Easy walking tours in Scotland, Ireland or elsewhere...help me choose!
June 17, 2022 5:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm a woman in my mid-50's and have spent the last 20 years of vacation time either visiting family or planning trips around my kids. I have typically done all of the vacation planning for the family and after our last marathon 13 day cross country trip, I finally have decided that I'm done. But, now I'd like to take a vacation just for me. It looks like the last walking tour question was from 2011 so I'd love some updated info and suggestions.

I need to recharge, have some time to quiet my brain, get some daily exercise, eat good but not fancy food and just appreciate some natural beauty. I've decided to go alone so I don't feel any pressure to do anything I don't want to do. I might not like it...but I might love it and never travel with anyone ever again. Who knows.

SO, I'd like to take a solo trip this October and do a walking tour in Scotland, Ireland or Wales. I have no firsthand experience with anyone doing these...but it sounds quiet, relatively stress-free and different from anything I've done before. Doing an in depth search of every aspect of the trip will kill my joy, so I'm asking Metafilter to help me make some decisions. Just tell me where to go, who to use, which route to pick and what to bring. I'd like to book the trip now and not think about it again until October 1st. So, here are the questions I'm hoping you can help with:

1. What country would be best for a walking tour for 1 week in early to mid October? I've always wanted to go to Scotland and Ireland...so those are my top picks but I'm open to hearing about others. I don't mind chilly weather to a certain point...I live in New England and I wish it was 60F all year long.
2. I want an pretty easy route. I don't do much hiking and I don't want this to be stressful at all. I'm a slow walker and I'm okay with that.
3. I really want the food to be yummy but it doesn't need to be fancy.
4. I definitely want to see farms, animals, small towns, people going about their daily business and beautiful scenery. I don't really like shopping but would like to walk through some cool towns that had interesting history and/or architecture.
5. Do you have any specific tour companies you'd recommend? I've watched some videos from www.hillwalktours.com but the website seems light on details...but maybe that's exactly what I need.

Please help me plan a vacation of renewal for someone who hasn't been on a real vacation since 2001.
posted by victoriab to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
So, someone I know personally co-owns this business. I haven't done any tours with her, but she is exceptionally well-travelled and is a great person. It's a place to start your research, even if you don't go with this particular company.

Good luck and enjoy!
posted by Temeraria at 6:30 PM on June 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

I think Ireland is lovely and in my experience less rainy in October BUT I notice that in much of the countryside there are no paths on the sides of the road so you would need to drive or be driven to the different places to walk, I don’t know of any villages, for example, where you could have breakfast and then set out for a nice walk (except along the coast) and even then you are talking a small loop- not a longer walk. Although you said you wanted to do a tour so maybe just ignore me. I know you didn’t mention Cornwall but I think you can walk the whole peninsula. I think you can also walk hadrians wall. This sounds like a great trip and I will be following the answers and hopefully I’m wrong about Ireland. I certainly don’t know everything about it, that’s for sure!
posted by pairofshades at 9:34 PM on June 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

As you would probably guess from my username, I favor Scotland. But what you are asking for? I would say the Pennine way in England fits the bill.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 10:02 PM on June 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think if you don't do a lot of hiking the main thing is to avoid committing yourself to a plan that ends up requiring more miles than you find you want to do. Be prepared logistically and mentally for the possibility of rain and blisters... Walking in the rain can still be lovely but only if you brought the right gear. Be sure also to plan your walking so that you're not out up a mountain in bad conditions or when it's getting dark (which will be quite early in October) especially if you're not with a group. The BMC has further sensible advice along these lines.

I love walking in all the places you mentioned and they all have beautiful scenery and interesting things to see, and I always find it a great way to reset and get rid of accumulated stress.

It's not specifically for walking, but a family member had a very positive experience with Rabbie's Tours, which was in Scotland.
posted by d11 at 10:47 PM on June 17, 2022

I don’t know if there are walking tours, but France is very flat and beautiful in much of the northwest, including the Loire Valley, Normandy and Brittany.
posted by Sukey Says at 11:03 PM on June 17, 2022

The Pennine Way in October would be a serious proposition, each section are proper remote hill walks with risks of snow and almost definitely gales and horizontal rain at some point. Fine if you like that sort of thing and are prepared and experienced, but probably not what the OP is looking for.

