Discover challenging and dramatic walking trails shaped by the footsteps of traders, smugglers, saints and pirates. Cornish walking trails will reveal ancient tin mines, clifftop castles, timeless fishing villages and wild moors as you travel through a landscape of huge cliffs and hidden coves that goes back to the depths of time itself. In between the coastal drama, iconic harbours such as St Ives and Padstow give walkers access to some of the UK‘s best restaurants and coastal hotels. A county encircled by the wild Atlantic ocean, there is over 330 miles of spectacular world class coast path here taking you around the farthest corners of England - put simply it feels like walking on the edge of the world.
Stretching from coast to coast across the southwest of England, Devon is a richly diverse county with rugged shores and cliffs in the north, and classic Victorian seaside resorts in the south. In between you'll find tranquil green pastures, wooded gorges and the two dramatic wild moors in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Choose Devon for its walking variety, and you'll find that the popular image of cream teas and thatched cottages is true - but that Devon is so much more once you explore it on two feet. Coast to coast routes like the Two Moors Way will offer a journey through it all from the wild northern shores that inspired the Romantic poets to the maritime ports of the south coast.
Free your soul and clear your mind! Walking on the wild moors of these National Parks is a wonderful antidote to modern living. England's last true wilderness, Dartmoor offers 365 square miles of virtually uninhabited freedom with high moors and twisted dramatic granite tors a land of myths, ghosts and legends. Exmoor, its smaller and more gentle neighour, is 250 Square miles of near perfect and unique beauty, with high uplands swathed in heather and steep, wooded gorges and rushing streams. See Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor stags in these wildlife rich areas, home to 30 species of mammals and over 240 types of bird. The moors offer a unique opportunity for more challenging walking where the only human sound you will hear is the rhythm of your own breath.
Avoid the crowds and discover “Secret Somerset” missed by so many rushing headlong for the far South West. The 'land of the summer people' was named in a time when this area could only be visited in the summer months as the sea receded. Today its a rich, fertile and 'for real' landscape crowned by the fine walking ridges of the Mendip and Quantock Hills both protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. Rising up over King Arthur‘s Vale of Avalon along with the magical Tor at Glastonbury, walkers will find hidden gorges, wooded combes and the best inland panoramas of the South West. Also boasting its own Jurassic Coast Path, providing a gateway into the wilds of Exmoor National Park, Somerset offers walking routes without the crowds for those who want to find..... what the rest miss.
Dorset has a comfortable old world “English” feel to it and its walking routes traverse a rather more green and agricultural land of thatched cottages, cream teas.... and fossils ! Walkers here will find the more gentle rolling farmland, pretty villages and chalk ridges beloved by Thomas Hardy that sweep down to end abruptly at the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Here, alongside the sea, those after more challenging routes can take a walking holiday through time itself amongst the dramatic chalk stacks, cliffs and arches of the Dorsetshire fossil coast. An area that can be very busy in high season but often suits walkers looking for more gentle and less exposed walking than the far west of the region.
Wales offers some of the best walking and outdoor activities to be had anywhere in the world. The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path was only fully opened in 2012 and is the world's first walk along the entire coast of a nation. The terrain is on an equally grand scale with towering cliffs, vast stretches of unspoilt golden sands, imposing castles, offshore islands and to the north there is the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park with its stunning mountains. Wales in general offers walkers great value for money compared to more popular areas like Cornwall with walking options to suit everyone, from those who want the cosmopolitan restaurants and facilities of towns like Tenby and St Davids, through to isolated and remote forests and coastal hills that sit on the very cusp of the Snowdonian Peaks. Bursting with confidence and pride in its “Welshness”, its Celtic history, language and culture there has never been a better time for walkers to enter Wales.
The South West Coast Path is the UK's longest National Trail and one of the top ten walking routes in the world. It snakes, dips and rises continuously on its way through a staggering 1014km (630 miles) of pristine coastline, 450 miles of which is through nationally protected areas. It's a challenge too; walking the entire South West Coast Path is the equivalent to scaling Mount Everest four times! From towering cliffs to hidden coves, ghostly tin mines to lush subtropical wooded creeks. One minute a dramatic rock theatre hewn out of the cliffs, the next a prehistoric fossilized forest or a 20thC Art Deco Island Hotel. What sets The South West Coast Path apart from other trails is that around almost every corner is yet another surprise as you retrace the footsteps and histories of the tin miners, fisherman, smugglers, wreckers and the customs men who chased them.
Welcome to the Mendip Way - a dramatic ridge route cutting West to East over the Mendip Hills, a designated ‘Area of outstanding Natural Beauty’ that bridges the full variety of the rich landscape of Somerset.
