Love affairs start for all sorts of reasons – pandemics included. Unforeseen a short time ago, this unexpected liaison has brought a new way of looking at the world, new experiences, and new possibilities. On the back of a series of exotic, long-distance relationships, one of the finest travel destinations has been staring us in the face all along. Britain, where have you been all our lives?
With international travel looking so uncertain for the foreseeable future, huge numbers of us are looking to explore our own country when we are finally allowed to venture forth out of our homes once more. After all, we guiltily remind ourselves, is it really necessary to fly halfway around the world when we have it all on our doorstep anyway?
“Do you realise, I’ve never actually been to…,” is becoming something of a catchphrase when referring to home shores. Fill in as applicable: the Peak District, Norfolk, the Cairngorms, Snowdon, on a long-distance rail journey, a cruise around the British Isles, a well-being break, a long weekend in a country house hotel, a walking holiday, a cycling holiday, canoeing, horse-riding, wildlife watching.
The list goes ever on. And there we were thinking we’d done it all. If inspiring countryside is what you’re looking for, it’s no exaggeration to say that due to a happy accident of geology and tectonic plate movement, Britain has some of the most varied landscapes for its size anywhere in the world.
As well as our 15 National Parks, England, Scotland and Wales have a combined total of 79 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Scenic Areas. And when your answer to the meaning of life is simply lying on a beach, remember nowhere in Britain is more than 75 miles from the sea.
The holidays on these pages cover a wide range of options for enjoying the very best Britain has to offer. They include everything from treating yourself to a longed-for luxury, pampering, or well-being break, to exploring our National Parks, discovering the remote islands off our coasts, putting a new spin on visits to the West Country and the Lake District, and the best ways of bringing the family back together again after long, lonely months apart. But – and sadly, there is so often a “but …” these days – if you want the prospect of a magical break ahead – fair wind willing – you would be wise to confirm your booking right away.
The word is out that British holidays are back, and the demand for staycations is at an all-time high. Rooms in everything from five-star hotels to rustic B&Bs over the summer are filling up rapidly. You have been warned. Remember, this is true love we are talking about here. Not just a one-night stand.
ESCAPE TO BEACH AND ISLAND
Island hop in the Channel
Explore the chilled-out Channel Islands based at the Moores Hotel near the seafront in Guernsey during an island-hopping holiday with HF Holidays (020 3974 8865; hfholidays.co.uk). Each of the Channel islands has its own unique identity to discover and you will enjoy their uniquely stunning coastlines. This guided week-long adventure is the perfect option for walkers, nature lovers and history buffs. From £1,559 for seven nights including full-board, guide and flights.
Explore the wondrous Western Isles
Located off Scotland’s north-west coast, the Western Isles are renowned for their white-sand beaches, turquoise seas and splendid isolation. From Glasgow, this McKinlay Kidd (0141 260 9260; mckinlaykidd.com) tour flies you to the Isle of Barra before driving through the Uists, Benbecula, Skye, and finally to Lewis and Harris. Nine nights from £1,695 per person including B&B accommodation, flights and ferries.
Slow down in Scilly
Everyone has their favourite of the five inhabited Isles of Scilly. Tresco is perhaps the most well known with its stunning tropical gardens, but for a get-away-from-it-all island beach holiday, nothing beats St Martin’s. The only hotel on the island, Karma St Martin’s (telegraph.co.uk/tt-karma-st-martins) is a converted group of traditional stone cottages located just yards away from a white-sand beach, complete with its own private quay and superb views of the neighbouring islands. From £324 per night, including breakfast (01720 422368; karmagroup.com).
Find the secret corners of Devon and Cornwall
Seek out the hidden treasures of two of England’s most enduringly popular counties. Staying at the five-star Three Crowns Inn on Dartmoor and 16th-century Plume of Feathers at Mitchell in Cornwall, a guided tour with Jules Verne (020 3553 1631; vjv.com) explores less well-known locations in Dartmoor National Park and the Teign Valley, as well as the coastal towns of Fowey, St Mawes, St Agnes and Falmouth. From £1,395 for five nights including accommodation, excursions and an expert driver/guide.
