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The Best Mountain Walks in the UK – a Mountain Wishlist for 2020

By Dave Roberts   

on December 15, 2019    5/5 (4)

Posted as a walk in – England, Europe, Scotland, Wales

The Best Mountain Walks in the UK – a Mountain Wishlist for 2020

We’re spoilt for choice in the UK for mountain walks and scrambles, with excellent and rugged mountain walks to be found across Scotland, the Lakes and Snowdonia, but as always a number of days out will stand out as absolute classic and iconic mountain days. These are some of the best routes, and we make no apologies about this, are also pretty tough and you’ll need a good background in hill walking and scrambling in order to attempt these. This is a list of what we think are the most iconic routes. The top 10. But popular does not always mean best, and we know there are plenty of walks out there that are to this list what the music charts are to Radio 6. That’s a whole new article!

The list of the best mountain walks in the UK is very strongly biased towards Scotland, as there are simply more rugged, spectacular mountains there than the rest of the UK combined.

1 – Ben Nevis via the CMD Arete

Any hill walker worth their salt should climb Ben Nevis via this route and not the rather uninspiring Mountain Track from Fort William. The scrambling isn’t particularly tough for a grade 1 scramble, but the route is committing. You’ll also need a good level of fitness, as you’ll need to climb around 1200 relentless metres before reaching the ridge, and you don’t want Elvis legs to strike you there. The arete itself is on a grand scale and nowhere near as sharp as it appears, with the crest being much wider than the knife edge of Crib Goch for instance. There’s an unrivalled view of the North Face, with the towering Ben Nevis emphasising the height difference between the two mountains. A discrepancy which your tired legs will soon need to make up.

2 – Aonach Eagach

The Aonach Eagach above Glencoe is a very popular grade 2 scramble. So popular that you may well find yourself queuing on certain sections, especially if the conditions are good. Sections of the route are technical, and both a rope and climbing experience are recommended. Pure hill walkers will need to consider hiring a guide. The two Munros of Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and Meall Dearg  are almost an afterthought to the ridge, but those interested in bagging will also find a number of fine Munro Tops along the ridge, including Am Bodach and Stob Coire Leith.

For more details we suggest reading Cicerone’s Walking Ben Nevis and Glencoe.

Aonach Eagach
“Aonach Eagach” by chinoxa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

3 – Ring of Steall – Mamores

The Ring of Steall is a spectacular walk to the south of Glen Nevis that involves sweeping aretes, and shapely summits. Even the unavoidable crossing of the Water of Nevis involves a rope bridge and a test of balance. The Ring of Steall includes some exposed sections and grade 1 scrambles, but nothing overly technical unless you seek it out!

One of the most famous part of the route is the narrow arete of the Devil’s Ridge between the high point of the walk, Sgurr a’Mhaim and Stob Choire a’Mhail. The route continues, a roller coaster across the further Munros of Am Bodach and Stob Coire a’Chairn before finally scrambling and descending over An Garbhanach and An Gearanach. Of course, that’s the anti-clockwise option, with the direction in which to tackle this route being very much a point of debate.

For more details we suggest reading Cicerone’s Walking Ben Nevis and Glencoe.

4 – Grey Corries

Another epic walk to the north of Glen Nevis along a strikingly beautiful and unique white quartzite ridge. This doesn’t involve any formal scrambling, but you may well encounter the odd bad step that requires the use of both hands. The full traverse will include the 4 Munros of Stob Choire ClaurighStob Coire an LaoighSgurr Choinnich Mor and Stob Ban.

5 – The Black Cuillin of Skye

The Black Cuillin of Skye are the absolute pinnacle (bad pun) of Scottish mountaineering and are unlike anything else in the country. These are the toughest on this list – to bag the lot you’ll need to climb Sgurr Dearg’s Inaccessible Pinnacle – and we mean literally climb. It’s classed as a moderate rock climb, which barely registers for rock climbers but poses a significant challenge for pure hill walkers who have never used a rope. Pure hill walkers will definitely need to consider hiring a guide.

It’s the dark gabbro and basaltic rocks that give the The Black Cuillin their name. These rocks are known to be magnertic in places, making the use of a compass problematic, but the nature of crossing an arete of this nature makes compass work less essential than it would on the Cairngoms in February!