This is a land of hidden caves and twisted gorges, ancient woodland, Iron Age hillforts and Roman roads. A place of myths and legends on a route that literally rises out of the Somerset Levels and King Arthur's Vale of Avalon itself. In doing so it gives the walker endless breath-taking panoramas from the ridge route over one of the best loved counties in the UK
The full Mendip Way is a journey of 50 miles, climbing from just below sea level at Uphill to 1000ft on the Mendip Plateau before dropping on and off the Escarpment at regular intervals, to take in the most stunning locations in the hills. These include Cheddar Gorge, the Cathedral “City” of Wells and the Caves at Wookey along with the chance to make a pilgrimage to iconic Glastonbury Tor.
Beyond the well-known attractions of Cheddar Gorge and Wookey Hole the area remains relatively unaffected by high tourist numbers, making it a haven for walkers and explorers and for much of the East Mendip Way in particular, you are pretty much guaranteed to have the trail to yourself.
The route is split between the West Mendip Way which runs as far as Wells, and the East Mendip Way which is a 20 mile extension on to the historic market town of Frome. The West Mendip Way is the more dramatic with generally moderate walking but with some strenuous short climbs on its steep limestone ridges, dry valleys and unique deep gorges. Beyond Wells, the East Mendip Way is easier grade walking but more remote and more subtle, a rarely visited area of rich farmland, ancient and secret woodlands with bubbling stream valleys which offers a very “real” reflection of a more typical and rarely visited Somerset landscape.
The West and Central Mendips offer superb walking conditions. The limestone base of the hills here not only creates the gorges, caves and combes for you to explore but because the water drains away so quickly you also have the bonus of some of the driest walking conditions underfoot in the country. The East Mendip Way differs, as it passes through a different geology and along watercourses and farmland so expect more mud here at wetter times of the year.
Overall, the route takes in the full variety of Somerset scenery and culture - contrasting the lofty summits of the Western Mendips with the lost valleys and secret woodlands of the East Mendip Way. It’s a haven for those who love nature, linking many key and varied nature reserves along the way.
Wildflower meadows, orchid strewn grasslands and rough rocky outcrops where you can spot everything from peregrine falcons, through to adders and feral goats. In the humid lush woodlands look for shy deer, woodpeckers, dragonflies, ferns and bluebells giving a trail that outside of winter is a veritable blaze of colour underfoot.
Overnight stops really make this walk with a good variety of accommodation options in a number of well-spaced towns and villages which allow for a variety of walking distances and abilities. Highlights include architecturally stunning places alive with history such as Wells and Axbridge, market towns like Shepton Mallet and Frome, tiny lost Mendip villages such as Priddy and Shipham and quirky tourist centres with lots of facilities such as those at Cheddar, Wookey and Glastonbury. Everywhere you will get to sample the superb cider, cheese and other locally produced food and drink that Somerset is famous for the world over.
It’s not a walk to rush through – when not walking, experience the incredible show caves at Cheddar and Wookey Hole which are two of the best cave systems in the country, or explore the historic Cathedral and moated Bishops Palace in the cobbled streets of Wells – England’s smallest “city”. Climb the iconic and mysterious Glastonbury Tor, gaze over the famous Glastonbury festival fields and visit the legendary Glastonbury Abbey with its links to King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea.
For more active pursuits take a day out at Cheddar with Rocksport and you can get beyond the public show caves on a deep caving expedition, or climb and abseil in the gorge itself. If that sounds too much just take to two wheels on the Strawberry Line Cycle trail along a gentle traffic free route linking villages along a long disused railway line.
This is the quickest of our walks to get to, starting only a short distance from Bristol and Exeter Airports and not much over 2 hours away by fast and direct trains from London. If you are short on time it’s a route that can be reached in half the time it takes to get to Cornwall and West Devon and with trains arriving at Weston-super-Mare and returning out of Frome, the Mendip Way is a true Rail To Trail route for those looking to ditch the car. Finally, for those wanting to explore further in the region finishing at Frome gives easy and quick access on to the historic city of Bath just a few miles away, to vibrant Bristol, the Cotswold Hills or east to Stonehenge and Wiltshire.
The Mendip Way is a riot of colour in spring and apart from the popular tourist area of Cheddar Gorge is far less crowded than Devon and Cornwall in the Summer. As a more sheltered inland route it also makes a great off season Autumn walk and indeed without high and exposed moorland it’s an option that is walkable at any time of year.
Click on the tabs at the top of this page to read about the different and varied sections to the walk as well as to find out more about the overnight stops and number of days you can spend walking the route. Or watch the video below for a visual taste of the Mendip Way region
"Simone Stanbrook-Byrne revels in her surroundings as a newly re-launched route takes her through some of the most dramatic and varied terrain in the country."
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne's excellent review of the Mendip way is available as a downloadable PDF by clicking here or you can read it online by visiting Somerset Life's website and reading the magazine article by clicking here.
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