SELL YOUR NEW
HOME QUICKLY

FIND OUT HOW

SELL YOUR NEW HOME QUICKLY

FIND OUT HOW

Rory the Vet: What your Family Should Consider Before Getting a Pet

TV vet Rory Cowlam advises on how to tell if your family is ready for a pet and how to choose the right kind. By Lisa Salmon.

Vet Rory Cowlam has had an affinity with animals “from day one” and can’t imagine life without them at work or at home.

Now affectionately known as Rory the Vet and a well-known face on TV -playing a leading role in the CBBC show The Pets Factor as well as appearing on Blue Peter, BBC Breakfast and Lorraine – Cowlam wanted to be a vet from the age of four when his family got a great dane puppy, Lulu, who he says was “my shadow and best friend”.

The family had various other cats and dogs (all of them adored, but not quite as much as his “kindred spirit” Lulu), plus chickens and ducks, as he grew up in the Cotswolds countryside. And the Royal Veterinary College graduate now has his own lurcher puppy, Nala, who Cowlam says was abandoned by travellers and found by some children, who contacted the RSPCA, for whom Cowlam is an ambassador. And after she was wormed and given plenty of food, the lucky pup was adopted this month by Cowlam.

She’s only just moved in with him, so she doesn’t feature in his new book, The Secret Life of a Vet, but it contains many other both heart-wrenching and heartwarming tales of veterinary escapades, which vividly illustrate the depth of feeling vets have for many of the animals they treat. Cowlam, 28, admits he’s been known to shed a few tears when he’s had to put much-loved pets to sleep.

Not surprisingly, the affable vet, who shares a house with his younger sister and Nala in London, is a strong advocate of pet ownership – but only if the circumstances are right.

“In my opinion, having a pet makes a family complete,” he says. “Whether it’s a fish, guinea pigs, a dog or a terrapin, they all bring such joy. If you’re looking to add a pet to your family, make sure to do your research and choose the right pet for your family and circumstances. Do this, and you can’t go wrong.”

Here, Cowlam, who qualified five years ago and works at a veterinary practice, discusses what families need to consider if they’re thinking of getting a pet.

How can you tell if your family’s ready for a pet?

“It’s always a really hard decision working out if your family is ready for a pet – it’s not one to take lightly and it’s crucial to realise that if you go ahead, you have to put the pet first.

“A really important thing to consider is the cost associated with having a pet – you must be able to afford it and everything looking after it entails. This includes insurance, food, vet bills and other costs.

“The other thing to consider is do you have the time that a pet deserves and needs? They take up a huge amount of time and you have to consider whether you’re willing to sacrifice certain things to be home for them. If you can provide this though, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.”

What do families need to consider before getting a pet?

“There are many things to consider, as I’ve already mentioned, but you also must consider whether the pet is right for your current circumstances. Things to take into consideration are where you live, whether you have young children, and whether you have the time and means to look after it. I really do urge anyone considering getting a pet to think long and hard about these things before going ahead.”

What are the best pets to choose to fit your family circumstances?

“This is such a difficult question, as it depends on all of the above. For example, a dog would require lots of time and training, whereas a goldfish requires very little! Make sure to thoroughly research your chosen pet before you adopt it though, to ensure you get the very best pet for your lifestyle. There’s lots of help and advice out there too.”

Which pets should particular families avoid, and why?

“There are few to avoid. I highly recommend rescuing; however, these are not always appropriate for families with young children. Again, please do your research before rushing into anything.”

What are the benefits of having a pet in the family?

“I’m a strong believer that children learn so much from pets that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to – for example, social skills and empathy. There are numerous studies that show pets not only help children but also benefit their mental health.

“I also believe they teach children responsibility as they realise they need to be looked after (given food, water, training, letting them out to the toilet, walking them etc for dogs).”

The Secret Life of a Vet by Rory Cowlam ls published by Coronet, priced £9.99. Available now.

11 Ways to Spook up your Space for Halloween

Set the scene for Halloween with pimped up pumpkins and haunting homeware, says Sam Wylie-Harris.

With ‘Halloween at home’ falling on a Saturday, and our own personal sanctuaries setting the stage for the spookiest night of the year – will a full moon in the offing – the idea of creating a little house of horrors has never been so bewitching.

Want to set the scene for Halloween? Here’s how to spin a web of intrigue and get to grips with ghoulish goodies…

1. Pack of Five Halloween Confetti Balloons, £6.95, Graham & Green

Stringing beastly balloons together with black ribbon is a wicked way to dress up the entrance hall for trick-or-treaters, especially when they’re filled with confetti disguised as creepy-crawlies, bats and bugs.

2. Wallsource 70614579 Wallpaper Mural, from £29 per square metre, Wallsource.com

Move over Zoom backgrounds… if you really want to capture the chilling mood of Halloween virtual parties, a wallpaper mural is where it’s at. Made-to-measure and printed on demand to your dimensions, this wonder wall of jack-o’-lanterns in a spine-chilling graveyard is a real scream!

3. Sainsbury’s Home Halloween Collection: Skull Paper Plates, £1 for Pack of 8; Skeleton Arm Shot Holder, £5; Skull Beer Stein, £2; Black Ombre Plastic Wine Glass, £2; Skeleton Platter, £2 (other items from a selection or part of room set), larger Sainsbury’s stores

Devilishly good dining ideas, such as dressing the table with a little skulduggery, keeps adults entertained, as well as the kids. Themed treats, nibbles, skull-shaped snacks and hot dogs topped with gory ketchup will look so much better on a spooky black plate (not to mention wicked wines and shots served in black stemware).

4. Staub 24cm Pumpkin Cast Iron Cocotte Cinnamon, £259 (other items from a selection or part of room set), Zwilling

Not just a one-night wonder, pumpkins are a firm favourite on autumnal menus, all season long. For rustic-style table settings and those devilishly delicious pumpkin soups, curries and stews, nothing beats an eye-catching pumpkin cocotte (with black matte enamelled interior) taking centre stage. Suitable for hobs as well as the oven, it’s also ideal for rustling up a sauce for your pumpkin gnocchi.

5. Emma Bridgewater Halloween Themed Cobwebs and Midnight Spiders 1/2 Pint Mugs, £19.95 each, Emma Bridgewater

When you want to cup your hands around a warming hot chocolate or mulled pear and cranberry punch, only a generously sized mug – that can cope with a topping of frothy cream and cinnamon – will do. These creepy cups are ideal for Halloween hunkering on the sofa.

6. Gold Mercury LED Glass Pumpkin, £29.99 (other items from a selection or part of room set), Lights4Fun

When it comes to glamourous, ghostly ‘shelfies’ and tablescaping, a pumpkin with pizzazz makes a super stylish addition. This one’s made from extra fine glass and will proffer a shimmery, moonlit glow.

7. TruGlow Pumpkin LED Autumn Candle Trio, £19.99, Lights4Fun

Alternatively, this flickering trio made from real wax can be styled with berries, greenery and moss, or placed in the window to project shadows and illuminate your spine-chilling decos.

8. Nordic Ware Haunted Skull Cake Pan, £40.80, and Skull Cakelet Pan, £40 (other items part of room set), Harts of Stur

Don’t trust your cake-carving skills to whip up a beastly bake? Then these skull-shaped cake pans will do the job. Conjure up a red velvet skull and after it’s cooled, serve the cream cheese icing on the side, with gooey, chocolate eyeballs.

9. George Home Multi Halloween Dogs Reversible Duvet Set, from £10, Direct.asda.com

Come witching hour, when things start to go bump in the night, your Halloween costume party doesn’t have to end. Treat the bed to some spooky dressing up too.

