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self-guided walking holiday?

My husband and I are thinking of doing a walking holiday this summer. We're in pretty good shape (which means we exercise 4 or so days a week, walking or running anywhere from 3-5 miles at a time), but we've never done a walking holiday (walking several miles day after day). But I've always wanted to do one of these trips! I've looked at the Coast-to-Coast in England, and the John Muir Way in Scotland, and the Great Glen Way in Scotland, and the West Highland Way. Any thoughts about the difference between these? Which would be most manageable and most enjoyable? Any other walk we should think about? Thanks for your help!

Posted by
14507 posts

Hi Vicky---the UK is a great place to do a walking holiday. There are lots of choices, and you have named a few. If you have not done one before, you should look carefully at the terrain and other considerations. When are you thinking of going? And how much time so you have in all? Coast to Coast trail takes a long time; others are shorter. The new John Muir Muir Way is (from what I have read) best done in a day or two by bike: Not so great as a hike. I really wanted to do this when it first opened in 2014, thinking I could be one of the first to hike the length of both John Muir trails---the one in the Sierras and the one if Scotland. But after I read the trail description of the Scotland trail, I gave up on walking it---too tame.

There are many companies that will organize a walking holiday for you---the trick is to figure out what you want to do. Physically challenging? Beautiful scenery? Coastal route? Charming pubs on the way? And what is your fitness level? Your mention of 3-5 miles at a time make me think you may not be ready for the West Highland Way, which has at least one section that is much longer.

I will post a link to a company that does both inn based and point-to-point trips, with a good description of the mileage involved eah day. I am sure others will recommend companies that will provide support for self-guided trips. It is all good---the UK is a great place for a walking trip.

Posted by
1223 posts

We walked the Great Glen Way last June arranged by and we were very satisfied.

If you only run you need to start walking longer trips as well. You use your muscles differently when you walk and you may need new shoes - and they need to be broken in. I used a pair of hiking shoes and my wife used her running shoes - mine are still fine but hers are ruined by walking on rock.

I'm sure you will have a splendid vacation - you see so much more when you walk than when you bike or drive.

Posted by
90 posts

Walking tours in the US are wonderful! My husband and I have walked the Cotswold Way, the Coast to Coast, the West Highland Way, and the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. We have been very pleased with Mickledore Travel.
The Coast to Coast was 16 days with an average of 12 miles a day, the West Highland Way was 8 days with an average of 12 miles a day as well.

Posted by
5819 posts

We only walked two of your four listed walking holidays. We did the English C2C and the Scottish WHW using the Contours Walking Holiday booking service and can also highly recommend Contours. Contours booked overnight accommodations to our specifications, arranged for luggage transfers, and provided advice, Ordinance Survey maps and guide books. We did the walking carrying only day use items like rain gear and cameras.

By the way, I'm sold on trekking poles for both uphill climbs using arm power to supplement legs and on downhills to reduce load on knees. Contours and guide books have useful stuff to bring checklists with everything marked "waterproof" being essential.

In some respects the WHW is rougher than the C2C with some portions of the WHW track along the shores of Lock Lomond being closer to scrambling than walking. But the C2C is longer (more days) with some longer distance days than the WHW. Contours offers multiple suggested itineraries and allows for optional layover days.

While not officially part of the Wainwright C2C, if you want a scramble, take the Helvellyn/Striding Edge alternative.

We did the C2C over 14 walking days, with one layover mid walk. Our longest distance day was about 23 miles between Richmond and Ingleby Cross. Short 4 or 5 mile runs may help with the aerobic conditioning, but you need to include back to back distance training days with a ramp up in distance walked to toughen body parts (e.g. feet). Our C2C layover day was a welcome break to allow body parts to recover and to visit a laundry facility.

We did the WHW over 8 walking days and no layover days. That kept long days to about 14 miles. Keep in mind that with a point to point walk means going even on rain days. However, the WHW does have some bail out options such as taking a local bus to the next town. And Contours' luggage transfer service on the C2C would take walkers not wanting to brave the day.

The C2C and WHW start and finish are accessible by transit. C2C St. Bees by train with return from Robin Hood's Bay by local bus then train. WHW by local bus to Milngavie with a return to Glasgow from Fort William by the scenic West Highland Railroad. Contours provides detailed instructions.

All that said, the long distance point to point tours are life memories. Do it while you can.

