UK long-distance walking routes and top tips
To walk a long-distance route is to embark on a journey, passing through the landscape at a pace that allows you to notice and appreciate all that is around you. There are 16 national trails and many hundreds of other named long-distance routes in the UK, including 29 Great Trails in Scotland.
Preparing for a long-distance walk
Lockdown days, weeks and months may have provided an opportunity to enjoy walking for the first time, but your health may have suffered. A long-distance walk can provide an incredibly therapeutic opportunity to heal the mind, strengthen the body and provide direction and clarity for the future.
There are many articles on the Cicerone website that will help you to prepare for a long-distance walk, including tips for training, navigation and map reading, packing and essential kit. You may have heard of a trail that friends have walked and want to try out a long distance route for yourself, or you may be more experienced, seeking ideas for more adventures. We hope this page will set your plans in motion!
New to long-distance walking?
If you are new to long-distance walking, then it might be best to choose something not too demanding, as it’s always much better to return from your walking holiday wanting to do more, rather than regret having ever considered the idea!
It's likely that you already enjoy walking, and have learned to navigate using a map and compass, or at least practiced matching up what you see on the ground with what appears on your map – whether an Ordnance Survey or HARVEY sheet map, or something on your phone.
National trails are a great introduction as they are well signed and maintained, and of course they pass through some of the best countryside! A few of them will fit easily into a one-week holiday – and you can always split these or longer trails into separate shorter trips while you build confidence. For a good overview, see our inspiring book on The National Trails.
All Cicerone guidebooks to the national trails come with a separate map booklet, which shows the entire route marked clearly on a 1:25,000 OS map. That's just incredibly convenient while you are out walking, as these little booklets slip easily into a pocket for instant access, and unlike a full sheet map, they don't flap around in the wind and rain. You can also get OS mapping on your phone at different scales, using the OS app, or other mapping apps such as Viewranger, TopoGPS, Garmin and myriad other apps, as well as free mapping, although the latter is rarely useful for showing the route of the better known and named long-distance trails.
This article isn't intended to give you a fully comprehensive list of recognised routes, but it does give you a good starting point, and we've tried to indicate both length and difficulty so that you know a bit more about what you are getting into. In time, you may even want to make up your own multi-day walking tour!
What to take, and where to stay
What you carry with you on a long-distance walk or trek depends mainly on your plans for accommodation, and on whether you are using luggage transfer services (either independently or with a self-guided or guided tour operator).
Luggage transfer: You can bring as much as you wish within reason if you are having your luggage transferred ahead, so you can just carry a day pack with what you need during the day.
Carrying everything staying in B&B/hotel/inns/hostels: You can easily carry everything with you and remain fully independent, but you will need to be careful to pack wisely and to keep the weight to a minimum. It should be perfectly possible to trek for a month or more using a 30-40litre pack carrying around 5-6kg on your back, plus a little more for food and water.
Camping and backpacking: This is when you will need a larger rucksack! Depending on the level of comfort you intend, you will need a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag appropriate for the season and cooking equipment, as well as food.
Booking accommodation yourself can be fun and part of the holiday planning. Booking ahead and early allows you the freedom to choose your accommodation, and maybe give yourself a treat at the end. The disadvantage is always that you have to research everything yourself, but there are numerous well known sites from which to choose, and you can also book directly with hotels, hostels and inns, particularly the ones mentioned in the guidebooks.
If you choose to have everything organised for you, this has the advantage that you simply book and go, in the knowledge that the company will sort you out with alternatives if necessary, and transport you if accommodation is out of the way. You also have the backup of cancellation options, should a cancellation qualify for a free refund. The downside is that you have to stay where you are booked by the holiday company.
The longest national trail is the England Coast Path, which when completed, will be the longest coastal path in the world. Although it will still be several years before the entire route is completed, it is certainly possible to walk a number of sections of the England Coast.
It includes the South West Coast Path, which explores the beautiful south west peninsular of England for 630 miles, and generally takes at least four weeks to walk, the Cleveland Way, part of which explores the North Sea coast to the east of the North York Moors, and the Norfolk Coast Path.
All national trails are well maintained and fully waymarked, so you are guaranteed to have a positive experience while you explore some of the most iconic scenery in the British Isles.
The advantage of using a Cicerone guidebook is that all the mapping you need is contained in a separate map booklet included with the book. The National Trails website has a vast amount of information on each trail, and the chart below provides good comparison information about each trail.
Scotland’s Great Trails website has a similar listing for comparison, with clickable links to access additional information about each trail. There is also a map available to download showing the location of all Scotland’s Great Trails.
|Trail||Distance in miles||Distance in km||Number of days|
|Great Trossachs Path||28.0||45||3|
|Mull of Galloway Trail||36.7||59||3|
|Berwickshire Coastal Path||29.8||48||4|
|River Ayr Way||41.0||66||4|
|Three Lochs Way||34.2||55||4|
|West Island Way||29.8||48||4|
|Cross Borders Drove Road||51.0||82||5|
|Formartine and Buchan Way||42.3||68||5|
|Great Glen Canoe Trail||59.7||96||5|
|Loch Lomond & Cowal Way||57.2||92||5|
|Moray Coast Trail||44.7||72||5|
|Romans and Reivers Route||52.2||84||5|
|Borders Abbeys Way||67.7||109||6|
|Forth & Clyde/Union Canal Towpath||65.9||106||6|
|St Cuthbert’s Way||62.1||100||6|
|Great Glen Way||77.7||125||7|
|Arran Coastal Way||66.5||107||8|
|Rob Roy Way||78 (or 95.7)||127 (or 154)||8|
|West Highland Way||95.7||154||8|
|Ayrshire Coastal Path||100.0||161||9|
|Fife Coastal Path||116.2||187||10|
|John Muir Way||133.6||215||11|
|Southern Upland Way||213.8||344||16|
Where and what to choose – other sources of information
Perhaps you are looking for a long-distance path in a particular area, or have specific criteria for your trek, such as a particular length or difficulty. The most comprehensive source of information about the UK's long-distance paths is the Long Distance Walkers Association website, which has a fantastic database of every known long-distance footpath and route. The site allows you to search using an interactive map of the UK (excluding northern Ireland).
It is also possible to enter particular criteria, such as the name of a path, its location or distance, to find routes that meet your needs.
The Long Distance Walkers Association is so much more than just a list of long-distance walking trails and routes. Members can take part in challenge events, join and walk in local groups, and the association is also the keeper of the Hillwalkers Register of those who have completed Hill 'lists' such as the Munros, Corbetts, Wainrights, Fellrangers, Marylins etc. So if you are into walking, and collecting summits, the LDWA is a good place to start.
A different experience, for different reasons.
Walking with and without the company of fellow walking friends, or with your dog, can often help you form a preference as to whether you prefer to be alone or not!
In company, you can share and discuss the scenery and sights as you go, take photos of each other, and have a guarantee of company in the evenings. Alone, and your mind can drift gently as you pace yourself through the miles, which many find incredibly therapeutic. This is often the choice when walking a camino, to give yourself the time to achieve something big, to have time and space for your own thoughts, but also to have ample opportunity to make friends along the way. You can stop when you want to, allow yourself to get side-tracked or visit various sites along the way, lingering or quickening your pace as it suits you. If you have a dog, there is never a dull moment as your faithful friend will always guide you along the path most frequently trod (hence you don't often get lost!).
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