1 Thames Path Follow the River Thames from its source in the rural Cotswolds to the heart of London, finishing the expedition at Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory. The walk follows the river for 294km, but like all the national trails it can be tackled leisurely, in sections. Upstream, you can follow towpaths, stay in old coaching inns and visit Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Castle. Downstream, you can see the Cutty Sark, the last great tea clipper, stroll around Canary Wharf, the docklands area transformed into a stockbroker belt, drop in at the Globe Theatre and pass underneath the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (www. nationaltrail.co.uk/thamespath). 2 Pembrokeshire Coast Path In southwest Wales, follow a coastline rich in birdlife, including gannets and peregrine falcons, and offering stunning scenic contrasts with remote sandy beaches and dunes, windswept cliff-tops edged with wildflowers, picturesque harbours and quaint villages. Step into history too, because the path, which meanders for 290km, passes 40 Iron Age forts, medieval castles and rusting relics of the industrial revolution ( www.about britain.com/articles/pembroke shire-coastal-path.asp). 3 Southern Upland Way Scotland's longest trail, just over the border from England and stretching 340km, starts at the pretty harbour of Portpatrick on the west coast, near Stranraer, and leads to the village of Cocksburnpath on the eastern seaboard, not far from Edinburgh. One of the less-travelled long-distance walks, it crosses sparsely populated countryside of forests, gentle hills, lakes surrounded by woodland that shelters deer and wild goats, and rugged, exposed moorland. The trail is well served by guesthouses, and vehicle support is available to carry backpacks from stage to stage ( www.southernuplandway.com ). In the west, the trail enters the Galloway Hills area where Robert the Bruce fought the English, and follows an ancient pilgrimage route scattered with prehistoric cairns. Small villages include Sanquar, whose tiny post office is the oldest in Britain. In the eastern stretches, visit Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House, ruined castles and the ancient Melrose Abbey with its bloody history, cross moors thick with grouse and walk the banks of the River Tweed, known for its salmon. 4 Ridgeway Well within reach of Central London, the Ridgeway is the oldest trail in Britain, crossing a chalk ridge tramped by prehistoric man and later by tradesmen and herders. Although the route stretches nearly 140km, some of the most interesting points can be seen on a day trip from the capital. Avesbury Stone Circle is close to the start of the trail, and walkers can visit the mysterious Wayland's Smithy Neolithic burial site, as well as the Uffington White Horse, the oldest hill figure in Britain, cut out of chalk bedrock about 1,000BC and measuring 120 metres long. The tribe that created it probably lived in the nearby hill fort that towers over the surrounding farmland. The Chiltern Hills, through which Ridgeway passes, have been recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty ( www.nationaltrail . co.uk/ridgeway). 5 Hadrian's Wall Let your imagination run riot as you tramp in the shadow of Emperor Hadrian's Wall, which winds through wild and rugged Northumberland moorland near the city of Newcastle in northeast England. The wall, complete with fortresses and watchtowers, was built nearly 2,000 years ago in an enormous civil-engineering undertaking ( www.nationaltrail . co.uk/hadrianswall). It stretched almost 120km, coast to coast, sealing off Roman England from Scotland and its wild tribes. Parts of the wall still snake across this bleak landscape, and it's possible to walk the whole length, passing through another city to the west, Carlisle. A number of historic buildings close to the wall have been turned into hostels for walkers, and nearby villages offer bed and breakfast. A must-see is Housesteads, a Roman fort along the wall in Northumberland where relics have been unearthed. Temples have also been found and renovated along the wall and there are a number of museums. Even now, archaeological digs are turning up relics that add to the rich history of the Roman conquest of Britain. 6 Coast to Coast Still in the north of England, this 304km trail (also known as Wainwright's Way after the late travel writer and hiker Alfred Wainwright) offers perhaps the most diversified scenery of all the British walks, passing as it does through three national parks in the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. It starts on the west coast at St Bees in Cumbria and finishes at Yorkshire's Robin Hood's Bay, a fishing village that clings to cliffs and dates from the Viking invasion. It's a tradition for serious walkers who do the whole trail to dip their toes into the North Sea here before they celebrate in the village. A few kilometres away is the coastal town of Whitby, once home to Captain James Cook and the setting for Bram Stoker's Dracula ( www.ramblers.org.uk/info/paths/coasttocoast.html ). 7 The Pennine Way The best-known British trail follows the mountain chain that forms the spine of England, stretching 412km through some of the nation's most rugged and challenging areas. The erosion that has led to the introduction of boardwalks is testimony to the trail's popularity. It starts in the Peak District National Park in Derbyshire and wends its way through the Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland before ending at Kirk Yetholm, a remote village nestling under the Cheviot Hills in the Scottish borders, which is home to a youth hostel and historic pub ( www.national trail.co.uk/pennineway). 8 Offa's Dyke Few realise that today's boundary between England and Wales was formed in the 8th century by an earthwork barricade that stretched from the Irish Sea to the Bristol Channel. It was built by King Offa of Mercia to keep out the ancient Britons in the west, and much of the mound and its ditches can still be traced. Hence, the 285km-long Offa's Dyke trail, from Chepstow on the River Severn to Prestatyn on the North Wales coast. The trail edges away from the dyke in places to explore ancient woodlands, river valleys, historic towns and isolated hamlets (www. offasdyke.demon.co.uk). 9 West Highland Way Starting at Milngavie, on the outskirts of Glasgow, the trail winds for 153km to the foot of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis (1,344 metres). It follows the shores of Scotland's largest and best-known freshwater lake, Loch Lomond, and passes through stunning lowland and highland scenery, in places easy and relaxing, in others strenuous ( www.west-highland-way.co.uk ). The walk is split into 14 sections and can be reached by road at each end. It also follows old military routes used by the English to control Jacobite clans. 10 Southwest Coast Path This trail that encircles the peninsula of Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall covers 962km and is by far Britain's longest national trail. But don't be daunted by its length. It's split into four sections and there are shorter walks within these. Minehead to Padstow, for example, follows the North Devon Coast with its dramatic cliffs and rugged scenery. Padstow to Falmouth goes past Land's End. Falmouth to Exmouth is much gentler, passing through Cornish fishing villages and popular tourist spots. Exmouth to Poole follows a rugged coastline and takes the walker to Lyme Regis in west Dorset, which was a favourite destination of Jane Austen and the setting for The French Lieutenant's Woman, both the book and the movie. It's also famous for its fossils, including those of dinosaurs, and sits on the Jurassic Coast ( www.swcp.org.uk ).