Five of the best hiking trails in the UK
Two mountain rescue professionals discuss their favourite peak-to-peak hiking routes in the UK, and give their advice on how to successfully tackle them.
The UK has an extraordinary spread of walking trails, ranging from epic mountain traverses to panoramic coastal hikes. Though often simple to access and hugely enjoyable to complete, they should never be underestimated. Mountain rescue professionals know this better than most. Helena Sansum and Ian Blackburn are members of the North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team — one of four such teams across England, Wales and Scotland partnered by technical gear company Helly Hansen. Keen hikers, they’ve explored trails throughout the UK and know better than most the importance of good preparation and kit. Discover their five favourite trails in their home patch of Northumberland and beyond.
1. Thrunton Wood, Northumberland
Helena: Thrunton is a beautiful, wild wood set on two sandstone escarpments in the countryside west of Alnwick and it has an eight-mile loop that’s one of my absolute favourite day-trails. It’s one of those routes that has a bit of everything — crags, forest, rivers and views. There are lots of pine trees, but the northern section has some really old deciduous woodland that’s well worth seeing. It’s quiet, too, birdsong aside — and you don’t really pass anyone, so it’s lovely and peaceful. Sadly, the trail did take some long-lasting damage from Storm Arwen, so check ahead before you set off.
2. Sannox Horseshoe, Isle of Arran
Ian: The Cairngorms and Glencoe are fantastic, but one route that stands out is the Sannox Horseshoe on Arran, which sits among dramatically beautiful granite outcrops reminiscent of the Alps. There is a lot of scrambling on this route so do you need to be comfortable with heights and challenging terrain. The trail is around nine miles in distance, but navigation can be tricky, making it a long day out. The weather can quickly turn too, so you need to make sure your waterproofs are actually waterproof rather than water-resistant!
3. The Hen Hole, Northumberland
Helena: This is a brilliant 10.5-mile loop on the back of the Cheviot, which is the highest point in Northumberland National Park. It’s one of the area’s prettiest trails, starting up by a rushing wild waterfall and then descending into a steep-sided valley. To get there you need to book a vehicle permit online, so there are very few people around — it’s often just you and the nature. It is quite a challenging one as there’s no clear path for much of the route, so it’s often just trekking across bog! As a result, you definitely need the right footwear as it can make all the difference.
4. Helvellyn, Lake District
Helena: The Lake District is beautifully rugged, but often the downside is busier trails. Helvellyn via Striding Edge is a classic 8.5-mile trail, but to avoid the crowds I love to go up in the afternoon, rather than the morning, especially in winter. If you don’t mind coming back down in the dark you’ve got the place to yourself, but you have to be prepared for the conditions. As mountain rescue, we’ve got crampons, an ice axe, a headlamp and a down jacket, so it’s a bit frustrating when we see people trying to complete it in jeans. In those conditions you’ve got to understand your limitations and trust your experience and equipment. Striding Edge can include a fair amount of scrambling, so do be prepared for this.
5. The Northumberland Coast Path
Ian: The coast here in Northumberland stretches for 62 miles, with some brilliant wildlife and never-ending beaches. It’s definitely one of my favourite places to hike, but you can walk for miles without even realising, so carrying enough kit is crucial. I often see people who haven’t prepared run into difficulty, so make sure you’ve got water, a small first aid kit, waterproofs and an extra layer in reserve.
Ian and Helena’s top gear picks
Helly Hansen has been making outdoor clothing for 140 years, providing kit for the likes of Mountain Rescue volunteers and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Its gear is trusted by outdoor professionals to not only look good, but to provide the highest levels of performance.
1. Daybreaker Fleece Jacket
A cosy full-zip fleece made from recycled materials makes this the perfect extra warm layer for your pack.
2. HH LIFA® Active Solen Long Sleeve Base Layer
This lightweight breathable underlayer keeps you warm but dry, so is a great option for more high intensity hikes. Plus, it’s available in specific men’s and women’s fits.
3. Odin 9 Worlds Infinity Shell Jacket
The Odin collection features some seriously high-performance pieces — it’s actually the collection the mountain rescue team kit is based on. This jacket has a three-layer system designed for comfort and protection in the harshest environments. It also uses Helly Hansen’s Lifa® Infinity Pro™ technology, allowing it to maintain high levels of waterproofing and breathability, but without the use of chemicals.
For more hiking recommendations and tips, visit hellyhansen.com/guides/trails
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