Britain’s most beautiful river walks

The British countryside is filled with charming rivers, rich in wildlife and history. Discover a river walk near you with our pick of the UK's best riverside trails.

Walking crossing a bridge over river

The British landscape is criss-crossed by a vast network of waterways, ranging from trickling mountain streams to large meandering rivers. A great deal of these are accessible by public footpath, offering walkers the chance to enjoy miles and miles of waterside walking, no matter where you live.

Advertisement

The chances are there will be a river walk near you. To help you find the perfect riverside ramble, we’ve put together a list of our favourite river walks, from the chalk streams of Hampshire and the gentle flow of the Coquet in Northumberland to the turbulent torrents of Perthshire’s River Bran and the Welsh Wye.

Our guide to the best river walks in the UK includes route descriptions and maps, distances and wildlife highlights.

River Teign and Fingle Woods in Dartmoor National Park, Devon
River Teign runs through Fingle Woods in Dartmoor National Park/Credit: Getty

Best river walks in England

Smardale Gill, Cumbria

Distance: 7 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: moderate

In spring and summer, luxuriant grasses flood the verges of Smardale's river
In spring and summer, luxuriant grasses flood the verges of Smardale’s river/Credit: Getty
Getty

This magnificent, relatively unknown limestone landscape became a part of the Dales in the 2016 boundary extension. It oozes the character of a time long-gone. Enjoy a spectacular seven-mile walk through the gorge.

Smardale Gill walking route and map


Tarr Steps, Exmoor National Park

Distance: 7 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Tarr Steps in the Somerset countryside
Tarr Steps in the Somerset countryside/Credit: Getty

Tarr Steps is one of Exmoor’s true hidden treasures and a firm favourite with visitors – once you’ve discovered it you’ll find yourself drawn back time and time.

Tucked away down a narrow lane five miles from Dulverton, the steps are an ancient clapper bridge – large flat slabs of stone placed on stone supports – across the River Barle, which dates back to around 1000 BC. Local legend says the five-tonne slabs were placed here by the Devil to win a bet with a local giant (apparently Old Nick still has sunbathing rights on its stones).

Walk alongside a winding river through deep forests on a seven-mile loop from the magical Tarr Steps to the Somerset village of Withypool.

Tarr Steps walking route and map


Chee Dale, Miller’s Dale and Wye Dale, Derbyshire

Distance: 4 miles | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Cheedale
Tarr Steps in the Somerset countryside/Credit: Getty

Deep in the White Peak east of Buxton is a captivating area of countryside; a union of natural bounty and majestic engineering that together create a truly astounding landscape.

Although it may have its challenges, this four-mile walk is readily accessible to all with a measure of agility and a sense of adventure.

Chee Dale walking route and map


College Valley, Northumberland

Distance: 4.75 miles | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: moderate

river, path, forest and hills
College Valley is an area of tranquillity and natural beauty in north Northumberland/Credit: Getty

Running through the base of this tranquil valley in the northern limits of Northumberland National Park is College burn, a winding river surrounded by moorland hills. Look out Cheviot Goats on the slopes near Hethpool Mill.

College Valley walking route and map


Cuckmere River, Sussex

Distance: 7 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: moderate

The slow-moving nature of the Cuckmere’s lower meanders encourages the deposition of large quantities of fluvial sediment – the raised riverbed, as a result, has left parts of the waterway just a few centimetres deep
The slow-moving nature of the Cuckmere’s lower meanders encourages the deposition of large quantities of fluvial sediment/Credit: Alamy

Smallest and narrowest of the Sussex Wealden rivers flowing into the English Channel, the Cuckmere has never had a port at its outflow and remains the only undeveloped Sussex river mouth.

It retains much of its medieval character as it bends through an ancient land of sheep-grazed chalk downs, Norman churches, and verdant meadows.

Follow this seven-mile walk along the Cuckmere River, from the picturesque village of Alfriston to the monumental Seven Sisters chalk cliffs on the Sussex south coast.

