Walking Trails

Have you thought about a walking holiday along the beautiful walking trails of the Wessex counties? No - don't dismiss it out of hand – think about it a minute. With a little planning a very enjoyable holiday or short break can be made. Not all that expensive either! Have a look at a few ideas in these pages.

Test Way footpath in Houghton, Hampshire Over 40 miles from Inkpen to Southampton Water along the Test Valley

Test Way footpath in Houghton, Hampshire
Over 40 miles from Inkpen to Southampton Water along the Test Valley
Photograph © Chris Talbot

Have you thought about a Green holiday? Leave the car at home – or park it in a central spot and enjoy a stroll.

Footpaths and trails are scattered all over the counties of Wessex, miles of them. It is not difficult to organise a holiday, short break or even a day's outing around this myriad of diverse and contrasting pathways.

There are many short distance tracks – no more than three to six miles long travelling over interesting or scenic country.

Many paths are served by public transport, bus and train. Some along the way – if you get tired, hop on a bus.

The longer distance variety of walking trail can be split up into sections, in many cases other shorter trails lead into them. Take the path as a holiday walking between and exploring attractive villages, hill forts and castles. Have lunch in a pub along the way. Stay in a little peaceful B&B or guest house, or self catering. What about camping? Or just amble a short section as a day out – take a picnic. There is no need to hurry, you are on holiday!

There are even some B&B's and Guest houses that run a fantastic service moving your luggage from their place to your next night's accommodation while you are walking in pleasant surroundings!!!! Check your intended accommodation to see if they do.

Wild mystic moorland, stunning coastal routes, walks through tranquil country side or along a river valley. Cultural walks perhaps. Wild, wide variety of wonderful walking trails. The Tarka Trail – following the route of the much loved Tarka the Otter in the book by Henry Williamson. Or there is a much shorter idea – the Ted Hughes Poetry Trail in Stover Country Park in Devon. Takes about two hours to complete. There is a bus to the park from Newton Abbot. Car park available. In the same area there is the Templer Way a walk with a real difference - follow the old tramway from Haytor that carried the quarried granite from the moor. Then follow the Stover Canal that carried clay for the potteries. What about the Coleridge Way in the footsteps of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Do not undertake walking on the moorland if you are inexperienced, too dangerous. Getting lost is not a difficult thing to do! The weather is fickle and uncertain, it can be nice when you set out but the bad weather and mist can come out of nowhere and you are in the middle of nowhere! Many folk have been caught and some have perished. In any event for whatever walk, check the weather, let someone know where you are going and your estimated time of arrival. Dartmoor Trails is a handy page to read for moorland walking.

For the serious hiker this is hiking country. Some of the walking trails are intensely challenging.

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Remember the Countryside Code

Be safe. Plan ahead. Follow the signs
Leave gates and property as you find them.
Protect plants and animals
Take your Litter Home
Keep dogs under close control
Consider other people

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Walking Trails that cross more than one county

South West Coast Path as it leads down into Dawlish The seats look inviting!

South West Coast Path as it leads down into Dawlish
The seats look inviting!
Photograph © N Chadwick

Many of these tracks cross Wessex county borders. One, the Pilgrim's Way starts in Winchester in Hampshire and travels by ferry over the Channel and on to Mont St Michel in France! Wessex has the longest footpath in Britain, the coast guard route of the South West Coastal Path from Poole in Dorset to Minehead in Somerset. Another is part of the McMillan Way, a path where sponsorship is encourged for walkers to raise money for McMillan Cancer Support. Some paths runs along river valleys or over moorland, through attractive villages, woods and farmland. Most can be done in stages for short breaks or a day out. All walking trails are enjoyable and there is something for all levels of fitness.

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Devon is walking heaven both for the occasional day out and for the serious hiker. Tracks cross moorland, wooded valleys, rural farmland, fantastic scenic coastal routes and designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Some places are of serious scientific interest both for geological and biological reasons. Devon is covered in archaeological sites from ancient standing stones to Norman castles.

