where to spend the night, take a look at Walking The Cumbria Way by John Gillham. 

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