Data Insight > The Best Short Walks in the UK for Wellbeing

The Best Short Walks in the UK for Wellbeing

Best walks for wellbeing
Will Donnelly profile image
5/31/2022

Walking is a safe and highly beneficial exercise for everyone of all ages. Aside from being a low-impact activity and therefore gentle on the joints and lungs, walking can also boost mental health—something that’s often overlooked in the elderly.

Our co-founder and leading expert on later-living in the UK, Will Donnelly, explains: “The importance of supporting mental health in later life can’t be stressed enough. Exercise protects physical health and boosts your well-being, which is key to living a happy life. Walking is an accessible and engaging activity for all the family and one that can really lift your moods. Luckily we have plenty of wonderful routes in the UK that are suitable for all ages to explore on foot.”

Age UK—the country’s leading charity dedicated to supporting older people—also recommends exercise to help improve mood. For seniors, this could mean simply getting outside for a few minutes every day and taking a short walk.

Based on this insight, we identified the UK’s best locations for short walks that are also great locations for care homes. We analysed factors including route gradients, amenities (benches and toilets), accessibility and scenery to determine the UK cities and regions that have the best mood-boosting short walks.

The top 8 cities with the best short walks to boost your well-being

A chart showing the best locations for walks

1. Lincoln - best for gentle strolling

Lincoln is ranked the best city for mood-boosting short walks, scoring 7.78 out of 10 overall. The cathedral city is particularly accommodating to elderly strollers, with the highest rating for low-incline walks (10 out of 10) out of all cities analysed.

There are plenty of short walks suitable for all ages in Lincoln, from pleasing heritage sites to gentle nature trails to follow. Exploring heritage sites can boost our well-being as they can give us a sense of rootedness and connection through their history and beautiful landscapes.

2. Southampton - best for sunny historical strolls

With an overall score of 6.02, the coastal city of Southampton wins hands down for the best sunny walks (scoring a solid 10 out of 10), which is a guaranteed mood booster. Ranked the second-best city for short walks in the UK, the home of the Spitfire is also a brilliant place to take a step back into history.

Southampton’s Old Town is a great place to start. You can follow a circular walk around its medieval walls, with over 90 listed buildings and over 30 monuments to marvel at. This route can be enjoyed at your own pace, and enjoy little to no incline (Southampton scores second-highest for steepness with 8.89 out of 10), again, making it a great walking location for seniors.

3. Coventry - best for nature lovers

Recognised as the UK City of Culture in 2021, Coventry ranks as the third-best city for short walks. There are several “over 50s” walking groups in the city that highlight the very best circular country walks, but it’s also easy enough to find marked trails in and around Coventry without a guide.

Access to green spaces is considered to be vital for our mental health and luckily Coventry is blessed with plenty of nature reserves, woodlands and local parks to explore on foot. The city has gentle inclines (6.67 rating for steepness), which is ideal for nature lovers and the elderly among us.

4. Redditch and St Albans - best for air quality and healthy walks

Redditch and St Albans share fourth place among the best cities for short walks, both scoring 5.19 out of 10 overall.

Redditch ranks highest for air quality (8.89) and has a good range of short walks of between two to three miles, suitable for both young and elderly strollers. The northeast Worcestershire city also features a mix of circular heritage walks and country trails, all under two miles.

It’s no surprise that St Albans is the joint fourth-best location for people to get a health-boosting short walk in. The Hertfordshire city hosts a Health Walks Programme as part of a national initiative to help individuals reap the health benefits of walking in the countryside. It also has the second-highest sunshine score (8.89), which can be an instant happiness boost for anyone exploring St Albans on foot.

6. Leicester - best for short city walks

The UK’s 10th biggest city scores highly for steepness and air quality (both 7.78 out of 10), contributing to Leicester’s position as the sixth-best city for short walks (4.45 overall). Those interested in history may find the King Richard III Walking Trail a fascinating short walk through the city (and it’s only 1.5 miles long).

Similar to St Albans, Leicester is also part of the Active Together Health Walks Programme, encouraging people of all ages to join group walking activities in the city. For retired folk, the Keep Walking Group is a great way to join gentle walks around the cities on weekday mornings.

7. Birmingham - best for a comfort break

Birmingham is a busy city and perhaps not one you’d think of as highly accommodating for an easy walk. However, the UK’s second-largest city is rated the seventh-best for short walks, scoring 4.44 out of 10.

