Big Trails: planning your post-lockdown holiday
- Monday 25 January 2021
If you’re looking ahead to post-lockdown getaways, one Covid-friendly, low-impact alternative could be to hit one of Britain’s long-distance trails. Britain has hundreds of multi-day trails - some follow rivers or coastlines, some are ancient routes long trodden by traders or soldiers, some lead you across mountains or moorlands whilst others encircle cities. With so many routes, Big Trails: Great Britain and Ireland is a great starting point to help you choose. The twenty-five featured routes take you across the best of the British Isles - from the South Downs Way in South-East England and up the country’s spine along the Pennine Way, into the heart of Scotland on the West Highland Way, and along the Beara Way on Ireland’s Atlantic coast.
Paths have always connected us; paths take us to new places and show us the way home. Big Trails is designed to inspire big adventures. Rather than being carried along the route, the book provides everything you need to plan and explore further, including a general overview of the trails, specific technical information, overview mapping, key information and stunning photography. As well as this, each route specifies approximate timings devised using the Jones-Ross formula, which allows for custom itineraries to be generated depending upon the speed of the user. Whether you’re walking, trekking, fastpacking or running, here are six lesser-known trails from Big Trails that could be the perfect summer getaway. To buy your copy of the book with 20% off and free UK postage, click HERE.
Best for a long weekend: Causeway Coast Way
Clifftop marker near The Giant's Causeway © Hendrick Morkel/www.hikingfinland.com
The 53-kilometre Causeway Coast Way begins at Northern Ireland’s Portstewart, by the beautiful Portstewart Strand, voted the UK’s Best Blue Flag beach in 2016. This short, clifftop trail follows the Northern Irish coast, past the seaside resort of Portrush and the ruins of the sixteenth century Dunluce castle, to finish in Ballycastle. En-route, you will want to explore the hexagonal basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway as they stretch out into the Irish sea, and braver walkers may teeter across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. You can start each day with a hearty Ulster fry, enjoy lunch by the harbour, feast on fresh seafood and finish each day with a Bushmills nightcap. Few routes pack so much spectacular scenery into such so a short trail – Game of Thrones fans will recognise several filming locations along the way.
Practicalities: The trail may be walked at any time of year, is waymarked, and follows good trails and footpaths with some road sections. Bus services link Belfast to Portrush, via Coleraine and Belfast to Ballycastle, via Ballymena. Belfast is served by ferry connections to England (Liverpool) and Scotland (Cairnryan) and also has two international airports, offering connections to the UK mainland.
Best for kids: London LOOP
Enfield Lock no.13 and cottages on the River Lee Navigation © Andrew Lewis
The 230-kilometre London LOOP (London Outer Orbital Path) encircles the city, revealing the hidden woodlands, grassy hills and green-fringed rivers squeezed between London’s dual carriageways and golf courses. It is a great opportunity for children to discover outdoor adventure on their own doorstep, and to explore London’s secret green spaces and forgotten histories. The trail, which starts in Erith, follows riverside paths and grassy tracks to pass the Tudor manor Hall Place, the historic Wilberforce oak, the fragrant Mayfield Lavender Farm and concrete boats on the banks of the Thames. The LOOP passes through the RSPB nature reserve at Rainham Marshes, before finishing at Purfleet. The route passes many playgrounds, but children might also be entertained en-route by the topiary Queen’s Beasts at Hall Place, follow the Nature Trail at Crane Park or climb high into the treetops at Go Ape Cockfosters. Transport for London publishes guides to the route that detail the public transport links for each section, making it easy to plan shorter days on the trail or just pick the best bits.
Practicalities: The trail may be walked at any time of year, is waymarked, and follows good trails and footpaths with some road sections. Transport for London publishes guides to each section, which include step-by-step directions, maps and details of public transport connections. www.tfl.gov.uk/modes/walking/loop-walk
Best for campers: Cambrian Way
Glyder Fach and Castell y Gwynn From Glyder Fawr © The Cambrian Way Trust
The 462-kilometre Cambrian Way is one of Britain’s wildest, toughest long-distance trails, and because you will often find yourself far from the nearest village, it is the ideal trail for experienced hillwalkers who are happy to carry their tent on their back. The Way traverses across Wales from Cardiff to Conwy, in a route that takes you over all of Wales’ mountain ranges. The first mountains encountered are the Brecon Beacons, wilderness so hostile that the SAS train there. Britain’s only native population of red kites still soar over Elenydd, or Wales’ remote Green Desert. The Way takes you over South Wales’ highest mountain, Pen y Fan, and the national giant, Snowdon, but also offers respite at the seaside resorts of Barmouth and Conwy. The Cambrian Way is not even a route, but rather forty-one checkpoints that must be visited to claim completion. This rugged, boggy trail is an opportunity for you to find your own way to cross a country and climb its highest mountains.
