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 most beautiful 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.

Advertisement

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

England

Smardale Gill, Cumbria

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. Route and map.

Distance: 7 miles

Duration: 4 hours

Difficulty: moderate

Tarr Steps, Exmoor National Park

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. Route and map.

Distance: 7 miles

Duration: 4 hours

Difficulty: moderate

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

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. Route and map.

Distance: 4 miles

Duration: 3 hours

Difficulty: moderate

Cuckmere River, Sussex

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 – the raised riverbed, as a result, has left parts of the waterway just a few centimetres deep ©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. Route and map.

Marshfield, South Gloucestershire

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. Route and map.

Distance: 7 miles

Duration: 4 hours

Difficulty: easy

Upper Wharfedale, North Yorkshire

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. Route and map.

Distance: 7 miles

Duration: 4 hours

Difficulty: moderate

River Stour, Suffolk

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. Route and map.

Distance: 3 miles

Duration: 1.5 hours

Difficulty: easy

East Lyn River, Devon

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. Route and map.

Distance: 6 miles

Duration: 4 hours

Difficulty: moderate

Forge Valley Woods, North Yorkshire

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. Map and route.

Distance: 4.5 miles

Duration: 3 hours

Difficulty: moderate

River Croquet, Northumberland

The cross-shaped keep of medieval Warkworth Castle rises high above the Coquet
The cross-shaped keep of medieval Warkworth Castle rises high above the Coquet ©Alamy

From its boggy source in the high Cheviots, Northumberland’s River Coquet flows for 40 miles through some of the country’s finest scenery and prettiest villages and towns without ever repeating itself. Its final three miles to the North Sea coast are as individual as any previous stretch, packing enough into its short span to occupy any visitor for a good day. More information.

Badgeworthy Water, Exmoor National Park

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. Route and map.

Distance: 7 miles

Duration: 4 hours

Difficulty: moderate

River Wharfe and Bolton Priory, North Yorkshire

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. Route and map.

Distance: 6 miles

Duration: 3 hours

Difficulty: moderate

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. More information.

Northern Ireland

Tollymore Forest Park, County Down

Tollymore Forest Park
Tollymore Forest Park ©Getty

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

Distance: 3 miles

Duration: 1.5 hours

Difficulty: easy

Glenariff Nature Reserve, County Antrim

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. Route and map.

Distance: 1.8 miles

Duration: 1 hours

Difficulty: easy/moderate

Scotland

Nevis Gorge, Highland

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. Route and map.

Distance: 2 miles

Duration: 1.5 hours

Difficulty: easy/moderate

Glen Sligachan, Isle of Skye

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. Route and map.

Distance: 11 miles

Duration: 5 hours

Difficulty: hard

Falls of Bruar, Perth and Kinross

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. Route and map.

River Braan, Perthshire

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. Route and map.

Distance: 6 miles

Duration: 3 hours

Difficulty: moderate

Allan Water, Stirlingshire

Allan Water, Stirlingshire
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. Route and map.

Distance: 3 miles

Duration: 2 hours

Difficulty: easy

Wales

River Wye, Monthmouthshire

Symonds Yat hand ferry
Symonds Yat hand ferry ©Alamy

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. Map and route.

Distance: 7 miles

Duration: 3.5 hours

Difficulty: moderate

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

River crossing
here 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. Route and map.

Distance: 8 miles

Duration: 4 hours

Difficulty: moderate

Waterfall Country, Powys

Sgwd Yr Eira
Sgwd yr Eira is perhaps the best-known of all the cascades in Waterfall Country ©Getty

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

Distance: 3.5 miles

Duration: 2 hours

Difficulty: moderate

River Marteg, Rhayader, Powys

Damselfly
Spot damselflies resting on the banks of the River Marteg ©Getty

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

Distance: 3 miles

Duration: 2 hours

Difficulty: easy/moderate

Advertisement

Main image: River Brathay ©Getty