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Are these the Quirkiest Hotels in the UK and Ireland?

The latest edition of the Good Hotel Guide reveals the weirdest and wackiest places to rest your head. Sarah Marshall reports.

If 2020 has been the year of discovering great hotels on our doorstep, then 2021 will no doubt provide an opportunity to delve even deeper into the welcoming world of domestic hospitality.

Every year, The Good Hotel Guide cherry picks the best properties on offer in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and never before has its expert recommendations been in more demand.

We asked the editors to select their top quirky overnight stays – from lighthouses and windmills to former railway carriages, because right now, we could all do with a bit of escapism. Here’s a selection of the most imaginative sleeps beyond your wildest dreams.

The Old Railway Station

Where: Petworth, Sussex

A first-class stay at this converted station is just the ticket, especially if you book one of the rooms in the four romantic Pullman carriages, with their colonial-style furniture, mahogany fittings and plantation shutters. Breakfast, drinks and afternoon tea can be delivered to your carriage door. Two more rooms can be found in the original Station House, of which the largest, with an impressive vaulted ceiling, is up a spiral stairway. Doubles from £150, B&B (old-station.co.uk).

Talland Bay Hotel

Where: Porthallow, Cornwall

Whether you’re sitting on a zebra-print sofa looking at the 3D Mickey Mouse on the wall, or are perched on a wooden bench with giant budgies in the garden, you’ll find this hotel with a spectacular setting by the coastal path ‘curiouser and curiouser’. It is a fun place, although owners Teresa and Kevin O’Sullivan are very serious about hospitality. The service is slick, there is locally-sourced food in the restaurant, and some of the light, airy rooms have sea views. You can take your four-legged friends, too. Doubles from £160, B&B (tallandbayhotel.co.uk).

Twr Y Felin Hotel

Where: St Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales

It’s not every day you find a contemporary art museum in a Georgian windmill. On the edge of the UK’s smallest city, Twr Y Felin houses more than 150 original works, some of which you will find adorning the walls of the contemporary restaurant and vaulted lounge. A dozen artists were specifically commissioned to create works inspired by the surrounding area. They include Marcus Oleniuk, who photographed St Davids peninsula; and there are magnificent views of the real thing from the observatory that’s part of the Tower Suite. Doubles from £220, B&B (twryfelinhotel.com).

St Cuthbert’s House

Where: Seahouses, Northumberland

You can seek sanctuary in Jeff and Jill Sutheran’s imaginatively converted 19th-century chapel, with its arched windows, wood flooring and double-height living room, complete with cast iron pillars. Even the original carved pulpit and the harmonium are still present. Some of the six country-style bedrooms are quite snug, but they do come with bathrobes, coffee machines and digital radios. Breakfasts are taken seriously here, with home-made kipper paté, kedgeree made with oak-smoked haddock from the Seahouses smokehouse and a full Northumbrian on the menu. It’s just a short stroll to Bamburgh Castle. Doubles from £130, B&B (stcuthbertshouse.com).

No.15 Great Pulteney

Where: Bath, Somerset

The Georgian facade of this Grade I listed building may be traditional, but there’s a world of eccentricity within: the spa is in a former coal cellar, room keys are kept in a doll’s house, and The Dispensary restaurant holds the contents of an antique chemist’s shop. There is artwork everywhere you look. The elegant rooms range from cosy doubles with murals on the wall to junior suites in the neo-Gothic coach house, with large pieces of statement art, coffered ceilings and fireplaces. Doubles from £184, B&B (no15greatpulteney.co.uk).

The Dial House

Where: Reepham, Norfolk

Most rooms are geographically themed at this Georgian house on the market square. You can pick from Africa, with vaulted beams, bright patterns and a free-standing bath, Parisian Garret with its antiques, or China, a celebration of Willow Pattern. A revolving bookcase reveals a secret dining room, where the menu features local produce cooked over sustainably-sourced charcoal. There’s even a retail wing, Vegas Vintage, which sells everything from antiques to aged biker jackets and Eighties puff ballgowns. Doubles from £125, B&B (thedialhouse.org.uk).

