National Trails: What Are They, Where to Camp and Why You Should Walk Them

Strap on your walking shoes, pack your rucksack and embark on the trip of a lifetime on one of the UK’s National Trails. From the rolling chalk hills of the South Downs to the dramatic cliffs of the Pembrokeshire Coast, the National Trails exhibit some of the most spectacular surroundings the Great British countryside has to offer.

What are National Trails?

Encompassing almost 3,000 miles of heathland, moorland and coastline, the UK’s National Trails are long-distance footpaths and bridleways in England and Wales. Administered by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, the trails are visited over 83 million times each year. In total, there are 16 National Trails, ranging from the mammoth South West Coast Path to the meandering Yorkshire Wolds Way.

A comprehensive guide to National Trails

We’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to the UK’s National Trails, where to find them, why you should visit them, and which Club Sites are in driving distance of each one.

1. Cleveland Way

Cleveland Way

Skirting the North York Moors National Park, the Cleveland Way stretches from the charming market town of Helmsley to the Filey Brigg Pensinsula. Twisting and turning for 110 miles, the trail passes through heather moorland and over dramatic coastline.

On your way, stop over at the picturesque seaside resort of Whitby, home to Blue Flag beaches and some of the best fish and chips in the country. Marvel at spectacular views of the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, formerly one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries. At the foot of Whitestone Cliff lies Gormire Lake, a stretch of water steeped in mythology and ideal for a summertime swim.

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2. Cotswold Way

Cotswold Way

The Cotswold Ways commences in the cobbled market town of Chipping Campden and works its way down to the historic city of Bath. Passing through 102 miles of rolling hills and charming villages, the Cotswold Way is arguably one of the UK’s prettiest National Trails.

The trail takes you through the heart of the Cotswolds, passing some of its most popular landmarks. Stop at Broadway Tower, the second highest point in the region, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Spend some time in Cheltenham, a historic spa town famed for its Regency architecture and independent shops. In Bath, embark on a tour led by expert tour guides around the Roman Baths and through centuries of fascinating Roman history.

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3. Glyndwr’s Way

Glyndwr's Way

The name of this trail derives from the 15th century Welsh prince and folk hero, Owain Glyndwr, who fought the English rule in Wales during the Late Middle Ages. In 2000, Glyndwr’s Way was granted National Trail status to mark the 600th anniversary of his ill-fated rebellion.

Walk the entire 135 miles of this trail and uncover the fascinating cultural and natural history of Wales. Explore rolling farmland, open moorland, forest and lakes along the way. The trail passes the glimmering waters of Lake Vyrnwy, a tranquil reservoir bordered by sloping valleys. Spend some time exploring the grounds of Powis Castle, a medieval fortress famed for housing the treasures brought home from India by Robert Clive.

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4. Hadrian’s Wall Path

Hadrian's Wall

Tracing the entirety of Hadrian’s Wall, this trail guides you through 2000 years of fascinating history. Historically the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall stretches from west to east, sea to sea, across northern Britain.

You can either start the trail in the east, in the town of Wallsend, on the outskirts of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Or you can start 84 miles west, in the Cumbrian village of Bowness-on-Solway. On your way, you’ll pass the Roman forts of Segedunum, Chesters, Housesteads and Birdoswald.

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5. North Downs Way

North Downs Way

Cutting through South East England, the North Downs Way passes through some of the most beautiful countryside in the country. Incorporating the historic Pilgrim’s Way, this trail starts in the Surrey market town of Farnham and finishes near the iconic White Cliffs of Dover.

During the 153-mile trip, you’ll stop at the ancient city of Canterbury, pausing to wonder at the oldest cathedral in the country and the famous shrine of Thomas Beckett. The North Downs Way also passes through two Areas of Natural Beauty (AONB), the Surrey Hills and Kent Downs.

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6. Offa’s Dyke Path

Offa's Dyke Way

Straddling the Anglo-Welsh border, the Offa’s Dyke Path meanders through 8 counties and crosses the border over 20 times. The trail is named after, and often follows, the Dyke King Offa constructed in the 8th century – most likely to divide his kingdom of Mercia from the rival kingdom of Wales.

Starting in the village of Sedbury, in the Forest of Dean, the trail passes through 177 miles of rolling hills and sloping valleys before finishing in Prestatyn in Denbighshire. The Offa’s Dyke Path explores the fascinating, and occasionally turbulent, historical relationship between England and Wales. Not only does it pass through the untamed landscape of the Brecon Beacons National Park, but it also passes through three AONBs – the Wye Valley, Shropshire Hills and Clwydian Range.

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7. Peddar’s Way and Norfolk Coast Path

Peddar's Way

This National Trail combines two long-distance paths – the Peddar’s Way and Norfolk Coast Path. Start by walking the entirety of the former, before picking up the latter at Holme-next-the Sea and journey onwards to Hopton-on-Sea. The Peddar’s Way is 49 miles long, and the Norfolk Coast Path is a further 84 miles.

