Apologies for a start. This post does not include any hikes in Wales (Mount Snowdon or the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path for instance), Scotland (with all its wonderful long-distance hikes across the Highlands), or Northern Ireland (the Giants’ Causeway springs to mind). It is therefore not a ‘Greatest Hits’ of what the United Kingdom has to offer. Another post will have to pay reference to these. But this collection of short day hikes offers a wonderful way to visit large parts of England, without merely clocking off the usual urban tourist highlights. But they are nonetheless located close to attractive cities, and therefore hopefully offer a nice contrast to merely visiting cathedrals and museums. I have included the following cities as potential overnight bases: Brighton for its Bohemian vibe and independent spirit; Bath and Cheltenham for their elegant Georgian and Regency architecture; the small market town of Ludlow with its vibrant food scene; Manchester for its energy- sapping nightlife (you could also chose nearly Liverpool to indulge in some Beatles nostalgia); York which offers small-town England at its finest; and finally the northern metropolis of Leeds (or if you prefer the gritty character of former steel giant Sheffield). This list does not claim to be exhaustive and all-encompassing, and citizens of Norwich, Bristol, Oxford, Canterbury, Cambridge, or Newcastle (to name just a few) have every right to raise their eye-brows. Maybe another contributor can come up with further suggestions that would integrate these fine places. As this is a loop, you can start this trip at any point, but most visitors to England at some stage will come through London, so this is where the itinerary starts. As always, you might want to use the common suspects: www.booking.com for accommodation.www.thetrainline.com for train connectionswww.viamichelin.co.uk for route planning by carwww.rome2rio.com for bus connectionswww.alltrails.com for hiking trails
Hike 1: Seven Sisters Cliffs Nearby City Attraction: Brighton Car: National Trust Car Park in Birling Gap (around 3 hours from London) Public Transport: Train from London Victoria or London Bridge to Brighton Or Coach to Brighton from Victoria Bus Station to Brighton Bus 12X (Express Bus from Brighton to Seaford) then walk (1.5 km) to Cuckmere Haven
This is a straightforward hike along stuffing cliffs. You can’t really get lost, just stay relatively close (but not too close) to the cliff edges. You can walk the entire stretch from Cuckmere Haven in the west to Burling Gap, past the lighthouse on Beachy Head, and onto Eastbourne further east. Going back and forth should take between 6 and 7 hours. Merely concentrating on the most scenic stretch between Cuckmere Haven and Burling Gap will cut that time in half. The cliffs are quite steep with a succession of ups and downs and the day after, your calves might let you know that they form an integral part of your body. This is a very popular family destination not just for locals but also for day trippers from London. And the scenery is magical. Forming part of the South Downs National Park, a series of (7 duh!) white chalk cliffs rise abruptly from the sea. The coastline here is eroding constantly, which explains the white colour of the rock. The area featured in ‘90s movie ‘Robin Hood. Prince of Thieves’, as the place where Kevin Costner first set foot on English soil again (miraculously he made it to the Forest of Nottingham in time for dinner; a mere 200 miles away). Not to offend fans of Bryan Adams, the final shots of the Who’s film 'Quadrophenia' were also taken on Beachy Head, this time arguably complemented by a much better soundtrack.
Hike 2: Cheddar Gorge Nearby City Attraction: Bath Car: several cark parks within the Gorge (around 3 hours from Brighton) Public Transport: Train: Brighton – Southampton Central – Bath Spa; around 4 hrs Bus: Bath/Bear Flat to Wells (Line 174) then Wells to Cheddar (Line 126); around 2 hrs
For our next stop let us first allude to a speech given by Boris Johnson’s Trade Secretary Liz Truss back in 2014: ‘Britain imports two thirds of its cheese. That is a disgrace’ (to check out the minister's brilliant rhetorical skills you might want to watch the clip on youtube). Not so in Cheddar, Liz. Lactose-intolerant travellers be aware. While sampling local dairy products is certainly a delight (as is the fruity cider made in these parts), so is the magnificent Cheddar Gorge, situated just northeast of this small town, along the B3135, also aptly named Cliff Road. The natural beauty of this spot with far-sweeping views west towards the Bristol Channel is aurally compromised by motor bikers who enjoy its wonderfully curvaceous road layout to fine-tune their riding skills. So if it is serene silence you are after, you might be in for the occasional disappointment. But on a mid-weekday, the cacophony of roaring engines is significantly less frequent. If you go to www.alltrails.com and type in Cheddar Gorge, a 6 km loop trail comes up, which basically circumnavigates the gorge with views across the Mendip Hills. It might not be as big as the Grand Canyon, or indeed as many gorges in the Alps but I spend a thoroughly enjoyable three hours on that trail.
Hike 3: Malvern Hills Nearby City Attraction: Cheltenham Car: several cark parks, the best probably being British Camp Car Park on the A449 Public Transport: Train: Bath Spa to Cheltenham (1 ½ hrs) then train from Cheltenham to Malvern (40 min)
Marked by the tourist authorities as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the hills rise impressively from the Severn Plains in Worcestershire. From the car park at British Camp or when walking up from the town of Malvern the lay of the land becomes pretty obvious: a narrow range of hills strung out one after the other roughly in a north-south direction. You can hike them pretty comprehensively by following the Malvern Hills Circular Walk (your search terms on alltrails), which is a 16 km loop that goes up and down, from one hill to the next. I took this hike in early July 2020, just after UK lockdown measures were eased and the place was heaving. Whilst trying to get up to a decent walking speed I was distracted by quite a number of family gatherings with very impressive displays of picknick snacks, whilst I thought of the disappointingly sad sandwich that I had just consumed before hitting the trail. Some people just get their priorities right. Make sure to make it to the top of the Worcestershire Beacon though; at just under 1400 ft (or 425 metres), it is the highest point of the range.
