On the gentlest of strolls or most breath-stealing of stomps (whatever your preferred pace) we can all appreciate a good walk. Mainland Britain’s green and pleasant land is ribboned with scenic trails – some coastal, some country, even some deceptively leafy ones in the capital – among which our favourites are the ones with upscale lodgings en route.
For what are boot-weary feet without a bath to come home to; where’s the joy in 10,000 steps if you can’t refuel with pints and pudding, and why would you risk a poor night’s sleep after a day replete with fresh air. Here’s our pick of the best trail-toting hotels for walking in the UK, from the Firth of Forth to Cornwall.
THE BONNIE BADGER, EAST LOTHIAN
For coastal jaunts and the John Muir Way
At Gullane, a dune-backed sandy beach edges the town, offering plenty of flattish easy strolls dosed with the Firth of Forth’s blustery beauty. Committed trail-wallahs should take the 28km John Muir Way following the Scottish coast from North Berwick to Dunbar.
Your basecamp is the Bonnie Badger in Gullane, a gourmet phenomenon able to satisfy the hungriest of hikers. Aptly named chef Tom Kitchin elevates pub grub such as ham, egg and chips, and haggis, neeps and tatties into reinvented feats of flavour, accompanied with seasonal cocktails and a globetrotting cellar of wines by the bottle or glass.
Tom’s partner Michaela is the curator of contemporary rooms flaunting custom-wallpapered feature walls, sleek furniture and pillowy beds dressed in local linens. There’s even underfloor heating – which can only be good for the soles.
MIDDLETON LODGE ESTATE, NEAR RICHMOND
Moors and market towns in North Yorkshire
Scenic wanders are the speciality of Richmond in North Yorkshire – so far north in the Yorkshire Dales, you’re only miles from County Durham. Climbing Castle Hill in Richmond, for panoramas over the town and river, was once a typical promenade in Georgian times (buckle heels and bustles optional).
There’s step-count to accrue perusing market stalls here and at Masham, as well as ruins to ramble at mediaeval Easby Abbey. For the intrepid, Richmond is on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route, as well as the riverine 80-mile Swale Way.
Just outside Richmond, the bucolic acres at Middleton Lodge Estate come with pedestrian-pampering frills such as a soon-to-open revamped spa and pool, polished seasonal plates (made with estate produce), and muscle-soothing baths in most rooms – if not a private hot tub. Storied accommodation ranges from top-notch shepherd’s huts to entire cottages in the grounds, with the option to bring Fido, too, in some of the coach house rooms.
ROTHAY MANOR, AMBLESIDE
For loitering in the Lake District
To bypass the Lake District in a walking round-up would ruffle more than a few rucksacks: thankfully Smith has a trio of lacustrine lodgings in the area, including Rothay Manor in ramble-side Ambleside – a fine traditional trove of parquet-floored parlours, roaring fires, tassel-tied drapes and William Morris wallpaper.
We’re struggling to remember why you should leave its winged armchairs, peaceful verandas or enticing benches in the grounds, but – hell – this is the Lake District, and there are several loops you can take from the door.
The fells and tarns of this north-west National Park need little introduction – with millennia of glacial activity to thank for England’s highest peaks and deepest lakes. Scale Scafell Pike or the fells of the Fairfield Horseshoe if you must, but there’s a lot to be said for unhurried lakeside strolls and shuffles around Ambleside’s shops and cafés, teamed with a scone-fuelled foray to see the falls at Stock Ghyll.
THE PEACOCK AT ROWSLEY
Stately piles and valley trails in the Peak District
Derbyshire’s national park is a weatherproof looker – its grazed valleys, dramatic escarpments and wind-sculpted peaks, picturesque any time of year. North of Bakewell, the Monsal Trail puts an old (low-gradient) railway route to good use for cyclists, walkers and horse riders. And a 200-mile boundary walk, split into stages, loops the entire park.
It’s a rugged landscape patched with cultivated country estates, too. In the east of the park, around Bakewell, Haddon Hall and Chatsworth offer steady strolls around their gentrified acres. At Rowsley – a mill town of cafés and craft shops on the river Derwent – an old dower house in the care of the owners of Haddon Hall is now a boutique stay.
The Peacock shares that dangerous quality of so many walker-friendly boltholes: it’s such an enticing place to flop that its draped four-posters, wood fires, upscale restaurant and beam-ceilinged bar threaten to scupper any desire to march into the hills at all.
HARBOURMASTER HOTEL, ABERAERON
For the coastlines of Cardigan Bay
On a scale from sloth to mountaineer, if your walking level is pitched around the ‘weekend-walker-with-hiking-aspirations’ mark, the well-signed Wales Coast Path is your perfect match.
