Did you know that the UK has some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world? From white sand islands to snow-capped mountains, the UK has everything you could possibly want from a holiday. Here’s our ten best, adventurous UK based holidays for families with kids.
The Lake District, Cumbria
With long stretches of coast line, phenomenal mountains, gushing waterfalls, trickling streams, glacial lakes, quaint towns and loads of amazing places to eat, it’s no surprise that The Lake District is my favourite national park in the world. Yet with so many places to choose from where can you stay? The best areas, in my opinion, are north of Kendall but south of Penrith. Use the map below to find local budget accommodation.
Windermere, Conniston, Ullswater, Haweswater, Thirlmere, Derwentwater and Buttermere all make for photogenic watery backdrops with a range of walks, hikes, cycle paths & lake activities. But, did you know that Bassenthwaite Lake is the only official lake in the Lake District? The others are technically all meres, waters or tarns. Coniston Water lies beneath the mountain known as the Old Man of Coniston, which towers above the lake and village. You can explore the lake on board the 1859 steam yacht Gondola or the solar-powered Coniston Launch, or go under your own steam, hiring a boat yourself. Both the Ullswater Steamer and the Keswick Launch provide an excellently lazy way of seeing the mountains and lakes from the beauty of the water.
Perhaps it is Windermere that is the most famous stretch of water though and from the west shore you can hike up from the Lake Cruises ferry terminal to the scenic lookout of Claif station. Claife Viewing Station was built in the 1790s as a mock ruin. The strangely built building had windows tinted with coloured glass designed to recreate the landscape under different seasonal conditions. Yellow created a summer landscape, orange autumn, light green for spring and dark blue for moonlight. This glass has been restored by the National Trust and remains a rare example of a purpose–built, public viewing station. A mile north of the town of Windermere, Holehird Gardens is a demonstration garden with plants that do well in the Lake District’s damp climate. It has Alpine houses, rock and heather gardens and a walled garden noted for its herbaceous borders,
If it’s castles that you’re after, you’ll also be spoilt as once upon there were literally hundreds of them. Sadly many old castles were dismantled so the stones could be used for modern buildings but many still remain. Wray Castle sits on the shores of Windermere but don’t be fooled by the turrets and towers of this gothic design as this fairy tale castle was built in the 19th century by a Victorian surgeon. The medieval Sizergh Castle near Kendal has been home to the Strickland family for more than 750 years and there are lots of historic treasures to discover within the beautifully laid out rooms. The historic Muncaster Castle has magnificent views from a majestic spot above the Ravenglass estuary featuring Himalayan gardens and bluebell woods. The remains of Brougham Castle have an idyllic setting on the banks of the River Eamont near Penrith and impressively survived numerous battles since the 13th century. Piel Castle is a 14th-century fortress located on a small island to the south of Barrow-in-Furness. Measuring just 50 acres in total, Piel Island can only be accessed by boat adding to its appeal. Carlisle Castle is a great medieval fortress that has watched over the City of Carlisle for over nine centuries. Explore fascinating and ancient chambers, stairways and dungeons and find the legendary ‘licking stones’ where, parched Jacobite prisoners found enough moisture to stay alive, only to be later executed on Gallows Hill.
For those who like a mountain or two Skiddaw, Blencathra, Scafell Pike and Helvellyn all provide a bit of adrenalin but don’t worry if you’re not that confident out walking as there’s a huge range of adult courses on offer to help you learn map skills and more. Alternatively you could book a private company to take you up onto the mountains like I did the day my kids crashed my tour. The Lakes also host the UK’s BIGGEST Via Ferrata over the old slate mine of Honnister. There are two routes; the original Miners route via Ferrata Classic is not as challenging or demanding as the Via Ferrata Xtreme. The Xtreme route is twice the height of The Shard and open to anyone over the age of ten.
