Long Distance Trails

It is possible to pick any two points in either Britain or Ireland and construct some sort of cross-country walking route between them. You could walk from John O'Groats to Land's End through Britain, or from Malin Head to Mizen Head through Ireland, and create a route which could be largely free of tarmac roads. All you need is the ability to read a map and the eye to spot an opportunity. One of the joys of following a waymarked walking trail, however, is that someone has already created the route for you, so you know that you can follow it easily from one place to another. There are "official" waymarked walking trails in both Britain and Ireland, and following them allows you to explore the countryside in a quiet and leisurely way. The following list includes "official" trails over 50 miles (80km) in length. Paddy Dillon makes brief comments on each one based on his own personal experience of the routes.


The Long Distance Footpath Guide

England

1. SOUTH WEST WAY - 600 miles (1000km)
2. SOUTH DOWNS WAY - 100 miles (160km)
3. NORTH DOWNS WAY - 150 miles (240km)
4. THAMES PATH - 190 miles (305km)
5. RIDGEWAY PATH - 90 miles (145km)
6. PEDDARS WAY & NORFOLK COAST PATH - 95 miles (155km)
7. WOLDS WAY - 80 miles (130km)
8. CLEVELAND WAY - 115 miles (185km)
9. DALES WAY - 80 miles (130km)
10. COAST TO COAST WALK - 190 miles (305km)
11. HADRIAN'S WALL - 80 miles (130km)
12. PENNINE WAY - 280 miles (450km)

Wales

13. PEMBROKESHIRE COAST PATH - 180 miles (290km)
14. OFFA'S DYKE PATH - 180 miles (290km)
15. GLYNDWR'S WAY - 120 miles (190km)

Scotland

16. SOUTHERN UPLAND WAY - 215 miles (345km)
17. WEST HIGHLAND WAY - 90 miles (145km)
18. SPEYSIDE WAY - 60 miles (100km)
Ireland

19. WICKLOW WAY - 80 miles (130km)
20. SOUTH LEINSTER WAY - 60 miles (100km)
21. BARROW WAY - 70 miles (110km)
22. GRAND CANAL WAY - 80 miles (130km)
23. ROYAL CANAL WAY - 90 miles (145km)
24. SLIEVE BLOOM WAY - 50 miles (80km)
25. BALLYHOURA WAY - 55 miles (90km)
26. BLACKWATER WAY - 110 miles (190km)
27. SHEEP'S HEAD WAY - 55 miles (90km)
28. BEARA WAY - 125 miles (200km)
29. KERRY WAY - 135 miles (215km)
30. DINGLE WAY - 115 miles (185km)
31. WESTERN WAY - 155 miles (250km)
32. FOXFORD WAY - 55 miles (90km)
33. ULSTER WAY (DONEGAL) - 70 miles (110km)
34. ULSTER WAY (NORTHERN IRELAND)
- 570 miles (915km)

Isle of Man

35. RAAD NY FOILLAN - 100 miles (160km


England

1. SOUTH WEST WAY - 600 miles (1000km)
Traverses the south-west coastline of England and takes in five distinct trails: Somerset & North Devon Coast Path; North Cornwall Coast Path; South Cornwall Coast Path; South Devon Coast Path; and Dorset Coast Path. Includes high and rugged cliff walks, seaside promenades, sand dunes, saltmarshes and pebbly beach walks. This is really a summer time walk when all facilities are available. In winter some shops and accommodation will be closed, and ferries which cross tidal inlets may not be running.

2. SOUTH DOWNS WAY - 100 miles (160km)
This route is not just for walkers, but also for cyclists and horse-riders. The route can be started at Eastbourne on the chalk cliffs of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters. The route passes many small and charming villages. Prehistoric monuments such as the Long Man of Wilmington and Chanctonbury Ring are passed while Winchester, at the end of the route, is an ancient pilgrimage city associated with King Arthur.

