With more than 50 touring routes to discover, you’re never far away from a scenic adventure. Ease up on the accelerator and lace up your walking boots, as you savour these fabulous roads, trails and footpaths in your own time.
Touring is not about rushing to a final destination. it’s an opportunity to experience a journey slowly, soaking up immense scenery along the route, taking time to walk, cycle, cruise and enjoy numerous attractions while sampling fantastic local produce along the way.
Here, we bring you a selection of the very best touring routes – some classics, some lesser-known together with a sprinkling of new routes for exploring alternative locales.
Condensed beauty is a way to describe touring through Wales. For such a pocketsized country, the scenery is gigantic. Huge mountain vistas, a long coastline of rocky cliffs and sweeping bays, and vast inland panoramas.
Much of this can be explored along The Wales Way (thewalesway.com), which is a trio of routes that, collectively, allow the traveller to experience classic samples of Welsh scenery, heritage and culture. The North Wales Way travels from Broughton, on the border with England, to Holyhead, on the island of Anglesey.
The self-explanatory Coastal Way covers 180 miles from Aberdaron, on the Llyn Peninsula, to St David’s, the village-sized city in Pembrokeshire.
Completing the trio is The Cambrian Way, the longest of the three routes at 185 miles, which follows the spine of Wales from north to south, beginning and ending in Llandudno and Cardiff, crossing two national parks – Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.
Less well-known is Marine Drive, a miniature touring route on the north coast. The tiny five-mile toll road (free for cyclists) circumnavigates Great Orme Head. Along the way are outstanding coastal views of Anglesey and Snowdonia, and opportunities to take the spur to the summit of Great Orme for cable car rides. Keep a look out for the wild Kashmir goats that roam the headland!
Most recent to join the collection of scenic tours in Wales is the Celtic Route (celticroutes.info). It’s not about following one specific road, rather an opportunity to explore the southwest counties of Wales – Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire – and is linked to the Celtic Route on Ireland’s east coast (see below).
Neither is touring the Celtic Route solely about ancient history. Yes, the idea is to hark back to the region’s Celtic roots, but the scenic tour is more to enjoy immersive experiences, to understand the landscape, authenticity and heritage of the locales.
It’s about leaving the Sat-Nav at home and taking the road less travelled to find distinguishing places and moments to make memories. The boon of Celtic Routes is that there’s no need to set aside weeks to complete any one journey or start and finish in specific places. It could be a day to explore one tiny locale, such as the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, a long weekend to discover a stretch of coastline like the rugged cliffs around New Quay, or pick a theme and spend a week discovering the stories that make this Celtic land.
Looking for somewhere to stay?
Penally Abbey offers cosy, country hotelstyle refinement within five minutes of Tenby. Further east is Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne; the historic boutique residence was a favourite haunt of writer Dylan Thomas. For an inland hideaway, Jabajak offers individually furnished suites in a vineyard setting, with home-produced wines served in the bistro restaurant.
For the sheer number of exceptional touring routes and scenic drives, Scotland is king. Whether exploring the castles of Aberdeen, the malt whisky of the Highlands, the history of the Scottish Borders or the Hebridean Way by bicycle, you’ll find a way. The route that became an overnight classic and put the Highlands literally on the map is the circular North Coast 500 (northcoast500.com).
With 500 miles of mesmerising scenery, there’s the chance for seal-spotting and whale-watching on the east coast. Across the top, the Castle of Mey, the beloved holiday home of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, is a don’t miss attraction.
But it’s the west coast that offers the greatest jewels – including a jewel-like sea when the sun shines. Balnakeil Bay, in the northwest corner, arguably tops all others. A lesser-known tour with remarkable scenery is the Snow Roads Scenic Route (snowroads.com), which crosses the Cairngorms National Park. The linear route explores 90 miles of spellbindingly beautiful countryside between Blairgowrie and Grantown-on-Spey.
To add to the exhilaration, you’ll find various art installations along the way, such as the The Watchers, overlooking the magnificent Corgarff Castle, complete with photo posts to advise the best way to point your camera. To boot, a trip along the Snow Roads allows bragging rights of touring the highest public road in the British Isles.
Many touring routes that have developed in Britain and Ireland over the past few years are big, world-beating drives that require much time and stamina to fully appreciate. Along comes the Kintyre 66, (wildaboutargyll.co.uk).
World-beating, yes, but it’s bite-sized in comparison to others. The 66-mile circular route in Argyll takes in the stunning scenery of the Kintyre peninsula, sandwiched between the Kilbrannan Sound and Sound of Gigha. Skipness Castle, Davaar Island, Campbeltown – the ‘capital’ of the peninsula – and the extraordinary sandy Machrihanish Bay are mere tasters of what to see. For an extension to the tour, a trip to the Mull of Kintyre, the headland in the far southwest of the peninsula, is a highlight. Walking (including the Kintyre Way), cycling plus a round of golf are inevitable.
Looking for somewhere to stay?
If you’re short on time, the loop is ‘doable’ in a day. But that’s an injustice; better to stay a while on the Torrisdale Castle Estate for self-catered luxury, or The Royal Hotel in Campbeltown when you’d prefer someone else to wash up.
