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Circular walks are, in my opinion, some of the best kinds of walks.
Out-and-back walks are great, but a circular walk always feels like a real expedition and there are different sights to see throughout the walk. In England, we are lucky to have so many options for superb circular walks. These might take in iconic castles, stunning views, and the odd cream tea here and there. The tricky bit is choosing which walk to go for.
Here I’ve listed some of the walks which sum up (for me and hopefully for you too) the finest circular expeditions that England has to offer. There’s a variety of distances and terrains, so my hope is that you’ll find one or more walks here that offer you a new view of England.
Holy Island round trip, including Lindisfarne Castle
Distance: 5miles or 8.3km
Start/Finish: Chare Ends Visitors car park on Holy Island
Refreshments: Pilgrims Coffee House
Best OS map: OS Explorer Map 340 Holy Island and Bamburgh
Highlights: Lindisfarne Castle is absolutely stunning
Grade (1 Easy to 5 Strenuous): 2
Holy Island or Lindisfarne is one of those islands that, if you’ve spent time driving up and down the A1 coast road in Northumberland as I have, has a magical attraction. Whether it’s the stunning beaches, the varied birdlife, or the iconic castle, this is an island that deserves to be seen up close.
This walk gives a great introduction to everything that Lindisfarne has to offer. Beginning in the centre of the village at the main car park, you then walk through the village itself before turning a corner and seeing the castle. Walking past the castle you then head onto the beaches before turning left back over the dunes and towards the car park.
Remember that Lindisfarne is an island and, whilst it has a causeway you can drive along, the tides will seal it off to cars twice a day. There are signposts up which show details of the tide times but it’s always worth checking out the tides before you set out for the walk.
If you have the time, then it’s great to turn the tides to your advantage by timing your visit so that you do your walk during high tide when the road is cut off. Even better if you can stay overnight on the island, booking into one of the fantastic pubs, hotels or guest houses.
Check out more details of the walk route here.
Cat Bells and Derwentwater
Distance: 3.5miles or 5.7km
Start/Finish: Hawes End pier (take the short ferry crossing over from Keswick)
Refreshments: The Lingholm Kitchen
Best OS map: OS Explorer OL4 The English Lakes – North Western area
Highlights: Beautiful views across Derwentwater to Keswick and the surrounding hills
Cat Bells is one of those classic Lakeland routes. Classic in that it has some of the finest views in the land (for relatively little climbing) but also classic in that you may be sharing that view with lots of other people. That’s not a reason to avoid this walk though – the scenery is stunning, both of the surrounding hills and fells, and also back over Derwentwater to Keswick. Pick your time when the skies are clear and the crowds are elsewhere and this can be a truly spectacular experience.
Whilst it might be tempting to try and drive to the foot of Cat Bells before starting your walk, the options for parking can be very limited and the access roads are narrow. My recommendation is to leave the car back in Keswick at one of the many large car parks, then take the ferry across Derwentwater to the Hawes End pier where this walk starts and finishes. Details of ferry times can be found here. If there’s a better way to top ‘n’ tail a Lakeland hill walk, I don’t know what it is.
More details and directions for the Cat Bells walk are here.
Roseberry Topping and Captain Cook’s Monument
Distance: 7.5miles or 12km
Start/Finish: Great Ayton village green
Refreshments: plenty of options in Great Ayton, don’t miss a pie from Petch’s butchers and an ice cream from Suggitt’s (both on the High St near the start/finish)
Best OS map: OS Explorer OL26 North York Moors – Western area
Highlights: Panoramic views from Roseberry Topping and Captain Cook’s monument
British explorer Captain James Cook, whose family lived for a period in Great Ayton, regularly climbed up Roseberry Topping to enjoy the views and solitude. It’s not hard to see why he liked the outlook from the top of this iconic North Yorkshire hill. As you look South from the summit of Roseberry Topping you’ll see another hilltop at Easby Moor which has a stone built monument to Cook.
This walk takes in both of these hills, with stunning walking in between, and opportunities for some of the finest meat pies and ice cream in the known world at the end to refuel yourself. It has to be said that fortifying yourself with another pie and ice cream before you set off for the walk is a pretty good idea too.
The walk is a longish route with some tricky terrain to negotiate, particularly the ascent of Roseberry Topping, but the surrounding views are fantastic. Taking in the North York moors, parts of the Cleveland Way, the North Sea coast, and across to Teesside.
More details and directions for the Roseberry Topping walk are here.
Mam Tor hill walk
Distance: 3miles or 4.8km
Start/Finish: Mam Nick car park
Refreshments: Blue John Cavern café (open at weekends)
Best OS map: OS Explorer Map OL1 The Peak District
Highlights: Blue John Cavern; views from Mam Tor of the Peak District
At only 3 miles round trip, this is a short walk that gives plenty of bang for your buck, and a real flavour of everything that the Peak District has to offer.
The walk itself begins at the National Trust Mam Nick car park and follows a stone surfaced path to the summit of Mam Tor. On a clear day you will then have some of the best views that England has to offer, taking in the Derwent Moors, Edale valley and Kinder Scout.
On the route back to the car park you’ll go past the world-famous Blue John Caverns. If you have the time then it’s definitely worth taking a detour to visit the caverns. Alongside a café serving a good range of refreshments, the caverns are a great experience for all ages. Though it’s worth being aware that there are steps into and out of the caverns. Blue John is a beautiful mineral that has been mined here for hundreds of years (and still is) from the limestone and clay under the hillside. Once it’s brought to the surface it is then set into stunning jewellery pieces – available to buy from the Blue John Craft shop naturally!
You can find details of the Mam Tor walk and directions to get to it here.
Old Harry Rocks walk
Jurassic coast, Dorset
Distance: 3.5miles or 5.6km
Start/Finish: South Beach car park, Studland
Refreshments: plenty of options in Studland, especially the Middle Beach Café (on the beach!)
Best OS map: OS Explorer OL15 Purbeck and South Dorset
Highlights: unique rock formations and stunning views of the Jurassic coast
The Dorset coast is famed for its beautiful natural scenery and it’s historical features. This walk gives a great introduction to a part of this UNESCO world heritage site (which stretches 95 miles all the way from Dorset to Devon). The Jurassic coast is a stunning location with brilliant white chalk cliffs and the opportunity to spot fossilised remains of marine creatures from the Jurassic period (200-145 million years ago).
There are also rock formations, such as Old Harry Rocks, with natural archways sculpted out of the chalk by the sea. This walk is an easy stroll of just over 3 miles from the village of Studland. It goes along the cliff edge to Old Harry Rocks – and you’ll need to be careful and have a head for heights along this section of the path – before turning South along the coast path to Ballard Point and then continuing the route clockwise inland until you arrive back at Studland.
You can get more details and a map of the Old Harry Rocks route here.
In England, we’re spoilt for choice with fantastic circular walks and that always makes the task of picking the very best walks a tricky challenge. My intention with this list is to provide you with a series of walks which give you a flavour of the best that England has to offer. These take in the Northern hills down to the Southern coasts and everything in between. Choose one or more of these and I don’t believe that you’ll be disappointed. They may well just whet your appetite for completing more of the walks on the list.