3. NORTH DOWNS WAY - 150 miles (240km)
In deference to the fact that the North Downs Way sometimes follows the Pilgrim's Way, the route was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Leaving Farnham, the trail passes through a region of fertile fields and orchards known as the "Garden of England". At Canterbury modern walkers can recall the days of Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales. The North Downs Way runs to the coast at Dover, and there is an enormous loop walk which can be followed back inland.

4. THAMES PATH - 190 miles (305km)
England's most recent long distance walking trail follows the banks of the River Thames from the Thames Barrier in London to the source in Gloucestershire. It is one of the easiest long distance walks. The route threads its way through London, taking in sights such as Tower Bridge, St. Paul's, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Historic Windsor and Henley-on-Thames are passed, and the university city of Oxford is on the walk. Towns and villages become smaller, and the navigable head of the river is reached at Lechlade. Thames Head is usually dry, but after a downpour water seeps from the grass to mark the river's source.

5. RIDGEWAY PATH - 90 miles (145km)
This must be the oldest walking route in England. Bronze Age people walked along the Ridgeway, lived in hill forts and traded all the way from coast to coast across England. The remnants of this once great route are best appreciated on the Wessex Downs, where a broad track soars over the rolling downs and passes many ancient sites from Avebury to Goring. The continuation of the route from Goring to Ivinghoe is more fiddly, using a variety of paths and tracks linking a succession of small towns and villages.

6. PEDDARS WAY & NORFOLK COAST PATH - 95 miles (155km)
Two paths for the price of one! The Peddars Way is an old Roman road which can be traced across the gentle countryside of Norfolk from Knettishall Heath to Hunstanton. From Hunstanton, the Norfolk coast can be followed to Cromer. The lovely Norfolk villages inland are often separated by rolling fields or broad heaths, while the seaside towns and villages can be quite busy in the summer. There is a lovely windmill at Cley, while nature reserves along the coast feature a bewildering variety of birds, including the elusive bittern.

7. WOLDS WAY - 80 miles (130km)
The Wolds feature intensive agriculture, and yet there is a good rights of way network which has allowed the Wolds Way to be marked from Filey to Hessle. The countryside was formerly an enormous sheep-grazing range, but now it has largely been given over to raising cereal crops. Both the high Wolds and the dales between are intensively farmed, and it is only on the steep valley sides that the former grassland and shrub cover survives. The route includes the deserted village of Wharram Percy and the delightful village of Thixendale. At the end of the walk, the graceful span of the Humber Bridge dominates the scene.

8. CLEVELAND WAY - 115 miles (185km)
The Cleveland Way comes in two distinct parts. The first part, from Helmsley to Saltburn, is along the western and northern fringes of the North York Moors National Park. Views extend across the Vale of York in one direction, while endless heather moorland are seen in the other direction. From Slatburn to Filey, the route follows a series of cliff paths linking coastal towns and villages. Skinningrove is industrial, while Staithes is charming. The walk from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay is very popular. Scarborough and Filey are both busy seaside resorts. The route links with the Wolds Way at Filey.

9. DALES WAY - 80 miles (130km)
Not actually one of the "official" waymarked walking trails, but a very popular choice and most highly regarded by many walkers. The route starts in Ilkley and proceeds through the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It travels along the length of Wharfedale, then crosses an area of high moorlands before wandering down through Dentdale. After brushing the slopes of the Howgill Fells, the route enters the Lake District National Park and crosses gentle countryside to end at Bowness-on-Windermere.

10. COAST TO COAST WALK - 190 miles (305km)
Another popular route which hasn't received "official" blessing. The Coast to Coast Walk was devised by the late Alfred Wainwright and is a celebration of some of the best countryside in Northern England. The route runs from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Robin Hood's Bay on the North Sea. It crosses rugged fells and dales in the Lake District National Park, then proceeds across the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. There is a crossing of the level Vale of Mowbray before the route continues through the North York Moors National Park. Throughout the walk, the emphasis is on quality scenery and interesting places.