Belle Tout Lighthouse

Where: Eastbourne, Sussex

You won’t know which way to look from the lantern room of this unique B&B on the South Coast: there are superb sea views in one direction and all the beauty of the South Downs in the other. It’s the perfect place from which to watch sunrises over Beachy Head Lighthouse or sunsets over Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. If it’s mild, there’s a walkway outside the lantern room, or the lounge below is home to a crackling fire. Only one of the six rooms is in the tower, with the bed reached by a ladder. Doubles from £160, B&B (belletout.co.uk).

Tuddenham Mill

Where: Tuddenham, Suffolk

The waterwheel is in the bar and the gearing apparatus of this 18th-century mill is on show in the beamed dining room, where creative field-to-fork meals are served. In among the history, the mill’s bedrooms are stylish and contemporary. Hobbit-style huts in the meadow have hot tubs on the terrace, and enormous rooms in the beamed eaves come with a double-end stone bath in sight of the enormous bed. Other rooms have access to the millstream, where swans glide beside the enormous chimney. Doubles from £150, B&B (tuddenhammill.co.uk).

The Ceilidh Place

Where: Ullapool, Scotland

The Urquhart family’s hotel has only 13 rooms in a series of cottages, but it is also home to a bookshop, coffee shop and events space. There’s a more traditional bar, and a restaurant which serves creative bistro-style food fished or farmed locally, including venison burgers and langoustines. Bedrooms are full of character, with a Roberts radio and books instead of a television. There’s even a bunkhouse across the car park for those travelling on a budget. Doubles from £300 for two nights, with dinner and breakfast (theceilidhplace.com).

The Quay House

Where: Clifden, County Galway, Ireland

Don’t be surprised to find a Buddha statue rubbing shoulders with a Cupid in the Foyles’ B&B, packed with curios. There are clocks – broken and working – a collection of bovine horns and family photos a-plenty in the former Georgian harbourmaster’s house and three of its neighbours, overlooking Owenglin estuary. Most of the elegant bedrooms boast harbour views, as well as antiques, original artwork, and perhaps a four-poster or half-tester bed. Doubles from €175/£161, B&B in October; the B&B closes for the season in November (thequayhouse.com).

The Good Hotel Guide 2021: Great Britain and Ireland, is priced £16, goodhotelguide.com.

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.

How to Stay Safe when Visiting the Coast, Lakes and Rivers this Summer

As Coastguard call-outs rise, it's crucial to ensure your day trips are as safe as possible, says Prudence Wade.

Lots of us have been travelling to beaches, lakes and rivers to get some respite from the warm weather and a good day out.

Friday, July 31 saw the UK’s third hottest day on record, and it coincided with the HM Coastguard receiving 329 call-outs – the highest number in four years.

Gareth Morrison, head of water safety at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), says: “Our coastline is a fantastic place to spend time together as a family, especially when the sun is out and it’s hot. But there are also plenty of potential dangers, especially for those who aren’t fully aware of their surroundings and may be visiting a particular beach for the first time.”

Beach days or splashing about a picturesque lake or river make for the perfect summer activity, and there are things you can do to make sure you have a safe day out…

Stick to beaches with lifeguards

Morrison says the RNLI has seen an increase in rip current incidents this summer, where potentially deadly currents can drag people underwater and away from the shore. He says: “It’s important that anybody venturing in or near the sea knows not just what rip currents are, but how to react if they are caught in one, or see someone else in trouble. They are difficult to spot and even the most experienced and strongest swimmers can find themselves caught out, so it’s important where possible to use beaches that have lifeguards patrolling on them.”

Do your research

If a beach with lifeguards isn’t possible, it’s crucial to do a bit of research beforehand – particularly when visiting somewhere for the first time. John Hibbard, CEO of inflatable paddle board company Red Paddle Co, advises you “plan your route and check the conditions, avoiding offshore winds”, while steering clear of rocky shorelines and fast flowing rivers and estuaries. Sometimes an area might look calm and safe, but you never know what strong currents are lurking underneath the surface.

It’s important to have a plan this summer, with the RNLI advising you check the weather forecast and tide times before venturing out, and reading local hazard signage when you’ve reached your destination.

