Oct 142008

Everyone is walking these days, all over the world. Travel has never been easier; guided walks, and the companies that offer them, have never been so thick on the ground. Who doesn’t know someone who’s hiked to Machu Picchu, or climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, or gone trekking in the Himalayas? And yet some of the best walking in the world lies right on our doorstep in these fortunate isles where fantastically rich and varied geology, history, wildlife and humanity jostle for a walker’s attention at every step.

Right now is a brilliant time to be slipping on the trail sandals or lacing up the hiking boots. In Britain the colours are on the turn, the hedges are full of blackberries at their sweetest, and after the miserable summer we’ve endured the Clerk of the Weather seems set to compensate us with a fine Indian summer of an autumn. Further and higher afield the snows have yet to hit the mountains, and the big chill is still a month or two away. School children are back at the chalk-face, too, so good deals are on the table, the cliffs and beaches are emptying and the upland tracks are losing their hiking crowds.

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world: walking is the way to go. It’s clean and green, of course (or it should be, if you plan your own trip or go with a reputable company such as those recommended below). But more than that – it’s the best, in fact the only way to get at the heart and soul of a landscape. Fly, sail or drive it, train it or bus it or bike it: you won’t touch it as you could and should. On foot you talk to people at human pace in their own valley or on their native hillside. You not only see the wayside flower, the bird over the crags, the ruin on the promontory; you stop and look, you turn aside and scramble up to explore, to savour and to understand. In a world turning more and more virtual, homogenized and sanitized, walking is the true and only way to catch the unbeatable magic of strong and sometimes scary challenge, of meeting and communicating with real people in their everyday setting, of intense experience pouring in through all five senses at full stretch.

Here is my personal selection of 50 of the world’s great walks. Some are short, some are long. There are easy strolls and demanding hikes; walks way out in the wide blue yonder, and walks very near to home.

Enjoy them to the hilt!


1. England

Landslips have made Lyme Regis’s Undercliff uninhabitable – to humans. The narrow path threads England’s own untouched ‘rainforest’ landscape.

  • Lyme Regis to Axbridge, Dorset/Devon border
  • 3 hours
  • Narrow woodland path – no escape routes
  • Easy grade
  • Nightingales, spring flowers, solitude, spectacular landslips
  • www.jurassiccoast.com ; OS Explorer 116


2. England

Follow the Peter Scott Walk for 11 miles round the margins of The Wash estuary to King’s Lynn, savouring the remote marsh landscape.

  • Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire/Norfolk border
  • 4-5 hours
  • Flat sea wall
  • Easy grade
  • Huge skies, vast numbers of geese in winter
  • King’s Lynn TIC (01553-763044; www.visitwestnorfolk.com); OS Explorer 249


3. England

In Upper Teesdale a delicate post-Ice Age flora is miraculously preserved along the Pennine Way beside the brawling River Tees.


4. England

A strenuous walk in wild Eskdale, least frequented corner of Lakeland, climbing to a stunning 360º prospect from Bow Fell.

  • Brotherilkeld Farm, Eskdale, Cumbria
  • 6-7 hours
  • Rough, stony and steep
  • Hard grade
  • Rock, water, wind, sky
  • Bk 4, A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells by A. Wainwright (Frances Lincoln, www.franceslincoln.com); OS Explorer OL6


5. North Wales

Around the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. St Mary’s holy well in the cliffs overlooks turbulent Bardsey Sound and Bardsey island.

  • Aberdaron, Gwynedd
  • 6 hours
  • Cliff and moor paths
  • Grade: Moderate grade
  • Spectacular cliffs, St Mary’s Well (OS ref 138252), views of Bardsey
  • www.edgeofwaleswalk.co.uk; OS Explorer 253


6. Scotland

In the tumbled back country of Inverpolly, a boggy moor path and a scramble up the leonine mountain of Suilven.


7. Shetland

The most northerly place in Britain. Wind-blown, lonely and breathtaking.

