Which ancient British paths offer the most scenic hikes?

11 June 2024

The beauty of walking is more than just putting one foot in front of the other. It's about immersing yourself in the environment, exploring landscapes, and connecting with history. The ancient paths in England offer all these and more. Meandering through rolling hills and lush green fields, these paths provide a magnificent backdrop for a long, refreshing walk. You don’t simply traverse these routes; you walk through time itself. From the misty ridges of the Ridgeway to the imposing remnants of Hadrian’s Wall, these trails are miles of picturesque landscapes steeped in history. But which of these paths offers the best scenic walks? Let's find out.

The Ridgeway: England’s Oldest Road

The Ridgeway, often referred to as England’s oldest road, is a trail that dates back over 5,000 years. This ancient path, primarily located within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, provides walkers with an awe-inspiring journey through time.

The Ridgeway covers an impressive distance of 87 miles, starting from Avebury in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire. This route is typically walked over a period of six to eight days, depending on your pace and how much time you spend exploring the numerous archaeological sites dotted along the way.

As you stride along this historic trail, you'll experience rolling chalk downlands, expansive fields, and tranquil woodlands. These natural elements are punctuated by majestic landmarks, such as Avebury’s vast stone circle, the Uffington White Horse and the Iron Age fort at Barbury Castle. Each step is a testament to the long and rich history of the area, which has been home to humans since Neolithic times.

South West Coast Path: Tracing the Edge of England

The South West Coast Path is an outstanding trail that hugs the coastline of England's southwest peninsula. It’s the longest of England’s National Trails, stretching over an impressive 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset, to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

A walk along this path is a journey through a constantly changing landscape – from the towering cliffs of the North Devon coast, through the sandy beaches and estuaries of South Devon, to the remote moorlands of Cornwall, and finally the rolling downs and stunning Jurassic Coast of Dorset.

The route is accessible all year round, but the optimal time for walking the South West Coast Path is considered to be between April and October. Depending on your fitness and pace, the entire trail can be walked in 30 to 45 days. But even a day’s walk along any part of this mesmerizing route is sure to leave you refreshed and invigorated.

Hadrian's Wall Path: Walking through Roman History

Hadrian's Wall Path is a long-distance footpath in the North East of England. This trail follows the line of Hadrian's Wall, a fortification built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 122. This 84-mile trail stretches from Wallsend on the east coast to Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast.

While you walk along this path, you step into the footprints of the Roman soldiers who once patrolled the empire's frontier. You will encounter numerous Roman forts, milecastles, and turrets, and the Sycamore Gap, a tree that became famous after its appearance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Walking the entire length of Hadrian's Wall takes approximately seven days, providing plenty of time to soak in the rich history and diverse landscapes along the way. The path crosses a variety of terrains, from bustling cities to windswept moors, offering breathtaking views and a unique insight into England's past.

The Cotswold Way: An Enchanting Walk

The Cotswold Way is a long-distance walking trail that runs along the Cotswold Edge escarpment of the Cotswold Hills in England. This 102-mile route starts from the market town of Chipping Campden in the north and ends in the city of Bath in the south.

The route offers a variety of walking experiences, ranging from historic sites to dramatic landscapes. As you walk, you'll encounter picture-postcard villages, stately homes, and ancient woodland, interspersed with panoramic views over the Severn Vale.

The Cotswold Way can be walked comfortably in seven to ten days, although many people choose to tackle it in smaller sections. Whichever way you choose to explore this trail, the Cotswold Way provides a captivating journey through some of England's most charming countryside.

The South Downs Way: England's Lengthiest National Trail

The South Downs Way is a classic long-distance footpath in Southern England. It is one of 15 National Trails in England and Wales and spans a total of 100 miles from Eastbourne in East Sussex to Winchester in Hampshire. The trail mainly follows the escarpments of the South Downs National Park, providing breathtaking views over the Sussex Weald and the English Channel.

The South Downs Way is an accessible path, requiring a moderate level of fitness. You can either amble through its entire length over seven to nine days or select smaller sections for shorter hikes. The trail is well marked, and the terrain ranges from grassy paths to woodland trails.

As you traverse this trail, you'll encounter a number of iconic landmarks, including the Beachy Head cliffs, the Seven Sisters white chalk cliffs, the ancient hill fort at Cissbury Ring, and the famous long man figure at Wilmington known as the "Long Man of Wilmington". This trail, filled with rich history and stunning landscapes, offers a truly memorable hiking tour.

Offa's Dyke Path: Britain's Oldest Border

Offa's Dyke Path is a monumental feat of ancient engineering. It follows the line of the earthwork known as Offa's Dyke, built by King Offa of Mercia in the 8th century as a border between Wales and England. This national trail stretches over 177 miles from Sedbury Cliffs on the Severn estuary to the coastal town of Prestatyn on the Irish Sea.

Walking this long-distance path is no small feat and requires good fitness. It typically takes about 12 to 14 days to complete, though some expert hiking enthusiasts have been known to do it in less. Along the path, you'll encounter rolling farmlands, open moorlands, and breathtaking mountainous landscapes.

Key highlights of this trail include the White Castle, an impressive 12th-century fortress, and the ancient town of Knighton, home to the Offa's Dyke Centre. Whether you're an experienced hiker or a casual walker, Offa's Dyke Path offers an unforgettable journey through some of Britain's oldest and most beautiful landscapes.


Whether you're in search of a challenging long-distance hike or a leisurely day walk, these ancient British paths offer something for everyone. Each trail offers an immersive experience that combines nature's beauty with historical significance, providing a unique and enriching experience.

From the majestic remnants of Hadrian's Wall to the tranquil landscapes of the South Downs Way, these trails not only engage your physical fitness but also leave you with a deeper appreciation of Britain's rich history and stunning landscapes.

It should be noted that while these paths are generally accessible, some sections can be challenging, and sure-footedness is required. Before undertaking any hike, it's important to assess the terrain and weather conditions, and ensure you have appropriate equipment and provisions.

Happy trails to you! Whether you're walking the length of a national trail or exploring a shorter section, you'll find these paths laden with abundant scenic beauty, making every step of your journey a pleasure.

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