The UK's forgotten wildernesses
The UK is home to some beautiful outdoor spaces, from the majestic Lake District to the sandy coves and towering cliffs of Cornwall. But while these places are undoubtedly stunning, they can also get extremely busy during spring and summer.
The good news is that for those keen to see the very best the countryside has to offer without encountering many other people, there are plenty of amazing alternatives. From the moody, melancholy Forest of Bowland to the country’s only desert at Dungeness, these are the UK’s forgotten wildernesses.
Forest of Bowland
The Lake District is more famous and the Yorkshire Dales more bucolic. But the Forest of Bowland, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which nestles just south of those iconic National Parks, is every bit as alluring for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Its brooding hills and moorland are crossed with some of England’s most remote and scenic paths, perfect for long hikes and epic bike rides. In May the floors of its woodland are carpeted with bluebells, as birds of prey hunt overhead and hares hop over the ancient farm fields. Pack waterproofs and good boots. Things can get pretty wet here, although the rain does at least mean the landscape is colorful whatever the time of year.
A vast area of flatlands that stretch north of Cambridge towards the North Sea, The Fens are often overlooked by visitors searching for more epic vistas. But this region, just over an hour by train from London, has a rich history. The natural marshes here were drained 400 years ago in a bid to create fertile farmland, the result being a watery region criss crossed with dykes, ditches and rivers. Wicken Fen, close to the small cathedral city of Ely, is one of the last areas to still look much as it did in the 1600s. Today it’s home to more than 9,000 species of plants and animals, more than anywhere else in the UK. Rare bats, cuckoos and marsh harriers streak the sky - climb the birdwatching platform and you can see for miles across this ethereal place.
Jura and Islay
Scotland’s beautiful islands offer the ultimate escape from the day to day. And Jura and Islay have an untamed charm that leave you feeling deeply connected with the natural world. George Orwell wrote 1984 in the tiny village of Ardlussa on Jura and almost lost his life to the wild swirl of the Corryvreckan whirlpool, which churns off of the island’s north coast. Its famous Paps, three hulking mountains, offer challenging hikes, but equally satisfying is a stroll along the beaches of Loch Tarbert. Famous for its whisky, Islay is home to some of Scotland’s most spectacular and remote beaches. Head to Machir Bay to feel the full force of the wild Atlantic Ocean as the waves pound the white sand.
Known as Britain’s only desert, Dungeness is a wild expanse of shingle which juts out into the English Channel off the coast of Kent. Despite being home to two nuclear power stations, there is a wild beauty to this place, with the wind often blowing strong across its open expanse. Its rare plant and insect life have seen it become increasingly popular with nature fanatics, but its wooden fishing huts and shelving beach make it a picturesque destination for those looking for an out-there escape from the city. Its most famous sight is the garden at Prospect Cottage, the home of late filmmaker Derek Jarman, which draws in visitors searching for inspiration for their own patch. The house was saved by the UK’s Art Fund charity in 2020 and is now preserved for everyone to explore.
Extending thirty miles out into the Irish Sea, the Llyn Peninsula is a mecca for watersports lovers and cyclists. The sheltered, calm waters near Abersoch make for perfect conditions for stand up paddleboarding, while the wilder three miles of beach at Porth Neigwl, Hell’s Mouth, are ideal for surfers and bodyboarders. Those who prefer dry land and two wheels can follow designated routes along narrow country lanes, which are a riot of color during summer. Further west than the hugely popular Snowdonia National Park, this is Wales at its best. Wild, rugged and beautiful, there’s a warm welcome for anyone looking for adventure and time away from the hectic pace of everyday life.
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