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Howgills at sunset
The Howgills at sunset

10 new UK staycation ideas for walkers

Lesley Williams
By Lesley Williams
10 minute read

The Lake District, Snowdonia, the Peak District, Cairngorms... which of these busy honeypot destinations are you dreaming of? If you have jaded memories of overcrowded hillsides (particularly during the brief summer of 2020), then these suggestions might help you refocus and discover that there are many more wonderful places to explore throughout the British Isles, and usually far less expensive.

Instead of thinking it might be 'second best', think of opening your eyes to hill country and heathlands that deserve your attention.

Remember – if it feels too crowded it is too crowded and have a Plan B ready.

Howgills view
The Howgills

Lake District alternatives

The attractions of the Lake District include the open fells, scrambles and England's highest mountains, but there is more to walking than just getting to the top! Tucked into the north-west, England's 'adventure capital' offers walking and outdoor enthusiasts everything they could wish for, but it's also incredibly crowded, especially on fine summer days.

Try approaching your day walks from the perimeter of the national park so you avoid clogged narrow roads and all the crowds. Find all the books on the Lake District here. Alternatively, when you peel yourself off the M6 motorway, instead of going west to the Lake District, head east, where you can find yourself in hill country that is both rewarding and also less crowded.

The Howgills dominate the scene from the M6 between the Penrith and Kendal junctions. With a highest point of 676m, these hills are huge, with long 'whale-back' ridges intersected by steep hillsides – and the views are tremendous!

Just to the west lies the rest of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, while to the north the hills of the north Pennines provide superb walking and cycling terrain.


Snowdonia alternatives

With easy access from the midlands and north west, Snowdonia's iconic rugged scenery has understandable attractions, but again, in summer, the call of the wild often feels like the call of the masses. Wales is mountainous elsewhere – and the Cambrian Mountains stretch in a roughly north-south direction between Llangollen and Carmarthenshire, through which the challenging Cambrian Way threads its sinuous way. There are no honeypot towns, but the landscape is challenging and interesting, with plenty to discover, and peaceful rural communities to support.


New Forest alternatives

Heathland, forest, pretty villages, coastal views and wild ponies – there's a lot to attract the visitor to the New Forest, but with the proximity to Bournemouth and South Coast resorts, travelling to the new forest can be more of a trial or endurance rather than providing the peace and space you crave. Think again!

To the east of Southampton lies the South Downs National Park, with equally pleasing landscapes and distant sea views. Although it can get very busy (see below), this national park covers a far bigger area, and with good communications it's possible to explore almost deserted countryside just a short walk from the carpark or bus stop, as long as you avoid the designated country parks and other attractions.

Just to the north of the new forest lies the North Wessex Downs AONB, and the Thames Valley beyond, where there are countless footpaths through beautiful countryside studded with pretty villages. Broad chalk ridges connect with ancient neolithic sites, and while the best known sites are always popular, there are many more marked on the map and in our guidebooks that can almost feel as if they are waiting for you to discover them.


Devon and Cornwall – the west country alternatives

Just getting to the west country in summer requires an act of superhuman endurance, and if you don't get to Exeter by mid morning, you will find yourself joining hopeful holidaymakers in a long M5 queue. Assuming you make the trip, finding the space away from the ice creams can be difficult, but there are plenty of options, even on the South West Coast Path, which are far less frequently walked.

Head for sections with little or no immediate access from roads, and be prepared to walk all day in relative solitude! Alternatively, head inland into the rolling hills of Cornwall, or into quieter areas of Dartmoor – again, to avoid the crowds, the trick is to walk in areas as far from road access as possible. You could even try a trek on the Two Moors Way.


Pembrokeshire alternatives

The beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast is truly unique, and well worth a visit. Designated as a national park in its own right, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path provides superb walking in every season, so consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn and avoid the summer crowds.

If you definitely want to visit in the summer then the same rules apply – choose sections of coast or inland walks in Pembrokeshire that are as far from road access as possible, as most people will be looking for a circular walk that takes them less than two hours.

An alternative that you might want to consider are the lush hills and meadows of Carmarthenshire. Packed with interest, great views with woods, rivers and castles to explore, it's the neighbouring county to Pembrokeshire, yet often overlooked.


South Downs National Park alternatives

One of the more popular choices for a day out from London or anywhere in the south east, England's most visited national park is just that – very popular. If you do want to walk in the South Downs then try to avoid visitor centres and country parks, but if you are looking for other options in the south east, then the Suffolk coast and heaths inland might be a quieter alternative.

There are coastal and heath walking routes set out as long-distance routes, and plenty of interconnecting paths to make up your own circular day walks.


Peak District alternatives

Accessible from most of the great northern cities of Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield, as well as Derby and Nottingham in the south, the Peak District is an obvious choice for day walks and weekend walking. Sunny days are to be savoured as moody skies often prevail over this wild and beautiful region.

Sunny days mean busy days, traffic jams, parking problems and little in the way of public transport to get you away from it all.

Option one is to get up incredibly early, get yourself to the start of your walk and try to stay out in the hills all day, only returning as evening light settles onto the hill tops. Option two is to keep to the fringe of the national park, or head north-eastwards into the Yorkshire Wolds or north to the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales. All options will be busy for day walking, so try to keep to the edges, or choose walks that are less likely to be popular.


Northumberland coast alternatives

Northumberland used to be England's best kept secret, but with its vast sandy beaches and wilderness interior the attractions of wide open spaces have emerged during the pandemic. Northumberland is remote, often cold and windy, and pretty inhospitable when a strong north-easterly is blowing, even in summer!

While the vast beaches never get busy, the coast road carries heavy traffic with bottlenecks at every town and village. An alternative is to head inland, into the Northumberland National Park, or the Kielderhead National nature reserve or Kielder Forest Park.


Isle of Skye alternatives

The Isle of Skye is without parallel anywhere in the world, a destination for walkers, climbers and adventures. Swamped with visitors during the summer of 2020, we advise trying to do the right thing. Remember that this wonderful island is home for some lucky people, and the roads, villages and settlements deserve respect.

Travel and stay sensitively, give back to the community, and if possible, avoid the peak season this summer.

There are obviously no realistic alternatives, as all the Scottish islands have attractions of remoteness that is currently rendering them far from peaceful and quiet. Try Jura and walk around the island, or some of the smaller isles that have little to attract the more casual visitor and tourist. Finally, you can always head to the far north of mainland Scotland, with acres of space!


Great Glen and Ben Nevis alternatives

Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles, is a clear target for every walker and visitor to the Scottish Highlands, but the whole region can become incredibly busy in the summer, with pressure on any available accommodation and campsites.

Fort William is not only the centre from which to tackle Ben Nevis, is the start/end point of the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the trek to Cape Wrath. There are some other ideas for great mountain and wilderness walks not far away, however.

South of Glen Coe there are wonderful mountains that flank either side of Glen Etive and Loch Etive, including the Black Mount and the Ben Cruachan area, all of which just might be a little quieter.

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