For those with no head for heights, there’s Airaforce waterfalls, the fells of Cat bells, Derwent pencil museum, Pooley Bridge, Lowther Castle and Castlerigg stonecricle. Of the more than 300 stone circles in England, Castlerigg is among the oldest with 38 stones aligned with the tallest of the surrounding fells. Unlike most of England’s Bronze Age stone circles, this one was constructed in roughly 3000 BC in the Neolithic period. It measures more than 30 meters in diameter, the circle originally had 42 stones, some more than two meters high. For the full dramatic effect you should aim to visit at sunset however it is not the lake districts only stone circle. There are four in total; Cockpit sits above Ullswater; Swinside near Broughton in Furness has 55 stones and Burnmoore consists of five separate circles.
It won’t surprise you to hear that The Lake District is a foodies paradise. From it’s three Michelin starred restaurants to Grasmere’s Gingerbread Shop and Kendal’s mintcake, there’s a pallet for everyone.
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Inner Hebrides, Scotland
The UK has around 6,000 islands although only 136 are permanently inhabited and the largest set of islands falls in the Inner Hebrides in Scotland.
The Inner Hebrides comprise 35 inhabited islands and 44 uninhabited islands. The islands of Skye, Mull, Islay and Jura are the four largest islands within the Inner Hebrides which stretches for a total of 150 miles. People on the islands are generally outnumbered by animal life (on Jura it’s 20:1 by deer); from cows and sheep to eagles, otters, deer, dolphins, seals and even sharks. If you’re looking for peace, quiet, relaxation, seascapes and adventure, the Inner Hebrides are the perfect place.
Mull is gnerally going to be your gateway access point to all of the other islands. It’s the second largest island after Skye and is roughly 25 miles long and 20 miles wide. It has a population of nearly 2700 and has grand landscapes reminiscent of the Highlands and towering peaks, gushing waterfalls and wind-rippled lochs. Home to the world-famous, colourful town of Tobermory, it is a popular destination.
Your best way of exploring these islands is a combination of self-driving and ferry although some crazy folk do prefer to cycle! Fat cycles on Islay are a brilliant way to explore the island as they give access to cycling on the sand. Larger ferries are provided by CalMac and they have a HopScotch Ticket (only valid for 31 days thoguh) but the smaller ferries are provided through many varying companies.
Jura means Deer Island in Gaelic and its striking peaks, the Paps of Jura, are home to purple heather and roughly 6,000 deer. Buzzards and otter are regular visitors to Jura which has become well known for its gin. Lussa Gin is made inside an old horse stables and is produced using fifteen island botanicals including lemon thyme, Scots pine, bog myrtle and sea lettuce to create its unique flavour.
Alcohol is an ongoing theme throughout the islands and Colonsay is no exception. One of the smallest islands in the world to have its own brewery & distillery. Colonsay is just 10 miles long and 2 miles wide and has a grand total of 135 friendly inhabitants. Colonsay Brewery has three core beers whilst Wild Thyme Spirits makes gin and offers private Gin Tasting Experiences! Not as exposed to the wind, Colonsay’s craggy hills support a huge array of plant and birdlife. You might discover wild goats and rabbits, one of the finest quasi-tropical gardens in Scotland and the island’s finest sandy beach, Kiloran Bay. There’s another unspoilt sandy beach backed by dunes at Balnahard where there are regular sightings of choughs and golden eagles and don’t forget to visit the jutting Hangman’s Rock where it’s rumoured it was used for public hangings. From Colonsay you can cross (at low tide) over to Oransay via a strand of sand between the two islands. Here lies Oronsay Priory, founded in the 1300s and dedicated to St Columba.
Raasay is one of the smaller islands although it still has its own distillery! It is long and thin, measures 13 miles by 3 miles and rises to just 443 metres at Dun Caan. Some accommodation is available at Raasay House which is also an outdoor centre which offers kayaking, canoeing, sailing, climbing, abseiling, coasteering, gorge walking and bike hire. The island has flourishing wildlife that includes sea and golden eagles, otters, red deer and mountain hares.
Whilst you cannot drive on the Island of Iona you can stay in a range of accommodation and the island is small enough to walk from end to end. Don’t forget to visit the island of Staffa and Fingal’s cave which has links back to the Bronze Age. From here, you can explore the seven Treshnish Isles. As well as puffins these islands are an important breeding ground for common seals. Around 1,200 pups are born there each year. Herons, greylag geese and cormorants are easy to see sea birds. There are plenty of duns of iron age origin, the rmains of a 13th-century chapel and the abandoned Lunga village of blackhouses.
