Are you considering making your next holiday a walking holiday? Or perhaps you are more into cycling? The Northern UK is home to a variety of destinations for both walking and cycling routes. You’ll pass through wetlands and highlands, mountains and moors and you’ll get to see a diverse range of wildlife.
With all of the trails available, you might feel a bit overwhelmed in choosing which to embark for your next cycling or walking journey. That’s why this article presents three of the most amazing walking and cycling destinations in the northern UK.
West Highland Way
The West Highland Way begins in a suburb outside of Glasgow called Milngavie, and stretches all the way to Fort William in the Western Highlands. This expansive route passes right through the Ben Nevis mountain range. You’ll also pass by Lock Lomond, through the southern Highlands and cut across Rannoch Moor. Whether cycling or walking you’re in for some unique and breathtaking views!
When to go
The best time to walk or cycle the West Highland Way is between spring and autumn, normally between April and October. The single month that is most popular is May, when the weather is cool but not cold, and you won’t be completely devoured by midges. If you go during the spring, you’ll be treated to the lush greenery that only the dawning of a new growing season can bring.
Equally, you might also experience pretty unpredictable weather conditions. Some days it may be warm and sunny, while on others there could be rain and wind. That’s why May is that perfect time when there aren’t yet any midges, wildflowers are just beginning to bloom and the weather is in general pretty comfortable.
If you decide to head to the West Highland Way in the summer, you can expect warmer weather, but don’t be surprised if you get hit with some heavy clouds as well. You’ll also be dealing with greater crowds as it’s when families with children generally tend to go.
If you’re looking for a time to go when there will be fewer people, think September or October. The midges will have died down a bit and the school children will be back in their classrooms.
Whether cycling or walking, the West Highland Way isn’t short. It’s approximately 96 miles long, which may seem a bit overwhelming at first. But keep in mind that thousands of people, many for the first time, complete the route every year. If you think you may need some help along the way, consider visiting a tour operator like www.mickledore.co.uk and leave the experts to plan your trip, so you can just focus on enjoying it.
Despite the popularity of this route, the pathways can be quite uneven. Technical skills are not required, but as it is a long distance, plenty of endurance will be needed. In order to prepare, you should start a walking routine a few months ahead of time.
If you are going to cycle the West Highland Way, make sure you have a mountain bike with nobly tyres that provide good traction. Suspension is also a plus for the uneven terrain.
Coast to Coast
Retrace the steps of writer Alfred Wainwright by embarking on the Coast to Coast Walk. It begins on the coast of Cumbria and the Irish Sea, crosses through three national parks and ends at the North Sea in Robin Hood’s Bay. Make sure to keep the tradition of going of picking up a pebble from the Irish sea and placing in the North Sea when you complete your trip.
When to go
The best time of year to embark on the Coast to Coast Walk is from April to September. Rain falls year round in northern England, but that being said, you can expect to enjoy the most sun in July.
Of course, if you go in the summer you will definitely find yourself with more company along the way. But you probably don’t want to risk going during the off season, even if you want the trails all to yourself, because wet conditions will make the walking surfaces difficult to navigate. And who wants to walk or cycle 182 miles in wet socks?
You should make sure that you feel healthy before deciding to do the Coast to Coast Walk. Experiences walkers with a normal walking routine shouldn’t have too much trouble, but this walk shouldn’t be attempted by those who don’t get regular exercise.
This isn’t to scare you off—for thousands of people manage to do it every year, but you should definitely make sure you are trained beforehand. And make sure you start training at least a few months in advance.
If you are planning on cycling the Coast to Coast, you may find that you use the original cycling route developed by the charitable organization Sustrans. The cycling route features older roads and off-road bridleways. This route is actually called the “Sea to Sea” route, and stretches from Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to Sunderland on the North Sea. Keep in mind the route differences when you are looking for walking vs cycling itineraries.
The Great Glen Way
The Great Glen Way is 79 miles of walking path or cycling track, whichever way you choose to go. It begins in Fort William and ends in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. I can be walked in four to seven days, depending on the pace you wish to follow, and is suited to all fitness levels, provided you are an established walker.
If you would rather cycle, you may want to consider The Caledonia Way, which is 234 miles long, and has some challenging stretches, but you can choose to only do some of the shorter sections which are more accessible if you’d like. A mountain bike can be used to follow the same trails as the walking route.
When to go
As with the two routes mentioned above, summer is the best time to walk or cycle the Great Glen Way. Summer is the best time to go because the temperatures are warmer and quite pleasant. In addition to the warmer temperatures, there are also lots of fun activities, like tons of summer festivals, besides walking and cycling that you can join along your route.
What’s more, walking and cycling the Great Glen Way in the summer means that you have much better chances of seeing Scotland’s diverse wildlife. You may get to see deer, birds of prey and if you’re really lucky, you might see a seal or two.
Once you finish your walking or cycling route in Inverness, you should definitely head to one of the nature reserves to fully take in all of the nature and wildlife that Scotland has to offer.
The Great Glen Way is generally for people of all fitness levels, although as with any walking route, you’ll want to have a regular walking routine established at least a few months before your journey begins. It is also considered to be easier than the West Highland Way, so if you aren’t sure if you’d be up to the West Highland Way, this is a great option for you.
After you are finished either walking or cycling, you may want to consider doing a bit of boating. You’ll paddle along the Caledonian Canal, giving you a totally different experience and viewpoint from the same land you were just walking or cycling through.
The canoe trail is 60 miles long and will take from three to five days depending on your fitness level. You’ll even go through Lock Ness, so keep an eye out for Nessie!
If you are looking for a spectacular place to walk or cycle (or even canoe), you’ll want to head to the northern UK. There you’ll find plenty of trails, three of which, the West Highland Way, Coast to Coast Walk and the Great Glen Way are not to be missed by the nature lover. Just make sure you go between the spring and autumn and watch out for midges and loch ness monsters!