With the Appalachian National Scenic Trail celebrating 75 years in 2012, it’s worth keeping in mind that England also has national trails, some of them well worth a long distance ramble for travelers to the UK.
The Visit England Blog recently ran a short list of some longer distance trails in Britain. These and other UK trails promise “beguilingly beautiful scenery and hidden histories on some epic walks in England.”
The article drew on “writer Jenny Knight, Project and Route Manager for Walk England,” who shared some “great ideas for marathon walks stretching out across the land. The routes take in dramatic coastlines, Romano-British history and more than a few twists and turns along the way.”
Here’s a few to consider—
The Pennine Way/ 268 miles
The Pennine Way is the “real AT” of England in part because it was the country’s first national trail and was inspired by the building of the Appalachian Trail in the United States.
“The path was the idea of the journalist and rambler Tom Stepheson, inspired by similar trails in the United States, particularly the Appalachian Trail,” says Wikipedia. He proposed the concept in an article in 1935, and later lobbied Parliament for the creation of an official trail. The final section of the path was declared open in a ceremony held on Malham Moor on 24 April 1965.
Jenny Knight of Walk England describes The Pennine Way as “one of the hardest.” The walk takes you from the Peak District National Park along the Pennine ridge through the Yorkshire Dales, up into Northumberland, across the Cheviots, setting you down in the Scottish Borders.
This trail was my first experience with one of the UK's long-distance trails, and it was an easy experience to try. I was in Manchester, England for a few days, so I decided to take the short train ride to sample a part of the path. I hopped off in tiny Edale, the path’s southernmost terminus. I wandered through town and out across the surrounding countryside. I ended up taking a high adventure detour to traverse the nearby high ridges of Kinder Scout. But the Pennine Way itself is a scenic out-and-back hike from Edale—and the classic Old Nags Head Pub, the “official start of the trail,” is ready with a great meal before the train ride home.
The Boudicca Way/ 36 miles
The 36-mile Boudicca Way “is a long distance footpath which runs between Diss and Norwich” in Norfolk, a county in the east of England. Jenny Knight says, “It’s named after the legendary warrior Queen of the Iceni, whose tribes once inhabited the area and led an armed insurrection that came close to defeating the occupying Roman forces.”
The trail’s Web site says The Boudicca Way was started as “a community and small business led project formed to create a sustainable tourism.” It runs “parallel with the old Roman ‘Pye’ Road, now known as the A140,” south from Norwich. “The route follows public rights of way and quiet country roads, through acres of beautiful, unspoilt Norfolk countryside, stopping off in picturesque villages such as Shotesham, Saxlingham Nethergate and Pulham Market along the way.”
Yorkshire Wolds Way/ 79 miles
If the Boudicca Way isn’t far enough, the blog offers the Yorkshire Wolds Way. The Yorkshire Wolds are low hills in the counties of East Riding of Yorkshire and North Yorkshire in northeastern England. The area is south of the North York Moors National Park.
“For nearly 80 miles the Yorkshire Wolds Way wends through some of the most tranquil and gentle countryside in England,” says the trail’s Web site. “From the banks of the mighty Humber estuary, along wooded slopes and through serene dry valleys, the walk climbs gently onto the airy tops of the rolling hills where on a clear day ‘you can see forever’. Descending from the northern escarpment the final section of the Way finishes on the dramatic headland of Filey Brigg.”
“Take your time as you stroll through the poppy fields and woodlands but ‘don’t underestimate the steep sides of the chalk valleys,’” says Jenny Knight.
The blog also says, “If you still aren’t satisfied after that, you could carry on and do the 110-mile Cleveland Way as well.” That trail half encircles the largest moorland in England
Coast to Coast/ 190 miles
“The famous fellwalker (and guidebook author) Alfred Wainwright designed the historic 190-mile Coast to Coast Walk,” says the Visit England blog. “It stretches across the north of the country ... and takes you through some of the finest scenery in all of England. This hilly walk takes in not one, not two but three contrasting national parks; the inspiring and dramatic landscape of the Lake District, through the tumbling Yorkshire Dales, and the striking North York Moors.”
On this classic hike, Wainwright recommended that "walkers dip their booted feet in the Irish Sea at St. Bees, and at the end of the walk, in the North Sea at Robin Hood’s Bay."
That hiking direction, from west to east, is the more popular direction, and the one given in Wainwright’s original 1973 book "A Coast to Coast Walk." That direction “keeps the prevailing wind and rain at one's back, and the evening sun out of one's eyes.” Some walkers do start from the east coast, either because they wish to have the Lake District as the climax of their walk or because they have already walked the route the conventional way.
South West Coast Path/ 630 miles
At 630 miles, the mammoth South West Coast Path should “keep you busy for a few weeks,” says Walk England’s Jenny Knight. This path encircles the dramatic southwestern tip of the island with amazing seaside scenery.
The blog describes it as having “staggering sea views throughout.” This “walk of a lifetime begins with views from Exmoor, boasting the highest coastline in England. Onward through Cornwall you’ll be rewarded for your efforts by historic sites like Tintagel Castle and quaint seaside villages like the alluring Port Isaac where you can enjoy a well-earned pint of local cider. As you continue around the tip of Land’s End you’ll find yourself walking along some of the most beautiful rugged coastline paths in the world with views reaching right out to the Scilly Isles on a clear day. Eventually, you’ll find yourself on the Jurassic Coast with its looming white cliffs and intriguing geological history and your legs might feel just a bit sore.”
Visit the South West Path Association, the trail's supporting organization.
Unique Trail Appeal
If it comes as a shock that a relatively small island like Britain has long distance trails, well, the list is likely longer than you think. Wikipedia has a nice listy overview with links that’ll keep you busy for awhile—and may inspire you to plan a visit.
The AT is a classic in the US, but there are wrinkles in the UK long-distance trail experience that make it unusual for Americans.
One of those is the fact that tourism interests along the way go to great lengths to publicize all types of accommodations that permit hikers to walk “inn-to-inn.” That offers day after day of great outdoor adventure, with comfy stops at night akin to hut-to-hut hiking.
Another plus—Sherpa Bus service that grabs your luggage from those overnight stops and shuttles it all to the next, making it easy to walk unencumbered. The service will even book your accommodations for you on sixteen of England’s best long distance trails.
Now’s the time to start planning for that 2013 long distance “walk” in Britain—or an AT trek for that matter! On my Pennine Way walk I not only saw some great scenery. Just "killing time" waiting for my train back to Manchester provided one of my best, most traditional meals in Britain—a weekend repast of roast beef with all the fixins.