  • Burrafirth, Isle of Unst
  • 3 hours
  • Hill track, exposed moorland
  • Moderate grade
  • Nesting (NB – and aggressive!) great skuas, puffins, wild coast scenery, Britain’s Most Northerly Point
  • www.unst.org ; OS Explorer 470


8. Northern Ireland

To the 573 m. summit of Slieve Gullion, County Armagh’s beautiful gorse-yellow mountain.


9. Republic of Ireland

A challenging 30-mile-in-a-day hike through the uninhabited mountain range of Nephin Beg, along the waymarked Bangor Trail.


10. Republic of Ireland

A Dingle Peninsula delight – stroll down the 8-mile beach of the Maharees sandspit beside Brandon Bay, with Brandon Mountain as a backdrop.

  • Fahamore, near Castlegregory, Co. Kerry
  • 3 hours
  • Firm sandy beach
  • Easy grade
  • Superb sandy beach walking; views of Mount Brandon
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maharees; OSI Discovery 70, 71


11. Channel Islands

Strange rock shapes, pinnacle and spires emerge at low tide off Jersey. Walk out to 18th-century Seymour Tower – but watch the tides!


12. France

Poignant walks along the front lines of the Battle of the Somme. How and where (but not why) 300,000 men lost their lives.

  • Near Peronne
  • 4 days of different walks
  • Field paths, tracks
  • Easy grade
  • Expert commentary, battlefields, WWI memorials and cemeteries
  • www.holts.co.uk


13. Portugal

The Alentejo region of Portugal, facing the Atlantic, has bracing salt breezes, flower-spattered fields and long uncluttered beaches.

  • Around Porto Covo or Vila Nova de Milfontes
  • As long or short as you like
  • Long open beaches
  • Easy grade
  • Peach Tree Island Beach, Zambujeira do Mar and its cliffs, Odeceixe, lagoons of São André and many more
  • www.infohub.com


14. Spain

From the high-perched monastery of Monserrat with its many art treasures, steeply up to a vast view among sculptural rock pinnacles.


15. Belgium

Autumn is the season to hike in the extensive, wild and gorgeous forests of the Ardennes region, changing colour day by day.


16. Germany

Cross the tidal flats of Langeoog island in your bare feet at low tide, with cold black mud squidging between your toes. Child-like glee is guaranteed.


17. Sweden

When General Winter invades Stockholm, the city’s waterways freeze. Stroll through snowbound streets and parks, then out across the canals and sea inlets.

  • Stockholm
  • Half a winter’s day
  • Ice
  • Easy grade
  • Attractions: Stockholm under snow, thrill of ice walking
  • www.stockholmtown.com


18. Faroe Islands

The Faroes are other-worldly, fabulously remote in the North Atlantic. Farmer Rasmus Skorheim of Eysturoy island takes guests up the hills to mindblowing viewpoints.

  • Rasmus Skorheim’s farm, Selatrað, Eysturoy
  • Time taken: 1 hour or more
  • Terrain: Steep, grassy slopes
  • Grade: Easy/moderate/hard
  • Attractions: Rocks, water, wind, rainbows, sea and seabirds
  • Details: www.visitesturoy.fo


19. Eastern Hungary

A September stroll across grassy plains among acrobatic horsemen and traditional shepherds. From the viewing tower near Tiszacsege, marvel at the evening flight of thousands of cranes.

  • Hortobagy National Park
  • A few hours
  • Grassy plain
  • Easy grade
  • Open plain, traditional farming, flighting cranes
  • www.hnp.hu


20. Slovakia

The High Tatras are full of champagne air, waymarked walks from gentle to very serious, and jaw-dropping views.

  • Poprad, High Tatras National Park
  • Several waymarked, all-day mountain walks
  • Rugged mountains
  • Moderate/hard grade
  • Attractions: Towering mountain walls, flowery upland meadows, bracing clean air
  • www.tanap.sk


21. Switzerland

A winter wonderland walk to deep-frozen Oeschinensee among towering, snow-capped Alps; then warm up with hot chocolate in the lake restaurant.

