Craving fresh air and adventure? 9 UK hiking trails to try in your lifetime
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Read on to discover where to hike in the UK, plus how lacing up could improve your mental health, too.
So, you’re keen to go hiking. Public service announcement: you are definitely not alone.
Google search around hiking is at breakout at current, with inquiries about the best routes, kit, and equipment steadily rising since March. And no wonder. The UK lockdown and the hour-a-day exercise restriction that came with it caused a nationwide fixation on the outdoors.
Whether it’s wild swimming, running or UK-based hiking, if it’s outdoors, near nature and away from other humans, it’s currently en vogue.
Well, simply put, it’s free, fun and accessible to all. You don’t need money or expensive equipment, just an idea of a route, a sturdy pair of shoes and a sense of direction.
What’s the difference between walking and hiking? According to the experts at Trail and Summit, “with walking, you’re moving on a reasonably smooth track without obstacles. Hiking requires more effort than walking because the trail is more complicated. This means you are moving from a lower to a higher place or in elevation.”
As per the NHS website, hiking is simple and “one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier”. Getting your steps in regularly has been found to help with heart health, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But more on that later.
FYI: while most agree that a hike differs from a walk in that it’s
b. set in nature and
c. includes elevation
the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a hike is simply a ‘long walk or walking tour’. If you’re apprehensive about walking what seems like a million miles, don’t be. It’s about getting the steps in, tackling a few inclines and soaking up some nature and fresh air.
- A good pair of walking shoes or walking boots
- A refillable water bottle
- Some energy-restoring snacks
- A map and compass (or your phone, with plenty of charge).
Does hiking have health benefits?
You know that getting your 10,000 steps a day is advised—the NHS website actively encourages it, recommending it as part of your 150 minutes brisk exercise a week.
But what about the health benefits of hiking? Well, there are a magnitude according to doctor Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
She explains: “When we exercise, our body releases feel-good hormones endorphins and serotonin which give us a natural energy boost and trigger positive feelings in the body”. She shares that your body also becomes better at managing cortisol (that is, the stress hormone) levels, as a result.
David Wiener, Freeletics training specialist, agrees, calling hiking an ‘amazing full-body cardio workout’. “It strengthens the larger muscles in your body, primarily working your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and abdominal muscles. Fun fact: going downhill actually reaps the most rewards”, he shares.
Why? Well, “your quads and glutes have to maintain slow and controlled movements to help stabilize your knees and hips. Not to mention your abs, obliques and lower back muscles are also constantly engaged to help keep your body stabilised and upright throughout.”
What about mental health benefits?
“Hiking is great because it combines the physical and mental health benefits of exercise alongside being in nature, which research has shown can bring significant benefits to our mental wellbeing”, Elena shares.
You know the relaxation, peace of mind and sheer tranquility that comes with being surrounded by nature, away from the hustle-and-bustle of your nine-to-five? You’ll be hard-pressed to find an activity better than hiking for providing that.
Fun fact: research shows that just one short, daily exposure to nature provides a natural boost to our mental wellbeing for up to seven hours, according to Elena. So exercising outside – while immersing ourselves in nature – is one of the best ways of nourishing both our mind and body.
Starting hiking as a beginner? 5 top tips
If we’ve twisted your arm and got you dreaming of a few hours spent exploring the outside, first, read this. Fitness expert Jenna Rigby of GlamFIT studios explains exactly how to prepare for heading on a hike. These will be especially helpful if you’ve never hiked before.
It’s tempting to try tackle the most challenging hike first—sometimes self-belief can get the better of you. Carry out some research on the best routes nearest to you and set yourself a gradual increase weekly in terms of timings and terrain.
Ensure you have all the essentials before setting off. Check the weather on the day of your hike and pack waterproofs if there’s a chance of rain. Wear appropriate walking shoes as generally trainers won’t cut it. There’s a high chance on natural terrain of an ankle injury, so it’s extremely important to have the right shoes and socks on. Appropriate socks allow the feet to breathe, especially in warm weather.
Other essentials include suncream, a first aid kit and bug spray.
Take the right fluids and snacks
Ensuring you have plenty of water to prevent dehydration is non-negotiable. Sure, your backpack will feel heavy at first, but you’ll be grateful later on when it’s needed. Nuts and fruit are the best snacks as they provide essential carbohydrates and a good balance of fats and proteins to keep you going throughout the day. Sugary snacks tend to be counter-productive, so think about fueling your body for what you’re asking it to endure.
Use a hiking app and track your progress
If you are new to hiking and there’s a chance you may go into explorer mode, use an app to track your steps. That way you won’t get lost (it happens to the best of us). Apps such as EasyTrails and FitBit have these built-in and allow you to not only trace your steps but to review your results once the walk is complete. Knowing how far you’ve walked, steps counted, hills climbed make great tracking for you to progress with week-on-week.
Aim for heights
From a beginner’s perspective, aiming to reach a certain point and then return to base makes the perfect walk.
If you’re going down a steep climb or a lot of steps: shorten your stride, and take care to land on the balls of your feet with a bent knee, if possible. If you’re landing on your heels for thousands of steps, it can wreak havoc on your knees and joints as there’s no shock absorption.
Join a hike crew
There are so many—from Roz Purcell’s The Hike Life to Black Girls Hike, there’s a crew waiting to welcome everyone and show you the ropes.
9 of the best hiking routes in the UK
So, you’re keen to lace up and get moving outside in the fresh air but, well, don’t really know where to head?
We’ve got you covered, with eight of the best hiking routes from across the UK. If you’d rather choose from a larger selection of routes, you can’t go far wrong with the National Trust Website for walking tips and tricks and hike routes, too.
Hiking routes for total beginners
1. Mam Tor circular walk
Length: 3 miles
Where? The Peak District National Park – a short drive from Manchester
Best for? A glimpse of Mam Tor’s Carboniferous rocks (they’re 320 million years old)
2. Burnham Beeches
Length: 4.5 miles
Where? Slough – 30 minute train plus 30 minute bus out of London
Best for? Walking in some of the most beautiful woodland in the UK
3. Lamberhurst, Kilndown and Scotney Castle
Length: 5 miles
Where? Kent – 45 minute train plus 15 minute bus out of London
Best for? Afternoon tea at a moated castle midway
Hiking routes for intermediate walkers
4. Scafell Pike
Length: Between 6 and 8 miles
Where? Lake District, Cumbria
Best for? To climb England’s highest mountain and catch the war memorial at the top.
Length: 7 to 10 miles
Best for? Conquering one of the easiest of the UK’s three peaks.
Hiking routes for advanced hikers
6. South West Coastal Path
Difficulty: Hard (dependant on which bit you walk)
Length: As long as you’d like it to be
Where? From Devon to Cornwall
Best for? Unforgettable views of the British coastline
7. Coast to Coast, Cumbria to North Yorkshire
Difficulty: Hard (as above)
Length: As long as you like (the full undertaking is 192 miles, although most take on just a few)
Where? A whole host of English locations, all the way from the Irish Sea to the North Sea.
Best for? Crossing three national parks in one walking route–if you do it all, that is.
8. West Highland Way
Length: 96 miles
Best for? A glimpse into the beauty of the Scottish highlands.
9. Ben Nevis
Length: 10.5 miles
Best for? Breathtaking Scottish landscape and experiencing the highest point in the UK at 1,345 metres.