Published in News.com.au, September 2018
When many think of Britain, they think of mannered BBC dramas, tea and biscuits; a stiff upper lip that keeps calm and carries on. But Britain is also the land of Wuthering Heights and Celtic clan wars, of pagan mystery and woodland fairytale. Take a short drive from the cobbled streets of Britain’s towns and capitals and you will find wild, otherworldly places just waiting to be discovered. From secret coves and sensational stretches of sand in Cornwall to the rugged, bony peaks of the northern Rhinogs, from ancient southern forests and the faraway isles of the Scottish coast, below are just some of the wilderness escapes where nature lovers can get lost.
England’s far southwestern county is a place of heart-stopping beauty, with nearly 300 miles of rugged coastline shaped by towering crags, turquoise bays and white sand beaches – perfect for wildling walks, bike tours, swimming and other sea adventures.
Cornwall’s northern coast is a hardy surfer’s paradise, with hidden coves and sea caves carved out by a powerful ocean; moss covered rocks emerging from silvery water and spectacular cliffs surging out of the sea. The south coast is lined with fishing villages and picturesque stretches of sand, separated by grass-covered climbs with views that look out across an infinite ocean. Closer to shore, the Cornish coast is dotted with green and grey islets, while the land is home to Iron Age ruins, seal and seabird colonies.
Visit the wild expanse of Bodin Moor in north central Cornwall to see wildflowers blooming in undulating waves, or Kynance Cove near Lizard Pint for water that gleams like an emerald. See a 60-foot waterfall pass through an arch of stone at St. Nectan’s Kieve, or marvel at the dramatic beauty of Minack Theatre near Porthcurno, a cliff-top amphitheatre with the Celtic Sea as its backdrop. If you’re in the mood for a stroll and it happens to be low tide, follow the causeway across the sea from Marazion Beach to St Michael’s Mount, or hike to Nanjizal Beach near Land’s End to see the remains of a 1912 shipwreck.
Steeped in myth and legend, Dartmoor National Park in southwest England is a desolate but beautiful expanse of moorland dotted by forests, hidden waterways and tors that rise gracefully over the land. There are some gorgeous walks are along the banks of Dartmoor’s rivers, the Teign, Bovey and Plym, but adventure lies deep on the moors, off the beaten path.
Wander the old Haytor Tramway amidst gorse and heather and find your way to the old Haytor Quarry, a granite outcropping on the edge of a tranquil lake shivering with wildlife, or find the Venford Reservoir between Holne and Hexworthy follow a path through the woods to the mystical Venford Falls. Kayak up the Erme river to find the pools and waterfalls of Ivybridge, and walk a mile inland to find Piles Corpse, an ancient fragment of Dartmoor’s oak forests, gnarled, mossy and deep.
Covering more than 800 square miles in northwest Wales, Snowdonia National Park is an epic landscape carved from prehistoric glacial paths and mighty erupting mountains; a vast, monumental wilderness pocketed by deep woodland gorges and misty mountain lakes. Mount Snowdon is the park’s crowning jewel, the highest mountain in Wales, and on a clear day you can see Ireland, Scotland and the Peak District from its summit.
Many visitors take the Snowy Mountain Railway to the peak, a beautifully preserved Victorian railway line that goes up and back in a few hours, but there are many walking paths to get you there, and other places besides. Snowden may be the highest peak in in Snowdonia, but Calder Idris is a greater challenge, and is said to hold several bottomless lakes high in its craggy folds. But not every path leads upwards! Snowdonia’s hiking trails will take you past stout stone villages, and water falls like Swallow and Conwy, hidden deep in the trees. Further north, far from the maddening crowds, the Rhinhog mountains lay majestically barren and windswept, staring out across the Irish Sea.
Wherever you go, you’ll be surrounded by wildlife, from duckling to deer, and owls to otters, with wild salmon swimming in the streams. And if you’re feeling adventurous, there is zip-lining, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting, not to mention the disused mine shaft that is now a network of underground trampolines.
Scottish Highlands & Beaches
Eerily beautiful and seemingly endless, the Highlands in northwest Scotland run from wind-scoured coast to craggy mountain peak, around beautiful lochs, medieval castles and rough, golden woods. In summer, the Highlands are lush and alive with vivid life; in winter, they are truly otherworldly. The remoteness only adds to the drama of the landscape, with some of the most beautiful spots found on islands off the coast, where dirt roads wind through picture perfect green hills that fall away suddenly to the sea.
The Cairngorms mountains rise wide and majestic through the south central reaches of the Highlands while famous Loch Ness, with its legendary inhabitant, sits square in the middle surrounded by The Trossachs National Park. Up in the far northwestern corner of the region you’ll find the spectacular Cape Wrath and the Cliffs of Clo Mor, while off the Sutherland coast you’ll find the Isle of Handa, uninhabited except for the birds. They use this wild and lovely spot as a breeding ground, laying their eggs in the island’s boggy moors and nesting in its sandstone sea walls.
Wrapping around the Highland coast are some of the most impressive, unspoiled beaches in Britain, like the dune-framed West Beach at Berneray, which looks out over the Harris mountain ranges, or the pink-hued sands of Sandwood Ray, which is framed by the Am Buachaille sea stack. The protected bay of Oldshoremore beach in Sutherland is one of the best places to swim in Scotland, while kayakers like to paddle from the Isle of Mull’s Fidden Bay out towards the Isle of Iona.