Best Wilderness In Britain

Ellen Grant
• Saturday, 16 January, 2021
• 9 min read

Glen COE, one Britain’s most dramatic landscapes, is popular, being only 30 minutes from Fort William, but it’s big enough to feel properly wild, with empty Ranch Moor providing a suitably contrasting backdrop to the mountains. Some friends and I recently enjoyed a night’s divvy at the top of Buachaille Time For, the iconic mountain, but not without incident.

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A large bird, possibly in league with Satan, tore into our food supplies while backs were turned and then cackled at us all the way down the hill the next day. Litton dale and Langstrothdale are two of these quieter side dales, and there’s a wonderful circular walk between them following an old drover’s track over the shoulder of Birds Falls.

The scenery is classic dales: limestone outcrops and pavements, and dry stone walls, but there’s rarely anyone there; all you hear are the skylarks and curlews. Photograph: Sebastian Weiser/Getty ImagesWhile northern Dartmoor is beautiful and hilly, the south is vast open moorland with no one around, and Duck’s Pool is one of its remotest parts.

Photograph: James Grant/Alabama Nick is the road that climbs steeply from Dale to Mam Tor, deep within the Peak District national park. As the road snakes around, there are great views of Back Tor, Lord’s Seat and Kinder Scout behind you, if you care to stop for a breather.

I first discovered this route on my bike in 2009 and was surprised how quiet it was compared with the hum of tourists and traffic at better-known Peak District attractions. It is one of the toughest cycling climbs and, in the opposite direction, one of the most exhilarating descents in Derbyshire, on what is left of the abandoned Shivering Mountain (Mam Tor) road and the hair-raisingly steep Winners Pass.

Photograph: David Boat/AlamyFrom the start of the drive from Landover (the nearest town, 10 miles away), you sense that you’re delving deep into the rugged heart of the Cambrian mountains, a truly undiscovered gem of Carmarthenshire. Initially, the trail runs alongside the still-infant Town river, which, even in the driest season, roars across the rocks through the gorge from its source at LLN Brianna as it cuts through the mystical oak and alder woodland.

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Use the steps cut out of boulders to take on the challenge of finding the well-hidden cave of Two Sion Cat (the Welsh highwayman). The feeling of tranquility and isolation is spectacular, as red kites, pied flycatchers and tree pipits soar overhead.

On a clear day in May, you’re immersed in yellow gorse, orange lichen, aquamarine sea and the light and dark browns of granite glinting with feldspar. Begin by following my favorite road through the foothills to Manager Glen’s ancient forest of oak and ash.

Here, having evaded St Patrick’s banishment, Ireland’s last serpent lurks in a pool swollen by the Altnaheglish and Genera burns. If rough ground speckled with summer’s bog cotton keeps your eyes lowered, you’ll spy cloud berry and sundew among the coarse grasses and heather.

Monuments, like Claghorn Wedge Tomb, cued by boulder erratics, litter the moorland with standing stones and circles. Heading west, past the Mullahs, old bog roads descend to the glacial valleys of Levelly and Owenkillew patch worked by gorse-seared hill-farms.

It’s not far from the North Coast 500 route, which is attracting growing numbers of visitors, but as an island we are one of the most isolated spots along this coastline. Much of the island is surrounded by spectacular sandstone cliffs, which provide nesting sites for pulsars, kitties, one of the UK’s largest guillemot colonies and 200 pairs of puffins.

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My favorite part is the northern Rhinos, where I lived for many years, and which has rugged bony peaks, high tarns and glimpses of the Irish Sea. Is an abundance of Bronze Age sites linked by a prehistoric track, recently christened the Arduous Way, that once connected Ireland to Britain via the natural harbors of the coast.

Standing proud like a crown of thorns is Bryan Cadet Finer, a spectacular stone circle thought to be a prince’s burial cairn. From here, a network of lakes and tarns spread out and buzzards soar around the lonely granite top of Model Ysgyfarnogod, or hare mountain.

The glacial CWM Much valley drives a scar to the north, descending into the precipitous gorge of Llennyrch, among some of the finest examples of Atlantic rainforest in Europe. Mosses and lichen drape the sessile oaks, bilberries abound and walkers can bathe in a Narnia of waterfalls and pools.

You may spot the iridescent flash of a kingfisher patrolling his “beat” and in search of his next meal, the unmistakable stream of fizzing bubbles as the elusive otter speeds off into the distance, or a Chinese water deer at the river’s edge. A footpath runs alongside the river for about nine miles from Ayesha to Coltish all, and the Sure Valley Steam railway roughly follows the same route, so you can walk one way and get the train back.

And wild camping, where you pitch up in the wilderness instead of a designated campsite, offers an uplifting sense of remoteness and freedom. Another good option is the high ground above Ivy bridge, where you set up camp with views over the town and countryside below.

