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An epic hike through England’s rural heart — Midshires Way

Simon Harrod (CC BY 2.0)

An epic hike through England’s rural heart — Midshires Way

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield

16-35

days

3-6 h

/ day

251 mi

12,675 ft

12,675 ft

The Midshires Way is an epic 225-mile (362 km) journey right through the rural heart of England. Linking the Ridgeway in the South to the Trans Pennine Trail in the North, it winds through the counties of Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Greater Manchester, following beautiful rivers, bygone railway lines, historic canals, quiet country lanes and ancient bridleways.

Opened in 1994, the Way represents a victory for the collaborative spirit. Many authorities pulled together, linking existing rights of way to create a multi-user route that hikers, cyclists and horse riders can all enjoy. Of course, depending on how you choose to tackle the Way there are differences in the route. As this is a hiking Collection, I have plotted the optimum itinerary for those on foot.

The Way is thronged with natural wonder and historic interest. Dramatic gorges, colourful woodland, dramatic rocky spurs, verdant pastures, spectacular valleys, beautiful parkland and shimmering reservoirs await you, all rich in wildlife.

A tapestry of human history unfurls as you progress. From the remnants of ancient civilisation and the ruins of the Middle Ages to the marvels of the Industrial Revolution and the modernisation of the nation, England’s heritage and endeavour are scrawled across the landscape. Pretty churches, magnificent manors, towering windmills, vestiges of industry, forgotten railways, historic towns, picturesque villages and Roman ruins are all found along the Way.

This Collection is designed so that you can conquer the entire route in one long, multi-day trek with each stage ending near accommodation and evening meal options. Sometimes these are scarce, so I recommend specifics in the stage descriptions. On occasion, my itinerary briefly deviates from the official route to seek lodgings nearby. These slight deviations — plus a few other worthwhile detours — bring the total distance covered by this Collection to 251 miles (404 km).

As most do, I’ve started in the South and headed for the North, as this saves the Peak District National Park section — arguably the Way’s most spectacular — for a fitting climax to such a monumental journey.

However, many choose to split the Way into five or six medium-distance chunks that tackle the separate counties one at a time. This makes walking across each county possible over a series of long weekends. To reflect this, I have made sure that each group of stages corresponds neatly to each county. Buckinghamshire is stages 1 to 4, Northamptonshire is 5 to 8, Leicestershire is 9 to 11, Nottinghamshire is 12 and 13, Derbyshire is 14 to 18 and Greater Manchester is 19.

As you head up into England’s Midland heart, there are many highlights, including: the Vale of Aylesbury, a land of verdant pastures and gentle hills; Milton Keynes, a modern town designed with ‘garden city’ values; the Brampton Valley Way, a picturesque, 14-mile (22.5km) trail along a former railway; the Wolds, rolling pastures dotted with delightful villages; and Trent Loch, one of Britain’s principal canal junctions and the meeting point of three counties.

The character of the Way changes in Derbyshire and the going becomes more strenuous with greater elevation gain to contend with, particularly through the Peak District.

Highlights during this section include: Dale Abbey; home to beguiling monastic ruins and a famous hermit’s cave; the High Peak Trail, a 17-mile (27.3 km) trail on the along the former High Peak Railway; Black Rocks, an impressive gritstone outcrop set amongst scenic woodland; Deep Dale, a dramatic limestone gorge boasting a historic cave; Buxton, a grand spa town and popular base for the Peaks; and the Goyt Valley, a gorgeous and varied valley with beautiful woodland, sparkling reservoirs and dramatic gorge walkways.

The gargantuan overall distance of the Way aside, the itinerary is suitable for everyone, from beginners to seasoned hikers. The stages generally range from between 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km), allowing you to take your time and explore at your leisure. It is only from stage 14 onwards that there is any significant elevation change and, even then, the amount of ascent is not taxing for reasonably fit walkers.

The trail is waymarked throughout and there are plenty of places to eat and drink. It is a walk that is charming at any time of year, though the stages in the Peak District may be difficult under snow. It should go without saying that — regardless of the season — sturdy, waterproof boots are essential and clothes for all weather should be stowed in your pack, as well as sun cream in the warmer months.

The start point at the village of Bledlow is within easy walking distance of Princes Risborough and Chinnor train stations, with quick links into London. The town of Stockport at the end of the Way is within Greater Manchester and is a ten-minute train ride from Manchester Piccadilly.

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Midshires Way

227 mi

11,625 ft

11,925 ft

Last updated: December 6, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    06:24
    15.2 mi
    2.4 mph
    650 ft
    575 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage makes use of the Swan’s Way long-distance bridle route and begins where the Ridgeway long-distance trail meets the village of Bledlow. Waddesdon, home to the grand Waddesdon Manor, is the end objective.

    From Bledlow you head north, first on minor roads and then by following a bridleway

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:49
    11.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    550 ft
    500 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This is a marvellous stage through the picturesque Vale of Aylesbury. You discover the achingly pretty village of Quainton and ascend its pleasant hill, before descending and passing through a few more delightful villages en route to Winslow.

    The first section joins forces with the North Bucks Way to

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    06:10
    14.6 mi
    2.4 mph
    600 ft
    625 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    On this stage, you journey from Winslow, a small market town with olde worlde charm, to Milton Keynes, a large town that did not exist until the latter half of the 20th century. In between, there’s yet more gloriously green countryside and small villages.