Cuckmere walking route and map


Marshfield, South Gloucestershire

Distance: 7 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: easy

The clear waters of the Broadmead Brook hold a few trout, bullheads and crayfish
The clear waters of the Broadmead Brook hold a few trout, bullheads and crayfish/Credit: Raymond Bird

The southern Cotswolds, just south of the M4, is a hidden marvel on the edge of Bath and Bristol – explore this secret of the British countryside with a seven-mile walk alongside rivers and through fields.

Marshfield walking route and map


Upper Wharfedale, North Yorkshire

Distance: 7 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Upper Wharfedale is a charming little valley off the beaten track
Upper Wharfedale is a charming little valley off the beaten track/Credit: Alamy

Upper Wharfedale is a charming little valley off the beaten track where the roads are too narrow for trucks and busses to navigate. It’s a bit of a bind to get to, but once you’ve found the dale, you’ll never forget it.

The limestone and peat uplands hereabouts are riven with steep-sided valleys and ghylls where water teems off the fells and tumbles over a series of waterfalls through the heart of the picturesque villages of Cray, Yockenthwaite and Hubberholme.

Follow this walking route in Upper Wharfedale in North Yorkshire with a plotted OS map.

Upper Wharfedale walking route and map


River Stour, Suffolk

Distance: 3 miles | Duration: 1.5 hours | Difficulty: easy

Willy Lott’s House – the subject matter for Constable’s The Hay Wain
Willy Lott’s House – the subject matter for Constable’s The Hay Wain/Credit: Alamy

The Stour in Suffolk could be the most celebrated river in the country after the Thames. Why? Because it features in one of Britain’s favourite artworks, The Hay Wain, painted by John Constable in 1821.

Remarkably, the same scene can be viewed today. Preserved (but not fossilised) by the National Trust, this is the apex of a much-loved river walk – a short walk along the marshy banks of the River Stour, running from the Suffolk town of Dedham to Flatford Mill.

River stour walking route and map


West Tanfield, North Yorkshire

5 miles/8km | 3 hours | moderate

Village by a river
West Tanfield may have got its name from the Old English tāna feld, meaning ‘open land where young shoots grow’/Credit: Getty

West Tanfield sits at the eastern end of the dale alongside the River Ure, where a graceful arched stone bridge spans the water. The 15th-century Marmion Tower sits squarely next to the older church of St Nicholas. Now in the care of English Heritage, Marmion Tower is three storeys tall, features a beautiful oriel window and was once the imposing gatehouse to a long-vanished riverside manor house.

Follow the gentle meanders of the River Ure, where woodlands of yellow aconites and swaying hazel catkins lead to tiny Yorkshire hamlets and quiet country lanes.

West Tanfield walking route and map


River Liza, Cumbria

14.2 miles/22.9km | 8 hours | moderate-challenging

River Liza, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria ©Jake Graham
River Liza, Ennerdale Valley, Cumbria/Credit: Jake Graham

Just getting to the remote shores of Ennerdale Lake is something of an adventure. Navigating the winding, narrow roads requires some skill. Then, as you approach the lake, the road gives way to rubble tracks, which lead to rough-surfaced car parks. The lake shore can only be reached on foot. The result is that solitude and tranquility are more readily found in Ennerdale than in any other Cumbrian valley.

Footpaths completely circle the lake, and are accessible from either of the two car parks, Broadmoor Wood to the west and Bowness Knott – this walk starts at the latter.

River Liza walking route and map


East Lyn River, Devon

Distance: 6 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: moderate

The town of Lynmouth surrounds the confluence between the West Lyn and East Lyn rivers
The town of Lynmouth surrounds the confluence between the West Lyn and East Lyn rivers/Credit: Alamy

Rising high above Exmoor, the East Lyn River flows through the East Lyn Valley in Devon to the picturesque village of Lynmouth.

With its splashing brooks, tranquil waterfalls and leafy trails, it is hard to imagine the tragedy that occurred here on 15 August 1952: flash floods swept through the valley towards Lynmouth, washing away more than 100 homes and killing 34 people. The riverbanks were rebuilt after the disaster, and today this waterside walk is quietly poignant in its calm beauty.

