Such low hills - where's the challenge?
Overseas visitors could be forgiven for thinking the UK's mountains are just low easy hills - at a maximum of 1,344m (4,409ft) and often between 600m and 1,000m, the hills certainly are very low compared to the Alps, Pyrenees, Tatras and of course the Rockies and Himalayas. The highest point in the British Isles would even fit underneath many of the valleys surrounding Mont Blanc! Despite this the wilder mountain ranges in the UK can present a real challenge to the uninitiated, due to three main reasons:
Lack of paths
Climbing a given mountain in the UK, walkers can't expect to follow a footpath all the way. Popular mountains usually have footpaths up and down, but on the rest you should expect to go cross-country at least part of the way. This is a very different situation from the Alps where walkers pick their paths from the network of footpaths available. Mountains in the UK are largely clear of trees on their upper slopes, leaving bare grassy and rocky hillsides that let walkers (with care) find their own way, subject to any restrictions on access.
British weather is less settled than in the Alps. A typical summer week could be full of sunshine but more likely will be a frequently changing mix of sun, rain and wind.
Lack of signs
The outdoor culture in the UK is one of self-reliance in wild areas. Signposts have never become prevalent in the hills and mountains, even on popular peaks such as Snowdon or Helvellyn. There are also no waymarks to be found, which might surprise people used to walking in the Alps where painted lines and dots often mark the way. Instead the way forward is to take a map compass and (crucially) the skills to use them in mist. In the valleys the situation is different. Here, it is usual to find signposts showing the route of paths across fields and down tracks.
Haystacks on the Coast to Coast
The above applies to the high mountains. In the valleys, for example the lower-lying area of the Southern Lake District around Grizedale and Ambleside, footpaths and signposts are common and the weather should not affect your walk too much.
The UK has a good range of long-distance paths, or trails. The best known are possibly the Pennine Way (429km or 268 miles) running the length of the Pennine chain from Derbyshire to the Scottish border, the West Highland Way (152km or 95 miles) running from Glasgow to Fort William through the Southern Highlands, and the Coast to Coast (307km or 192 miles) initiated by the famous fellwalker Wainwright and running from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay across three of England's national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
We also cover the Dales Way, a 129km (80m) trail running gently from Ilkley to Bowness through the Yorkshire Dales, and the Great Glen Way which is a 111km (69.5m) valley trail from Fort William to Inverness, past Loch Lochy and Loch Ness.
For other ideas, try the following:
Pembrokeshire Coast Path: 300km (186m) coastal trail round Wales' beautiful South West tip - beaches galore
Cleveland Way: 177km (110m) North York Moors exploration from Helmsley to Filey via Osmotherley and Whitby
Offa's Dyke: 285km (177m) South to North trail through Wales along the big earthwork of 8th century king Offa
Glyndwr's Way: 213km (132m) trail making a loop with Offa's Dyke into Wales, visiting Machynlleth and Llanidloes
South West Coast Path: 1,014km (630m) epic around the coastline of Cornwall, Devon, Dorest and Somerset
Southern Upland Way: 340km (212m) coast to coast path across the wild and remote hills of Southern Scotland
Wainwright Memorial Walk: 163km (102m) giving views of every lake, valley and mountain in the Lake District
The Southern Upland Way
Trails versus centre-based holidays
Following a trail is one of the most enjoyable ways to walk in Britain. As each day progresses you are ticking off sections of a set route, which can be very satisfying. There is the anticipation of trail highlights yet to come. As you walk along, sections that you have been anticipating become part of your experience instead of just pictures in a book.
It can be tricky to compare a trail to a centre-based holiday. There are benefits and disadvantages to both. Based in one place, practicalities are sometimes easier and you can get to know the area well; on a trail the process of moving on each day can initially be unsettling but should (with any luck) become a large part of the enjoyment in itself. Life becomes simple with just the trail to think about.