The UK has no shortage of beautiful places for hiking. This island nation is home to an extremely wide range of landscapes, from the wild and rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands to the picture-postcard countryside of southern England.
Hiking and hillwalking are a popular pastime in the UK, and there are an estimated 140,000 miles (225,000 km) of footpaths and other “public rights of way” in England and Wales alone.
The UK also has some of the most detailed topographical maps in the world. Every square metre of the country has been mapped to an incredible level of detail, which is particularly helpful when hiking, as well as when planning hikes.
Before you set out on your hiking trip, be sure to pick up an Ordnance Survey map (often shortened to “OS map”) of the area(s) you will be visiting. These are superb and show everything from hiking trails and footpaths to contour lines, electricity pylons, picnic benches, and even the types of vegetation on the land.
Some of the hikes in this post are short and can be completed in a few hours. Others are much longer, taking several days, even weeks, to complete. For the longer hikes, I’ve also included details of how to convert a section of the route into a satisfying day hike, in case you don’t have time to do the whole thing.
The Old Man Of Storr, Isle Of Skye
The “Old Man” itself is a huge jagged rock that juts out of the hillside into the air. It can be seen from miles away and is a famous landmark on Skye.
Local folklore claims that this is the thumb (and all that remains) of a giant who used to live on the Trotternish Ridge. Geologists would have you believe that the famous pinnacle was created by an ancient landslide. Pick which you prefer.
From the higher sections of the trail, the views are superb. You can see out over a large section of the Isle of Skye, and across to the mainland, where the mountains of Torridon rise dramatically out of the sea.
The walk starts from a marked wooden gate on the main road from Portree to Staffin. From here you can see the Old Man jutting out of the mountain overhead. The trail up is fairly well marked and easy to follow, if a little steep in places.
On the way back down, you can take a slightly different route. You’ll see many different trails zig-zagging back down towards the road. Take whichever one you fancy.
If you want to extend the hike, just take one of the less-direct paths that traverse along the edge of the hillside. You’ll be able to see the road where you parked most of the time, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find your way back down again.
This trail is very popular and can get a little crowded on weekends and public holidays. If possible, try to come midweek, and ideally outside of the school holidays.
Need to know
Time: 2 hours
Path Taken: There are many different trails zig-zagging their way up the hill towards the Old Man. Some are more direct (and steeper), others more meandering (and less steep). Take whichever one you fancy – most converge at the top.
Access: The trail starts on the main road from Portree to Staffin. You can usually park here or further along on the side of the road.
The Merrick, Galloway Forest Park
Hiking up to the summit and back again is fairly challenging and takes the best part of a day to complete. You will gain over 850 metres in elevation throughout the course of this 9 mile (14 km) hike. However, the views from the summit make all of the effort totally worth it.
The trail is fairly well-marked throughout. However, if the higher sections are shrouded in cloud and mist, this can make navigation a little tricky at times. It’s best to be prepared and bring a map and compass with you, just to be safe.
Parts of the route are pretty steep and rocky, although you definitely don’t need any mountaineering experience to complete this hike – just a decent level of fitness.
Starting at a car park on the north shore of Loch Trool, the route climbs steeply out of the valley of Glentrool. At first, you will be following the course of a mountain stream with many little waterfalls and pools along the way.
After an hour or so you will reach Kilsharg bothy, a mountain hut where some people choose to spend the night (you don’t need to when doing this hike). Take the path that runs up past the left side of the bothy until you reach a forestry track.
At the track, turn right and walk a short distance until you get to a gate in the tall deer fence on your left-hand side. Pass through this gate and continue following the trail uphill into the pine forest. This section is fairly steep in places.
Once you leave the trees behind, the path becomes a little less steep and you’ll enjoy a refreshing breeze. From here onwards, the views are fantastic. On a clear day, you can see across a large section of southern Scotland, and even out to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Keep following the path uphill, bearing slightly right. There is a false summit (called Kilsharg) which you will need to climb first before you catch sight of the Merrick itself. These two peaks are connected by a ridge called the Neive of the Spit, over which the final section of the trail passes.
