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Outdoor Features

Ten Best British Mountain Walking Routes

We take a look at the UK's best hiking routes taken from mountains and fells across Britain...

Y Lliwedd, part of the Snowdon Horseshoe, courtesy of © Copyright Trevor Littlewood

Ten Best British Mountain Walking Routes

Choosing the ten biggest mountains is easy, choosing the ten scariest is a little harder, but picking ‘the best’ is arguably the most difficult task of all. Do we mean the most scenic? The most epic? The ones we’ve enjoyed most for all sorts of random reasons? Or maybe a little bit of each.

Pick ten different walkers and you may get ten different favourites, but here, chosen on all sorts of grounds but mostly for sheer ‘awesomeness’ is our pick of the ten best walking routes on British mountains along with a short description, a link to a fuller route online and an admittedly random justification of each choice.

We’ve added a short description to some of the routes and for the rest you will find a link directing you to the original article with extra images and a more detailed overview, so hopefully there will easily be enough information for a bit of inspiration.

So what do you reckon? What did we miss out that’s pure unadulterated brilliant and what did we include that’s sadly overrated in your opinion. Let us know in the forum and tell us why – what happened to Liathach for example – answer, we couldn’t spell it – and is the Cuillin Ridge really a ‘walking route’? And shouldn’t Tryfan be in there somewhere….

Yes, no, maybe, perhaps, but what the heck, these are the ones we plumped for. On with the show! Here’s the list:

1) Snowdon Horseshoe (North Wales)

Summary

One of Britain’s most exhilarating scrambles on one of Britain’s most famously exposed ridges. ‘Exposed’ by the way, is tight-arse, guidebook speak for ‘mega-plummet potential’. Crib Goch, part of the horseshoe, is very exposed to the point where you have a choice, fall right and fly, fall left and slide, fast. It’s as scary as it is fun unless you find scariness fun then you’re on for a winner.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Snowdonia, North Wales
  • Distance: 8 miles approx.
  • Time: Between six and eight hours depending on speed and conditions.
  • Height: Snowdon summit is at 3560 feet and route is mainly above 3000 feet.
  • Difficulty: moderate / hard. The Crib Goch section is only a grade one scramble, but there are big drops and falling off could give you a head ache of terminal proportions.
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘Bugger it’s steep’, ‘Ouch, me pancreas….’, ‘Follow the crest, follow the crest…’, ‘Phew…’

Route

Start from Pen y Pas (ruinously expensive £10.00 per day car park) or bus from Llanberis. Alternatively you could go into Cwm Glas and start up the North Ridge of Crib Goch, a straightforward Grade 1 scramble. From here follow the Pyg Track (upper path) till the Crib Goch path branches right at Bwlch Moch then follow the crest of the rough buttress till you reach the ridge proper – obvious and sharp. Route finding here is easy – follow the ridge and carry on till you reach the summit of Snowdon…

From here, drop down to the saddle between Snowdon Summit and Lliwedd before going up Lliwedd then dropping down following the distinct path down to Llynn Llydaw and then back to Pen y Pas.

Why It Rocks

The Horseshoe manages to feel utterly epic, without ever quite being particularly difficult and Crib Goch is a proper rite of passage for any aspiring mountain scrambler with buckets of exposure compensated for by lots of thank gawd holds.

Image of Snowdon Horseshoe, courtesy of Harsharn Gill – www.peak-exposure.co.uk

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2) Kinder by the Edges (Peak District)

Summary

A walk that does what it says on the can, ‘Kinder by the Edges’ gives 16 odd miles of walking around the perimeter of the Kinder plateau, Derbyshire, Peak District, taking in most of the classic sights and formations, but avoiding the navigational horrors of the central area. Not only does it take in the popular side of the plateau including Kinder Downfall, it also leads you along the far quieter but equally stunning back edge which has an oddly wild feel despite overlooking the A57 Snake Pass.