Keep family and friends in the loop

If you are going swimming, make sure you let someone know where your group is going and when you aim to be back. “Tell them what to do if you don’t return,” says Hibbard. “If you are going to be late (because you are having too much fun), make sure you tell your contact, so they don’t raise the alarm.”

The RNLI advises you don’t allow family to swim alone, and to keep a close eye on family members both on the beach and in the water.

What to do if you are in danger

If you do get caught up in rip current, the RNLI’s advice is not to swim against it – it will be too strong and you’ll tire quickly. They recommend you wade instead of swim if you can stand up, and swim parallel to the shore until you’re free of the rip and can head back. If swimming isn’t possible, the organisation’s advice is ‘float to live’, which it says you can do by “leaning back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing”.

On Friday, a 10-year-old boy survived being out in the water near Scarborough Spa for nearly an hour by following the ‘float to live’ advice, after seeing it on the BBC documentary Saving Lives At Sea.

It’s worth investing in a waterproof pouch, so you can take your phone out with you and call 999 if something goes wrong.

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.

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).

Make Positive Plans to Explore our Waters

Sarah Marshall looks at wild and wonderful ways to connect with marine environments.

Moved by the moon and animated by solar heat, five vast bodies of water ebb and flow around earth, constantly moving, evolving and fuelling scientific thought.

But the unfathomable abyss is more familiar than we think.

Although each ocean has its own distinct characteristics and inhabitant creatures, together they form one immense aquatic jigsaw, playing a crucial role in shaping our everyday lives. What once divided terrestrial explorers now connects global cultures; below the surface, extreme depth organisms are helping microbiologists in their fight against Covid-19.

Intrepid voyages, snorkelling holidays and shore-side excursions help travellers make sense of our blue planet, promising new discoveries and delights along the way.

A rallying call for conservation efforts, World Oceans Day on Monday, June 8, is also a reminder to celebrate marine ecosystems and respect their power; a nudge, once travel resumes, to dive straight back in.

De Hoop Reserve, South Africa, Indian Ocean

Those struggling to find their sea legs can still dip into the big blue without even getting their toes wet. Every year, from June to November, southern right whales cruise South Africa’s eastern coastline to mate and calve, close to shore in a protected marine reserve. De Hoop is regarded as one of the planet’s top spots for land-based whale watching, where onlookers can snuggle into the dunes while these ocean giants breach and blow. Clinging to a clifftop, Lekkerwater Beach Lodge has the ideal vantage point: sit and observe from the communal deck, or even the foot of your bed.

How: Stays from £300pp per night. Visit naturalselection.travel.

Huvafen Fushi, The Maldives, Indian Ocean

It’s possible to drink, dine and dream underwater in sub-surface restaurants and resort rooms. At Huvafen Fushi in the North Male Atoll, you can even get a massage amidst schools of reef sharks and brightly coloured butterfly fish. Once the pampering is over, guests can come back at dusk for a night tour of the SpaQuarium, when the ocean explodes with life. Marine biologists shed a blue light on the marine environment, allowing algae to brightly fluoresce with more neon than the Vegas Strip in full swing.

How: Elegant Resorts (01244 897 505; elegantresorts.co.uk) offers seven nights from £3,300 per person, half-board, including flights. Valid for travel until October 31.

Marietas Islands, Mexico, Pacific Ocean

Nature is a masterful architect, but sometimes man-made interference can have dramatic results. Nicknamed the ‘hidden beach’, a water-lapped shore appears to sit at the bottom of a sun-filled crater on this Unesco-recognised archipelago along Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit. Some say the opening was created by volcanic activity, although it’s rumoured a bomb was responsible, possibly during military testing carried out since the 1900s and finally banished by a public outcry in the 1960s led by conservationist Jacques Cousteau. Once overrun by selfie-seekers, the site is now restricted to 117 visitors per day, each given a 20-minute snorkelling slot.

How: Love Holidays (loveholidays.com) offers seven nights at the four-star Marival Emotions Resort & Suites on an all-inclusive basis in Nuevo Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit from £1,307pp. Includes flights from Manchester on February 3, 2021.

