6 mins

15 bucket list adventures in Britain

How does photographing dolphins sound? If you feel like life is passing you by then make the most of it by ticking off these classic experiences, says Sarah Riches

Bottlenose dolphins (Shutterstock)

1. Hike England from coast to coast

North York Moors National Park in summer (Shutterstock)

North York Moors National Park in summer (Shutterstock)

If you’re up for a challenge, tackle the 305km Coast to Coast trail, which stretches from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. The British fell walker and guidebook author Alfred Wainwright devised this walk in the early 1970s, and it has attracted keen hikers ever since. Over 19 days, you’ll cross from the coastal village of St Bees on England’s west coast though three English National Parks – the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors – before finishing with a paddle in Robin Hood’s Bay, just south of Whitby. Along the way you may spot osprey soaring over Lake Ennerdale, see why the poet William Wordsworth was so taken by Grasmere village and meet locals in a tearoom in Danby Wiske. Book a Self-Guided Walking: Coast to Coast trip with KE Adventure Travel, which includes luggage transfers and B&B accommodation.

2. Trek with pack ponies in Cumbria

Ponies in Cumbria (Shutterstock)

Ponies in Cumbria (Shutterstock)

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.

3. Hire a narrowboat

A narrowboat on a tranquil canal (Shutterstock)

A narrowboat on a tranquil canal (Shutterstock)

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.

4. Spot orcas in the Hebrides

An orca (Shutterstock)

An orca (Shutterstock)

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 early June, 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.

5. Hike the Lake District

Views across the Lake District (Shutterstock)

Views across the Lake District (Shutterstock)

Formed by Ice Age glaciers, the Lake District’s valleys have been admired by painters and writers for centuries, inspiring JMW Turner, Samuel Coleridge and Beatrix Potter. The lakes, mountains and farmland that sprawl across the UNESCO World Heritage Site are beautiful in paintings but even more scenic from the top of a peak. If you’re keen to see England’s largest National Park without getting lost, join a small group guided by a qualified mountain leader on Exodus’ five-day High Fells and Summits of the Lake District trip. Staying at The George in Keswick on the northern shore of Derwentwater, you’ll tackle Striding Edge and end on a high – literally – by climbing England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike.

6. Surf in Cornwall

Watergate Bay (Shutterstock)

Watergate Bay (Shutterstock)

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 a three-night family surf break in October, which includes yoga for parents, two gourmet picnics for the whole family and accommodation at Bedruthan Hotel.

7. Explore from source to sea

Kayaking on the River Wye (Shutterstock)

Kayaking on the River Wye (Shutterstock)

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.

8. Camp in the wilderness

Cape Wrath (Shutterstock)

Cape Wrath (Shutterstock)

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, which is inspired by the North Coast 500. 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.

9. Photograph puffins on Skomer Island

Puffins on Skomer Island (Shutterstock)

Puffins on Skomer Island (Shutterstock)

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.

10. Sketch on safari

Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, New Forest (Shutterstock)

Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, New Forest (Shutterstock)

You may have visited the New Forest before, but the British artist Trevor Waugh will help you see it in another light on Wildlife Worldwide’s New Forest Sketchbook Safari with Trevor Waugh trip. Joining just a handful of other amateur artists among the yellow gorse and fern of the New Forest, you will spend three days improving your sketching and painting skills and learning new techniques, such as how to choose the right colours and how to capture a moving animal on paper. Your subjects will be red, fallow and sika deer in Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary and the native ponies that roam freely around the New Forest.

11. Go dog sledding

Dog sledding in autumn (Shutterstock)

Dog sledding in autumn (Shutterstock)

Lapland isn’t the only place you can go dog sledding, so if drawing ponies 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.

12. Punt on the River Cam

Punting on the River Cam (Shutterstock)

Punting on the River Cam (Shutterstock)

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.

13. Snorkel with seals

Snorkelling with seals (Shutterstock)

Snorkelling with seals (Shutterstock)

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 from spring to 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.

14. Photograph British wildlife

Bottlenose dolphins (Shutterstock)

Bottlenose dolphins (Shutterstock)

Discover the Scottish Highlands with a team of expert photographers, naturalists and conservationists on Wildlife Worldwide’s first Festival of British Wildlife trip. While you’ll join a group of up to 25, unlike most group trips this one has a flexible itinerary – so activities can be adjusted according to your interests, as well as the weather, tide and likely wildlife sightings. You’ll stay at Aigas Field Centre, which is sandwiched between Aigas Loch and the River Beauly in the middle of the 243-hectare Aigas Estate.

You’ll explore ancient Caledonian pine forest, observing and photographing wildlife from hides along the banks of Aigas Loch and Glen Affric National Nature Reserve. During the day, keep an eye out for European crested tit and Scottish crossbill, and red deer, beavers and otters; come evening, you may see pine marten and badgers. After dinner, you can listen to talks about British wildlife and conservation projects and take classes in photography. Another highlight is a two-hour boat ride off the coast of Inverness, where you may spot bottlenose dolphins, golden eagles and white-tailed sea eagles. This trip includes all meals and transfers and is scheduled for May 2022 – so book now before it sells out.

15. Kayak in the sea

Kayaking in a loch (Shutterstock)

Kayaking in a loch (Shutterstock)

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 July and September 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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