Ride through Wales
A six-day trail ride across central Wales with Equus Journeys (01905 388977; equus-journeys.com) covers more than 100 miles along unmarked tracks and through remote countryside starting in the Wye Valley before crossing the Cambrian Mountains and ending on the beaches of the Dovey Estuary. Overnight stays are at small inns and guesthouses along the way. There is no backup vehicle and riding days are between five and seven hours, so these trips are for true equestrians. Holidays from £1,800 including full-board accommodation, horses and guide.
Canoe across the lochs
Paddle your own canoe right across Scotland from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east with Much Better Adventures (020 3966 7595; muchbetteradventures.com). As part of a guided group (maximum seven people) you will traverse more than 60 miles of waterways including Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness (passing Urquhart Castle), and Loch Dochfour. At night you will wild camp and eat around campfires in remote locations by the loch side surrounded by mountains. From £590 (four nights) including twin-share tents, all meals and guide.
BOAT ABOUT BRITAIN
Cruise the coast
Sailing aboard the cruise liner Spirit of Discovery, Saga’s (0800 300 500; travel.saga.co.uk) Britain cruise takes you up the east coast to Edinburgh and Orkney, around to Ullapool, down the west coast past Belfast and Dublin, and along the south coast to Portland before heading back to Southampton. As well as four land-based sightseeing tours, there are many optional excursions. From £3,279 per person all-inclusive for 13 nights. Departs Aug 2.
Bob around on the Broads
Treat yourself to a Norfolk Broads boating holiday on a luxury cruiser from the Herbert Woods fleet based at the riverside village of Potter Heigham. All the Elite cruise boats were designed and built at the marina using local craftsmen and fitted with sundecks and power showers. Hire of two to eight-berth Elite cruisers costs from £627 to £1,399 per week (0800 144 4472; herbertwoods.co.uk).
SAMPLE THE FINEST
Retreat to Yorkshire
Rediscover your inner calm on a luxury spa retreat in the remote Yorkshire countryside. Your home-away-from-home will be Grantley Hall (telegraph.co.uk/tt-grantley-hall), a Grade II listed country house on the river Skell surrounded by 30 acres of parkland, gardens and rolling hills. Three Graces Spa offers a wide range of holistic treatments. From £1,475 per person for seven nights with Health & Fitness Travel (020 3397 8891; healthandfitnesstravel.com).
A right Royal round-trip
From the Tower of London to the Scottish Wars of Independence, learn the secrets of the monarchy and uncover the histories of royal residences past and present on an adventure with Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386463; abercrombiekent.co.uk). Staying at high-end hotels, all imaginable royal privileges will be yours, including a champagne afternoon tea aboard a floating hotel and insider-access to palaces before the official opening times. From £7,559 for eight nights including driver-guides and flights from London to Edinburgh.
Be wowed in Wiltshire
Lucknam Park is a five-star Georgian hotel with a spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant. It also has an equestrian centre offering lessons and rides around the 500-acre estate and beyond. Rooms start from £375 (01225 742777; telegraph.co.uk/tt-lucknam-park).
Enjoy a wee dram
Indulge in guided folklore, walking, and food tours of Edinburgh with Audley Travel (01993 838173; audleytravel.com). Drive via Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery to the Cairngorms and ride horses alongside lochs and mountains. Six days from £1,850 a head includes B&B accommodation, vehicle hire and excursions.
Be suspended in Thyme
Exceptional food from a kitchen garden and farm, gardens designed by six-time Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist Bunny Guinness and a spa. All are on offer at Thyme in Gloucestershire. From £245 per night (01367 850174; telegraph.co.uk/tt-thyme).
Smell the roses
Embark on a tailor-made Gardens of Southern England self-drive tour with Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386463; abercrombiekent.co.uk). Explore the secret gardens at a relaxed pace, taking time to smell the roses. From formal walled gardens to open parkland, you will visit historic houses, gardens and conservation projects. Bath is followed by the Cotswolds, Cornwall and Devon. From £2,199 per person for seven nights including hotels and tours.