11. HADRIAN'S WALL - 80 miles (130km)
Work is proceeding apace to designate a waymarked walking trail along the course of Hadrian's Wall. The Wall was built by the Romans and ran practically coast to coast across Northern England from Wallsend-on-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway. The Wall itself survives only on the highest and most remote parts of the route. Elsewhere it was plundered for centuries as a source of stone, and some parts were levelled to create roads. The terrain includes the city streets of Newcastle and Carlisle, but also some exhilarating cliff walks and gentle, rolling countryside. This walk is not to be rushed, as there are all sorts of ancient remains to be studied throughout its length.

12. PENNINE WAY - 280 miles (450km)
The Pennine Way was the first long distance walking trail to be blazed through England and it was officially opened in 1965. The route is essentially high level, although it does have many gentle sections. Starting in the Peak District National Park, the route crosses some very bleak and remote moorlands. Continuing into the South Pennines, extensive moorlands still dominate the scene, before the pastoral interlude of the Aire Gap. The Yorkshire Dales National Park provides wonderful limestone scenery around Malham, as well as ascents of Pen-y-Ghent and Great Shunner Fell. Continuing across Stainmore, the route enters the North Pennines and enjoys the waterfalls of Teesdale before taking in bleak moorlands around Cross Fell. After following a stretch of Hadrian's Wall, the trail pushes through extensive forests before passing through the broad and boggy Cheviot Hills to end at Kirk Yetholm in Scotland.

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Wales

13. PEMBROKESHIRE COAST PATH - 180 miles (290km)
The crinkly coastline of Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales is delightful. Starting in St. Dogmaels, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is essentially an exploration of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Rugged cliff paths make up much of the route, linking coastal towns and villages. Offshore islands such as Caldy are additional attractions. There is a length inlet at Milford Haven which has been spoiled by industry, and some walkers prefer to take a bus around this stretch. Beyond this, extensive Army ranges sometimes curtail access to some of the best cliff scenery. Check access in advance to avoid disappointment. The route passes through Tenby to end at Amroth.

14. OFFA'S DYKE PATH - 180 miles (290km)
When Offa, King of Mercia, built an earthwork to separate his territory from Wales, he little knew that he was laying the foundations of a coast to coast walk through Wales. Offa's Dyke can be traced from Chepstow to Prestatyn, although in some places the line of the earthwork has been lost. There are several interesting towns and villages along the way, and gentle countryside near the Wye Valley is followed by a high level walk through the Brecon Beacons National Park. The best stretches of Offa's Dyke can be traced around Knighton and Montgomery. Hills around Llangollen and the Clwydian Hills offer fine views on the northern stretches of the walk, before the seaside resort of Prestatyn marks the end of the walk.

15. GLYNDWR'S WAY - 120 miles (190km)
Glyndwr's Way is being established as an "official" waymarked walking trail in midWales. It links with the course of Offa's Dyke at Welshpool and Knighton, so it could be completed as an immense circular walk. Glyndwr was a Welsh prince who for a few years confronted the English in battle and for a short while re-established Wales as an independent nation. The route leaves Knighton and wanders through the lonely countryside of mid-Wales to reach Machynlleth, where Glyndwr established his parliament. Returning across the hills via the huge Vyrnwy Dam, the route reaches Welshpool.

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Scotland

16. SOUTHERN UPLAND WAY - 215 miles (345km)
A coast to coast walk across Southern Scotland. The route runs from Portpatrick on the Irish Sea to Cockburnspath on the North Sea. Most of the trail is along tracks and minor roads, but there are some high and exposed sections. The route passes through the Galloway Forest Park to reach Dalry, then crosses over the hills to Sanquhar. After crossing the Lowther Hills and passing Moffat, the route crosses more hills and approaches St. Mary's Lough. A fine range of hills is crossed on the way to Melrose, then beyond Lauder are the heathery Lammermuir Hills. Accommodation is limited at Longformacus and Abbey St. Bathans. The route ends with a short coastal walk into Cockburnspath.

