When it comes to travel, we sometimes forget about the spectacular scenery right on our doorstep. National Trails cover the best landscapes across England and boasts routes that can be explored on bikes, horses and, of course, foot. With travel restrictions slowly being lifted, this is the year of the staycation. It’s time to explore natural wonders, from the White Cliffs of Dover to the Cotswolds’ rolling hills. Whether you’re a regular or a rookie in the countryside, we are here to guide you every step of the way...
1. Hadrian’s Wall Path
Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago to keep out the Scottish Picts. The wall inspired Game of Thrones 213m tall barrier of ice, which stretches across the Seven Kingdoms to keep out the wildings. The real-life wall is hip height, but stretches a whopping 135km.
If you’re after an easy route, try Hadrian’s Wall West. You’ll be walking in the footsteps of the Roman army and Mary, Queen of Scots. Start in the market town of Haltwhistle – it’s close to the train station and hotels.
The Centre of Britain Hotel and Restaurant has sections dating back to the 15th century. Drop off your bags and hop on the 185 bus to Birdoswald – discover the wall’s longest surviving stretch. Did you know that the Romans invented burgers? Pop into the Café at Birdoswald Roman Fort to sample the ancient yet delicious treat for yourself.
For a more challenging route, visit Hadrian’s Wall East. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts, as the east-central section has some impressive sights, from its deep valleys to steep hills.
Start at Housesteads, accessible via the AD122 bus, which is on a slope. The Roman fort, with granaries and communal loos, offer domestic insights and sweeping views of the wall. It’s a 3km walk to the archaeological site, Vindolanda where you can admire the ancient artifacts.
Enjoy lunch on the tearoom terrace, which overlooks a recreated Roman temple and stream. Spend the night at Twice Brewed Inn. Not only does it have its very own brewery, but also stargazing packages that include constellation tours and an on-site observatory.
2. Cleveland Way
While you can visit Cleveland Way all year round, the best time is late August and early September, as you can see the moorland heather in bloom. Filey is the only place in the country where three National Trails meet: Cleveland Way, Yorkshire Wolds Way and England Coast Path.
Begin in one of the many B&Bs – Rutland street is bursting with welcoming places to stay – Abbotts Leigh, Esmae House and Seafield are all good options, offering home-from-home comforts and hearty breakfasts. You'll need the fuel to walk 30km along the Cleveland Way from Filey to Ravenscar (or a 40-minute drive). Once there, you'll discover the 'town that never was'. A group of Victorian entrepreneurs once dreamed of a seaside resort to rival Scarborough at Ravenscourt but it never happened, meaning instead you can enjoy a quiet, rugged view from the clifftops.
Enjoy lunch and views over Robin Hood's Bay at Raven Hall Country House Hotel before heading inland to meet alpaca's at Thorny Beck Alpacas in Cloughton. Here, you can lead your furry friend through the woodland, hills and pasture of the North York Moors.
Foodies should take a bite out of North York Moors, as you can combine your walks with award-winning restaurants. If you like your walks in small portions, it’s peppered with circular routes that are under 5km. Cleveland Way’s White Horse Walk is great for beginners – it goes from Sutton Bank via what renowned vet James Herriot called “England’s finest view”.
Reward yourself with a Michelin-starred meal. Choose from Andrew Pern’s Star Inn, Harome, in a historic thatched pub or Tommy Bank’s Black Swan, Oldstead with a spacious garden. If you need an extra dollop of outdoors, rest your head in a nomadic yurt or glamping pod in Lordstones.
3. The Pennine Way
Get inspired like the Pennine Way’s literary legends. If you don’t have a car, don’t worry – Hebden Bridge has excellent transport links, so you can be strolling through unspoilt woodland in no time.
