Did you know that there are 16 National Trails across England and Wales offering some of the best walking routes in the UK? These trails pass through an array of the most beautiful parts of the country and offer something for everyone-from a family stroll along the Cotswold Way, to a long distance adventure on the Pennine Way.
We walked part of the South West Coast path a couple of years ago
I have walked parts of some of these National Trails over the last few years, and I would love to complete at least one in its entirety. There are many good reasons to walk all of them, so it’s hard to narrow down my shortlist, but here are the three that are currently top of my list.
The Cotswold Way is top of my list for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s not too far away from our home, and we have visited the area several times. As well as being accessible to us, it’s also one of the shortest and easiest routes, which is perfect for small children. Since becoming parents, we have tailored our approach to walks, it’s no longer about conquering the highest peak or the longest route. Now it’s about enjoying the experience, taking in the scenery and spending time together.
The Cotswold Way passes through picturesque villages, such as Broadway
The Cotswold Way covers just over 100 miles between Bath and Chipping Camden, passing through chocolate box villages and fascinating historical sites, such as Sudeley Castle and Hailes Abbey. One thing that really appeals to me is the diversity of the route. As well as the villages and small towns, there are stretches of woodland, open countryside and a few climbs thrown in so you can appreciate the stunning views from up high.
The Barrow Wake viewpoint is worth a few moments of rest and reflection
There are plenty of options for accommodation along the route if you want to make it a multi day adventure. There are a few campsites along the route, plus some B&Bs, although they can get booked up quickly especially in the smaller villages, so it’s best to plan in advance. As well as starting (or finishing depending on which way you do it!) in Bath, the Cotswold Way also passes close by Cheltenham and Stroud which offer more amenities and easier transport links.
The Yorkshire Wolds Way
I’ll admit that I wasn’t familiar with The Yorkshire Wolds Way until I saw a BBC programme about it a couple of years ago. If, like me, you haven’t heard of it either, the 79 mile long trail runs from the seaside town of Filey in the north to Hessle on the Humber estuary in the south. It is one of the least known national trails and that really appeals to me! Some of the more popular routes, like the Pennine Way or Hadrian’s Wall Path are great, but can get very busy, particularly in the summer months.
The Yorkshire Wolds Way is one of the least walked routes and so perfect for you if you like having the trails to yourself
I went to university in Hull, so I have very good memories of this region and it’s an area that I’m already familiar with. I’d love the chance to head back to East Yorkshire and explore in more depth than I ever did in my younger days. The route passes through an incredible chalk landscape and offers rolling hills and lush green valleys. Highlights include the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy and one of England’s most northerly vineyards in South Cave.
The Yorkshire Wolds Way starts in Hessle, in the shadow of the mighty Humber Bridge
As well as being relatively quiet, The Yorkshire Wolds Way is also one of the most accessible routes. It doesn’t require expert levels of navigation and so is a good choice for a first National Trail or for families. There are plenty of options for accommodation along the route, and both Hessle and Filey are accessible by train if you wish to use public transport. Not that I’m biased, but it’s also worth making a short detour and taking a trip into Hull. The old town is great, and The Deep, one of the UK’s best aquariums is a brilliant day out.
Pembrokeshire Coast Path
We haven’t explored Wales as much as I’d like to, but we recently stayed at Bluestone in Pembrokeshire and had an amazing time. It is a beautiful area, and we particularly enjoyed the chance to get out and visit the coast. The Pembrokeshire Coast Path was the first to be opened in Wales and covers 186 miles along some of the most dramatic coastline in the UK. It goes from St Dogmaels in the north to Amroth in the south, and takes in rugged cliffs, hidden coves and spectacular beaches. In its entirety, the route is tough, with a not inconsiderable 35,000 feet of ascent and descent, yet it can easily be broken up into shorter, more manageable sections.
Tenby North Beach and harbour is an iconic view on the coast path
There are larger towns along the way, such as Tenby with its many amenities, castle and impressive beaches as well as smaller, more hidden gems. We were particularly taken with Manorbier and its castle and beautiful beach. The region is rich in maritime history, and examples are littered along the path, including castles, and iron age and Napoleonic forts.
The landscape is largely formed by the centuries of farming and fishing, but there are parts of the route that are less touched by humans. There are plenty of opportunities to experience a wilder and more rugged walk, with a wide array of wildlife to spot. There are lots of accommodation choices if you fancy taking on a longer section of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, including campsites, B&Bs and hotels in the larger towns. It is popular destination with holidaymakers as well as walkers, so it’s advisable to book in advance.
What do you need to walk a National Trail?
As with any outdoor activity there is an element of risk involved with walking, particularly long distances. It is advisable to wear appropriate clothes for the conditions, including well fitting walking shoes or boots. A first aid kit, map and adequate food and water is essential. I have written a more in depth post here about the essential hiking gear you need.
Although there are navigational apps and GPS units available, it is advisable to always carry a paper map as well. A full range is available from the Ordnance Survey shop.
Full details on all of the 16 National Trails can be accessed here
Have you ever walked a National Trail? Which one is top of your wishlist?