United Kingdom

The best circular walks in the UK

Photo of Joey TysonPhoto of Joey Tyson
By Joey Tyson

11 September 20206 min read

The grass-covered white chalk cliffs of the South Downs with a red and white striped lighthouse below in the English Channel

The UK is absolutely packed with beautiful walking routes. Trails run for miles, going up mountains, snaking around vast lakes (or lochs, depending on where you find yourself), through serene forests and over endless rolls of spectacular countryside.

And if you’re looking to get active – whether that’s on your next staycation or your next free weekend – these ten circular routes across England, Scotland and Wales are sure to inspire.

London: The Oak Trail, Epping Forest

Length/difficulty: 6.5 miles/easy

This relaxing walk takes you through Epping Forest, a vast tract of ancient woodland on the far edge of London’s east (really, it’s Essex, but given there’s a Tube station, we’re counting it). The route is largely flat, and meanders through forest, farmland, and the fringes of quaint villages, so it’s ideal for families. Go in autumn, when the beech trees turn russet and the paths are coated in crunchy leaves.

To start the walk, take the Central Line all the way to Theydon Bois and follow the signs for the forest. Refresh with a pint at the Queen Victoria before heading back to your London hotel.

Find route details here.

Edinburgh: Arthur’s Seat

Length/difficulty: 3 miles/medium

Not many cities allow you to climb a mountain without leaving the centre like Edinburgh does. Arthur’s Seat is a must-do for a trip to the Scottish capital, providing unmissable views out over the city’s medieval old town, brooding castle and beyond. For some added sightseeing, combine the walk with a trip to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official Scottish residence.

When you’re done, tuck yourself into the nearby Tolbooth Tavern, a tiny nook of a pub, for a pint. Just keep an eye on your drink – rumour has it, a crafty ghost with a habit of knocking over glasses haunts the premises.

Find route details here.

Cornwall: Sennen Cove and Land’s End circular

Length/difficulty: 6 miles/medium

The only problem with starting a walk from a beach like Sennen Cove is that you might not want to leave! The views along this stretch of the Cornish coast are worth it though – and don’t worry, you’re coming back, anyway.

From Sennen’s beautiful sands, make your way along the coast to the iconic Land’s End before returning through gentle countryside. At the end of the trek, stop in at the Old Success Inn, a grand pile of a pub overlooking the bay.

Find route details here.

Dorset: Isle of Portland loop

Length/difficulty: 8 miles/easy

Rugged cliffs and expansive sea views await on this varied circuit around the Isle of Portland in Dorset. A well-marked coast path takes you along this varied loop, with the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park, Blacknor Fort, the Portland Bill Lighthouse and Rufus Castle adding to the natural scenery.

On the home straight, make a slight detour for the Eight Kings Pub for a quick thirst quencher. The island, which is actually connected by a beachy headland, is just over an hour’s drive from Bournemouth.

Find route details here.

North Yorkshire: Whernside circuit

Length/difficulty: 9 miles/medium

Conquer the highest mountain in the Yorkshire Three Peaks (736m) on this epic walk through the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Besides the constant, classic rolling scenery of the Dales, this walk is particularly special for its views of the Ribblehead Viaduct, a towering Victorian bridge that still carries the Settle–Carlisle railway.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see the vintage steam train puffing its way along the viaduct from the summit of Whernside. The nearby Crown Hotel is a popular finishing spot for hikers after the Three Peaks.

For route details here.

The Peak District: Castleton, Mam Tor and The Great Ridge circular route

Length/difficulty: 8 miles/medium

The Peak District is home to some of the most spectacular walking in England, and this route is easily among the best in the region. The hike follows a scenic ridge path through the grassy slopes of Hope Valley and up to the summit of Mam Tor, offering unrivalled views of Edale Valley and Kinder Scout along the way.

Essentially, if the Peak District had a greatest hits album, it would be this walk. As a result, this is a very popular walk so expect busy trails during the summer months. Make time for a pub stop at the Bulls Head in Castleton.

Find route details here.

The Lake District: Grasmere and Rydal loop

Length/difficulty: 6 miles/easy

You get two picturesque lakes for the price of one with this serene route around Grasmere and Rydal, an area once described by William Wordsworth as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. After a few minutes of walking here, we think you’ll agree with old Will. Both Grasmere and Rydal are surrounded by the steep-sided, forest-covered hills that give the Lake District its distinctive beauty, and no matter where you are on either lake, the views are pretty spectacular.

When you reach Grasmere, stop in at the Good Sport, a friendly pub that doubles up as the taproom for Grasmere Brewery.

Find route details here.

Brighton: Seven Sisters and Birling Gap

Length/difficulty: 8 miles/medium

Take in the ultra-widescreen sea views along this varied walk along the iconic Seven Sisters clifftops. At Birling Gap, an iron staircase allows you down to the pebble beach, while the return leg of the hike passes through the beautiful beech woods at Friston Forest.

All that sea air and exercise got you feeling a bit peckish? The Old Chequers in Friston is a great place to stop off for a pub lunch. Less than an hour’s drive from Brighton, it makes for the perfect day trip away from the city.

Find route details here.

North Wales: Cadair Idris circular

Length/difficulty: 6 miles/hard

Glacial lakes, sea views, rugged mountain vistas – this walk on the southern fringes of Snowdonia National park has got the lot. For all its beauty, the route is relatively crowd free, too. While summiting Cadair Idris (893m), Wales’ ninth tallest peak, is the main aim of this hike, the varied scenery makes for great walking throughout. On a clear day, the views from the top over Snowdonia are particularly special.

Although there are no pubs on the route itself, it’s worth stopping in at the nearby George III Hotel.

Find route details here.

Scottish Highlands: Ben Lomond, Argyll and Bute

Length/difficulty: 7 miles/hard

Another “best of” hike, this circular route gives you a snapshot of the vast Scottish Highlands in one manageable 7-mile chunk. Ben Lomond is no slouch, mind you, and at 974m, it takes a decent level of fitness to climb. That said, the views are more than worth the exertion and on a clear day, you may even see the mighty peak of Ben Nevis off to the north.

Toast your efforts with a well-earned pint at the Rowardennan Hotel at the end of the route.

Find route details here.

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