Walking, hiking, or rambling has been a popular past-time in the United Kingdom since the 19th century. In 1935, the Ramblers' Association was formed to promote hiking amongst Britons. There are now 550 Ramblers groups in about 50 areas, and around 350 other affiliated bodies, such as societies especially interested in walking and pedestrianism, including the Footpath Society.
There are many well-trod routes to explore, and even more less-known ones. Here are a few:
- Coast To Coast Walk
- East Sussex Footpaths
- Great Glen Way
- Offa's Dyke Path
- Oxfordshire Way
- Pennine Way
- Speyside Way
- Southern Upland Way
- South Downs Way
- Wales Coast Path
- West Highland Way
- and the numerous official walking trails in London
- See also: National Grid (Britain)
Most mapping is undertaken by the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain (OSGB) and the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland, and most maps use this data. There is a widespread use of Ordnance Survey grid references in guide books and other information sources. These are usually presented in the format of two capital letters followed by a 6-digit number (e.g. SU921206) and form a quick way of finding any location on a map. If using a GPS be sure to set it to the British National Grid (BNG) and the OSGB datum.
The Ordnance Survey's 1:50,000 scale maps (Landranger series) or 1:25,000 scale maps (Explorer series) are astonishingly detailed and show contour lines and public rights of way. The 1:25,000 maps also show access land; see Countryside access below. For pursuits such as walking, they are practically indispensable, and in rural areas show individual farm buildings and (on the larger scale) field boundaries. OS maps can be viewed online on Bing maps (select "Ordnance Survey" top right; OS maps appear once zoomed in sufficiently), and also on Streetmap.
Another company, Harvey Maps, produces specialist maps for outdoor activities including walking, climbing and mountain biking. These are surveyed independently of OSGB although they use the same grid reference system. They cover only a selection of popular locations. They have some advantages over the OSGB maps: they are printed on waterproof material, they are scaled according to the requirements of the activity and location (up to 1:12,500 for complex mountain areas), and they contain less distracting detail not relevant to the specific activities for which they are designed.
The UK is also covered by OpenStreetMap with variable coverage.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, there is an extensive network of public rights of way crossing what is mostly otherwise private land. You are recommended to use them in conjunction with an OS Landranger or Explorer map (see above). Here is what you may encounter:
|Designation||OS map symbol||Waymarking||Walking||Cycling||Horse riding||Motor vehicles||Notes|
|Footpath||Short dashes||Yellow arrows||yes||no||no||no||Shown in purple on Landranger maps and green on Explorer maps.|
|Bridleway||Long dashes||Blue arrows||yes||yes||yes||no|
|Restricted Byway||Long dashes with ticks on one-side (Explorer).
Alternating long and short dashes (Landranger).
|Byway||Long dashes with ticks both sides ("+" signs)||Red arrows||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Access Land||Orange shaded area on Explorer maps. Not marked on Landranger maps.||Usually unmarked. May occasionally be a brown symbol at entry point.||yes||no||no||no||Typically in upland areas. Gives a "right to roam", but occasional restrictions may apply. Check Natural England and Natural Resources Wales for details.|
|Permissive path||Usually unmarked. Occasionally orange dashes on Explorer maps.||Varies, but often white arrow.||Varies. Check signage.||Permission given by landowner and may be withdrawn.|
|National Cycle Network||Green dots on Landranger maps. Not usually shown on Explorer maps.||White cycle on blue background (with white route number on red background)||yes||yes||Varies. Sections may be on road.||See Sustrans for more info|
|Long-distance walking route||Series of diamond symbols, used in combination with the symbol for the type of right of way.||Route may be named on signage. Acorn symbol if it has National Trail status.||Check underlying type of right of way. Sections may be on road.||See National Trails guide|
In Scotland, there is a general public right of access to land on foot or bicycle (with some common sense exceptions - see Scottish Outdoor Access Code), so maps do not show specific rights of way or access land as such. Access rights generally include the right to camp. Rights are subject to responsible use.
The Ramblers Association has a series of detailed guides
If walking in mountainous or upland terrain (such as parts of the Pennine ridge, Lake District, North Wales and Scottish Highlands), do not underestimate the terrain, or over-estimate your ability. Whilst some paths are well-marked, some are not as highly visible, and reasonable navigation skills will be needed
Check the weather before setting out. The Met Office alongside more general forecasts provides specific mountain forecasts for some regions.
Some areas of the UK countryside are used as military ranges, these ranges are marked on some OS maps . NEVER enter ranges showing red flags or red lights (you may see these at access points such as gates and stiles), as these indicate the use of 'live' explosives or ammunition.