The walking on the edge is generally firm and easy and, as a bonus for the navigationally challenge, it’s hard to get it wrong, just keep the edge on your left or right.You can start from pretty much anywhere on the perimeter, but Edale and Hayfield are popular choices and have the bonus of a choice of post-walk liquid refreshment options.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Peak District, Derbyshire.
  • Distance: 16 miles approx.
  • Time: 6-8 hours
  • Height: 3400ft (1030m) ascent.
  • Difficulty: medium.
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘Don’t you think that rock looks like a….’, ‘We can’t possibly be lost,’ Oi you scavenging ovine git, do one!’

Why It Rocks

Moorland walking doesn’t get any better than this; great views, some fascinating rock formations to ogle, impressive views of a huge waterfall – watch out for blowback on windy days – added wilderness miles and, in summer, an oddly brilliant sensation of walking across a giant, springy trampoline.

Route

OM Editor Jon walked the classic circuit of Kinder, ‘Kinder By The Edges’, right around the edge, starting from Edale, and still regards it as one of the best day hikes the Peak District has to offer.

Image courtesy of Kinder Scout, courtesy of Allan Bellis (OM Gallery)

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3) Helvellyn via Striding and Swirral Edge (Lake District)

Summary

One of the Lake District’s most popular walks,a circular route taking in the ridges of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge. A true Lakeland classic the ascent of Striding Edge makes an ideal approach to Helvellyn in good weather, with panoramic views in all directions, but in rain, high wind, or snow the route takes on a more sinister nature with it’s steep drops to either side. The return from Helvellyn takes in Catstye Cam and Swirral Edge, a less fearsome ridge than its counterpart on the outward leg. Mind yourself in winter though, the entrance to Swirral is a notorious accident black-spot under snow and ice and the exit from Striding can be tricky too.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Lake District, Cumbria.
  • Distance: 6 miles approx.
  • Time: 4hrs 30mins.
  • Height: 3,500ft (930m) ascent.
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘If it’s so safe, why is there a memorial plate up here?’

Why It Rocks

Everyone’s favourite Lakeland mountain – well, quite a lot of people’s anyway – approached by a dramatic narrow ridge  followed by a mini face scramble and lunch then topped off with another ridge, this time in descent. Satisfying complete and just epic enough.

Route

We’ve walked the route from Glenridding to Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Catstye Cam. Follow the link where you will find a a downloadable GPX file as well as the full route description.

Image of Helvellyn east face, courtesy of john 2 (OM Gallery)

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4) Ben Nevis by the CMD Arete

Summary

Big mountain days don’t come much bigger than the classic CMD Arete route up Britain’s highest peak. It’s a long haul with almost 6000ft of ascent from Glen Nevis, but on a rare clear and bright alpine day, the classic North Face of the Ben is spread out in front of you like something from an IMAX cinema screening as you traverse the narrow but never difficult ridges of Carn Dearg Meadhonach and Carn Mor Dearg.

As a bonus you get to descend the worthy but somewhat dull tourist track and congratulate yourself on the wisdom of your route choice in ascent. The only better options are via the North Face itself, but that generally means climbing or scrambling. Careful on the summit plateau though, it’s a renowned accident blackspot.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Scottish Highlands, Scotland
  • Distance: 12 miles approx.
  • Time: 7 hours
  • Height: 5873ft (1790m) ascent
  • Difficulty: medium but a long day
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘Isn’t that Tower Ridge?’, ‘The view’s amazing on a clear day.’

Why It Rocks

The best walkers’ route up Britain’s highest peak puts you in an ideal place to gawp at all the classic routes of the The North Face at leisure with features like Tower Ridge and the assorted classic gully climbs laid in front of you like, erm, a mountain smorgasbord, or something like that.

Route

For the full route description and a few more images check out when OutdoorsMagic walked Ben Nevis via the stunning CMD Arete.

Image of the CMD arete, courtesy of Mark Pinder (OM Gallery)

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5) Scafell by the Corridor Route

Summary

There are plenty of options to reach Scafell’s summit from all sides – start points in include Borrowdale, Wasdale, Langdale and Eskdale – but arguably the pick of the bunch is the Corridor Route which can be tackled from either Wasdale or Seathwaite.