  • Kandersteg, Bernese Oberland
  • Half a day
  • Forest and mountain paths
  • Easy grade
  • Ski-lift ride, frozen lake, high mountain views
  • www.inntravel.co.uk


22. Austria

Along a peachy section of the Adlerweg or Eagle’s Way, a spectacular 175-mile hike through the Austrian Tirol.

  • Karwendelhaus near Innsbruck, to Lamsenjochhütte above the Achensee
  • 2 days
  • Rubbly mountain paths
  • Moderate/hard grade
  • Stunning mountains, a night in the Falkenhütte mountain inn
  • www.tyrol.com; www.adlerweg.tirol.at


23. Slovenia

Ascending Slovenia’s highest mountain, three-headed Triglav (2,864 m), is one of the great delights of walking the beautiful Julian Alps.

  • Start from Pokljuka plateau near Bled
  • 2-3 days (1-2 nights in mountain inns)
  • Rough mountain paths, steep in places; sections of via ferrata
  • Hard grade
  • Majestic Julian Alps scenery, topping out on Triglav, Seven Lakes Valley
  • Guides, info – ProMontana & Lifetrek Outdoor Agency (tel 0386-4-578-0662 or 0386-(0)4-177-0823; info@life-trek.com; www.promontana.si)


24. Italy

From coastal Amalfi, climb stepped paths through sweet pepper and nut tree gardens to Pontone, high overhead, with sensational views over Amalfi.

  • Amalfi
  • 4 hours
  • Steep steps, field paths
  • Moderate
  • Stepped paths, traditional gardens, mountain and sea views
  • www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk Walks 6, 12 and 16, Landscapes of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast by Julian Tippett


25. Corsica

GR20 is just about the toughest of the Grands Randonées, traversing the very rugged and mountainous backbone of Corsica amid spectacular scenery.


26. Tuscan Archipelago, Italy

The isles of Elba, Capraia, Pianosa, Giglio and Giannutri – wandering their winding paths through herb scrub is a rare delight.

  • Ferries from Elba to Capraia and Pianosa; Porto Santo Stefano to Giglio and Giannutri
  • Time taken: From 1 hour or longer
  • Terrain: Hilly tracks
  • Easy/moderate grade
  • Attractions: Fragrant macchia scrub, tiny traditional villages, few other walkers
  • Details: www.elbapromotion.it


27. Sicily

When it’s hot, hot, hot in Sicily, make for the cool beech forests, wildflower meadows and lakes of Nebrodi National Park, with Mount Etna rising majestically beyond.

  • Start from Portella Calacudera, between Cesaro and San Fratello
  • 5-6 hours
  • Forest tracks
  • Moderate grade
  • Beech forests, ancient trees, flowery meadows, lakes
  • www.nozio.com ; www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk (Walk 15, ‘Monte Soro and the Lago Biviere’, in Landscapes of Sicily by Peter Amann)


28. Gozo

Malta’s ‘little sister’ island tempts walkers with its network of field tracks through herb scrub, all leading to stunning cliffs, wave-cut arches and tiny stone-built villages.

  • All over Gozo
  • Variable
  • Stony, uneven
  • Easy/moderate grade
  • Walled field tracks, salt pans, strange weathered rock formations
  • www.breakaway-adventures.com


29. Crete

The south-west is a flowery paradise in spring. Walk an early-day circuit from roadless Loutro up the mountain to Anopolis, returning down the awe-inspiring Aradena Gorge.

  • Loutro, near Chora Sphakion
  • 5-6 hours
  • Steep, rubbly paths
  • Hard grade
  • Spectacular flowers, yoghurt for breakfast in Anopolis, tricky but exciting gorge descent
  • www.west-crete.com


30. Tenerife, Canary Islands

Tenerife offers all grades and kinds of walking. The Masca Gorge, a wonderful and gasp-inducing descent to a beach, is one of the finest.

