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National Trails of England and Wales

There are many thousands of footpaths, bridleways and minor roads throughout England and Wales covering the whole of the countryside and soon all of the coast line. These routes are used for walking, cycling and horse riding and most have some stunning scenic views and take in some of the breath taking natural world we have around us.

Walking within Britain became popular in the early decades of the 20th century, and this resulted in waymarked walks appearing across mountains, hills, fields and along our coasts. After World War II there became a desire to keep some areas of Britain "special" and to protect them from post-war development that was taking place to rebuild some parts of our country and industries that had been destroyed during the war period. This led to the creation of our National Parks, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (ANOB's) and to the creation of some Long Distance Routes. Today these Long distance routes are called National Trails within England and Wales and The Great Trails of Scotland.

They have all been created by linking existing local footpaths, bridleways and minor roads and joining up the gaps between to create a long path that are suitable for walkers. The aim is for two of the paths to also be accessible for their whole length by horse-riders and cyclists, currently there are gaps where these two modes of transport are not allowed.

National Trails of England and Wales

There are currently (2012) 15 National Trails  within England and Wales and together they cover over 2,500 miles. Within England they are administered by Natural England and in Wales by the Countryside Council for Wales. Funding for maintenance etc is provided by both of these government bodies, but also some funding is provided by the local authorities whose area they travel through and tourism.

The National Trails for England are:-

Cleveland Way (opened 1969)

Cotswold Way

Hadrian's Wall Path
       (take a look at our car journey guide Hadrian's Wall Route Guide )

North Downs Way

Peddar's Way and Norfolk Coast Path (treated as a single National Trail)

Pennine Way
       (the first opened in 1965, majority in England, but crosses the border to into Scotland)

Pennine Bridleway (bridleway)

Ridgeway Path   we also have a gallery of this route The Ridgeway Path

South Downs Way

South West Coast Path (the UK's longest at 630 miles)

Thames Path

Yorkshire Wolds Way

Wayland Smithy on the Ridgeway Path   near Uffington White Horse

The National Trails in Wales are:-

Offa's Dyke Path (opened in 1971, parts in Wales and England)

Glyndŵr's Way

Pembrokeshire Coast Path   (the first in Wales, opened in 1970 and covers 186 miles)

The first National Trail to be opened was The Pennine Way in 1965, it is 268 miles long and runs from Edale in Yorkshire to Kirk Yeltholm in Cumbria. Three of the England and Wales National Trails are primarily coastal paths. There is currently a new coastal path/National Trail being created and the first section will open in Spring 2012, see 'New England National Trail' below, for more on this.

Some are theme based like the coastal routes of the South West Coast Path  and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.   The longest river trail is the Thames Path running from it's source at Kemble in Gloucestershire through to its end in London. The Ridgeway Path  and Peddars Way are two remnants of a Bronze Age coast to coast trail in the south of England and still with a historical theme you have the Hadrian' Wall Path in the north of England and the Offa's Dyke Path along the border of England and Wales. What they all have in common is that they cover much of the beautiful features of England and Wales, from mountains and hills through small villages and some cities to the scenic coastal regions of the country.

Information on the National Trails can be found on their own website, in most cases it gives a brief description of the path, with highlight attractions you can see along it, how to access it etc. However some of the trails such as the South West Coast Path also has its own more detailed website, breaking the walk down into many smaller manageable sections as well as an interactive map, and useful information such as what to take with you, how to access them and more.

When out walking, National Trails are identifiable by the sign of an Acorn symbol along it's route.  Signposts often carry the name of the trail, whilst waymarked posts simply have the symbol with a directional arrow. The Acorn is used in conjunction with coloured arrows or the words 'footpath', 'bridleway' or 'byway' to indicate who can use a particular right of way. A yellow arrow indicates a path for use by walkers. Signs marked 'footpath' and/or a yellow arrow indicates a path for use by walkers only, but you may also use a wheelchair or invalid carriage and can take a pram or a pushchair. You may usually take a dog but it should always be kept under control, as sometimes these routes go through fields with livestock or can have ground nesting birds along them. However without the landowner's permission, you cannot cycle, ride a horse or drive a vehicle along a footpath.

Paths marked 'bridleway' and/or a blue arrow indicates a path which can be used by the same users as public footpaths plus the right to ride a horse or a bicycle. Whilst paths marked 'byway' and/or a red arrow indicates a right of way which can be legally used by walkers, horse-riders, cyclists and motorists, but do not expect a tarmac surface. A Restricted Byway has the same rights as bridleways plus a right for horse drawn carriages to use them. Some may carry vehicle rights too, but you would need to check beforehand.

The Acorn, National Trail Symbol

Detailed Ordnance Survey maps cover every National Trail   in Britain and the Explorer Series at a scale of 1:25,000 is said to be a good scale to use. On the individual websites of the trails they have links to maps showing the route and other information on what can be seen on route, including structures, views and wildlife, accommodation you can stay at, places to get refreshments and some planning sources so you can plan a route you want to take based on your abilities. There are also guides available on the individual trails that can give useful insights to what is on route.

A New England National Trail

Natural England are in the process of creating a new National Trail in England called the England Coastal Path. This will be a path which covers the whole of the English Open Coastline. The possibility of having a coastal path around the whole of England has become possible because of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which gives more rights to walkers and users of the countryside to gain access.

The idea of this new path is to give people the right of access around all of the open coast and where appropriate 'spreading room' along the way where you can rest, relax and take in the view. They are currently working on 6 stretches of coastline in Durham, Norfolk, Kent, Somerset, Cumbria and the first stretch to be opened this year will be 20 miles/32km of the Dorset Coast around Weymouth Bay from Portland to Lulworth and it is planned to be open in Spring of 2012 before the London 2012 Olympics start in July. Most of this first route includes part of the South West Coast Path   but does include some new sections giving closer access to the sea.

It would appear that the other 5 initial areas are about to start their consultation period and should be open by 2014. So this will be a long term project over the coming years before it is fully completed. If you want to know more take a look at the Natural England website under Coastal Access.

By their very nature National Trails are long routes and it is not possible to cover a whole route within a day. But with planning it would be possible to organise short walks which can be achieved and then link them up with the use of public transport, or to cover sections over a longer time period with multiple visits, so that you can see many of the highlights that Great Britain's Countryside and Coastline has to offer.


See Also:

National Trails of England and Wales

Scotland's Great Trails

Scotland's Great Trails

List of Long Distance Coastal Paths

List of National Trust Coastal Walks

Long Distance Paths



By: Tracey Park Section: Walks Section Key:
Page Ref: national_trails Topic: Walks Last Updated: 02/2012

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