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Framed by the peaks of Sure Na Strip, Beaten and the mighty Cullen range, Camasunary is a tranquil bay that’s the perfect place to bed down after a day “bagging” the Skye Munro's. Head to the secluded beach, where mountain and sea meet spectacularly, and watch dawn break over the isles of Egg and Rum as your coffee brews over the campstove, and you plan your day’s adventure.

One of Lakeland’s most famous writers, the fell walker Alfred Wainwright, had his ashes scattered at Haystacks in the Western Fells because he loved the hill so much. Formed over 400 million years ago, the wild Carnelian range is just a valley away from the busy tourist bustle of Snow don.

You’ll feel a world away from the stresses of modern life in Glenfeshie, with its tumbling waterfalls and sweeping mountain vistas. Home to one of the country’s most successful “rewinding” projects, it’s also the starting point for many walking routes, so you can hike straight from your tent.

The other mountain ranges in the Breton Beacons may be the major draw for the crowds, but that’s great news for wilderness lovers. Hike up the 713 metre-high peak Rhos Dir ion for a summit sleep, or pitch up in the hollows around Many Chan for a little more shelter.

Some may argues that true wilderness no longer exists in Britain as it is so densely populated and humanized. What is clear, however, from the literature is that there are two basic perspectives on wilderness : those approaching the subject from a largely anthropocentric angle i.e. interpreting the environment exclusively in terms of human values and experience, and those approaching it from a largely biocentric one i.e. a more nature focused perspective.

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The latter is more focused on the role of untamed nature and those issues pertinent to preservation, conservation and regeneration. Thousands of years of human settlement, agriculture and industry have created a landscape that, although apparently wild in parts, is at least from an ecological perspective, almost entirely artificial or at best altered in some way.

Upland landscapes that may appear wild to the untrained eye, are often the result of early forest clearance and subsequent management for grazing and sport. Nonetheless, there are landscapes in Britain, principally within the Highlands of Scotland and the mountains of England and Wales, that are truly inhospitable and engender a feeling of wildness that compares to the vastness of wilderness areas in the Americas and other parts of the world.

Add tumbling burns, heather-covered hills, tranquil glens, wild moor and mountain, ospreys and white-tailed eagles soaring high above… and no crowds. Photograph: Robin Hair“Rough as guts” isn’t your usual sort of holiday brochure blurb, but the bare-bones Croft House (available through Airbnb) mixes plain speaking with a positive spin on its lack of creature comforts.

Paddling through the waves, drifting into narrow channels between the islands, keeping eyes peeled for dolphins, porpoises and whales, you need a little kayaking experience. Seabirds wheel high above as you paddle past colonies of playful seals near picturesque Lockton, with its palm trees and sheltered bay.

Photograph: Lathe most westerly of the Outer Hebrides, St Kinda is a cluster of four islands cast adrift in the rolling swell of the Atlantic. The 1,000ft cliffs of Bore ray soar out of the sea, the sheer rocks a breeding ground for gannets, fulmar-petrels, hunted by great skuas or “bodies”.

panda cute bears tongue facts fascinating telegraph
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Or Macs Adventure has an extended coast-to-coast six-day self-guided walking holiday, starting in Inverness, where you pocket a pebble on the shore of the Moray Firth before following the River Less and Great Glen Way to Drumnadrochit. From there trudge on beneath brooding Band Freida and the Five Sisters of Kin tail until you reach the sea at Shield Bridge.

Pocked with locks, tumbling rivers and misty glens, its moors, ancient Caledonian pine forest and silver birch are threaded with hiking and mountain-biking trails. The estate rangers offer many guided activities, from Land Rover safaris to wildlife photography, kayaking to gorge swimming.

The UK’s most northerly archipelago, Shetland, upped its cred recently after the BBC’s eponymous dramatization of Ann Sleeves’ cult crime novels, while Spring watch crews are regular visitors. In summer the sun barely sets, and the cliffs are crammed with breeding birds, the waters with seals and Mike whales.

The Late Summer Experience (28 July-4 August) from operator Shetland Nature is a seven-day trip led by local naturalists. Guests explore on foot the Permanent nature reserve, where great and Arctic skua dot the moorland, and the haunting call of the curlew floats on the air.

Photograph: Dennis Barnes/Getty Images Great Glen slashes diagonally across Scotland, from Fort William on the west coast to Inverness in the east. Thomas Tel ford’s Caledonian Canal is one of the UK’s great engineering achievements, although now it’s mainly tourists who make the 60-mile journey, negotiating 29 locks and 10 swing bridges.

In style, it’s floating activity center meets youth hostel, and life onboard is relaxed, with board games and books to thumb in the saloon. This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase.

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