10. Johnson & White London 2 Wick Candle, from £53, Johnson & White Aromas

For some grown-up black magic, you can up your squash game by spray-painting baby pumpkins black then hand lettering them in gold. Styled with a decadent candle, scented with bergamot, juniper, heady jasmine and hint of earthy patchouli, chances are you’ll be enchanted.

11. The Halloween Window Stencil Pack (42cm x 42cm), £9.99 (was £20), Snow Windows

It may be a little unnerving for onlookers, but when darkness falls, this wicked window display will certainly set the scene. To create this haunting, misty scene, position the stencil on the window, spray over with a can of Snow Spray (£3), peel off and wait for the squeals.

Apples Galore in your Garden? Time to Make Chutney and Jam

Add Your Heading Text HereExperts offer advice on the best apples to grow for particular dishes, and how to preserve your bumper harvest. By Hannah Stephenson.

Fed up with the thought of endless crumbles and pies? So, what else can you do with your bumper crops of apples?

It’s easy to make chutneys and jams from huge gluts, say experts from Arundel Castle (arundelcastle.org) in west Sussex, which has this year had an amazing harvest.

Senior organic kitchen gardener Izzy McKinley and artisan jam and chutney maker Christine Hart, owner of Sussex Jams And Chutneys, are helping to make the most of the season’s best.

Why bother preserving apples at home?

For much of the year, the apples on supermarket shelves are months old, says McKinley. Often imported, they are stored in warehouses with modified atmospheres that prevent them from ripening.

Preserving them in chutneys and jams during autumn is a more traditional way of enjoying British apples throughout the year.

While Pink Lady and Jazz apples are imported, your own apples may be just as suitable. Varieties you might grow yourself, such as ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Bramley’, can be transformed into delicious dishes.

Choosing your apples

McKinley and Hart agree that the best all-rounder is the ‘Peasegood’s Nonsuch’, a large apple from Lincolnshire. It is a cooking apple but requires much less sugar than other cookers, says Hart.

She says: “Never be put off by cooking apples, they are excellent to work with. It’s quicker to peel and prepare a large apple, and these varieties have a wonderfully sharp flavour. You can add sugar as you like. Cooking apples still produce deliciously sweet jams.

“While chutneys and apple sauce are popular choices, I like to make apple jams and serve with scones, as an autumnal alternative to a classic cream tea.”

Other ways of preserving apples this autumn include…

Chutney

Making chutney is like making jam, except it will have a longer cooking time and include vinegar, less sugar and more savoury ingredients, such as onions. Unleash your creativity and experiment with adding spices, fruits or even seasonal vegetables, such as squash. Curry lovers can try making their own apple and mango chutney, the experts suggest.

No-cook relish

Make your own apple relish without having to cook. Combine apples, vinegar, sugar and seasoning, then store in the fridge for two to three days, shaking each day. It’ll keep for up to one week. As with all preserves, it’s vital to sterilise the jars properly first.

Drying

Thinly sliced apples should be dipped in an acidic solution (such as lemon juice and water) to prevent browning, then dried in an oven at a low temperature or in a food dehydrator. Both methods take up to 12 hours. The apples can be stored in a Ziplock bag and, if optimally dried and stored, will last up to six months. Eat them as a sweet snack or crumbled on granola.

Juicing

While freshly home-made apple juice will only keep for two to three days in the fridge, it will last for a few months stored in plastic bags in the freezer, so it’s worth making plenty of your own, says McKinley.

Frozen apple juice has a range of culinary uses – use it as cooking liquid for gammon or serve over the festive season in spiced cocktails and mocktails.

Her top pick for juicing is the lesser-known variety ‘Ingrid Marie’. “It has a lightly aromatic juice and is a cross between ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ and ‘Elstar’,” she says.

Apple juice aficionados should also keep a lookout for the ‘Jupiter’, another ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ cross, which bursts with sweet juice, she suggests.

“For the ultimate home-made apple juice, our head gardener’s secret is to add one or two pears. The sweetness and texture that a ripe pear brings to an apple juice is unparalleled,” she says.

3 Easy Upcycling Ideas Everyone can do at Home

Expert upcycler Max McMurdo tells Sam Wylie-Harris why savvy crafters will love beautifying these binned items.

The upcycling message is practical, powerful and pretty clever.

“I really believe that waste can be beautifully upcycled,” says Max McMurdo, eco-designer and TV presenter. “Just because an item can no longer fulfil its original purpose, doesn’t mean it can’t work really well as something else.

“I started upcycling 18 years ago and people didn’t understand what I was doing, they thought I was a mad hippy!” Chatty and fun, McMurdo lives in a 40-foot upcycled shipping container, which he converted into a floating home – and admits it’s the most ambitious thing he’s ever upcycled.

“It’s fantastic and I love it. I had the bright idea that if I’m telling people what to do, I must do it on the biggest scale of all and upcycle a home. My lampshades are old jelly moulds and my table’s a washing machine drum.”

If you take a look on Pinterest, it seems a lot of people stick to one material (which they’re comfortable with) when upcycling. But for McMurdo, successful product design and upcycling is all about mixing materials, like wood and glass or metal and leather. “So with something like a wash drum table, I put a light bulb inside that streams out of the holes, with a piece of glass on top.”

Working with reclaimed materials takes creativity and a little bit of effort. But as McMurdo points out, just because you’re upcyling, doesn’t mean it should be any less beautiful in terms of design and aesthetic. “You’ll be amazed how many things you can reuse in a really cool way!”

McMurdo has partnered with Heinz for their ‘Handmade with Heinz’ campaign, which aims to inspire people to upcycle household items and waste – like used tins, for example.

Wondering where to start? Here’s how to get a foot on the crafting ladder…

1. Upcycle old pallets into cool garden furniture

You’ll need: Some used wood pallets, castor wheels (available in sets of four), selection of ready-made cushions.

Steps: Pick up some free wood pallets from a local shop, farm or industrial estate – don’t be afraid to ask! Screw castor wheels to each corner of the bottoms of the pallets to make them manoeuvrable (they come with holes and are easy to affix). Double stack the pallets for the right height. Sand the pallets down lightly to avoid splinters, then wax to seal and make them weather resistant. Add some cushions.

Top Tip: Amazon sells Cuprnol Garden Furniture Stain Exterior Wood Care, priced £15, to seal your pallets from bad weather and keep them looking nicer for longer.

2. Upcycle a wooden ladder into a cool shelf

You’ll need: An old wooden ladder, some knick-knacks and anything you want to hang on it.

Steps: Find an old wood ladder – the more paint spattered the better. If you don’t have one, ask neighbours and friends. Prop it securely against a wall and use as a quirky shelf. You can hang it with anything you like, including clip-on lights or fairy lights. This also works as a towel rack in bathrooms.

Top tip: This one works especially well for rental properties, as you don’t need to attach anything to walls.

3. Upcycle some old books into a knife block

You’ll need: 4-5 old books (buy these from a charity shop if you don’t have any at home), strong string.

Steps: Prop your old books upright, next to each other. Wind an old piece of strong string around the books a couple of times and tie it tightly. Pop your knives in it and place on your kitchen top.

Top tip: You can also create some great artwork with old books, by folding the pages into a certain pattern, or into words like ‘love’ and ‘home’.

For more information on the #handmadewithheinz campaign, check out Heinz UK and Max McMurdo on Instagram.

Want to Tap into the Staycation Market? 5 Ways to Boost your Holiday Let Investment

Letting out a holiday home can be a great income source – but there are some key things to consider. By Vicky Shaw.

UK staycation holidays have been especially popular this year, with the pandemic making overseas travel so tricky.

This may have prompted those who already have a second home, or who are considering investing in one, to think about using them for holiday lets.

