What do you mean you’ve never been donkey trekking? If you feel like life is passing you by then make the most of it by ticking off these classic experiences, says Sarah Riches
The Jurassic Coast – England’s only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site – stretches from neighbouring Devon to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in Dorset. The region is valued because it tells a geological story that started around 260 million years ago. Keen walkers won’t want to miss the windswept nature reserve of Hengistbury Head, the natural rock arch of Durdle Door and the 28km pebbly Chesil Beach – Britain’s longest. Book a five-night self-guided walk with Exodus.
Already hiked Scafell Pike, cruised across Lake Ullswater and explored Grasmere village? Then add fell pony walking to your to-do list on your next trip to the Lake District. Originally, pack ponies carried slate and charcoal before the railways and canals were built, so they don’t think twice about lugging a couple of 20kg backpacks. In return, you’ll guide them by rope, walking side by side as you bond with them down tranquil country lanes, over meadows and past waterfalls. Along the way you may spot buzzards, ospreys and otters before enjoying dinner around a firepit. Book a three-day wild camping trip with Fell Pony Adventures.
Swap your campervan or tent for a new challenge: navigating the UK’s canal network by narrowboat. Even novice skippers will (eventually) get the hang of steering under cast iron bridges, fathoming the lock system and manoeuvring through marinas, and once you do, you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the willow trees, buzzards and swans around you. Canal folk are a friendly bunch so along the way you can expect to meet plenty of dog walkers, cyclists, kayakers and paddleboarders, before being rocked to sleep like a baby in a cradle. Book a short trip with Drifters Waterway Holidays.
A pod of eight endangered orcas inhabit the waters around Scotland, so if you’ve always wanted to see them in the wild book a boat trip with Hebridean Whale Cruises. From May, the firm runs four-hour tours from Gairloch on the west coast of Scotland, looping around the Isle of Skye and Shiant Islands near the Outer Hebrides. While sightings aren’t guaranteed, if you miss them you’ll still go home with photos of dolphins, puffins, razorbills and guillemots, as well as grey and common seals and golden and white-tailed eagles.
What’s a bucket list for, if not for a challenge? Set your sights on Hadrian’s Wall, a 117.5km stronghold built in AD122. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, walkers come from all over the world to complete it and see the Roman forts of Birdoswald, Vindolanda, Housesteads and Chesters. If you have limited time (or energy), see the best bits on a four-day walk from the 14th century Lanercost Priory to the charming town of Corbridge with Exodus.
Fistral Beach in Newquay has an international reputation for its waves, but if you want to get to grips with a surfboard without the crowds then escape to Watergate Bay up the road instead. Family Surf Co specialises in surfing for families, with sea safety sessions on rip currents, wildlife and ocean skills. The new travel company has designed surfing and yoga weekends in March and May 2021 specifically for mums, with watersports to keep dads and kids occupied. The whole family then stay at Watergate Bay Hotel, which has views of the beach from the rooms and indoor pool.
For a satisfying travel experience, take a trip with a purpose. Active England runs guided and self-guided tours along the UK’s waterways by paddleboard, canoe, kayak and bike. You can also opt to explore on foot. Whichever mode of transportation you choose, you go at your own pace and have the benefit of a support vehicle on hand. Active England's new Source to Sea Adventures – The Wye is a guided seven-day experience that begins at the source of the River Wye and ends in Chepstow in the Bristol Channel. Along the way you will have chance to explore the literary town of Hay on Wye, see Hereford Cathedral and peregrine falcons, picnic along the riverbank and have pitstops in pubs and around a firepit.
If you’ve ever dreamt of jumping in a car and escaping to the end of the world, then hop in a Celtic Routes’ Land Rover Discovery 4x4 and take off on an epic seven-night, 805km trail around Scotland. Starting in Inverness, you will explore Cairngorms National Park before winding up the west coast to the peninsula of Applecross and ending at Cape Wrath – Britain’s most north westerly point. The vehicle comes with a tablet pre-programmed with directions, the weather and accommodation recommendations. How does a night in a lighthouse, castle or yurt sound? Camping equipment, along with mountain bikes and paddleboards, are pre-bookable optional extras.
With a population of 25,000 puffins, Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast is one of the best places in the UK to spot the chubby-cheeked seabird. While the island is an easy jaunt on a ferry from south Wales, you’ll be rewarded if you linger after the day trippers have gone. Wildlife Worldwide takes small groups to the isle on three-day photography trips between May and July. During the day you will snap Atlantic puffins with their mouths stuffed with sandeel, while at sunset around 70,000 Manx shearwaters arrive to find their breeding burrows. Visit in July to see pufflings making their first flight, taken at night to escape predators.
The Victorians were the first to offer donkey rides at the beach, in Weston Super Mare in 1886. These days however, travellers with a conscience may prefer to opt for the more ethical practice of donkey trekking. The Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary, between Shanklin and Ventnor in the south of the island, runs regular ‘walk a donkey’ days where you walk side by side with one. You can also learn how to care for them.
Lapland isn’t the only place you can go dog sledding, so if donkey trekking is too tame for you, ramp up the adrenaline by hopping on a sledge pulled by husky dogs. Natural Britain has teamed up with a duo that train the dogs for international races, so you can be sure you’re in safe hands. A pack of six husky dogs with eyes the colour of Arctic ice tear through South Alwen forest in north Wales while you cling on behind them. The adventure lasts between one and three hours.
This classic British experience is popular with visitors from around the world, and rightly so. Punt staff dressed in stripy T-shirts and straw hats do all the work while you sit back in a flat-bottomed boat and float along the River Cam in Cambridge, past willow trees and under the 1831 stone bridge, the Bridge of Sighs. The Cambridge Punt Company host 45-minute private and shared tours which pass by the Cambridge University campus, including the Wren Library and Trinity, Kings’ and Queens’ College. In summer, pack a picnic or pre-order strawberries and cream.
Did you know that seals have a unique fur pattern that identifies them like humans’ fingerprints do? You’ll learn facts like these on a three-hour trip with Scilly Seal Snorkelling, which takes small groups snorkelling between March and September. Britain is home to more than 120,000 grey seals – which is 40 per cent of the world’s population – and one of the best places to see them is around the Isles of Scilly. Scilly Seal Snorkelling runs the tours from St Martin’s Island, as a colony lives near there all year round. If you’re lucky, a seal may be curious enough to nibble your fins.
The New Forest in Hampshire is known for its 5,000-strong population of wild ponies, but it’s also home to fallow, red and roe deer. Wildlife photographers Emma Healey and Bret Charman from Wildlife Worldwide guide groups of up to three on photography day trips from September to November. Autumn is rutting season, so you may capture stags bellowing to assert their dominance or sparring with one another over a female. Look out for their majestic antlers and fur the colour of gingerbread peeking through oak and beech trees.
If you’ve always wanted to try sea kayaking but the thought of choppy waves, container ships and chance encounters with the aforementioned orcas puts you off, then sign up to a six-day tour of the north west Highlands with KE Adventure Travel. The travel firm guides small groups between May and September 2021 around lochs that are sheltered by land, which makes them calm enough for beginners. Loch Shieldaig and Loch Kishorn are wild and remote, so while you may be the only people in sight you might get lucky and spot dolphins. The trip includes an undemanding hike across the Applecross peninsula and accommodation in an inn on the coast of Loch Torridon.
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