Grading & Difficulty

The Discerning Traveller programme of walking tours has been designed to cater for a range of abilities and preferences. ‘Difficulty’ of a walk or hike is not a single property. At least 5 distinct features of the walk itself can contribute to how difficult a walk is (or feels). These are:

  1. Distance walked per day;
  2. Gradients;
  3. Height gained and lost;
  4. The nature of the trail surface; (e.g. hard, stony, boggy, slippery, even, asphalt etc.);
  5. The skill in navigation needed.

To these one must add the varying levels of fitness and experience that the walker him/herself possesses. In spite of this complexity we try to operate a simple grading system to enable customers to select a tour that suits their level of fitness, energy and experience. None of our hikes is as easy as ‘a walk in the park’ and none of them is a mountaineering expedition!

'Easy' and 'Easy to Moderate' grade
7 tours
'Moderate' grade
7 tours
'Demanding' grade
5 tours
Moderate hiking on a narrow trail

The sections below describe how we grade our tours and also lists the tours approximately in order of increasing difficulty. However we emphasise that most days on most tours can if preferred be shortened or extended. We provide directions in the route notes to enable you to do either of these. The sections below includes additional notes to help you make a choice; simply click on the tour name to transfer to the page for that tour.

In addition to the tours listed in the sections below, our Offa’s Dyke Path tour is available as various options which range from easy to demanding. See the tour page for more more details.

“Easy” grade walks are intended for those in good general health who periodically spend a day or a weekend out walking, or take some other fairly regular form of exercise, but may not have been on a walking tour before. Distances average 8 to 10 miles (4 to 5 hours) per day over fairly gentle terrain although there may be the odd longer or more tiring day. Little experience of navigation is required, but some basic map reading ability, or at least aptitude, is desirable.

‘Easy’ & ‘Easy to Moderate’ tours

Cotswolds Villages
Distances short to moderate Surfaces usually grassy or earthy, in places muddy after rain. Rarely stony. Gradients low to moderate, steeper between Chipping Campden and Winchcombe (last 2 days of C8). Routefinding more difficult than on our other ‘easy’ tours on account of abundance of ‘field paths’ and sometimes confusing waymarks.

Pembrokeshire Coast: Skomer & St David’s
Days to 17km/11 miles. Well waymarked coast path. Trails less steep than Dorset coast.

Devon & Dorset: The Jurassic Coast
Days to 17km/11miles. Well waymarked coast path. Steep ascents and descents. On most days walks can be shortened by using buses.

Lake District Valleys
Days short (up to 8 miles) but can readily be extended. Surfaces rough and stony, which some may find difficult. Gradients moderate. Paths well-used and routefinding generally easy, although there are no absolutely no signposts or waymarks on open (unfenced) ground which comprises most of the area. On the 7-night tour there are 2 days with options ranging from easy to demanding.

“Moderate” grade walks are best enjoyed by those who take regular exercise and can cope with days averaging about 12 miles (6 hours) over level or hilly terrain, again with the occasional longer or harder day. Navigation/map reading skills are as for ‘Easy’ grade, but the greater distance covered makes accurate map reading more important.

‘Moderate’ tours

Exmoor Coast & National Park

Dorset Coast and Purbeck Ridgeway
Days short (up to 14km/9 miles). Routefinding mostly easy, especially on coast path and ridgeway. Surfaces firm earthy or grassy, can be slippery (slick) in wet. Gradients frequently steep or very steep. Repeated ascents and descents make some days tiring.

Sussex & Kent: Seven Sisters & Rye
On the easy side of moderate grade. On South Downs Way (Days 2 and 3) and on Saxon Shore Way (Day 5) days to 20km/12 miles with steep ascents and descents. In the Weald (Days 6 and 7) careful routefinding is needed on field paths. All days can be shortened by using public transport.

North Pembrokeshire Coast
As on other coastal walks (e.g. Dorset and Cornwall) repeated short but steep ascents and descents make this walk much more tiring than you might expect from the distances. Longest day 14 miles, but can be shortened to 11 miles without spoiling the walk. Surfaces grassy or earthy, rocky on detours to minor summits. Very little asphalt except through town of Fishguard and on minor roads around St Davids.

