Glen Affric, Scotland
Length: 12 miles
Map: OS Landranger 25 Loch Carron and Glen Affric
Glen Affric is often acclaimed as the finest glen in Scotland. Each time I've walked here I have seen golden eagles above the crags that rise to either side of elongated Loch Affric. Yet, while the glen has a powerful feeling of remoteness, the 12-mile walk around the loch is on good tracks and demands only time and reasonable stamina.
From the Kintail Mountains in the west, the glen extends for 30 miles before the first village is reached, Cannich in Strathglass. Bare rock and open mountainside give way to groups of Caledonian pines – remnants of an ancient forest that once covered much of northern Scotland – and then to birch and mixed woodland. Rare pine marten live here, along with crossbills and crested tits. The main absentees are people. The glen was Clan Chisholm land, but emptied during the Clearances.
The walk begins at a car park where the public road ends at the eastern end of the loch. Route finding should be no problem. Clockwise or anti-clockwise, the River Affric is crossed twice, just below the car park and beyond the head of the loch by a footbridge at the former settlement of Athnamulloch.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Length: 9 miles
Map: OSNI sheet 5 Ballycastle
If you only ever do one walk in Northern Ireland, it must surely include the Giant's Causeway. When the weather is kind, kittiwakes wheel by the cliffs, grey seals bob in the waves below and the view stretches right over to Kintyre.
According to legend, the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill built the causeway in order to walk over the North Channel and do battle with his Scottish rival, Benadonner. Of course, you may prefer the geologists' explanation: that the 40,000 basalt columns of this extraordinary World Heritage Site are the result of a volcanic eruption that happened 60 million years ago. Either way, it makes a pleasant setting for a walk.
David Marshall's useful Best Walks in Ireland (Frances Lincoln, £11.99) offers routes of varying length, perhaps the best of which, if you want the full elemental experience and a chance to shake off the Causeway crowds, follows the cliff top from the National Trust visitor centre to the 16th-century ruin of Dunseverick Castle.
Return the same way or (shorter) along the B147.
Skiddaw via Ullock Pike, Lake District
Length: 7 miles
Map: OS Explorer OL4 English Lakes NW area
The Lake District offers the best walking in England. As to routes, well, you're spoilt for choice. Skiddaw, at 931m is the fourth highest hill in Lakeland. Its easy gradient and proximity to Keswick made it an obvious goal for early tourists, though some were unnerved by the alien appearance height gave to valley features. Such was the astonishment of two gentleman in 1793, they felt sick and turned back.
Not long afterwards came Coleridge, all energetic shamble. Skiddaw was in the backyard of his Keswick home. "Many a walk in the clouds on the mountains did I take," he wrote. In better weather, the views over the Solway to Scotland and south over central Lakeland are fantastic.
Approaching via Ullock Pike from the car park at Mirehouse on the A591 adds an exhilarating ridge, and woods still inhabited by red squirrels. From Mirehouse, follow a woodland path north to open fell and bear up to the ridge extending north from Ullock Pike. Follow this south over the pike and on to Carlside Tarn where a main path ascends to Skiddaw's slatey top.
Return to Mirehouse via Carl Side and Dodd Wood.
Zennor, South West Coast Path
Length: 6 miles
Map: OS Explorer 102 Land's End
The South West Coast Path is Britain's longest national trail – 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset, curling round Land's End and back to Poole Harbour in Dorset. The full Monty, taking in cliff tops, coves, beaches and fishing villages would take a couple of months. Usually it is savoured in more manageable distances, for which the official website (southwestcoastpath.com) is an invaluable planning tool, including for circular day walks.
My own favourite stretch is the rugged far west in Cornwall, between St Ives and Land's End: tin mines, tumuli and a litany of magical-sounding place names. In the heart of it is Zennor, where my children were captivated by the story of a mermaid said to have lured a sweet-voiced chorister to his death in a cove below the village. Her image is on the end of a 15th-century bench in the parish church.
There is a gem of a walk heading north east from the church through farmsteads to Treveal and a headland overlooking a rocky islet called the Carracks – then back along the coast path to Zennor Head and the village, maybe stopping for a pint in The Tinners Arms.
Kinder Scout, Peak District
Length: 10 miles
Map: OS Explorer OL1, Dark Peak
The Peak District is the oldest national park in Britain and, in a way, the spiritual home of rambling – the 'right to roam' having literally been fought for here in the Mass Trespass of 1932.
