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Alternative walking spots in England and Wales

There tend to be good reasons why honeypot walking locations are so popular: they might be the highest, or the easiest to get to, or the most obviously beautiful. But with popularity comes crowds. Every summer, we read stories of queues to get to the top of Snowdon, or of litter on England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. So here we’re highlighting some of our alternative walking spots in England and Wales, the often overlooked peaks and trails that offer experiences every bit as rewarding as their more famous neighbours.

North Wales

View of Cadair in North Wales

Moel Hebog

Alternative to: Snowdon Nearest youth hostels: YHA Snowdon Pen-y-Pass, YHA Snowdon Ranger If the crowds on Snowdon turned their gaze southwest, eyes would rest on a quiet mountain peeking above the treeline. There wouldn’t be many people on it. Very few, in fact. The mountain, still hitting a heady 782 metres, is Moel Hebog. The name also refers to the group of peaks that surround it, including the thrillingly sharp (but achievable) Nantlle Ridge, north to Mynydd Mawr. The range is a complex jumble of mountains that can offer some relatively easy walking, some fun scrambles and the aforementioned ridge walk. It also offers some of the best views over to Snowdon. One exciting route for experienced hillwalkers leaves Beddgelert to summit Moel Hebog, following the ridge over Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn before descending to pick up a path in Beddgelert Forest – but do make sure your map and compass skills are up to scratch. Alternatively, tread a path from Llanfihangel-y-pennant towards Beddgelert Forest. You won’t see many people and the sense of remoteness is real. Again, it’s one for experienced walkers.

Yorkshire Dales

View of Swaledale Yorkshire Dales


Alternative to: Wensleydale, Pennine Way

Nearest youth hostel: YHA Grinton Lodge

Swaledale and the subsidiary dale to Arkengarthdale are all but dead-ends, with only vast moorland, impossibly green pastures and lonely lanes beyond. For walkers, this means a wealth of places to enjoy the best of the Yorkshire Dales. One possible walk (among many) that avoids any busy stretches is to head down into the hamlet of Grinton from YHA Grinton Lodge then rise high above Reeth along the precipitous Fremington Edge. From there, a sharp descent down to Arkle Beck for a return riverside jaunt through woodland and farmland lets you experience a completely different character. It’s a pretty straightforward walk and short-ish, but takes you around what could be the most beautiful dale in Yorkshire, and has a couple of cosy pubs to finish in. Very little wrong with that.

Peak District

View of stream at White Peak Manifold

White Peak

Alternative to: Dark Peak Nearest youth hostels: YHA Hartington Hall, YHA Alstonefield, YHA Ilam HallYHA Sheen Bunkhouse  The loosely-defined White Peak extends over the southern portion of the Peak District. It’s vast, sparsely populated and often quieter than the High Peak to the north. The walkers and climbers that can congregate along Hope Valley, and the admittedly unmissable Kinder Scout, are largely absent in the White Peak. What it lacks in the drama of gritstone escarpment of Stanage Edge or the ‘shivering mountain’ of Mam Tor, it makes up for in expansive rolling dales, quaint little villages – including Flash, the highest village in England – and the spa town of Buxton. The White Peak is home to four hostels: YHA Alstonefield, YHA Ilam Hall, YHA Sheen Bunkhouse and YHA Hartington Hall. From the latter, you can spend a day walking the eight-mile Manifold Way from Hulme End, branching off on the River Hamps to Waterhouses – a far quieter alternative to the tourist magnet of nearby Dovedale.

South Wales

View of Crickhowell in South Wales


Alternative to: Brecon Beacons

Nearest youth hostels: YHA Llangattock Mountain Bunkhouse, YHA Brecon Beacons, YHA Brecon Beacons Danywenallt

It’s not hard to see how the Black Mountains got their name: as the sun hides behind the cloud (as it does a fair bit in these parts), the lumbering hills of the area darken to dramatic effect. Yet when the sun does appear, no matter the season, they make an inviting prospect for a hillwalker – and this is a seriously untouched area for walking. The Black Mountains lie in the eastern area of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and while they don’t hold the magnetic draw of Pen y Fan in the east, they offer the chance of solitude, and probably the most magnificent views across southern Wales, letting you admire its more famous neighbours from afar. Take a walk from the lovely town of Crickhowell up to Pen Cerrig-calch, along the ridge to Pen Allt-mawr and back along Tal Trwynau. It takes in ancient burial sites and remote mountain passes.

Lake District

View of Glaramara in the Lake District

Glaramara (and Great Gable)

Alternative to: Brecon Beacons Nearest youth hostel: YHA Borrowdale No one is pretending that Glaramara is a ‘secret spot’, but it is consistently less busy than Scafell Pike and, in every way, a more interesting mountain to visit. Leaving from YHA Borrowdale and taking in Glaramara first is – admittedly in our opinion – one of the best day walks in the Lakes. The last time we were there (in spring), the only two people we saw were fell runners on Allen Crags, and they thought they were on Great End! Start up the long, sprawling Thornythwaite Fell and along an untidy ridge up to Glaramara, with a steep scrambly pull to the top. Continue to Allen Crags and then down to the highway between Angle Tarn and Styhead Tarn. The choice here is yours… for a shorter walk back to the hostel head down Styhead Gill. For more adventure, and truly one of Lakeland’s best mountains, hoist yourself up Great Gable, wonder why Scafell Pike is so much busier, and then head along the path alongside Sour Milk Gill for a quiet walk back. And then straight through the door of YHA Borrowdale, and a drink in one of the loveliest bars in the Lake District.

Read next: Looking for inspiration? We’ve listed 9 hostels for winter getaways.

Image credits: © adobestock / Helen Hotson, Julie, Steven Bramall

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