Search the seas and skies of the Shetlands
Experience the wildlife of the Shetland Islands with specialists Wildlife Worldwide (01962 302086; wildlifeworldwide.com). Travelling by minibus and on boat trips with a naturalist, you will search for whales, bottlenose dolphins, porpoises, seals, otters and colonies of seabirds. Visit RSPB and National Nature Reserves including Sumburgh Head, Fetlar, Hermaness and the Keen of Hamar. From £1,545 per person including seven nights hotel accommodation, all meals, and excursions.
Go wild for Somerset
Within easy reach of the Somerset Levels’s best wildlife watching spots in the height of summer, Naturetrek’s (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) newest tour will focus on the wetlands, meadows and gorges. Visiting the Quantock Hills, Cheddar Gorge, Avalon Marshes and the Mendip Hills, you search for mammals (red deer, otters), marshland birds (bittern, marsh harrier), butterflies (large blue, brown argus) and flowers (cheddar pink, pyramidal orchids). Four days in June or July cost from £495 including half-board accommodation and naturalist guide.
Do it all in Devon
Enjoy a week of sun-worshipping, surfing, dog-friendly walking and wildlife-watching at Knelle Lodge (knellelodge.co.uk), located on one of the most beautiful stretches of the north Devon coast between the Hartland Peninsula and Combe Martin, with its wide sandy beaches, coves, cliffs, waterfalls and wooded valleys. At its heart is Braunton Burrows, a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve that is home to rare plants and animals. Edwardian Knelle Lodge has four apartments (one, two and three-bedrooms) overlooking Saunton Beach and the reserve. Prices range from £655 to £2,052 per week (May-September).
EMBARK ON A GREAT RAIL JOURNEY
Have a rail of a time in Scotland
A 720-mile loop through the Scottish Highlands with Wexas Travel (020 8125 4238; wexas.com) combines the glamour of the Royal Scotsman and its Edwardian-styled wood-panelled Pullman carriages with some of the UK’s most beautiful landscapes. Highlights include a night at Balmoral Hotel, a tour of the Culloden Battlefield, whisky tasting at Strathisla Distillery, and country pursuits in the Cairngorms. Four days from £3,260 per person including accommodation, all meals and drinks on the train, excursions and entertainment.
Chug through Wales
Based at Llandudno, this Great Rail Journeys tour (01904 521936; greatrail.com) visits some of the most historic medieval castles in Wales, travelling aboard the steam trains of the Ffestiniog, Welsh Highland and Snowdon Mountain Railways. As well as Caernarvon and Conwy Castles, you will visit Portmeirion, Plas Mawr and the summit of Snowdon. From £645 per person for six days including accommodation, most meals, rail and coach travel.
Hit the road and stay at stylish hotels
Enjoy a leisurely self-drive while staying in iconic hotels and boutique properties with Abercrombie & Kent (01242 386463, abercrombiekent.co.uk). Starting in Surrey at the Victorian Beaverbrook mansion, you’ll stop off in Oxfordshire for a five-course lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons before heading to the Lake District’s Holbeck Ghyll Hotel. Gleneagles in Perthshire is next, before Grantley Hall in the Yorkshire Dales. Nine nights from £2,250 per person including accommodation and most meals.
HEAD OUT ON FOOT
Discover the edge
On Foot Holidays (01722 322652; onfootholidays.co.uk) offers a self-guided walk following the coast of the Land’s End peninsula from Marazion on the south coast, to St Ives in the north. Wander along the South West Coast Path and the Tinner’s Way to see St Michael’s Mount, Mousehole Harbour and the Minack Theatre. From £745 per person for six nights including half-board accommodation, luggage transfers and route directions.
The Jurassic coast is England’s only Unesco Natural World Heritage Site, made up of rocks and fossils telling 185 million years of geological history. Headwater’s (01606 369824; headwater.com) self-guided walk between Weymouth and Poole in Dorset passes Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, taking in cliff views, chalk downlands, and ancient woodland, as well as Corfe Castle and the Durlston Country Park. From £729 per person with five nights’ hotel accommodation and breakfast.
