For such a small island, there’s a lot of Britain to explore. Yes, you could drive across it in a day – but then you could also spend several lifetimes walking its paths and absorbing the essence of each hill, dale and cove.
With well over 240,000km (150,000 miles) of off-road paths, more than 5,000km (3,200 miles) of waymarked National Trails and Long Distance Routes, and hundreds of signed local tracks, there’s an endless diversity of hiking options.
Boscastle to Port Isaac, North Cornwall (23km/14 miles)
Make no mistake, this is the most rugged section of the South West Coast Path. At 1014km (630 miles), Britain’s longest National Trail is anything but a gentle stroll. But rest assured, the end (and the beginning) justifies the means, as the trail is bookended by the delightful fishing villages of Boscastle (be sure to visit the Witchcraft Museum) and Port Isaac. This testing switchback-ride of a trek also passes the clifftop redoubt at Tintagel, legendary home of King Arthur.
Buachaille Etive Mór, Scotland (10.5km/6.5 miles)
The hordes come to climb nearby Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak. But for views across romantic Glen Coe and Glen Etive and to enjoy the achievement of bagging two Munros (peaks over 3000ft/914.4m) on one mountain, the ascent of this craggy pyramid wins out.
Henley-on-Thames to Maidenhead, southern England (24km/15 miles)
It’s classic rural riverside idyll all the way along this stretch of the Thames Path, from genteel Henley – venue for the famous regatta – through quaint, historic villages and towns such as Hambledon and Marlow, and across the grand Cliveden Estate.
Pen Y Fan circular walk, Brecon Beacons, Wales (8km/5 miles)
Another summit, this time the highest point in southern Wales – and though it’s a mere 886m (2927ft), Pen Y Fan is not to be underestimated, especially in rough weather. The reward is hiking among verdant Welsh mountains with dramatic ridge views.
Hadrian’s Wall circuit (12km/7.5 miles)
Take in chunks of the Roman wall, built almost two millennia ago to defend England against pesky Picts, on a rambling circuit from the fabulously named village of Once Brewed. You’ll also pass impressive remains of two Roman forts at Vindolanda and Housesteads.
Yewbarrow ascent circuit, Lake District (7.3km/4.5 miles)
The deep lake of Wastwater sits beneath the Lake District’s wildest, most-remote fells. Climbs up Scafell and Great Gable are popular from Wasdale Head, but a more modest circuit up and along the ridge of Yewbarrow affords sweeping views east to those loftier peaks.
Bath to Bradford-on-Avon, Somerset (16km/10 miles)
The Kennet and Avon Canal winds from the honey-coloured Georgian stone grandeur of Bath, over the vertigo-inducing Dundas and Avoncliff Aquaducts to the lovely hillside weaving town of Bradford-on-Avon, replete with medieval tithe barn.
Hathersage Moor & Stanage Edge, Peak District (11.3km/7 miles)
Seemingly created as a dramatic film set from which Austen and Brontë heroines can cast their gazes in turbulent angst (and they have – notably Keira Knightley in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice), these cliffs offer panoramic vistas of rolling hills, peaks and heather-purple moors. Tailor the loop to match your energy.
Old Man of Storr, Skye, Scotland (4km/2.5miles)
The Old Man, a needle-sharp volcanic outcrop, is the focal point of a short there-and-back hike. Go past the pinnacle to the viewpoint to see Scotland spread before you to the south-east.
Stiperstones, Shropshire (12km/7.5 miles)
An unjustly overlooked corner of England, Shropshire is no secret to walkers. But though many roam the broad rump of the Long Mynd, fewer ramble among the quartz-lumpy outcrops of the Stiperstones, reputedly a resting place for the Devil on his cross-Britain lopes.
This article was first published in August 2010 and was updated in March 2013.