Birmingham actually has a lot to offer in terms of walking, with both sprawling urban areas and more scenic spots to take a stroll. In fact, the city has nearly 600 parks to take a mood-boosting walk around. Although daunting in size, Birmingham scores highly for its amenities, with plenty of benches, bins and toilets (all scoring 10 out of 10) to provide optimum comfort breaks.

8. Hemel Hempstead - best for beautiful natural walks

Hemel Hempstead rounds off our best cities for short walks that can boost your well-being. Scoring good sunshine hours (6.67), and a not too daunting steepness rank (4.44), the Hertfordshire city ranks eighth place with a score of 3.33 out of 10 overall.

Whilst Hemel Hempstead is being considered as part of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), there is also a vast choice of great walks in and around the city to discover.

The top 5 regions with the best short walks to boost your well-being

A map of the best walks in the UK

1. Norfolk - accessible coastal and countryside rambles

Scoring 7.53 out of 10, Norfolk is the number one region in the UK for mood-boosting short walks. With an unbeatable 10 out of 10 score for steepness, the rural county has plenty of short strolls and circular walks to keep ramblers of all abilities happy.

Not only does Norfolk have a high sunshine score (8.71)—guaranteed to boost everyone’s mood—but the region is also renowned for its Accessible Countryside programme. From disabled access to “miles without stiles”, it’s easy to find a safe walk for elderly family members in Norfolk’s countryside and along its stunning coastline.

2. Northumberland - the hidden kingdom of short walks

Home to the most castles in the whole of England, the vastly beautiful county of Northumberland claims second place for the best short walks. With the highest air quality (9.68) and high scores for amenities including benches (7.74), bins and toilets (both 8.39), the former Kingdom of Northumbria is the ideal region for elderly strollers looking for delightful short walks. Overall, Northumberland scores 7.13 out of 10.

Some of the incredible accessible short walks in Northumberland include Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle, the Alnmouth circular and various routes along Kielder Water. All that fresh air and unique landscapes are sure to boost every walker’s mood.

3. Warwickshire and Suffolk - National Trust havens

Warwickshire and Suffolk share third place among the best regions for short walks, both scoring 6.83 out of 10.

Warwickshire has some of the most accommodating short walks that are particularly suitable for seniors, thanks to its high score of benches (9.68), bins (10) and toilets (9.03). The West Midlands county also boasts some amazing National Trust walking trails, where ramblers can enjoy both countryside and heritage houses and gardens.

Suffolk has some great walking options for all ages. From the scenic wool towns of Lavenham and Long Melford to the spectacular landscape of coast and heaths, Suffolk—like Warwickshire—has plenty of National Trust sites for everyone to enjoy. With a steepness score of 9.68 and a sunshine score of 9.03, the East-Anglian country is also ideal for happy summer strolls.

5. Somerset - AONB and UNESCO World Heritage walks

Rounding off the top five regions for short walks is England’s southwest gem, Somerset. Scoring 6.37 overall, the home of Glastonbury Festival has good scores for steepness (6.77), sunshine hours (8.06) and amenities including toilets (7.74).

Somerset is home to both gorgeous countryside and stunning cities. The city of Bath is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, offering strollers the chance to explore its neoclassical Palladian buildings and Roman thermal spas at leisure. For nature lovers, there are plenty of routes that ramble through Somerset’s protected landscapes and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Methodology

  1. Lottie sought to find which UK cities and regions are home to the best short walks. Firstly, walk data was gathered from a number of sources on popular walks across the UK. Each walk was evaluated based on the following criteria:
    • Average air quality (used UK AIR dataset to measure lack of the following pollutants: PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, Ozone)
    • Average steepness (change in elevation along the route, found using the ONS Geography map) to indicate difficulty. This value was inverted so that more difficulty didn’t equal a higher score
    • Average annual sunlight hours (from Gridded Land Surface Climate Observations provided by the Met Office HadUK dataset)
    • Count of amenities (toilets, benches, bins) within 50m of the route (according to Openstreetmap) with each amenity contributing a third of the overall ‘amenities’ score
  2. Values for each of the criteria above were calculated for every city using PERCENTRANK, and then converted to a scale out of 10 to create relative scores.
    • Cities with less than five suitable walks were omitted from the study.
  3. Cities were then ranked by average score across all categories, to reveal where the best short walks are located in the UK.

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