Practicalities: The trail is not waymarked, particularly on the mountain tops, and sometimes crosses open moorland rather than following well-defined paths. It may be walked at any time of year, but short days, limited facilities and weather conditions make it extremely challenging between October and April. Cardiff has good rail connections to Bristol and London, and an international airport. Conwy is on the Holyhead-Crewe railway line – connections to Cardiff may be made at Crewe, and to Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham at Chester. www.cambrianway.org.uk
Best for new walkers: John Muir Trail
Looking across Loch Lomond © www.walkinghighlands.co.uk
The 213-kilometre John Muir Trail follows a low route from the Victorian holiday resort of Helensburgh on Scotland’s west coast to the red cliffs of Dunbar on the east coast. Scotland’s gentle Coast-to-Coast offers spectacular views of the Trossachs and Loch Lomond, the Campsie Fells and North Berwick’s sandy dunes. The trail passes Scotland’s last paddle steamer, Mary Queen of Scots’ birthplace at Linlithgow, and Blackness Castle, the ship that never sailed. You’ll discover the Carbeth Hutters, pioneers of minimalist, low-impact living, and the other Roman wall, the Antonine Wall. The route crosses the city of Edinburgh, passing Murrayfield Stadium and the Scottish Parliament Building, before reaching the saltmarshes and sandy beaches of North Berwick, which are a haven for seabirds. The Way ends outside the John Muir Birthplace museum, where you can find out more about Scotland’s man of the mountains. John Muir wrote that “wilderness is a necessity” and the John Muir Way allows you to discover the landscape that first inspired this passionate environmentalist.
Practicalities: The trail may be walked at any time of year, is waymarked, and generally follows towpaths, forestry tracks and cycle paths (there is also a cyclist’s route). The route is designed to be accessible, with few stiles, good paths and no steep climbs. Helensburgh has bus and train services to Glasgow, and is also on the Caledonian Sleeper overnight rail service from London. Dunbar train station is on the East Coast Main Line, between Edinburgh and London.
Best for couples: Cotswold Way
Barrow Wake Near Birdlip © Adam Long
The 168-kilometre Cotswold Way traverses the rolling hills of the picturesque Cotswolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, from north to south. The trail starts in Chipping Campden, once a centre for the Arts and Crafts movement and climbs to Broadway Tower on top of Broadway Hill, where on a clear day, you can see sixteen counties. Near Beckbury Camp, an Iron Age fort, Thomas Cromwell once stood and watched the destruction of Hailes Abbey, the ruins of which the Way passes. Postlip Hall is home to a pioneering co-housing community, and every July, they host the Cotswold Beer Festival in their medieval tithe barn. Cleeve Hill, at 317 metres, is the highest point on the Cotswold Way but there is another climb over Cooper’s Hill, famous for the cheese-rolling race. The Cotswold Way is the perfect trail for couples that enjoy the great outdoors; a warm welcome and comfy beds await weary walkers in the B and Bs of the Cotswolds’ pretty villages, and you can reward yourself with a relaxing session at Thermae Bath Spa, Britain’s only natural thermal spa, at the trail’s end in the historic city of Bath.
Practicalities: The trail is waymarked and may be walked at any time of year but both Bath and the Cotswolds can be very busy in summer. It generally follows grassy footpaths and bridleways. Moreton-in-Marsh is the closest train station to Chipping Campden – there are bus services between the towns. Bath has good rail connections to Bristol, and on to other British cities.
Best for runners: Raad ny Foillan
Spanish Head, south-west of The Chasms, on the way to the Calf of Man © Claire Maxed/Wild Ginger Running
The 157-kilometre Raad ny Foillan (or Way of the Gull) is a coastal trail that encircles the Isle of Man. The route is well-served by public transport, making it ideal for trailrunners who can base themselves in one town, and run with only a daypack. You can step right on to the route from Douglas’s ferry port (or the island’s airport). The trail heads south, towards the old capital of Castletown, with its medieval Castle Rushen, and on to Port St Mary, once an important fishing village. After the sea stacks and deep cliff fissures of the Chasms, you’ll glimpse the Calf of Man across the Sound as you follow the path around the stunning Spanish Head. After Port Erin, you face steep ascents and descents as you begin to follow the island’s western coast. You must wade the stream of Lhen Trench to reach the red and white lighthouse at the Point of Ayre, Man’s most northerly tip. As you follow the eastern coast to return to Douglas, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to glimpse trains on the heritage Manx Electric Railway, the longest narrow-gauge railway in the British Isles. The Raad ny Foillan offers pretty towns and villages, lighthouses and castles, and high exposed cliffs with stunning views.
Practicalities: The waymarked trail may be walked at any time of year, although public transport is more limited between November and March. The route follows roads and good trails, but does also have some challenging ascents and descents, strenuous beach sections and high cliff-top paths. Douglas has ferries from Liverpool, Belfast, Dublin, Birkenhead and Heysham. The island’s international airport, Ronaldsway, is on the route and offers flights to UK mainland airports.