Even though I am a city girl through and through, and I love my urban hikes, the occasional sojourn to the countryside or seaside for a nice walk is always a treat. It’s especially rewarding when there is something special to see along the way.
And, for this article, I do mean walk rather than hike. I am really not that interested in carrying all my belongings in a backpack and taking too strenuous and too long hikes through the undergrowth. But I am very happy to walk — preferably fast and without people hindering my stride — for a couple of hours or more. I’m even happier if there is a goal ahead or something exciting enroute.
Here are some personal favorite walks through the English countryside and along the English Coast, all with that little bit extra added that should give you something to look out for.
1. Kennet & Avon Canal
Bath To Bradford
Having previously lived in Bath, I learned to love the Kennet & Avon Canal slowly, stretch by stretch. Covering a total distance of 87 miles between Bristol and Reading, just outside of London, this is a lovely canal popular with canal boat tours connecting the River Avon with the River Kennet. Obviously, there are certain logistical problems with walking in one direction. If you are staying overnight in one place, how should you return to it after your stretch of walking? Here, I have chosen what is in fact one of my favorite stretches, all the way from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon, where you can then hop on the regular train back to Bath.
Start in Bath — past the Sydney Gardens made famous by Jane Austen and more recently by the Netflix romp Bridgerton — and up to Bathampton, where The George Inn pub offers a perfect excuse to stop for a drink. Continue onward past Claverton and the absolutely wonderful Dundas Aqueduct, where the entire canal crosses the River Avon on a bridge. A little further along, cross the river again at Avoncliff, where there is a weir and a gorgeous pub with perfect views and a rather good glass of Pimm’s. It’s not much further until you reach Bradford-on-Avon, which is historic and quaint, and has a train station with regular connections back to Bath. This stretch of the canal walk is around 10 miles, but flat and scenic all the way.
2. Whitby To Sandsend
The beach walk from Whitby to Sandsend is roughly 2 miles each way along the beach all the way at low tide. But even when the tide is in, you can still walk all the way. You will just need to follow the paved coastal path when rounding the headland.
This is a gorgeous walk along the North Sea Coast. I would suggest that you base yourself in Sandsend and walk to Whitby from there and back. Why? Simply because you will be walking toward the Whitby Abbey ruin, made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, standing high on a promontory. You can enter the picturesque harbor town from the top, which gives you great views. Also, you can then stay for lunch before walking back.
Whitby is famous for fish and chips and the best traditional serving is to be had at the Magpie Cafe. If you like seafood but maybe not deep-fried, then head straight to The Marine Hotel, right by the harborside, which is also a good place to stay overnight if you are there for a little longer.
Please note that entering Whitby from the beach walk involves a short but steep stretch leading you up to the top overlooking the harbor and then down again into town, with a choice of steps or ramps.
3. Walking Trails At Leigh Woods
Leigh Woods is a forest and nature reserve on the opposite side of the Avon Gorge from Bristol, just across the lovely Clifton Suspension Bridge. This is a natural forest that offers two trails: one short one, the Red Trail; and the 1.5-mile-long Purple Trail. You can combine both for a longer experience.
What I love about these trails is not only the forest, but also that you have viewpoints across the Avon Gorge, which is really quite stunning, and you also have some archaeological sites within the wood. Called the Stokeleigh Camp, there are remains of an Iron Age fort and settlement, adding a bit of historical discovery to the walk. The forest walk is easy, if at times uneven, but suitable for off-road mobility scooters.
4. Pilgrim’s Way To Holy Island
Lindisfarne is a tidal island connected to the mainland by a causeway that is underwater at high tide, so this walk takes a little bit of planning ahead, but it is worth it. Long a pilgrim site with the ruins of a monastery eerily beautiful, and also a castle on the highest point of the island, it can be easily walked around in an hour, but walking across the causeway adds some sparkle.
From the causeway, you can enjoy views along the coast of Northumberland with further castles on the horizon, many birds visiting the mudflats at low tide, and often seals in the distance; it can turn into a nature walk. Set off an hour or so before low tide and proceed at a steady clip to enjoy your time on the island, while giving you enough time to get back to the mainland with dry feet.
If you prefer to not risk it, you can drive across the causeway at low tide and park on the outskirts of the village with plenty of time to head back, or even stay the night.
5. Hadrian’s Wall
When the Romans built a wall at the northern end of their empire, they did it properly, as with everything they did architecturally. Today, Hadrian’s Wall is still amazingly intact, spanning the country between the Atlantic and the North Sea Coasts. You can walk the length of it, all 73 miles, up and down the hills and across the lovely countryside. Or you can take it bit by bit, preferably a circular route that will allow you to connect back to your car.
The Sill and Sycamore Gap is a roughly 2-mile walk, taking you just under an hour, offering views, and giving you a closer look at the ruins along the path. The tree in the Sycamore Gap, by the way, is also called Robin Hood’s Tree, after its cameo appearance in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The film made the tree into somewhat of a celebrity, being absolutely picturesque in a picture-perfect location.
If you prefer to walk the whole length, there are companies to help you plan your transportation, baggage storage, and overnight stays along the way.
6. Forest Of Dean Sculpture Trail
I love a forest walk even better when it is dotted with art along the way. The roughly 4.8-mile Sculpture Trail through the Forest of Dean is one of the first of its kind (opened in England in 1986) with nearly 20 sculptures en route. Roughly 25 miles southwest of Cheltenham (the gateway to the Cotswolds) and 30 miles north of Bristol, the Forest of Dean straddles the England and Wales border, offering some lovely countryside all around.
The sculpture trail itself presents visitors a part open-air gallery, part forest hike, and part treasure hunt because some of the sculptures are off the main trail in the woods, asking for a bit of exploring off road. To see all of the sculptures, you will need to complete the 4.8 miles, but there is a shorter, 2-mile loop with six sculptures and a shortcut after 3.1 miles, allowing you to find 13 sculptures before heading back to the entrance. The walk is easy throughout, if a little uneven in places. While not all of the trail is accessible for wheelchairs, there is a shorter and smoother marked trail starting just behind the forest challenge course Go Ape.