I would suggest something less intense like the Cotswold Way. Here's a link to a random company I googled. I know it's not Scotland but I would suggest in October it would be a better option.
posted by el_presidente at 12:04 AM on June 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

I agree that the Pennine Way and the longer trails in Scotland like the West Highland Way might be a bit too intense in October, unless you’re already a committed walker.

Maybe the Pembrokeshire Coast Path could work? Very picturesque scenery, in a national park in south-west Wales. You’re close to sea level so should be more sheltered than on an upland trail. You’ll still want a good raincoat & sturdy boots, though.

The site is not really working for me on mobile, but there seems to be an itinerary planner on that page that links to someone called Celtic Trails for a one-week trip incl. accommodation & baggage transfers.
posted by rd45 at 3:38 AM on June 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

I missed the edit window but maybe this is better link.
posted by rd45 at 3:44 AM on June 18, 2022

The search term you're looking for in the UK is long distance footpaths. There are a number of them around the UK. For a week long holiday, you'll probably be looking at doing a short section of one of the long distance footpaths.

Some ideas which I think would be nice for you:

1) The South West Coast Path.
Granted this is not in Scotland, Wales, or Ireland. However Cornwall and Devon and Dorset, the counties through which the path traverses, are really beautiful. The path goes along the entire coastline and there's a lot of different options for smaller sections you could try. Going in October you will be outside the main tourist season, so it's a good time to see the towns and villages that it passes through. Cornwall, being very southerly, also tends to be warmer (though wetter, potentially) than the rest of the country. I think it would be suitable for what you want to see and the level of walking you would like to do. It may have some climbs due to cliffs, but certainly no mountains. There's decent-ish public transport to get you between locations as well.

The South West Coast Path has a great website via which you could plan a good week long trip which encompasses some beautiful countryside and interesting towns. I'd particularly recommend the West Cornwall area, focused around St Ives, or the South Cornwall area, focused around Falmouth.

2) The Wales Coast Path.
This is a recently completed path, traversing the coastline of Wales. There is another good website to help plan your trip. I am less familiar with this path, but the website should help.

3) The Shropshire Way.
I am personally biased as this is where I come from, but this is a less-visited and very lovely part of the world. It borders Wales so may tick a lot of your boxes for what you want out of your trip. It is well connected via train from Manchester Airport. You could also link up with some in-land Welsh footpaths such as the Offa's Dyke path. The landscape is very varied and it is not very tourist-y (though well set-up for walkers), so you will get a genuine feel for the life of the region. Some very nice towns and villages (feel free to memail me for specific recommendations). It is hilly but no enormous mountains, and again you can get buses and trains between locations. For example you could get trains/buses between small towns and villages and do shorter circular walks from there.

4) Long distance footpaths in Scotland.
Again, I am less familiar with this area but there are popular long distance routes you could do parts of, for example Inverness to John O'Groats. Some ideas here.

You'll want to think about whether you want a company that can handle your bags in-between accommodation. In Cornwall for example you can use a baggage transfer company.

I would also note that wherever you go in the UK in October (particularly towards the end of the month) there is a very high likelihood of rain, and even substantial storms. Late September/early October might be safer.

If you're not a hugely experienced and confident hiker I would make sure you plan your trip really carefully as many of the long distance paths can be very hilly/mountainous and quite dangerous in bad weather e.g. Pennine Way, many of the Scottish paths. For this reason I think Cornwall or Wales/Shropshire would be safer than Scotland.

Wherever you go you will want to invest in the relevant OS Map for the area(s) you will be walking. They are very good maps which are usually up to date and show long distance footpaths. You can also get them on your phone which is handy.

(Sorry for not addressing Ireland: I am not familiar with walking in Ireland so can't comment).
posted by Balthamos at 3:46 AM on June 18, 2022 [9 favorites]

The best known long distance walk in Scotland is the West Highland way. It is about 95 miles long and is typically done from a relatively easy start in Glasgow up to some harder stretches at the Fort William end. On average, it takes 6 or seven days to walk the whole thing - and there is a theory that you can use the earlier stages and a sort of training for the latter ones. October will have fewer people walking - but there will definitely be others. The route is well served with places to stay as well as with services to transport your luggage from place to place - so you don't have to lug everything on your back. You can also pick and choose shorter stretches of the route to do - and there is (beautiful) train line which runs near most of the route and allows you to skip stretches or get back to your starting point. In October the midges will have gone (yay!) and the snow will probably not have yet arrived. But it will be cooler without the very long days of summer.