Stay on the Isle of Muck and get transported by tractor to your accommodation. Boasting gorgeous sand coves, you can also island hop between Eig and Rum but beware there’s no shops on Muck so you must take over whatever you need. There are however five self-catering cottages and a hostel, the Isle of Muck Bunkhouse.
The island of Islay is much bigger and thus more developed. It is the southernmost of the islands and described as the Queen having over 130 miles of coastline. You can rent kayaks, go on a sea safari, hike, cycle and even play golf. In the north-east of Islay you’ll find two islands on Loch Finlaggan which are dotted with the remains of an ancient settlement, including a prehistoric fort and medieval tombstones. Close by is a known nesting area for white-tailed eagles, red deer and close by the ruins of an old Viking setlement. The Big Strand is the longest sandy beach on Islay with huge dunes; stretching 7 miles from Laggan Point to Kintra. The Caol Ila distillery is situated on the north-east coast, at the closest point to Jura. It regularly sees otters although it’s also one of eleven other Whisky distilleries on the island!
The fish-shaped Isle of Coll is home to an array of wildlife and the stories of Katie Morag “Discover Coll and you will find a hint of Struay, the island home of the redoubtable Katie Morag; a house here, a beach there and, most definitely, the row of whitewashed cottages by the old jetty of ferryboat days”. Home to gorgeous beaches like Feall Bay and the 15th-century Breachacha Castle, it might feel like you have the entire island to yourself.
Fancy a trip to the Inner Hebrides? Use the map below to search for local, cheap accommodation. Scroll out for the best chance of finding somewhere you like.
The Peak District, Derbyshire
The Peak District is famous for its long walks that traverse picturesque villages like Matlock Bath, Bakewell, Edensor and Tideswell. The Derbyshire Dales area has 130 pubs and bars, per capita this is more than anywhere else in England (except Westminster). So if you’re looking for cosy atmospheres, roaring log fires and scrumptious food, check out these seven traditional country pubs.
The walks around the Peak District are fabulous for adventurous families with kids and if you wanted, you could even learn to climb here. A nice walk for small kids is around the Dovedale stepping-stones but for older kids there are natural geographical formations called Thor’s cave and Lud’s church and you’ll need to catch a cable car to see the Heights of Abraham.
The Peak District has a number of Stateley homes; In Bakewell Chatsworth house is a very impressive site. Built in the 1500’s, it has over thirty rooms to explore. With a grand Tudor hall and Elizabethan gardens, Haddon Hall is a fortified manor house situated near the River Wye that was built in the 12th century. Hardwick Hall is another Elizabethan country house created by Bess of Hardwick in the 1500s. Owned by the National Trust the park contains a number of walks. Eyam Hall is a small Jacobean manor house built in 1672 that has a range of craft activities for kids & Calke Abbey was an Augustinian priory from the 12th century until its dissolution by Henry VIII. It is one of very few properties open to cyclists.
If that isn’t adventurous enough for you, why not have a go at caving. You can learn to navigate through tight underground walls cut by ancient waterways, made entirely of fossils and minerals and take in some remarkable crystal formations. Prepare to get wet if you go gorge scrambling where you walk up mountain streams, climb waterfalls and jump into pools and let’s not forget for the adrenalin junkies that both Alton Towers & Gulliver’s Kingdom are just a short drive away.
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Gower, South Wales
West of Swansea, this little peninsular is only 70 square miles but it was the first area in the UK to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With cliffs and woodlands encircled by sparkling beaches, the Gower peninsula is adored by walkers, birdwatchers, sunbathers and (world-class) surfers alike.
Gower’s most iconic sight is a rocky promontory that sits on Rhossili Bay called Worm’s Head that looks like a ship wreck. The walk out to Worm’s Head is a fabulous adventure and it’s only reachable for two hours either side of low tide which adds to the excitement. The Gower Way which is part of the Wales Coast Path, runs for 35 miles (56km) around the Gower coastline. Visit Swansea Bay and the National Trust both have lists of walks you can do.