While the future impact of coronavirus on all businesses, including holiday rental properties, is uncertain, you may be considering investing in a holiday let as a long-term option right now, perhaps to supplement a retirement income in the years to come.

According to figures from Sykes Holiday Cottages (sykescottages.co.uk), owners earned £21,000 on average last year through their holiday lets.

But if you are thinking about a buy-to-let investment to tap into the staycation trend, there are certain things to consider before taking the plunge. Here, Bev Dumbleton, Sykes Holiday Cottages chief operating officer, shares five key tips…

1. Calculate your budget

First things first, take time to evaluate your finances to determine how much money you have to kick-start your investment in a holiday let. If you don’t already have a second home, you’ll have to weigh up the costs of buying one and paying the mortgage, while also factoring in budget for things like bills, maintenance and repairs.

To keep track of your budget for the project, look online for free templates and calculator tools or create your own document.

2. Location, location, location

Whether it’s the rugged moorland of the Peak District, seaside towns in South Wales, or stunning views in the Scottish Highlands, each region of the UK has its own unique character and something to offer holidaymakers.

According to Sykes’ data, the Peak District takes the top spot as the highest-earning region for holiday lettings in the UK, with a two-bed cottage generating £14,000 a year, on average, increasing to £27,000 for a four-bed.

Booking data also shows North Wales has been popular with holidaymakers this summer. The average income there is £12,000 for a two-bed and £22,000 for a four-bed. Elsewhere in the UK, investors can potentially expect to make on average £13,000 for a two-bed and £19,000 for a four-bed in the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

When choosing where to set up, also consider proximity to local amenities and the beach, as well as how parking is locally and whether a place has good transport links, as these will all affect revenue.

3. It’s in the detail

Furnishing your holiday let to a high standard will maximise the booking value and, therefore, potential earnings. As your property will be used by a lot of different guests, investing in good quality, durable furniture will also save you money in the long run. Be sure to choose your furnishings wisely – for example, leather sofas and hard floors may be far easier to keep clean than the fabric equivalents.

Remember that guests are looking for a ‘home away from home’ with added luxury, so you need to think carefully about who your target visitors are likely to be and kit your property out accordingly. For example, a two-person property in a rural location may be a base for a romantic couples’ break, so consider roll-top baths and hot tubs. A larger property on the Cornish coast is ideal for families, so invest in your outside space and a good selection of board games.

By making sure your guests have the best possible experience, you’ll also secure repeat customers, recommendations and five-star reviews, which all help to improve profitability.

4. Consider year-round appeal

This will ensure a steady flow of bookings. Properties with hot tubs, on average, earn more than 50% more than those that don’t. Other stand-out features, such as wood burning stoves and open fires, tend to be received very well by guests and encourage bookings all year round.

Making your holiday let pet-friendly will also help to drive bookings outside of the peak holiday season. Owners who accept short breaks in winter can also earn more, with people more likely to book long weekends away during this time.

5. Marketing is key

By contacting an agency as soon as you’re considering entering the market, you can get expert advice from the outset to avoid any potential pitfalls. Getting your pricing right is crucial, so research the competition and speak to experts to understand how to flex your pricing based on seasonal demand.

Photos are also key to showcasing your property and are incredibly important in driving bookings. Take photos year-round, if you’re planning to rent the property out throughout the year. Remember – the more images the better, but quality matters most. Also consider including images of local amenities to highlight what there is to do nearby.

How garden trends are changing post-lockdown

Experts predict a resurgence of lawns, an increase in growing edibles, and new admiration for subtle sculptures.

As working from home has become the norm for so many of us, our garden needs are set to change.

So says award-winning garden designer Andrew Duff, managing director of Inchbald School Of Design, who won a bronze medal for his first show garden at Chelsea last year.

“For me, garden design has changed more in the last six months than it has in the last 60 years,” he reflects. “It’s no longer the space people come home to for a gin and tonic and to watch the sun go down. They want somewhere to have coffee in the morning, somewhere to have lunch, a green calm space just to be.”

The aesthetics of gardens are changing dramatically, transforming into functional working spaces, somewhere slightly more overgrown, floppy and more attractive to wildlife, he adds. Seating may have to accommodate both a laptop working space for the warmer months, and comfortable seating with plenty of cushions when work is over.

So, how will the extra time we have in the garden affect future trends?

Keen on green

“Green is the colour the eye recognises first, so inherently we relax with that. A good green selection of plants with a balance of different leaf textures gives us that feeling of freshness and growth, which is what people are looking for as we move through the seasons,” says Duff.

“It may mean dark green backgrounds with acid greens and yellows to create a fresh and verdant look. A taxus background, with large-leaved textures of angelica and persicaria. It’s not about a riot of colour.

“In among the green palette, people will want things that give them the joy of scents, such as rosemary and sage.”

Lawn comeback

Duff has found that hard landscaping is being replaced by lawn. “I think lawns are making a comeback. The lawn has been a really usable space, particularly if you have children, and people now have more time to maintain their lawn and are finding it therapeutic to mow.”

Subtle sculpture

“We’ve had a lot of enquiries for more reflective and contemplative pieces of sculpture,” says award-winning sculptor David Harber (davidharber.co.uk), whose work has been exhibited at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. “People are seeking calm and sophistication, perhaps represented in a Zen-like water feature. People want unfussy, serene and beguiling.

“So many people have taken up yoga and meditation, they want a place where they can stand and be, where they are back in touch with nature.”

Rich shades

“People are after really subtle, deep colours that are quite jewel-like. If you’ve been stuck at your computer screen all day, this subdued rich palette that’s gentle on the eye is becoming important,” says Duff.

“We are talking deep red persicarias and the deeper blues of catmint, but overall a much more natural feeling in planting. As people are in the garden a lot more, everything is more ongoing. People are going out every day and picking off dead leaves and deadheading, rather than that being a job for the weekend. It’s less of a chore and more of an enjoyment.”

More balcony food

“We are going to see less containers filled with annual colour – petunias and geraniums are on their way out. We are going to see balconies overloaded with tomatoes and runner beans, with nasturtiums running through them,” Duff predicts.

Container changes

“Seasonality is really important, which is where growing vegetables in containers is really going to take off, along with the rotation of vegetable crops,” says Duff. “Heritage vegetables are coming back – the purple beans, the purple carrots – and for people who’ve got children, that’s exciting.”

There will be a return to terracotta and timber planters, rather than mass produced plastic tubs which are less eco-friendly, he predicts.

Sustainable landscaping

“People are much more aware of the sustainability of products and their provenance. There’s a great drive to buy British. They want to buy locally and are into supporting local businesses and nurseries,” says Duff. “People want a richness in material. Machine-cut stone is slowly moving away and the Ripon Yorkstone feeling is coming back, along with the joy of gravel.”

Working for wildlife

“Wildlife has become very important and people have become surprised how much wildlife there is in their garden,” says Duff. “People won’t be sweeping everything up to within an inch of its life, but will leave things informal and relaxed to encourage wildlife. It’s the overall eclectic, slightly overgrown look that people are adopting.”

Moving forwards

Join a webinar panel discussion event, Changing Landscapes: The Future Of Nature And Our Homes: Design, the second in a series, on September 10 at 2pm, featuring David Harber on the panel. For details visit davidharber.com/news/webinar.htm.

How to Avoid a Staycation Scam

Nearly a third of us are planning a UK-based staycation before the end of the year – but watch out for bogus breaks, writes Vicky Shaw.

With many people’s 2020 holiday plans in disarray due to the pandemic, a significant number of us are planning to take a break much closer to home, instead of jetting overseas this year.

Nearly a third (32%) are planning a UK-based staycation this year, according to Nationwide Building Society, as travelling abroad to our usual holiday hotspots has become so much trickier.