17. WEST HIGHLAND WAY - 90 miles (145km)
This was the first "official" long distance trail in Scotland. It runs from Milngavie on the outskirts of Glasgow to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. The first stretch is easy, then the route hugs the shore of Loch Lomond on the way to Crianlarich. The Highlands are most evident as the route proceeds from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy, across Rannoch Moor to the Kingshouse and Kinlochleven. The final stretch leads through a high glen before a descent to Fort William. Ben Nevis - the highest mountain in Britain - beckons those who still possess the energy to make an ascent.

18. SPEYSIDE WAY - 60 miles (100km)
This short and easy trail comes in two parts. The first part is largely routed along the trackbed of an old railway line, hugging the course of the River Spey from it confluence with the sea. The route passes Fochabers, and there is a side-spur to Dufftown. The trackbed can be followed as far as Ballindalloch, before the route takes to the hills. The last stretch runs through the Glenlivet Crown Estate to end at Tomintoul. One of the features of the Speyside Way is the abundance of malt whisky distilleries. Three of those along the route offer tours and the chance to sample a "wee dram".

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Ireland

19. WICKLOW WAY - 80 miles (130km)
This was the first waymarked trail to be established in Ireland. The route leaves the outskirts of Dublin and passes through the broad and bleak Wicklow Mountains. Many parts have become very boggy and eroded through overuse. The route passes the monastic "city" of Glendalough and takes in some high ground as it passes from glen to glen. Accommodation can be limited in some parts, and towards the end the bulk of the route is along minor roads and forest tracks. The route ends at Clonegal and there is an easy link with the course of the South Leinster Way.

20. SOUTH LEINSTER WAY - 60 miles (100km)
The South Leinster Way starts at Kildavin and proceeds to climb over the flanks of Mount Leinster. Much of the route is along roads and forest tracks, but there is a good stretch of the River Barrow's towpath which is followed from Borris to Graiguenamanagh. The trail continues past the delightful village of Inistioge, crosses Mount Alto and passes through Glenpipe to reach Mullinavat. The remainder of the route is along roads to end beside the River Suir at Carrick-on-Suir. There was a direct link with the course of the Munster Way, but due to problems of maintainence this trail has been removed from the "official" list.

21. BARROW WAY - 70 miles (110km)
The Barrow Way is essentially a towpath walk, and so is mostly level and easy throughout. It comes in two parts. The stretch from Lowtown to Athy is along the Barrow Line of the Grand Canal, while the remainder, from Athy to St. Mullins, is along the actual River Barrow. The whole of the navigable waterway is used by pleasure cruisers. There are a number of delightful towns and villages along the route, some of which have intersting ruined castles and abbeys. The Barrow Way has one part running concurrent with the South Leinster Way.

22. GRAND CANAL WAY - 80 miles (130km)
The Grand Canal has a continuous towpath and it can be followed all the way from Dublin to the River Shannon at Shannon Harbour. The whole of the waterway is open to pleasure cruisers. Walkers will find the route is generally level and easy, passing through several towns and villages. The Grand Canal was an ambitious project, especially where it had to be cut across the extensive Bog of Allen. Although low level, parts of this route can seem remote from civilisation.

23. ROYAL CANAL WAY - 90 miles (145km)
The Royal Canal was also known as Shoemaker's Canal, and it was a narrower cut than the Grand Canal. The canal has a continuous towpath and can be followed from Dublin to the River Shannon at Clondra. Unfortunately, parts of the canal have fallen into disuse and so not every stretch is navigable. There may even be problems following the route closer to the Shannon. Despite this, the trail crosses interesting countryside and includes some fine towns and villages.

