Cave exploration is incredibly fun. There is something exciting about delving underground, or through a subterranean opening, to discover what’s hidden inside! However, cave exploration is often limited, so you ideally need a decent walking trail that surrounds it – enter our list of the best cave trails in the UK.
In this list, the cave is just part of the experience. The journey to get there, and the other walking opportunities are what make these locations perfect for a day trip! From Thor’s cave in the Peak District, to the relatively isolated Smoo Cave in the Scottish Highlands, there is something for everyone. So, what are you waiting for? Read on and find out about legendary cave walks near you!
1. Thor’s Cave Trail – Peak District
Possibly one of the best-known caves in the Peak District and the UK is the mighty Thor’s Cave. This natural limestone cave sits on an exposed hill to the west of Wetton in the middle of the Peak District. It is unusual as it stands out for miles and it is clearly visible due to its location on the top of a hill.
The cave entrance stands at 10×7.5m and is reached from a relatively easy stepped path from the nearby Manifold Way. This forms part of the trail and it is a pleasant walk that can easily be achieved in an afternoon. The traditional walking trail covers 9km in total and follows much of the course of the Manifold River and passes through the village of Wetton.
The cave name origins are unknown, however, the common theory is that Thor is derived from the old English word Tor which means a large free-standing rocky outcrop (which is exactly what Thor’s Cave is!). Many people also link the name to the Norse God of Thunder – Thor. Regardless, it’s an amazing spectacle and one of the best cave trails in the UK.
2. Settle Caves and Waterfalls Walk – North Yorkshire
The countryside surrounding Settle in North Yorkshire is incredible – it has so many well-known features and offers some of the most dramatic landscapes in the UK. Notable features include Malham Cove, Gordale Scar, and Janet’s Foss.
There is indeed a brilliant walking trail that follows several of these landmarks – the Settle Caves and Waterfalls Walk. Incidentally, you can check out our guide on waterfall walks here. The walking trail is 14.8km in total and starts and finishes in Settle.
On the way, you will walk across the dramatic North Yorkshire dales and see sweeping fields and fens glide past. Also, you will see several impressive caves including Victoria Cave, and Jubilee Cave. Aside from the caves, there are also two notable waterfalls – Scaleber Force and forest, and Catrigg Force. Both of these are slight detours from the route but are well worth it!
Please bear in mind that the trail is relatively open and you are exposed for most of the trek. Also, the caves are not quite directly on the paths and do require a small detour.
3. Winnats Pass, Mam Tor to Cave Dale – Peak District
The Peak District is packed full of caves like Speedwell Cavern and Blue John Cavern. Also, it has some amazing walking trails and some of the best scenery in the UK – what could be a better day out? One of the best cave trails in the UK is Winnats Pass to Man Tor to Cave Dale. This is an epic 0km route that passes over some amazing scenery in Hope Valley.
The general starting point is the car park next to Mam Tor. We highly advise that you climb to the top of the Tor also and maybe walk someway along the bridleway – the views of the Hope Valley here are sublime on a clear day. From there you head down through Winnat’s Pass and into Cave Dale.
It is named so because of the various showcase and caverns here. First you pass Blue John Cavern, and then past Treak Cliff Cavern – both of these are worth a visit in their own right. Finally, you pass through the charming village of Castleton, past Peveril Castle, and across the countryside to eventually join back to Mam Tor.
This is an invigorating walk for sure, and although there are some ascents, it is generally classed as a moderate walking trail.
4. Smoo Cave and Coastal Walk – Scottish Highlands
Moving high up into the Scottish Highlands… like really high up on the Northern coast, you can find Smoo Cave. This coastal cave sits near the tiny village of Leirinmore and not far from Loch Eriboll. It’s not exactly the easiest of caves to access and the largest city nearby is Thurso which is some 50km along the coast.
Regardless, if you are touring the Scottish Highlands then Smoo Cave and the surrounding coastal walk is a must-see natural wonder! The cave itself has a dedicated car park, and it is only a short walk down to the beach. It is a combination of a sea cave, and a freshwater cave and has some epic caverns once you walk inside the entrance.
As you cross the bridge and enter the cave, you will appreciate its scale and sheer size – it is truly something to behold. Once you have had your fill of the cave, you can find numerous paths along the coastline that take you to some amazing beaches. The sand here is golden and many of the beaches are sheltered by bays. Notable examples include Ceannabeinne Beach, Sango Sands, and Balnakeil Beach.
5. Merlin’s Cave and Tintagel Coastal Walk – Cornwall
Merlin’s Cave is a tidal cave that can only be accessed during low tide. It sits underneath the legendary Tintagel Castle that is said to be the home of King Arthur. Whilst Arthur resided in the above castle, legend has it, that the sorcerer Merlin lived in the cave below! It is certainly an interesting myth, but the cave itself is also spectacular.
It is a sizeable cave that is 100m long and passes completely through Tintagel Island. During low tide, the cave floor has a pleasant sandy floor and is amazing to explore. To make a longer walking trail, Merlin’s Cave is actually close to the epic South-West Coastal Path. This path stretches for 600 miles around the entire coast of Cornwall!
The section surrounding Tintagel winds along some absolutely stunning coastlines and you can find various natural wonders and hidden gems along the way. Visiting Merlin’s Cave could be the finishing point for a much longer trek along this iconic coastal path.
6. St Cuthbert’s Cave Wood Walk – Bedford
Did you know that there are two caves in Northumberland known as St Cuthbert’s Cave? The one featured here is also known as Holburn Cave and is located in the Kyloe Hills, not far from Bedford. To access the caves, you can walk through a beautiful forest that is part of the National Trust. There is also a dedicated National Trust car park so access to the cave and trail is easy.
From the car park, you head between two fields along a pleasant path, from here, the path veers to the right and eventually into the forest. You can then see the cave and the rock formations surrounding it. You can also continue the forest walk for miles into the surrounding countryside.
The cave itself is an interesting formation and is made of sandstone. Overhanging rocks form the entrance of the cave, and it has a total size of 24x3m. You can also find an interesting natural rock pillar inside the cave. The name is derived from St Cuthbert who is intertwined with the Anglo-Saxon history of Northumberland.
Explore These Historic Caves as Part of a Greater Outdoor Trek
The UK has many more caves and walking paths surrounding these ancient natural sites. However, these are generally the best-known. They also offer the best cave trails in the UK for day trips; or an enjoyable afternoon of walking. Whilst the caves themselves are impressive, and often steeped in myth or history. The walking trails that surround them allow you to enjoy the beautiful countryside and landscapes the UK has to offer too.
If you have visited any of these caves and walking trails, please let us know! Also, if you have any hidden subterranean wonders you would like to share, please leave a comment! For other walking inspiration, we also have a guide on the most epic walks in the UK and the most extreme hikes in the UK!