Outdoor adventure in Great Britain


Eloise Barker

Title photography by R A Kearton

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March 2018

Let’s go on an adventure. Paddle, pedal and paraglide your way around the UK and Ireland with our guide to the best adventure holidays. Go cliff-jumping in a land of dragons, go soaring in Snowdonia, and find inner peace as you paddle on the Norfolk Broads.

Lake District hiking

Hikers have long loved the Lake District. This stunning national park has such a high concentration of natural beauty that it will make your eyes water. Lake Windermere is the site of one of the area’s many pretty shoreline walks. Hikers can head to Scarfell Pike, Helvellyn or Great Gable. Don’t forget to pack the Kendal Mint Cake: the area’s famous mountain snack (supplied to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s crew on their famous Antarctic expedition). It’s not so much cake as a chocolate-coated slab of peppermint and glucose. Delicious.

Where to stay

The Forest Side in Grasmere is a gothic mansion with a Michelin-starred restaurant and its own extensive vegetable garden. Poet Laureate William Wordsworth composed some of his best works on long walks across the hills in this area; he even mentioned the site of this hotel in one of his works. You can visit his home nearby: the famous Dove Cottage.

  • Horseback riding on the beach, Sligo, Republic of Ireland. ©Glowimages.

    Poetry and ponies

    'I hear the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake' – Irish poet W. B. Yeats was born here in Sligo and the landscape swells with his poetry. Seek your own inspiration – in the saddle.£119 pp

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Snowdonia zip wire

Wales' famous mountain park welcomes adventurers to tackle the area's manmade and natural challenges. These include Surf Snowdonia, an inland artificial wave lagoon, and Mount Snowdon herself, a perfectly natural beauty. Wales' highest mountain is a popular ascent, because you can actually take a train to the summit if your boots are giving you blisters. A seasonal steam train heaves passengers along the iconic Snowdon Mountain Railway to one of the most windswept cafes in Britain. Going up is easy. But do you dare go down? Elsewhere in Snowdonia, Zip World is home to the world's fastest zipline. You'll pelt above an old slate quarry at a perilous 100mph. If you'd rather see a quarry haul up close, then there's always the nearby National Slate Museum, AKA, the sensible traveller's option.

Where to stay

Stay at The Royal Victoria Hotel Snowdonia to be as close as possible to the action. This old-fashioned hotel offers simple comforts in an extraordinary setting on the edge of Snowdonia National Park.

Paddleboarding on the Norfolk Broads

If you don’t like peaks, head east: the Norfolk Broads are one of the flattest places in England. This network of manmade waterways is great for sailing and boating. With no locks to worry about, you'll lazily drift along. You don’t need any qualifications to hire a simple motor-powered day boat. Pootle around in the morning before mooring up at one of the many waterside pubs. For a gentle core workout, go by paddleboard and appreciate the calm that comes when your only engine is your arm. Navigate your way along the edge of marshland fields, the only landmarks white windmills framed by open sky. Go in the evening for the quietest exploration of the area’s birdlife.

Where to stay

The diminuitive Vine House is a boutique beauty. It’s set in the village where Horatio Nelson was born – in case you need naval inspiration for your paddling travels.

  • Hiking, Great Gable in the Wasdale Valley, Lake District. ©Westend61.

    Panoramic views

    From the top of Great Gable in the Lake District you can see the whole of the National Park, including Wastwater, England's deepest lake.£18 per day

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  • Paragliders enjoying the scenery across the South Downs, West Sussex. ©Helen Dixon / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Did you know…

    … Expert paragliders can fly for distances of up to 500 km. Don't – it's a long walk back. Stay in Amberley Castle to be near the South Downs.£145 pp

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  • Coasteering at St Non's Bay Pembrokeshire, Wales. ©camera lucida lifestyle / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Drop the kids off

    Try coasteering – a fancy name for jumping in the sea from the cliffs – with an expert guide in Pembrokeshire.

    Discover Wales

Surfing in Cornwall

The beaches around the British Isles doesn’t get very warm, but with the islands’ wiggly coasts, there’s a lot of them. The Atlantic Ocean has a superb swell that makes surfing in Cornwall in the south of England one of the most popular (and hopefully warmest) places to go in the summer months. Newquay was once a grubby stag-do destination, but it’s smartened up its act, has vegan cafes, silent discoes and great food. You might even forget you’re supposed to be here surfing. Don your wetsuit and head to Fistral Beach for some lessons – then drop in on Rick Stein Fistral, where the famous chef has set up a big fish and chip shop right on the beach. In the summer, there are night surfing competitions and festivals. In the winter… not so much.

Where to stay

Cornwall Hotel Spa and Estate in St Austell is set around a white Manor House in pretty grounds. The spa features a heated infinity pool and you're just half an hour from Newquay's surf beaches.