But while this should help give some local economies a much-needed boost, those planning to sample what the UK holiday scene has to offer should beware of ‘staycation scammers’.

So what do you need to know about staycation scams? Here are some important points to keep in mind…

What staycation scams should you watch out for?

Among the many coronavirus-related frauds which have emerged, Action Fraud has been urging consumers to be on the lookout for fake caravan and motorhome listings.

These may be advertised on auction websites and the prices are often low to attracted people in. Criminals will come up with excuses for why the vehicles cannot be viewed in person. The goods don’t exist, or will never arrive.

And if you’re looking for a holiday cottage or apartment, beware of bogus websites offering places for rent, often at discounted prices. These websites may appear professional and convincing, using images of properties that are not really available. Scammers may require a deposit, which is never returned.

Even if you think you are on a trusted website, check the URL for subtle changes, which can indicate it is imitating a genuine firm.

How to avoid staycation scams

Action Fraud says people should always follow the advice of the ‘Take Five to Stop Fraud’ campaign, and take a moment to stop and think before parting with their money or personal information, in case what appears to be a bargain getaway turns out to be a scam. If something is advertised at a rock bottom price, ask yourself is it really a bargain, or could it be a scam?

If you’re considering buying a motorhome or caravan, do some research, and if you’re dealing with someone online, ask if they can send you a video of the vehicle.

Don’t let online sellers persuade you to pay by bank transfer, as you may never see your cash again. Also, read online reviews to see what other people say about sellers.

How you pay could also give you added protections

You could consider using payment methods such as PayPal, which has added buyer protections, or pay by credit card.

Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card purchases of goods costing between £100 and £30,000 have added protections if something goes wrong and items or services purchased never materialise.

Under Section 75, the credit card company is held jointly liable with the trader or retailer, so you can put in a claim to them.

Ray Mears Top Tips for Cooking Outdoors

The bushcraft expert shares his know-how for whipping up a more than decent campfire dinner.

If your outdoor cooking repertoire is limited to smores and sausages on sticks, it might be time to branch out a little.

“Food is important outdoors, and it doesn’t have to be just spaghetti bolognese out of a packet,” says survivalist expert Ray Mears, who has now written his first cookbook, Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide To Cooking Outdoors.

Whether you’re going on a hike or trek, or just camping at the end of the garden, “you just need a handful of recipes and tricks that you can remember and carry with you”, he says.

“That can transform your experience of travelling, and it’s also bringing variety to the outdoor diet,” Mears adds.

Here are a few more bites of outdoors culinary wisdom from the bushcraft pro…

Don’t fret about burning things – just get stuck in

“If it goes wrong, it goes wrong, so what? You learn. I can imagine an artist or writer being afraid of a blank piece of paper, but until you actually push some words around on the page, you don’t get anywhere. It’s really important to just launch in and have a go. Even if things don’t turn out quite as you anticipated, they usually still taste good.”

Keep your fire small

“When you’re cooking over an open fire, it needs only be small. You don’t use too much heat. You only need a small fire. That’s very important.”

Have a few knife skills up your sleeve

“It’s important to develop some knife skills because there’s a lot of chopping up. If you can make what the French call a mirepoix [the basis of many a soup or stew] – carrots, onions and celery diced up and softened in butter – the moment you do that, you’re off and running; you can’t really go far wrong.”

Soups are ideal on a camping trip

“Soups are very important outdoors. They are very easy to make. They’re very hydrating, and we use a lot of liquid when we’re outdoors. They’re very satisfying and easy and quick to do. We underestimate how valuable soups are. Very often, you can make the soup from the trimmings of other meals. So, then you don’t waste anything as well, which is great.”

Consider your packaging

“I don’t like aluminium foil, it’ll last in the environment forever. It’s just not necessary, and many foods come already packaged to cook, like eggs.”

Don’t worry about making a pudding

“When you’re outdoors, it’s enough to have a good main.”

Ground oven cooking can be great fun

“Using a ground oven is a very special way of cooking where you dig a hole, light a fire and add your ingredients before covering it all back up with earth. The food comes out tasting lovely if it’s done right but there is a skill to it, there’s a real art to doing it well.

“When there’s a group of you, the effort is nothing because you share the labour. And so for an hour or two of preparation, you can then go away for many hours, do something else, and come back and have a fantastic meal waiting for you.”

Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide To Cooking Outdoors by Ray Mears, photography by Ray Mears, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £20. Available now.

14 Ways to Style up your Home Wine and Cocktail Game

Want to take staying in to the next level? Sam Wylie-Harris shakes things up with the snazziest stemware and home bar accessories.

Thanks to social distancing, quarantinis and staycations, we’ve become a dab hand at fixing our own drinks and mixing up a storm at home.

We’re buying more wine online, spirit sales are still soaring and we’re making the most of the change of bar scene.

So much so, lavishing time and money on our drinking rituals at home has become much more of an affordable luxury, with cocktail equipment and ‘atelier du vin’ for every mood and budget.

Sip in splendour with these stylish buys…

1. John Lewis & Partners Honolulu Tiki Bar, currently £402.50 (was £575), John Lewis

For a taste of island life, say aloha! to the best tiki bar around. With an authentic beach bar feel, it comes complete with a fringed wicker roof, two bar stools and sturdy aluminium bar frame. Stock it with essential spirits and mixers, a cocktail shaker, bowl of fresh limes and ice and home bartenders will be in paradise.

2. John Lewis & Partners Stainless Steel Recipe Cocktail Shaker – Silver Copper, £20, John Lewis

Taking the guess work out of our favourite party drinks, this clever shaker lists the ingredients for classic cocktails, such as a margarita, tequila sunrise and cosmopolitan, all at the turn of the metallic outer cover. Genius.

3. Artland Tropical Leaves Glassware, from £20.50 for Set of Two DOF Tumblers to £25.95 for Set of Two Gin Glasses, Wine Glasses, Champagne Saucers and Martini Glasses, Not Just Jugs

With their exotic palm leaf print and mirrored silver finish,. these gorgeous glasses will glisten when they catch the sunlight, or soft glow of a storm lantern. They’ll make everything you serve taste a touch more exciting too.

4. Kara Circular Drinks Trolley, £375 (other decos from a selection), Graham & Green

Cocktail trolleys are timeless and trending big-time, from boutique hotel bars to our very own front rooms. Part of the appeal is that they can be beautifully styled – much like a dressing table – with all our hero labels, crystal and decorative drinking decos. This stylish circular one has two glass shelves and can be wheeled with ease.

5. “Keep Your Cool” Champagne Bucket, £68.50 each, Heating & Plumbing

Cocktails not your thing? Keep that bottle of bubbly chilled in one of these brilliant hanging ice buckets – think branch of a shady tree, when you’re making an evening of it in the garden. The base is shaped so you can slightly tilt your bottle of fizz before adding ice. Just make sure the label remains visible (we all love to drink with our eyes) before gently pouring at the perfect 45-degree angle.

6. Octopus Wine Bottle Holder, £240, At Home in the Country

Not exactly a drop in the ocean, but if you’re looking for something a little unique, your top drops deserve to be shown off like a fine piece of art. This eye-catching Octopus wine rack holds eight bottles and makes a luxe edition to any wine collectors’ emporium.

7. John Lewis & Partners Swoon Raine Bar Cart – Gold, £449, John Lewis

This Art Deco style bar cart mixes up white and pink marble with a brass finished frame and bottom wooden tray, garnished with bottle holder rings to prevent slipping and sliding. Ideal for luxurious gatherings, it’ll add some cocktail theatre to late-summer soirees when the sun goes down.