  • Start at Masca; return by ferry to Los Gigantes, bus to Masca
  • 3-4 hours
  • Descent by steps, boulders and rubble
  • Hard grade
  • Spectacular gorge, pools, flowers
  • www.gaiatours.es


31. El Hierro, Canary Islands

Up in the misty forests of El Julan, beyond the chapel of Virgen de Los Reyes, walk through groves of sabines – twisted, ancient junipers, bent to the earth like sorrowing women.


32. Madeira

Madeira’s famous and scary levadas (irrigation channels) traverse tunnels, ledges and waterfalls, with immense drops only a step away.

  • Ribeiro Frio to Portela
  • 3-4 hours
  • Extremely narrow path – not for vertigo sufferers
  • Easy grade
  • Spectacular mountain scenery, thrill of the narrow path
  • www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk (Walk 27 in Landscapes of Madeira by John and Pat Underwood)


33. Porto Santo, Madeira

A dry volcanic island with splendid peaks. Waymarked track leads from pass under Pico de Cabrito to the summit of Pico Branco and to Terra Cha viewpoint.


34. Jamaica

Learn bush lore and medicine on a guided hike in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Jamaica as you walk the Vinegar Hill Trail and climb jungly Mount Horeb.

  • Many tracks start at Newcastle; enquire locally
  • All day
  • Jungle tracks, dirt roads
  • Easy/moderate/hard
  • Unspoiled jungle, sensational views, seldom-heard folklore
  • www.great-adventures.com;
  • http://www.silver-sands.com/blue_mountains_tour.html

35. British Columbia, Canada

The 47-mile West Coast Trail is a tough but amazing way to see the coast of British Columbia; a satisfying, challenging walk in a very wild place.

  • Bamfield to Port Renfrew
  • 5 days, camping out
  • Muddy, often slippery trail; some tidal crossings
  • Hard grade
  • Bald eagles, whales, seals, sea lions and black bears, ancient forests, huge mountain views; occasional wolves and cougars
  • http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/pacificrim/index_E.asp


36. Ontario, Canada

The Bruce Peninsula sticks out 50 miles into Lake Huron. Self-guided hikes in this wild, natural and rugged National Park, from easy to challenging.


37. Grand Canyon, Arizona

Hike down to a campground 3,000 feet below, descend sheer cliffs, leap off ledges into rapids, swim in turquoise pools – all in remote side clefts of the Grand Canyon.

  • Hualapai and Havasu Canyon
  • 3 days hike, 2 nights camping
  • Day 1 – steep stony paths; Day 2 – scrambling, jumping, swimming
  • Hard grade
  • Sensational Grand Canyon views, walking 3,000 feet below the desert, flowers and blue pools, adventure and challenge all the way
  • www.aoa-adventures.com


38. Mexico

You drop 1,500 m. to the tropical floor of the vast, little-known Copper Canyon where oranges and avocados grow. A walk through a strange lost world.

  • Start at Areponapuchi, on railway between Chihuahua and Los Mochis
  • 7 days
  • forest, mountain and ravine
  • Moderate/hard grade
  • Oakwood forests, tropical depths, breathtaking canyon views
  • www.himalayankingdoms.com (NB – new trek: call 01453-844400 for details)


39. Peru

Machu Picchu is famous, and crowded. The White Rock Trek is something else – a head-spinning trail through dramatic mountains to the remote Inca ceremonial site of Choquequirao.

  • Vitcos, High Andes
  • 11 days trekking
  • Steep mountains and valleys
  • Hard grade
  • Inca remains, spectacular mountain views, taking the road rarely travelled
  • www.himalayankingdoms.com


40. Patagonia, Chile

From grass path walking to mountain tracks, jaw-dropping views and pristine environment are guaranteed in this region of glacial lakes and towering rock spires.

  • Torres del Paine National Park
  • Treks from 1 day to several days
  • Grassy pampas, lakeside paths, mountain tracks
  • Easy to hard grade – your choice!
  • Sensational unspoilt crags, grassy pampas and lakes
  • www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk


41. Ghana

Walk through the rainforest canopy (superb butterflies, monkeys, birds – go at 7 a.m. to avoid the crowds); then hike at ground level to learn forest lore and medicine.


