The 50 Best walking holidays
From coast to coast challenges to relaxing rambles with luxury lodges, Rhiannon Batten laces up her boots
Friday 24 February 2012
This week's panel:
Sarah Baxter is associate editor of Wanderlust (wanderlust.co.uk);
Jo Tinsley is features editor of Countryfile magazine (countryfile.com);
Joanna Hall is founder of Walkactive (joannahall.com);
Dominic Bates is editor of Ramblers' Walk magazine (walkmag.co.uk);
Andy Lowe is co-founder of handihikes.co.uk, which produces compact walking guides;
Rhiannon Batten can be found at twitter.com/rhiannonbatten
1. Whitby to Scarborough
"Follow a cracking 21-mile, two-day walk along the Cleveland Way, from Whitby to Scarborough, bedding down for the night at Boggle Hole youth hostel, just after Robin Hood's Bay, having stopped off for a slap-up fish supper first," says Jo Tinsley.
Details: Dorm beds from £10.40 per night at Boggle Hole (yha.org.uk)
2. Plumpton to Eastbourne
"The direct train from London Victoria takes less than an hour to reach the East Sussex village of Plumpton," encourages Sarah Baxter. "From here, follow the rolling South Downs Way for around 25 miles to Eastbourne, via Saxon Lewes, the Cuckmere River and the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, overnighting at Alfriston youth hostel en route."
3. The Dark Peak
The Dark Peak is the northern part of the Peak District, a largely moorland landscape that takes its name from the Millstone Grit that covers it. Here, make for the Kinder Plateau, says Andy. "Catch a train to Edale on a Saturday morning, head up Jacob's Ladder and walk the southern edge of the plateau before dropping down The Nab and heading back to Edale youth hostel. The following morning head south for Mam Tor, wander along Great Ridge and then clamber down into Hope in time for a quick beer before catching a train home."
4. The Pudding Club
"At the Three Ways House Hotel in Gloucestershire you can tuck in to seven British puddings with lashings of cream, chocolate sauce or custard, stay in a pudding-themed boudoir (like the Spotted Dick room, with its custard coloured walls) then walk off the guilt of gluttony with group hikes in the Cotswolds," sums up Jo.
Details: Walking weekends cost from £240 per person, including two nights' accommodation and two days' guided walking (threewayshousehotel.com)
5. A Dorset Smuggle
One of a new range of 2012 breaks from Foot Trails, which aims to take guests off well-trodden routes. Self-guided tours from three to five nights cover the smuggling history of Dorset's Jurassic Coast. Leisurely walks of five to 10 miles a day with stops for civilised pub lunches (not included in the price).
Details: Trips cost from £325 per person, including three nights B&B accommodation and trail guides (foottrails.co.uk)
6. Constable Country
"Constable's paintings may have lent a false classical grandeur to his rural birthplace, but they certainly captured its beauty," says Dominic Bates. "The Stour Valley's watermeadows and river join together a patchwork of picture-postcard villages in Essex and Suffolk." For an easy weekend walk here, take the train to Manningtree and then follow the nine-mile round trip, staying overnight in Dedham along the way.
Details: Double rooms at The Sun Inn, cost from £105 (thesuninndedham.com)
7. The Mourne Way
One of the wilder, but more accessible, sections of the Ulster Way, this 26-mile yomp leads walkers from Newcastle to Rostrevor, in County Down via glorious swathes of moorland, mountain and ancient woodlands. The walk takes two days but, unless you live locally, you'll need to add in a night in Newcastle.
Where: Self-guided three-night Mourne Way breaks cost from £229 per person with Let's Go Walking! This includes B&B accommodation, luggage transfer and route maps (letsgowalking.com)
8. Lakeland pack ponies
A great trip for families, or couples, this two-day break follows pack pony routes across the fells of the southwest Lake District, starting from Moss Side Farm in Broughton-in-Furness. The self-guided trips are tailor-made but typically cover six to nine miles per day.
Where: Prices start from £300 for two, including breakfast, lunches, one nights' bell tent accommodation and two days walking (lakelandpackponies.co.uk)
WALKING & MORE
9. Bread, breakfast & boots
"Bedruthan Steps Hotel, in Cornwall, offers a range of courses, including artisan bread-making with lovely Tom Hazzledine (aka "Baker Tom"). Learn to make loaves, then yomp along the coast to burn them off," recommends Sarah. "The neighbouring beach, dotted by rock pillars and pools, is also one of the best in the country."