The path peters out a few hundred metres before reaching the cairn at the summit of the Merrick. Just keep going uphill and you will reach the top eventually. It’s a bit of a slog, but you can take a well-earned break at the top.
On the way back down, simply retrace your steps to the car park in Glentrool.
Note: There is a way to make this into a circular route. From the summit of the Merrick, instead of going back the way you came, you can descend the other side of the mountain and make your way back to Glentrool via Loch Valley. However, this is a much longer, more challenging route. Parts of it are very boggy, and you would need to navigate using a map and compass as the trail is non-existent for much of the way. I recommend sticking to the main trail.
Need to know
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Path Taken: There’s only really one main route, called “The Merrick Trail”, which is fairly well-marked throughout.
Access: The trail starts from the car park on the north shore of Loch Trool, near Bruce’s Stone.
Malham Cove & Gordale Scar, Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a gorgeous part of northern England with some fantastic hikes.
Yorkshire is home to some of the country’s most beautiful countryside, with ancient dry stone walls, green fields, rolling hills, and picturesque traditional villages. Parts of the county are really idyllic and have earned it the nickname “God’s own country”. Many locals will also be quick to remind you of this fact!
One of the best hikes in the Dales is the circular route from the village of Malham, taking in the iconic limestone pavement of Malham Cove and Gordale Scar, a dramatic ravine.
From the main car park, follow the road past a small chapel and keep an eye out for a footbridge over the stream on your right-hand side. Cross the stream here and turn right onto the Pennine Way (one of the most famous long-distance footpaths in England).
After 500 metres, take the path running off to the left. Follow this track for about a mile (1.6 km), until you reach Janet’s Foss, an attractive little waterfall and pool in the trees.
From here, continue straight up a few steps until you reach the road, where you turn right. Continue along here for a couple of minutes. When the road bends to the right, take the path off to the left and follow the footpath signs towards Gordale Scar.
Gordale Scar is a narrow limestone canyon, with steep sides and a couple of waterfalls. As you walk deeper into the ravine, the Scar rises up to tower over you on either side. It’s really quite impressive.
Some people choose to scramble up the side of the larger waterfall to reach the top of the canyon. However, this is a fairly tricky climb and potentially dangerous if you were to slip.
A safer alternative is to return to the road, where you turn right, cross a little bridge, and then take the footpath on the right. From here onwards, the route to Malham Cove is well signposted and easy to follow. It’s gently uphill most of the way, and as you get higher up you will be treated to stunning views of the Yorkshire Dales.
Once you reach the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove, take a breather and enjoy the panorama. Harry Potter fans might recognise this as a filming location from the Deathly Hallows movie.
The pavement itself is a large expanse of exposed rock, scored with deep fissures, that ends abruptly in a 70-metre cliff. Take care when crossing – there’s no guardrail at the edge of the cliff. It’s also fairly uneven underfoot, and it would be easy to slip and sprain an ankle in one of the fissures.
On the other side of the limestone pavement, there is a well-marked path back to Malham village. It’s quite steep at first, as you descend from the top of the cove. At the bottom, you can take a brief detour off to the left for a close-up view of the cove from below. From here, it’s an easy, mostly flat, walk back to Malham.
Need to know
Length: 7.5 miles / 12 km
Time: 4 hours
Path Taken: This is a popular route and well-marked throughout. You can hike it in either direction, though I recommend doing it counter-clockwise (as described above).
Access: The trail starts and finishes in the village of Malham. There is paid parking in the village. Alternatively, you should be able to find a place to park along the side of the road leading into the village.
Buttermere, Lake District, Cumbria
The Lake District is the largest National Park in England and the second largest in the UK, spanning over 900 square miles (2,300 sq km).
There are 16 main lakes, and many more “tarns” (small mountain lakes). Here you will also find England’s highest peaks, spectacular scenery, and some of the best hiking trails in the country.
While some of the better-known and more popular lakes (e.g. Windermere) can get rather overrun with visitors during the summertime and at weekends, there are plenty of hidden gems where you can escape the crowds and enjoy this special place all to yourself.
