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My Favourite Wild Places in Britain

Malham Cove

Far from the madding crowds’ ignoble strife lie spots of great beauty, even at home in Britain. Many of us are too quick to think of far-off fields when daydreaming about beautiful landscapes. Here then are my favourite countryside spots here at home. If you’re willing to share your own secret favourites please do let us know in the comments.

    • Malham Cove, Yorkshire. Escape the honey pot of this Yorkshire village and you are soon away from the hubbub of geography field trips and ice cream munching day trippers. The view down Malhamdale from the limestone pavement above Malham Cove is sublime. And you can see the house where I grew up!
    • Symond’s Yat Rock. An idyllic, peaceful look-out over the River Wye, woodland, fields, and the best of rurual England.
    • Wasdale Head, the Lake District. The tiny little chapel here feels like one of the remotest spots in England, a quiet outpost of solitude a million miles from the madness of modern England. At night England’s highest mountains tower black above you and frame a sky of stars free from any orange light pollution.
    • King Henry’s Mound, Richmond Park, London. Northerners in particular may howl indignantly at the daftness of including London in this list. But this hidden, quiet spot is a gem. The perfect, uninterrupted view through a gap in the trees all the way across to St Paul’s Cathedral is protected by law. I love the fact that even in London people realise that the visual landscape is important.
    • Pentland Hills, Edinburgh. Sleeping on the windy summit of these low hills south of Edinburgh, buffeted by winter wind while the warm lights of the city twinkled in the distance, was where I learned of the joys of sleeping out without a tent. The days and weekends I spent running up and down those hills gave me my first taste of testing myself physically in wild spots. And they were a bracing blast of fresh air and peace for me away from my life in the city.
    • Crib Goch at dawn. Watch the sunrise from this knife-edged ar te and then dash down to the wonderful Pete’s Eats cafe for the biggest breakfast in Britain.
    • Ben Macdui. Conspicuously un-famous, and therefore usually deserted, Ben Macdui is Britain’s second highest mountain. What you lose in bragging rights by not climbing the highest is more than made up for by being able to greedily enjoy having an entire mountain to yourself.
    • New Forest. I love the tranquility of forests, the changing light, and the way they look so different across the seasons. Britain has a dearth of woodland, but there are pockets of the New Forest that are beautiful.
    • Box Hill, Surrey. The view south from the top of the zig-zag road is beautiful and broad, especially when you bear in mind that you’re not many miles from the capital. Solace for the city dweller. Box Hill helped keep me sane when I lived in London.
    • St. Govan’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire. This remote, tiny chapel hidden in a cleft of rock halfway down a cliff is a silent and mysterious spot that feels far removed from the modern world. There are plenty of good spots nearby for a bracing wild swim too.
    • The Cuillins, Skye
    • Torridon

What have I missed? Surely this post will generate argument and vehement disagreement…?!
This post first appeared in Wanderlust.

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  1. Al, I totally agree with your decision about the Pentland Hills. I live about 800 metres from the hills and have spent a few nights up there in a bivvy bag just to get away from normality & every day life. The steep ascents & amazing descents provided by Turnhouse, Carnethy, Scald Law, South Black Hill and the Kips were my first stomping ground while training for the Three Peaks Challenge years ago. Their combined ascent is greater than Ben Nevis without a 3 hour car journey from the Central Belt and provide a real test of endurance and stamina. They’re only 10 minutes from Edinburgh and the frequently windy summits are a great head clearer after a night out.

  2. Nice list. I’ve just got back from a camping/wandering trip to Inishshark, a ghost island off Ireland’s west coast. It was abandoned half a century ago and is now populated only by seals, sheep, dive-bombing seagulls and small rodents. Atmospheric, weather-beaten and wonderfully bleak. It’d fit in well here!

  3. Contentious indeed….and everyone will have a different opinion.
    For me:
    Sgurr na Ciche / Loch Nevis (Knoydart), Fisherfield forest (north west highlands between Torridon and An Teallach), Cairn Toul and Braeriach (Cairngorms), Ben Alder, anywhere in the Cheviot hills (only an hour from Newcastle…..but even on bank holidays you will never see anyone), the Syline route at Afan forest, upper Glen Affric.

  4. Joshua Hartland Posted

    A great sounding list, however for me complete solitude has to be found somewhere with an uninterrupted view and the knowledge that no one will find you for days. I have come close, but as yet I haven’t found it. The 2 closests are a little beach cove on the west coast or Iona, a view accross the Atlantic that is shared only with a couple of cows. I know Iona is a small place so you are never too far from people, but this spot had something very ‘wild’ and alone about it. Perhapes it is due to the view. I am still on the hunt for a more remote version of this.
    My second wildest place is awarded the position more to the credit of the weather than anything else, although still a stunningly beautiful spot- a valley in the hills above Coniston. Arriving late on a hot summers evening my friend and I pitched our tents close to a pleasant river running through the valley. Due to the time of the night we knew No one else would venture up here, it was our domain. Watching the sun dip behind the hills it soon got dark and the stars quickly filled the sky- the next morning the clouds stayed low and the mist set in-no view at all. There would definately not be any visitors up this end today. We took a walk around the ridge – no one. Our spot again! Suitably peaceful and wild. Perfect.

  5. nice to see KH mound making the list – happy memories of crawling on our bellies in the park.