Hike 4: Caer Caradoc, Church Stretton Nearby City Attraction: Ludlow Car: plenty of free parking in the town of Church Stretton Public Transport: Train: Cheltenham Spa – Newport – Ludlow (around 2 ½ hrs),
then another train from Ludlow to Church Stratton (20 min)
We’re very close to the English-Welsh border and Caer Caradoc is Welsh for Caradoc’s hill fort. According to local legend, this is the site of Welsh chieftain Caractacus’s last stand against the Roman invasion of Britain sometime in the first century AD. With the battle drawing to an unsuccessful close the chief apparently hid in a cave at the top of the mountain. I did the same (although it might just have been a little grassy dip) when a sudden storm caught me by surprise. It can get astonishingly nippy in England in early September. Still, vast and sweeping views just about made up for the meteorological inconvenience, though I was glad when I had made my way back to the sweet town of Church Stretton at the foot of the hill.
Hike 5: Helvellyn, Lake District Nearby City Attraction Manchester Car: public parking at trail head, just north of Wythburn Church on A591 Public Transport: Train: Ludlow – Manchester (just under 2 hrs), then Train: Manchester – Oxenholme – Windermere (around 1 ½ hrs), then Bus: Windermere – Thirlmere, Wythburn Church (Bus 555) (45 min)
In a poll conducted by the television channel ITV in 2019, this hike was voted as the UK’s most popular. Several other hikes, also located in the splendid Lake District, made the Top 10 as well, including Cat Bells, Scafell Pike, Buttermere, and Coniston. During my hike in early summer, I encountered yet another cold and windswept day here in Cumbria. On a bright and breezy June morning, I climbed the 90 minutes or so up the mountain. (all right, all right: Helvellyn is 950 m high and thus strictly speaking only a hill; but the steep ascent will make you forget about this technicality). Once there, a stiff wind, coming straight in from the Irish Sea made me run for cover amidst the ruins of an animal shelter. Across comes a local dude, casually taking his dog out for a walk (some walk that is). Fixing his gaze on my thermal layers, he drily remarked that he was grateful to his (I presume) much better half who advised him not to go out in shorts. That’s all he said before making his way toward the next hill.
Hike 6: North York Moors Nearby City Attraction: York Car: Long-Stay Car Park, Helmsley Public Transport: Train: Manchester – York (1 ½ hrs), then Bus #31X: York Bus Station Exhibition Square to Helmsley (just over 1 hr)
We’re crossing the Pennines which runs along the spine of England, making our way to the (ever so slightly) more dry side of England. Unless of course, the wind direction changes and storms coming in from the Atlantic are replaced by those emanating from the North Sea; which happens rather frequently. The Moors have enjoyed a massive recent media exposure. This is Brontë country, and the British TV schedule during the 2020 pandemic was full of feelgood shows along the lines of ‘Our Yorkshire Farm’, the ‘Yorkshire Vet’ and even a re-production of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’: Feel good TV for a depressing age. But the area undoubtedly has the potential to lift your spirits (if you manage to stay dry and warm that is).If you are travelling by car from nearby York, you will most likely drive north along the A19 to Thirsk, before turning west on to the A170. Very soon, you will come across the Sutton Bank; at a gradient of 25%, the closest England gets to an Alpine road climb. From the visitor centre right at the top of the incline, a two-mile circular walk takes you to the Kilburn White Horse and back, but don’t expect too much, as up close, the equine figure that was cut into the hillside resembles a pile of grey gravel. Another 1 km signposted walk from the visitor centre brings you to ‘the finest view in England’ according to ‘All Creatures’ author James Herriot. The vistas are certainly far and wide, yet the sound of combustion engines struggling up the bank somewhat compromise the natural enjoyment. Hence, my chosen hike is a gentle 6 mile (10 km) circular walk from the very pretty market town of Helmsley to the medieval and rather massive ruin of Rievaulx Abbey, which sits in splendid isolation in what feels like the middle of nowhere in a basin along the gently flowing River Rye. On a clear sunny day, England would be hard pressed to look any finer. The hike starts at the long-stay car park in Helmsley and is signposted all the way. Using alltrails, simply type in Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey.
Hike 7: Mam Tor, Castleton, Peak District Nearby City Attraction: Leeds or Sheffield Car: plenty of free parking in the town of Castleton Public Transport: Train: York – Sheffield (under 1 hr) or Train: York – Leeds (30 mins) and Leeds – Sheffield (43 min) then Bus: Sheffield City Centre – Castleton Bus# 271, 272, 273, 274 (1 hr)
Mam Tor also made in onto that ITV poll of Britain’s favourite hikes; at number 10 to be precise. The landscape here is rugged with hardly a tree in sight. And the town of Castleton, pressed against a steep hillside has a proper end-of-the road feel. Outdoor pursuits (and the associated shops) reign supreme in this corner of Derbyshire. The hike itself is steep yet mercifully short with views towards the Derwent Moors to the north and east. A winding road makes its way across the hill path as the very scenic backdrop to the odd car commercial. Check out alltrails, type in Castleton, Mam Tor and the Great Ridge which offers you a 13 km loop that can be navigated in 3 hours or so. Great stuff.