At the moment I feel as though I am channeling my inner Bilbo Baggins. This long-term literary hero of mine springs to mind when I consider our current emergence from lockdown. I find myself stuck in a perpetual cycle of longing for travel and adventure. I know freedom is waiting just outside my front gate, particularly with Boris’ road map out of lockdown tantalisingly close to full fruition, bring on the 17th of May; but I am simultaneously desperate for a semi-permanent state of Hobbit approved hibernation. So, in the spirit of looking forward to travelling freedom here are fifteen must-visit UK destinations for your summer staycation.
- Munro bagging
The Scottish Munros are a list of mountains named after Sir Hugh T Munro who set about cataloguing them in the late 1800s. The mountains were classified as Munros if they were over 3000 feet high. Munro bagging is the challenge to climb as many of the peaks as possible. The Munros are scattered across Scotland and are a great way for you to see Scotland’s fabulous scenery or for the more spirited adventurer, Munro bagging will push you to explore some of the more far-flung reaches of the Scottish mainland and Islands. So why not plan a Scottish walking break and bag some of these majestic peaks. If you’re up for a challenge why not snag all 282 in 39 days 9 hours and 6 minutes, the current record – can you beat it?
- Literary Love in Oxford
In my opinion, few English cities can compete with the splendid tapestry of history and literary genius that is Oxford. Some of my favourite stories, worlds and characters have been crafted from this magnificent city. Why not explore the city on foot with a literary walking tour, tours run by Oxford Walking Tours depart 6 days a week from Carfax Tower. Booking is needed. Therefore, whether you want to dive into Chaucer, Tolkien or even the mystical world of the All Souls trilogy; I would get your spot secured for an afternoon of fictional wonder.
A walking tour is the start of the bookish delights on offer in Oxford. If your schedule allows I would recommend a tour of the Bodleian Libraries. For a £12 fee, you can secure a private 60-minute tour of the Divinity School (location used in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone & The Goblet of Fire), Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court and Duke Humfrey’s Library.
After all of that walking, why not drop into Blackwell’s Book shop on Broad Street. The smell and calm of a bookshop are a feeling like nothing else. Take a stroll into the Norrington Room, Europe’s largest room devoted to selling books… Not a bad claim to fame!
Finally, top off your day in Oxford with a cold beverage at the Eagle and Child on St Giles Street. This infamous watering hole was home to the Inklings Literary Group who met here from 1933 to the 1960s. Amongst their many esteemed members were Tolkien & C.S Lewis. So, grab a pint and your pen and let this inspirational city work its magic.
- Yorkshire 3 peaks
Most walking enthusiasts will have heard of the Three Peaks challenge but like most things Yorkshire has its version and any Northerner will probably inform you it’s a far more superior challenge. The Yorkshire three peaks comprise of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside & Ingleborough. The challenge is to navigate and summit all three peaks in under 12 hours. A gruelling task and not one for the complete novice walker, that being said it is a significant physical and mental test and an excellent warm-up for the main Three Peaks Challenge. The entire route is 24 miles and walkers typically start with Pen-y-Ghent before tackling Whernside and finishing with Ingleborough.
Even if the 12-hour marker isn’t on your bucket list tackling these three peaks is well worth it, as individually they are accessible for all regardless of hiking experience. From the cavernous depths of the Hunt and Hull pots on the descent from Pen-y-Ghent to the highest point in Yorkshire on the Whernside summit and the gorgeous limestone scenery and caves of Ingleborough the Yorkshire three peaks are spectacular, however, you choose to conquer them.
- West coast of Ireland road trip
Having family from the west coast of Ireland and seeing snippets of the Wild Atlantic Way on the TV recently I have a burgeoning desire to jump in the car and discover Ireland’s infamous west coast for myself.
The Wild Atlantic Way stretches from County Donegal in the North through to County Cork in the South. The vast 2,600km route encapsulates rugged peninsulas, gently rolling countryside and wind-battered cliffs. With the untameable Atlantic and spectacular views in all directions, it’s not hard to see why this stretch of the Irish coast is getting a lot of attention.
It’s worth considering when to visit as the Irish weather can be unpredictable. Any time between June and September, even early October should give you the optimal chance of experiencing this coastline at its best.
Although Ireland is a small island, it’s worth taking your time on this epic road trip to get the full experience. However, if time is limited then check out these fifteen discovery points for the abbreviated highlights of the journey.
