7 stunning UK hiking trails you can make a holiday out of
© Getty; Andy Stothert
From weekend hikes to week-long treks, why not reclaim your sense of adventure, book some well-earned time off, and head out on one of these incredible routes?
Work, dinner, sleep, repeat...
It’s a cycle most of us have fallen into at some point, living for the weekend but in truth barely having the energy nor motivation to get outdoors when Saturday arrives. But there's a big old world out there, starting with our own backyard...
These aren’t just walks in a park – they’re life-affirming getaways packed with sprawling trails, majestic scenery and coastline so rugged you’d think you were walking on Ernest Hemingway's beard. If you ever wanted to go on a proper hike, the time is now.
1. Lairig Ghru (Cairngorms)
Distance: 19 miles
Suggested hiking time: 2 days
This might be one of the shortest 'adventures' on the list, but don't be fooled – this hike is an absolute badass, and if you're looking to really soak up the sheer rugged magnificence of Scotland's Cairngorms then there really is only one way to take it on.
The path out of Aviemore is well signposted, easing you into a steady incline through Rothiemurchus forest before kicking you out at the northern entrance to the Lairig Ghru. It's a wintry, looming gateway into the mountains that bares more resemblance to Mordor than it does most other places in Britain, and once you're on this canny and often equivocal trail, it's goodbye 4G, and hello Ordnance Survey maps! Corrour Bothy is a perfect place to stop overnight if you can find it, a perfect waste of an hour if you can't. The final stretch past the Forest of Mar into Braemar is so exquisite you'll be wondering if it's possible to survive out there purely by hunting grouse alone. Spoiler: It isn't, it's illegal.
WARNING: It's easy to fall off the trail if you don't have your wits (or map) about you. Therefore a head torch and warm clothes are essential items in case you get lost.
2. South Downs Way
Distance: 100 miles
Suggested hiking time: 8 days
The Great British countryside is truly one the world's most iconic landscapes; and if you're after a hike that encapsulates everything you associate with it (badgers, bridleways, a bit of peace and quiet), then look no further than the South Downs Way.
Possibly the most quintessentially British stretch of land you're likely to find in southern England, the easy-to-follow trail also connects up some of Sussex's most idyllic towns and villages; where historic pubs and inns are more accustomed to being invaded by muddy boots and dogs than they are after-work drinkers. If you're hiking from west to east (which I recommend), you should catch your first glimpse of the sea as you head down the hills into Alfriston. From there, you can expect lung-fulls of crisp, refreshing sea air, all the way to Eastbourne. Magic.
3. South West Coast Path (West Lulworth to Weymouth)
Distance: 13 miles
Suggested hiking time: 1 day
The South West Coast Path is Britain's longest national trail (630 miles), and completing it earns you some pretty serious hiking props, even if you do it in sections. I’ve carefully selected this stretch in Dorset as it exhibits some of the trail's finest features. Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door are two of Britain’s most iconic natural landmarks, and the cliff walk into Weymouth is a fine example of what terrain lies in store as you continue into Devon and Cornwall. These are also ideal spots to break off and go swimming, if that’s your bag. The entire trail is epic, and there are endless adventures to be had along the way. Watching the white cliffs in Dorset morph slowly into red in south Devon, and then fade to black once you reach Cornwall is a privilege that only a coastal traveller can experience.
4. West Highland Way
Distance: 96 miles
Suggested hiking time: 9 days
The West Highland Way might seem like an obvious choice, but it's one of Britain's most visited trails for good reason: it's epic. Loch Lomond, Beinn Dorain and Glencoe are its most breathtaking spots, and if you fancy breaking off to “bag munros” (climb mountains) you never have to stray too far from the trail. There's even an option to conquer Ben Nevis (Britain's highest summit) once finishing up in Fort William, and there are plenty of bothies and places to camp along the way.
Late autumn would be my suggested time of year to take on The Way; the dreaded midges can be a real handful in the summer, plus the oranges and browns of fall beautifully complement the landscape's rocky and mystical backdrop.
5. Great Glen Way
Distance: 79 miles
Suggested hiking time: 7 days
This is arguably Britain's best option for a week-long hike. Picking up from where the West Highland Way leaves off in Fort William, the trail hugs two of Scotland's most mentionable lochs: Loch Lochy (the loch-iest loch of all the lochs) and, of course, Loch Ness, home of Scotland's most famous immortal beast. Apart from the mountains, Scotland's lochs are the country's most enchanting features. The water's sometimes dark but they look like mirrors, transforming the landscape into something truly mystical. Almost otherworldly.
6. Wales Coast Path (Llansteffan – West Angle Bay)
Distance: 86 miles
Suggested hike time: 7 days
If you're after an alternative week-long hike with perhaps more of a 'sea, air and sandy coves' vibe, then the Pembrokeshire Coast is the place to head. Its similarity to the South West Coast Path is striking; miles of rugged cliffs guard the coast and overlook some of Britain's most perfect beaches. The mileage of this specific hike can be done in a week or so, whereas conquering the whole Pembrokeshire Coast Path (186 miles) is likely to take double the time, and passes some quite uninspiring power stations beyond Angle. My recommendation? Stick to the good stuff.
7. Cumbria Way
Distance: 76 miles
Suggesting hike time: 9 days
The Pennine Way is often referred to as the best inland trail in England, but in this humble adventurer's opinion, the Cumbria Way beats it. The Lake District is about as majestic a place as anywhere else in the world, and this trail takes you through the very heart of it. Nine days hike time might appear excessive in relation to the distance, but that's because this one deserves to be taken slow. The scenery is spellbinding, particularly the views of Coniston Fells. If you feel like breaking away from the trail to take on a challenge within a challenge, head four miles east to Threlkeld once you reach Keswick and walk up Blencathra via sharp edge. It's a grade one scramble to the top, and is not one for the fainthearted, but the view from the top is absolute perfection.
Jake has been raising money and awareness for the Mental Health Foundation. Donate and read more of his story at Uk.virginmoneygiving.com/takeawalk