But you might want to pick and choose some shorter, easier walks in Scotland. Here are some suggestions.
posted by rongorongo at 3:47 AM on June 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I came here to also suggest the West Highland Way. It starts in Milngavie, near Glasgow, so it's easy to get to and you can also see a bit of the city. You can do as little or as much as you like, and as rongorongo mentioned there is great public transport links along the way so if it feels like too much you can bail. The scenery is beautiful the whole way along, and the end in Fort William is very rewarding. You could easily do a short section then just take the train to Fort William, the train ride itself is spectacular, and is regularly voted one of the best train journeys in the world for scenery.
posted by mani at 3:54 AM on June 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

In addition to the OS Maps that Balthamos mentions above, OS Pathfinder and Short Walks guides give detailed descriptions of walks in an area, with points of interest, journey times, notes regarding difficulty, and so on. You could pick an area in which to stay and then do some of the easier walks within range of where you were staying. This is obviously not the same as having a company do everything for you, but the books do helpfully do a lot of the work.
posted by sueinnyc at 5:30 AM on June 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the comments and the advice is really useful. I definitely want to do my walking on my own, not with a group that I have to stick with. I don’t want to carry a pack, so I do want to purchase a package that includes moving my stuff from one lodging to the next while I walk there. I don’t want to make many decisions during the day (other than when to stop for lunch), so the more things included in the package the better.

Based on comments about weather and rigor, I’m definitely open to going to more temperate areas in the UK.
posted by victoriab at 6:50 AM on June 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I can highly recommend Mac's Adventures to book this kind of trip. We booked through them for our walk on the Coast to Coast path several years ago, and it was great. They're very accomodating and responsive, and I see no reason you couldn't book a solo trip with them. They can take care of nearly everything, and they'll give you advice for the stuff you need to do yourself (like booking the original flight overseas).
posted by suelac at 8:04 AM on June 18, 2022

This looks like a good option if you did want to try Cornwall.
posted by Balthamos at 8:11 AM on June 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Look at the greenway and railway routes in Ireland. I lot of development has happened in various places of Ireland to turn these into good walking routes. And as they often follow old canals or other routes they often pass through smaller towns and villages
posted by Fence at 8:34 AM on June 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Cornwall definitely had a lot of options of companies that would drive your bags from one bed and breakfast to the next!
posted by pairofshades at 9:07 AM on June 18, 2022

Friends of ours highly recommend Contours walking tours. So much that while we were having drinks with them this past weekend we have decided to try doing the south Cotswold section next year. They have a lot of flexibility with how long the walks are, and how many miles one walks per day. Will depend on your abilities and finances as the more nights one spends in inn, the more inns one would stay in and therefore the more money it will cost. Our friends were very pleased with Contours and we are excited for next year even though we are leaving for an England trip in less than a week.
posted by terrapin at 9:30 AM on June 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Any of the walks will give you beautiful scenery. For seeing farms, animals, small towns then I think the Cotswolds, Shropshire and the Welsh borders, maybe Cornwall, are probably your best bets. The West Highland Way probably has the most stunning scenery followed by the Lake District. Hill farming areas (Yorkshire, Lakes, Peaks, parts of Scotland) will have both more challenging terrain and fewer farms/towns on the route. Food should be good along the way, as long as you're happy with pub food for the most part, I've seldom had a bad meal in a country pub and there are some really amazing gastropubs.
posted by plonkee at 1:17 AM on June 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm also a woman in my 50s, and in the last few years I've taken several solo walking holidays in the UK with several different companies, all with luggage transfers included.

My first was in early October, walking the Mendip Way in Somerset. I booked through Encounter Walking Holidays, who specialise in south west England and Wales. They supplied me with Ordnance Survey (OS) maps that cover the area, and also with route notes. The route notes were useful, but were presented in a way that made it easy to lose track of where you were in the list of turns and gates. It should have been 6 days of walking, but a storm arrived and I didn't attempt the last 2 days.

My next was in mid-June, along the north Norfolk coast. I booked through Inntravel, who are unusual in that their UK walking holidays don't follow the route of any of the national walking trails, although some will join a trail for a day or two. They typically last for 6 nights, with 2 nights each in 3 hotels along a route, so you do a circular walk at each location, and also walk between the locations. They supplied OS maps, and also superb route notes that included a lot of background information about the area.