This beautiful six-mile walk begins at Lynmouth in the Exmoor National Park and follows the East Lyn River upstream to Rockford before heading back to the coast.

East Lyn River walking route and map


Forge Valley Woods, North Yorkshire

Distance: 4.5 miles | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: moderate

An underwater shot shows a brown trout on Rock Creek, MT.
The river is home to brown trout (pictured) and grayling/Credit: Getty

Formed by meltwater from the retreating Ice Age glaciers, the deep Forge Valley is a woodland haven for plants and wildlife, and is easily explored on a riverside boardwalk that follows the course of the water.

In spring and summer there are many wildflowers to spot; autumn produces spectacular colour and winter highlights the structure of the trees. Take a walk through Forge Valley woods in North Yorkshire using our mapped walking route.

The beautiful nautre reserve on the banks of the River Derwent in the North York Moor National Park was once home to iron smelting. Today it’s a peaceful spot – go quietly and you may see an otter.

Forge Valley walking route and map


Badgworthy Water, Devon/Somerset

Distance: 7 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Malmsmead Bridge crosses near Lorna Doone Farm in Exmoor
Malmsmead Bridge crosses near Lorna Doone Farm in Exmoor/Credit: Getty

Although not West Country born, R.D Blackmore spent much of his childhood in what has now become known as Doone Country, a peaceful corner of Exmoor.

This route takes you along the banks of Badgworthy Water, past Hoccombe and Lank Combe, both possible locations for the fictional home of Blackmore’s band of Scottish outlaws.

Badgworthy Water walking route and map


River Wharfe and Bolton Priory, North Yorkshire

Distance: 6 miles | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Families risk falling in the River Wharfedale while walking over the stepping stones at Augustinian Bolton Priory, North Yorkshire. Carefully stepping stone by stone, a young girl holds the hand of an adult who guides her across to the other side. The monastery was founded in 1154 by the Augustinian order, on the banks of the River Wharfe. The land at Bolton, as well as other resources, were given to the order by Lady Alice de Romille of Skipton Castle in 1154. It is now a popular loaction for families and walkers who can trek the River Wharfe upstream into ancient woodland.
Originally, these precarious stepping stones were the only means by which lay workers could cross to the priory/Credit: Getty

The River Wharfe is a waterway of great contrasts and beauty, rising high up in the hills that separate Dentdale from Wharfedale as a busy little steam, burbling over a series of flat limestone ledges. It’s an area of peace and quiet and a good spot to sit and watch dippers diving for insect larvae.

Stroll along the sylvan banks of a Yorkshire river on this moderate six-mile walk. Enjoy sights ranging from the dramatic ruins of a 12th-century priory to the grandiose arch of an old stone bridge.

River Wharfe walking route and map


Marshcourt River, Hampshire

Marshcourt River – a tributary of the Test – meanders between the cattle-grazed water meadows of Stockbridge Common Marsh and a band of deciduous woodland.
Marshcourt River – a tributary of the Test – meanders between the cattle-grazed water meadows of Stockbridge Common Marsh and a band of deciduous woodland/Credit: Alamy

England is home to more than 85% of the world’s chalk streams, with Hampshire offering some of the finest examples. Follow creeping water rails, singing warblers and shimmering brown trout along this stretch of the Marshcourt River.

Marshcourt River day out


Best river walks in Northern Ireland

Tollymore Forest Park, County Down

Distance: 3 miles | Duration: 1.5 hours | Difficulty: easy

Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore Forest Park/Credit: Getty

The River Shimna rises on the rutted slopes of the Mourne Mountains, gurgling over granite and heather before dropping into the shadowy depths of Tollymore Forest.

There are four waymarked trails in the forest, including the 750-metre Arboretum Path, which wends through one of Northern Ireland’s oldest arboreta, and the Mountain Trail, an 8.8km ramble along the Shimna, rising through conifer plantations with views across the tor-topped Mourne Mountains.