The Three Cliffs Bay is a gorgeous wide bay surrounded by quiet, wooded hillside and is overlooked by the ruins of Pennard Castle. Don’t forget the very overlooked beach of Pobbles Bay which is tucked behind the Three Cliffs at the end of a medium walk over the cliffs and dunes. Don’t forget the beach at Mewslade however the least visited beach (and obviously the nicest) is Blue Pool Bay; a natural tidal plunge-pool perfect for wild swimming. It’s difficult to access and you just hike over the dunes from Broughton Bay which makes it more worthwhile.
Gower is the home of the oldest buries human remains in britain. Dating back more than 30,000 years, the Redy Lade of Paviland was later discovered to be a man however there are also the Neolithic remains of Arthur’s Stone. The Gower Heritage Centre is a good place to learn about rural culture, while the Gower Festival brings classical performers to an ancient local churches in July. There’s also a strong folk tradition on Gower, best experienced at the annual Gower Folk Festival in June.
Snowdon is a short distance away but with six different routes up and down it, which will you take – although you could cheat and take the train up!
If you want to see some beautiful photos from Gower, head over to Where’s Mollie who showcases eleven photos to make you envious.
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Jersey, Channel Islands
Once home to Bergerac, Jersey is located in the channel a short proximity to France, just 14 miles (22 km) from the French coast. Although it is the largest of five channel islands, it is only 5 miles (8 km) long and 9 miles (14.5 km) wide and technically as it is a British Crown Dependency it isn’t part of the UK but a British Island. Still, I’m including it because it’s a cool place to visit and there is lots for families to do.
Jersey has a big military past as it played a pivotal role in WWII but it’s also known for its birdlife, beaches, flowers, wine and food. You can explore Jersey’s historical side with a trip to its war tunnels, located in a partially built underground hospital complex erected by the Germans as part of the wartime project to fortify the Channel Islands. War and history enthusiasts can explore the Channel Islands Military Museum, located in a German-built bunker on the West coast whilst Jersey Heritage also shares the tenth oldest building in the world! La Hougue Bie Museum is said to contain one of Europe’s finest passage graves set as well as a geology and archaeology museum on site, show casing coin hoards, axes, swords and spears. Alternatively you could visit the ancient castles of Mount Orgueil & Elizabeth.
The Jersey Wetland Centre is located close to the west coast, entrance is free and keen birdwatchers can check the Jersey Birds site where lists of bird species spotted on the island are published every day. If you don’t fancy going alone, there are plenty of bird groups and tours that you can join in with. Don’t forget to check out the island’s Botanic Garden & Lavender Farm where you can walk around a Discovery Trail, visit the distillery and learn more about essential oils alternatively soak up the sun at a Wine Estate with a glass of fruity cider, ale, gin, brandy or wine, all produced on the island.
It is rumoured that wherever you are on Jersey you’re never more than ten minutes from the sea. It’s no surprise therefore that Jersey is best known for its beaches; from the golden sandy bays of the south to the Atlantic waves of the west coast and the sheltered coves and hidden rock pools of the north and east. Which beach will you visit though? A windy day in Jersey is perfect for blokarting; a mix of gokarting with a sail at high-speed or even a surf lesson, SUP boarding, coastering, kayaking, diving or a high-speed boat trip.
For the more sedate amongst us Jersey is famous for its hiking, cycling and trail running. How do you fancy a night-time, bioluminescent walk to Seymour Tower to see shiny plankton, glistening in the rocky waters?
If I haven’t listed enough adventure kids can also go to forest school, practice archery, visit the highropes centre and adventure park. That should be enough to keep them busy. For a small island, Jersey certainly packs a punch!
Head over to this Instagrammers Guide to Jersey for more beautiful photos of this island.
Fancy taking a trip to Jersey? Use the map of Jersey below to search for local & cheap accommodation. Scroll out for the best chance of finding somewhere.