42. South Africa

Everyone sees it from the city, and many set out to climb it – Table Mountain, symbol and icon of Cape Town. A hot, demanding hike; a mind-boggling view from the top.


43. Tajikistan

A never-to-be-forgotten trek to the Fann Mountains on the Uzbekistani border, among people who rarely see a stranger, let alone a western tourist.

  • Fann Mountains
  • 2 weeks
  • Harsh mountains
  • Hard grade
  • Turquoise jewel of Alauddin Lake, remote mountains of stunning beauty
  • www.steppestravel.co.uk


44. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Through the majestic Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, high and remote country amid mind-bending mountain scenery.


45. North India

A journey as much spiritual as physical, through lush green hills to Hindu devotions at Gangotri, the sacred source of the Ganges, among dramatic Himalayan mountains

  • Garhwal Himalaya
  • 10 days trek
  • Forest and mountain paths
  • Hard grade
  • Source of the Ganges, breathtaking mountains, terraced hills and forests
  • www.himalayankingdoms.com


46. South India

Every 14th January, a male pilgrimage from the Pamba River to worship Lord Ayyappa in the mountain temple of Sabarimala. Male strangers are welcome.

  • Sabarimala, near Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
  • 6-7 hours
  • Steep, dusty jungle track
  • Grade: Moderate/hard grade
  • Fellow pilgrims, Pampa River bathing scenes, devotional activities, Sabarimala temple
  • www.cyberkerala.com/sabarimala


47. Cambodia

Five days on foot and by transport (including boats), introducing you to north-east Cambodia in a series of easy-paced walks.

  • Start at Ratanakiri
  • 5 days of gentle walks
  • Lakeside, jungle and hill paths
  • Easy/moderate grade
  • Elephants, exotic birds, hill villages, Angkor Wat, boat trips
  • www.himalayankingdoms.com


48. Northern Territory, Australia

Circle Uluru (Ayers Rock), the gigantic whaleback of sandstone rock, in the dawn hush, and watch as the rising sun makes it glow fiery orange, as if from within.


49. Queensland, Australia

The Thorsborne Trail threads the preserved rainforest of Hinchinbrooke Island, a tough, magical hike punctuated by beachside camping and waterfall swims.


50. New Zealand

Fly by helicopter deep into the bush along the twisting Mohaka River; hike and fish for your supper in the trout-filled waters.

  • Mohaka River, North Island
  • 24 hours
  • Forest tracks, river bank, some river walking
  • Easy grade
  • Lonely forest, spectacular river gorge, wilderness fishing, camping out
  • www.chrisjolly.co.nz


* Many thanks to Andy Harrison, Lou Somerville, Doug Clark, Julian Chichester and Hugh Thomson for their help and advice


 Posted by at 00:00

  2 Responses to “50 of the World’s Great Walks”

  1. Dear Christopher,

    After discovering your lovely and very complementry piece on The Maharees, Ireland-(January 23 2010), through a repost on Facebook by ‘Spillanes Bar’ in the Maharees, I sent you a link that you might be interested in. Thanks for being so positive about the area!

    I use a kite to bring up my camera and one of the last posts on my blog features The Maharees. You might have happy memories by seeing the pictures of this great place, and the images of other Dingle peninsula scenery on the blog sofar.

    This is the link: http://ckitepics.blogspot.com/2012/03/maharees-special.html

    Kind regards,
    Jos Liefkens.

  2. Dear Kite Man,

    I’m so delighted you liked my piece on the Maharees,and thanks for those exceptionally beautiful photos. You might be interested in the work of Adrian Warren, who died last year – he was the best aerial photographer I’ve ever come across, rendering landcape as art. Have a look at the gallery on http://www.lastrefuge.co.uk and see what you think.

    Happy snapping and flying!

    With good wishes,


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