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Britain for Beginners: Easy Long-Distance Treks in the U.K.

The Deal Detective
by , SmarterTravel Staff
The Deal Detective -Female
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on June 5, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, England, group travel, guided tour, hiking, Northern Ireland, Scotland, The Deal Detective, The Deal Detective, trekking, Wales.

This week the Deal Detective laces up his hiking boots to help a reader find a beginner's walking tour in the U.K. As always, look for a new case each Thursday in SmarterTravel.com's Deal Alert newsletter.




Dear Deal Detective:

How about self-guided hiking trips in the U.K.? Do you know of any good companies to book with and/or suggested itineraries? It would be me and my fiance, both in our early 40s. We're fit but not expert hikers by any means. We could probably do eight to 12 miles a day at MOST. We'd also consider a guided (group) trip but only if it's a small group. Looking for something late summer or fall. What are some good treks and also what can I expect to pay for a weeklong trip? Thank you!

—myteemouse

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Dear myteemouse,

Self-guided hiking trips are typically organized by a tour operator who arranges your accommodations, transports your overnight luggage between hotels or guesthouses, and provides a map and emergency assistance. It's an inexpensive way to see the countryside while letting someone else handle the stressful details. What you can expect to pay varies greatly based on the region and the level of service you want from the company you book with.

Though the U.K. may look small on a map, there's a tremendous amount of geographical diversity among the hills, mountains, valleys, moors, and meadows of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Since you identify yourselves as "fit but not expert hikers," I recommend focusing on walking trips rather than outright mountain hiking. After you get a taste of walking in the U.K., I'm sure you'll want to come back for more, but for your first outing I'd avoid the incredible but challenging Snowdonia region of Wales or the Munros of Scotland.

Fortunately, you simply can't go wrong by choosing the superlative West Highland Way, Scotland's premier long-distance route. At a distance of 95 miles, it's long enough to be worth doing, but short enough to finish in a week, and flat enough to qualify as just a very long walk. And my, oh my, what a walk! I'll let the trail's official website do the talking: "The West Highland Way passes through a wide range of different terrains, ranging from lowland moors, through dense woodland and rolling hills, to high mountainous regions."

If you get the sense that I love Scotland, you're right. Also worth loving: these prices. Wilderness Scotland's seven-night self-guided route is available from April through October starting at £495 per person (about $968; see XE.com for current exchange rates). North-West Frontiers' similar trip spans eight days for £480 ($938). I've heard good things about both outfitters from people I trust.

Our resident adventure travel columnist and Indiana Jones wannabe, Josh Roberts, suggests either the Hadrian's Wall Path in Northern England or the central section of the Pennine Way. Contours Walking Holidays offers a four-day Hadrian's Wall route from £260 per person ($508). Footpath Holidays small-group central section trips start at £235 ($459); this includes a guide but not accommodations, which must be booked separately. To be clear: Hadrian's Wall is on the easier side, while the Pennine Way covers more challenging—but still manageable for good walkers—terrain.

Lastly, consider the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales, which boasts tremendous cliff-top views and is a great introduction to long-distance walking. HF Holidays' seven-day self-guided trek runs from March through September and checks in at £399 ($780) per person.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it will be enough to get you started. To my other readers, I hope you'll weigh in with suggestions as well.

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