Britain’s most beautiful river walks

The British countryside is filled with charming rivers, rich in wildlife and history. Discover a waterway walk near you with our round-up of the UK's best riverside rambles

The River Brathay at Elterwater on a sunny day in Cumbia.

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, Britain’s countryside is a mosaic of beautiful waterways.

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Here are some of the best, perfect for spring and summer strolls.

Walking crossing a bridge over river
Walkers crossing a bridge over a river ©Getty

Guide to the best river walks in the UK, including route descriptions, distances and wildlife highlights.

Yr Eifl Mountains from Tan Y Graig beach

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 ©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 7-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 ©Getty

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 ©Getty

This four-mile loop walk along the River Wye in the Peak District takes you through deep gorges and lush forests. Chee Dale 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 ©Alamy

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 ©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 ©Alamy

Head to the Yorkshire Dales in search of three of the national park’s finest attributes: limestone uplands, enchanting valleys and picturesque waterfalls. 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 ©Alamy

A short walk along the marshy banks of the River Stour, running from the Suffolk town of Dedham to Flatford Mill – once home to painter John Constable – and back again. River stour 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 ©Alamy

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 ©Getty

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.


Badgeworthy Water, Exmoor National Park

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 ©Getty

Explore Doone Country, one of Exmoor’s most beautiful river valleys and the backdrop to the R.D Blackmore’s tale of romance and murder, Lorna Doone. Badgeworthy 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 ©Getty

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. ©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.


Northern Ireland

Tollymore Forest Park, County Down

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

Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore Forest Park ©Getty

Climb through lush woodland along the Shimna River, past the Hermitage and on to Parnell’s Bridge. Tollymore Forest walking route and map.


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 ©Getty

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.


Scotland

Nevis Gorge, Highland

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

Hikers walking through Glen Nevis
Hikers walking through Glen Nevis ©Jake Graham

A spectacular two-mile walk up Glen Nevis through gorges and meadows to the epic Steall Falls. 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 ©Getty

This rugged wilderness trail in Scotland guides intrepid walkers into the nucleus of the Cuillin Mountains, past gushing burns and striding ridges to a dramatic, sea-kissed bay. 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 ©Getty

Pull on your boots and step into a 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 ©Getty

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 ©Alamy

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.


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 ©Getty

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 Cynfal, Gwynedd

Afon Cynfal
Afon Cynfal ©Alamy

Enjoy the hypnotising white noise, skipping wagtails and glittering ferns of the Cynfal river basin in Snowdonia National Park. More information.

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 ©Giles W Bennett

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 ©Getty

Discover a world away from the crowds with a spectacular walk through Waterfall Country in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Waterfall Country walking route and map.


River Marteg, Rhayader, Powys

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

River Marteg
River Marteg, Powys ©Geograph
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A circular walk along the banks of the River Marteg through the Gilfach Farm Nature Reserve in Powys, Wales. River Marteg walking route and map.