Lands End & St Ives
As on other coastal walks (eg Dorset and Pembrokeshire) repeated short but steep ascents and descents make this walk much more tiring than you might expect from the distances and maximum altitude (less than 300m/1000 feet). Many walkers find days 2 (10 miles) and 3 (12 miles) tiring; but Day 3 can readily be shortened. Routefinding usually easy on the coast, but on our inland variations close attention to the map and route notes are needed. Surfaces firm, often grassy. Can be slippery in wet. Some sections suffer from overgrown and spiny vegetation (gorse), so long trousers are advised on those days (notably Days 2 & 4).

Shropshire Hills and Ludlow
Distances up to 12 miles (on Day 5), but generally days not found too long by most walkers. Unfrequented nature of these hills and patchy waymarking means you do have to have your routefinding skills up to scratch! Gradients occasionally steep, notably on Caer Caradoc walk and Lightspout valley (both Day 2 options). Surfaces grassy or earthy, very stony on Stiperstones ridge (Day 4). Some asphalt sections on roads with little traffic.

Polperro to Mevagissey
Routefinding easy, mostly well waymarked and signposted. Steep gradients on coast path. Care needed at some narrow sections.

“Demanding” grade walks are for experienced hikers only. If distance was the criterion they would include days of 16 miles (8 hours, occasionally more) on paths or tracks over steep or rough ground. However as is made clear below, our Demanding grade walks are not for the most part classified on the basis of distances covered but on other criteria, such as gradients, amount of ascent and descent per day, and the nature of the surface.

Navigation on our demanding tours may require the use of a compass as well as the map. Some of the walking may be over pathless ground. Some days on our ‘Demanding’ grade tours may include short and usually avoidable scrambling sections. This is made clear in the route descriptions.

‘Scrambling’ means that hands as well as feet are needed for movement along a trail over rocky terrain. It is intermediate between walking and rock climbing. n.b. scrambling does not mean ‘vertigo-inducing’!

‘Demanding’ tours

None of these walks are classified in this group on the basis of the daily distances alone, which are moderate. You need routefinding skills appropriate to mountainous terrain subject to low cloud and resultant minimal visibility.
You also need enough experience of independent hiking to be able to judge when it is advisable to turn back or abandon a walk on account of weather or cloud conditions. We in Britain live not that far south of the Arctic circle, and above 2000 feet/600 metres conditions can rapidly revert to sub-Arctic!

Padstow & Tintagel Coast with Bodmin Moor extension
On coastal sections (Days 2 to 6) there are some long steep ascents and descents and care is needed on some narrow sections. Coast path is well waymarked. All coastal days can be shortened by using local buses. On the higher parts of Bodmin Moor (Days 7 and 8) there is little waymaking and some pathless sections where basic compass skill is desirable and in bad weather essential, but easier low-level alternative routes are available on these days in case of bad weather or your preference. If necessary (e.g. in very bad weather) customers can also travel by taxi with their baggage.
We do not accept single travellers on the Bodmin Moor extension.

Lake District Mountains
Routefinding skills are particularly important here. The paths and trails are well-used and well-defined, but there are no waymarks or signposts at all anywhere on open ground in the Lake District (this is effectively a regulation of the National Park authority). So you have to know where you are heading! In addition low cloud on the mountains is common and quickly can reduce visibility to 40 metres or less. 50% of the time the summit of Scafell Pike (3210 feet; an option for Day 5) is in cloud, but lower level options are available on this and on other days.
We insist that customers on this tour check the local telephone weather and cloud base forecast each morning and advise you to travel with the baggage if the forecast is bad. We remind you that the great A. Wainwright never walked in the mist (cloud) if he could avoid it!
Rough, stony and sometimes rocky surfaces are the norm, with prolonged and often steep ascents and descents, amounting to 12,000 to 15,000 feet / 3,500m to 4,500m during the week. No scrambling required unless you choose the low level Wastwater Screes option on Day 5 (inadvisable in wet weather), or the Mickledore route to Scafell Pike (we advise an easier route).

For safety reasons we do not accept bookings from single travellers for our ‘Demanding’ grade tours.