Some of the area’s greatest alumnae are the Brontë sisters. Haworth village, which is north of Hebden Bridge, was home to the literary siblings. Fans of Wuthering Heights should walk along the Pennine Way to the farmhouse ruins of Top Withins, which is thought to have inspired the book. There’s also a bike route via Penistone Country Park – if you didn’t bring your own, hire an e-bike from Juiced Up Bikes. The Brontë Parsonage Museum, housed in the family’s former home, contains manuscripts, letters and early editions.
Meet the locals at the Fox and Goose, the first community owned pub in West Yorkshire, where you can tuck into pork pies and vegan pasties. The Smithery B&B is a no-nonsense budget option, but it does have romantic views over Rochdale canal.
The Peak District is the grandad of greenery, as it was the UK’s first national park. Begin your adventure at Edale, which was voted Britain’s favourite place to start a walk by Ordnance Survey. Thrill seekers will want to climb Jacob’s Ladder, gaze down on the Vale of Edale from Edale Rocks and climb the highest point in the Peak District, Kinder Scout.
Toast your efforts at Old Nag’s Head, which is popular with walkers. Hop on the train for six minutes and whizz to Hope, for independent shops, cafes and, more importantly, Losehill House Hotel & Spa. Dine on the freshest seasonal produce, while admiring Hope Valley, then rest your head in one of its four-star rooms.
4. Cotswold Way
The Cotswolds, which is accessible from London, is popular with fashionistas. Celebrities who own homes in the area include the Beckhams, Kate Moss and Stella McCartney. Start your trip in Bath, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rolling hills meet Roman baths and Georgian architecture. Its most famous resident Jane Austen said: “I shall always be talking of Bath”. What better way to learn about Regency life, than in the Jane Austen Centre? After, travel even further back in time at the Roman Baths museum and marvel at the natural hot springs, which were constructed in the first century AD.
Get a taste of the Cotswolds via the Cotswolds Circular Walk: start near the racecourse, reached by bus or foot before returning to the centre along the National Trail. Stop off at Prospect Stile for a view of the city and, if you’re lucky, a view all the way to Wales. End your day at Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel, which boasts natural thermal water in its pool. Round off your trip with dinner at Dan Moon at The Gainsborough Restaurant, which has three AA Rosettes.
If you’re new to the Cotswolds, Chipping Campden makes for a warm welcome – there are walks that loop into the countryside and back. Stroll to the old silk weaving centre of Blockley, where pretty cottages are clustered. The high street is classic Cotswolds with honey-hued buildings. Cream tea is a staple in the countryside, so visit Badgers Hall for a fine afternoon tea.
Court Barn Museum tells the story of arts and crafts in the area. Get your hands dirty at Honeybourne Pottery Studio. Run by the couple Alan and Annabel Cusack, you can create your own souvenir. Rest your weary hands and legs at Woolmarket House, a trendy B&B with a family-run Mediterranean restaurant.
5. North Downs Way
North Downs Way passes through two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the wooded Surrey Hills and rolling Kent Downs. A royal welcome awaits you as these new itineraries will take you on a journey through history and follows the footsteps of pilgrims, kings and queens. Start off by paying your respects to Thomas Becket’s holy shrine in Canterbury Cathedral and then join the European Pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, that runs all the way to Rome via the White Cliffs of Dover, France and rural Italy.
If you’re feeling adventurous, walk 17km from Canterbury to Shepherdswell. Take a break at the Tipsy Gardener, a cosy micropub with local ales, ciders, live music and a fire in colder months or visit the East Kent Railway for some rail-ly good fun with vintage trains and miniature railways. Then continue 14km from Shepherdswell to Dover for a well-deserved rest in Henry II’s Peverell’s Tower located in the grounds of Dover Castle.
In White Cliffs Country, you’ll discover how Dover defended the English Coastline through the ages and provided an entry point for smugglers, fishermen, kings, medieval pilgrims and war heroes. In just over an hour by train from London, you’ll be standing on the edge of the country; where Kent meets the English Channel and on a clear day you can even glimpse the coast of France.