8. Pink Martini Gin Glasses – Set of 4, £39.95, Audenza

A treat to toast, deluxe drinks, such as a legendary martini, deserve these chic glasses, which scream jazz age, flapper dresses and cocktail couture.

9. Mermaid Bottle Opener, £8.95, At Home in the Country

The best beer buddy and tribute to your tonic, this quirky mermaid bottle opener is a beauty and home bar essential.

10. Life’s a Beach Glass Straws – Clear 6 Pieces, £7, Crystal Champagne Glasses – Set of 4 Angled, £19, ProCook

With their angled design, these clear glass straws are perfect for sipping a champagne cocktail. Or, if you’re fixing lots of drinks for friends, enjoy taking a sip of your home-made creation (like the pros do) to make sure the measure is spot on. Cleaning brush included.

11. Yvonne Ellen Cocktail Hour Cheetah Glass Ice Bucket & Wood Lid – Clear/Natural, £30, John Lewis

Glamorous and wild, this decadent ice bucket, with its Art Deco inspired design, makes a striking addition to cocktail trolleys and hints at the high life.

12. Aldsworth Wine Store – Spruce, £350, Garden Trading

This stellar chest with a galvanised metal top has the capacity for 32 bottles of vino (angled so the cork stays moist), along with two upper drawers with storage for wine preservers, coasters and dining accessories.

13. Forge De Laguiole Sommelier – Olivewood Premium Box, £179, Farrar & Tanner

If you’re prepared to shell out to keep up with the somms – and master the art of good wine service – this professional bottle opener deserves your finest vintage.

14. Hudson Living Verna Drinks Trolley – Bronze, £369 (other items from a selection), Very

One of the things we love most about this trolley is you can get a lot on it! With an antique gold finish, smooth casters and toughened glass shelves, it’s a cocktail-lovers cabinet on wheels. A high roller, it can hold magnums of wine or spirits and won’t groan under the weight of a whisky decanter or fancy implements. Cheers!

All the Gear you’ll Ever Need to Make Camping Comfortable

Sleeping under canvas is growing in popularity. But with the right kit, you don't have to rough it, says Sarah Marshall.

For so many of us, the idea of pitching a tent and sleeping outdoors stirs memories of uncomfortable childhood holidays or muddy festivals.

But camping can be a thoroughly relaxing experience – even if you’re a novice – and you don’t need to sleep in a pre-erected yurt or tipi to glamp in style.

Pack a few creature comforts to elevate a camping trip, and you’ll wonder why you ever bothered booking a hotel room in the past.

Jack Wolfskin Exolight tent, from £350 for a one person, jack-wolfskin.co.uk

If you’re planning to embrace the latest trend for wild camping – but want to do it in style – this lightweight, easy to pitch tent does the job. Available in three different sizes, sleeping one to three, it can easily be packed into a backpack and taken on a hiking trip. (The smallest version weighs under 1.5kg.) Although there are few pegs, it’s extremely stable and windproof. The inner tent and fly sheet are also connected and can be clipped to the pole system frame, making it easier to pitch in the rain.

Snugpak Snuggy Headrest, £6.95, Amazon

How many times have you relied on a bundle of jumpers for a camping pillow? Packing a goose down headrest might be a bit indulgent, but this is the next best thing. Made with sleeping bag insulation and fabrics, it’s comfortable, warm and provides great support for your neck and head. Stuffed into a small sack, it’s easy to carry too.

Wacaco Nanopresso Portable Espresso Machine, from £75 with case, bearandbear.com

Coffee lovers will agree that one of the greatest hardships of being out in the wilds is foregoing a morning espresso. This brilliant invention provides a solution. Pack ground coffee into the cylinder and screw onto a cup filled with boiling water. A pump action, which can provide up to 18 bars of pressure, produces a caffeine hit with creamy froth to rival anything purchased from a Costa or Starbucks. Worth every penny.

Red Original Changing Robe, £44.95, redoriginal.com

Wriggling around in a tent trying to get dressed can make you look like some sort of contortionist. But who wants to strip down in open air when other people might be walking around? Save your modesty with this towelling gown which works like a poncho. It’s also ideal for using at the beach when changing into swimming gear.

Snugpack Snugfeet, from £39.65, outdoorgb.com

Slippers are an indulgence in hotel rooms, so why not have them under canvas too? These insulated boots will make you feel like you’ve got mini sleeping bags attached to each foot – and they’ll keep tents mud free. Perfect for anyone with bad circulation, who’s prone to getting cold toes.

Nemo Helio Pressure Shower, £112.99, ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk

Campsite shower blocks aren’t always appealing, but that’s no excuse for staying stinky on a trip. Unlike most portable showers, this lightweight sprayer doesn’t need to be hung overhead; rest it on the ground to create enough pressure to wash hair or do dishes with up to seven minutes of water flow each time.

Zippo Rechargeable Candle Lighter, £26.85, Amazon

If you don’t have the bushcraft skills to rub two sticks together, this is the cheat’s ways to creating fire. Fully rechargeable, with several hours of use each time, there’s no need for refilling this device with butane. A windproof design and flexible neck make it simple to use in any conditions.

Simplehuman Mini Travel Mirror, £119, johnlewis.com

Camping doesn’t mean going feral. Emerge from tents looking fabulous with the aid of this 10x magnification travel mirror, which lights up automatically when you approach. The lighting system picks up every line, hair and pore, allowing you to tackle any close-up grooming needs.

Kelty Folding Cooler, from £69.95 for 25 litres, outdooradventurer.co.uk

Taking a mini fridge on holiday might be a stretch, but it’s still possible to have chilled food and drinks at your disposal. Keeping items cool for 36 hours, this cooler is suited to weekend breaks. Featuring cup holders on top, it can be used as a table and packed flat for easy transportation when no longer needed.

10 of the Best Gardens to Visit this Summer

Many gardens have now reopened to the public for summer. Hannah Stephenson selects 10 of the best.

Still short of things to do during summer holidays? Why not visit some of our most glorious gardens, which have reopened to the public.

They all detail the Covid-19 safety measures they’ve put in place on their websites. Most require pre-booking tickets (check websites for specific details) and all have regulated social distancing – take a mask to be on the safe side too.

Here’s 10 of our favourites…

1. Arley Hall and Gardens, Cheshire (arleyhallandgardens.com)

Arley Hall and its glorious gardens have provided the setting for some familiar TV series, including Peaky Blinders, Antiques Roadshow and Great British Garden Revival. Head for the herbaceous border, its best known feature, which boasts some spectacular planting, then wander through the pleached lime avenue of trees and lose yourself within The Grove. There are many different areas within its eight acres of formal gardens, as well as an arboretum and woodland walk. The hall remains closed.

2. Abbotsford Gardens, Roxburghshire, Scotland (scottsabbotsford.com)

Abbotsford was Sir Walter Scott’s home, and his imagination extended to the outdoors with the creation of these beautiful formal Regency gardens. Highlights include the kitchen garden, the third of his interconnecting outdoor ‘rooms’, which house a mix of flowering and scented plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables.

The gardens are currently open Wednesday to Sunday, with hopes to reopen the historic house in August. Check the website for updates.

3. The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall (heligan.com)

With some 200 acres of garden and estate, you simply can’t do all of Heligan in one visit – so if you’ve only got a day, seek out summer highlights. An incredible 15 acres of wildflower meadow has been planted, featuring cornflowers, corn chamomile, poppies and corn marigolds, to create a stunning visual backdrop, perfect for butterflies and bees.

Families are invited to pick up a ‘Heligan Summer’ booklet from the ticket office before setting off. Pre-booking essential for timed tickets.

