When I studied in England, I joined a hiking group that went out every Saturday. A bus would drop us off by the side of the road in the Lake District, or the Yorkshire Dales, or on the Channel coast, and we’d wander cross-country for the day, navigating by map and compass, going wherever we pleased. Conveniently, our path always seemed to end at a village pub.
While Britain doesn’t exactly conjure up visions of the endless wild, the island is actually home to some incredible hiking. Thanks to a longstanding system of “rights of way,” England, Scotland, and Wales are laced with thousands of paths and trails that criss-cross private land, and everyone has the right to use them. In Scotland, there are fewer designated rights of way than in England and Wales; instead, walkers have a “right to roam,” meaning that they can traverse almost any open land, public or private, without the presence of a trail. As of 2000, England and Wales have a limited “right to roam” in some areas, too. (For more information on the subject, the Ramblers maintain a detailed “right to walk” FAQ.)
For longer trips, Britain is also home to a large number of epic, maintained long-distance trails. Here are some of the best.
The Best Hikes in Britain: South West Coast Path
This is the big one. The 630-miler traces the dramatic peninsula coast of Devon and Cornwall, passing by ragged cliffs, angry ocean, and medieval ruins. It starts on the north coast and works its way around to Land’s End, England’s most westerly point, before doubling back along the southern shore again. Hikers can take their pick of B&Bs, hostels and campgrounds. If you want to live large, there’s a baggage transfer service available, so you can walk pack-free. Parts of the trail are accessible by public transit, so you can hike a few different short sections, too.
The Best Hikes in Britain: Pennine Way
Get your fill moody moors and dales here. The Pennine Way climbs straight up the spine of England, 268 miles from the Peak District in the Midlands through the Yorkshire Dales, the Northumberland moor country, and all the way up to the Scottish border. It dates back to the 1930s, and was England’s first designated National Trail.
The Best Hikes in Britain: Hadrian’s Wall
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Romans built a wall running from coast to coast across the neck of northern England, just south of what was then the Empire’s northern frontier, near the present-day Scottish border. Large sections of the wall remain intact, and an 84-mile trail follows the old wall route, passing by old Roman fortifications as well as pasture, moor, and marshland along the way.
The Best Hikes in Britain: Great Glen Way
The Great Glen itself is a large geological fault that slices through the Scottish Highlands. This path traces the fault for 79 miles, from Fort William to Inverness, following canals and the shores of Loch Lochy and Loch Ness and passing below some of the country’s highest peaks. It’s not the wildest hike in Britain—the fault is a natural draw for both road and boat transport—but it’s a good bet for less-experienced long-distance hikers. Trekkers looking for a challenge can detour off the path to summit a mountain or three—after all, this is Scotland, and you have a right to roam.