The alternative guide to a great British summer

Escape the hordes of holiday-goers and explore Britain’s lesser-trodden parts.

It’ll come as no surprise that the number of UK holiday bookings is set to soar in the coming months, with many Brits preparing to explore their own fair isles in lieu of jetting off abroad. With that in mind, the prospect of finding a secluded spot away from the hordes of holiday-goers can be a daunting one.

So, to help you plan your perfect summer getaway, we’re shining a light on some of Britain’s lesser-trodden parts, from dramatic coastlines and remote island retreats to swathes of unspoilt moorland and historic cities.

For coastal charm: Northumberland’s Heritage Coast

Between Warkworth and Berwick-upon-Tweed lies one of the finest stretches of coastline anywhere in England. Known as the Heritage Coast, the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is surprisingly crowd-free, even in high summer. 

Bamburgh Castle Northumberland by Dave Head Shutterstock
Bamburgh’s medieval castle spectacularly rising from the dunes is undoubtedly one of England’s finest coastal fortresses © Dave Head, Shutterstock

If you’re looking to kick back and relax, you’ll find a number of excellent bathing beaches here. Many visitors – and particularly families – tend to head for those close to Embleton, Beadnell, Seahouses and Bamburgh, leaving the likes of Sugar Sands, Rumbling Kern, Football Hole, Ross Back Sands, Lindisfarne’s beaches and Cheswick Sands to those solitude seekers in the know.

Heritage hunters and nature watchers are spoiled with the renowned Farne archipelago, Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, and a string of fantastically arresting castles punctuating the coastline. 

Most striking is the mighty fortress at Bamburgh. Many writers and architectural historians have declared this the most wondrous of all England’s coastal castles. You may well agree when you see it rise spectacularly from the dunes, the impressive curtain walls dominating its namesake village and the silky sands below.

For a beach break: Dumfries & Galloway’s Colvend Coast

It’s safe to say that this region is unlikely to be the first that you associate with picture-perfect beaches. And yet, if Scotland were on the Mediterranean, the Colvend Coast is what it would look like.

This stretch of shoreline from south of Dalbeattie eastwards to Mersehead is the most developed part of all of Dumfries and Galloway’s 200 miles of coastline but, unlike the worst excesses of the Med, here there is very little of the uncontrolled sprawl of modern holiday resorts.

Rockcliffe Colvend Coast Dumfries and Galloway by James Johnstone Flickr
The small village of Rockcliffe is one of the prettiest along this stretch of coastline © James Johnstone, Flickr

For more than 75 years part of this coast has been in the care of the National Trust for Scotland and there is still a timeless quality to much of it. 

Combined with a pleasant climate for much of the year, this area and the neighbouring harbourside town of Kirkcudbright have been referenced as the ‘Scottish Riviera’ and, much as the description smacks of a brashness that is far from the reality, it’s understandable why the soubriquet might stick. 

For a walking holiday: Shropshire Hills

For many people, south Shropshire is the definitive Shropshire. Much of this region is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), designated in 1958 to protect and enhance the region’s hills, farmland, woods, valleys and batches, richly varied geology and diverse wildlife. 

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to walking – especially if you’re a hill walker. The Stiperstones, wreathed in mystery and legend, offers a six-mile quest along its craggy ridge, while the moonscape plateau and valleys (known locally as ‘batches’) of the Long Mynd await your wanderings with a variety of routes. 

Stiperstones Shropshire AONB by mfarr, Shutterstock alternative British summer guide
With your first glimpse of Shropshire’s often-overlooked Stiperstones you know you’ve arrived somewhere very special © mfarr, Shutterstock

In terms of long-distance trails, the Shropshire Way and Wild Edric’s Way will lead you high and low through many of south Shropshire’s most beautiful valleys, hills and villages. Additionally, the Clun Valley in Shropshire’s southwestern tip has some of the best-preserved sections of Offa’s Dyke.

To plan your own explorations of this beautiful region, it’s well worth visiting the walking section of the Shropshire Hills AONB website. 

For a remote retreat: Lundy Island

Lundy lies about ten miles north of Hartland Point in Devon, where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic. It is a granite island three miles long and about half a mile wide, and with its wind and lack of trees feels, to the visitor, like a chunk of the Hebrides that lost its way. 

Lundy Island Devon by Diana Mower SHutterstock
A profound sense of tranquility can be found on Lundy © Diana Mower, Shutterstock

Why do people come to Lundy? For the character of the island itself, and the tranquillity that is found there. For birdwatching, rock climbing or diving; for interest in the plants, the fungi, the lichens, or the archaeology and history; for walking; or simply for a rest with a few good books. 

One thing is for sure – after one visit most people are caught by the Lundy spirit and return time and again to this special corner of North Devon

For roaming wild: Cheshire Peak

Most people are surprised to find that part of the Peak District National Park lies within Cheshire, generally believing the park to be a purely Derbyshire affair. Cheshire’s is, admittedly, a fairly small chunk, amounting to just over 34 of the total 555 square-mile park area. 

That said, it manages to cram plenty of scenic variety into that space, from the stately surroundings of Lyme Park to the natural beauty of the Dane Valley. 

