Walking in the United Kingdom

Walking in the United Kingdom

Walking is claimed to be the most popular outdoor recreational activity in the United Kingdom. [ [http://www.ramblers.org.uk/info/factsandfigures/recreation.html Ramblers Association website: Walking Facts and Figures] ] The country has a comprehensive network of footpaths, which permit easy access to the countryside as well as wilderness areas.

In the United Kingdom, "walking" is the usual term for what in other countries is called hiking, which in the UK is a slightly old-fashioned word, with a flavour of heartiness and exercise. Walking in the countryside is also called rambling, and walking in mountainous areas is called hillwalking.

Fellwalking is particularly used to refer to hill or mountain walks in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales in Northern England as fell is the preferred term for both features in those parts of England.

Access to the countryside

England and Wales


In England and Wales the public has a legally protected right to "pass and repass" (i.e. walk) on footpaths, bridleways and other routes which have the status of a public right of way. Footpaths typically pass over private land, but if they are public rights of way they are public highways with the same protection in law as other highways, such as trunk roads. [ [http://www.ramblers.org.uk/info/britain/footpathlaw.html Ramblers Association: Basics of Footpath Law] ]

Public rights of way originated in common law, but are now regulated by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. These rights have occasionally resulted in conflicts between walkers and landowners, most notably in the case of Nicholas van Hoogstraten. The rights and obligations of farmers who cultivate crops in fields crossed by public footpaths are now specified in the law.

Walkers can also use permissive paths, where the public does not have a legal right to walk, but where the landowner has granted permission for them to walk.

Right to roam

Walkers long campaigned for the right to roam, that is access to privately owned uncultivated land. In 1932 the mass trespass of Kinder Scout had a far-reaching impact. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 created the concept of designated Open Country, where access agreements were negotiated with landowners.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave walkers a conditional right to access most areas of uncultivated land.



In Scotland the public have the right to use any defined route over which the public has been able to pass unhindered for at least 20 years. However, local authorities are not required to maintain and signpost public rights of way as they are in England and Wales.

Right to roam

The public have traditionally been allowed unhindered access to open countryside. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 formalised and extended this right, by creating a general presumption of access to all land.

Recent court cases have seen the rights that walkers seek to protect limited. The most noteworthy case, Ann Gloag v Perth and Kinross Council and the Ramblers Association, saw an area around her home - defined as the curtilage - placed off limits to walkers. [cite news |first=Severin |last=Carrell |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Multimillionaire uses financial muscle to bar ramblers from woods |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/country/article/0,,2102624,00.html |work=The Guardian |publisher= |date= 2007-06-14 |accessdate=2008-08-12 ]

Long distance footpaths

Long distance paths are created by linking public footpaths, other rights of way and sometimes permissive paths to form a continuous walking route, usually linear but sometimes circular. They are usually waymarked. Guidebooks have been published to most long distance paths, and the most popular paths have attracted local industries providing accommodation and other support services.

15 paths in England and Wales have the status of National Trails, which attract government financial support. 4 paths in Scotland have the similar status of Long Distance Routes.

The first long distance path was the Pennine Way, first proposed by Tom Stephenson in 1935 and finally opened in 1965.


The United Kingdom offers a wide variety of ascents, from gentle rolling lowland hills to some very exposed routes in the moorlands and mountains. The term climbing is used for the activity of tackling the more technically difficult ways of getting up hills involving rock climbing while "hillwalking" refers to the easier routes.

Some summits require climbing skills, and many hillwalkers will become proficient in scrambling. In Britain, the term "mountaineering" tends to be reserved for expeditions abroad to ranges such as the Alps, or for serious domestic hillwalking, typically in winter, with additional equipment such as ice axe and crampons, or for routes requiring rock climbing skills such as the traverse of the Cuillin ridge. The British Mountaineering Council provides more information on this topic. [ [http://www.thebmc.co.uk BMC website] ]

Popular locations for hillwalking include the Lake District, the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains, Wales, Dartmoor and the Scottish Highlands, including the Cairngorms, the largest National Park. The mountains in Britain are modest in height, with Ben Nevis at 4409 feet (1344 metres) forming the highest peak, but the unpredictably wide range of weather conditions and often difficult terrain can make walking in many areas challenging.

Peak bagging provides a focus for the activities of many hillwalkers. Among the many lists compiled for this purpose, the Munros – mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet (914.4 m) – remains one of the most popular [ [http://munrobagging.co.uk Munro bagging website] ] .


Navigation and map-reading skills are essential, as conditions of poor visibility can arise unexpectedly at any time due to the variability of British weather and the risk of rain, low cloud, fog or the onset of darkness. In some areas it is common for there to be no waymarked path to follow. It is unwise to venture out into the hills without navigation skills, an Ordnance Survey map or walk guidebook, and a compass. In most areas proper walking-boots are essential, and hillwalkers should always have good weatherproof clothing, including spare warm clothes and in mountainous areas a survival bag in case an accident forces a prolonged, and possibly overnight, halt. Food and water should also be carried, along with an emergency whistle, torch/flashlight (and spare batteries) and first aid kit. A fully charged mobile phone is useful (where reception permits) and walkers should let someone know their route and estimated time of return or arrival ("eta").

Challenge walks

Challenge walks are strenuous walks by a defined route to be completed in a specified time. Many are organised as annual events, with hundreds of participants.

In May and June, with longer daylight hours, challenge walks may be 40 or more miles. A few are overnight events, covering distances up to 100 miles.

Well-known challenge walks include the Lyke Wake Walk and the Three Peaks Challenge in Yorkshire.

Walking for health

In recent years the health benefits of walking have received wider recognition and encouragement in the UK. In 1995 Dr William Bird, a general practitioner from Sonning Common, Oxfordshire, started the concept of health walks for his patients - regular, brisk walks undertaken for the purpose of improving an individual's health. This led to the formation of the Walking the Way to Health Initiative (WHI) by Natural England and the British Heart Foundation . WHI trains volunteers to lead free health walks from community venues such as libraries and GP surgeries. The scheme has trained over 35,000 volunteers and there are now over 500 walking for health schemes across the UK, with thousands of people walking every week. [ [http://www.whi.org.uk Walking the Way to Health Initiative website] ]

In 2008 a new organisation called Walk England was formed, with backing from the National Lottery and the Department for Transport, to provide support to health, transport and environmental professionals who are working to encourage walking. [ [http://www.walkengland.org.uk Walk England website] ]


The government agency responsible for promoting access to the countryside in England is Natural England. In Wales the comparable body is the Countryside Council for Wales, and in Scotland Scottish Natural Heritage.

The Ramblers Association promotes the interests of walkers in the UK and provides information for its members and others.

The British Mountaineering Council promotes the interests of hillwalkers.

The Long Distance Walkers Association assists users of long distance trails and challenge walkers.

Organisations which provide overnight accommodation for walkers include
* Youth Hostels Association in England and Wales
* Scottish Youth Hostels Association
* Mountain Bothies Association


External links

* [http://www.ramblers.org.uk/ Ramblers Association website]
* [http://www.ldwa.org.uk/ Long Distance Walkers Association website]
* [http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/leisure/access/default.htm Natural England website: Access]

ee also

* National parks of England and Wales
* National parks of Scotland
* Hiking

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