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The Most Dramatic Hikes in Northern England

5 min read

By Anna Brownlow
More by Anna

Walks with 'Wow-Factor'

The landscapes of Northern England are beautiful and very diverse. The area is home to four National Parks; the Lake District, Northumberland, Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. The coastline of Northumberland, the North Pennines and the Solway Coast are also recognised areas of Outstanding Beauty.

The fascinating geology is what we have to thank for so much natural beauty and drama. There is a geological history spanning back over 500 million years, and the landscape owes much to explosive volcanic activity followed by destructive glacial wear and tear. The landscapes are thus both incredibly rugged counterbalanced with moors, heaths and also very fertile soils perfect for farming and forestry.

Northern England is therefore peppered with beautiful and dramatic hikes and it was hard choosing just a few for this list, but these are the ones we feel provide the most drama in terms of the ”wow-factor” and the views.

These hikes are rated between easy to hard, and come with route descriptions. However, we stress the importance of always being prepared before heading out the hills with appropriate clothing, sustenance, navigational tools and walking equipment.

Take me straight to:

  1. Helvellyn Horseshoe, the Lake District
  2. Gordale Scar and Malham Cove, the Yorkshire Dales
  3. Hole of Horcum and Skelton Tower, North York Moors
  4. The Langdale Pikes, the Lake District
  5. Great Gable, the Lake District

Helvellyn Horseshoe, the Lake District

Length: 14km | Duration: 4-5 hours | Difficulty: Hard

This is a loop of Striding Edge, Helvellyn and Swirral Edge from Glenridding in Patterdale. It’s a much-loved hike and tops most English walking lists. Helvellyn is the third highest peak in England, with easier access and just as much if not more impressive than the taller summits of Scafell Pike and Scafell. This breathtaking landscape of distinctive ridges was formed both by volcanic and glacial activity.

This route, although not the highest, is truly spectacular and there are plenty of places to stop and admire the grandeur. The walk also provides the contrast of the rugged ridgeline with the views of lush and green Patterdale upon your return.

Despite its popularity, this walk should not be underestimated. It’s a grade one scramble in sections and features a narrow ridge that needs a head for heights and some safety nous as it’s an exposed mountain route. Helvellyn summit can be reached via other easier paths and the two edges with Red Tarn between can be admired from above if people don’t want to attempt them.

Gordale Scar and Malham Cove, the Yorkshire Dales

Length: 12km | Duration: 2-3 hours | Difficulty: Moderate

This walk has so many different elements, it’s brilliant. Leaving from the village of Malham, walk first up past the picturesque Janet’s Foss waterfall, then on to Gordale Scar. Gordale Scar is a huge gorge, somehow hidden from view until the very last minute. Both Malham Cove and the Gordale Scar are consequences of glacial meltwater carving away the limestone over thousands upon thousands of years. Conditions permitting you can climb up next to the steep waterfall and out of the top to find yourself on the moor. If it’s too wet, or you’re not feeling too confident scrambling up, there is an alternative route that takes you around and on to the moor.

Once up, hike across to the beautiful Malham Tarn. From there descend again past the sinkhole where the stream disappears underground and across the limestone pavements to the limestone cliff top of Malham Tarn, known for hard rock climbing and a spectacular amphitheatre. Drop back down to the valley floor where the stream mysteriously appears flowing out of the bottom of the cove and back to Malham village. There are several good pubs to visit where you can toast your adventure.

Hole of Horcum and Skelton Tower, North York Moors

Length: 11km | Duration: 3-4 hours | Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Starting from the Saltergate car park on the A169, this walk is surprisingly breathtaking. The Hole of Horcum is a large cauldron shaped hole that spans over a kilometre and is 120 m deep. Legend says a mountain scooped up the earth to throw it as his wife over some heated words, however, it was actually formed over thousands of years of weathering and erosion.

The walk through Lewisham Moor is pleasant (although in wetter weather rather boggy) and passes by various archaeological remains. The ‘standard’ route lists Skelton Tower as an optional add on, but we think it’s a must-see. The tower provides good views down to the steam railway line of the North York Moors Railway and if you’re lucky you might time it with a train passing.

The Langdale Pikes, the Lake District

Length: 9km | Duration: 3-4 hours | Difficulty: Moderate

Start from Sticklebarn a lovely National Trust pub and take in Pavey Ark, Thunacar Knott, Pike of Stickle, Harrison Stickle. The Pikes are not the hardest hike, but they are super rewarding.

This is Alfred Wainwright’s description of the Langdale Pikes: “No mountain profile arrests and excites the attention more than that of the Langdale Pikes and no mountain group better illustrates the dramatic appeal of a sudden rising of the vertical from the horizontal; the full height from the valley to the summit is revealed at a glance in one simple abrupt upsurge to all travellers on the distant shore of Windermere and, more intimately, on the beautiful approach along Great Langdale. Nor is the appeal visual only: that steep ladder to heaven stirs the imagination, and even the emotions and this is especially so whenever the towering peaks come into view suddenly and unexpectedly.”

Alternatively, this can be lengthened to do the full Langdale horseshoe around the head of the valley taking in Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and Pike of Blisco.

Great Gable, the Lake District

Length: 9km | Duration: 4-5 hours | Difficulty: Hard

Vaguely resembling a pyramid if you’re looking at it from Wasdale, the Great Gable is one of the most popular fells for hiking and climbing in the Lake District. Once you’re up high you get amazing views over Wastwater from Beck Head and a circumnavigation of the mountain on the Gable Girdle path goes below the Great Napes, which is a rugged group of pinnacles and ridges. You can see Cat rock, Sphinx rock, Eagle’s Nest Ridge and Napes Needle. It’s steep ground and quite challenging.

Napes Needle is pivotal in rock climbing history, it was climbed solo by Walter Parry Haskett Smith in 1886 and was seen as the moment climbing became a sport.

Hiking Trips

Meet the Author: Anna Brownlow

I am part of the Operations team, looking after all the trip logistics, although I work in the office day to day, I do get out and guide the odd trip or two. I’m originally from Yorkshire and grew up exploring the dales, mountains, lakes and rivers of Northern England. I still think there is nothing better than a day out in the fells, followed by either tea and cake in one of the many gorgeous tea rooms or a pint in a cosy English pub.

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