Lyme Park Cheshire by Sue Burton Photography Shutterstock
On the northernmost tip of Cheshire’s Peak District sits Lyme Park’s glorious 1,400-acre estate © Sue Barton Photography, Shutterstock

For many, Lyme Park is the main attraction. Situated on the northernmost tip of Cheshire’s Peak District, just within the national park boundaries, sits this grand stately home, surrounded by a glorious 1,400-acre estate.

This is the place to come on days when you need to blow the cobwebs away; it’s stirring stuff, striding across the parkland and soaking up the far-reaching views across hills and moors and down to the Cheshire Plain. 

For birdwatching: Skomer Island

Lying just off the Pembrokeshire coast, Skomer is a small island of 300ha. As you approach by boat, dense rafts of puffins, guillemots, auks and razorbills slick the water, species intermingling as they rest between foraging trips. 

Once ashore at North Haven, there are bracken-covered slopes to explore, rocky coastlines to wander and flower-strewn plains to meander. Investigate sheltered bays and towering rocky stacks, windless gullies and exposed headlands. Numerous paths cross the island, carefully directed to leave sensitive wildlife areas undisturbed. 

Puffins Skomer Island Pembrokeshire Wales Birdwatching UK by Michael Thaler Shutterstock alternative British summer guide
Puffins, affectionately nicknamed ‘Pembrokeshire parrots’ by locals, are Skomer Island’s biggest draw © Michael Thaler, Shutterstock

The island’s circumference comprises seacliffs, and seacliffs mean seabirds. Fulmar, kittiwake and guillemot cram onto the sheer, north-facing bluffs of The Wick. Escarpments opposite are home to puffins – thousands of them.

Another excellent seabird site is High Cliff. The seabirds’ collective calls – more cacophony than chorus – bounce off the cliff, adding surround sound to the cinematic spectacle. 

For outstanding natural beauty: Northern Chilterns

Despite being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Chilterns are often overlooked in favour of big hitters like the Cotswolds or the North York Moors. The northern area in particular, which incorporates parts of central Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, offers plentiful natural attractions. Chief among them are Sharpenhoe Clappers and Ivinghoe Beacon. 

Ivinghoe Beacon Northern Chilterns by Juneisy Q. Hawkins SHutterstock
Standing at 764 feet, Ivinghoe Beacon offers impressive views of the Chilterns © Juneisy Q. Hawkins, Shutterstock

Sharpenhoe’s steep chalk escarpment is best explored in high summer, when typical chalk grassland plants such as purple scabious and clover coat the ground. The ancient woodland here is also a joy to explore. Among the crowds of beech trees are the remains of an Iron Age hillfort, which is said to be haunted by Cassivellaunus, a Celtic chief who was a thorn in the side of Julius Caesar. As you pick your way carefully around the site, see if you can spot any medieval rabbit warrens.

For more breathtaking views of this natural landscape, climb up to Ivinghoe Beacon. This is one of the highest points along the Chiltern escarpment, at 764 feet above sea level. The land plunges down to the northwest to give an expansive view across the Aylesbury Plain of Buckinghamshire and into Oxfordshire. From here you can see Pitstone Windmill and the White Lion carved in the slope of the Dunstable Downs to mark Whipsnade Zoo.

For a city break: Chester

Think Chester, think Romans. Established by the Romans around AD75, Deva Victrix, their westernmost fort, became one of the most important of the occupation. The site was chosen for its strong strategic position on a hill near the border of Wales, at a bridgeable point of the River Dee, with access to the river and the sea beyond via a large natural harbour. 

Chester Cheshire by Ana del Castillo Shutterstock alternative British summer guide
With its impressive ancient walls and partially excavated Roman amphitheatre, it is a joy to wander through the ages in this bustling city © Ana del Castillo, Shutterstock

The fort mushroomed, attracting a substantial civilian settlement, too, and the recovered fragments of its buildings, which included a headquarters, palace, houses, barracks, granaries, baths and an amphitheatre, give us a rare physical link back to these distant times. 

Yet, they were not the only contributors to the creation of one of Britain’s prettiest cities, enhanced by its setting on the banks of the River Dee. The visible layers of Chester’s history – Roman, medieval, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian – provide a charming place to wander down the ages, best done on the ancient walls that clasp its heart. 

For a Scottish idyll: Raasay

With turquoise waters that lap into quiet, sheltered coves, plus rocky hills, woodland paths and remarkably fluffy white sheep, Raasay is a breath of fresh air.

Measuring just 14 miles long and 4 miles wide, the Hebridean island is dwarfed by its bigger, busier neighbour Skye and, with regular ferries travelling between the two, is often thought of as an extension of the larger island. This is, of course, a huge injustice – though it might look small in comparison, there is much to do and see on Raasay.

Raasay Inner Hebrides by Reading Tom Flickr
While Raasay is dwarfed by Skye, its bigger and busier neighbour, the island has much to offer the adventurous traveller © Reading Tom, Flickr

The island’s highlights include flat-topped Dùn Cana in the centre of the island; a hike to the top gives spectacular views over Raasay, across to Skye and as far as Applecross on the mainland.

The north of the island is wild and uninhabited, providing ample opportunity for adventurers to explore, including the beautiful tidal island of Fladda, once home to a whole community, and a whole host of other fascinating abandoned places including the ruins of pre-Clearance villages.

More information

Start planning your great British summer staycation with our guides: