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The Perfect Circle: Hiking the Annapurna Circuit | Chile’s Torres del Paine Circuit | Corsica’s GR 20 | Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Picchu | Italy’s Alta Via 1 | New Zealand’s Milford Track | England’s Pennine Way | Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro | Everest Base Camp, Tibet | Tour du Mont Blanc
Classic cred Fifteen long-distance National Trails cross Great Britain, where “hillwalking” (aka backpacking) ranks as the top outdoor pursuit. The granddaddy of them all is the Pennine Way; inspired by our AT, Britain’s first national footpath was finished in 1965. The 268-mile track begins in Edale, 17 miles from Manchester, and courses through three national parks (Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, and Northumberland) to the Scottish border. It follows a mountainous spine of limestone with views into pastoral valleys where sheep have grazed for eons. It also crosses Hadrian’s Wall, a stone-and-turf fortification the Romans built in AD 122 to keep Scottish tribes from raiding Britain. The fells, or treeless grassy hills, are wind-worn proof of the gusts strong enough to rip hikers off their feet. One such hump, 2,782-foot Great Dun Fell, sees gale-force winds 100 days a year. And the bald highlands offer precious few landmarks, making solid map-and-compass skills a requirement. But it’s not all trekker vs. the elements. A warm bed and cold pint await nightly at B&Bs and pubs along the way.
Beta Hike south to north to keep prevailing winds at your back. From Manchester, take the Transpeak bus (transpeak.co.uk) to the Derbyshire stop in Peak District National Park, the trek’s southern terminus. There’s no tent camping option, but four “bothies” (mountain huts) and a string of inns and B&Bs are accessible from the path. Budget an average of 30 British pounds per day (about $45) for room and board and pack a sleeping bag. New paving stones and wooden planks make for easier hiking over the sloppiest sections, but pack gaiters for the not-uncommon knee-deep peat bogs.
Local’s tip Pubs along the Pennine Way keep hiker journals behind the bar, and signing them is a trekkers’ tradition–as is enjoying cask-conditioned local ales. At the northern terminus, the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm rewards hikers with a complimentary half-pint for their journey (try Black Sheep, the locals’ pick for best bitter). You won’t have to show proof you qualify–after 268 miles, they’ll know you’re a trekker.
Plan It Pack Keith Carter’s Pennine Way (Traiblazer Guides, $20) for its 135 maps (yep, 135), which include walking times, historical tidbits, and reviews of places to stay and eat (organized by budget). Go to thepennineway.co.uk to access message boards where local hikers share advice. And if you want to travel really light, hire the Sherpa Van Project (sherpavan.com) to schlep your pack from inn to inn.
Cost DIY: $$ // Guided: $$$