My favourite part of the Lake District is the area around Buttermere. The scenery is magical, there’s loads of wildlife (keep an eye out for otters, red squirrels and deer), and it’s so much quieter and more peaceful than other places in the area.
Buttermere has many excellent hiking trails. I’ve detailed two of the best ones below.
One is a flat and easy 4.5 mile (7 km) route around Buttermere Lake. The other includes a 660-metre ascent of Haystacks, a famous “fell” (local word for mountain), and is fairly steep and challenging.
Need to know
Buttermere Lake Loop
Length: 4.5 miles / 7 km
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Path Taken: The Buttermere Lake Loop is a well-marked trail that runs around the edge of the lake.
Access: The trail starts and finishes at the Fish Inn, an excellent traditional pub in the village of Buttermere. There is parking just behind the pub.
Length: 8 miles / 13 km
Time: 5 – 6 hours
Path Taken: After you leave Buttermere Lake behind, the path continues to be well-defined at first, becoming slightly less so as you start the climb (though it’s still fairly easy to follow). I recommend tackling this loop anti-clockwise, i.e. via Scarth Gap on the ascent and Innominate Tarn and Blackbeck Tarn on the descent.
Access: Start at Buttermere village. From here, follow the lake shore (it doesn’t matter which side of the lake you take). The mountain you see in front of you beyond the lake is Haystacks.
Further Info: Only attempt this hike in good weather conditions. Some sections require a bit of scrambling and care should be taken. Decent hiking shoes/boots are essential.
Southern Upland Way, Scotland
The Southern Upland Way is one of Scotland’s “Great Trails”, a collection of the country’s finest long-distance routes. It’s also one of the most challenging. At 214 miles (344 km), it takes most people between 12 – 16 days to complete.
This epic coast-to-coast trail takes in some of the most stunning and varied scenery that southern Scotland has to offer. You will pass through a range of different terrains, summit a number of peaks, and cross stretches of remote moorland and wild backcountry.
There are boards at regular intervals which give information about the route, the rich history of the area, and the local wildlife and flora that you might encounter.
Most sections of the Southern Upland Way are clearly signposted and have a well-maintained path. However, in some places, the route crosses areas of remote and rugged wilderness. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to have competent navigation skills (including using a compass and the relevant OS maps), in case of poor visibility.
The weather in Scotland is famously changeable and unpredictable, so you need to be prepared. Whichever time of year you attempt this hike, you will need to pack warm, waterproof clothes.
There are a number of youth hostels and bothies (basic mountain huts) along this route which you can stay at. However, for at least a few nights you will need to camp. Be sure to bring all of the necessary gear with you, including a sturdy, waterproof tent and a decent, warm sleeping system.
Wild camping is legal in most parts of Scotland, provided you comply with the rules contained in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Essentially, this requires you to be:
- considerate – avoid camping in areas where there are other people, or in fields of crops or livestock;
- responsible – don’t light a fire unless you absolutely have to (and if so, fully extinguish it afterwards), take out all rubbish, bury human waste, and don’t pollute sources of open water; and
- to leave no trace.
The Southern Upland Way passes through a number of small towns and villages where you can pick up supplies along the way. But be prepared to carry 2-3 days’ worth of food for the more remote stretches, plus the means to purify water for drinking.
Of course, you don’t need to hike the whole distance in one go, although many people like to treat it as a challenge. If you’d prefer to tackle a shorter section of the route, it’s perfectly possible to incorporate this into a day hike, or a multi-day (but not quite so long) one.
One of my favourite sections is the bit between Glentrool and Clatteringshaws, in Galloway Forest Park. This can be hiked in one day (more details below) and is an excellent introduction to this fantastic long-distance route.
Need to know
Entire Southern Upland Way
Length: 214 miles / 344 km
Time: 12 – 16 days
Access: The trail starts in Portpatrick on the west coast, and runs all the way to Cockburnspath on the east coast. You can reach Portpatrick by train from Glasgow. At the end of the trail, take a bus from Cockburnspath to Berwick-on-Tweed, which has a railway station with connections to both Edinburgh and London.
