The best UK-based wilderness holidays for finding peace and adventure

International travel may be on hold for most of us right now, but you can still plan a wild escape this summer – no passport required!
Alamy; Alejandro Luengo, Anastasia Taioglou, Bob Brewer, Eva Wilcock, Martin Castro, Patrick Hendry, all Unsplash

Paddleboard in the Lake District

If you’ve been dreaming about a summer of watersports, it could be time to try stand-up paddleboarding. It’s never been more popular, and one of the best spots – whether you’re a first-timer or honing your skills – is Ullswater in the Lake District, which has nine miles of mountain-backed water to explore. After a 90-minute introductory lesson with Ullswater Paddleboarding (from £35; ullswaterpaddleboarding.co.uk), which provides equipment and tuition, you’re ready for a guided tour of beautiful landscapes, including scenic islands and, perhaps, a glimpse of the local wildlife.

After a day’s paddling (or swimming) you’ll crave carbs and a comfy bed, so check out The Quiet Site, an award-winning eco holiday park on a hillside overlooking the lake. Pick from a camping pod, an underground Hobbit Hole, a luxury cottage, your own tent or a brand-new Gingerbread House, built into the landscape.

The site is carbon neutral and the heating’s sourced from a ground pump, but there are plenty of modern touches, too, such as wifi and decks with a BBQ and picnic tables, a pizza café and even a bar in a barn. Other fun activities in the area include exploring the cycle routes (electric bike hire from £40, terrain bikes from £23 per day) and hiking to the Aira Force Waterfall.

Camping pod (sleeps four) from £35pn (thequietsite.co.uk)


Paddleboard in the Lake District

Walk with a hawk in Sherwood Forest

If escaping modern urban life is high on your holiday agenda, embrace your inner Robin Hood (or Maid Marian) and book a long weekend at Sherwood Hideaway. The collection of lodges, tucked away in a corner of Nottinghamshire’s famous forest, offers a combination of rural luxury and back-to-nature activities. The real highlight, though, is the Hawk Walk (£95 per lodge; all ages can take part), which, as you’ve probably guessed, involves a stroll with a falconry expert, Simon Stacey, and his beautiful Harris Hawk, Chesney. It’s an unmissable experience, which includes learning how to release and recall the birds to land on your arm (safety gloves are provided), along with finding out more about the traditional art of falconry as you explore the ancient woods. And if you’re into photography, there’s an option to combine it with a Birds of Prey Photography Experience, giving you the chance to snap falcons, owls and other birds up close.

Follow exhilarating days with leisurely evenings spent in the luxury lodges, complete with soft bed linen, rainforest showers and hot tubs for late-night star-gazing.

Three nights (Fri-Mon) in a two-bedroom lodge (sleeps 4) from £533 (sherwoodhideaway.com).

Walk with a hawk in Sherwood Forest

Cycle in the Cairngorms

If you believe the journey is more important than the destination, then a pedal-powered, self-guided group escape through the Scottish Highlands could be the answer. With your luggage transferred between hotels and guest houses, you’re free to cover 15-25 miles a day as you cruise along blissfully quiet roads winding through the mountainous Cairngorms National Park. Along the way you’ll get a chance to visit sparkling lochs, pine forests, cosy cafés and even a whisky distillery – though best to do that on Day 4’s rest day rather than risk pedalling under the influence! Bikes – either your own or hired – are fitted with GPS units pre-loaded with daily routes, plus essential kit, such as locks, spare inner tubes and… chocolate (OK, maybe that one’s not strictly essential).

The joy of a self-guided tour is that you can go at your own pace, but if you’re worried about fitness levels, you could hire an electric bike. That way, if a slope becomes too challenging, simply switch ‘pedal’ to ‘motor’ and let the bike do the hard work, while you keep up with friends and enjoy the views.

Five nights from £750pp, based on a group of four (wildernessscotland.com).

Cycling in the Cairngorms

Digi detox in Essex

If the overload of news during the last year has got a bit too much (rule of six; stay local; no cocktails after 10pm), then it could be time for a complete switch-off – for the sake of your mental health! We’re talking somewhere with no wifi and a dodgy phone signal. Or (gulp), a place that takes away your phone, such as Unplugged’s three-day digital detox cabin getaway, tucked away deep in the Essex countryside.

Here, your smartphone gets locked in a sealed box and you’re handed an old Nokia in case you need to call the team, giving you plenty of time to forest bathe, take pictures on the cabin’s instant camera, play tapes on the cassette player, read books, learn chess or write postcards, all thoughtfully provided. It’s basic, with just a double bed, en suite bathroom, gas hobs and a bench – and nobody but the resident chickens to chat to. But that’s what makes it so blissfully perfect.

For dinner, stroll to the nearby Axe & Compasses pub for a meal. And no, you won’t be able to Google its ratings or the menu first, just savour the moment!

Unplugged from £130pn (canopyandstars.co.uk).

Digi detox in Essex

Back-to-basics essentials for your trip

Travel Essentials,Soltan Protect & Repel Suncare Lotion SPF30, Boots Travel First Aid Kit, O’Neill Sunglasses Sultans in Matte Blue

Soltan Protect & Repel Suncare Lotion SPF30 for all-round outdoor cover. Boots Travel First Aid Kit – pack for peace-of-mind staycations. O’Neill Sunglasses Sultans in Matte Blue to enjoy activities without the glare.