And a month ago I walked the South Downs Way (SDW) with South Downs Discovery. They supplied a booklet of OS maps specific to the SDW and also a guide book that had lots of details about facilities along the route. During the walk I met people who had booked through Celtic Trails, Macs Adventure and Mickledore, and they were all very happy with the service.

They were all wonderful holidays, providing a complete break in lovely surroundings, with excellent accommodation and food. The most recent one was so effective at quieting my brain that I discovered when I got home that I couldn't spontaneously remember my work password! I would be delighted to do any of them again, but I think that Inntravel might be the company that would tick most of your boxes, precisely because they don't focus on the national trails. The trails are beautiful, but they typically go through very isolated areas, so you won't see many people going about their daily business, and the villages you stay in might be too small to even have a shop. Inntravel, however, tend to design routes that give you more variety, with a mix of towns and villages, and they always offer options to lengthen or shorten each day's walk so you can take it as easy as you like, while also getting a good idea whether a walking holiday is for you. All of their UK holidays are available until the end of October and they have several holidays in Scotland and one in Wales - though personally for that time of year I would look for something further south in hope of better weather. I mentioned the maps and route notes that each company provided because the chances are that you will take a wrong turn at some point - especially if you're not familiar with the waymarking used on footpaths in the UK, which can be very variable - and Inntravel give particularly good guidance.

I see people have been recommending coastal paths as being near sea level and therefore easy walking, but in the south and south-west of England, these paths can be an unrelenting roller-coaster with some really steep ascents and descents. Some sections are much easier than others, so if you're considering one of these coastal paths, ask the travel company for an honest assessment of what you'd be getting into. The Norfolk coast, on the other hand, is completely flat.

As for what to bring... A good supply of compeed brand blister plasters, and wool socks with decent cushioning. If you choose a route that involves hills, I strongly recommend getting a pair of walking poles - or just one pole, if you prefer. They help so much on descents, taking the stress off the knees, and giving you extra stability. When I'm going downhill on an uneven path in wet weather, I'm thinking with every step how nervewracking this would be without my poles. You can get a perfectly decent pole for less than £15 here in the UK.

I hope you have fun choosing your holiday, and that you have a wonderful time, with the best possible weather.
posted by kelper at 2:14 AM on June 20, 2022 [6 favorites]

I have never done this (yet), but I thought I recognised the name Inntravel from the latest Which? magazine - and yep, they're a Which? Recommended Provider. That's a good sign.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:10 AM on June 20, 2022

Heading for Scotland's Isle of Skye tomorrow... and going with this list:
posted by talldean at 9:15 AM on June 20, 2022

My suggestion for Scotland is if you don't want to be lugging a pack around, that you book a stay in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and then take day trips so that you can leave your luggage behind at the hotel.

Because the tourist season usually ends in October, if you plan to make use of a commercial tour company I would check their dates so you don't run into a situation where they aren't operational when you are visiting. Companies like Timberbush Tours do 1 Day tours that cover a fair amount of ground and often go to places more difficult to get to by public transit.

Another option is to make use of the Scottish Rail system for day trip purposes. From Glasgow Queen Street it is very easy to take the train up to Stirling (famous for its castle) or Balloch (where it is possible to catch a ferry ride across Loch Lomond). The train routes might give you some of what you are looking for in terms of scenery.
posted by panther of the pyrenees at 10:57 PM on June 20, 2022

My spouse and and his adult daughter did one of the hill walk tours (the Dingle tour in Ireland) and really enjoyed it. There were no issues re transfers, and they were generally happy with the accommodation. They did it in the spring, but lucked out with the weather and had sun most of the time.
posted by Minnowish at 4:47 AM on June 23, 2022

Videographers Kim and Del - AKA "Going the whole Hogg" have just released a video showing their experience of hiking the West Highland way. The first half illustrates their journey- without commentary. In the second half they discuss all the details - and they have produced a guide page. It is a beautiful evocation of the joys and challenges of the route, I think. The couple have a large archive of videos showing their treks in various parts of the world.
posted by rongorongo at 1:00 AM on June 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

« Older Let's say I want a chicken or three...   |   Help me identify this older movie... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.