24. SLIEVE BLOOM WAY - 50 miles (80km)
Situated in the centre of Ireland, the Slieve Bloom Way is a circular trail restricted to the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Most of the route is along forest tracks and roads, but there is a fine exposed moorland section on the Ridge of Capard. As the route is circular, it can be started anywhere, but most walkers choose to start and finish in Glenbarrow, where there are lovely waterfalls. There are three farmhouse B&Bs in the area which operate together to meet the needs of walkers requiring food, drink and accommodation on the trail.

25. BALLYHOURA WAY - 55 miles (90km)
This walking trail is part of an ambitious route called the O'Sullivan Beare Trail which will eventually stretch half the length of Ireland! The Ballyhoura Way runs from John's Bridge to Limerick Junction, passing Ballyhea, Kilfinane, Ballylanders, Galbally and Tipperary. The terrain is mostly quite gentle, but there is a high and exposed moorland section in the Ballyhoura Mountains. There are fine views of the lofty Galty Mountains, seen across the lovely Glen of Aherlow. It's not really a long way to Tipperary, and the route ends a short way beyond at Limerick Junction.

26. BLACKWATER WAY - 110 miles (190km)
A relatively new walking trail, the Blackwater Way has been formed from the courses of the Avondhu Way and Duhallow Way, so that the full distance stretches from Clogheen to Killarney. Leaving Clogheen, the route wanders through the Knockmealdown Mountains and gradually descends to Fermoy. Forest tracks and road lead onwards, passing close to Mallow on the way to Millstreet. The trail hugs the middle slopes of the Derrynasaggart Mountains where there are fine views across the Sliabh Luachra countryside. The final stretch to Killarney has yet to be waymarked, but is being worked on at the moment.

27. SHEEP'S HEAD WAY - 55 miles (90km)
This is a new waymarked walking trail which was opened by the President of Ireland. The route is circular, but most walkers will start and finish in Bantry. The route leaves Bantry and progresses along a high, rugged, boggy ridge to reach the end of the Sheep's Head peninsula. Turning around the rocky point at the lighthouse, the route then links a variety of paths, tracks and roads running generally at a lower level. Ahakista and Durrus are passed as the route runs back to Bantry.

28. BEARA WAY - 125 miles (200km)
The Beara Way is an enormous circular waymarked trail which could be started at any point. Starting from Glengarriff, the route hugs rugged mountain slopes as it proceeds towards Castletown Bere. There is an option to spend a day on Bere Island, and other spurs from the main circuit extend to the ned of the Beara peninsula and across by cable-car to Dursey Island. The cricuit takes in the mining village of Allihies, as well as Eyeries and Ardgroom. The route uses roads and boggy hill paths to continue towards Kenmare, where there is a link with the Kerry Way. The Beara Way follows an old road over the hills on the way from Kenmare back to Glengarriff.

29. KERRY WAY - 135 miles (215km)
The Kerry Way is the walker's version of the celebrated Ring of Kerry. The waymarked trail bristles with spur routes and alternatives, so there are any number of ways to tackle it. Starting at Killarney, the route passes through the Killarney National Park and proceeds through the Black Valley. There are mountain passes into the Bridia Valley and over the Lack Road. Glencar, Glenbeigh and Mountain Stage are passed on the way to Caherciveen. Rugged moorland ridges are crossed on the way to Waterville, then the shoulder of Eagle Mountain is crossed to reach Caherdaniel. A stretch of the old Butter Road leads onwards towards Kenmare, where there is a link with the Beara Way. To return to Killarney, the route passes through the Windy Gap and retraces steps through the Killarney National Park.

30. DINGLE WAY - 115 miles (185km)
Dingle - there's a name which rings a bell! The Dingle Way completely encircles the rugged Dingle peninsula and takes in a host of interesting little settlements. The route crosses the foot of the Slieve Mish Mountains, runs from Inch to Anascaul and Dingle Town, then proceeds round Slea Head. There are ancient stone remains to study, fabulous coastal views, and a high-level crossing of a shoulder of Brandon Mountain. The remainder of the trail wanders along beaches and road, with some retracing of steps to return to Tralee.