The Scilly Isles, Cornwall
The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago of five inhabited islands that sit off the Cornish coast. Despite being only 28 miles west of Land’s End, they are so isolated and small they have a population of just 2,200 people (most of whom live on St Mary’s). The five inhabited islands are St. Mary’s, Tresco, St. Martin’s, Bryher and St. Agnes although you’re free to explore the uninhabited ones aswell courtesy of the St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association, which provides inter-island transfer services.
Described as being azure seas, sub-tropical gardens and white sand beaches, it’s like having a bit of Italy right here on our doorstep and each island is slightly different to its neighbour. You can fly from Exeter, Newquay or Lands End on the Skybus or sail from Penzance on the Scillonian III passenger ferry.
You can’t take a car across to Scilly – there are very few cars on St Mary’s and those belong to the residents. The other inhabited islands have virtually no vehicles other than a few farm vehicles/pickup trucks. So how do you get around on the islands? You must island hop! All the islands are really close together – just a 15-25 minute boat ride apart – so it’s really easy to visit a different island every day.
St Mary’s is the largest of the islands and thus most populated. It is home to Scilly’s only airport, a supermarket, a secondary school, the police station, a hospital and a museum as well as the island’s oldest pub, the Mermaid Inn and The Garrison, a 16th century fort turned hotel. A prehistoric settlement is located in Halangy Down, where you can walk the streets of a Neolithic village and visit the burial chamber of Bant’s Carn. The island’s only vineyard, Holy Vale Wines, was planted in 2009 and offers tours of the vineyard and tastings of the wines. St. Mary’s is a safe haven of hidden treasures. The coastline features large stretches of deserted white sandy beaches, dramatic rocky coves and stunning seascapes including Pelistry Bay, a secluded patch of sand situated on the island’s remote east side. You can go out on a glass-bottomed boat to spot seals, seabirds such as puffins and frolicking dolphins.
Tresco Island is famous for its Abbey Garden. Described as Kew Garden without a roof, the gardens contain subtropical plants from South America, Africa and New Zealand. The only way to get around is by foot or hire a bike near the island’s shop. Within the garden, the Valhalla Museum shows a collection of salvaged figure heads and nautical memorabilia from the hundreds of wrecks around the Scilly shores. The tower of 17th-century Cromwell’s Castle stands in the rugged north of the island alongside some secluded, white sand beaches where you can borrow a boat, windsurf or kayak from Tresco Sailing Club.
The narrow island of Bryher is home to around 80 people and the wildest of the islands. Hike to gorse covered Watch Hill and the sandy beaches of Rushy Nay and Great Par. The island is so small you can walk around it in just a few hours. Local people sell home-made produce by the side of the road in small stalls and you can hire kayaks & boats from Bennett’s boatyard. The uninhabited island of Samson, which was abandoned in 1855, is close by and you can also arrange transfers from the boatyard. Bryher benefits from a rustic campsite so don’t forget your tent. Hell Bay (named for the enormous rolling waves) is home to the more dramatic side of the island with rocky coves and an award-winning hotel.
St Martins is a bit of a beach paradise & the first thing you’ll see when arriving here is the iconic red and white Day Mark, erected in 1683 by Thomas Ekins which looks more like a torpedo. Although the island is only 2 miles long it has some of the best beaches the UK has to offer. There are rockpools in Lawrence’s bay, the sweeping bay of Par beach, Great Bay, Little Bay, and Bread & Cheese cove! It has its own bakery, organic farm, vineyard, dive school, post office and fish & chip shop and a flower farm that has been in business since the 19th century. St Martin’s island has tide dependent landings. Depending on the tide you may be transferred to the Lower Town, a 30 minute walk to High Town. The best place to meet the locals is the atmospheric Seven Stones Inn, St Martin’s only pub and if you fancy getting up close with the wildlife, you can go diving or seal snorkelling.
St Agnes has puffins! It’s also the quietest of all the inhabited islands. Linked at low tide by a narrow sandbar, you can walk across to Gugh where there are Bronze Age remains and a 3 metre menhir, The Old Man of Gugh. You can rent SUP boards and kayaks to explore the sheltered coves or go out on a boat with Scilly Wildlife Trust Rangers to learn about local animals. Visit Westward Farm, the islands only distillery producing gin, cider, apple juice and essential oils.
