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The idea of escaping to the Med will always be a temptation for us sun-starved Brits, but recent events have made the idea of staying home this summer hold an all new appeal. With no need to navigate complicated quarantine restrictions, passport renewals or airport security – and plenty of dramatic landscapes and idyllic beaches that more than make up for their continental counterparts – the case for a British holiday is stronger than ever. Here, we pick three breathtaking beauty spots we’ll be escaping our London HQ for in the coming weeks – from the country’s northernmost reaches to Devon’s eternal beaches in the south.
Few places provoke the feeling of escape quite like the Scottish Highlands – from undulating moors to the cool grey waters of its many lochs, the wild landscapes are bound to shift your mind away from the distractions of day-to-day life. It is a vast expanse to explore: begin your stay by checking into the Inverlochy Castle Hotel, a grand 19th-century residence which sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis, the country’s largest peak. A lesson in Scottish country-house grandeur, it is close to Fort William – where, along with Inverness, most visitors begin their Highland journey – a town easily accessed by the newly renovated Caledonian Sleeper train, which departs each evening from London’s Euston station (recently reopened after Covid-19 closures). The loch-side town also grants access to the West Highland Way, a challenging days-long walk from Fort William to Milngavie – or vice versa – which rewards those who attempt the route breathtaking vistas of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park (and self-isolation in the truest sense of the term). Myriad other places in Scotland’s northerly reaches will draw you back again and again: whether the magnificent Sandwood Bay – one of Britain’s most isolated beaches, recognisable for its pink-hued sands – the otherworldly blanket bogs at Forsinard Flows Nature Reserve, or the craggy cliffs and tumbledown castles of the Isle of Skye.
Devon has long provided an escape route for those fatigued with city life. Never more so than during the summer months, when the English county is at its most charming: with two coastlines and a vast national park in between, those craving a peaceful summer spent outdoors will find themselves easily satisfied (when the weather does turn, numerous village pubs provide ample shelter). And, while the entire county is made for long summer days, it is Devon’s eastern coast – stretching from neighbouring Dorset and its Jurassic coastline to Plymouth in the south – which shows the county at its most idyllic. Best explored by car, traverse country lanes and discover picturesque seaside towns, whether Salcombe – a pretty cluster of pastel-hued houses where tourists fish for crabs off the harbour wall, or eat ice cream handmade at the local Salcombe Dairy – or the larger harbour-side town of Dartmouth, where a local fishing trade means access to some of the best seafood in the county (in fact, Rockfish Dartmouth – with the tagline “tomorrow’s fish are still in the sea” – has been voted the UK’s best independent fish and chip shop). Head towards Exmouth – itself a pretty port town – to find some of the area’s best beaches, from laid-back Dawlish Beach to the dramatic crescent of pebbles at Budleigh Salterton. But perhaps the county’s most impressive coastline is at Orcombe Point, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where you will find Jurassic rock formations forged over the last 180 million years.
Wales’ verdant landscapes have always attracted those looking to get away from it all – whether climbing its peaks or traversing its 800-plus miles of untamed coastline, it is a country which clears the mind. In the summer months, head to the coastal county of Pembrokeshire, in Wales’ southwest, where long days can be spent on vast, isolated beaches – some of the most beautiful in Britain. Base your stay around the tiny city of St Davids – with just over 1,000 residents, it is Britain’s smallest – built around the 6th-century cathedral of the same name, celebrating the birthplace of the country’s patron saint (further south, the picturesque Victorian harbour town of Tenby makes an equally good place to start). From here, Pembrokeshire’s dramatic coastline is on your doorstep: just south, you will find Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, a breathtaking landscape of precipitous cliff tops and churning Irish seas – where summertime residents include sharks, turtles, whales and dolphins – and inland, idyllic estuaries and woodland. But Pembrokeshire is best enjoyed on its beaches: Whitesands Bay is an expanse of golden sands, its large breaking waves attracting surfers and canoeists, or the isolated Abereiddy, just north of St Davids, where grey slate sands give the sea its unique blue colour. (En route to Pembrokeshire, take the recommendation of stylist Gareth Scourfield – who we interview this week – and stay the night at the Hide, an in-the-wild Glamorgan retreat he says is the “perfect to recharge the batteries”.)