Walking tours for Grey Gappers

The rise of the ‘grey gapper’ — and the demand for extended walking breaks

by Christine Saul

Grey Gapper: a person of a more mature age, usually 55 or above, taking a career break or sabbatical from work, or a retiree deciding to undertake travel over a longer period, usually from a few months up to a year or longer.

Walkers cross a field of wheat on a long-distance walking holiday, perfect for grey gappers.

“Gap years” always used to be associated with the young: students taking a year out to backpack around the world before starting university or full-time work.

However, gap years are no longer just for the youngsters. There has been a big rise in the number of older, more financially secure adults taking up gap year travel and looking for excitement and adventure.

Building walking tours for grey gappers

At Contours, we are seeing more and more requests from our customers, many who fall into the grey gapper demographic, for extended walking breaks.

Some might choose to book a handful of different, varied walking trails dotted all around the country, with a few days or a week-long gap in between each, to form part of a longer UK holiday. Others look to link trails together consecutively to create one longer continuous walking challenge that spans weeks or even months at a time.

Christine takes a selfie with her dog, Gino, at the start of her hike along the England Coast Path.
A Yappy Hikers long-distance t-shirt, consisting of a dog superimposed on a grey t-shirt.

Having taken a 7-month career break myself back in 2021, at the age of 54, to walk the coast of England, I can fully understand and appreciate this rising demand.

Contours, of course, are delighted to help plan any extended walking adventures for our grey gappers and have lots of suggestions to offer. Here are just a few favourites.

Tackling the South West Coast Path

The most popular extended walk request, which has gained even more popularity following the release of the bestselling book The Salt Path (soon to be released as a film), is to walk the entire South West Coast Path, 630 miles long, either in sections or all in one go.

South West Coast Path walking holiday map, showing the trail split into ten sections, perfect to tick off as a grey gapper.

An iconic, established trail that we’ve split into 10 sections, the South West Coast Path offers spectacular coastal walking and stunning scenery. Its strenuousness is not to be underestimated, however. It’s best walked at a leisurely pace to truly enjoy its sweeping footpaths and still have time to explore the local towns and fishing villages encountered along the way.

A cow peers at the camera, with a town nestled into the coastline visible in the background, part of the South West Coast Path grey-gapper tour.
A blue sailboat in a harbour on the South West Coast Path.
A lighthouse stands on a headland on the South West Coast Path, with daisies growing in the foreground.

Established in 1978, the South West Coast Path has been the UK’s longest National Trail for over forty years — although it won’t hold the crown for much longer!

Circumnavigating Wales

Another trail gaining in popularity is the Wales Coast Path. The trail is made up of nine sections, of which the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is the only leg formally designated a National Trail.

The complete route comes in at 870 miles and offers spectacular varied coastal walking, scenery and wildlife, as well as experiencing Welsh heritage and communities. A full circuit of Wales can even be achieved by tacking on the Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail, which will add another 180 miles to your hike.

The Menai Bridge crosses the Menai Strait on the Anglesey Coast Path, part of the Wales Coast Path, a great long-distance tour for grey gappers.
A boat lies on the beach with a house and the ocean in the background, as seen on the Llyn Coast Path.
Sharp reddish rock stabs upward through the surf on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path holiday.

The Wales Coast Path is a much younger trail than the South West Coast Path, only launched in 2012, so its popularity is still growing. It was marketed as the first coast path in the world to cover the entire length of a country’s coastline, but while it might have been first, soon it won’t be the longest.

The UK’s longest coast path

Breaking the record for the longest UK National Trail and the longest coastal walk in the world, the amazing 2700-mile King Charles III England Coast Path is a new UK National Trail covering the entire coast of England. Its completion date keeps getting delayed, but the trail has been opening in stages over the last few years, and it is currently due to be complete by the end of 2024 or in early 2025.

St Annes Pier on the England Coast Path.
From high up on the cliffs on the England Coast Path, we look down on Robin Hood's Bay.

The England Coast Path will be a trail to rival some of the best incredibly long-distance hiking routes in the world, such as the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail and 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in the USA; the 1864-mile Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand; and the 500-mile Camino de Santiago through France, Spain and Portugal.

From the sections open so far, we already offer more of the England Coast Path than any other walking company and will add additional stages as the trail opens further.

Great Britain from tip to top

Walking LEJOG, or Land’s End to John O’Groats, is another request we often get. There is no official continuous walking trail for this route. Walkers choose from various options, and the total distance will vary depending on the route taken. Still, LEJOG tends to average around 1200 miles in total.

A fingerpost at John O'Groats points out major landmarks and the distances to them, including Land's End.

Contours Holidays offer plenty of long-distance trails that can link together to cover a large section of this epic ramble, but we don’t cover the entire trail. Some sections need gaps filling in with road walking or other public footpaths and rights of way.

Piecing together a bespoke adventure

From the wide variety of trails we offer, there are plenty of options we could combine to create linked trail walks of differing length, terrain, scenery and history. Linking coast to coast walks or pilgrimage walks is popular.

One great example, made possible by our new Forth to Farne Way holiday, launched in January 2024, is the option to walk around 350 miles through Scotland and England.

A good tour for grey gappers is plotted on a map of Scotland and England, tracing the path of the John Muir Way, Forth to Farne Way, St Oswald's Way and Hadrian's Wall Path all the way from Helensburgh to Bowness-on-Solway.

From the west coast of Scotland, you’d follow the John Muir Way to the east coast of Scotland at Dunbar, then follow an old pilgrimage route south along the Berwickshire coast to Holy Island. From there, you could continue south via coast and inland paths along St Oswald’s Way and onto Hadrian’s Wall Path for a bit of Roman history. This famous country-crossing trail would ultimately bring you back to the west coast of England.

Find your grey-gapper expedition

With over 100 trails on offer, the possibilities to create an extended long distance walking break with Contours Holidays are almost endless.

For all you grey gappers out there who have always dreamt of walking an extra-long long-distance trail, or who hope to tick off sections bit by bit, contact us and we will be delighted to help with your plans and make your dreams reality.

A stone bridge crosses a glittering river on the Lakeland Round walking tour, which could easily be connected to other Lake District trails to form an enormous grey-gapper tour.
A fingerpost, cairn and two unbothered sheep stand on a hill on the Pennine Way, one of the UK's most challenging National Trails.

Originally published 10/01/24

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