    To begin, head north east from Winslow, back

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:40
    13.6 mi
    2.4 mph
    400 ft
    375 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The majority of this stage is spent within the Milton Keynes urban area. However, when the town was designed back in the 1960s, outdoor space was a high priority and the Midshires Way makes excellent use of this. You follow the Loughton Valley Linear Park to where it meets the Grand Union Canal, before

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    07:07
    17.2 mi
    2.4 mph
    400 ft
    475 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    During this stage, you leave Buckinghamshire behind and head into Nottinghamshire. First up is the glorious Salcey Forest, home to majestic veteran oaks. After a pleasant walk through the countryside, you arrive at Blisworth and the Grand Union Canal. The stage end point is just north of this at the

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:28
    13.0 mi
    2.4 mph
    475 ft
    450 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This section shadows the Grand Union Canal from Blisworth to Nether Heyford, crosses the Nene Valley and gently undulates on lanes to Harlestone on the edge of the Althorp Estate.

    From Station Road, follow the Grand Union Canal towpath back to Blisworth and pick up the quiet Gayton Lane, which you use

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:52
    14.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    475 ft
    425 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The gorgeous Harlestone Firs opens this stage, before a carefree ramble ensues on the Brampton Valley Way, which follows the track bed of the old railway line between Northampton and Market Harborough. Historic Arthingworth and its impressive St Andrew’s church bring the hike to a conclusion.

    From Harlestone

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:41
    11.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    550 ft
    675 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    During this stage, you join the River Jordan at Braybrooke, home to the magnificent All Saints Church, before traversing the spur that separates the Jordan and Welland Valleys. The stage ends at the pretty village of Ashley. The various churches you encounter are conspicuous sights, their sharp, slender

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    06:14
    14.7 mi
    2.4 mph
    850 ft
    425 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This is the first of three stages in Leicestershire. You begin in the Welland Valley, cross rural pastures and venture through the villages of Cranoe and Tugby. It is an uphill journey, with 850 feet (259 m) of ascent, though it is so gradual and the countryside so splendid that you probably won’t notice

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:41
    13.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    475 ft
    950 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    During this stage, you gradually descend across rural Leicestershire, through ancient villages and alongside fields. On the banks of Gaddesby Brook, the villages of Ashby Folville and Gaddesby are delightful. Both boast magnificent church buildings and good lunch options.

    From Tilton on the Hill, you

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:38
    11.0 mi
    2.4 mph
    475 ft
    375 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    In this stage, you bid farewell to Leicestershire after hiking through the villages of the rolling Wolds. Then it’s into Nottinghamshire, finishing at Willoughby-on-the-Wolds.

    To rejoin the Way, make use of the Leicestershire Round’s track to Hoby. Between the hamlets of Hoby and Shoby you cross numerous

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    03:33
    8.46 mi
    2.4 mph
    275 ft
    400 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first of two stages in Nottinghamshire, this is the shortest on the Way at 8.5 miles (13.7 km). You can therefore take your time exploring beautiful Bunny Old Wood at length or by choosing to relax in the garden at Wysall’s Plough pub. The stage concludes at the large village of East Leake.

    Begin

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:42
    11.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    225 ft
    300 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage begins in the picturesque Leake region, with its patchwork hills of farmland and woodland. It crosses the River Soar, thus dipping its toes back into Leicestershire, before making for Trent Lock, one of England’s principal canal junctions. The towers of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station loom

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:29
    10.5 mi
    2.4 mph
    575 ft
    425 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This first stage in Derbyshire takes you into the countryside between the cities of Derby and Nottingham. From Shardlow, you head north through the villages of Draycott and Risley, after which you are treated to splendid views on a gradual ascent to Constitution Hill. You discover religious marvels in

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    06:25
    14.3 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,475 ft
    1,150 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This is an undulating stage that explores the beautiful Amber Valley region. Excellent views of the Trent and Derwent Valleys are gained from the day’s high points and there are sections of sumptuous woodland, particularly in Shining Cliff Wood, which is well worth exploring beyond the scope of the Way

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    05:32
    12.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,175 ft
    775 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage takes to the lofty ground of the High Peak Trail, as you enter the Peak District National Park. Impressive escarpments of Dolomitic limestone and gritstone await, as well as a beguiling Neolithic site on the summit of Minninglow. The stage ends in the small village of Pikehall.

    From Alderwasley

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    06:21
    15.0 mi
    2.4 mph
    700 ft
    675 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage continues along the High Peak Trail to where it ends just south of Chelmorton, a pretty village that’s also the highest in the county. You discover the majestic Deep Dale gorge, before finishing the stage in the grand spa town of Buxton.

    From Pikehall, head west to rejoin the High Peak Trail

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    06:19
    14.1 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,275 ft
    1,625 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The penultimate stage is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular. You depart Buxton for the scenic splendour of the wooded Goyt Valley, enjoying marvellous views of its reservoirs and the neighbouring hills. The attractive town of Whaley Bridge is next, before you head north to the sensational Millennium

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Difficult
    06:50
    15.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,075 ft
    1,500 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The final stage continues to follow the Goyt Way to its start/end point of Etherow Country Park. En route, Marple Locks’ flight of 16 locks is an impressive sight. From Etherow, you continue to follow the River Goyt’s meandering course all the way into Greater Manchester and the town of Stockport. Here

    by Alex Foxfield

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    19
  • Distance
    251 mi
  • Duration
    106:55 h
  • Elevation
    12,675 ft12,675 ft

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An epic hike through England’s rural heart — Midshires Way

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