  6. The wonderfully named ‘Cock of Arran’ on the Isle of Arran. This incredibly wild part of the islands’ coastline has no proper coastal path along the rugged coast meaning a bit of scrambling over boulders and almost no-one else there! Great views out to sea, steep cliffs up close and mountains in the background, heaven on earth and in Britain too!

  7. Evan Magelssen Posted

    Oh man that’s awesome! I love just exploring the wilderness that’s right in our front yards. Here in the states there so many beautiful places that I feel like I’m the only one who knows about them. I tny stream leading to beautiful little waterfall deep enough to swim in. An old set of train tracks that go by an abandoned mansion. Caves that go deeper then you’d ever imagine. Sometimes the mysteries that lue just around the corner are my absolute favorite.

  8. Definitely Crib Goch at Dawn. Symmond’s Yat Rock is superb as long as you don’t pick a bank holiday weekend! I’d add the Malvern hills and the Brecon Beacons to the list for general wandering and escaping, and the Northumbrian coastline is fantastic (and often completely deserted) so well worth a visit.

  9. dexey Posted

    This is like those Guardian or Times lists of secret this that and the other. They ain’t secret anymore.

    So, mine’s in Shropshire but I’ll say no more :0)

  10. Last year I did the five peaks challenge with my best mate and my dad as the driver, on the drive from Ben Nevis to Scafell Pike, we drove through the Lake District in the early hours with not a soul around, it felt like they belonged to us and us alone, so perhaps remoteness can be down to timing as much as geography?

    I grew up in Eastbourne, and away from Beachy Head there are all sorts of secluded beaches and cliff tops that people rarely visit.

  11. Linds Posted

    Thanks Al – for now to Richmond!

  12. I’d add my own favourite please for the scattering of my ashes on top of Castle Crag, whose impressive ramparts mark the the gateway to the Borrowdale Valley in the Lake District.

  13. Emma Turnbull Posted

    Totally agree with the peatland hills I have done the skyline a few times to get a away from the city and challenge myself over the 26km round trip.
    Another place I love is the Larig Ghru and the peaks around it like angels peak and Breareach.

  14. High Street in the Lakes – on the edge of the Lakes so often overlooked by the crowds and all the better for it;
    Hampstead Ponds (to add further evidence that London isn’t all bad);
    Faerie Pools on Skye;
    Scarba (Inner Hebrides, wild camping next to the Corryvreckan whirlpool); and
    Berneray (Outer Hebrides, long beaches and swimming with seals).

    Thinking about this list makes me realise how much I love our little overcrowded islands!

  15. My favourite has to be the Hebridian Isle of Mull, but then Harris is stunning, so is the road from Lairg to Tongue in Sutherland, oh and cycling around the Shetland Isles north of Lerwick is just as good. But Wales, the Pennines, the Lakes and my home near Dartmoor are all special places.

  16. Alisdair Moug Posted

    I agree with Ben MacDui and I would add most places in the Cairngorms national park. Another place I like to head to and is within easy reach of Glasgow is the Arrochar Alps. Most people head up the Cobbler and it can be busy but just head over the top of Ben Ime and down the other side to the bottom of Ben Vane and you can have it all to yourself. Getting away from the main tracks reaps it own rewards.

  17. The Cambrian Mountains and Plumlumon are really worth a visit, not least for the very wild and beautiful Nant Hengwym valley up river from Nant Y Moch Reservoir. This blog post from BackpackingBongos gives a good feel of the area.

  18. Hannah Posted

    What. No Devon or Cornwall locations…?!

  19. I’m just back from a few days walking / wild camping in the Galloway Forest Park in southern Scotland. It was my first trip to this area and walked from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon and saw nobody! Hard going at times as few people mean few paths but great solitude and fantastic scenery (like the lake district but without crowds). Will definitely return soon.

  20. Sam Clifford Posted

    Al I can’t believe you’ve not mentioned Dartmoor! A superb wilderness for micro adventures.

  21. Love the posts! – for me it has to be Hartland Quay in Devon (huge cliffs, massive seas and a jagged coast), or Malin Head in N. Ireland (for roughly the same reasons, plus the next stop being America) or just Glastonbury Tor on a wet windy day like today, where we had it all to ourselves inside a cloud! I totally agree that Wasdale Head in the lakes is wonderful!

  22. Bev Nichols Posted

    Great to see your favourite places in the UK Al! VGreat Britain has some amazing countryside! So many beautiful places to go.

    I think my favourites so far are Dorset, Jurassic Coast, Glen Coe in Scotland and the Breccon Beacons in Wales
    I have been to three of your favourite places sort of- Wasdale recently in May. Such a magnificent area to see..
    Symonds Yat, the whole Forest of Dean is beautiful! I was brought up in Gloucester – the Forest of Dean was fairly close to home. My Nan used to like going there to the pub near the river for Sunday lunches, special family memories growing up.
    Edinburgh is nice at Christmas time..
    Love the ice rink, castle walls and park.

    So much more to see.
    Thanks Al for your recommendations! Yorkshire is on my list too

  23. I’d add the Purbecks – Chapman’s pool along the coast path to Swanage and South Hams – Overbecks (National Trust) to Sour mill cove along the coast path – to the list. Stunning places! 🙂



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