An insider’s guide to outdoor adventure in England

3 minutes

England probably isn’t globally thought of as a wilderness destination. Cute villages, ancient castles, sparkly monarchs & shouty punk-rockers, yes – but vast stretches of rugged, explorable countryside? Probably not.

Yet, although we’re too small & temperate to offer drama like the Grand Canyon or Borneo’s rainforest, we do love to get outdoors. In fact, England is full of outdoorsy subcultures, from ardent, geeky caravan clubs to
hair-raising kite-surfers, who leap into the chilly sea the moment the wind picks up.

So where does an English person go for outdoor adventure? I’ve been kite-surfing off the Cornish coast (40 mph winds & scary as heck) & hiking along the Cotswold Way
(100 miles via some of England’s loveliest & most historic places). I’ve crossed the Yorkshire Dales (limestone hills, wide green valleys & vast blue skies) on horseback, Western (cowboy) style, which is significantly cushier than English-style – like sitting in an armchair compared to crouching on a

My favourite place so far, though, is the Isle of Wight, which is tucked below England’s south coast, opposite the naval city of Portsmouth.

Its tourist infrastructure is not so developed as much of England’s south coast & its weather amongst the country’s warmest & sunniest. It’s a glorious place for uncomplicated time outdoors.

Only 20 miles long, with a chalky spine of hills, covered in farmland & deciduous forest, the Island is excellent for hiking & cycling. A well-signposted coastal path encircles it completely, taking you along sandy, tree-tousled
shoreline, chalky clifftops & lush leafy “chines”, where streams carve
mini-ravines into the hills as they slope down to the beach.

Because it’s farming county, growing its own fresh vegetables & meat, the Island’s food is often excellent, too. There are a few bad apples, like any place, but it’s always a good sign when you hear yourself mumbling “this is the best cauliflower I’ve ever tasted” through a mouthful of Sunday lunch.

There are campsites everywhere, but those on the coast are usually nicest. I camp at Grange Farm, which is lovely, family-run with hot showers & a rare breeds farmyard. You’re right on the southern coastal path, there, with a sandy beach (& the English
Channel) just metres away. Wander 20 minutes inland, to Brighstone, for
excellent food at the pub & a little shop that sells fresh local produce.

Wherever you stay, you’ll probably want a car, unless you’re a hardened
cyclist, or travelling very light. Only two hours from London by train &
boat, public transport on the Island isn’t great. Avoid taking a vehicle on
the ferry if you can – it’s unreasonably expensive – but cheap car hire is easily available once you’re there.

The Island’s coast is great for fossil-hunting. Several rare species of dinosaur were found here, alongside a 200 year old sailor’s skeleton & loads of fossilized tortoise-shell.
Consequently there’s a thriving community of archaeologists, many of whom
also dive on the shipwrecks that ring the Island without a gap. Along with
diving, it’s a great place to sail & kayak, with good, reliable tuition
available in all three. You can surf there, too, but don’t go expecting
decent breaks.

I’ve gone on enough, but if you love being outdoors, & feel a bit bored with
snow & wild bears, perhaps England is your cup of tea.

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