Wild camping, foraging and hidden waterfalls: 22 lesser-known travel adventures to try in the UK
From desolate desert at Dungeness to breathtaking wilderness on the Isle of Sheppey and crystal clear Scottish waters, Jess & Charlie, aka The Travel Project, are on a mission to uncover Britain’s best kept secrets
aced with continued uncertainty around travel restrictions imposed in light of the pandemic, last year my girlfriend Jess and I, decided to set ourselves a challenge: to complete 52 UK adventures in 52 weeks.
The idea behind it was to highlight the incredible variety we have right here on our doorstep in the UK and showcase the possibilities for adventure without the need to jump on a plane. It’s obviously a far more sustainable way of enjoying travel, too.
We started this challenge in May 2021, and it’s fair to say, it has completely shattered the preconception that the UK is purely for the walking boot brigade and National Trustees — it’s literally jam-packed with extraordinary experiences and adventure potential.
Below we’ve shared our top 22 UK adventures so far, to offer some inspiration of how to make the most of your spare time this year.
Weekend to week-long, budget to blow out, we’ve selected a range of adventures with something for everyone.
1. Swim in crystal clear Scottish seas
The far north-western coast of Scotland’s Isle of Mull is nothing short of extraordinary. When you first set eyes upon this corner of the Inner Hebrides you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into the Caribbean. Home to crystal clear water and white sands, it’s almost unbelievable to think that this is in fact the British Isles. There are a whole host of dramatic beach options on the island, although perhaps our favourite was Kilvickeon Beach. Here we found a sweeping stretch of Scottish sand, framed by enormous rocks and turquoise waters. We enjoyed this hidden paradise all to ourselves, cooking up lunch and swimming in the crystal clear waters. It was an extraordinary afternoon.
2. Sail North Norfolk’s salt marshes
Only a couple of hours from London, the North Norfolk Coast is home to vast areas of protected wilderness, including beautifully desolate salt marshes. These marshes are only accessible by boats captained by skilled local skippers, and that’s where the awesome team at the Coastal Exploration Company come in. They have lovingly restored a flotilla of traditional Norfolk fishing boats and now take adventure seekers out to explore this untouched corner of England. Setting off from Wells-next-the-Sea, we found ourselves silently sailing along the intricate network of waterways on a beautiful winter’s afternoon. We stopped only to navigate sandbanks, spot rare birds and warm up with locally made soup and Norfolk cheeses. This is a brilliant adventure for all ages.
3. Surf Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast
Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast is nothing short of spectacular. So much so in fact that it has to be one of the most under-appreciated in the whole of the UK. It is wild, rugged and exposed to the elements, a combination that results in, amongst other things, great surfing conditions. What’s more the sheer variety of beaches means that there is something for everyone. The ancient coast between Portstewart and Whiterocks caters for surfers of all abilities.
4. Sea kayaking in Pembrokeshire
Looking for a unique way to explore the hidden coves and dramatic cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast? Try sea kayaking — there is no better way to explore this extraordinary British coastline. We rented our kayaks from TYF in St David’s before heading to Porthclais, where the river Alun meets the sea. From there we paddled out east along the coast. The water here is a gorgeous blue, interrupted on one side by the dramatic dark shapes of the coastline and on the other by absolutely nothing as the ocean stretches out to the horizon. The coast is peppered with gorgeous coves and hidden beaches, accessible only by water, and so we spent the afternoon paddling and swimming between them in remarkably clear waters. On a warm summer’s day, this adventure will take some beating.
5. Discover Dungeness
Nestled on the south coast, only a couple of hours from London, Dungeness offers one of the most unique landscapes in the UK. Desolate, barren and strangely beautiful; it is often referred to as Britain’s only desert, and it’s not hard to see why. One of the largest expanses of shingle beach in Europe, this corner of the Kent coast is unlike any other. Gorgeously weathered huts, abandoned fishing boats, rusted metals and sea kales lie strewn across the landscape. Walking amongst them feels like stepping into a vast art installation. As adventures go this is something totally different and very achievable.
6. Spend the night on Iona
Located a mile off the east coast of the Isle of Mull, Iona is a 9km squared island and one of the UK’s best kept secrets. Cars aren’t allowed on Iona without a permit, and with only 177 residents, the island boasts a pace of life worthy of its spectacular natural beauty. Stepping off the boat, you leave behind any last semblance of ‘mainland mentality’ and transition straight into the rhythm of the island, the calmness of Iona washing over you. The beaches are vast and empty, the waters blue and the horizon never ending. Iona in its isolation is wild, rugged and beautiful.
