The Beautiful Public Footpaths of Britain

The “right to roam” across hill and valley, field and glen, moor and fen.

Not quite … but it’s close.

England and Wales have designated paths on which our right to pass and re-pass is protected by law.

The Cotswold Way

At 102 miles, the Cotswold Way is the shortest and easiest of our three examples of long-distance footpaths and one of the most delightful.

A Cotswold Way Signpost Marker. Credit Richard Cocks
A Cotswold Way Signpost Marker. Credit Richard Cocks
Cotswold Way at Battle of Lansdown. Credit Ballista
Cotswold Way at Battle of Lansdown. Credit Ballista
Footpath from Mickleton village in the Cotswolds. Credit JR P, flickr
Footpath from Mickleton village in the Cotswolds. Credit JR P, flickr

Gently rolling hills rise from the meadows of the upper reaches of the River Thames creating a gorgeous grassland habitat that is ideal for sheep farming.

Flourishing during the medieval period, the Cotswolds’ wool trade created the wealth that has shaped so much of the region’s beauty.

The Cotswold Way. Credit Artur Kozioł
The Cotswold Way. Credit Artur Kozioł

Dotted with picturesque little villages, beautiful Georgian towns, and ancient sites, the Cotswold Way starts in the south at the city of Bath and ends in the charming market town of Chipping Campden.

Bath is a World Heritage Site largely because of its beautiful Georgian architecture in honey-coloured stone.

Much photographed in Bath is the 18th-century Palladian style Pulteney Bridge and weir.
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Pulteney Bridge & the River Avon, Bath. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Pulteney Bridge & the River Avon, Bath. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

10 of the best things to do in the City of Bath.

Notable for its elegant terraced High Street, Chipping Campden features many buildings from the 14th through the 17th century.

Meaning “market-place”, the word “Chipping” is found in other English town names like Chipping Norton and Chipping Sodbury.

Once a rich wool trading centre in medieval times, today it is a popular tourist haunt with old inns, pubs, and specialist shops.

Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Standing proudly at the centre of the town is the medieval arched Market Hall, built in 1627.

Chipping Campden old market hall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Chipping Campden old market hall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Often referred to as the “Jewel of the Cotswolds”, Broadway is another charming village along the Cotswold Way.

Traditional corner shop in Broadway, Worcestershire. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Traditional corner shop in Broadway, Worcestershire. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Lined with red chestnut trees and honey-coloured Cotswold limestone buildings, the wide grass-fringed main street gives Broadway its name.

Broadway High Street. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Broadway High Street. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Designed by James Wyatt in 1794 to resemble a mock “Saxon” castle, Broadway Tower is a folly in the English county of Worcestershire and built for Lady Coventry in 1799.

Broadway Tower, Worcestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze
Broadway Tower, Worcestershire. Credit Saffron Blaze

Perched on the edge of the second highest point in the Cotswolds overlooking the Severn Vale, on a clear day, as many as 16 English counties can be identified from the top of the tower.

A view of Broadway Village from Broadway Tower. Credit Saffron Blaze
A view of Broadway Village from Broadway Tower. Credit Saffron Blaze

Built in the late 1500s, Stanway House is a Jacobean manor near the village of Stanway along the Cotswold Way.

Protected as a building of exceptional historic interest, Stanway House has been featured in the British comedy-drama series Jeeves and Wooster, starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and the period drama Father Brown.

Stanway House, the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Stanway House, the Cotswolds. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

With its manicured gardens and superbly preserved structure dating back to the 1400s, Sudeley Castle is well worth a visit as you walk the Cotswold Way.

Once the home of Dowager Queen Catherine Parr, last of Henry VIII’s six wives, the castle chapel holds her marble tomb.

Sudeley Castle. Credit Wdejager
Sudeley Castle. Credit Wdejager
Sunshine after fresh rain on Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds. Credit Jason Ballard, flickr
Sunshine after fresh rain on Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds. Credit Jason Ballard, flickr

With countless beautiful old pubs and little antique shops, there’s plenty to discover on the Cotswold Way for memories that will last a lifetime.

Broadway Antiques shop. Credit JCNazza
Broadway Antiques shop. Credit JCNazza

The Pennine Way

Running 267 miles along the Pennine Hills, dubbed “the backbone of England”, the Pennine Way starts in the Peak District and ends just inside the Scottish border.

Around 260,000 walkers use all or part of the path each year, which includes 287 gates, 432 stiles, and 204 bridges.

Surveying the route from Mam Tor (Mother Hill), the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Surveying the route from Mam Tor (Mother Hill), the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

According to local ramblers, it is “one of Britain’s best known and toughest” national trails.

Footpath at Mam Tor, Peak District, Derbyshire. Credit Baz Richardson
Footpath at Mam Tor, Peak District, Derbyshire. Credit Baz Richardson

Inspired by America’s Appalachian Trail, journalist Tom Stephenson proposed the concept for the path in 1935 and lobbied parliament for an official trail.

The countryside at Castleton in the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The countryside at Castleton in the Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Known as the official start of the Pennine Way, the Old Nag’s Head in Edale is a low-ceilinged, stone-built pub sitting at the top of Edale village square since 1577.

Hand-pulled real ales and old-fashioned English pub fare are very popular after a long day hiking to local viewing spots with names like “The Nab” and “Ringing Roger”.
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The Old Nags Head at Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Clem Rutter
The Old Nags Head at Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Clem Rutter
Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Pennine Way from above Muker. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Pennine Way from above Muker. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

The Yorkshire Dales: England’s Green and Pleasant Land.

