The year 2020 has been one for staycations and, thanks to suggestions from DK Eyewitness’ new range of British guidebooks, you can carry on discovering your own backyard with these thrilling adventures…
In 1996, the writer and environmentalist Roger Deakin toured the UK in search of his top wild swimming spots for his book Waterlog. His favourite? The River Waveney, which follows the border between Norfolk and Suffolk. In particular, he adored the two-mile stretch at Outney Common where access to the river is easy, the water quality excellent and the setting being Suffolk at its bucolic best. But there are so many other secret swimming spots you can find along its grassy banks, in particular the quiet waters beside the whitewashed Wortwell watermill in Norfolk. On a sunny summer’s day, Outney Common can get popular, so consider taking a dip during the spring or autumn months so you can enjoy more of the river to yourself and have a greater chance of spotting its resident otters.
Named after the titular character of Henry Williamson’s novel Tarka the Otter, the Tarka Trail faithfully realises the adventures of this wandering creature throughout north Devon as a 290km figure of eight route, with the coastal town of Barnstaple at its core. It’s a trail equally friendly for walkers and cyclists, with the 52km stretch from Braunton to Barnstaple recognised as the longest continuous traffic-free cycle route in the country. The trail encompasses something of a greatest hits of Devonian countryside, taking in the rugged valleys of Exmoor National Park, the unspoiled sands of Crow Point and the county’s second-oldest Norman castle at Okehampton – to name just a few of the fine sights along the way. Williamson’s wandering otter certainly stumbled across a broad selection of eye-popping Devonshire views on his adventures – now you can do the same.
For a thrilling way to experience the wild majesty of the Scottish Highlands, crash down the River Tay on a half-day white water rafting (or swap for kayaks and canoes, if you’d prefer) adventure. Start on the river’s upper reaches at Aberfeldy, navigating imaginatively named rapids such as ‘Zoom Flume’ and ‘The Washing Machine’, all of which are suitable for families and beginners. But rafting the Tay isn’t purely about soaking up the adrenaline amid emerald forested banks. Make sure you keen a keep eye out for the river’s abundant wildlife, such as the blue flash of a kingfisher on an overhanging branch or otters and beavers swimming in its waters.
Intrigue has long hung over the granitic wilderness of Bodmin Moor like a thick cloak and wandering this Cornish wilderness will probably pose more questions than answers, with a stream of mysterious tales and ghost stories painting an eerie narrative to this bleak – yet charming – landscape. The Beast of Bodmin is the moor’s most famous legend but there are plenty of other fabled sites that will capture your imagination, including the ancient stone circles known as The Hurlers and the haunted Jamaica Inn. Several other landmarks, such as Dozmary Pool and King Arthur’s Hall, are steeped in Arthurian folklore, too. Even in the rawest sense, Bodmin Moor’s barren heathlands and granite hills are a joy to wander, even if its many mysteries mean you’ll have to keep your wits about you.
The Pennine Way may be the Peak District’s most famous walk, but the Tissington Trail is an unsung stroll you should also lace your boots up for. Tracing the route of the former Buxton to Ashbourne Victorian railway line, which also used to deliver milk from local farms to London after the Second World War, this 20km trail cuts through the limestone landscape of the Derbyshire Dales. The trail is rightly proud of its railway history and you’ll pass remnants of its derelict stations, while the Ashbourne Tunnel has impressively been fitted with the sound effects of steam trains that used to roll through here. Its largely flat status makes it perfect for families but the real beauty of the Tissington Trail is its proximity to many other pretty parts of the Peak District, including several of its chocolate-box villages, the dramatic limestone ravine of Dovedale and another worthwhile walk in the High Peak Trail.
Since research in the Hebrides began 20 years ago, 24 different species of cetaceans (which include whales, dolphins and porpoises) have been recorded. Simply put, Scotland’s western waters are teeming with marine life. Being the Inner Hebrides’ second-largest and most accessible island, Mull is one of the best places for spotting the region’s watery wildlife. It doesn’t matter when you visit Mull, either, as you can spot at least a generous handful at any time of year. The island’s harbour porpoises and bottlenose dolphins are year-round residents, while minke whales (April-September), orcas (also year-round) and basking sharks (May-October) are just three other species you can spot off Mull’s shores. Its ‘capital’, Tobermory, is the ideal place to start, with a number of boat trips (ranging from hour-long cruises to week-long liveaboard excursions) offered to spot this wealth of sea life.
Intimate encounters with wildlife are increasingly hard to come by, but you can find a truly unique experience on the Isles of Scilly. Even though it’s less than 50km from Cornwall, this archipelago feels far more removed from the rest of the UK than its geography suggests, with life here remaining unchanged for decades. The lack of hotel chains and cheesy tourist attractions on its 140 islands means wildlife aren’t as skittish and in one instance they’re even the opposite. Guided snorkelling safaris from the island of St Martin’s will have you swimming among the inquisitive Atlantic grey seals which frolic the waters around the archipelago’s deserted Eastern Isles. In fact, they’re so friendly they might even nibble your fins!
The term ‘remote paradise’ is often overused in travel writing, but in northern Scotland you’ll find a cluster of islands which can lay a legitimate claim to that name. Floating in the mouth of Loch Broom, this windswept archipelago has very much been left as nature intended, with its pearl-white beaches, otherworldly rock formations and tranquil bays bound together by an away-from-it-all atmosphere. It’s a wilderness that looks just as handsome whether you’re visiting on a frostbitten January day or during the flourishing green pastures of June, its name purely alluding to its seasonal sheep grazing. The fact these 17 islands are so far removed from the usual frenetic pace of life is their greatest lure, with only half a dozen people inhabiting the largest of them, Tanera Mòr. Whether you walk its rugged coastal trails, kayak its sheltered waters or just soak up the silence, you’ll struggle to see another soul.
Peacefully weaving its way through the verdant countryside of Brecon Beacons National Park, the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal (affectionately known by locals as the ‘Mon and Brec’) is the ultimate way to enjoy slow travel. Naturally, we’d recommend hiring a narrowboat for a week to get the full experience, but you can also walk or cycle its towpath. Every watery inch of the 35-mile stretch appears as if it has been permanently smoothed over by a palette knife, its tree-lined banks only disturbed by the winged wildlife you can see along the way, including buzzards, herons, kingfishers and red kites. It’s a canal steeped in history, too, with its waterways once used to transport coal, iron and limestone to Welsh towns in the south and disused lime kilns, wharfs and industrial buildings still dot its fringes.
DK Eyewitness' range of guidebooks have remained a constant authoritative and trustworthy voice on a huge array of travel destinations. Each guidebook cuts through the noise, showcasing the best of a destination while jam-packing its pages with thoroughly researched and detailed information on its top sights and hidden corners. All this expertise is squeezed into a lightweight book, so you can easily pack it away to take with you on your travels.Learn more
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