Looking for more photos of the Scilly Isles? Tony Cobley is a professional photographer who showcases over eight-five photos from the islands.
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Anglesey, North Wales
Mention Anglesey and not many people will actually know where it is, but we think it might be Wales’ best kept secret.
This, quite large, island off Wales north-west coast is known predominantly for its nature and historical sites. The island is accessed by either the 19th-century Menai Suspension Bridge or the 20th century Britannia Bridge. Anglesey is particularly appealing as it has over 125 miles of beautiful coastline providing the ideal playground for a range of active and adventurous activities.
Anglesey is equally appealing to both cyclists and hikers. The Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path climbs a total of 4,174 metres over 125 miles, although you can obviously do smaller sections. Holyhead Mountain, known as Mynydd Twr in Welsh is the highest point on Anglesey. On the east side of Holyhead mountain, you will find Caer y Twr – a late Roman watchtower overlooking the town’s harbour. It is believed the Romans built the tower as a look out point for Caer Gybi Fort on the remains of an Iron Age hillfort.
Cyclists are catered for too with two of the UK’s cycle routes. Why not take on the challenge of Lôn Las Copr, a 36 mile circular tour connecting the North East of the island, taking in the only working windmill in Wales and Parys Mountain. Alternatively, Lôn Las Cefni offers a 13 mile, traffic-free cycle path however if you’re up for a massive challenge, try the 107 mile Tour de Môn.
Being an island, it is an apt opportunity to try some new skills. How about learning to sail, surf, kayak or coasteering? There’s even diving amongst shipwrecks and reefs or longboarding, windsurfing and kite surfing at Rhosneigr or Trearddur Bay. There are six Blue Flag beaches on Anglesey: Benllech, Church Bay, Llanddwyn, Llanddona, Trearddur Bay and Porth Dafarch and Holyhead. You cna learn about the legends of Santes Dwynwen and gaze over views of Snowdonia while you visit Llanddwyn Island.
If it’s nature you’re after, there are dolphins and seals at Lligwy Bay and a 700 native-stronghold of red squirrels at Newborough Forest. Anglesey also has a good population of puffins, and one of the best places to see these charismatic birds is at the South Stack. Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens and Copper Kingdom both bring a unique insight into Anglesey life from a different persepctive.
If you’re looking for history, the medieval town of Beaumaris has 13th-century Castle with concentric fortifications & a moat, the Gaol has Victorian punishment cells and an original tread wheel. Porth Wen Brickworks is a now disused Victorian brickworks which produced fire bricks, made from quartzite (silica) used to line steel-making furnaces and just a short drive onto the mainland in Caernarfon Castle
No trip to an island is complete without visiting a lighthouse and Angelesey is home to Trwyn Du Lighthouse, also known as Penmon Lighthouse. It’s located between Black Point and Ynys Seiriol, or Puffin Island. The first lighthouse was erected in 1838, is 29m tall and was designed by James Walker and don’t forget to pick up some Menai Sea Salt. Halen Môn salt is known in the most elite of foodie circles (I’d never heard of it before) and it has its very own visitors centre – Tŷ Halen – offering behind the scenes tours.
Head over to Nickscape to see more glorious photos from this Welsh beauty.
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Essex, East Anglia
The county of Essex is not the obvious choice for an adventurous holiday but it might surprise you at how much there is to do. Essex has 350 miles of coastline fronted by marshlands and creeks but it also has twenty islands, waterfalls, lakes, a long history that shaped the UK, ruined churches, historical houses, long walks and a range of adventurous activities you really wouldn’t expect.
Essex’s history predates the Romans and the UK’s oldest recorded town is Colchester. Colchester Castle is a fine example of Roman architecture but there’s also buildings from the Saxon, Norman, Jacobean, Tudor and Victorian periods in Essex. Built in the 12th century, Hedingham Castle offers 900 years of incredible history with jousting, vintage car shows, and medieval fairs taking place throughout the year. Mountfitchet Castle, is believed to be an early Iron Age fort. After 1215, the castle site lay overgrown and forgotten for more than 700 years until its reconstruction. It’s the only wooden Motte and Bailey castle to be reconstructed anywhere in the world. Layer Marney Tower is the tallest Tudor gatehouse in the country whilst the much more modern Talliston House & Gardens are a bit weird. Once a council house it has been transformed into thirteen rooms, each set in a different period and place.
