Image credit: CC BY 2.0 (Dave and Carolyn Sawyer, 2004)
Often, convenience in accessing a location is one factor that travellers would consider on a vacation. Make your way to the attraction with a short car or subway ride, explore, take some pictures, and on you go to your next destination. But sometimes, the greatest views that a country has to offer cannot be accessed by wheels; you have to work, or walk, for it.
Just in the United Kingdom alone, there are numerous scenic places that are best seen on foot. Forget the Big Ben or River Thames, we are talking about the untamed wilderness, where Man is at the mercy of unpredictable weather, rugged terrain, and for some, his own fear of heights. After all the huffing and puffing, scrambling and trudging up slopes and across fields, imagine the thrill of being rewarded with spectacular views of Mother Nature — unveiled only to those who made the effort. (Of course, not every seasoned traveller is a trained hiker, so we are not suggesting that you attempt the Everest.)
Here, we present five scenic hikes in the UK — Scotland included — that can be attempted by anyone with a moderate level of fitness and preferably armed with a map. These are no walk in the park – be prepared to commit at least four hours, and also engage in some amount of climbing.
A ‘literal’ climb
Often touted as one of the best hikes in the United Kingdom, Stanage Edge in Peak District is perhaps best known as the famous escarpment where Keira Knightley stood staring into the distance in Pride and Prejudice. Despite the steep daunting drop from the cliff, the walk there is a moderate one at 12.5 kilometres, which should take around 4 hours, starting from Hathersage and cutting through rivers, forests and fields, a disused quarry, the Stanage Moor, and the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. Also not to be missed is the North Lees Hall, a filming location in the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic. A grave belonging to a henchman of Robin Hood is also said to be located at the Saint Michael Church in Hathersage.
On top of the world
The Everest of Britain would be none other than Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands at a height of 1,344 metres above sea level, making it the highest mountain in the country. A 16.9-kilometre Tourist Route from the visitor centre takes hikers to the summit, a seven- to nine-hour journey on the average. The ascent is straightforward, but rocky slopes and zig-zags along the way make this a steep and challenging walk for less-experienced climbers, so be sure to read the safety instructions at the visitor centre before setting off. The trail takes climbers across rivers, the Red Burn valley, the Five Finger Gully where fatal accidents have been known to occur, while offering great views of Glen Nevis, lochs and Carn Dearg. No matter how great the scenery, this is one walk that should not be attempted at whim!
Don’t belittle the Old Man
The mountainous region of the Lake District is an obvious choice for mountain scenery, and the mountain trail at the Old Man of Coniston is one of the most popular, but not meant for the frail. At a height of 803 metres, this Old Man can prove to be quite a challenge due to its steep slopes, though not till the extent scrambling is required. As you make your trek up one of the finest summits in the area, take in scenic views of the surrounding mountain lakes such as Low Water and Goat’s Hawse, abandoned mines, the steep drop of Dow Crag, and innocent-looking sheep waiting to steal snacks from visitors. The length of the route ranges from 8 to 14.5 kilometres and can take six hours or more, depending on how much you want to cover. More adventurous hikers can attempt the scramble at the rocky summit of Dow Crag.
The road to Narnia
Not quite Narnia, but the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland proved mystical enough to serve as inspiration for C.S. Lewis to pen the popular novel. The climb up the 850 metre-high Slieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland, is a popular one due to its well-defined path that makes it quite manageable despite its height. Depending on our pace, it should take about four hours to climb the mountain and another two hours to head back down. From the town of Newcastle, the 9-kilometre trail to the summit begins at Bloody Bridge, the scene of a gruesome massacre during a 1641 rebellion, and leads to wooden bridge across a confluence with the Glen River, past an old quarry and a disused railway. Along the way, hikers will encounter the Mourne Wall, which took 18 years to construct and extends uphill towards the summit. Those game for more legwork can attempt the Mourne Wall Challenge, a whopping 35.4-kilometre route that covers seven of the highest peaks in the Mournes, designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty. Upon reaching the summit of Slieve Donard, hikers will be rewarded with panoramic views of the mountain range, Newcastle and the Irish Sea.
Onward! For Camelot!
If mountains are not your cup of tea, head to Cornwall, a scenic coastal area designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty located at the southernmost tip of the United Kingdom. Steeped in the legends of King Arthur is the village of Tintagel in Northern Cornwall, where Tintagel Castle, rumoured to be the birthplace of King Arthur, lies in ruins today. The association to the king, beautiful coastal scenery and challenging slopes make the place alluring to hikers.
A popular hiking route here spans 17.7 kilometres, beginning farther up north at a village called Crackington Haven and extending southwards through Boscastle before ending at Tintagel. Part of the longer and more famous South West Coast Path, the longest trail in Britain, the Crackington-Haven-Tintagel route is a perfect combination of natural scenery, history and wildlife watching. Starting at the headlands of Crackington Haven, admire the sea atop High Cliff, the highest cliff in Cornwall; stroll along the Strangles beach, and spot seals at Beeny Cliff, goats grazing on grasslands, and sea birds breeding at the Ladies Window rock arch, before ending your hike at Merlin’s Cave and Tintagel Castle. The initial section of the path is more physically demanding with steep cliffs and valleys, so those who prefer a more leisurely walk may opt to begin the hike midway at the fishing village of Boscastle instead. The constant sea breeze, the crashing of waves and the magic of Avalon make this route, which should take close to six hours, uniquely different and worth a try.