Perhaps the best way that we can experience the reality of times gone by is to immerse ourselves in what is left over from those earlier periods. This isn’t always possible – the Great Fire of London devastated much of the city in 1666 and the library of Alexandria was destroyed centuries ago – but there are many significant historical monuments that have been well-preserved the world over. One of the best ways to get up close and personal with the past is to walk through the landscape, learning and imagining how it might have been years ago.
The advancement of modern technology in the 21st century, particularly the internet, has led to many activities, made inaccessible through time or distance, being made available in a virtual space. We can now download library books without having to visit in person, take part in our favourite games without leaving the house, and talk to friends who live abroad, face to face. We can also access reams of information about and detailed reconstructions of what the past may have involved – but nothing beats touching a 500 year old wall for yourself or peering through the glass of a 16th century window.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the best historically-minded walks available in the UK. These walks combine a pleasant and engaging holiday or day trip with learning more about the ancestors of the modern Great Britain.
Perhaps one of the most well-known and well visited historical sites in the UK today, Hadrian’s Wall draws visitors from near and far who wish to learn more about this monumental construction. Commissioned by the Roman emperor Hadrian around 122 AD in order to defend his lands from the Northern Picts, much of the structure still stands today almost 2000 years later. As a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, a lot of effort is put into preserving the Wall and surrounding area. However, there is a National Trail long distance walk that runs from the Wall’s start in the aptly named Wallsend, Newcastle, right through to its finish in Bowness-on-Solway by the Irish Sea. 84 miles of glorious countryside combine with plenty of opportunity to explore Roman settlements, forts, stretches of wall and road, and other remnants of the Roman occupation in ancient Britain. History so close you can walk right on top of it!
The Beara Way
It’s likely that you’ll already have heard of the beauty found in the counties of Kerry and Cork, Ireland. However, you may not have heard of the Beara Way, a 196km hiking trail that takes in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the area as well as hitting several spots of historical interest. The Way encircles the entire Beara Peninsula, where there were Early Bronze Age settlements, Vikings, and Early Medieval communities; this was the stronghold of the Beare (leader) of the O’Sullivan Clan and retains many sites of archaeological significance. Prepare to see impressive standing stones, dolmens, stone circles and other types of tombs during the walk, all with fantastic views of the Atlantic Ocean and two Irish mountain ranges.
Westness Heritage Walk
This incredible mile-long stretch of Scottish coastal path manages to pack in thousands of years of history before its end. From the fascinating Midhowe Cairn c.3500 BC, to the Iron Age Midhowe Broch, to the 18th century Brough Farm, it’s possible to see how people have lived in this part of the world across literal millennia. Located on the island of Rousay, just off the Orkney mainland, those who venture to this remote and out of the way place are witness to a unique preservation of historical buildings and landmarks. Although it’s not an easy place to reach, necessitating two ferry rides in the process, it is a pleasantly gentle walk once you arrive on the island. This means that you can relax and concentrate on further investigation of the rich heritage surrounding you. There’s evidence of many different types of people and ways of life here, including Viking burial grounds, crofts and farm buildings from the clearances of the 19th century, and a burial tomb dating back 4500 years.
The Purbeck Ridgeway
This walk takes in some of the most impressive sights to be seen in Dorset, and it should only take you a day’s walking to complete. From the impressive Corfe Castle, where a stronghold has stood for over 1000 years, the trail continues towards the Jurassic Coast and the iconic Old Harry Rocks, before ending in the historical town of Swanage. Along the way are fantastic views of the classic Dorset scenery and the odd interesting landmark, such as the Victorian obelisk situated several miles from the coastline. Once you reach the sea, you may even find some even more ancient history as the Jurassic Coast is famous for its plentiful fossils.