Cape Weligama, Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean

There’s no better way to feel the force of the ocean than by riding its waves. Sri Lanka’s surf scene benefits from warm currents in the Indian Ocean, and you don’t need to be a pro to tackle the swells. A 30-minute drive from Galle, this seaside Resplendent Ceylon property allows guests to literally fall out of bed on to the beach – perfect for a surfer’s early starts – and benefits from the largest variety of breaks along the south coast. Guests of all levels can take tuition from yoga and surf specialists, Ceylon Sliders.

How: Abercrombie & Kent (01242 547 760; abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers a seven-night B&B stay from £2,250pp, including flights and transfers.

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, Atlantic Ocean

Waves rolling from several continents hit Ireland’s west coast: from here, the emerald isle tips into deep blue. Steep, jagged cliffs shield the peninsula from waves and provide a viewpoint to study seals, puffins and dolphins; or for a more intimate experience, hop on a RIB boat with Dingle Sea Safari, who lead early morning, two-hour tours in search of Fungie, a wild bottlenose dolphin who has lived in Dingle Bay for 30 years. There’s even a chance to get in the water for a swim.

How: Tours cost from E45/£40 per person. Wetsuits for swims must be booked in advance. Visit dingleseasafari.com. Stay at the Dingle Skellig Hotel (+353 66 915 0200; dingleskellig.com) from £160 per night B&B.

Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia, Pacific Ocean

Arguably, there’s enough amusement along the world’s largest coral reef system to keep visitors occupied. But a new installation, fully launching next year, aims to entertain and educate. The Museum Of Underwater Art will feature a series of sub-aquatic galleries situated across Townsville, Magnetic Island, Palm Island and the John Brewer Reef, aiming to raise environmental awareness and teach people about marine ecosystems. Designed by UK-based underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, exhibits will include an underwater greenhouse with sculptures propagating coral.

How: Travelbag (020 7001 4112; travelbag.co.uk) offers a 13-night trip to Townsville and the Reef from £1,899pp, including flights from London in March 2021.

Baffin Island, Canadian Arctic, Arctic Ocean

One of the longest quests in maritime history, the search for a northwest trade passage between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans eluded explorers for 300 years. Arctic veteran Sir John Franklin set off on his own doomed voyage in 1845, and only in recent years were his two ships recovered from the ice. Fortunately, conditions are now much safer, allowing tourists to sail through the Canadian Arctic and remote Baffin Island, encountering Innuit culture and hardy wildlife whilst unravelling one of polar history’s greatest mysteries.

How: Intrepid (intrepidtravel.com) offer a 17-day In Northwest Passage: The Footsteps Of Franklin voyage from £13,200pp (triple share), excluding international flights. Departs August 2, 2021.

Raja Ampat and The Spice Islands, Indonesia, Pacific Ocean

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, which dispelled a common fear sailors might fall off the edge if they travelled too far. The Portuguese explorer’s voyage ended in Indonesia’s Spice Islands, the exclusive source of highly-coveted nutmeg, mace and cloves. The archipelago neighbours Raja Ampat, a chain of tropical jewels coiled in a watery treasure chest: from manta rays to pygmy seahorses, divers can revel in some of the greatest marine biodiversity on earth.

How: Steppes Travel (01285 601 784; steppestravel.com) tailor-make an eight-day cruise of Raja Ampat and the Spice Islands from £4,500, excluding international flights.

South Georgia, Falklands and Antarctica, Southern Ocean

It’s often hard to draw connections between our land-locked actions and the big blue world, but human activity has hugely impacted the nature of our oceans. Nowhere is that more evident than the polar regions, where ice is disappearing rapidly and melting freshwater glaciers are diluting the salinity of seas. An essential take-away from visiting these fragile destinations is an understanding of what’s really going on. Many expedition ships now offer citizen science programmes, measuring cloud formations, collecting water samples and counting whale flukes. Findings contribute to bigger research programmes and a better public grip on climate change.

How: Polar Latitudes (polar-latitudes.com) are leaders in this field. Their 21-day Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica costs from £12,750pp, including flights, through Swoop Antarctica (0117 369 0696; swoop-antarctica.com). Departs January 19, 2021.

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