With one of the mildest climates in the country, Essex has a wealth of stunning gardens and what could be more quintessentially English than a country house. Essex has historic venues that make a fantastic day out for all the family. Audley End House and Gardens is a grand stately homes, offering stunning gardens. Rescued from ruin, Hylands House is a restored Grade II listed country house that was built in 1730. Step back to the 16th century and the home of Sir William Petre, Secretary of State to four Tudor monarchs, and enjoy a tour of the hall’s eight principal rooms. Cressing Temple Barns is the oldest timber-framed barn in the world and is a medieval moated farmstead once owned by the elite warrior monks, the Knights Templar. The Naze Tower is easily one of the most recognisable Essex coastline landmarks as it stands at 86ft tall. Offering visitors the chance to see far and wide across the west of the county from its roof viewing platform, there is also an art gallery and a museum.
Despite being close to London, Essex is a rural county which benefits from 3,500 miles of public footpaths, bridleways, byways and quiet lanes and is perfect for ramblers. The Flitch Way slices through the countryside along the former Bishop’s Stortford to Braintree railway line and provides a level, wildlife-rich track which is perfect for little legs. The Thames Estuary Path is a 29-mile-long route that goes from Tilbury Town all the way to Leigh-on-Sea. It’s dominated by grazing marsh, creeks, mudflats and salt marsh and is suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. As you’re visiting Leigh, don’t forget there are burgeoning seal colonies just off the shore. You could take a ferry from the picturesque town of Burnham on Crouch to the RSPB’s Wallasea Island or even walk the 1.34 mile length of the Southend Pier. It’s been standing since 1830 and has lived through fires, boat crashes and some of nature’s harshest attacks.
The Essex coastline is an area of diverse, wild beauty which is rich in wildlife. Loneley salt marshes, tidal inlets and estuarine islands are home to a wide range of animals and wildflowers. From butterflies to long-eared owls and the cute muntjac deer to mountain hares, Essex has one of the most diverse ranges of animal life found in the UK.
The medieval marshes of RSPB Rainham Marshes lie next to the River Thames and were initially used as a military firing range. Re-opened to the public, they’re now home to wading birds and ducks. Redwings Horse Sanctuary is home to rescued horses, donkeys, ponies and mules and there’s the chance to enjoy some walking tours and demonstrations on how to care for these animals too. Fingringhoe Wick has 125 acres of woodlands and lakes down by the Colne estuary. With superb nature trails, a overservation tower and eight bird hides, many species of birds, insects and wild flowers flourish here. Epping Forest is a 2,400-hectare area of ancient woodland between Epping and Forest Gate whilst the beautiful Belhus Woods are a combination of open grassland, meadows, ancient woods and lakes. At 152 hectares, Hadleigh Park has an education centre in a replica Iron Age roundhouse, miles of walking trails and it also benefits from an Olympic size cycle track. Abberton Reservoir has a 900-metre circular footpath which takes you through a variety of habitats including grassland and shrub areas.
Now let’s look at Essex’s truly adventurous activities. The south coast of Essex is windy, even in summer, and the long beaches and prevalent tides offer perfect opportunities for fast-paced water sports such as sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing and kite buggying. Lee Valley White Water Centre was built for the Olympics and offers white water rafting, paddling on the lake, hydrospeeding, open water swimming, rubber donuts and more. There’s also the site at Essex Outdoors where you can zip wire, sail, climb and shoot some archery. Alternatively you could scare the kids by taking them to Adventure Island amusement park with its RISK roller coaster and other high velocity rides.
But don’t worry, if that’s all too hair raising for you, there’s always a trip to Tiptree Jam Factory Shop and Museum!
Visiting Essex? You can use the map below to search for accommodation. Scroll out for a full view of budget accommodation.
The Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and technically the Manx island is not part of the UK; it became a crown possession in the 1800’s and self-governs its internal affairs. However due to its close proximity to the mainland, I have included it in this list.