4. Montalto Estate, Co. Down, Northern Ireland (montaltoestate.com)

The trails and gardens within this magical estate have now re-opened, so visitors can explore a wealth of features – including the cutting garden made up of annuals, biennials, perennials and shrubs, the formal garden with its defined geometric shapes and stunning views of Montalto Lake and boathouse, and the alpine garden, with its impressive collections of plants.

The trails and gardens are currently open Wed-Sun but all visitors must pre-book tickets online. Access to some gardens may be restricted due to events.

5. Wightwick Gardens, Wolverhampton, West Midlands (nationaltrust.org.uk)

Comprising 17 acres, this might not be the biggest National Trust garden but it certainly packs a punch in the style stakes, thanks to 20th century Arts and Crafts garden designer, Thomas Mawson. The dominant design feature of the garden is its ‘rooms’ – areas marked by clipped yew hedges or terraces, giving the space a wide variety of different feelings.

Tickets are released on Fridays for the following week and pre-booking for timed visits is essential. The Manor House remains closed until further notice.

6. Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, South Yorkshire (english-heritage.org.uk)

Spectacularly restored to their full Victorian splendour, the 15 acres of gardens at Brodsworth are home to a collection of grand gardens in miniature, filled with colourful seasonal plantings and displays. Stroll through the statue walks and the beautiful wild rose dell, with over 100 varieties of historic rose. You can also admire period bedding plants in the Flower Garden, including cannas and gingers for dot planting, with salvia, gazania, ageratum and verbena.

Pre-booking essential for timed tickets. House and play area remain closed. A family-friendly summer explorer quest is taking place throughout summer.

7. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (kew.org)

The world famous botanical gardens opened doors to visitors in June. They’ve now reopened the glasshouses too, so you can admire an array of tropical treasures, desert species and more in the Palm House, Temperate House and Princess of Wales Conservatory.

In a final flourish to Kew Gardens’ summer landscape, a bespoke botanical sculpture – created by the winning duo from the acclaimed Netflix television programme, The Big Flower Fight, will be on display in August.

Pre-booking essential for timed entry. Toilets, shops and some outdoor food facilities are currently open and screened regularly. Check website for details.

8. RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey (rhs.org.uk)

Visitors to the jewel in the crown of the RHS gardens will be able to enjoy its summer highlights, including sizzling dahlias and tropical banana plants in its exotic garden, which showcases plants that have a tropical look but flourish outdoors in a typical UK summer climate. Don’t forget to stroll along the mixed borders for a riot of summer colour and surround yourself with lavender on the viewing mount.

Pre-booking essential for timed tickets, card transactions only on site. Glasshouse, alpine houses, learning centre and library and advisory desk remain closed.

9. Wollerton Old Hall Garden, North Shropshire (wollertonoldhallgarden.com)

Set around a 16th century hall (not currently open to the public), Wollerton Old Hall incorporates a formal modern garden on an old site covering four acres. Its garden rooms are beautifully planted with stunning perennials and offer some terrific design ideas. The garden is famous for its salvias, clematis and roses and the clever use of colour, form and scale. The main perennial border in late summer is still awash with colour, so don’t miss it.

Currently open Thursday, Fridays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays. Pre-booked tickets essential.

10. Witley Court and Gardens, Worcestershire (english-heritage.org.uk)

Survivor of a devastating fire in the early 20th century, Witley’s romantic gardens are full of delights. A spectacular lake, vast fountain of Perseus and Andromeda, and colourful French parterre are among the highlights. In summer, the East Parterre at Witley Court is spectacular and includes variegated pelargoniums, ageratum, evening primrose (Oenothera) and verbenas.

This summer, take the family on a free fun adventure quest with an historical twist. You can download your trail map on the website before you go.

Pre-booking essential for timed tickets.

7 of the Best Places for Wild Swimming in the UK and Ireland

wild swimming

From waterfalls in Yorkshire to glacial fjords in Ireland, there are so many amazing places for some al fresco exercise.

This year, many swimming fanatics have had to find new ways to get their fix.

Indoor pools are soon to be reopened in the UK and many have already opened their doors in Ireland, but it seems there’s been a surge in the popularity of wild swimming recently – with people falling in love with the outdoorsy, brisk nature of the sport.

Whether it’s lakes, rivers or pools, there are plenty of health benefits to an al fresco approach to swimming – the cold water is said to release endorphins, which can help boost your mood, and help improve circulation.

Your body has to work harder to stay warm in the cold water, meaning you burn more calories, and studies have shown it can even lower your blood pressure.

You have to be particularly careful when swimming in open bodies of water. Check any currents before getting in – even shallow sections of fast-flowing water can knock you off your feet – check the depth of the water first, be careful not to get too cold and never swim alone.

Here are some of the most beautiful places across the UK and Ireland to connect with nature and dip your toes in the water…

wild swimming

1. Sgwd Gwladys, Neath, Wales

You might think waterfalls are the kinds of things you only really stumble across on holidays to far-flung places, but there are actually plenty closer to home. Known as ‘Lady Falls’, Sgwd Gwladys is like something out of a storybook with a 10m high waterfall gushing into a plunge pool, surrounded by a serene forest.

wild swimming

2. Kisdon Force, England

If Lady Falls piqued your interest in waterfalls, next you could visit Kisdon Force in Yorkshire. This has not one, but two waterfalls nearby – one is 5m high and the other 12m. Located in a gorge, Kisdon Force is surrounded by a woodland area, making it feel extra peaceful.

wild swimming

3. Howth, Ireland

A coastal village not far from Dublin, Howth is surrounded by rocky paths leading to plenty of perfect spots to jump into the sea. In fact, it’s so geared towards wild swimming some of the rocky outcrops even have diving boards built onto them. However, it’s very stony so be careful getting in and out.

wild swimming

4. Grantchester Meadows, England

You can find Grantchester Meadows on the River Cam in Cambridgeshire. It’s the perfect spot to access the river and do a bit of swimming, surrounded by leafy trees and grassy banks. There’s plenty of space to choose from along the two-mile stretch and occasional opportunities for diving.

wild swimming

5. Carlingford Lough, Ireland

Carlingford Lough is a glacial fjord, so don’t expect balmy temperatures, but you can rely on the water being crystal clear. It forms part of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and during your swim you can marvel at the Mourne Mountains on one side and the medieval buildings of Carlingford on the other.

wild swimming

6. Allt Daraich, Scotland

These pools can be found close to the remote settlement of Sligachan on the Isle of Skye. The rocky pools are clear and blue-green in colour, and it’s the perfect place if you’re looking for seclusion.

wild swimming

7. Carrick-a-Rede, Northern Ireland

This is one of the more advanced options on the list, but is worth it for the breathtaking scenery. Carrick-a-Rede is famous for its rope bridge between two sheer cliff faces, and this 1km route gives you a different view of the landmark. Adventurous (and experienced) swimmers can paddle across Larrybane Bay and underneath the iconic bridge, taking a rest on Carrick-a-Rede island at the end.

How to Create a Garden Getaway to feel like you’re on Holiday

Choosing a staycation? You can still capture a feel of the tropics in your garden with plants and accessories, experts insist.

While many of us may be staycationing this year, there are ways to create a holiday haven in our gardens using plants and decor that mimic a host of exotic destinations.

RHS Garden Wisley’s exotic garden, for example, houses not only tropical-looking pineapple plants, striking palms and giant banana trees which flourish in summer, but shows what will survive the winter.

RHS Wisley’s garden manager Emma Allen, who looks after the exotic garden, says: “When experimenting with tropical plants at home, remember the ‘right plant, right place’ rule. If you have a shady corner, make sure you plant shade tolerant options, and if you have sun trap areas, select plants that will flourish there.”

