UK adventure breaks: challenge yourself on an active staycation
From the South Downs to the West Highland Way, Britain is one big adventure playground
We could all do with a little adventure after 18 months of cancelled plans - even if we might still have to find it in unexpected places. With quarantine restrictions ruling out many far-flung destinations, it’s a good time to explore our own backyard.
Below are four staycation adventures, in ascending order of difficulty, which I hope will inspire you to head out into the wild this autumn...
Kayaking the river Stour
Difficulty level: 5 out of 10
If you’ve already got a taste for hiking, why not mix it up in a canoe or kayak. There are fantastic rivers all over the country, each suited to a different level of skill - and many providing scenic views of otherwise inaccessible parts of the UK.
For beginners I recommend the Stour, which runs through Kent, flowing into the North Sea at Pegwell Bay. It’s an idyllic route: you will paddle through all kinds of landscape, from lakes, through woodlands and marshes. If you’re lucky you will see plenty of wildlife along the way too. And it’s within easy reach of a range of transport links, making it an ideal quick-fix adventure for anyone based in London or the south east.
West Highland Way
Difficulty level: 6 out of 10
One of the most beautiful parts of the world I have visited, the Scottish countryside really does take some beating. The West Highland Way takes in some of the best of it. Most people tackle the 96-mile route from lowland to highland, starting in Milngavie, a northern suburb of Glasgow, and finishing in Fort William. The route combines ancient tracks and military roads dating back to the Jacobite uprisings. It usually takes seven or eight days, but can be covered more quickly if you have less time.
To experience the true wilderness of the place, I recommend wild camping along the way (although those seeking more comfort can take advantage of hostels and other places to stay on route). The closer you get to the landscape the more you will connect with it - there is nothing better than waking up to the smell of the morning dew and breathing in fresh air while you make a brew. Just make sure you have a decent tent, waterproofs and well worn-in walking boots.
Difficulty level: 7 out of 10
Tucked away in the depths of southern England is a popular but rewarding challenge that will take you through some of the loveliest countryside in England. A great hike to do over five or more days, starting in Winchester and finishing in Eastbourne, the 100-mile South Downs Way can be divided up according to your preferred pace.
The route passes through many quaint little villages where you can stop for lunch, a drink or two, or overnight accommodation (best booked in advance) - or, of course, you can camp. Notably free from the punishing ascents found elsewhere in the UK, this long-distance walk is relatively easy on the knees.
Difficulty level: 9 out of 10
If you want a real challenge that will push your boundaries - both physical and mental - then this is it. A route of my own making, this run is 150 miles long, starting at Land’s End, following the epic South West Coastal path and finishing at the tip of Hartland Point in north Devon. I completed it over five days, covering 30 miles a day.
It’s an amazing way to see some of the UKs finest coastline, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’ll be anywhere near flat. You will climb a total of 9,000m - that's Everest and then some - as you run along the cliff tops. I camped along the way, but there are plenty of Airbnbs and hotels breaking up the route.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to train, as this challenge is not to be taken lightly - without preparation the chances of injury are high. Also make sure you have someone in support who can provide food, water and any emergency supplies you might need.