7. Drive the Northumberland 250
The most sparsely populated county in England, Northumberland is the perfect location to escape the madness of city life. With beautiful beaches, a vast national park and miles of untouched landscapes you aren’t exactly short of options for adventure. What’s more, Northumberland is home to a network of scenic and relatively empty roads, meaning it is perfect for a road trip. The recently opened Northumberland 250, is a 25-mile road trip route that loops around the county, taking you through the very best it has to offer and introducing you to perhaps the most surprising corner of England.
8. Sailing the Inner Hebrides on a 1944 sail boat
This is an adventure that will leave you feeling like a pioneering explorer. Leave behind all modern technology and set sail aboard Birthe Marie, a 1933 Danish fishing boat that has been immaculately restored by Iona local, Mark, from Fionnphort, west Mull. You’ll quickly settle into the rhythm of the ocean as Mark steers the boat towards the Lunga Islands, the largest of the Treshnish archipelago, where you’ll drop anchor to explore. This uninhabited island is home to thousands of seabirds, probably the most notable of which are the smartly dressed and amusingly small puffins. Once you’re done it’s back aboard for the beautiful sail back to Mull. To quote Mark: “It’s an unhurried drinking in of the landscape, the boat fits into the coastal scene, disturbing little, quietly finding her way into places hidden from life ashore.”
9. Coastal foraging in South Wales
“You’ll never look at the beach in the same way again,” is the promise Craig Evans makes before setting off on the hunt for edible treasures on the Pembrokeshire coast. A bold claim, but one that, over the course of the next six hours, he set about proving. Craig is the founder of Coastal Foraging and along with his golden retriever, Llew, takes groups out along the southern Welsh coast to show them just how incredibly diverse and rich in edible ingredients that environment is. This adventure will lead you across the beach, where you‘ll leave no stone unturned (literally) on the hunt for your dinner. Prawns, crabs, soft shell clams and wild samphire are just some of the deliciously fresh seafood ingredients you’ll find. Once you’ve gathered your findings, Craig sets about cooking up a freshly foraged feast right there on the beach. A delicious end to a brilliant adventure.
10. Discover the awesome Wailing Widow Falls
The Wailing Widow falls are located in Scotland’s Assynt region and have to be one of the most spectacular sights in the whole of the UK. The beautiful Loch Gainmhich flows right off a sheer cliff face resulting in 50ft falls plunging into the valley below. It really is one of a kind and what’s more, it’s incredibly easy to get to. Avoid the summer months and you’ll still get the place pretty pretty much to yourself.
11. Take a dip in The Thames at Sunrise
An adventure best enjoyed in the summer, although for hardier types, there’s no reason not to tackle it in in the colder months. Wake early to fit in a river swim and breakfast before the day begins. There is a section of the Thames, just after the small town of Lechlade, Oxfordshire, near the source, that is particularly beautiful. Wide open, slow moving waters, lined by beautifully green banks, make this section great for a dip. What’s more the meanders are lined by a string of WWII pillboxes nestled into the banks that make for a fantastic, if less conventional, spot to climb up on and have a breakfast feast basked in the sunshine. It’s a sure way to start the day on the right foot.
12: Drive Scotland’s Snow Roads
The Snow Roads are the UK’s highest public roads, and run for 90 miles through Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park. In the winter, the surrounding landscape is covered in snow, making for a spectacular experience as you drive from one end to the other. Wide open roads, surrounded by white slopes, wild deer and uninterrupted nature, make this drive feel very special.
13. Hike the Lake District’s Tarn Howes Loop
If you want a beautiful walk with barely any steep inclines in the Lake District, then this may well be the hike for you. The four-hour loop takes you past lakes of all shapes and sizes, over heathland, along tiny country lanes, across boulder strewn tarns, past an abandoned quarry, through ancient forests before ending up at a waterfall. Read more about the route here.
14. Climbing Stac Pollaidh
Stac Pollaidh is a 620m mountain around a 355-minute drive north of Ullapool in the Scottish highlands. The hike up is stunning but nothing compared to the views you earn at the top: lochs, glens, rivers, and ocean as far as the eye can see in every direction. Pure uninterrupted Scottish wilderness. Feeling adventurous? Once at the top, continue scrambling up and around the stacked rock formations until you’re right up at the very pinnacle. We highly recommend this extra push to unlock yet more an unbelievable views in all directions.