Tollymore Forest


Glenariff Nature Reserve, County Antrim

Distance: 1.8 miles | Duration: 1 hours | Difficulty: easy/moderate

Small river in the autumn forest. Location: Glenariff forest park (Glenriff river), County Antrim, Northern Ireland, UK
In autumn and winter the rivers swell, accentuating their beauty/Credit: Getty

The Rivers Glenariff and Inver have cut right through this spectacular steep-sided gorge – the Queen of the Glens.

These rivers can be lively and dramatic as they tumble over boulders and a series of three impressive waterfalls. But then they become suddenly calm and tranquil, flowing lazily through oak and beech woodland, sunlight streaming through the fresh new leaves.

This humid and moist microclimate is home to rare ferns, mosses and liverworts, as well as spruce, fir, pine and larch.

This short circular gorge walk, abound with tumbling rivers and waterfalls, navigates through a lush reserve in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim.

Glenariff walking route and map


Bet river walks in Scotland

Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire

2.7 miles/4.3km | 1.5 hours | moderate

Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland
Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire/Credit: Getty

When Robert Burns came to visit Aberfeldy in 1787, he was so impressed by the spectacular waterfalls and birch woods outside that he wrote a poem celebrating the area’s natural beauty.

Today, a 4½ mile circular path allows you to follow in his footsteps and be equally inspired by this amazing place.

Birks of Aberfeldy walking route and map


Nevis Gorge, Highland

Distance: 2 miles | Duration: 1.5 hours | Difficulty: easy/moderate

Hikers walking through Glen Nevis
Hikers walking through Glen Nevis/Credit: Jake Graham

Tapering south from the Highland town of Fort William, gorgeous Glen Nevis is bounded by several high, rugged mountains, including the huge bulk of Ben Nevis, which, at 1,344m (4,409ft) above sea level, is the highest point in the British Isles.

Other iconic peaks include Sgurr a’ Mhaim and Stob Ban and the glen is a playground for mountaineers, mountain bikers and white-water rafters.

However, it is a low-level, two-mile walk through the dramatic Nevis Gorge that really packs a punch and provides an unforgettable aural and visual experience. Sections of the path can be rocky and slippery but with a little care this is a superb walk, suitable for almost everyone.

Glen Gorge walking route and map


Glen Sligachan, Isle of Skye

Distance: 11 miles | Duration: 5 hours | Difficulty: hard

Ragging river beneath the Cuillin Range
Ragging river beneath the Cuillin Range/Credit: Getty

Menacing yet darkly beautiful, the jagged Cuillin Mountains are your steady companion on this remote island walk through Glen Sligachan.

Winding through true wilderness country, you’ll feel a real sense of progression as you ford several rivers, moving from one loch to the next, past herds of red deer and the dramatically located Camasunary Bay, before arriving at the houses of Kirkibost. Save it for a fine September day after a spell of dry weather – the midges will be fewer, the burns lower – and you will have a memory to last a lifetime.

Glen Sligachan walking route and map


Falls of Bruar, Perth and Kinross

Distance: 1.5 miles | Duration: 1 hour | Difficulty: easy–moderate

Falls of Bruar at Lower Bridge, Cairngorms
Falls of Bruar at Lower Bridge, Cairngorms/Credit: Getty

The Bruar Water, just north of Blair Atholl, oozes from the soggy plateaux and moors of the great Atholl Deer Forest and flows gently down the empty miles of Glen Bruar before changing character completely.

As the ground falls away, the waters become increasingly agitated and turbulent, before crashing and thundering down a deep gorge. At the foot of the gorge the water roars over a series of falls and cascades, before surging through a natural arch in the rock and into the pools below.

Pull on your boots and step into the reclaimed forest, climbing through trees of golden larch, towering Scots pine and magnificent mountain ash in search of a roaring Cairngorms cascade.

Bruar Falls walking route and map


River Braan, Perthshire

Distance: 6 miles | Duration: 3 hours | Difficulty: moderate

The river Braan, with its dark foaming pool and the spectacular Black Linn waterfall
The rushing water of Black Linn Fall’s crashes deep into the foaming pools below/Credit: Getty

Despite appearing natural, the woods surrounding the Perthshire town of Birnam were planned by the Dukes of Atholl in the 1700s. Cutting the forest in two are the gorgeously clear waters of the River Braan, where a series of cascades descend to Black Linn waterfall before flowing into the River Tay near Dunkeld.