The Isle of Man is just 30 miles long and 10 miles wide and is a permanent home to around 80,000 people. The island consists of a central mountain, Snaefell (2,036 feet, 621 metres high) which is a popular hiking destination, whereas the 100 square miles of coastline is rocky with cliff scenery and some parts act as a bird sanctuary.
The Isle of Man is most famous for its TT motorcycle race in June however the Island has a 10,000 year old history with a strong Celtic and Viking past. To the south of the island stands the medieval castle of Rushen and to the west you’ll find the ancient fortress of Peel Castle. Another popular landmark is the Laxey Wheel – the largest working waterwheel in the world! Standing at over 72 feet high, this extraordinary piece of Victorian engineering is an impressive sight.
With miles upon miles of mountainous trails, long distance footpaths and an extensive coastline, the Isle of Man lends itself perfectly for families seeking outdoor challenges. At Bradda Glen you can take a walk along the tree-lined winding coastal path to Milner’s Tower and the island’s highest waterfall (40m) Dhoon Glen. On offer to the adventurous are gorge scrambling, sea kayaking, rock climbing, abseiling, hill navigation, bushcraft and survival experiences, assault courses, archery, dingy sailing and powerboating.
Those looking for a more sedate introduction to the island can tour around in original carriages and tram cars from the 1870’s on the vintage electric and steam railways. Uniquely, the Isle of Man has also introduced tech free holidays so visitors can have a digital distraction-free trip.
You can see more fantastic photos from the Isle of Man at James Brew.
The Shetland Islands, Scotland
The Shetland Islands are probably the only place within the UK that you could, with certainty, justify flights to. One hundred miles from Scotland’s northern most coastline, are a subarctic archipelago of one hundred islands (only fifteen are inhabited) located between the Faroe Islands and Norway and that means they can get pretty cold and windy!
The Shetland islands have a lengthy history of over 4,000 years, stretching back to the Bronze Age. Up until the late 1400’s they were owned by Denmark and this is evident in many of the street and building names. The history is also reflected in the fascinating circular brochs and mysterious standing stones that are dotted around the isles.
You can enjoy over 300 lochs and 1700 miles of breathtaking coastline and make a holiday from walking, hiking, cycling, kayaking, classic sailing aboard an original fishing boat and if you’re brave enough, even diving. The islands are fringed by white coved beaches and towering cliff tops & sea caves. Sumburgh Head has a 100 metre drop, and from here you can experience some of the most spectacular wildlife spectacles with thousands of seabirds including guillemots, shags, fulmars, gannets and puffins as well as other marine life such as seals, otters, dolphins & porpoise, whales and orcas and of course the famous Shetland ponies.
There are over one hundred islands that you’re allowed to visit and it’s as simple as hopping on & off a boat. Shetland Islands Council runs efficient & inexpensive inter-island ferries where you can either book or just turn up. St Ninian’s Isle is seen as one of the Shetland’s best and looks more like it belongs in the Caribbean. Yell island with its golden beaches is the UK’s otter capital (over a thousand otters) whilst Foula is described as the ‘island at the edge of the world’. Both Unst and Fair Isle have renowned bird observatories.
If it’s festivals you’re after you can discover Shetland’s unique cultural heritage with January’s Up Helly Aa festival, a world-famous Viking fire festical, the weeklong Fiddle Frenzy in October and Shetland Boat Week in August. There’s also the May Shetland Folk Festival and the UK’s most northerly family festival UnstFest. In September, don’t miss Shetland Wool Week which celebrates the heritage with exhibitions, classes and events on wool craft including weaving, spinning, dyeing and Fair Isle knitting.
Getting to the Shetlands isn’t even that challenging. If you want to self drive, hop on a ferry from Aberdeen with your car and drive along the 640 miles of quiet, well-maintained roads. You can also fly to Sumburgh and rent a car whilst you’re there.
If you’d like to see some beautiful photography from the Shetland Islands, head over to Meandering Wild where Suzanne displays some truly amazing photos from her trips.
If you’re visiting The Shetland Isles, use the map below to search for a range of accommodation. Scroll out for best views.
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