15. Walk Northern Ireland’s Dark Hedges
Located in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, the aptly named Dark Hedges were put on the global map by Game of Thrones. The hedges are basically a long road lined by beautiful old Beech trees that have grown together over the years, entwining to create a natural tunnel running almost the entire length. Walking through them is nothing short of spectacular as you are dwarfed by the scale of this natural phenomenon. Word of warning: Arrive as early as possible to avoid crowds, especially in the summer.
16. Cook a beach feast on the Llyn Peninsula
Situated at the most north-westerly extremity of Wales, the Llyn Peninsula is perhaps one of the country’s best kept secrets. Extending 50km into the Irish sea, this thin strip of land is bordered by a collection of incredible beaches, the quantity and variety of which mean heading slightly off the beaten track can earn you a beach all to yourself. Wait for a dry evening, pick up some local ingredients and head to one of the beaches to cook up a wild Welsh feast as the sun sets.
17. Wild camp on Dartmoor
Dartmoor National Park is a vast expanse of moorland in the county of Devon that is often touted as one of the last truly wild parts of England. With ponies roaming free across craggy landscapes, ancient wooded valleys, intricate rivers and remarkable Tors, Dartmoor is beautifully dramatic. What’s more, it’s one of the only places in England where it’s legal to wild camp. The simplicity and freedom of wild camping make it an adventure like no other. It’s the antithesis of the office grind, a stripped back experience that forces you to focus on the here and now, giving you the headspace to appreciate the little things. Wild camping on Dartmoor is only permitted in selected regions to protect the wildlife and landscapes, but rest assured there are lots of these areas. Check out this map to learn more.
18. Spend a night on the Isle of Sheppey
Did you know that the closest island to London is the Isle of Sheppey? Located 40 miles east of the capital, this small island is home to the spectacular wilderness of the Elmley Nature Reserve, 3,300 acres of protected space that’s home to thousands of birds of all shapes and sizes. Elmley Reserve is also home to a handful of shepherds huts, beautiful glass-fronted cabins and a farm house, which are all nestled seamlessly and sustainably into the landscape, meaning you can wake up surrounded by nature.
19. Climb Pen-Y-Fan
Part of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Pen-Y-Fan is the highest mountain in Southern Wales. It ‘s also only a few hours drive from London, making it a great option for city dwellers like us, looking for their fix of fresh air and adventure. There are four main routes up, all varying in length, but all relatively easy and achievable for all ages and fitness levels. Reach the top on a clear day and you’ll be rewarded with sensational 360 views of the surrounding landscapes.
20. Mountain biking in Kielder Forest
Home to forest tracks, hills of all shapes and sizes, lakeside trails and much more, Kielder Forest is perfect for mountain biking, with the variety of landscape meaning there are options for all levels of experience. Rent bikes at The Bike Place at Kielder Water before choosing a route, of which there are eight catering for all abilities and timeframes. The routes will take you to some beautifully remote parts of the forest and allow you to see a real spread of Northumberland nature in a relatively short space of time. The adrenaline from zipping through the trees at a pace left us on a real high (and exhausted).
21. Spend the night at Kudhva
Looking to break from the ‘always on’ hustle and bustle of city life? Kudhva, Cornish for “hideout,” is the place for you. Set on a 45-acre abandoned quarry overlooking the sea; this sustainable campsite with a difference is punctuated by the striking geometric shapes of its signature Kudhvas that blend neatly into the surroundings. Stay in a Kudhva, Tipi or if you’re in larger group there is the ridiculously gorgeous and fully sustainable Danish Cabin, this site is guaranteed to reconnect you with nature. Cook breakfast on an open fire, take a yoga class overlooking the ocean, watch the stars over your tipi, take a moonlit soak in the wood burning hot tub or simply kick back and enjoy the views.
22. Wild camp on a Scottish Island
Unlike the rest of the UK, it’s legal to camp in the wild in Scotland, meaning unless the land is private you are permitted to set up your home for the evening and spend a night under the stars. And with over 900 islands, each breathtaking in its own way, why not indulge your more adventurous side and spend a night surrounded by nothing but Scottish wilderness? The best part? This full on fix of adventurous goodness is free!
Follow along with Charlie and Jess @the.travel.project as they complete the final stages of their 52 adventure challenge