It's a more welcoming place for walkers now; indeed, lying slap in the middle of England and almost ringed by conurbations, this tract of moor and rolling upland is one of the busiest national parks in Europe. There are two distinct landscapes: the Dark Peak of open moorland and stubby wind-sculpted cliffs of gritstone, and the gentler White Peak of pasture set between stone walls, cut by limestone gorges with rushing streams.
A wealth of walking guides cover the area; one attractive and easy to follow newcomer being Day Walks in the Peak District by Norman Taylor and Barry Pope (Vertebrate Graphics, £12.95). Their 'Kinder Scout: South West Circuit' gives a great introduction to the Dark Peak, starting and finishing at Edale (rail station). It follows an old packhorse route onto the summit plateau and passes strangely eroded rocks known as the Wool Packs and another group called Ringing Roger, before zigzagging back down to Edale.
The Viking Way, Lincolnshire Wolds
Length: 10 miles
Map: OS Explorer 273 Lincolnshire Wolds South
Contrary to popular belief, Lincolnshire is not flat – well, not all of it. Two ranges of chalk hills run down the county: the Lincoln Edge, which gives the city's cathedral such a commanding position, and the Lincolnshire Wolds, modest, rolling hills in sight of the Humber estuary and North Sea.
The Wolds were once sheep country – wool paid for the fine spired churches hereabouts – and although the plough has made major incursions, there is still more grassland than elsewhere in the county. It doesn't rank high in the hit parade of walking areas, but for the aficionado of quiet tracks, field edges and hedgerows it's a treat.
The county is crossed by the well-signed Viking Way long-distance path, with the Wolds as one of its most scenic stretches. An excellent circular walk can be taken from the village of Scamblesby, just off the A153 south west of Louth. Follow the Viking Way south across farmland to the village of Fulletby, then double back on bridleways and field paths to Scamblesby, passing only isolated Westfield House, East Farm and Wood Farm. There's a useful guide, The Viking Way (Lincolnshire County Council, £2.50).
The Glyders, Snowdonia, Wales
Length: 6 miles
Map: OS Explorer OL17 Snowdon/Conwy Valley
Walking the mile or so from Glyder Fawr (the 'greater' at 999m) to Glyder Fach (the 'lesser' at 994m) is a promenade through the fantastic. It is as if some Welsh giant had been playing with barn door-sized slabs of rock, balancing them at improbable angles, building castles and hurling rejects in all directions.
This broad ridge in sight of Snowdon and the sea is one of the finest high-level walks in Britain, if the weather is clear, and the crazy rock architecture is like nowhere else – but how to get up there? Glyder Fawr tops any mountain away in England, so this is terrain for the fairly fit and energetic.
The easiest route is from the car park at Ogwen Cottage by Llyn (lake) Ogwen on the A5, ascending via Llyn Idwal, splendidly set beneath a cirque of cliffs, then steeply up to smaller Llyn y Cwn (good for a dip on hot days) and on to Glyder Fawr.
Visit Glyder Fach and the spikey 'Castle of the Winds' then return by the same route. There are other entertaining routes onto the Glyders, notably Bristly Ridge, but these are 'scrambles' and a bit more serious.
Greensand Way, Weald of Kent
Length: 10 miles
Map: OS Explorer 147 Sevenoaks and Tonbridge
Within an hour of leaving Charing Cross station you can be strolling in the Weald of Kent, and very good it is too. An hour is about all it takes by train to Sevenoaks and then to walk through this commuter town to Knole Park (above).
Beyond the park lies some of the loveliest countryside, on London's doorstep. This corner of west Kent is criss-crossed by rights of way, and with a bit of study of the OS map you can devise a walk through woods, orchards and fields to suit your energies and fancy. It's good for pubs, too.
One of the country's long-distance trails – the Greensand Way – skirts the southern edge of Knole Park before heading east along the wooded escarpment from which it takes its name (the Greensand Ridge) towards Ightham Mote, a 14th-century manor house surrounded by still water. Both Ightham and Knole House are National Trust properties. And, if you've got the legs for it, next stop on the Greensand Way could be The Chaser Inn at Shipbourne.
Return by the outward route or by way of Budd's Green and Underriver.Reuse content