Explore these crowd-free beauty spots in the UK and Ireland
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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.
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 2000 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.
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.
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 such as 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 – well, almost. 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 £1625pp (two sharing), starting and finishing in Inverness. Departs August 1 or September 26, 2020.
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 country 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 £1706 per week.
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 €1870pp (two sharing).
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 north-east 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).
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.
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