Public footpath near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Immanuel Giel
Public footpath near Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Immanuel Giel

Nestled in the Swaledale valley of the Yorkshire Dales, Thwaite is a beautiful little village with buildings made from local stone.

Originating from Old Norse “thveit”, the name Thwait means a clearing, implying that the area was once covered by thick forest.

Thwaite from the Pennine Way, Swaledale. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Thwaite from the Pennine Way, Swaledale. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Grazed by sheep and cattle, the green upland pastures are separated by dry-stone walls built without mortar but stable thanks to a unique construction of interlocking stones.

The Pennine Way at Thwaite in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski
The Pennine Way at Thwaite in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski

The Kearton Tearooms and guesthouse are named after pioneering 19th-century wildlife photographers Richard and Cherry Kearton.

Named after the River Swale, meaning “rapid and liable to deluge” in old Anglo-Saxon, Swaledale is a typical limestone Yorkshire Dale with a narrow valley floor and green meadow glacier-formed valley sides.

View from a footpath along the River Swale in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski
View from a footpath along the River Swale in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski

Deriving from the Viking word Kelda meaning a spring, Keld is at the confluence of the Pennine Way and another long-distance footpath called the Coast to Coast Walk.

Keld in the Yorkshire Dales as seen from the Pennine Way. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Keld in the Yorkshire Dales as seen from the Pennine Way. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Comprising a series of four steps, each its own small waterfall with the largest single drop being about 20 feet, Catrake Force is about 1/2 mile walk from Keld along the Pennine Way.

Waterfalls in the north of England are often called Forces after the Norse word Foss which means waterfall, whilst Catrake derives from the Latin “cataracta”, also meaing waterfall.

Catrake Force waterfall at Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Catrake Force waterfall at Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

The South West Coast Path

Voted “Britain’s Best Walking route” twice in a row by the Ramblers Walk magazine, at 630 miles, it is the longest of our three featured long-distance walks.

Signpost on the South West Coast Path at Bareppa, Cornwall. Credit Tim Green, flickr
Signpost on the South West Coast Path at Bareppa, Cornwall. Credit Tim Green, flickr

Since the South West Coast Path rises and falls at the mouth of each river, it is one of the most challenging walks in Britain.

The Cornish coast near St Agnes. Credit Baz Richardson
The Cornish coast near St Agnes. Credit Baz Richardson
A public footpath down some steps to a Cornish beach. Credit Jane White
A public footpath down some steps to a Cornish beach. Credit Jane White

Originating as a route for the Coastguard to walk from lighthouse to lighthouse patrolling for smugglers, it hugs the coastline and provides excellent views of the dozens of bays and coves.

North Cornwall Coast Walk. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
North Cornwall Coast Walk. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Turquoise waters lap beautiful deserted beaches.

Skylarks rise above steep green pastures.

Is this some Caribbean paradise isle?

No, this is Lantic Bay, Cornwall, a part of England bathed in the warmth of the Gulf Stream—an Atlantic ocean current originating in the Gulf of Mexico.

The South West Coast Path at Lantic Bay, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson
The South West Coast Path at Lantic Bay, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson

Lying within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Portloe is a good example of a secluded small fishing village that’s relatively untouched by tourism.

Two full-time working fishing vessels haul in fresh crab and lobster to be enjoyed at the Ship Inn or Lugger Hotel.

Portloe, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Portloe, Cornwall. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
A two-step stile in a Cornish forest. Credit Dennis White
A two-step stile in a Cornish forest. Credit Dennis White
The Golden Cock Footpath in Cornwall. Credit Denis White
The Golden Cock Footpath in Cornwall. Credit Denis White
The Cornish coast at Polperro. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
The Cornish coast at Polperro. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Once a staging point on the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral for those pilgrims traveling from further west by sea and from Brittany in France, Kingswear village sits on the east bank of the River Dart in Devon.

Kingswear, Devon. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Kingswear, Devon. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr

Serving as the railhead for the Dartmouth Steam Railway, Kingswear provides walkers of the South West Coast path a chance to ride on an original steam train that first opened in 1859 to the seaside resort of Paignton about 7 miles away.

Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Bob Radlinski, flickr
Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Geof Sheppard
Dartmouth Steam railway. Credit Geof Sheppard

Durdle Door (sometimes written Durdle Dor) is a natural limestone arch on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset.

Privately owned but open to the public, the name Durdle is derived from the Old English ‘thirl’ meaning bore or drill.

Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset, England. Credit Lies Thru a Lens
Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast near Lulworth in Dorset, England. Credit Lies Thru a Lens

Spanning 185 million years of geological history, the 96-mile long Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Coastal erosion has exposed rock formations and fossils covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous geological periods.

Jurassic Coast, Dorset. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Jurassic Coast, Dorset. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

Radically reshaped in the 18th and 19th centuries by deep-lode mining for copper and tin, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape is another UNESCO World Heritage Site along the South West Coast Path.

Reflecting the flowering of innovation during the Industrial Revolution, the mines, engine houses, foundries, and ports enabled the region to produce two-thirds of the world’s supply of copper.

Following the copper crash of the 1860’s, production turned to focus on tin mining.

Cornish tin mine at Chapel Porth. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Cornish tin mine at Chapel Porth. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

On your way along the north coast path of Cornwall, you might like to drop in on the picturesque fishing village of Port Isaac which served as the backdrop for the popular TV series Doc Martin.

Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr
Port Isaac, Cornwall. Credit Baz Richardson, flickr

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The only question remaining is which path to take first?

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions. Credit Phil Sangwell
Decisions, decisions. Credit Phil Sangwell
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