- Giants Causeway
Created in a time of myth and legend by the giant Finn McCool, who tore the Antrim coast to bits to create a path to Scotland to deal with the pesky Scottish giant Benadonner; the Giants causeway is a breath-taking natural basalt rock formation. Over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns litter the coastal path, piercing the foamy sea.
The Giants Causeway visitor experience is run by the National Trust. There are three trails that you can take, each providing a different perspective of the causeway. In addition to the famous pavement, there are some other key sights to take in on your visit. Be sure to check out the Giants Boot, the Wishing Chair, the Camel, Clifftop trails and the visitor centre.
When this fabulous landmark re-opens to the public booking will be essential. Adult tickets are £13, children £6.50 and a family ticket £32.
Full information regarding opening, booking and tickets can be found by following the link below.
- Vikings & Victoria sponge
If you like your day trips historically bloodthirsty with a side of tea and cake then the city of York does both of these things splendidly. Following a long period of Roman occupation York became Jorvik. York was the capital of Viking territory, and the city truly is a window to the past. I would recommend a trip to the Jorvik centre which provides an unprecedented look at the Viking society which thrived in the city from 866AD.
York is a city firmly rooted in its history, after sampling the Viking delights I would recommend a walk down the shambles and around the castle to soak up the city’s medieval and Roman offerings. After all that history, I would say it’s time to experience the Yorkshire institution that is Bettys tea room.
Located on St Helens Square the York Bettys has been dazzling the patrons with superior hot beverages and delectable patisserie since 1936. However, Betty’s is no secret and there is often a queue for the unprepared visitor. If like me a brew and cake is the highlight of your day trip I would make a reservation. Alternatively, you can check out the smaller Bettys tea room around the corner at 46 Stonegate.
- End of the line – west highland line
Like many Harry Potter enthusiasts, I go a little bit doe-eyed at the infamous sight of the Glen Finnian viaduct. This stunning stretch of the railway is part of the West Highland Line, Glasgow to Mallaig. The line also runs from Glasgow to Oban or Glasgow to Fort William.
Considered by many to be one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world a trip down these tracks is assuredly a UK bucket list must. As the trains depart Glasgow you are whisked away from the city and carried north along the coast. On your journey, you’ll take in deep loch’s, heather strewn moorland, mountains and the expansive wilderness of the highlands.
To experience this remarkable train journey to its full I would be tempted to initially take the line to Oban, spend a few days exploring the islands of Mull and Iona before heading back to Glasgow to take on the remote and wild route to Mallaig.
- Go wild swimming
This is something I’m so keen to try, despite all my feelings about being immersed in cold water, I’m very much of the opinion that ‘it’s alright once you’re in.’ Across the UK there are some fabulous secluded wild swimming spots from the lake district to Wales and Cornwall.
If wild swimming is going to make an appearance on your summer staycation to-do list then make sure to check the current, depth, temperature and always swim with a companion, just in case of trouble.
For inspiration on where to swim check out the Outdoor Swimming Society https://www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com/
- Burgh Island
Burgh Island, where all your murder mystery, art deco dreams come true. Burgh Island not only hosts a beacon of Art deco design with its hotel but it was the inspirational location of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ & ‘Evil Under the Sun.’ If you fancy a weekend that casts you back to the gloriously glamorous 1930s then Burgh Island is a must.
Situated on a tidal island and accessed by sea tractor Burgh Island Hotel hosts a myriad of chilled weekend activities. From a dip in the Mermaid pool to tennis and paddle boarding, there are even fishing experiences to be had at this truly one-off hotel. Whatever takes your fancy during the day, your evening should start with donning your black tie and tassels and sipping cocktails at the Palm Court before tucking into some exquisite fine dining in the ballroom.
- Britain’s favourite walk: Helvellyn
Like many people during lockdown, my weekend mornings have been accompanied by Julia Bradbury and her wonderful walking programmes. Whilst I was cooped up at home Julia has been filling my head with possibilities and a taste for the great outdoors. Walking has never been so popular! As a permitted activity for exercise, many of us have taken to our local footpaths to explore our surroundings in a new way. So, what better way to develop a newfound love of walking than with Britain’s favourite walk as voted for by the Great British Public.
Helvellyn in Cumbria is the Lake District’s third-highest peak. There are various routes to conquer the summit including the infamous Striding Edge, involving a narrow ridge scramble to the top. Other slightly less daring routes to the summit are available too with the easiest route beginning from Thirlmere. The average hike up Helvellyn should take around three hours for someone with a good level of fitness.
As with any hike make sure you are prepared; check the weather forecast and pack water, snacks, map, compass and appropriate footwear. The scree in some parts of the route will require a sufficient amount of grip!
- Subterranean London
Beneath the well-trodden pavements of London lies an entire network of subterranean gems. The available history beneath the capital’s streets is staggering. From the well-known Churchill War Rooms to the slightly more well-guarded secrets of the Vaults Waterloo or the Chancery Lane silver vaults.
I would set aside a whole weekend to explore subterranean London. I’d kick off proceedings with a few G n’ Ts at the Viaduct Tavern, Holborn. Lurking in the Gin Palace cellars are the former cells of Newgate Prison. If it’s a quiet evening staff are happy to give you a sneak peek. https://www.viaducttavern.co.uk/
Saturday morning, I would head to the Churchill War Rooms. Located near St James’ Park and Westminster tube station the war rooms remained a London secret until the 1980s. Now a glorious step back in time to wartime London you can see the Cabinet War Rooms: Map Room, Churchill’s bedroom & Cabinet Room, Churchill’s Bunker and the Churchill Museum. Upon reopening in May 2021, booking will be essential.
After a morning steeped in wartime history, I would slow things down and take a step back, back to Roman Britain. Nestled deep in the ground beneath the Bloomberg building is the Roman temple of Mithras. The temple and artefacts date back to an intriguing and mystical Roman cult from AD 240. https://www.londonmithraeum.com/temple-of-mithras/
Finally, I would top off your foray into subterranean London with a trip down the Mail Rail. The Mail Rail takes you back beneath London’s streets through the original platforms and stations revealing the unseen 100-year-old story of our post.
- St Michaels Mount
Emerging from the sea, this tidal island on the Cornish coast sits proudly as a beacon for adventure. St Michaels Mount is steeped in myth and legend, from Cormoran the giant to the irresistible lure of mermaids. From an ancient monastery to a battle-torn castle there is something to interest all enquiring minds. Now in the custody of the National Trust, the island day trips to the island are easily planned.
If you time your trip with the tide, it is possible to walk across the causeway from the mainland. If you don’t fancy the walk, you can always travel by amphibious vehicle…which I imagine is as fun to travel by as the word is to say.
- Fish & Chips with Dracula
The Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby has always been hauntingly beautiful. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea is the infamous Whitby Abbey. The gothic abbey, the inspiration for Bram Stokers Dracula. Nowadays the Abby ruins, cobbled coastal streets and quirky shops are a lure for lovers of the gothic culture. This is particularly celebrated at the Whitby Goth Weekend, hosted annually at the end of October.
Fear not, if the gothic subculture isn’t your cup of tea then Whitby has a lot more to offer. Whitby has been a fresh fish hot spot for decades so if freshly caught cod and chips with mushy peas sounds like more you’re thing then Whitby’s’ got you covered. Grab a Yorkshire meal deal (Cod, chips, one side and a drink) for £7.75 from Hadley’s on Bridge street find a bench with gorgeous sea views and tuck in.
- Llechwedd Caverns trampoline park
This one is not for the faint-hearted! Deep in the depths of the abandoned Llechwedd Slate Caverns lurks an enormous subterranean neon playground. Bounce Below consists of over 10,000 square feet of nets with three ginormous trampolines suspended on three different levels. The trampolines are connected by suspended walkways, tunnels and slides. If that’s not enough to fill your adrenaline junkie bucket list then the only way down is on the old mine train culminating a 60 -foot slide straight onto the first trampoline. I can’t wait to check this place out… I might need to summon up my brave first!
- Dark Sky Discovery
The pandemic has inspired many a new activity from baking to home workouts, but it’s stargazing that’s captured my imagination. Across the UK there are dark sky discovery sites where you can drink in the glittering canvas of the night sky minus the light pollution. On a clear night our UK skies offer up over a thousand stars, it’s even possible to marvel at our galaxy, the Milky Way. So, take a walk, pack a picnic dinner and your comfiest rug and lie back for a truly extraordinary show.
Whatever the next few months have in store, let’s keep positive, keep following the rules and get planning some fabulous adventures in and around the UK. As always, I’d love to hear from you about your top UK destinations and day trips.
Stay safe & happy travels