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Vibrant countryside and ancient cities — hiking the Mercian Way

Stefan Czapski (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Vibrant countryside and ancient cities — hiking the Mercian Way

Hiking Collection by Kit P

17-39

days

3-6 h

/ day

281 mi

11,025 ft

11,125 ft

One of England’s mammoth long-distance trails, the Mercian Way is another name for National Cycle Route 45 and is also an enchanting hiking trail. With some walker-friendly adjustments, this route reaches 280 miles (451 km) and links two great cathedral cities, Salisbury and Chester.

Despite traversing vast swathes of the English countryside, the Mercian Way is surprisingly low-lying. You climb in two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the North Wessex Downs and the Cotswolds, but otherwise, stick largely to the River Severn’s vast valley.

This is a hike of extraordinary peace. Meandering about quintessential pastoral countryside, it’s an expedition of vibrant hedgerows, pockets of old woodland, ancient village churches and languid rivers. Aside from the enormous distance, the only challenging part of this hike is deciding when to embark upon it. And while it can certainly be walked in one go, you can easily do stages independently if you plan your public transport options well.

The major settlements on the hike are Salisbury, Swindon, Gloucester, Worcester and Chester. For reference, the suffix -cester and -chester usually denote the former presence of a Roman camp, which gives you an indication of how old these wonderful places are. There are plenty more beautiful villages and towns on the way too: Cirencester, Stourport, Droitwich Spa, Bewdley, Bridgnorth, Ironbridge and Whitchurch.

A tour of England’s ancient history perhaps before all else, you hike past cathedrals, Neolithic stone circles, long barrows, earthworks and mills. The landscape is littered with hillforts and medieval settlements, whilst the villages and towns are home to timbered buildings and extraordinary country houses.

You can hike the Mercian Way throughout the year but I recommend undertaking it, or part of it, from spring through to autumn. Low-lying, winter weather can bring floods to many parts of the route and the countryside is most alive during the warmer months. This also allows you to enjoy longer daylight hours, linking stages together as you wish.

I have broken the hike into 24 stages, all of which either end near accommodation and dinner options or have some way of catching public transport to such. It’s advisable to book overnight stays in advance, particularly anywhere that isn’t a city, as options can be limited in rural areas.

The easiest way to reach Salisbury at the beginning is via train. Salisbury has a well-served station with direct links to London, Southampton and further afield. Chester is even better connected and you can catch a train from here to pretty much anywhere with a connection or two. Both have good road and bus connections as well.

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Mercian Way

268 mi

10,125 ft

10,250 ft

Last updated: November 16, 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

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Salisbury to Amesbury — Mercian Way

    Intermediate
    04:37
    11.0 mi
    2.4 mph
    425 ft
    325 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The beginning of this mammoth trail starts in the heart of Salisbury, an ancient city dripping in history. Hike north along the River Avon and pass Old Sarum, an Iron Age hillfort continuously occupied throughout the Roman era. The river is lazy and beautiful along here and you can stop by Woodford Bridge

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:49
    16.0 mi
    2.3 mph
    850 ft
    775 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Hillier than the first stage but still with only gentle elevation gain, this hike has you exploring the vast chalk plateau of Salisbury Plain. Light aircraft, hot air balloons and skydivers are all common sights above this large grassland region. The last section takes you north into the edge of the

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:20
    12.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    775 ft
    600 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage takes you west to Woodborough before turning north and heading up onto the downs. Tumuli and long barrows loiter in fields in this area so if you see large grassy humps, chances are you’re looking at ancient history. Hike on up to reach Avebury, a village famous for its stone circle and phenomenal

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:01
    11.7 mi
    2.3 mph
    650 ft
    625 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Working your way through the North Wessex Downs AONB, every step of this hike seems to bring exquisite views and ancient remnants. Hike north east out from Avebury to join a section of the Ridgeway long-distance hiking trail. The views to the north west are particularly majestic, endless patchwork fields

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:11
    10.0 mi
    2.4 mph
    225 ft
    450 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage spends its entirety navigating the outer edge of Swindon. Don’t take that to mean it’s not an enjoyable hike however, quite the contrary. Walking along a disused railway for much of the route, this is a fascinating insight into Swindon’s past and takes you through some wonderful green spaces

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:17
    12.9 mi
    2.4 mph
    200 ft
    150 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Largely flat, this hike leaves Swindon behind and springs off across the valley floor with fields spilling out either side. Just below Cricklade, the path leads you onto a disused railway before turning into a bridle path through the extraordinary Cotswold Water Park, the country’s biggest marl lake

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    06:26
    15.3 mi
    2.4 mph
    675 ft
    425 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The Cotswolds AONB is your home on this hike so expect tiny, pretty villages built in classic Cotswold stone and stunning hill views. Tarlton, Rodmarton and Cherington are just a few of the sleepy settlements. Finish in Minchinhampton just south of the beautiful Golden Valley.