It’s a dramatic rocky traverse that picks its way along the NW side of the mountain to Lingmell Col with great views and a really nice mountain ambience. Great in winter too. There are also a handful of cracking higher grade scrambles on the montain if you’re that way inclined.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Lake District, Cumbria
  • Distance: 9.5 miles approx.
  • Time: 6 hours or so
  • Height: 3,200ft (970m) ascent
  • Difficulty: hard
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘Rubble, it’s all rubble’

Why It Rocks

The Corridor Route is a proper, unexpected surprise making it a bit of a connoisseur’s day out. It’s a bit like heading into a random restaurant and finding an unexcited delicacy tucked away on the menu.

Route

There are four different starting points on this walk but probably the most popular is from Seathwaite Farm in Borrowdale. Visit www.wainwright.org.uk/classic_walks/scafell_pike for the full route description.

Image looking up the Corridor Route, courtesy of Nigel Chadwick

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6) The Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe

Summary

The Aonach Eagach ridge, which forms the righthand skyline of Glencoe as you head towards Fort William, is one of the best mountain days in the UK bar none with an intoxicating mix of exposure – clock those toy cars down below – epic feel and astonishing views. And rather conveniently, it just happens to be situated a mile or so away from arguably the best mountain pub in the world. It’s a graded climb in winter though so be careful, but in normal conditions it’s like Crib Goch but on steroids.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Glencoe, Scotland
  • Distance: 5.75 miles approx.
  • Time: 6-9 hours
  • Height: 3,600ft (1,097m) ascent
  • Difficulty: moderate / hard
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘We go along that?’, ‘Don’t look down now, but…’

Why It Rocks

Lunatic, dizzying mix of narrow, rocky ridge line and exposed pinnacles that’s a lot like Crib Goch but goes on a lot longer. Don’t forget to pack your head for heights.

Route

The Aonach Eagach, or “Notched Ridge”, is arguably the finest ridge traverse on the British mainland. A full crossing of the ridge is an all-day undertaking, and once committed there’s no turning back.

The knife edge crest between Am Bodach and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh is totally exposed, with stunning views down into Glencoe and across to the Three Sisters, and there’s no safe escape route. Traditionally the route is taken East to West, as the approach to Am Bodach is an easier proposition than starting from the West – although the lure of the Clachaig Inn at the end may also have an influence.

Image courtesy of the Aonach Eagach ridge, courtesy of JustinM (OM Gallery)

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7) The Traverse of An Teallach

Summary

It’s a long way north, but well worth the journey – An Teallach is a proper, intimidating sandstone ridge of a mountain that keeps you constantly entertained particularly if you take the most direct line which includes some easy graded climbing. The area around Lord Berkely’s seat in particular is real ‘don’t look down’ territory with a huge, near vertical drop to the corrie floor below. And it’s not much better on the other side. In other, overused words, it is epic.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Dundonnell and Fisherfield Forest, Scotland
  • Distance: 10.5 miles approx.
  • Time: 9-10 hours
  • Height: 5,085ft (1,550m) ascent
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘Eeeeek…’, ‘Who was Lord Berkeley anyway?’

Why It Rocks

Consistently interesting or terrifying depending on your point of view and your head for heights…

Route

There are a number of routes that involve steep paths and scrambling but probably the most inspiring path would be to incorporate the two beautiful pinnacles of An Teallach, Sgurr Fiona and Bidein a’Ghlas Thuill.

The route starts you off at Corrie Hallier just off the A832 and swings you all the way around the Al Teallach horseshoe for a full 17km for about 9-10 hours. It’s an epic adventure that provides testing scrambles, almost mythical-like land features and some stunnign views. An all round cracking day out with just about everything you could wish for.

For more information on the route check out this report by scrambler Bob at www.walkhighlands.co.uk.

Image of An Teallach looking across to Sgurr Fiona, courtesy of dunroamin (OM Gallery)

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8) The Five Sisters of Kintail (Sgurr Fhuaran)

Summary

Not terrifyingly narrow or brutally rocky or possessed of features named after long-dead aristocrats with swinging legs, the Five Sisters is, instead, just a perfectly formed, quietly beautiful, ridged mountain confection towering above the blue waters of Glen Shiel. There are, as you may have guessed, five tops on the route connected by narrow but not terrifying ridges to give a day of classic high-level walking.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Northwest Highlands, Scotland
  • Distance: 7.5 miles approx.
  • Time: 5 hrs 45 mins
  • Height: 5,445ft (1,660m) ascent
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘So, how many sisters were there again?’