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Dorset County Council are being very active in upgrading the footpaths in the county. As there are nearly 3000 miles of walking trails then this is a big job. Most are now waymarked. The start – or finish – of the South West Coastal Path is in Poole and proceeds over the border into Devon and onwards round the coast to Minehead in Somerset. The Wessex Ridgeway South 69 miles long passes the Cerne Abbas Giant. Myriads of smaller paths dot the countryside from the quite peaceful rural ones, those through ancient, attractive villages to scenic coastal paths.

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The variety of walks in Hampshire is surprising to those who do not know this lovely county. The Test Valley in particular wanders through water meadows teeming with wildlife, pretty woodland and picturesque old villages with chocolate box cottages. Try the Testway, from the chalk downs of Inkpen, in Berkshire with its Beacon and Gibbet nearby, on the border with the counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire, to Eling near Southampton following the clear, chuckling river. The New Forest, a National Park with its woodland, heath, grass and marshland has many walking trails. Then there is the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in east Hampshire with its superb villages and woodland.

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Isle of Wight

Footpath on the way to Brighstone, Isle of Wight. This bridge was designed, erected and paid for by members of the Isle of Wight Ramblers' Association.

Footpath on the way to Brighstone, Isle of Wight.
This bridge was designed, erected and paid for by members of the Isle of Wight Ramblers' Association.
Photograph © Graham Horn

A microcosm, an island. The Island has the reputation of more footpaths per square mile than any other county. Quite a claim. 500 miles of walking trails. There is the 60 mile coastal path with its stunning scenery much of it Heritage coast. Then there are the shorter trails in towns as well circular ones throughout the Island. The Isle of Wight Walking Festival takes place during May. There are 300 walks in the programme.

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Cider country. Cheddar cheese. Lorna Doone. Somerset with its Mendip Hills and the Quantocks, the Somerset Levels, combes and woods, small villages and towns and Exmoor. Footpaths abound, short and long. The South West Coast Path starts out from Minehead along the coast to Poole in Dorset. The Coleridge Walk in the steps of the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who loved to walk this landscape. See the wonderful countryside that inspired his poetry. Smaller tracks wander through attractive, scenic, interesting places.

Wherever you go in Wessex there are hiking, walking and rambling possibilities. Some for those who enjoy the arduous route, some for those who just want a day out or a short break in the fresh air away from mundane routine. The McMillan Way for those who want to raise money for the cancer support charity. Wessex has it all. There is no doubt about that.

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The Wessex Ridgeway is the longest from Marlborough to the county border 58 miles. The route then crosses the border into Dorset with 69 miles to the sea at Lyme Regis. Thousands of other paths wend their way through Wiltshire - Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, rolling countryside, prehistoric sites and past chalk figures on the hillside. Take the camera. Watch the wildlife – flora and fauna. A secret world of delight. All capabilities are catered for somewhere in the county. Village pubs dot the walks – stop for a pint - and/or lunch.

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Other pages that may be of interest


Walking Trails in Devon

Walking Trails that cross more than one county


Dartmoor Trails

Devon Heartland Way

East Devon Way

Tarka Trail

Templer Way

Two Castles Way






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Shaldon on the Templer Way

Shaldon on the Templer Way
Photograph © Derek Harper

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Useful Information

National Express

If you do decide the leave the car at home and help the environment too, why not go National Express. They run coaches all over the country. Some pretty good fares too.

Just imagine - sit back and relax, no hassling with the traffic!!!

Do you know that you can book on your mobile phone and they will send the ticket as a text!!!!

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National Rail Journey Planner.

For train journeys all over the United Kingdom connecting the places you want to go efficiently and quickly.

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Public Transport

Traveline is a very useful resource for public transport throughout Wessex, even local buses. In fact all over the United Kingdom.

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