Follow the white water of Scotland’s River Braan through a fabled woodland of giant Douglas firs, fairy-tale bridges and an ancient oak immortalised by Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

River Braun walking route and map


Allan Water, Stirlingshire

Distance: 3 miles | Duration: 2 hours | Difficulty: easy

Allan Water
Born from the Devonian rock of the Ochil Hills, the Allan Water spills for 22 miles through Stirlingshire and Perthshire, eventually joining the River Forth/Credit: Alamy

Home to salmon and trout and edged with lush ancient woodland, the gentle Allan Water is loved by Generations of walkers and fishermen. On a warm summer’s day, there are few rivers quite as idyllic as this.

The earthy scent of mosses, ferns and wild garlic are heavenly on this exquisite riverside 3-mile ramble, where fish leap, herons stalk and weirs rumble.

Allan Water walking route and map


Best river walks in Wales

River Wye, Monthmouthshire

Distance: 7 miles | Duration: 3.5 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Symonds Yat and ferry, River Wye
Symonds Yat and ferry, River Wye/Credit: Getty

South of its renowned horseshoe loop and Yat Rock, the Wye surges between looming shoulders of limestone into a magnificent wooded chasm.

The cottage-dotted slopes of Symonds Yat give way to yew, ash, beech and lime woods, cascading from fractured cliffs soaring more than 80m above the river, which is over 10m deep in places. Vast towers of dolomite glisten in the sunshine, contrasting with the verdant broadleaf forest. While above the gorge, reached by steep paths, are fabulous viewpoints and tantalising evidence of our distant forefathers.

Hike along a wooded bank past radiant wildflowers, foraging deer and a king’s cave on a seven-mile track beside the River Wye. The route passes from England into Wales and includes a crossing of the deluge on the Symonds Yat hand ferry.

River Wye walking route and map


Afon Ystwyth, Ceredigion

Distance: 8 miles | Duration: 4 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Afon Ystwyth
There are lots of quiet places to dip into the cold water when the river’s low/Credit: Giles W Bennett

Appropriately, Ystwyth means ‘supple’ in English. The river’s shifting currents braid the silvery sands and its course changes often, never quite the same as when last seen. In spate, its levels fluctuate dramatically, and plants such as alpine pennycress take root and then vanish.

From its boggy source in the Cambrian Mountains to Aberystwyth, where it slips quietly into the Rheidol river, Afon Ystwyth is a secretive stream. It moves west from molinia-choked uplands through gorges, forests, mining villages and the Hafod Estate, following the rocky escarpment of the Ystwyth fault line.

Step off the beaten track on to the mossy banks of a hidden river in west Wales – overhanging trees, towering cliffs and a wealth of wildlife make this long, waterside walk well worth the effort.

Avon Ystwyth walking route and map


Waterfall Country, Powys

Distance: 3.5 miles | Duration: 2 hours | Difficulty: moderate

Rocks in front of the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall, Brecon Beacons, Wales
Rocks in front of the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall, Brecon Beacons, Wales/Credit: Getty

“I cannot call to mind a single valley that… comprises so much beautiful and picturesque scenery and so many interesting and special features.” With these words, Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was describing neither the Amazon nor the Far East that he explored on his intrepid travels, but somewhere much closer to home: the Vale of Neath on the southern slopes of the Brecon Beacons.

Spilling water, mossy riverbeds and tree-shrouded caverns – Waterfall Country is a ramblers dream.

Waterfall Country walking route and map


River Marteg, Rhayader, Powys

Distance: 3 miles | Duration: 2 hours | Difficulty: easy/moderate

River Marteg
River Marteg, Powys/Credit: Geograph

The River Marteg meets the River Wye at Pont Marteg, three miles north of Rhayader.

From the car park, a winding path traces this rocky river through Gilfach Farm Nature Reserve. For years, the farm has been worked traditionally and organically, creating a landscape rich in wildlife.

Advertisement

River Marteg walking route and map