Choosing between three walks

Published 10 May 2012


I recently had an email that posed me an interesting question. They were hoping to do a long distance walk in 2013 but weren’t sure which to do.

So far, they’d come up with three options: the West Highland Way, the northern section of the Pennine Way from Hawes, and the western section of the Coast to Coast. But which one to pick?

Of course when it comes to choosing a walk there are many factors at play. Are you after scenery? Variety? A path that’s constantly full of bog?

Each of the three walks they were looking at had their merits. And as I sat down to consider it, it was a very difficult question.

You haven't done the Pennine Way properly if you haven't had to eat lunch huddled under a bridge

If you want to get away from things, and not see too many people out on your walk, then the Pennine Way is most certainly a good choice. Despite its fame, it’s really not that busy, especially outside the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales.

The northern section is remote and has a lot of wilderness. Of all the three options, this is one where you’ll really get away from things – although always have access to a pub in the evening! In many places it is quite samey, but you do go through some stunning sections. Tan Hill, High Cup Nick and above Byrness are pretty amazing. That said, you get a fair share of featureless moorland too.

However if it is wet you’ll have to contend with a lot of bog. Got to be honest, if I was going to pick one half of the Pennine Way to do, I’d do the Southern section from Edale to Hawes – the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales are stunning.

Approaching Black Sail YHA

The Coast to Coast on the other hand has some amazing views, especially in the western section which goes through the Lake District. Get good weather and it’s truly beautiful. Get bad weather and you could easily end up on a rather miserable walk. As a walk it’s a lot busier, and if there’s one downside to the Coast to Coast it is its popularity. Sometimes it can be like a convoy out there.

The West Highland Way also has truly stunning scenery, and it is quite varied as well. One minute you’ve got mountains, the next you’re wandering around a beautiful loch. It is also the easiest of the three and (in my mind anyway) has a huge bonus – you get to complete a whole trail in one trip.

Again it’s a busy walking route, although not quite as busy as the Coast to Coast. However you need to pick your time carefully. Even in early June we were completely eaten alive by the local midges. Leave it to August and you may really struggle.

Picking one of the three is hard. Very hard. But to be honest, I’d be inclined to say the West Highland Way. It offers stunning scenery and lots of variety. It’s a fantastic trip and highly rewarding. Just make sure you pack your midge spray though.


Did I get it right? Disagree? Have your say below! And if you’re about to plan your own walking adventure, check out the guide to planning a trip on the Coast to Coast and the Pennine Way.



12 May 2012 at 7:56 am

Why choose is my view ?

Those three walks are very different lengths (typically a week, 12 days and 20 days) so I’d have thought most people would pick on that basis, due to constraints as to how much time off they can get. Clearly if you break the longer walks down then you create a problem for yourself in choosing though. But I’d prefer to do it in one hit.

But again why choose ? If it’s difficult to choose because there are things about all three that you like, then why not make your own walk up. You may not have the kudos of saying “I’ve done the….”, but much greater satisfaction from planning and executing something unique. For example, I’m doing a coast to coast walk this year, but it’s entirely my own route. Starting at Ravenglass in the Lakes and taking my own route to Shap, then up the Pennines (including High Cup Nick) to Hadrian’s Wall, then up via Byrness and the Cheviots to Holy Island. It’s going to be around the same distance as the official c2c but it’ll be unique and it blends bits from several good long distance walks. Personally I think that’s the way to go.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

13 May 2012 at 4:07 pm

I always prefer to do things in one go, but that’s not always been possible. Indeed, I did the Pennine Way over several trips. I keep longing to do it all over again some day, all in one go.

But why do it again when, as you say, I could do something of my own devising. Well I guess for me it’s a mixed bag – one is simply the ease of following someone else’s route. But the other is that worry of not knowing where to go. If you’re not an expert on the local area, it can be a bit daunting looking at a map, trying to work it all out. Without a lot of research, I’d always be concerned that I’d end up on some really dull route, whilst missing one of the gems of Britain that’s near by.

That said, I recently bought a copy of Scottish Hill Tracks, published by the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society. And I look at it and just think of the possibilities of grand routes I could do with by, essentially, joining the various walks. One day I’ll probably leap on a sleeper train with my tent to the West Highlands and follow various paths around for a few days.

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