Eight mindful corners of the UK
As we slowly begin to emerge from our time indoors, the call of the wild has never been stronger. But rather than heading to busy beaches or popular hiking trails, why not find some peace and quiet to reconnect with yourself and the great outdoors? Jane Dunford reveals her eight UK hotspots for mindfulness and relaxation
Covehithe beach, Suffolk
Just 4km from bustling Southwold, Covehithe beach has a wildness unmatched by any other on the Suffolk coast. Accessible only by foot or bicycle, this eerily beautiful sandy stretch has been shaped by erosion and is best visited at low tide. The atmospheric ruins of 14th-century St Andrew’s church mark the start of a footpath that leads to the beach, backed by crumbling golden cliffs. At the southern tip is Benacre Broad, a lagoon that attracts much birdlife, while at the northern end, sculptural twisted tree stumps – the remnants of a clifftop woodland – reach skyward from the sand, adding to the otherworldly feel. A magical place for solitary wandering and contemplation.
Beaghmore, Davagh Forest, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Beaghmore, a complex of seven stone circles, cairns and stone rows outside Cookstown on the south-eastern edge of the sprawling Sperrin mountains, is a portal to Ireland’s mysterious ancient past. Discovered during peat cutting in the 1940s, it’s held to be the birthplace of mythical creatures and giants – and is perfect for a mindful meander. The remote setting in Davagh Forest (the first place in Northern Ireland to be accredited as an International Dark Sky Park, with a recently opened observatory) makes it all the more special and miles of walking trails wind through sweeping woodlands and rolling hills. Visit just before sundown or early in the morning for a truly ethereal experience.
Lindisfarne (Holy Island), Northumberland
Lying a few miles off the coast, close to Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Scottish border, the mystical island of Lindisfarne is cut off by tides twice a day. Saint Aidan came from Iona to found a monastery here in the seventh century – and it’s long been a centre for pilgrimage. Stay the night for the full experience. The wildness is especially tangible before the causeway opens for day visitors, the skies alive with seabirds, the fields painted with wildflowers (come in May/June for the best displays). It’s a place for meditation, slow strolls or exhilarating hikes. Head past the harbour and castle to windswept North Shore beach, exploring hidden coves along the way.
Kingley Vale, West Sussex
The South Downs National Park may be well known, but Kingley Vale, in a steep valley north of Chichester, still feels like a secret forest. Wandering through woodland is known to boost wellbeing (‘forest bathing’ or shinrin-yoku, as the Japanese call it, helps with everything from stress reduction to boosting the immune system) and here you’ll find one of the finest ancient yew groves in Europe. Some of the trees are thought to pre-date Christianity, making them among the oldest living organisms in Britain. As well as the bewitching twisted trees, the area is home to other important flora and fauna, including 11 types of orchid and nightingales.
Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island), North Wales
Separated from the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula by the often treacherous Bardsey Sound, tiny Ynys Enlli feels as if it’s at the end of the world. A nature reserve with no roads or cars and few people, the island offers a truly wild escape (a handful of farmhouses and cottages can be rented), with myriad seabirds for company, and the chance to spot seals and dolphins offshore. A place of pilgrimage since the early years of Christianity (three pilgrimages to Bardsey were held to equal one to Rome in the Middle Ages), it remains a very special place that lends itself to retreating, far from the trappings of modern life.
Loch Lee, Cairngorms, Scotland
Many hikers in this part of the Highlands head for Mount Keen, Scotland’s most easterly Munro above Glen Esk, but a route around nearby Loch Lee offers a peaceful walk with beautiful views and few people. After skirting the length of the loch, the path leads up to the Falls of Unich and higher still to the Falls of Damff with dramatic vistas over lakes, hills and moorland. Start early and take time to soak up the scenery and properly unwind in unspoilt nature – the circular route is a little over 15km, so allow about five hours (there’s a shorter route, too, if needed).
Speke’s Mill, North Devon
Devon isn’t short of spectacular beaches, but Speke’s Mill on the rugged Hartland coast might win first prize. A 20-minute coastal walk from Hartland Quay, passing St Catherine’s Tor, leads to a dramatic 60ft waterfall cascading into a canyon and on to the beach below. Rocky outcrops reach into the sea, cliffs tower behind, the ocean roars – it’s an exhilarating, heart-lifting spot to connect with wild nature. Speke’s Valley is part of the North Devon Biosphere; wildflowers colour the landscape in spring and summer, and buzzards, peregrines and kestrels hunt the grasslands.
Bryn Cader Faner, Gwynedd, North Wales
On top of a remote hilltop in the wilds of North Wales, the Bronze Age stone circle of Bryn Cader Faner sits like a crown overlooking majestic Snowdonia. There’s little sign of the burial chamber beneath the cairn, and the once upright stones have slipped outwards, but it’s a place of stark beauty, one of the wonders of prehistoric Wales – plus you may well have the incredible open views to yourself. Lying close to the Taith Ardudwy Way, there are various ways of approach. The trail from the nearest hamlet of Talsarnau is around 5km and isn’t difficult, though sometimes marshy.
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