Along with the highest summit of Sgurr Alasdair there are a total of 11 Munros on the Black Cuillin with only Bruach na Frithe and Sgurr na Banachdich being accessible to walkers. The remainder are all graded scrambles and climbs. Considering that a sgurr is defined as a jagged peak, it’s no surprise that 9 of the 11 have Sgurr in their name. Am Basteir is even more descriptive, translating as the Excecutioner!

The full traverse of the Black Cuillin from Glenbrittle to the Sligachan Hotel, despite only being 23km in length, is one of the toughest mountaineeting challenges and is usually completed over two days. It is possible to complete the route in under 24 hours, with the record for crossing the actual ridge standing at a staggering 2 hours 59 minutes and 22 seconds! Even more challenging is the completion of the ridge in winter conditions, with the raritiy of pure winter conditions on the Cuillin making this a rare accomplishment.

For more details we suggest reading Cicerone’s Walking The Isle of Skye.

Cuillin Ridge on Skye, Scotland
“The Ridge” by J McSporran is licensed under CC BY 2.0

6 – Torridon – Liathach

Liathach (The Grey One) rises vertically over Torridon with it’s seemingly impenetrable wall of Torridonian sandstone. That’s not far from the truth, as any route up and down this mountain tends to be steep and hard going, with scree being a common theme. The Liathach massif includes the two Munros of Liathach – Spidean a’Choire Leith and Liathach – Mullach an Rathain , and once you’ve climbed one or the other the real fun begins! They are sepaated by a ridge of pinnacles, Am Fasarinen, which not surprisingly translates as The Teeth. These require a head for heights, and while there is a path that avoids much of the scrambling, this is both very exposed and eroded in places. If you’re up on Liathach, why would you be avoiding all that glorious scrambling in the first place!

For more information, we suggest reading Cicerone’s Walking the Munros: Northern Highlands.

Liathach towers over Torridon village
“The Liathach Wall” by Simaron is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

7 – Buachaille Etive Mor.

While there’s also plenty of quality walking in Glencoe, including the aforementioned Aonach Eagach, Buachaille Etive Mor stands out as the most famous and iconic. It absolutely dominates the A82 at Kingshouse, the gateway to Glencoe, and so anyone who’s driven up to Fort William will be aware of it even if they cannot name or pronounce it. Buachaille Etive Mor, along with it’s smaller nieghbour Buachaille Etive Beag, translate as the big and smal herdsman of Etive. The Buachaille can be ascended via Coire na Tulaich to attain the first of the two Munros, Stob Dearg before traversing the summit ridge and the Munro Tops of Stob na Doire and Stob Coire Altruim  towards the final Munro of Stob Dubh, The usual descent for walkers is down Coire Altruim.

For more details we suggest reading Cicerone’s Walking Ben Nevis and Glencoe.

Winter in Glencoe Buachaille Etive Mor
“Winter in Glencoe” by J McSporran is licensed under CC BY 2.0

8 – Striding Edge and Helvellyn

Helvellyn has been voted the most popular walk in the UK, and this is without a doubt the best route to the summit. Striding Edge is a narrow ridge with excellent views in all directions and just enough exposure to make it exciting.  Couple this with a descent down Swirrall Edge for a perfect horseshoe.

9 – Tryfan and the Bochlwyd Horseshoe

The traverse of Tryfan and Glyder Fach includes four named scrambles and is pretty much all scrambling! From the classic Tryfan North Ridge, down Tryfan South Ridge before ascending the tricky Bochlwyd Ridge to Glyder Fach. You can tack on Castell y Gwynt, a shattered rock pile that demands careful clambering and scrambling before a descent down the under-estimated Gribin ridge to Llyn Bochwlyd. Forget distance for this one, as you’ll barely clock up 6km , but you’ll feel it in your arms the next day!

10 – Snowdon Horseshoe

Last, but not least, is the classic Snowdon Horseshoe. This includes the classic scramble over Crib Goch and down over Y Lliwedd. Time your trip so that the summit of Snowdon isn’t too busy, as at peak times it’s the worst mountain experience in the UK. Crib Goch is an exposed knife edged ridge, which requires care to cross. The pinnacles beyond require more scrambling, with routes to avoid finding more problems than they solve. There’s finaly a surprising scramble up the delightful Crib y Ddysgl to bring you up to the summit of Garnedd Ugain. From here, you descend to join the hordes as all the paths from Llanberis, Pen y Pass and Snowdon Ranger converge. The route can continue to be busy after the summit as you descend towards Y Lliwedd via the Watkin Path, with the route quieting off slighlty as you finish off the Snowdon Horseshoe over Y Lliwedd.

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