Here you can follow the newest National Trail, the England Coast Path that links Dover to Deal, along the clifftops and is around 16km. Routes pass though the pretty coastal village of St Margaret’s where you can grab a coffee and cake as you watch the ferries pass by. Catch a bus to Dover and tuck into a classic fish and chips from the Dover Patrol, freshly caught from the nearby ocean. With gun placements and defences along the way you can spend some time exploring the castles that defended these shores: Dover Castle perches right on the cliffs, Deal Castle is a perfectly preserved Tudor fortress and Walmer Castle is home to glorious gardens.
6. Norfolk Coast Path
Norfolk may be a famously flat region – the county's highest peak, Beacon Hill is just 105m – but what it lacks in height it makes up for in drama. Rugged clifftop paths give way to views of shingle beaches popular with bathers, surfers and seals. And at over two-million year's old, there is a lot of history hidden along this shoreline, from wooly mammoths and vikings to a popular Victorian seaside spot.
Soak up some of the stories from over the years by starting a walk in Sheringham, taking in the Victorian architecture along the beachfront before picking up the Coast Path by the beach huts. Walking west, you'll be following in the footsteps of wooly mammoths along the Cromer Forest Bed – keep an eye out for ancient footprints and fossils. If the tide is low, then also cast your eye down on Robin’s Field which is home to 350 marine species, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world.
When you reach Weybourne, chances are you'll be hungry for your lunch so go to the local’s favourite, the Ship Inn pub for fish from the nearby beach. The cliff-top Muckleburgh Collection, situated on a former army camp, is packed with weaponry and you can even take a ride in a tank. You’ll have stars in your eyes at Kelling Heath Holiday Park, where next to no light pollution makes it perfect for stargazing.
Wells-next-the-Sea is home to wonderful wildlife. Start at Wells Deli, picking up snacks here before setting out for a 5km walk. Begin by heading to the quayside and follow the embankment out to sea where you may spot a seal. As you go through Wells Wood, the Coast Path crosses through Corsican pines, which has spots for bathing. At Holkham Gap, stop at Lookout Cafe and go to Holkham Beach. Marvel at its never-ending white sand, lagoons and oyster catchers. Victoria Inn promises locally produced food, from beef to pork from its farm, as well as rooms that are all named after Holkham estate’s shooting drives.
7. South West Coast Path
Whether it’s water sports or ocean walks, visit Newquay if you want to dip your toe into surfing culture. It glistens with golden beaches and there are plenty of classes to help you get on a board.
While you’re there, make the most of the walking routes. Catch a bus south to Perranporth and then walk back to Newquay. The challenging route, which is 20km, includes towering clifftops, expanses of sand, secret coves and rippling dunes. From Perranporth, stride across Perran Beach, where you may spot dolphins. Swim in the tucked-away Porth Joke and walk amid the wildflowers on West Pentire. Pop into Bowgie Inn’s beer gardens and watch the waves. The five-star Headland Hotel is situated on clifftops overlooking Fistral Beach and is home to the Mediterranean-inspired Samphire restaurant.
The Lizard Peninsula is the southernmost point of mainland Britain – and wonderfully wild. With its rare geology of rock, mild climate and birdlife, you’ll feel like you’ve travelled further afield. Stroll around Lizard Peninsula to Lizard Point, which is a circular walk taking 6.5km. Notice how the rocks and plants change, from the fringed rupturewort to wild asparagus. Keep an eye out for choughs, Cornwall’s national bird – large crows with red legs and beaks.
No trip to Cornwall is complete without a pasty. Anne’s Pasties serves some of the best in town, including vegan options. Spend the night at Lizard Lighthouse Holiday Cottages – you might not have left the country, but you will have reached the southernmost point of Britain.
Head over to the National Trails official website to find more details on these easy to access yet remote walks. The site is full of inspiration to help you find the best that rural England has to offer – incredible landscapes, coastal views, rural countryside, and cosy accommodation and pubs so you can refresh and refuel after a day of walking. Head to the website for more information or search #GetCloserToEngland on Instagram and Twitter to join the conversation.