    

    The mixture of towns together

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:21
    12.9 mi
    2.4 mph
    175 ft
    700 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This hike descends from Minchinhampton, works its way around the town’s open common and heads along the Nailsworth Valley. Follow the course of Nailsworth stream and see old churches, Cotswold houses set into hillsides and pretty tracts of woodland reaching upwards. This section is on a disused railway

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    03:55
    9.54 mi
    2.4 mph
    150 ft
    150 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Completely flat (okay, except for the tiniest elevation in the middle), this hike reveals the languid River Severn to you twice on different bends. Between, quiet roads lead you from farm to farm with patchwork fields spreading out in every direction. The last stretch is traffic-free as you hike along

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:26
    13.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    350 ft
    275 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    You follow the Severn’s languid curves on this hike but at a distance, catching sights of the grand river on regular occasions. Historic villages and ancient churches dot this trail and the Severn Plain is a thriving habitat for wildlife too.

    

    Mostly flat, this is an easy ramble and finishes just outside

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:46
    11.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    350 ft
    425 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Another wonderfully low-lying route, this stage carries you north across rural farmland towards Worcester. Hike north from Forthampton and then cut west to cross the Severn at the beautiful Mythe Bridge. Take the lanes from village to village, each with their own long histories and picturesque secrets

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:11
    10.0 mi
    2.4 mph
    350 ft
    275 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Quiet lanes and trails wind north across the Severn Plain’s flat bottom up to the historic cathedral city of Worcester. Mostly passing from village to village with hedgerows and birdsong to keep you company, the final stretch into the city uses footpaths and traffic-free routes to bring you into the

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    03:47
    9.12 mi
    2.4 mph
    225 ft
    250 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first third of this hike curves through Worcester’s historic heart by using the canal towpath, a particularly lovely way to leave the city. You head north on rural lanes toward Droitwich Spa with nothing but farms and fields on either side. With no pubs or shops en route until the end, it’s wise

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:22
    12.9 mi
    2.4 mph
    375 ft
    400 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    This stage wanders about flat farmland taking you on a merry tour of local farms and villages. If you have time and the opening hours allow, you can visit the vast Hartlebury Castle on the banks of its very own ponds, tributaries to the nearby Severn.

    

    This hike finishes on the edge of Stourport as the

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:56
    11.3 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    850 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    More undulating than any of the prior stages, this exceptionally beautiful hike takes you through Wyre Forest. Vibrant and filled with life, this vast forest is a National Nature Reserve and fantastic for hiking, cycling and wildlife spotting. Hike out of Stourport and north to the lovely riverside town

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:51
    13.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    850 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    You follow the slender Severn north through rural landscape to the beautiful, historic town of Bridgnorth. A gently undulating route, you pass tiny old villages, busy farmyards and hedgerows full of birds. Woodlands, river bends and nature reserves fill the senses as you hike.

    

    Quiet lanes take you all

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:03
    9.63 mi
    2.4 mph
    375 ft
    325 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This hike hugs the banks of the River Severn as it winds through its wooded valley up to Ironbridge. A lane leads you out of Bridgnorth but most of this route is a traffic-free trail that makes ambling along the river a little slice of paradise. Coppices and woodlands knit together to form a largely

    by Kit P

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  • Intermediate
    04:40
    10.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    875 ft
    825 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first few miles of this Shropshire hike is an ascent to the village of Little Wenlock but, after that, you spend the rest of the trail more or less going downhill. You pass the south side of the famous Wrekin hill on this stage and if you have the time and energy, I highly recommend climbing it for

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:38
    13.6 mi
    2.4 mph
    400 ft
    350 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The Way returns to its usually flat self on this hike. Winding around the eastern edge of Shrewsbury, you spend your time on rural lanes, passing through pretty, old villages and finish in the lovely settlement of Shawbury. I’ve added in a little detour to Haughmond Abbey as it’s quite a remarkable sight

    by Kit P

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  • Difficult
    05:20
    12.5 mi
    2.4 mph
    650 ft
    575 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The beginning of this hike certainly begins in fairly grand style as you first walk to the ruins of Moreton Corbet Castle. There are quite a few impressive historic manors just off the route of this hike including Hodnet Hall and Hawkstone Hall, so do make detours if you love grand architecture and gardens

    by Kit P

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    24
  • Distance
    281 mi
  • Duration
    118:25 h
  • Elevation
    11,025 ft11,125 ft

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