Section from Glentrool to Clatteringshaws
Length: 14 miles / 22.5 km
Time: 6 – 8 hours
Path Taken: From Glentrool Visitor Centre, follow the trail along the bank of the river south-westwards until the path intersects with the Southern Upland Way (which is clearly marked). Follows the SUW west towards Loch Trool and beyond.
Access: Start at Glentrool Visitor Centre. You will need to arrange to be dropped off here as there is no public transport. Alternatively, take a bus to Glentrool Village and walk along the road (about 1 mile) to the Visitor Centre. At the end of this route, Clatteringshaws has bus connections to other towns in the area.
Grey Mare’s Tail & Loch Skeen, Dumfries and Galloway
The Grey Mare’s Tail is one of the tallest and most dramatic waterfalls in the UK.
Located in Scotland’s Moffat Hills, the falls tumble over 60 metres from a hanging valley into a deep ravine. From various different places, the sheet of falling water looks like a horse’s tail, hence the name.
The source of the water is the picturesque Loch Skeen, an upland lake situated at the foot of a mountain called White Coomb.
The main hiking trail to Loch Skeen runs up the right edge of the ravine, so the stream and falls should be on your left. There is another path on the other side of the stream, although this is much shorter and ends after a few hundred metres.
At the start of the main trail, there is a long flight of steps to climb as you ascend up the side of the gorge. The trail is fairly steep but well-maintained and easy to follow. Almost the entire way up, you will have excellent views of the falls.
Once you have climbed up to the level of the top of the falls, the path flattens out and becomes quite leisurely. Continue until you reach the shores of the sparkling Loch Skeen, where the trail ends.
To get back to the car park, you need to return the same way (which is much easier and quicker on the way down).
This area is part of the Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve, which is ecologically very diverse. It’s a popular breeding ground for peregrine falcons. Other species which you might see include eagles, ospreys, hares, and wild goats.
Need to know
Length: 3 miles / 5 km
Time: 2 hours
Access: The trail starts from the main Grey Mare’s Tail car park, on the A708 road, about 10 miles (16 km) from Moffat.
Path Taken: There’s only one path up to Loch Skeen, which runs up the right edge of the ravine. It’s easy to follow, though the first half is quite steep.
South Downs, West Sussex
The South Downs is a range of chalky hills that runs through the southern English counties of Hampshire, East Sussex, and West Sussex.
This hike starts in the Hamlet of Nepcote and crosses a picturesque stretch of the Downs, finishing in the village of Steyning. It’s a pretty route, passing through meadows of wildflowers and ancient woodland.
The route starts at the car park just past Nepcote Green. From here, take the little country lane uphill for about 250 metres until you reach a sign for the Monarch’s Way off to the left.
The Monarch’s Way is a long-distance footpath that follows the escape route taken by King Charles II as he fled after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Take this path, which slowly ascends until you reach the top of the hill. There are a few other paths off on either side, but the Monarch’s Way is well-signposted and easy to follow.
As the view starts to open up, on your right-hand side you will see Cissbury Ring, the remains of an Iron Age hillfort, one of the largest in Europe.
Eventually, you will reach a crossroads, where the Monarch’s Way intersects the South Downs Way, another long-distance footpath in the area. From here, there are stunning views out over the Downs, the Sussex coast, and out to sea.
At the junction, you need to cross over the Monarch’s Way and then almost immediately take a left fork. Continue along this path until you get to another junction, where you turn right, following signs to Steyning.
The path descends gradually until you reach the road. Follow the road into Steyning and keep an eye out for the White Horse pub on your left, where you can enjoy a well-earned pint.
Need to know
Length: 3.7 miles / 6 km
Time: 2 hours
Access: This route starts at the car park just past Nepcote Green. It’s a little hard to describe exactly where this is, but the exact coordinates are 50°51’54.7″N 0°23’52.1″W (enter these into Google Maps and you’ll find it).
Path Taken: The first half of the route follows the Monarch’s Way. Afterwards, you should be able to pick up signs to Steyning. See above for a more detailed description of the route.
What are your favourite hikes in the UK? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.