Details: Bread-making breaks will be running from 23 to 25 March and 12 to 14 October. These cost from £324 per person (bedruthan.com)
10. Surf and turf
For Andy, Devon's South Hams boasts dramatic coastal scenery away from the summer swarms. "The area east of Salcombe, from East Portlemouth to Start Point takes in Gara Rock, Gammon Head, Prawle Point and Peartree Point – all good territory for walks". If you base yourself by Bantham Beach, just the other side of Salcombe, you'll be in "the best place in the South Hams to take to the surf".
Details: Double rooms at the Sloop Inn, Bantham, cost from £79, B&B (thesloop.co.uk)
11. Up hill and downward dog
"Morning yoga sessions followed by guided afternoon rambles, and more yoga, all on the North Cornwall coast – these are perfect ingredients for a relaxing and inspiring holiday," promises Dominic. "Based at Chy Morvah, the 'house by the sea' in Cornish, you're also within walking distance to the centre of St Ives".
Details: HF Holidays next yoga and walking break in St Ives starts on 6 October and costs £799 per person for seven nights (hfholidays.co.uk)
12. The Great Glen
Fingal of Caledonia offers a 78-mile Great Glen hike, between Fort William and Inverness, with an aquatic twist. A converted barge fitted out with en-suite twin-berth cabins, it takes up to 12 people along the Caledonian Canal in seven days. Each day guests are dropped off for guided hikes of between 10 and 14 miles.
Details: Prices start at £745 per person, for six nights (fingal-cruising.co.uk)
13. Hiking and biking
"On a par with the Lakes for accessibility, scenery and activities, a trip to Betws-y-Coed, in Snowdonia, will not disappoint," says Andy. "For adrenalin-pumping scrambling, try the north face of Tryfan and, if you are still up for it, Bristly Ridge and the Glyders."
Details: Beds at Tyddyn Bach Bunkhuts, Betws-y-Coed, cost from £12 per person (afonconwycottage.co.uk)
14. Wild swimming
Jo recommends a ramble to the Fairy Pools on Skye, a Wilderness Scotland self-guided hiking route. "A series of pink and green-tinged pools, two of which are linked by an underwater arch, bedecked with quartz and apparently home to selkies (mermaid-like creatures)."
Details: From £330 a person for a three-night trip (wildernessscotland.com)
15. The ale trail
"Every passionate walker should make a pilgrimage to the summit of Kinder Scout in the Peak District," says Dominic. "April marks the 80th anniversary of its Mass Trespass, a catalyst in the campaign for the right to roam".
Details: The latest edition of The Inn Way to the Peak District will be published later this spring.
16. Norfolk Coast Path
Recently voted the Best Coastal Path Trail in Britain by readers of Coast magazine, the 47-mile Norfolk Coast Path runs from Hunstanton to Cromer, the centre of the county's crab industry. On the way it passes wide sandy beaches, windswept dunes, picturesque coastal villages, ancient windmills and the seal colonies at Blakeney Point
Details: Four-day self-guided holidays covering the trail cost from £360 per person (contours.co.uk)
17. Isle of Wight Coastal Path
One for those who don't have the will – or knee – power to tackle more mountainous terrain, this more level circuit around the Isle of Wight's coastline still promises plenty of variety with chalk and sandstone cliffs, busy holiday resorts and peaceful bays.
Details: Self-led seven-day circuits of the trail cost from £399 per person (wight-walks.co.uk)
18. Llanthony Priory Walk
According to Sarah it pays to enlist some help when tackling Wales' Black Mountains. She recommends Drover Holidays' three-day, 30-mile loop from Hay-on-Wye and back via Llanthony Priory. It takes in great views from the top of Hay Bluff and the Olchon Valleyas well as the romantic ruins of Llanthony's 12th-century priory.
Details: Self-guided trips from £225 per person (droverholidays.co.uk).
19. Walkactive spa break
For most of us, walking is a skill we take for granted but, according to postural alignment expert, Joanna Hall, the majority of us are doing it incorrectly. Join one of her Walkactive Spa breaks and, over a pampering, two-night stay at a health, you will learn how to stride out more positively to improve your posture.
Details: Prices start from £309.95 per person at Champneys Forest Mere, in Hampshire (joannahall.com).