Allen’s top plants for a tropical sensation…

Trachycarpus fortunei – a really hardy palm (down to between -10 C and -15 C), this will give your garden the exotic look and feel without the need to worry about whether it will survive through winter. They are rather slow growing, ultimately reaching a height of over 12m after 20-50 years.

Canna – any type of canna will bring large juicy leaves and exotic looking flowers in pink, orange, yellow, white or red. Some have variegated leaves such as Canna ‘Stuttgart’ or ‘Phaison’.

Passiflora caerulea – a hardy semi-evergreen climber with the most striking flowers. This vigorous plant will cover a wall or pergola in no time.

Fatsia japonica – a medium-sized evergreen shrub with palmately-lobed leaves to 45cm in width, and small white flowers in clusters and small black fruits.

Dahlia – extravagant and flamboyant flowers, plus they flower all summer long. For drama and colour, try ‘Karma Choc’ (Decorative Group) with dark red velvety flowers, or ‘Edwin’s Sunset’ (Waterlily Group) with beautiful vivid red flowers that almost glow.

Use decor and accessories…

Blend your tropical-looking plants with exotic accessories and seating to create a holiday feel. Experts at Dobbies Garden Centres (dobbies.com) offer five design tips to help you into the holiday mood…

1. Go totally tropical

Fill patio containers with a selection of vibrant bedding or perennial cottage garden plants for an instant display of foliage and flower colour, including Cordyline australis ‘Peko’, along with potted palms such as Phoenix canariensis, Chamaerops humilis (dwarf fan palm) and Trachycarpus fortunei to add height and interest and look great in groups. Position pots behind garden furniture to create the illusion that they are planted in the ground.

2. Create a colour pop

Bring a brilliant burst of sunshine and add some zing to your exterior space using an eclectic array of brightly coloured pots, mixing and matching flowers in contrasting shades for maximum impact. Fun accessories will quickly brighten patios or balconies. Choose pots in vibrant primary colours, which will really pop against white or neutral backdrops.

3. Bring the indoors out

Brighten your garden getaway by bringing houseplants outside for the day. Adding your favourite indoor orchid to a bistro table will create a tropical centrepiece – just be sure to return them to their normal home later on to ensure they don’t get exposed to too much direct sunlight.

An outdoor rug will instantly transform your space and offers protection to patios and decking from sun cream spillages or melting ice creams. They also help to zone an area, adding a stylish decorative touch. Day beds and hanging egg chairs are the ultimate garden getaway luxury if you have room.

4. Make it magical

For atmospheric evenings, accessorise with a variety of lanterns, fairy lights and candles to enhance the mood – it is amazing how magical a space can look at twilight. A stylish lantern, or a solar-powered string of lights draped across trees and fences will stretch out the time spent outside. Use blankets, floor cushions and chunky knit throws to keep warm and curl up under the stars.

5. And when the sun sets…

Take the chill out of cooler evenings by investing in a practical chiminea or fire pit for your patio, adding warmth and light to extend outdoor entertaining.

And think about how you are going to protect your plants during the cooler months, RHS expert Allen advises. “As many domestic gardeners do not have the time or space to bring plants inside over winter, it is essential to protect in situ. If focusing on the tropical look, select hardy options such as trachycarpus, fatsia, eucomis, tricyrtis, schefflera and zantedeschia, which will re-emerge after winter.

“If you want to have bananas or half-hardy palms, try wrapping them throughout the winter using horticultural fleece or hessian and fill the inside with straw for extra insulation,” she adds.

Explore these Crowd-Free Beauty Spots in the UK and Ireland

uk travel spots

Domestic travel is set to be busier than ever this summer. Escape the bustle by avoiding the obvious destinations, says Sarah Marshall.

How often do we dismiss the easy option? Regarded as being ‘too close to home’, domestic holidays are frequently overlooked in favour of more exotic escapes; shelved for a later date, because we can go any time.

But lockdown has taught us even local travel has value, promising just as many pleasures as other parts of the world.

As restrictions ease, hotels and attractions are preparing to open in the UK and Ireland, and it’s likely many holiday-hungry travellers will hit the road. But there are fears a rush of numbers could ruin the experience, with concerns of overcrowded beaches and overrun national parks.

Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives to the obvious honeypots. For those prepared to search a little harder, these are some of the quieter, more remote locations to explore on our shores.

uk travel spots

Northumberland National Park, England

The title of least-visited National Park in the UK, is an accolade to be proud of in these crowd-dodging times. Even better, with only 2,000 residents, the 405-square-mile Northumberland National Park is the least-populated protected beauty spot, too. Sat below the Scottish Borders, it’s spliced by Hadrian’s Wall, and neighbours Kielder Water & Forest Park, a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, where stars sparkle like gems. A sprawl of woodlands, streams and a rocky gorge, College Valley is one of the most remote areas to explore. Sleep in 14th century surroundings at Langley Castle (langleycastle.co.uk; 01434 688 888) where doubles start from £94 per night.

uk travel spots

Hayling Island, Hampshire, England

Even though it’s only a short hop across a bridge to this island offshore from Portsmouth, life slowly unfurls in its own holiday bubble. A popular seaside resort in the 1930s, it still has several holiday parks. A funfair and golf course provide man-made entertainment, although farmland and nature trails occupy most of the secluded spot. Highlights year-round are the Blue Flag beaches and breezy Solent water, ideal for sailing and windsurfing. A three-night caravan stay (sleeps six) at Parkdean Resorts Holiday Park (parkdeanresorts.co.uk; 0330 123 4850) costs from £199.

uk travel spots

Ceredigion, Wales

Imagine having the idyllic beaches and captivating wildlife of Pembrokeshire all to yourself? It’s possible in neighbouring Ceredigion, which shares the same superb scenery. With no motorways and few rail links, it’s harder to reach, but the journey along winding countryside roads is an adventure in itself – and well worth driving once Wales is more accessible to visitors. Walk the Ceredigion Coast Path, looking out for resident dolphins in the waves below, or explore the sandy beach at National Trust-owned Penbryn. Close to rural coastal village Llangrannog, Great Tree House is a six-person holiday cottage specially adapted for those with disabilities and limited mobility. Book it for a multi-generational break. Quality Cottages (qualitycottages.co.uk; 01348 837 871) offers seven nights in August from £1,706 per week.

uk travel spots

West Highlands, Scotland

A tumble of rugged mountains and glassy lochs largely unfettered by human habitation, the Scottish Highlands is the UK’s wild corner. Popular spots Ben Nevis and Glencoe will inevitably attract crowds once restrictions start to lift, but retreat to Assynt and Coigach in the West Highlands and there’s no-one around. Waves crash against sea stacks and golden sands along the coast; inland, the remote mountain Suilven rewards climbers with astounding views if they make an ascent. Wilderness Scotland (01479 420 020; wildernessscotland.com) offers the six-night Wilds of Assynt tour from £1,625pp (two sharing), starting and finishing in Inverness. Departs August 1 or September 26, 2020.

uk travel spots

Wicklow Way, Ireland

Most tourists are tempted by Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, but a quieter and no less pleasing option would be a hike along one of the Republic’s greatest walking trails, the Wicklow Way. Dublin day-trippers often head to sections straying from the city, but venture a bit further and any sign of human footprints disappear. Explore the ruined monastic city of Glendalough, or marvel at the dark waters of Lough Tay, dubbed the Guinness Lake. Wilderness Ireland (wildernessireland.com; +353 (0)91 457 898) offers a six-night Hiking The Wicklow Way tour from E1,870pp (two sharing).

uk travel spots

Durham Heritage Coast, England

When it comes to sunny summer breaks, crowds tend to head south, but with temperatures across the UK rising this year, it would be a mistake to leave other areas in the shade. Although often associated with its industrial past, the northeast has a wild, unspoilt coastline of towering cliffs and dunes. Ramble along the Durham Heritage Coast, looking skyward for kittiwakes and cormorants, and gaze out to sea for a chance to spot bottlenose dolphins and minke whales. Set in the village of Murton, OYO The Village Inn (oyorooms.com) is offering doubles from £30 per night in July (originally £54).

uk travel spots

Rutland, England

Best known for its Birdfair in August, England’s smallest county has all the elements of a quintessential countryside break: picturesque trails, quaint pubs and historical attractions. Rockingham Castle is a fine example of Norman architecture, while Rutland Water and Rutland Water Nature Reserve offer options for water sports and wildlife viewing in the otherwise land-locked region. Visit the fairy-tale Normanton Church, which appears to float on water when the reservoir is full. The Wisteria Hotel (wisteriahotel.co.uk; 01572 722 844) in Oakham, which completed a £150K refurbishment just before lockdown, has rooms from £65 per night.

