Walking a Long Distance Footpath

July 8, 2020

There is something immensely satisfying in walking a Long Distance footpath. Travelling long distances across the country (or a number of maps) and finishing in a completely different place is always full of interest and satisfies a primeval need in many of us to explore and conquer.

All over the world these long distance walks (trails if we live in America!) are becoming increasingly popular. In Britain we have a number of excellent official and non-official footpaths criss crossing the country. Many follow old historical routes (such as George Fox’s route from Pendle Hill to south Windermere), many are routed to visit the best sites in an area (such as the Bracken Way in the Yorkshire Dales) but most have just come of age because they make sense.

Near Housesteads, Hadrian's Wall
Near Housesteads, Hadrian’s Wall

The Joys of a Long Distance walk

  • Planning. Choosing the walk, deciding on the logistics, reading about new areas and anticipating what is to come
  • Arriving somewhere different each night. However much you prepare every night will bring something different to what you expect.
  • Meeting new people. Certainly on the more popular paths you will meet some strange characters. Most will be friendly, some grumpy (tired) but all have something in common with you….even if it is just blisters.
  • The Unexpected. Each day will bring something new that, however much you prepare for, will surprise.
  • Learning about our country. Whether it is geology, history, old industry, villages and other settlements you will finish a walk more educated. .
  • Completing the walk. Each time I have finished a multi day walk I have felt immensely satisfied and fulfilled. Think any good day walk and multiply it.
  • Beware though. They are addictive, once you have completed you will be on the look out for another.
Coast to Coast End (start for me!)
Coast to Coast End (start for me!)

The Pains of a Long Distance walk

  • Physical. Walking day after day will do things to your body a simple day walk will never do. Blisters are most common. My best bit of advice to anyone is make sure you have comfortable, well souled walking shoes/boots.
  • Mental. Its hard walking day after day for many hours without stopping. However within 3 days you will be used to it and after that feel you can carry on walking forever. The nutters do!
  • Boredom. There are periods on long distance walks where the countryside is boring, either too familiar or just dull lane walking. On the Cleveland Way the coast can become endless, on the Dales Way the River Wharfe is your company for days whilst on the Southern Upland Way a 4 hour walk in dense forest is mentally draining. However there is better round the corner, just keep telling yourself.
  • Getting Lost. Long Distance Paths tend to be quite well signposted but the reality you will get lost on occasions. It is very frustrating to then have to walk further than you anticipated at the start of the day. I suffered a few times on the Coast to Coast.
Southern Upland Way
Southern Upland Way

Planning a Long Distance walk

  • Which Long Distance walk to choose? I have listed my favourites further down the page with a very rough grading system for how suitable they are.
  • Company. Walkers may walk in large groups or just on their own. It is always best to walk with people you know so when you are tired and grumpy they let you get on with it and don’t care. Also bear in mind you only ever walk at the slowest persons pace and on a long distance walk that can be frustrating for both those at the back and front. I like walking with my dog!
  • Route Finding. Do not rely just on a guide book, instructions can be confusing. Either take the normal O/S Explorer maps but if there is too many Harvey do a series of strip maps which are easy to follow.
  • Where to Stay. Pre-booking is best, it alleviates a worry but be prepared to have to walk away from the official path. Many accommodation will pick up but not all. Saturday night may also be an issue. Alternatively take a tent!
  • Daily walk length. Not just dependent of miles but also the terrain you are walking through (ups and downs) and where their is suitable accommodation to stay at.

The Best and least suitable Long Distance Footpaths

No walking is ever bad but I have found some better than others. Roughly in order of my favourites.

  • Coast to Coast (194 miles). Passing 3 different National Parks (each very different in character) and having the satisfaction of a genuine coast to coast experience this will always win for me. Probably not though for the first Long Distance walk you do.
  • Cleveland Way (108 miles). Some longish moorland sections and rolling coastline, mixed with an interesting history makes the Cleveland Way one of my favourites.
  • Bracken Way (95 miles). The best way to walk the Yorkshire Dales but not signposted as it is not an ‘official’ trail. Some quite long days put this on the more challenging walking scale.
  • West Highland Way (96 miles). This walk gets better and better as it heads in to the Highlands and towards Glencoe. An excellent first long distance walk.
  • Southern Upland Way (212 miles). In contract to the West Highland Way this is a hard walk, rarely used but extremely interesting. Amazingly it is the only ‘official’ coast to coast path in Scotland.
  • Dales Way (81 miles). A fine choice for the first time long distance path user, excellent in the middle section but gets more tedious as the walk progresses beyond Sedbergh.
  • The Dales Highway is more enjoyable, certainly for the more experienced walker who likes the higher lands.
  • Pennine Way (268 miles). I have only ever done this walk in stages but even so rather enjoyed it. Probably for the more hardy walker as lot is through rough country.
  • Cumbria Way (74 miles). Like the Dales Way the path lacks interest at either end but is superb in the middle section, anything that travels through the Lake District is spectacular and it is definitely a walk worth doing.
Coast to Coast, near Keld
Coast to Coast, near Keld

Tailor make your own Long Distance Path!

Choose an area and devise your own long distance path. Britain has an endless number of rights of way (and access land), connect them up and walk them over a few days.

Alternatively let us devise one to suit your needs as part of our Tailor Made service.

If it is memories that you are after on your holidays take a long distance walk, if its health and fitness nothing could be better. Try one and see for yourself.

Jonathan

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