The most scenic walks in the UK, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands

Whether it's a dramatic coastal hike or an amble around pastoral hills, the UK has a walk to suit everyone

Travel Desk
Thursday 02 May 2024 11:11 BST
Durdle Door in Dorset
Durdle Door in Dorset (Getty Images)

Beloved by cagoule-wearers, fitness-seekers, and family adventures alike, the UK’s criss-crossed network of walking trails is well-kept and wonderfully navigable.

As spring gets underway and milder temperatures see winter wear finally swapped for lighter fare, it’s a great time of year to lace up your hiking boots and get exploring. Whether a total novice or a seasoned walker, there are different levels of challenge to suit (maybe don’t immediately attempt to scale Ben Nevis if you’re new to hiking...).

Some trails can be tackled in a day, while others are designed to be multi-day or even week-long adventures. And with the UK boasting 46 AONBs (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), those looking to get out on foot are spoilt for choice when it comes to drop-dead gorgeous landscapes to wander through.

Whether it’s views of roiling seas or wildflower-flecked meadows you’re after, there really is a walk out there for everyone. Here are some of the best.

Read more on walking holidays:

Ringstead to Durdle Door, Dorset, England

Length: 9 miles

The beach at Ringstead Bay in Dorset, part of the Jurassic Coast (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The limestone cliffs of the Jurassic Coast, a 95-mile stretch of sea-battered coastline running from east Devon to Dorset, are speckled with 185 million years of history. Embedded in them you’ll find the fossils of the tiniest ammonites to the mightiest dinosaurs, and you can even see evidence of these ancient creatures in the tiny shards of rock scattered around your feet. The nine-mile walk from Ringstead Bay to the much-photographed natural limestone arch of Durdle Door can be steep and challenging at points, but views across the churning sea and a chance to pick up a fossil of your own, make it truly rewarding.

Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey, England

Length: 6.2 miles

Elmley Nature Reserve sits on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

On an island in the Thames, away from the bustle of north Kent, you’ll find Elmley Nature Reserve. Mottled by marshes and bird hides overlooking mudflats teeming with thousands of wading birds, this is a nature-lovers paradise (and a filming location for some blustery Charles Dickens adaptations, too). Park up at Kingshill Farm and trudge the six-mile loop along the seawall to the Spitend Hide and back, and keep your eyes peeled for otters, hares and hunting barn owls as dusk falls. There are cosy shepherd’s huts back at the farm if you need somewhere to recharge overnight.     

The West Highland Way, Scotland

Length: 96 miles

The lake is part of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Although covering the whole 96 miles of the West Highland Way can take around a week, the terrain is surprisingly navigable, and not too steep, meaning it’s more of a long stroll than a sweaty schlep. Starting at Milngavie just outside Glasgow, the trail – carved out by old military routes and drovers’ journeys – winds through a soul-soothing landscape, taking in the peaceful beauty of Loch Lomond and the boggy wilderness of Rannoch Moor, before ending at Fort William at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis.

The Lizard Peninsula Coast, Cornwall, England

Length: 7 miles

The scenic landscape of the Lizard Point (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula forms the most southerly point of Britain, where the land is laced with networks of shady coves and salt-soaked fishing villages untainted by time. The harbour town of Porthleven and the go-slow village of Helford are linked by the South West Coast Path. A seven-mile stroll along the peninsula coast in spring takes you through meadows of rare wildflowers and along craggy coastlines licked by the English Channel. Tourists have been beating a path to Kynance Cove since Victorian times, and the white sand beach is well worth a stop-off to cool your feet in the sea.

Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire, England

Length: Varies

Around half a million seabirds gather on the cliffs between March and October (iStock)

Between March and October, around half a million seabirds gather at The Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve – including guillemots that cram onto the narrowest ledges of the towering chalk cliffs and Atlantic puffins which return from fishing expeditions with wiggling eels dangling from their beaks.

There are plenty of short self-guided trails with views of the pummelling North Sea, including a puffin trail, a gannet trail and a scavenger bug hunt trail for kids (you can also hire Discovery Backpacks which come with binoculars, spotter sheets, bird books and magnifying bug pots).

The Cotswold Way National Trail, England

Length: 102 miles

With the landscape covering six counties there's plenty of The Cotswold to explore (iStock)

Meandering 102 miles through some of Britain’s most painterly scenery, the Cotswold Way National Trail forges a pretty path past dainty villages, undulating hills and historic battle sites. Stretching from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south, the whole route can take between seven and 10 days to complete, but it’s broken down into a series of bite-size circular walks – such as the Winchcombe and Belas Knap route and a leafy jaunt through Cranham Woods – for those who want a more manageable slice of the action.

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