Get Set to go Wild: Why a Sustainable Safari should be your Next Holiday

Support conservation and indulge a passion for animals by planning a trip to Africa, says Sarah Marshall.

In many ways, nature has flourished during lockdown: trees in city parks have breathed the cleanest air in decades, emboldened foxes are strutting along residential streets as if they own them, and the cast of critters in Springwatch has never seemed healthier.

But that picture of an environmental Eden doesn’t ring true across the globe.

In countries heavily dependent on wildlife tourism, communities have been hit hard by the pandemic with widespread job losses, posing a threat to the animals they live alongside.

Across Africa, millions of people are employed in the safari industry and vital conservation projects benefit from donations driven by tourism. Even the sheer presence of more people is a deterrent to poachers. But closed camps and empty national parks have stymied revenue streams and stripped away layers of protection.

The Duke of Cambridge is so deeply concerned, he’s written about the issue for the latest edition of Tusk Talk magazine, distributed to supporters of the African conservation charity.

As royal patron of Tusk Trust, who celebrate their 30th anniversary this year, he writes: “Decades of conservation progress in Africa is at risk. There are real fears that the economic crisis and redundancies resulting from the pandemic will lead to a sharp rise in poaching for bush meat, with criminals seeking to exploit the illegal wildlife trade while wildlife enforcement’s resources are stretched.”

His thoughts are echoed by Tusk’s CEO Charlie Mayhew: “There’s no doubt the loss of tourism is having a hugely negative impact on communities and economies. The projects we support are being extraordinarily resilient. They have had to dramatically cut budgets in order to respond to the challenges, but they are working harder than ever to protect their wildlife.”

Like so many charities, Tusk has suffered a financial blow due to the cancellation of fundraising events. The Lewa Safari Marathon, the biggest event in their calendar, will be going virtual this year, with participants encouraged to run anything from 5-42km throughout June. Visit lewasafarimarathon.com to sign up.

Of course, when travel is back up and running, another way to support Africa’s wildlife is by visiting responsibly run camps and lodges throughout the continent.

While the last few months have been bleak, tour operators are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. Both Scott Dunn and Abercrombie & Kent report a rise in enquiries for African safaris, and peak season periods for 2021 are already selling out in some areas.

That should come as no great surprise.

Besides easing our ethical conscience, safari holidays have broader appeal in a post-Covid travel world: space and isolation naturally shape the experience in sparsely-populated destinations, and there’s a huge choice of exclusive use lodges, homes and even mobile camps on offer.

Jo Lankester, co-founder of specialist African safari operator Lankester White, stresses the importance of staying at a property committed to conservation and sustainability. She recommends outfits offering hands-on experiences that benefit charitable organisations, such as helping researchers to collar endangered wildlife, or “simple walking safari experiences with small footprints on the environment and an enhanced interaction with the wildlife”.

Overall, she is optimistic travellers will return to Africa when they can.

“Being in lockdown has given so many people a renewed perspective of time; of quiet contemplation, and appreciation of the world around them,” she points out. “That really is the essence of a safari trip – not only the tremendous excitement of watching lions or elephants.”

An expert view on safaris of the future: Beks Ndlovu

A professional guide who grew up in the bush, Zimbabwean Beks Ndlovu launched African Bush Camps with a vision for creating an authentic safari experience with the full involvement of local communities. Sustainable tourism is at the very heart of his ten camps in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia, which have remained open during the global pandemic.

“We have 25% of staff on site,” he explains, “Because there are less eyes in the field, we do really need to have some sort of surveillance.”

Although he acknowledges there has been an unfortunate upsurge in poaching incidents, he remains hopeful for the long-term future of safaris.

“I’d like to believe that we all take heed of this time; we’ve seen clearer skies, less carbon emissions,” he reflects, suggesting a growing trend for more sustainable travel. “We have small camps, it’s not mass market, there are no large gatherings and for the most part, it’s outdoors; it’s an attractive type of travel.”

In reality, few changes are required to comply with new social distancing and hygiene guidelines. But the crisis has certainly inspired new positive ideas. “It’s validated the work and energy we put into conservation and working with communities, to the extent we are saying we need to find ways in which we can do more.”

Five of the best sustainable safaris

1. Desert Rhino Camp, Namibia

Operating in partnership with Save The Rhino Trust and the Palmwag Conservancy in remote Damaraland, this Wilderness camp financially supports communities and endangered wildlife. Tracking desert-adapted rhino on foot is an exhilarating experience. Stay in a camp of eight tents overlooking scorched, rust-red plains dotted with ancient welwitschia plants. Lankester White (lankesterwhite.com) offers a stay as part of a six-night, full-board Namibia Exploration safari also visiting the Serra Cafema camp in Kunene, from £4,655pp (two sharing), excluding international flights.

2. Nyamatusi Mahogany, Zimbabwe

An idyllic setting of winter thorn woodlands spliced by the mighty Zambezi River, Mana Pools is renowned for its walking safaris. Watch the wild dogs who found fame in Attenborough’s Dynasties series, or catch elephants balancing on hind legs to feed from trees. Operated by conservation champions African Bush Camps, this boutique camp features two tented suites and two family suites, making it ideal for small groups. A four-night, full-board stay costs from £2,670pp (two sharing), excluding international flights. Book now, pay nothing until August 2020. Visit africanbushcamps.com.

3. Borana Conservancy, Kenya

Supported by Tusk, the Borana Conservancy protects critically endangered black rhino and employs rangers from the local communities. With only one boutique lodge and four exclusive-use homes spread across the 32,000 acre area, it’s often possible to game drive without seeing another guest. Splash out on a stay at the decadent Lengishu House, sleeping 12, or choose Borana Lodge for a more affordable option. Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk; 01242 547 702) offers seven nights at Lengishu from £6,250pp (12 sharing); three nights at Borana Lodge costs from £2,325pp (two sharing). Both prices are full-board, including flights.

4. Kwihala Camp, Tanzania

Even without guests, Asilia have kept their camps open to maintain a presence, and have supported local rangers to undertake daily patrols. Last year, they raised $338,000/£265,195 for East African communities through conservation contributions and donations. They have three camps in Ruaha, the largest park in Tanzania with one of the lowest footfalls. Sleep amidst baobabs in the six-tent, expedition-style Kwihala Camp. From $472/£411 per night (two sharing), full board. Visit asiliaafrica.com.

5. Sarara Camp, Kenya

A flagship model for community conservation, this camp in northern Kenya’s Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy supports 1500 Samburu families. The only accommodation in an area of one million acres, it’s blissfully remote. Guests are encouraged to visit the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, Africa’s first community owned elephant orphanage which mostly employs women. Aardvark Safaris (aardvarksafaris.co.uk; 01980 849160) offers full-board stays from £730pp per night (two sharing).

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