20. On foot with Fido
According to Jo, Cornwall's Nare Hotel is the perfect base for a short, decadent walking break. "Stride out by day around the Roseland peninsula then wind up in the hotel's spa, enjoy a gourmet meal and finally sink into a soft bed," she advises. Dogs are checked in as guests and are even offered their own table d'hote menu.
Details: Double rooms at the Nare Hotel start from £270, including afternoon tea (narehotel.co.uk)
21. Luxury on the Lower Thames
Capital Sport runs a range of unusual walking holidays across the UK and this London trek is one of the most luxurious on its books. An eight-day, self-guided ramble taking in Windsor Castle, Kew Gardens, Tower Bridge and the London Eye en route before finishing up at a five-star hotel in the capital.
Details: Prices start at £1,640 per person (capital-sport.co.uk)
22. Castles of the Shropshire Marshes
A four-night, self-guided stroll through the bucolic rolling borderlands between England and Wales, this majestic ramble covers 36 miles between quaint Bishop's Castle and foodie Ludlow. Following ancient drovers' trails along sections of the Shropshire Way and Offa's Dyke, it passes villages, castles and hillforts.
Details: Prices start from £310 per person (inntravel.co.uk)
23. The Pilgrim's Way
According to Sarah, "no-one knows more about Kent's Pilgrim's Waythan Derek Bright, author of a popular guide on the subject." This ancient trail from Winchester to Canterbury, coinciding with some places Chaucer's pilgrims visited, is roughly followed by the 153-mile North Downs National Trail.
Details: Self-guided 14-night, 130-mile trips cost from £1,282 per person (walkawhile.co.uk)
24. The Borders Abbeys Way
This gentle, 68-mile loop in the south of Scotland links four 12th-century abbeys via rolling countryside and the historic market towns of Jedburgh, Selkirk, Kelso and Melrose. A highlight is magnificent Dryburgh Abbey.
Details: Seven night, self-guided trips, starting and finishing in Jedburgh, from £480 per person (absoluteescapes.com)
25. Stratford to Oxford
One of the stateliest journeys on offer from walking company, Headwater, this 38-mile trail through the centre of the country provides plenty of historic interest, from the Rollright stones outside Long Compton to Blenheim Palace.
Details: Self-guided packages start from £580 per person (headwater.com).
26. West Highland Way
"This classic Milngavie to Fort William trail takes in 96 miles of Scottish moor, woodland and mountain over its six-to seven-day route," sums up Andy.
27. Pembrokeshire Coast Path
If you're looking for a hearty Welsh walk before the All Wales Coast Path opens, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is hard to beat, according to Jo. "Its rollercoaster route over 186 miles of coastline is worth every step," she says. "My favourite section is around St David's Head, with the tempestuous Bitches tidal rapides of Ramsey Sound churning away in the distance. I've seen seals peering up from below and kestrels hovering above".
28. South West Coast Path
"This 630-mile shoreline-tracer from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, via every cove and cranny of Devon and Cornwall, is epic in scale," sums up Sarah. "Follow the whole route in a recommended seven to eight weeks and you'll climb a total of 35,000m. Too much? Many stretches make excellent day or weekend walks: try Bude to Port Issac or the Roseland Peninsula."
29. Hadrian's Wall Path
The 84-mile national trail that follows Britain's greatest Roman monument is a highlight for any walker, promises Dominic. "It should take you no more than a week to cross the neck of northern England, from Tyneside to the Solway estuary, but you'll be stepping back millennia, as you retrace the footsteps of centurions patrolling the preserved remnants of wall – and enjoy stunning borderland scenery".
Though not a trail in the classic sense, ticking off or "bagging" Scotland's munros is high on many British hikers wishlists. "I love the idea of climbing a series of these and how each can challenge your fitness differently," says Joanna. Most munro-baggers approach each mountain independently but specialist packaged walking holidays also exist. For a short introduction to the concept, Glentrek runs three-night munro-bagging breaks in and around the Cairngorms.
Details: Trips run in May and September and cost from £295 per person, including three nights' B&B, lunches and professional guiding (glentrek.com)
31. Coast to Coast
"Famously devised by Alfred Wainwright, in 1972, this cross-country trail remains one of the most popular long-distance walks in the world," says Andy. Starting at St Bees, in Cumbria, and finishing at Robin Hood's Bay, in North Yorkshire, the two-week route is "a cracking 192 miles," he adds.
