The United Kingdom is home to 16 National Trails, which are long-distance walking trails that showcase the finest landscapes in Britain. They are way-marked by an acorn, which is the symbol of the National Trails.
From chalky hiking paths along the seaside to surprisingly rugged hills in the heart of England, you'll find a wide range of active trips that will reward you with an unforgettable British experience.
Here are 9 of Britain's premier trails to explore on a self-guided or small group tour. Which one will you complete first?
1. Hadrian's Wall Path
The 84 mile (135km) Hadrian’s Wall Path takes hikers across the rugged countryside of Northern England, following the world’s largest Roman artefact, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Experience small towns and villages, as well as bigger cities, as you walk through the scenic variety of Northern England. Spend your nights in country B&Bs and sample traditional British food and drink as you walk in the footsteps of the Romans.
2. South West Coastal Path
England’s longest and, many would say, finest, walking trail is the 1000km (630 miles) long South West Coast Path from Poole to Minehead, of which almost half is in Cornwall.
The scenery along the South West Coast Path is spectacular. There are expansive views that highlight an enormous wealth of coastal scenery. From rugged cliffs to sandy beaches, from sleepy coves to marsh, capes and headlands. The South West Coast region is very much a holiday county with beaches, famous Cornish pasties, pirates, shipwrecks and the roaring sea. It has been voted Britain’s favourite holiday region and for many good reasons.
UTracks offers a number of week-long, self-guided South West Coast Path walking trips along our favourite sections in Cornwall.
3. Offa's Dyke Path
Crossing the border between England and Wales more than 10 times, the Offa’s Dyke National Trail path follows some of the finest scenery in both countries for 177 miles (285 km). Our walk follows the southern half of this trail from Chepstow to Knighton, (about half this walking distance in total).
It is a journey packed with interest through patchworks of fields, over windswept ridges, across infant rivers, by ruined castles and into the old border market towns. Traditional farming methods have more or less remained intact and the hedgerows, oak woods and hay meadows form good wildlife habitats, home to buzzards and the rare Red Kite. You might even discover the even rarer Welsh Red Dragon!
4. Coast to Coast
Devised by renowned walker and writer Alfred Wainwright in 1973, the Coast to Coast Walk is the most famous long-distance trail in the UK. At 315km (195 miles), the Coast to Coast Walk uses a network of public footpaths tracks, permissive paths and access land to cross England’s huge variety of landscapes, terrain, villages and three unique national parks – the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.
Starting in the tiny Cumbrian seaside village of St Bees, the trail climbs steeply into the Lake District National Park, home to spectacular lake and mountain scenery, before crossing classic rolling farmland, the Pennine Hills and the mystical cairns atop Nine Standards Rigg. Follow the beautiful River Swale to the historic market town of Richmond before leaving the Yorkshire Dales to cross the low-lying Vale of Mowbray and linking up with the North York Moors National Park. From here the trail undulates spectacularly before depositing you at Robin Hood's Bay.
As you make your way across the Coast to Coast trail on foot or by bike, enjoy staying in specially handpicked hotels, guesthouses and pubs, where you’ll come to appreciate just how much a full English breakfast will set you up for a long day of walking or cycling.
Because of the popularity of this trail, people often fall into the trap of thinking that it is easy. However, our trips on the Coast to Coast trail are amongst our most challenging but rewarding tours in Europe.
5. Cotswold Way
The Cotswolds is the epitome of the English countryside. It is no wonder that this is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as rolling hills meet with quaint villages that are all preserved in a glorious state.
There is no better way to explore this stunning region of patchwork fields surrounded by dry-stone walls and acres of unspoilt woodland, than taking by part in some walks or biking in the Cotswolds. Meander through the countryside visiting postcard-perfect medieval villages that are all built in the honey-toned limestone that characterises this part of the British countryside. Churches and stately homes adorn this part of England, and there is nothing more rewarding than a walk in the Cotswolds.
6. Thames Path
Due to the Thames Path's proximity to London, some of the urban sections of the path are the busiest walks in Britain, yet in the rural sections, you may only see a few walkers, dog handlers and cyclists. There is a huge range of mixed scenery from quiet shady sections of river banks, meadows and parks, to highly built-up areas of towns and city.
There is an amazing amount of history; the palaces such as Hampton Court and Syon Park; castles such as Windsor and the Tower of London; multiple bridges, each with their own history; wildlife reserves and as the backdrop to it all the life on the river, barges, yachts, powerboats, kayaks and paddle boards. The walking is generally easy and few of the days are too long that you could not pause at an attraction for an hour or two. The walk will help you to understand not only the Thames but also why it is the key to the history of London.
7. Pennine Way
The Pennine Way, a mountain journey across the backbone of England, became the very first British National Trail on April 24th, 1965. It is a long, 268 mile (429 km) hike from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. It crosses some of the finest upland landscapes in England, from the Peak District, through the Yorkshire Dales, across the North Pennines and over Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, through the Cheviots and down into Scotland.
Much of the walk is within the realms of 3 National Parks: Derbyshire, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland. When it is not in these areas it is often darting across other very scenic areas, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Pennine Way is nearly always to be found on serious walkers' bucket lists. It is reckoned that only about 2,000 people a year do the Pennine Way walk. This may compare with 25,000 or more on the Coast to Coast! The walk can be split into two halves, or even smaller sections if required. We offer the Southern and Northern sections as well as the full route.
8. South Downs Way
Stretching over a rare large area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in crowded Southern Britain, the South Downs Way walk generally follows the chalk (soft limestone) ridge just to the north of the popular seaside towns on the Sussex and Hampshire coast. Most of the route is ancient, made up of the old droving roads that took animals and goods between the market towns of the region. On the way ‘Dew Ponds’, ring forts, cross dykes and tumuli reflect a history stretching back into the mists of time.
The 100 mile (160km) South Downs Way is generally a leisurely paced walk enabling those who want, to spend a bit of extra time looking at some old churches, or dawdling by Cuckmere Haven, picnicking or pubbing up on some high down, or looking around lowland villages.
9. Cleveland Way
Hike the 110 mile (177km) Cleveland Way trail along the hilly coastline of the Yorkshire seaside. There is much to enjoy for those interested in history and for aficionados who wish to enjoy arguably the best fish ‘n’ chips in England at Whitby Bay! This is the second of the ‘National Trails’, dating from 1969 and is rooted in the North York Moors National Park and Yorkshire Heritage Coast.
Along its length there are contrasts in walking between fields of quilted farmlands, forest patches, dramatic sandstone rock scarps, bleak moorlands and the highly eroded coastline, punctuated by beautiful little fishing villages, clinging to the cliffs. Apart from busy coastal towns such as Scarborough, it remains a tranquil area, bolstered and protected by the presence of the National Park of which about 80% of the walk occupies.
Which National Trail of Britain do you want to explore? Let us know in the comments!