From Aberaeron, simply decide whether to head south to the sands at New Quay or north to the shingled shores of Llanrhystud. In either direction, you’ll find undulating cliff trails, traversing a wild layer cake of striated rock, iced with model-railway-smooth turf – the Irish Sea, your constant companion.
Where to stay is a no-brainer: the cornflower-hued Harbourmaster Hotel, quayside where the river Aeron spills into the bay at Aberaeron, is a seaside sophisticate where Melin Tregwynt textiles, exposed stonework and a surfeit of sofas and armchairs imbue your Georgian surroundings with a warm Welsh welcome. The restaurant and bar are popular with locals, so you’ll need to book for Cardigan Bay crab with linguine, or boiler-stoking burgers made with locally reared beef.
THE LYGON ARMS, BROADWAY
The full English on the Cotswolds Way
Honey-stoned cottages, check; antiques shops, quaint pubs and tea rooms, check check check – the Cotswolds is a rich seam of national nostalgia, luring city-dwellers to its buxom hills for weekend romps. Broadway in the north Cotswolds has the full checklist, and lies along the 102-mile Cotswold Way: with trail shoes and a daypack you can easily yomp the six miles east to Chipping Campden or south towards Wood Stanway.
For a quintessentially English weekend, you need a quintessentially English stay – and the Lygon Arms, housed in a listed 16th-century coaching inn, instantly fits the bill. Look past the Chesterfield furniture and checked rugs, however, and this is so much more than an inn: 86 rooms deftly dressed in trad-modern finery; an accomplished restaurant helmed by James Martin; a tavern, plus a cocktail den, and a superlative spa and pool. The hotel’s evolution makes it the consummate pitstop for walkers.
BINGHAM RIVERHOUSE, RICHMOND UPON THAMES
For metropolitan meanders
If you equate walking in London with traipsing between Tube platforms or shuffling around the shops, we have fresh intel: in leafy Richmond, you’ll find yourself strolling hand in hand by the Thames, swans gliding along side, and path-side cafés offering caffeinated pause.
Richmond itself is a riverside town of shops, eateries and pubs; from here you can strike out on foot to Teddington, where there’s a pretty lock and high street of shops, plus Kingston upon Thames and Hampton Court Palace are only a boat trip away.
Smith-approved boutique bolthole, Bingham Riverhouse, is a finely façaded townhouse with a grand, canopied dining terrace and groomed gardens beside the Thames. Its 15 rooms are cosy and mid-century in style; you can stretch tired legs with a pilates or yoga class in the yurt, and refuel with polished modern-British plates by Steven Edwards. Book a room with a freestanding copper bath tub and your trail-weary limbs will thank you.
THE PIG ON THE BEACH, STUDLAND
For swanning around Swanage peninsula
Accessed by car ferry from Poole, Studland in Dorset has always had an away-from-it-all romantic feel: perhaps it’s the sheltered clear waters of Studland Bay, the timeless dependability of Old Harry Rocks, or the abundance of coastal walks at this easterly end of the Unesco-protected Jurassic Coast that make it so appealing.
Spend days striding along the chalk cliffs, sidling down to shingle coves or inland to history-steeped pubs; make time for a meander around cutely thatched Corfe Castle, and savour windswept wanders across the heathland of Studland’s interior.
Then it’s back to the Pig on the Beach for a smoked martini in the sofa-strewn Snug Bar, followed by hyper-local, seasonal cuisine (house-smoked meats, Dorset-landed fish) in the Conservatory Restaurant. Walker-friendly comforts abound at this country-house-style stay: sift through the room categories to bag a rolltop bath, pillowy four-poster or lavish ensuite bathroom with a sea view.
COOMBESHEAD FARM, NEAR LAUNCESTON
For Cornish wilderness on Bodmin Moor
Meadows and orchards, woodland and oak-lined streams are the backdrop for Coombeshead Farm, an out-in-the-wilds retreat encapsulating rural Cornwall at its rolling-hills loveliest. Offering a clutch of finessed-farmhouse rooms, available for bed-and-breakfast, this boutique stay is equally admired for its farm-to-table fare with an innovative menu that changes all the time to showcase farm-reared meat and whatever’s freshly picked from the kitchen garden and orchards, as well as bread from the on-site bakery.
Build up an appetite with jaunts on Bodmin Moor: its desolate beauty – encompassing heather-swathed expanses, rugged limestone outcrops, peat bogs and mires – is a dramatic foil for Coombeshead’s bucolic setting. This area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) is strewn with neolithic monuments (barrows, stone circles and quoits), as well as the vestiges of Cornwall’s mining past – now commemorated in the 60-mile Copper Trail, which loops the moor. If that all sounds a bit bleak, console yourself with cream teas in Bodmin or a seaside fix at Crackington Haven.
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