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3 Classic Long-Distance Trails in England

By Dawn Rainbolt
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Meandering England's Trails

Long-distance trails are a well-known entity in hiking and outdoor pursuits. These linear, point-to-point way-marked paths are ideal for those who want to get in the mileage, want to spend more time exploring a smaller region, not to mention anyone concerned about carbon footprints.

There is something very empowering about getting from Point A to Point B and then C, D, and beyond by nothing more than your own two feet. There are long-distance trails all over the world (a famous example would be the epic Appalachian Trail in the USA), as well as right here in England.

England is crisscrossed with hundreds of paths, trails, laneways and footpaths of varying distances, terrains and difficulties. In this article, we want to highlight a few of our very favourite long-distance trails in England.

England’s Coast to Coast

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Hadrian’s Wall Path

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The Cotswold Way

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The Coast to Coast trail, which runs the width of England, is possibly the most famous of long-distance trails in England. It was developed by the well-known nature writer and pioneer, Alfred Wainwright. Born in 1907, Wainwright was a prolific fell walker and guidebook writer. He was a champion of the regions of northern England as well as what would become his tour de force, the England Coast to Coast long-distance trail.

The Coast to Coast trail crosses England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. Along the way, it traverses three national parks: the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and the North Yorkshire Moors national parks. 128 miles in length, most through walkers take 10-14 days to hike the length of the trail from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay.

Hikers will follow in the footsteps of literary giants through the dramatic fells of the Lake District, from Wordsworth and Austen to Beatrix Potter or the Brontës. Follow the green rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales and the sweeping expanses of the North Yorks Moors National Park for further stunning backdrops.

Read more about English landscapes and their literary inspirations.

Long distance trails in England

Trail Highlights

Some of the trail highlights include Ennerdale Water, Ullswater and William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage as well as Shap Abbey and the Lakeland Fells in the Lake District. In the Yorkshire Dales, hikers will delight in the charming Yorkshire villages of Ravenstonedale and Orton (as well as its fabulous chocolate shop). Don’t forget the picturesque Swaledale Valley and Mucker village! Furthermore, there are several stunning monastic ruins worth noting, such as the 12th century Marrick Priory, Easby Abbey and the 14th century Mount Grace Priory.

In the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, favourite sites include Beacon Hill, the moors along the Rosedale Ironstone Railway to Blakely Ridge, the famous Goathland Station used in filming Harry Potter and the waterfall of Falling Foss.

Inspired to make the trek yourself?

Why not join a guided tour of the Coast to Coast trail in northern England. 

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Hadrian’s Wall is probably the most famous vestige of the Roman Empire in the UK. It is often touted as the northernmost border of the Roman Empire – despite the fact that the St Antonine Wall in southern Scotland is located 115 miles north. Hadrian’s Wall was commenced in 122 AD to mark the edge of the “civilised” world, spanning 90 Roman miles (just over 80 miles in today’s measurements). Hadrian’s Wall remained the northwest frontier of the Roman empire for almost 300 years and was home to regiments of infantry and cavalry.

Today, the wall is a World Heritage Site and is the most famous of all Roman Empire frontiers. Running alongside the wall is Hadrian’s Wall Path, a splendid long-distance trail that not only traverses England but also encompasses history, culture, and quintessential northern English landscapes. 84 miles long, the trail takes in the breadth of history along Hadrian’s Wall, including forts, milecastles, turrets, museums, villages, and of course the wall itself.

Long distance trails in England

Trail Highlights

Hikers will journey across the country on foot through the rolling landscape visiting forts and milecastles. Hiking from one inn to the next, relax in charming villages or even on working farms. Each night, tuck into warm welcome and wonderful local pubs. Aside from the stunning wall ruins, some of the highlights include Hadrian’s Wall Gallery in the Great North Museum, forts like Chesters and Vindolanda, the infamous ‘Robin Hood’ tree and beer in a village called Once Brewed.

Learn more about Hadrian’s Wall itself as well as Roman Britain.

Inspired to make the trek yourself?

Why not join a self-guided tour of Hadrian’s Wall Path.

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Heading south, we find the Cotswold Way, which is arguably the prettiest of long-distance trails in England. The 102 mile or 164 km route starts in the small market town of Chipping Campden, and continues along the western edge of the Cotswold hills before finishing in the historic city of Bath (or vice versa of course).

It’s no wonder this area was a favourite of many famous figures including literary giants like Jane Austen, Alexander Pope, J.M Barrie, and T.S Elliot as well as notable members of the royal family and modern-day British celebrities.

When you imagine the English countryside, the image you have in your mind is likely that of the Cotswolds. This region of southwest England is famous for its quintessential beauty – rolling green hills, fairytale castles, postcard-perfect stone villages barely touched by centuries gone by, ancient trees and country lanes.

Trail Highlights

As you travel the route, soak in the rich Cotswolds history via medieval, Roman and Neolithic heritage sites. Start your trip in the heart of medieval Chipping Campden. Along the way, experience the magic of adorable fairytale villages such as Bibury, Lacock, Stow-on-the-Wold, Painswick or Bourton-on-the-Water, for which the Cotswolds are world-famous.

There are a number of Neolithic sites along the Cotswolds Way, such as Belas Knap and Nympsfield Long Barrow. Hike up Cleeve Hill, the highest point in the Cotswolds range as well as Crickley, Blackquarries and Wotton hills. Visit the storybook folly, Broadway Tower, several medieval abbeys and churches and the 17th-century mansion, Dyrham Park.

End your trip in the Roman Bath, with its ancient Roman baths, a great medieval abbey and Georgian streets once home to Jane Austen.

Read more about the city of Bath here.

Inspired to make the trek yourself?

Visit England’s quintessential Cotswolds on a self-guided hiking tour of the Cotswolds Way.

View Trip Details

Travel England's Long Distance Trails

Meet the Author: Dawn Rainbolt

American by birth but European in spirit, Dawn has called the US, Costa Rica, Spain, England, Poland, France and Ireland home over the years. While she has travelled to more than 30 countries, she is passionate about sharing her love of the UK & Ireland with visitors from across the world.

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