Where should we walk in the United Kingdom?
May 2, 2015 5:54 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are planning a trip to the UK from Canada in September. We are middle aged and reasonably fit and would like to include a short walking holiday within this trip. We have found a number of walking tour companies online, but the choice is somewhat overwhelming. Can Metafilter help use narrow down the choices? Some considerations follow.

- I have walked in the Lake District before, for four days, eighteen years ago as part of a longer trip. I have fond memories of pushing sheep aside to climb over a stile. My partner has visited the UK before, but didn’t venture outside urban areas. I have convinced my partner that a walking holiday would be fun, but we would rather go somewhere other than the Lake District since I’ve been there.
- He would like to see classic English countryside (which shouldn’t exclude Wales?) and would be interested in areas where there is evidence of past industry. I like that but wouldn’t be adverse to something a bit more on the wild side.
- We can fly directly into either Manchester or Heathrow and would prefer something that is within 2-3 hours travel of either one of those airports. We’ll be headed to stay in London afterwards, and flying out of Heathrow, but the idea of sitting on a train for a while after a long walk is much more appealing than sitting on a train for a while after sitting on a plane for a longer while.
- We would like to walk for four days, 15-20km per day and have our luggage transferred for us. We do not want to be part of a group.
- We would like to have a yummy dinner in a nice pub at the end of each day. At least one of the pubs should have chicken pie on offer.
- We would ideally like to have accommodation that has a queen sized bed. Is this a possibility? I’m 5’11” and a bit, he is 6’2” and a bit and we are a bit cramped in a regular double bed.
- We would like to read some books about the area we will visit, so reading suggestions are welcome, both fiction and non-fiction.
- If you have any experience with a particular company that you can tell me about, that would be appreciated, too.
posted by TORunner to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (20 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The coastal path around Cornwall is fantastic. It's a bit more than 3 hours from London by train (more like 4-5h, but the scenery en route is pleasant, and you get to cross Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge). The Cornish coast, especially as you go further west, is littered with the remnants of the tin-mining industry, and every little village along the route has a lovely old pub. Chicken pies are a distinct possibility, although pasties are the 'pie' of choice in that part of the world.
posted by pipeski at 6:17 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The peak district is lovely, close to Manchester, and packed full of decent pubs. I have little experience with walking tours, but am certain they will be available in the area.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:43 AM on May 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The National Trails website might help you out. It's got maps of the walks and links to baggage handling companies, but you might have to contact the hotels and guest houses on the route you choose individually to see if they have appropriate sleeping arrangements for you. As for the most appropriate routes, if you're flying into Manchester you should look at the lower portion of the Pennine Way (takes in the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales), and the Thames Path or the North Downs Way if you want to stay nearer to London.
posted by peteyjlawson at 6:53 AM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: The Peak District also has some neat caves and mines, including one with a quite memorable name.
posted by BinaryApe at 7:03 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He would like to see classic English countryside (which shouldn’t exclude Wales?) and would be interested in areas where there is evidence of past industry. I like that but wouldn’t be adverse to something a bit more on the wild side.

If we're not excluding Wales then I'd suggest looking into Snowdonia. Great walking, amazing scenery, castles, beaches, wildlife, Portmeirion (The Village from The Prisoner TV show), plenty of remnants of the slate industry to poke around, lots of pubs. And a couple of hours drive from Manchester Airport.
posted by sobarel at 7:03 AM on May 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Perhaps the Ramblers could help?
posted by fullerine at 7:04 AM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: I would also recommend the Peak District. There are lots of good walks - Mam Tor, Kinder Scout etc and the area also has industrial heritage.
posted by crocomancer at 7:12 AM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: The Cotswolds aren't too far from London. The Malvern Hills are also pretty accessible. Both are representative of some of the loveliest and most traditional forms of British landscape.

Depending on where you stay, you've also about an hour's drive from Birmingham, which has its own unique charms and plenty of industrial heritage, just as an alternative side trip. More than happy to MeMail further suggestions to you if that is a possible.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 8:06 AM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: If you're looking for guided walks, Ifootpath have quite a few (over 600 at the time of writing) free guides that you can download, and there's an app for smartphones if you want GPS guidance too. Lots of the walks will have a pub at some point, or you can choose Pub Walks for those that definitely do. I don't own/run the site, but I have created walks for them in the past (and am completely biased about how good the service is!).

Birmingham and the Black Country have quite a bit of industrial heritage and are only about 1.5-2 hours away from Manchester. There's easy travel links via motorway or train or airport.
posted by Solomon at 8:17 AM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: If you choose the peak district, you mustn't miss the Yorkshire sculpture park, a massive outdoor sculpture gallery on the grounds of an old country house. It's incredible. You should also check out Eyam, the plague village (and there's a popular historic novel about Eyam but I've forgotten the author just now).
posted by hazyjane at 8:17 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I remember some great urban routes in York, including a long one on top of the old city walls. Lots and lots of things to do and see in the city as well. Might make a nice break from the countryside.
posted by seasparrow at 8:23 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Shropshire Hills AONB are a hidden gem, a couple of hours from Manchester. You could walk The Shropshire Way which is 139 miles of waymarked path across varied countryside, with also signposted circular walks. I guarantee you it will be about 80% less populated by tourists than any other area you go to within the same radius of Manchester and certainly London.
posted by mymbleth at 9:39 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was also going to suggest the Shropshire Way and put a particular emphasis on the Ironbridge Gorge, which was very important in the birth of modern industry and has a whole series of museums dedicated to showcasing this heritage. Elsewhere on the way, you have stunning scenery and lovely walks. You could probably do a lot of the Way as circular walks if you were happy to stay somewhere central and have a hire car.
posted by kadia_a at 10:18 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My partner and I did a two-day walk in the Cotswolds last August, booked through Cotswolds Walks. We also came from Canada, and spent only two days walking as part of a larger trip. We loved our walks -- the maps provided were easy to follow, the B&Bs booked for us were lovely and the Cotswolds themselves are stunning. They did the luggage transfer. We had no trouble finding nice pub dinners and lunches.
posted by girlpublisher at 4:46 PM on May 2, 2015