Break for the borders
InnTravel’s (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk) hotel-to-hotel walk explores the hills and valleys of the Scottish Borders following the Tweed and its salmon beats between Peebles and Melrose. The trail passes Neidpath Castle, Horsburgh Castle, Traquair House and Melrose Abbey. From £620 per person for six nights including accommodation.
Walk through scenic splendour
Designed by the recently-launched operator Wilderness England (01768 721210; wildernessengland.com), this hiking safari through four of the country’s top National Parks (Cairngorms, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District) takes in some of the best scenery to be found in Scotland and England. Walking for about five hours (four to 11 miles) on most days, your evenings will be spent in comfortable pubs, inns and hotels. Ten days from £2,495 per person including full-board accommodation, transfers and a guide.
TAKE CULTURE IN YOUR STRIDE
Wander lonely as a cloud
Explore Cumbria’s literary heritage by visiting the homes of some of the country’s most celebrated writers. Based at the Wild Boar Hotel, a former coaching inn in the Gilpin Valley near Kendal, a tour with Jules Verne (020 3553 1631; vjv.com) includes guided tours of Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top, William Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage, and John Ruskin’s Brentwood – all while taking in the beauty of lakes Derwent, Buttermere and Windermere. Five nights from £995 includes accommodation, most meals and a local guide.
Discover wild beaches, castles, ancient religious sites, and a world-famous Roman wall on a guided tour of Northumberland with Explore! (01252 882504; explore.co.uk). From your base in Amble, you will visit the medieval castles of Bamburgh, Alnwick, and the ruins of Dunstanburgh, before heading inland for a four-mile walk along Hadrian’s Wall to Housesteads Fort and a drive to Vindolanda, an auxiliary fort still being excavated. Finally, you will visit Holy Island, home of Lindisfarne Castle and its ruined priory. Five nights from £770 per person including accommodation, breakfasts and a guide.
Tune into Liverpool
Founded in 1840, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is one of this country’s oldest concert orchestras. As well as attending the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall to hear them perform, the Classical Liverpool tour from Saga (0800 300 500; travel.saga.co.uk) includes music-related talks, a guided city tour and a visit to Liverpool Cathedral. Four nights from £499 per person staying at the art-deco Crowne Plaza Hotel.
MAKE IT FUN FOR ALL THE FAMILY
Cycle coast to coast
Cycle en famille across northern England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea along quiet country lanes, cycleways and old railway lines. The trail takes in Hartside Pass in Cumbria, 1,900ft above sea level, and includes parts of the National Cycle Network operated by the cycling charity Sustrans. A mix of Tarmac and some hard-packed gravel surfaces means the ride can be completed on almost any type of bike. From £695 per person for six days including B&B accommodation, luggage transfers, notes and maps with Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 1110; skedaddle.com).
Get in peak condition
Combine relaxation and invigorating fun activities on a three-day family break to the Peak District. Based in the rural town of Castleton, which is surrounded by moorland peaks, walk with the kids to the nearby traditional stone villages of Bamford and Bakewell and visit the Longshaw Estate before relaxing in friendly local pubs for a beer tasting and visiting community-run cafés for tea and locally made ice cream. The cost of £335 per person with Intrepid (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com) includes B&B accommodation, local transport and activities.
Run wild in Scotland
Scotland’s inspirational landscapes are the perfect canvas for a family adventure combining the great outdoors with engaging activities. This private-group itinerary, staying at top hotels, includes archery on the Isle of Eriska, a range of activities at Gleneagles, a wildlife Rib tour around Mull, a cruise on Loch Lomond, castle visits and a tour of Edinburgh in a Mini Cooper. From £6,000 per person (seven nights) with Scott Dunn (020 3553 9580; scottdunn.com). Includes B&B accommodation, driver-guide, flights and excursions.
Richard Madden is the author of The Great British Bucket List – Utterly Unmissable Britain by National Trust Books (nationaltrust.org.uk).