Details: Wainright's Coast to Coast Walk: A Pictorial Guide
32. The Speyside Way
Described by Dominic as "one of Scotland's premier long-distance routes," this path follows forest tracks and disused railway lines along the Spey for 65 miles "from the Cairngorms' wild uplands, through pine forests, to the Moray Firth. Numerous distilleries are dotted along the route, if you fancy a chest-warming nip to spur you on."
33. The Pennine Way
Not quite ready to tackle Land's End to John O'Groats? Though an awful lot shorter, the Pennine Way is a great primer. Snaking north for 268 miles from Edale, in the Peak District, the route cuts up through the Yorkshire Dales and crosses over Hadrian's Wall into Northumberland, finishing up at Kirk Yetholm, in the Scottish Borders.
34. Causeway Coast Way
In good weather this 33-mile, four-day coastal route from Portstewart to Ballycastle, on the Antrim Coast, is truly spectacular. "Highlights along the trail include the Giant's Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Reached via a short diversion after Ballintoy, the bridge spans a 20m-wide chasm between the mainland and a picturesquely craggy island that was once used as a small salmon fishery," explains Jo.
35. The Shephers Way
According to Sarah many walkers seem to ignore the wild and windswept northeast. "This is remiss," she says, "as Northumberland is criss-crossed by wonderful trails." One such route is the Shepherds Way, which follows little-used paths through the Coquet and Breamish valleys. Unusually, it also explores shepherding culture along the way, with former Countryside ranger and shepherd turned walking leader, Russell Tait, as guide.
Details: The next break starts on 28 June and costs from £325 per person, including four nights' B&B (skedaddle.co.uk).
36. Southern Upland Way
This challenging 212-mile coast-to-coast path cuts across Scotland from Portpatrick in the west to Cockburnspath in the east via coast, moorland, forest, glen and hills. It hasn't been left undisturbed by human foot since it first opened, 28 years ago, but some long, open stages where accommodation is restricted to wild camping or bothies (or detouring to a pick-up point for vehicle support) means the trail remains much less well-trodden than the West Highland Way.
37. The Bob Graham Round
Covering 42 Lake District peaks in 66 miles, the Bob Graham Round "has been an epic 24-hour challenge since Bob Graham first completed it in 1932," says Andy. "But with so many mountains to cover and almost 30,000ft to tackle, why not take a bit more time over the route?" Approach its five stages in five days, instead, and you can "take your time enjoying the fantastic scenery. You'll have to add in a few diversions to campsites unless you want to wild camp but you'll have a great time".
38. All Wales Coast Path
On 5 and 6 May Ramblers Cymru will be celebrating the launch of the All Wales Coast Path, the first in the world to span an entire country's coastline, with the Big Welsh Walk – a series of events taking place along every stretch of the Welsh shore. "The path will link up 870 miles of accessible coastline so if you're planning a walking holiday this summer, Wales is the place," says Dominic.
39. The Knoydart Peninsula
"Wild camping and strenuous hiking are the best ways to explore this rugged Scottish peninsula," states Sarah. "Knoydart is famously home to the UK's most remote pub, which gets busy despite being accessible only by boat or boots. To get even further from the crowds, Wilderness Scotland's six- or seven-night Wilderness Walking trips around the Knoydart Peninsula take in some of the region's least explored corners."
Details: These trips take place on four dates throughout the summer and cost from £975 per person, including full-board accommodation in a cosy wilderness lodge, guiding and transfers to and from Mallaig (wildernessscotland.com).
40. Greensand Way
Joanna describes this walk as an unusually accessible way to avoid the crowds. "It's not geographically remote but it is a less obvious choice for most hikers," she says. "A lovely route with varied walking and great scenery, it runs for 107 miles from Haslemere, in Surrey, to Hamstreet, in Kent, taking in Leith Hill, the Devil's Punchbowl and the wildlife of Romney Marsh along the way". Ramblers volunteers and council officers have recently helped relaunch the trail, adding comprehensive signage and publishing a new web guide to the route.
41. Cape Wrath
"The British mainland's most north-westerly point is a thrillingly wild landscape," says Dominic. One of the country's least well-trodden (and unmarked) long-distance footpaths finishes here, having started just over 200 miles away in Fort William and taken in famous Sandwood Bay, and more, along the way. There are several possible routes but C-N-Do Scotland offers the trail as a 17-day guided walking holiday, starting in Inverie.