On your way, stop and explore traditional seaside resorts such as Cromer, Wells-next-the-Sea and Great Yarmouth. Marvel at the towering cliffs on Hunstanton Beach and the Palladian architecture of Holkham Hall.

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8. Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pennines Bridleway

Opened in 1970, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path traces the coastline of the national park of the same name. This trail ambles for 186 miles, from Poppit Sands in Ceredigion to Amroth in Pembrokeshire. Incorporating limestone cliffs, sandstone bays, volcanic headlines and glacial valleys, the path passes through some of the most breath-taking scenery in Wales.

On your way, you’ll pass 58 beaches and 14 harbours, as well as the countless coast flowers and seabirds that inhabit them. The total rise and fall of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is 35,000 feet – the equivalent of ascending Mount Everest.

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9. Pennine Bridleway

Pennines Bridleway

Not to be confused with the Pennine Way, the Pennine Bridleway opened in 2012 and has been specifically designed for horse riding and cycling. The bridleway incorporates two loops, the Mary Towneley Loop in the South Pennines and the Settle Loops in the Yorkshire Dales.

Starting in Middleton-by-Wirksworth in Derbyshire and finishing in Ravenstonedale in Cumbria, the Pennine Bridleway uncovers some of the most hidden, wildest landscapes in the country. Over the course of 205 miles, you’ll pass the shimmering waters of the Widdop Reservoir and the magnificent Arten Gill Viaduct.

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10. Pennine Way

Pennine's Way

According to the Ramblers, the Pennine Way is “one of Britain’s best known and toughest” long-distance pathways. On this trail, you’ll pass through two of the UK’s most scenic national parks, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales. 268 miles of hills, valleys and mountains lie between the two trailheads, Edale in Derbyshire and Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders.

The path runs along the Pennine Hills and is often described as the “backbone of England”. Take some time to explore some local history as you walk beside Hadrian’s Wall and hike over the Cheviot Hills.

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11. The Ridgeway

The Ridgeway

Often labelled “Britain’s oldest road”, the Ridgeway dates back centuries. Start this National Trail at the summit of Overton Hill in Averton, Wiltshire and finish at Invinghole Beacon in Buckinghamshire.

Over the course of 87 miles, you’ll pass some of the country’s oldest landmarks, including the Neolithic stone circle at the Avebury World Heritage Site. Ramble over the chalk downland of the North Wessex Downs AONB and stop at one of the country’s oldest nature reserves at Fyfield.

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12. South Downs Way

South Downs Way

Rising and falling over the verdant rolling hills of the South Downs National Park, the South Downs Way is arguably the most picturesque of all the National Trails. Historically, people have been using this path for over 8000 years to navigate the various valleys of Hampshire and Sussex.

If you’re looking for a National Trail with idyllic villages, cosy pubs and buzzing wildlife, the South Downs Way is the ideal choice. Starting in the cathedral city of Winchester and finishing in the seaside resort of Eastbourne, this path passes local landmarks such as the Seven Sisters Country Park, Bignor Roman Villa and the Amberley Working Museum.

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13. South West Coast Path

South West Coastal Path

At over 630 miles long, the South West Coast Path is the longest national trail in the country. Tracing the stunning coastline of the South West, the trail starts in Minehead in Somerset, passes through Devon, Cornwall, then back through Devon before finally finishing in Poole in Dorset.

Over the course of 115,000 feet of ascent and descent, the trail passes some iconic landscapes, including Exmoor National Park, the Jurassic Coast and Land’s End – the most south-westerly point of the UK.

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14. Thames Path

Thames Path

Following the course of the country’s most famous river, the Thames Path guides you through the fascinating history of the United Kingdom and its historic capital. Starting in Kemble in Gloucestershire, the trail winds through the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and London before finishing at the Thames Barrier in the heart of the city.

Arguably, the Thames Path travels through more varied landscapes than any other national trail. From rural villages and picturesque hamlets to bustling market towns and historical cities, this path boasts the best of everything this country has to offer.

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15. Yorkshire Wolds Way

Yorkshire Wolds Way

Taking in the unspoilt countryside of the Yorkshire Wolds, this pathway was officially designated as a National Trail in 1982. At Filey Brigg, the trail connects with the Cleveland Way.

Start the trail by the iconic Humber Bridge in East Yorkshire, and finish at the seaside town of Filey in North Yorkshire. Usually walked over the course of a week, the Yorkshire Wolds is famous for frequently featuring in the paintings of revered artist David Hockney.

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If you are looking for more walks in the Great British countryside, read our guide to the 10 best hikes in the UK. If you need more ideas to inspire your next camping trip, take a look at some more holiday ideas. Before embarking on a long-distance walk, make sure you've got the perfect footwear with our guide to the best walking boots.

Please note: Not all Club Sites listed are within walking distance of the trails.