While we’re always on the hunt for new and unexplored trails throughout the UK and beyond, sometimes you just can’t beat the classics – those hikes that are steeped in generations of history and known for their reliably stunning views. These long-distance hikes in the UK have captured the hearts and minds of hikers for decades, so it’s no surprise they’re often at the top of any adventure bucket list.
To help pull this list together, we enlisted the help of experts at Contours Walking Holidays, who offer self-guided walking holidays throughout the UK, to bring you this list of the top seven classic hikes in the UK to tick off. All of these trails are suitable for walking during Autumn so there’s still plenty of time for one more adventure before the end of the year.
South West Coast Path
As Britain’s longest waymarked footpath at a massive 630 miles, the allure of the South West Coast Path is not just its striking coastal scenery, but also its challenging and tempestuous nature. While few people will have the chance to walk the entire length of the trail, just walking a portion of it offers hikers a little slice of the spectacular rock formations and drool-worthy cliffside views that the South West Coast Path is so well-known for.
Avoid summer, if you can – while blue skies are more of a possibility, so are hordes of tourists. Instead, head there in autumn, when the migrating birds are just taking flight for sunnier shores, and the water’s warm enough for a dip (if you dare!).
Dramatically beautiful and wonderfully remote, the West Highland Way is the perfect hike to get away from it all. Despite being one of the most popular long-distance hikes in the UK, the West Highland Way has an off-grid feel to it, the kind of adventure that really lets you switch off from the stresses of modern-day life. The trail extends from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, all the way up to Scotland’s adventure capital in Fort William, and the whole 95 miles can be hiked in six to 10 days.
You’ll traverse some of Scotland’s most wild and rugged scenery, as well as passing by the banks of Loch Lomond (Scotland’s largest loch) and exploring the breathtaking scenery of the Trossachs.
Arguably Wales’ most famous trail, the Offa’s Dyke Path came into being in the 8th century, when King Offa of Mercia ordered the building of a gargantuan dyke to mark the boundary of his kingdom. From the rolling countryside of the Shropshire Hills to the stunning ridges of the Brecon Beacons, you’ll find an incredible variety of scenery on this 177-mile trail, which takes most hikers around two weeks to complete.
Another one that’s perfect for the blustery months of autumn, you’ll enjoy lesser crowds, while the temperatures are still nice and mild, and nature begins her colourful show.
The Great Glen Way could easily be considered Scotland’s highlight reel; a trail that passes through some of its finest scenery, as well as its most legendary landmarks. Take in views of the UK’s highest mountain and the mysterious depths of Loch Ness as you make your way along the Caledonian Canal from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the shores of the North Sea.
The entire trail is 73 miles in length and is perfect if you can only spare a week off work, as that’s about how long it takes the average hiker to complete. Not only will you be able to say you’ve crossed Scotland from coast-to-coast, you’ll also have the chance to spot elusive wildlife and revel in fascinating history as you go.
A list of the most classic long-distance hikes in the UK could not be complete without the route along the impressive remains of Hadrian’s Wall, which makes for a historically iconic crossing. You can follow the easily waymarked path from Bowness-on-Solway, in the west, all the way to the wild tides of the North Sea in Newcastle’s Wallsend.
It takes most hikers about 10 days to cross the entire breadth of the country, covering 84 miles all-in-all. History buffs will revel in the castle-punctuated countryside, and with Hadrian’s Wall’s status as a World Heritage Site, there’s plenty to discover.
It’s a great route to tackle just as the kids have returned to the classrooms and the leaves have begun to shake themselves free of the trees. This quieter time, coupled with nature’s showy colours, provides the best setting to immerse yourself in Roman history.
This famous trail is known for its challenging terrain and variety of landscapes as it wiggles its way down England’s backbone, through stunning national parks from the Pennines to the Peaks. The entire trail is a whopping 265-miles long, but it can easily be broken down into shorter sections if you’re stretched for time.
The full trail takes two to three weeks to complete, from Edale in the Peak District up to Kirk Yetholm, right on the border of Scotland. While the days can be long and challenging, the incredible evolving scenery more than makes up for it – as does the immense sense of achievement on reaching the end.
There’s something extra magical about taking on this route just as autumn begins to set the trees alight. At the start of the walk you could be basking in late summer sun, and by the end you could be watching frost glitter the trees – a true journey into the north.
A ramble along Britain’s oldest road? What could be more classic than that? This ancient trail once stretched the breadth of the entire country from Dorset to Norfolk and is thought to have been used by travellers and traders for at least 5,000 years. A pilgrimage from the stone circle at Avebury to the Ivinghoe Beacon nowadays makes for one of the most classic long-distance hikes in the UK.
In terms of scenery, you’ll find two halves – the undulating emerald hills of the North Wessex Downs, followed by the charming beech woodland of the Chilterns, interspersed throughout by historic sites and striking monuments. The whole 91-mile trail should take you about a week to complete, and is dog-friendly, so don’t forget your four-legged friend.
How to take on these long-distance hikes in the UK
While many of these long-distance hikes in the UK are well waymarked, organising accommodation and luggage transfers can be an unnecessary hassle. To really get the best of your adventure, why not check out Contours Walking Holidays, a company that can organise all your travel logistics, leaving you more time to immerse yourself in the great outdoors.
The company offers self-guided walking tours for all of the above hikes, which generally include accommodation in en-suite rooms along the trail where available, breakfast each day, door-to-door luggage transfer, maps and guidebooks, plus a detailed information pack and kit list.