Best answer: I did the 13-day Coast to Coast walk last summer in Northern England. The 200 mile route traversed the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales the North York moors - from St Bees to Robin Hoods Bay.

I did the walk in mid- to late-September 2014. I put down a deposit in the summer of 2013 for that trip. My group of 12 people stopped in comfortable B&Bs every night, and dined in lovely small pubs with great beer and even better lamb or fish&chips dishes. Our luggage was advanced to the next B&B as we walked, and everything was organized like clockwork - yet our experience was that of a relaxed yet focused walk. Brilliantly done.

The outfitter that I used was Northwest Walks and they were A+ in terms of organization, quality of guiding (one can get lost very easily on the C2C), quality of the accommodations, and all logistics en route. Highly recommended outfitter.

Now the bad news - they are already fully booked for the C2C in 2015, and time is running out for the other itineraries that they also have on offer. Why is that? Well the towns in these regions are small, and the B&Bs are even smaller. Only so many people can go through at once, on a given day. There is very little capacity. I overheard, last year, that one of our accommodations in the Lake District was fully booked already until 2017.

So then, where to go? If you want to skip the Lake District, then I would recommend the Cleveland Way across the North York moors. Or the West Highland way in Scotland (the views are beautiful up there!! I drove by the scenery, twice - and can only imagine what it is like on foot).

The self-guided trips are less expensive than guided, but still offer pre-booked B&Bs, and a luggage forwarding service. Contact this outfitter and see what can be arranged, given your requirements and timelines. If there is no room in the inns this year (a very real possibility) then I would advise to try for a holiday in 2016, there might still be some spots left then.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:58 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If he is "interested in areas where there is evidence of past industry" then the route between Keld to Reeth (one day) on the Coast to Coast offers a glimpse of the old Victorian industrial buildings, now in ruins. I would suggest looking up Julia Bradbury's films for the BBC on the Coast to Coast to see that particular segment.

The town of Grosmont, also on the East half of the Coast to Coast, may be of interest as it offers a train museum as well as old steam trains (still on rails!!) that go all the way to Whitby on the North Sea coast. Grosmont is the start of the final leg of the C2C, not far from Scarborough (or from the C2C end point - Robin Hoods Bay). Beautiful rolling hills, great walking that ends on a very high note above the cliffs near Robin Hoods Bay. Great B&Bs at the finish. I took a bus from Robin Hoods Bay to Scarborough (a lovely ride up and down steep hills) then a train to York.

Ah, York. Someone upthread mentioned walking the walls of York - I definitely agree. It's a lovely one-day walk around the former walled city. A city map makes it easy to follow directions - the wall disappears in some parts, then reappears in others. There are some historic sights along the way as well - towers, and a few good museums. York also has a gobsmacking cathedral (I spent much more time in there than I originally planned - there's so much to see!!)
posted by seawallrunner at 10:32 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Southeast England has some lovely walking.

I made a "literary pilgrimage" to Henry James' Lamb House in Rye and loved it and the area. A wonderful companion read would be Colm Toibin's The Master.

Not far along, as you head toward Brighton, is Charleston Farmhouse, the home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group (e.g. Duncan Bell, Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes and E. M. Forster to name four). Lewes Castle is nearby. Preparatory reading (and a lovely remembrance later) might be Charleston: A Bloomsbury House and Garden.

Plenty of charming inns and pubs all along the way.

The train from Brighton to London is a zippy 50 minutes.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:10 AM on May 3, 2015

Best answer: Nthing the Peak District - such a wonderful place. There's a train line that goes from Manchester to Sheffield passing straight through the Peaks - the whole journey is about 50 minutes but you'd be getting off in the middle, so an even shorter journey.

It's utterly beautiful, feels much more remote and wild than south east England but less intimidating than the Scottish Highlands.

Lots of industrial heritage as linked above, and your husband might also be interested to find out about, and retrace the Kinder Scout Trespass of 1932, where working men from the cities who lived for their weekend trips to the hills defied the landowners who wanted to keep them out of the Peaks.

Places like Mam Tor and Stanage Edge have amazing views but are very walkable in a day (last time I was there I stayed at Edale hostel and went out for a run round the valley but ended up running/walking to the top of Mam Tor just because the mood took me and it was a beautiful day!).

There are plenty of Youth Hostels, many of which will offer you your own room, but if the comfy bed is a priority you'll also find lots of B&Bs.

Seriously - the Peak District. It's so close you'll practically fall out the plane door into its hills and it's marvellous - there's no reason to go any further.
posted by penguin pie at 5:57 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some stupendous Peak District photography to wet your whistle.
posted by penguin pie at 6:02 AM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much. I've marked them all as best answer because this was all very helpful.
posted by TORunner at 6:30 AM on May 3, 2015

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