Posted by
5819 posts

We did the Wainwright C2C as our first walk inspired by this September 2003 Smithsonian Magazine article:

Being our first long distance walking holiday, the C2C is my favorite of the two, but the WHW is certainly a close second. The advantage of the WHW is the shorter distance if time and energy are a consideration. The advantage of the C2C is a literal cross section of northern England from Lake District, across the Dales and the Moors.

We encountered a couple on the C2C who divided the walk into one week holidays separated by a year. They returned to finish the second week of walking the C2C.

While we only did the WHW, an option to do two weeks of walking in Scotland would be to combine the WHW with the Great Glen Way back to back.

Posted by
74 posts

Wow--thanks for all your replies! I'm even more eager to do a walking tour! In terms of what kind of terrain we'd be interested in: we'd probably prefer flatter to hillier, and well-marked is appreciated. We'd probably go sometime in July, and want to go for about 10-12 days or so. That probably rules out the C2C, right? Not sure why, but the C2C has always been at the top of my bucket list, so maybe it's worth pushing for. On the other hand, maybe it's not a good idea for our first walking trip? And what's so boring about the John Muir way? Maybe "boring" would be a good idea for a first tour? Anybody do a different tour worth recommending? Thanks again--Vicky

Posted by
7127 posts

Vicky, be sure to check what you get by going with a group that organizes your tour vs. what you get if you organize it yourself. Make sure that the perceived value that you get matches the increased cost. This is a very personal decision. There are several luggage transfer companies along most major trails that will transport your luggage for you if you don't want to have a walking tour company do this.

Posted by
74 posts

It sounds like there are several good companies that arrange accommodations and baggage transfer. Are there specific concerns I should be aware of? Admittedly--there are so many good options, it makes my head spin!

Posted by
5819 posts

RE: Are there specific concerns I should be aware of?

A significant variability of "inn to inn" walking holidays is the quality and amenities of the overnight lodging. Because of walking distances, you will not always end a day's walk in or near villages and ending in a market town would be the exception to the rule. The accommodations can be anything from country inns to farm house B&Bs. And the footnote to en-suite accommodations is "when available".

If your expectation are 3 and 4 star accommodations, don't do country walking holidays. If you have overnight-ed in mountain huts and hostels, the walking holiday accommodations will be luxurious. Keep an open mind, understanding the country side housing limitations and you will have an enjoyable holiday.

Your overnight housing would preferable be a short walk to a source of dinner and drink. In some areas we had to pre-book evening meals provided by our B&B hosts through the booking service on their advice because the nearest pub was a very distant walk away. The booking service we used identifies these dinner and lunch food deserts.

As an added note, some guided walking tour promoters will advertise an England Coast to Coast walk but short cut the walk by transferring (code word for busing) walkers. You don't get to walk the full 192 miles. If you self-guide you get to do the full 192 miles (more if you add the mileage of correcting walking route errors).

Posted by
74 posts

Again, thanks for all your helpful responses! Contours looks okay--but so does Mac Adventures, Absolute Escapes, and Mickledore. I was also intrigued by Walk Across Scotland. Anyone have pro/con thoughts on these companies? Also, anyone have thoughts on a base trip, like WAS's Explore Aviemore package? And how does the Cotswolds trip compare to the Scotland trips? Or the Fife coastal trip--anyone familiar with that one? Thanks again, and happy new year!

Posted by
1846 posts

I'll double down on any vote for MacAdventure

We used them last fall for a wine route self guided hiking trip in Alsace France. Very happy with the route, the hotels or B&B. The route guide was fairly easy to use -

We are signed up for Sept 2017 to hike the Great Glen Way . So excited for this trip. it's a long one 10 days. I asked them for a rest day in the middle, and they customized the trip for us with a day off in a town they say will give us something to do besides just rest in the hotel. They have also responded to a question about what to do after our self guided trip with them, since we'll stay in Scotland for another week after we finish the trip.

Give them a call, they can advise on which trip would be best for you. The Great Glen way is rated moderate, but still there are LONG days...15 miles a day for 2 of them. So if you are only a 3-5 miler, you may want to train a bit. We did the Alsace route (we are bike riders, and hike a bit) the longest days were about 8 miles, and we managed that well. That route was also rated moderate.. There is always the option (at your expense) to call a taxi and skip a day.

I like that I can call and talk to someone, they've always been super helpful.

We are total self guided people. We've done 10 or so self guided bike trips in Italy and England, and it's the only way we like to go. We don't enjoy the group dynamic of being with strangers on our vacations...been there, done that. There is always at least one person that doesn't mesh with our personality, and makes the journey a challenge!