Coasteering in Pembrokeshire

The long and lovely Pembrokeshire coast in Wales has beaches and a great coastal path for walkers. But the brave and foolhardy should try coasteering instead. The art of jumping into the water from the cliffs – with a guide, of course – is easy to master, and utterly addictive. Most guides take you through a series of ever-higher jumps. 10m doesn’t sound like much if you live in a block of flats, but try landing in the sea foam from this height. Look out for the silent judgement of diving cormorants if you chicken out.

Where to stay

The Grove Narbeth is a stunningly beautiful five star hotel in a country mansion, fitted with fireplaces and rustic-chic furnishings.

  • A young man bodyboarding on the north Cornwall coast. ©MattStansfield.

    Under the wave

    Who says you have to stand up to enjoy the surf? Try body boarding on the beach in Cornwall.

    Discover England

Paragliding on the South Downs

The long, rolling South Downs on the south coast of England are a fantastic site for paragliding. There are plenty of companies around the seaside town of Brighton that allow you to fly. Book a tandem flight with an experienced instructor. Strap in, then run down a hill until your wing lifts you into the air. With your guide sitting behind you, you’ll both steer over The Downs for great views of the English Channel. Some companies run a day course that allows you to complete a solo flight – for the thrill of freedom.

Where to stay

Amberley Castle in East Sussex has a actual ramparts that you can stroll along (while looking out for invading Frenchmen) and inside is beautifully decorated with period features. Order a cocktail in one of the three charming lounges.

Golf in St Andrews

Picture yourself standing on the first tee in the early morning. The emerald fairway is a dimpled with shadow and the North Sea lies docile in the distance. Believe it or not, people have played golf here for 600 years. The ancient university city of St Andrews invented the sport – and even the city's ‘New Course’ dates back to 1895. There are seven public golf courses (or ‘links’, as they’re known), and many more just outside town – that’s a lot of holes! If you want to try out the Old Course, you’ll need to bring your handicap certificate along, to show you know what you’re playing at. You can then go on to visit the city’s castle, and its modern golf museum. Artefacts include a press that prints the patterns into golf balls. So that's how it's done.

Where to stay

Stay right on the green in St Andrews at the Old Course Hotel and take your time over a pint at the hotel’s ‘19th hole’: Jigger Inn.

Climbing the Cheddar Gorge

Whilst there are plenty of bare, hostile rock faces to scramble in the UK and Ireland, only one has the promise of cheese at the end of it. Local artisans still mature their cheeses within underground caverns in Cheddar Gorge, England’s largest gorge. This three-mile-long crack in the landscape is forged from split limestone. It’s riddled with caves. In Gough’s Cave, there’s an underwater lake, and evidence of early human activity. The oldest complete skeleton in the UK was found here, and is over 9,000 years old. But there are plenty of incomplete skeletons here, too – proof that our ancestors once performed cannibalistic rituals on their dead. You can learn more in the caves, if you dare. If you’d rather stay outside, go climbing: climbers can scale the challenging rock faces within the valley between April and September.

Where to stay

Combine your climb with a quaint Regency city. Bath’s crescents and shops selling Jane Austen novels make a pleasant end to the day. The Morrison Hotel pays homage to Bath’s fashion museum with rooms designed by John Rocha.

Cycling in the Peak District

Winnatt’s Pass in the Peak District is a favourite route for cyclists keen for a challenge. With a 20% gradient, it winds through a natural amphitheatre of mossy hills from Castleton, and if this isn't atmospheric enough, it is also said to be haunted by a couple who were murdered by miners. You can make a stop at Speedwells Cavern for a boat tour through the echoing dark of the disused mine – unless you’re scared of ghosts, that is. Go early or you’ll be racing the traffic. This long climb spans northern England’s great wilderness: the Peak District, a national park littered with limestone and gritstone peaks. The cultured can visit famous Chatsworth House, once home of Bess of Hardwick and the Duchess of Devonshire. Then shake off any latent English reserve screaming yourself silly on the Wicker Man ride at Alton Towers.

Horse riding, Dublin

Ireland’s horses are beautiful. The country is the third largest producer of thoroughbreds in the world – there’s 50 racehorses for every 10,000 people. Whilst you might not get to saddle Secretariat, the country breeds other gorgeous horses: Irish Hunters, Irish Draught Horses and pretty dappled grey Connemara ponies. The hills around Dublin are great for hacking, and you can even trot along the shoreline if you fancy. Intrepid riders might want to journey along part of the Wild Atlantic Way – and stop for beach gallops at Sligo.

Where to stay

Stay at the Shelbourne Dublin, not least for a delicious steak and seafood lunch at The Saddle Room. This hotel has a long history of entertaining big names from the horse racing circuit – so your equine enthusiasm will be most welcome.