There have been few acclaimed longdistance touring routes in England until recent years, despite its comparative size. A classic is the Great West Way (greatwestway.co.uk) that links London and Bristol. Developed as a leisurely 125-mile tour in 2019, the route evolved from the centuries-old Great West Road, which was commissioned by King Charles I to expedite the delivery of post.
Today, the Great West Way covers a 15-mile-wide network of roads, footpaths, cycle trails, rail and canal towpaths, and many notable attractions to suit every interest through multiple counties, including Berkshire, Wiltshire and Somerset.
Less-well known is The Explorer’s Road (explorersroad.com), a 300-mile route between Hertfordshire and Berwick-upon- Tweed. The touring route, which loosely follows the A1, was developed to encourage tourists from the Netherlands and Germany to visit. Regardless, anyone can follow the route to discover historic cities like Cambridge, Lincoln, York and Newcastle, and quaint towns such as Oakham and Uppingham in Rutland, England’s smallest county.
The South West 660 (southwest660.com), the very latest outstanding touring route to enjoy, is one to set time aside for. The route follows the coastline from Poole in Dorset to Watchet in Somerset, taking in iconic sites like Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door in Dorset, the English Riviera and beautiful Dartmouth in South Devon, and the wild beauty of Kynance Cove, St Michael’s Mount and Cape Cornwall as you tour the ‘boot’ of Cornwall.
The route continues along the north coast of Cornwall, taking in St Ives, Tintagel and Boscastle before placing the ruggedness of the North Devon coast centre stage. Here, the gorgeous fishing villages of Hartland Quay, Clovelly, Appledore and Mortehoe, each with tiny terraces of fishermen’s cottages, create the backdrop for your tour before climbing for, arguably, the finest scenery of the route – Exmoor National Park.
Though 660 miles in all, the route has been split into 12 sections of around 50 miles, each offering differing characteristics. It’s possible to drive the route in a week, though you’d barely step out of the car to stretch your legs. Our recommendation would be to take your time over three to four weeks, giving a week to each of the four counties.
Looking for somewhere to stay?
For Dorset, try The Pig on the Beach in Studland or, slightly inland, The Ollerod in Beaminster. For an extraordinary location, the Burgh Island Hotel is your destination in – or, actually, off the coast of – South Devon. In Cornwall, The Idle Rocks in St Mawes is a great choice though if you wish to be king or queen of your own castle, Pentillie Castle in Saltash offers exclusive stays.
For a hotel that shouts ‘look-at-me’, you’ll need the Art Deco Saunton Sands Hotel and its pool with a view, but for something more hideaway and genteel, The Old Rectory Hotel within Exmoor National Park is an option.
If Scotland is king of scenic touring routes, Ireland certainly has some fit for a queen; Queen Victoria visited Kerry, the location of the island’s most famous touring route, in 1861. The 111-mile Ring of Kerry around the Iveragh Peninsula has become so popular that a one-way system has been implemented to avoid congestion. With the scenery of Killarney National Park, including the famous Ladies’ View (from said visit by the Queen), little wonder the route is hugely admired.
Two other modern classics in Ireland include the Wild Atlantic Way (discoverireland.ie) – the giant of world-beating road trips at 1600-miles long – that takes in the entire west coastline from County Donegal to County Cork; and the 131-mile Causeway Coastal Route (discovernorthernireland. com) in Northern Ireland, that takes in the Giant’s Causeway.
Legend has it that the giant Finn McCool created his own ‘touring’ route to Scotland.
Visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site today will get wet feet should they attempt such a trip; better to follow the coastal route on land between Belfast and Derry.
In collaboration with partners in Wales, Ireland has the other pairing of the Celtic Routes (celticroutes. info). Like its counterpart, there’s no one road to follow, but an entire region of distinct Celtic heritage to explore. One could spend a lifetime discovering this diverse region, so rich is it with ancient land and seascapes, from the rugged mountains of County Wicklow, iconic seascapes like the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, or finding ancient standing stones in County Waterford. Set aside at least a fortnight to make in-roads.
OR JOIN AN EVENT…
Walkers will love a Mighty Hike
Mighty Hikes, organised by Macmillan Cancer Support, are a fantastic series of one-day hiking marathons. From the Northern landscapes along the Ullswater Way from Dalemain to Lowther Castle to the magnificent Jurassic Coast from Weymouth to Wareham, past the iconic Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, Mighty Hikes take you to some of the most beautiful and unspoiled parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Motorcyclists should join in the fun of The Highland Scramble
A favourite with adventurer celebrities Charley Boorman and Joe Wicks, this curated all-inclusive adventure ride starts outside Edinburgh on the edge of Gleneagles golf resort in Auchterarder and winds its way across the breadth of Scotland covering nearly 1,000 miles over five days. Events run May–September 2022.
Cyclists should saddle up for a Ride Across Britain
Push yourself to the limit and make memories to last a lifetime on one of the UK’s greatest two-wheeled challenges. Join hundreds of other cyclists from Land’s End to John O’Groats on the ultimate British bike ride – nearly 1,000 miles in nine days through marvellous landscapes. There’s full support en route – food, mechanics and medics – leaving you to focus wholly on making friends – and the road ahead (10–18 September 2022).
Words | Caroline Mills