The United Kingdom might be small but it is rich in its diverse landscape. A short drive can take you from scenic coastal walks to moors and dales and the rugged beauty of our many national parks. Looking for the best hikes in the UK? Detailed below is a selection of some of our country’s most highly sought out destinations.
The Lake District
The Lake District gains its name from the great lakes situated therein. It covers a huge area of the north west of England and is undoubtedly an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The area known as the Lakeland fells is broken down into distinct areas. The late Alfred Wainwright wrote extensively about the area and his many books are classified by many as “The authority” on Lakeland hiking. The jewel in the crown of this particular area is Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. Scafell is situated in the southern fells region, along with famous walks such as the Old man of Coniston and crinkle crags.
Hiking around the Lake District National Park is varied and offers perhaps some of the best hiking locations. There is quite literally hundreds of routes marked out ranging from easy strolls to more difficult hikes. The most important consideration for Lake District hiking is the weather as this can make an easy trail suddenly become quite a challenge!
The Peak District
The Peak District is one of the UK’s oldest national parks dating back to 1951. The White peak area lies to the south and the Dark peak dominates the upper areas. The top edges of the Peak district reach up between Glossop (near Manchester) and Sheffield and stretch down into Derbyshire.
Hiking in the Peak District is reasonably easy going, although there are some tougher challenges to be found. Most routes are on the shorter side (3-12 miles) and there are several well situated visitor centres to get information from too. Ashbourne, Bakewell, Buxton and Matlock are all great places to start your Peak District adventures from.
The area is well situated for travel and accommodation, and has many other local attractions to keep you entertained on days off from hiking.
Snowdonia National Park
The mountainous regions of the Snowdonia National Park possibly represent the most challenging hiking conditions in the UK. It is the most concentrated area of 3,000ft+ mountains on the British Isles and as such offers the rewards of outstanding natural beauty to those who brave its peaks.
Mount Snowdon is the highest point in England and Wales at 1,085 metres above sea level. It lends its name to the region and is rightly so the most popular attraction.
The region is split into groups of mountains. North of Snowdon, the Carneddau and Glyders are an abundance of 3,000ft+ summits packed into a relatively small area. The Snowdon range is home to the famous Crib Goch, a fairly short but very exposed ridge… not for the faint of heart!
Nantle ridge, situated in the Moel Hebog range, is also a great hike. Comprised of six peaks over 2,000ft it affords great views of the surrounding areas. Further south, The Rhinogs offer some challenging walks too. Lower areas are verdant and grassy but there are some monsters to tackle amongst the beautiful scenery.
This is, all told a spectacular area for both hiking and sightseeing, but do come prepared. Seek local advice on a daily basis regarding the areas you intend to traverse and prevailing weather conditions.
The Malvern Hills
The Malvern hills AONB (area of natural beauty) is a relatively small area when compared to the size of the national parks. Nevertheless it is still a great place for hiking in the UK and is within easy reach of a huge amount of the population of England.
As its name suggests, you will be walking in an area which is naturally very beautiful which makes for very pleasant hiking conditions. If you like to take in your surroundings whilst out and about a walk in the Malvern Hills is idyllic. There are some longer walks to be found here too, but the lay of the land is nowhere near as daunting as Snowdonia or the Lakes. Take a hike to the top of Worcestershire Beacon, and enjoy the views!
This area is also a national park (since 1951), wholly situated within Devonshire and its landscape is dominated by the large granite outcrops called Tors. As its name suggests this is a moorland landscape over a bed of peat, which means that walking can sometimes by arduous even after long dry spells.
Two features stand out particularly- High Willhays and Yes Tor. These are the only parts of Dartmoor to reach over 2,000ft above sea level and are well within walking distance of each other. The remainder of the moor is best described us undulating, with about half of the area rising to over 1,000ft. Most of the route walks are designated as easy to moderate, with a couple of longer (15 mile plus) hikes making for a harder walk.
Be mindful that Dartmoor is a live firing range for the UK Armed Forces and large parts of it are out of bounds to the public!
Situated in Somerset and North Devon Exmour is one of the smaller national parks, but is very special due to the differing landscapes you can encounter here. Coastal walking from Combe Martin across to Minehead offers spectacular scenic views both along the coast and inland too. Large swathes of moorland, wooded areas, waterfalls and some of the highest cliffs in the country can all be found here.
Dunkery Beacon at 1,704ft is the highest point of Exmoor and is a popular hiking destination. This rolling landscape of grass and heather moorland provides a great opportunity for spotting wildlife whilst out walking. Red deer and numerous birds of prey are spotted regularly.
Over 600 miles of bridleways and footpaths cover the area and the coastal walk forms part of the south west coast path. Walks to suit all levels of ability can be found here. Taunton and Barnstable are nearby local towns which serve as great places to start your adventures from.
Cairngorm National Park
The Cairngorm region is the newest national park, being formed in 2003 to preserve the areas rich biodiversity. It is, without a doubt, the largest national park covering an area almost twice the size of the Lake District. It is also home to four of Scotland’s five highest peaks.
The Cairngorm’s are home to a total of 52 peaks which have summits in excess of 900m above sea level, the highest being Ben Macdui. Large parts of the landscape are fragile and suffer heavily from erosion so walkers are asked to do so with care and respect for the environment.
The rewards of journeying to certain more remote parts of this national park are amazing vistas and rare wildlife sightings. Over 25% of the UK’s endangered species make their home here, including ospreys and golden eagles. Walking is varied too, ranging from easier walks around the glens and lochs to hard mountainous walks. Again seek local knowledge regarding weather and routes.
The Brecon Beacons National Park
This beautiful National Park spans much of South Wales and forms a natural border between England and Wales. Though this area is massive on the map most of the walking interest is centred on the highest points – the Black Mountain (to the west) and Fforest Fawr and the Brecon Beacons (to the east).
The highest point of the Brecons is Pen y Fan at just over 2,900ft. It has a fairly unique flat top from which the name “beacons” come from as fires were lit on the summit to warn of invading armies in years gone by. Rolling countryside and great hill ridges offer fantastic views over the Wye Valley, the best perhaps being Hay Bluff at over 2,200ft. The park is home to three long distance walks, the new 100 mile Beacon Way starting in Abergavenny runs the length of the National Park ending in Llangadog. Offa’s Dike trail (177 miles) and the Taff trail (55 miles) are both worth exploring too.
North Yorkshire Moors National Park
A vast area of the north east side of the country is dominated by the North Yorkshire Moors. Predominantly heather moors breaking to rolling hills, woodland, ravines and coastal cliffs, this is truly a place worthy of exploration.
Many towns and villages ring the moors area and serve as great starting points to your adventures, and many (such as Whitby) are worthy of exploration in their own rights! The moors are home to two long distance walks first being the Cleveland Way and the second being the coast to coast (St. bees to Robin Hood’s Bay – another wainwright classic!).
There are also areas of historical significance worth visiting and there are walks connecting them too. The ancient abbeys and monasteries and the steam rail line from Pickering to Grosmont provide numerous avenues for exploring the moors.
To find out more about hikes in these areas and other interesting places to walk in Britain check out the Walking Britain website www.walkingbritain.co.uk