31. WESTERN WAY - 155 miles (250km)
This ambitious waymarked walking trail embraced all that is best in the West of Ireland. The route leaves Oughterard and passes through the Maum Turk Mountains in Connemara. After passing through Leenaun and visiting Aasleagh Fall, the route crosses a shoulder of the Sheefry Hills and faces the cone of Croagh Patrick. The trail passes along roads through Westport and Newport, then crosses forested terrain to reach Bellacorick and Ballycastle. More roads are followed through Killala and Ballina before the route uses old tracks on the slopes of the Ox Mountains. There is a direct link with the Foxford Way.

32. FOXFORD WAY - 55 miles (90km)
The Foxford Way is a circular waymarked walking trail with a spur linking it with the Western Way. Following the spur first, a rugged and pathless walk leads through the Ox Mountains before a gradual descent towards Foxford. This little town is well worth exploring. The trail makes us of old tracks and roads to cross low-level countryside visiting remote villages and farmsteads. Two of the farms are open to visitors. The route runs to Straide and Bellavary, then passes between two loughs and crosses a rugged moorland gap featuring a view towards the dome of Nephin. The final part of the route runs from Pontoon to Foxford.

33. ULSTER WAY (DONEGAL) - 70 miles (110km)
This must be one of the most rugged waymarked walking trails. The Donegal stretch of the Ulster Way runs from the Border town of Pettigo to the Atlantic coast at Falcarragh. In between are Lough Eske, Fintown and Dunlewy, prividing only limited accommodation. The terrain often features rugged, boggy moorland, or high mountains. Some stretches use forest tracks or roads. Overall, though, it is a tough walk with few facilities. The northern stretches were never waymarked, but the route suggested passes through the Poisoned Glen and runs alongside Altan Lough.

34. ULSTER WAY (NORTHERN IRELAND) - 570 miles (915km)
The Ulster Way is such a large route that it is often presented as five distinct trails making up a huge circuit: North East; North West; South West; South; and South East. There are shorter trails within each of these sections which bear distinct names. The route embraces the Belfast Hills, Antrim Mountains, Causeway Coast, Sperrin Mountains, Fermanagh Lakelands, South Tyrone, North Armagh, Newry Canal, Mountains of Mourne, Lecale Coast, Strangford Lough, North Down Coastal Path and Lagan Canal Towpath. Immensely varied and interesting, but seldom walked in a single journey. There are some stretches where accommodation is limited, but there is a specific accommodation guide to the route. Some stretches, such as the Causeway Coast or Mountains of Mourne, are very popular.

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Isle of Man

35. RAAD NY FOILLAN - 100 miles (160km)
For those who don't already know, the Isle of Man is a country in its own right and has its own parliament and currency. There is a waymarked coastal trail called the Raad ny Foillan, or Gull's Road. Starting from Douglas, the route follows cliff paths around the southern half of the island, passing Castletown, Port St. Mary, Port Erin and Peel. Running northwards and turning around the Point of Ayre, the route is often taken along beaches. Cliff paths, tracks and roads eventually lead back through Laxey to Douglas. There are also shorter waymarked trails which run from coast to coast across the Isle of Man.

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Notes For American Outdoors People

These trails could surprise you! They could be wilder and more remote than you think. For "walking" you can read "hiking". There is no need for "permits" to walk any of the waymarked trails in Britain or Ireland, or to visit any of the National Parks. All you need are maps, guidebooks, plenty of energy and the time to complete the distance. You are free to organise your time how you choose. The trails listed above are all waymarked, but their surfaces vary immensely. Expect to find some areas wet, muddy or boggy, with no firm surface. In some places there may not even be a clearly trodden path. This list of waymarked trails includes only the major ones. There are dozens more minor trails and an extensive network of other paths and tracks which you can follow.