Iron Age hillforts, ancient stone circles, and monumental Roman ruins provide for some of the best walking experiences in England. From the magnificent Hadrian’s Wall Path to the ancient trackway of the Oxfordshire Ridgeway, these historical hikes will help inspire your next adventure.
These spectacular routes, which include both short circuits and multi-day treks, can be walked throughout the year. Packed with historical and ancient sites, they prompt imaginative journeys as well as geographical ones. Here are the best historical hikes in England.
1. Castlerigg Stone Circle
Sitting atop a stunning natural plateau just outside Keswick in Cumbria, Castlerigg Stone Circle is a late Neolithic Stone Age or early Bronze Age monument ranking among the earliest stone circles in Britain and possibly Europe.
Castlerigg Stone Circle can be reached from the Market Square in Keswick by a short walk along a disused railway line to Threlkeld, and then uphill along a minor road. The 38 mysterious stone blocks aside, there are stunning views over the surrounding fells which can be accessed by public footpaths.
2. Hadrian’s Wall
The Hadrian’s Wall Path is a magnificent trek beside one of England’s most remarkable Roman monuments. The 84 mile (135 km) National Trail follows the ancient fortifications of the Hadrian’s Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site, connecting the east and west coasts of Northern England.
The best walking on the trail is between May and October, and is often undertaken west-to-east with the prevailing winds at hikers’ backs. Usually taking seven days in total, the trail provides an opportunity to stop in at Roman Forts such as Houseteads and Birdoswald.
3. The South Downs Way
The South Downs Way is a 100 mile (160 km) trail which embraces the undulating chalk hills of the South Downs of southern England. The nine day walk joins Winchester in Hampshire with Eastbourne in East Sussex. Its gentle droveways permit wide views over the ancient Weald to the north and the English Channel.
The route takes in stunning ancient earthworks such as Chanctonbury Ring, with its iconic beech tree crown, and nearby Cissbury Ring, one of the largest hillforts in Europe and one of the earliest flint mines in England. The South Downs Way also passes near the Roman remains at Bignor Roman Villa and the Saxon church of St Botolph’s.
4. The Ridgeway
The Ridgeway is an ancient trackway in Oxfordshire, England, known as Britain’s oldest road. The historic route connects Wiltshire to the River Thames along a chalk ridge of the Berkshire Downs. It then continues along the Icknield Way, from Salisbury Plain to East Anglia on the east coast.
The Ridgeway has been an 87 mile long National Trail since 1972, although it has been walked for much longer than that. The ancient trail is believed to have been travelled for at least 5,000 years. The route takes in Barbury Castle Iron Age fort, Grim’s Ditch, and Invinghoe Beacon.
5. The Saxon Shore Way
The Saxon Shore Way is a long-distance footpath in England that traces the historically fortified coasts of Kent and Sussex between Gravesend and Hastings. The 163 mile (262 km) hike takes its name from the series of Roman fortifications purportedly built to defend against Saxon raiders.
The path was opened in 1980 and connects historic sites ranging from Martello towers and Iron Age hillforts to churches and ports. Historic highlights of the footpath include the medieval town of Rye, the Roman forts at Richborough and Reculver, and Dover’s castle, Roman Lighthouse and the White Cliffs.
6. The Purbeck Ridgeway Walk
The romantic ruins of Corfe Castle sit high in a gap between chalk hills on the Isle of Purbeck, and is a great place to start or end a passage along the Purbeck Ridgeway Walk. Starting from the impressive medieval stone keep, walkers can join a footpath near Corfe Castle village before passing over fields with great views over Poole Harbour and the Isle of Wight
The Purbeck Ridgeway Walk is under 10 miles and gets hikers close to Old Harry Rocks, chalk formations which are part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The castle is one of the most memorable sites in Dorset. Buses and the heritage train line can be used to return to Corfe Castle.
Drizzlecombe is a collection of Bronze Age artefacts, including a stone row, large megalithic menhirs (standing stones) and tumuli (burial mounds) located in the south side of Dartmoor, Devon near to the village of Sheepstor.
The easiest way to reach Drizzlecombe is by the lane leading east from Sheepstor village. A footpath leads from a parking area at the end of the lane. Drizzlecombe can also be incorporated into longer hikes in Dartmoor, such as a 8 mile (13 km) hike south over open moorland from Princetown.
8. Offa’s Dyke
Offa’s Dyke is a large earthwork named after Offa, king of Mercia between 757 and 796 AD, traditionally regarded to have ordered its construction.
The Offa’s Dyke Path is a long-distance footpath that follows the remnants of Offa’s Dyke along the Wales-England border. The path was opened in 1971 and stretches for 176 miles (283 km) from Sedbury on the Severn estuary to Prestatyn on the north coast of Wales.
9. High Street
High Street is a fell in the Lake District with a summit 828 metres high, named after the Roman road which snaked its broad ridge. The road connected the fort at Brougham near Penrith with the fort at Ambleside. The gentle slopes and flat summit plateau appealed to Roman surveyors more than the forested and marshy valleys below.
For a moderate to challenging hike, experienced walkers can embark on an 18 mile (29 km) march over High Street from Troutbeck in the central lakes to Pooley Bridge on the eastern side of Ulswater. This route provides for fantastic views along the Roman road which snakes the fell tops. A map and compass are recommended.
10. St Oswald’s Way
St Oswald’s Way is a long-distance walking route in northern England which connects Lindisfarne in the north to Hadrian’s Wall in the south. The 97 mile (156 km) hiking trail links the places associated with St Oswald, King of Northumbria in the early 7th century, while incorporating scenic landscapes and other monuments.
The route of St Oswald’s Way begins at Holy Island on the Northumberland Coast, though the route of St Oswald’s Way can be completed in different sections and from south to north. The sites can all be accessed independently of the trail.