Details: Prices start at £1,739 including transport from Stirling, most meals and all accommodation (cndoscotland.com)
42. Six Dales Trail
Though this two year-old trail passes through some of the most glorious countryside in the Yorkshire Dales it was designed specifically to open up some of the area's lesser-known countryside, and does so brilliantly. Running north for 38 miles from Otley, in Wharfedale, to Middleham, in Wensleydale, through four other dales, it passes ruined abbeys, quaint villages and wild open countryside.
Details: Four-day self-guided walks cost from £345 per person, including five nights' B&B accommodation, luggage transfers and detailed maps and route notes (contours.co.uk).
BACK TO BASE
"This Lake District honeypot has all the ingredients for a brilliant walking holiday," says Andy. "There are restaurants, outdoor shops to buy kit, a range of accommodation, and even a cinema for wet afternoons. And some of the best walks in the Lake District on the doorstep". Where to start? "Try the Fairfield Horseshoe, a walk over Loughrigg Fell to Grasmere and back on the Coffin Route through Rydal Hall or a trip over Wansfell Pike for a coffee in the Mortal Man Inn followed by a stroll back along Robin Lane," he says.
Details: Double rooms at the Apple Pie, Ambleside, cost from £60, B&B (roomsattheapplepie.co.uk).
"Hole up in a National Trust cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Snowshill – one of the filming locations for Bridget Jones's Diary – and make forays on foot into the surrounding wolds," advises Sarah. "Try hiking up to Broadway Tower, across to chocolate-box Stanton or further afield to the Slaughters," she adds.
Details: Spring Cottage, which sleeps two, is one of several National Trust cottages in Snowshill. From £346 for seven nights (0844 8002070; nationaltrustcottages.co.uk). For downloadable walks see cotswoldsaonb.org.uk.
45. The Eden Valley
Get back to nature at The Lodge, a cosy log cabin sleeping four on the edge of the Lake District. "On a tributary of the River Eden, you can catch salmon in the morning and walk in the afternoons," says Jo. The northern lakes are close by but the Eden Valley is right on your doorstep – a relatively little-visited area where looming fells stretch out into wide valleys, fringed with hedgerows. It's perfect walking country, and comes with a peace that's rare in the lakes."
Details: Rental of The Lodge starts at £553 for four nights (canopyandstars.co.uk)
"Staying at Dolserau Hall, a Victorian country house near Dolgellau, is a fantastic way to explore southern Snowdonia and the nearby coast," says Dominic. Walks for all abilities are possible from here. "Explore the impressive mountains of Cadair Idris, the Rhinogs and Aran Fawddwy mountains or the Mawddach estuary and Barmouth".
Details: Double rooms start from £115, B&B (dolserau.co.uk)
47. The Stiperstones
Book into the Stiperstones Inn, in this oft-ignored corner of Shropshire, and you can enjoy wonderful undiscovered walks in and around the hills and nature reserve that surround it, says Sarah. "Hike up to the Devil's Chair (one of the dramatic rocky outcrops that make up the Stiperstones ridge) or explore numerous breezy walks around the nearby Long Mynd," she adds. "The old Bog Mine makes an interesting stroll too".
Details: Double rooms at the Stiperstones Inn, around 12 miles southwest of Shrewsbury, cost from £60, B&B (stiperstonesinn.co.uk)
48. Lundy Island
This National Trust-owned island, 12 miles off the coast of North Devon, "makes for a wonderful escape to a world free from cars, streetlights, TVs and mobile phones," says Dominic. "The wild moorland at the island's centre tumbles down valleys to secluded bays, where seals slumber on rocks and hoards of guillemots and puffins nest on dizzying clifftops." Though "you can walk across Lundy in under 10 minutes", it's worth staying for a long weekend.
49. Walking Women on Mull
Joanna recommends these week-long, women-only breaks on the Isle of Mull organised by specialists Walking Women. "Based at Ardachy House Hotel, near a deserted cove and with views to die for, the holidays here offer a real variety of terrain and scenery, including a visit to neighbouring Iona," she says.
Details: The next holiday runs from 29 April to 6 May and costs from £695 per person, including seven nights' full-board accommodation and guided walks (walkingwomen.com)
50. Rannoch Moor
"When Renton, Spud, Sickboy and Tommy escaped the city in Trainspotting, they stumbled upon one of Britain's most remote railway stations – Corrour on the West Highland Line," says Jo. "From here you can stride out into the wilderness to Loch Ossian eco hostel and explore wild Rannoch Moor, tackle a Munro or enjoy a circuitround the loch".
Details: Beds at Loch Ossian youth hostel from £19.50 per person (syha.org.uk)
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