Route

From the small car park follow the stream, which runs parallel to the forest, uphill on a faint track. The track disappears but continue to follow the stream until you pick up the track again just before the Bealach. The pull up to the ridge is steep but the views are fantastic in good weather.

From the bealach follow a good track up on to Sgurr Nan Spainteach 990m (Peak of the Spaniards – look up your Scottish history. Descend a narrowing rocky ridge with a bit of easy scrambling and then follow the rocky track across a double crest to the large cairn at the summit of Sgurr nn Ciste Duibhe 1027m 2Hrs 30mins.

Descend from Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe on a rocky slope to the bealach na Craoibhe and then climb the steep scree ridge to Sgurr na Carnach 1002m (3Hrs 15mins). From here descend to the bealach na Carnach and the follow the steep zig zag track to the summit of Sgurr Fhuaran 1067m.

Its all down hill from here, descend to Beinn Bhuidhe 869m and then follow the ridge NW across Sgurr na Moraich 876m and then pick up the track and follow it into Ault a chruinn and the road side.

Image of Five Sisters Ridge, courtesy of David Coppock (OM Gallery)

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9) The Cuillin Ridge (Skye)

Summary

Consistently lauded as the best mountain day in the UK bar none, we couldn’t not include Skye’s Cuillin Ridge. The full traverse is a serious  outing for most people, but what you really, really need to know is that Skye is a scrambling mecca thanks to a combination of narrow ridges and improbably grippy gabbro rock. Add in stunning views across the sea and beyond and it doesn’t come any better.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Isle of Skye, Scotland
  • Distance: 7 miles approx.
  • Time: Variable
  • Height: 4,900ft (1,493m) ascent
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘Just trust the rock, it’s gabbro’, ‘Good god man, Danny MacAskill rode along this’

Why It Rocks

Best scrambling terrain in the UK bar none, Skye mixes epic situations with reassuring grippy rock.

Route

The Traverse of the Cuillin Ridge of Skye is the finest mountaineering adventure in the British Isles. In 12.5km there is 3000m of ascent and descent taking in in over ten Munros. There are three pitched climbs that can be bypassed but a rope is needed for the abseil descent from the In Pinn. The TD Gap and Naismith’s Route are now graded Severe.

Allow 2.5hrs each for the approach and decent. The Traverse can take anything from 7 to 20 hours! (Or three if you’re Finlay Wild.) Soloing virtually all but the climbs is almost essential for a single day push. Bivvying is popular but carrying kit detracts from the joy of so much good scrambling. Prepare well.

In winter, it is important to pick a good weather slot after snow and then hard frost. Most parties bivvy en route. For more information on this route visit www.ukclimbing.com.

Image of the main Cuillin ridge, courtesy of Apringstone

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10) Pen y Fan (Brecon Beacons)

Summary

The Brecon Beacons may be compact, but this circular route up the highest peak in south Wales makes for a great wild mountain day particularly in winter. At 2906 ft Pen y Fan shouldn’t be underestimated; it wouldn’t be out of place in Snowdonia and despite the relatively gentle angle of ascent and descent it’s a proper mountain day. In winter, in particular, it makes a fine escape to true wild country despite the number of people you’re likely to meet along the way.

Basic Beta

  • Where: Brecon Beacons, South Wales
  • Distance: 9 miles (13.5km)
  • Time: 
  • Height:2306ft (703 m) ascent
  • Difficulty: easy / moderate
  • Useful Vocabulary: ‘Bigger than you’d think eh?’ ‘Didn’t the SAS build this?’

Why It Rocks

Higher than you’d think, Pen y Fan is classically steep on the one side, rounded and grassy on the other and scores bonus points for its location. Also popular with shadowy men in khaki…

Route

We’ve walked the circular route that takes you over South Wales’ highest peak and starts and ends at the picturesque setting of Taf Fechan. Follow the link for the full detailed description with a map and section breakdown.

Image of Pen y Fan from Cribyn, courtesy of Herzi Pinki

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