Category Archives: Nature tourism in the UK

Guide to camping in Britain

The Guardian has put together a special Travel issue dedicated to camping: find out about Britain’s best tiny campsites which are never crowded, island camping and some remotely located campsites.  Read and be inspired to start planning your next camping trip in wild Britain.

Wildlife trips in the Llyn Peninsula

A great choice for wildlife trips in the Llyn Peninsula is offered by Shearwater Coastal Cruises. who run coastal wildlife cruises along the Lyyn Peninsula, visiting seal and seabird colonies. Check out their site for full details and prices.

They have written to me with the following interesting information on the sealife of the area:

“On most of our cruises, we can expect to be joined by the resident bottlenose dolphins. The catamaran hull format of “Shearwater” seems to be particularly attractive to the dolphins that obviously enjoy riding the considerable double bow-wave that is produced. Our cruises take us to both of the two main Grey Seal colonies off the Llyn Peninsula. A group of approximately 150 seals inhabit the islands of St. Tudwals, off Abersoch and a much larger colony is to be found around the shores of Bardsey Island. Small satellite groups occasionally detach themselves from these main populations and may be found in places such as the Gwylan Islands and Cilan Headland with a more notable, semi-permanent group residing on the northern coast of the Llyn Peninsula, near Porth Dinllaen/Nefyn golf course.

The rocky coast and offshore islands of the Llyn Peninsula offer important nesting sites for seabirds. Notables such as Manx Shearwaters, Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Black Guillemots, Shags, Cormorants, Kittiwakes, along with other Gull species are commonly seen. Terrestrial predators such as Ravens, Buzzards and Peregrine Falcons, inhabit the sea cliffs and rocky islands as do the Chough which is a common resident along these shores and, happily, is firmly established and doing well.

This northern part of Cardigan Bay is also blessed with some very unusual and spectacular marine wildlife. Few people realise that these waters provide a home for the Leatherback Turtle, the only warm blooded reptile in existence. These huge creatures, often weighing 1 metric ton and approaching 3 meters in length spend most of their adult life here, feeding on the vast shoals of Barrel Jellyfish (Rhysostoma).

The Harbour Porpoise, that seems to be under threat elsewhere can be seen readily, feeding off the headlands of the Peninsula, particularly within the area of Bardsey Sound. Here also one can sometimes see the enigmatic Rissos Dolphin, that otherwise plies up and down the Irish Sea in pursuit of squid and other prey. These creatures have a blunt nose, are light grey in colour and bear numerous large scratch marks, inflicted during play/mating activity.

Easily the most spectacular creatures we encounter on our wildlife cruises are the Bottlenose Dolphins. The groups we see are part of the Cardigan Bay population that exceeds 360 individuals (although we are finding more each season). Whilst running our wildlife cruises, we have for the last few years undertaken dolphin Photo-ID and monitoring tasks on behalf of the “Seawatch Foundation”, a charitable body responsible for monitoring cetaceans around the coast of the UK.

Our work with “Seawatch” has given us a considerable insight into the behavioural characteristics of the dolphins. We can also, now, readily recognise individuals (from marks, scratches and pieces missing from dorsal fins). “Seawatch” also kindly send us feedback from our inputs and it is interesting to examine the travel itineraries of some of the individual dolphins we see. We have for instance, taken a photograph of a dolphin on a particular afternoon and the same animal has been recorded off New Quay, almost 50 miles away the very next day. We often see the same groups day after day, but occasionally we will encounter a huge pod, numbering up to 50 individuals that have simply come up to our area from the south of Cardigan Bay on what seems a fleeting ’round-the-bay’ tour, describing a large arc and heading back south again.

Having been running the “Shearwater Coastal Cruises” for the last 9 years we do get a feeling for the absence, decline or abundance of wildlife species from season to season.Anecdotally, of course, we notice that the auks, Herring Gull and Kittiwake numbers vary the most from one year to the next. We seem to have a gradual increase in the Chough population and Herons, with their heronry in Pwllheli town, seem to have increased markedly.  Over recent years we have noticed the presence of the odd Red Kite, presumably due to the expansion of the mid-Wales population and Peregrine Falcons seem to have increased.

The Grey Seal population seems to have steadily increased over this period and we see more dolphins now that we did before, but this may be due to our becoming more familiar with the location of their favourite feeding areas and developing a more practiced eye.  We have not noticed any decline in the number of porpoises we see, but we have realized for some time that they will always keep well away from any areas where there are dolphins.  The area does attract a lot of recreational boat traffic at peak holiday times and we notice that dolphins can be reluctant to visit or remain in their favourite feeding areas at these times.  The opportunity is not lost on porpoises that soon take their place once the dolphins are absent.

In summary, the wildlife we see daily seems to be thriving and numbers seem to be at least similar to those we saw when we began 9 years ago, with a number of species increasing markedly.  Furthermore, the Llyn Coastal area is apparently being blessed with the increasing presence of the otter – as if we needed any further encouragement to put to sea every day!

Britain’s oldest road

The 87 mile-long Ridgeway National Trail is remarkable in being the oldest road in Britain and because you can still walk it, following the same route used since prehistoric times by travellers and, herdsmen.  The route connects the Dorset and Norfolk coasts, passing over rolling, open downland to the west of the River Thames, and through secluded valleys and woods in The Chilterns to the east. It is littered with historical sites dating back to the iron age. Lots of details from the National Trail website here.

Children’s farms in the lambing season

A trip to a children’s farm is a great idea in the lambing season.  The Guardian has a list of recommended places in their half-term holiday special, including Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, where they are expecting no less than 300 lambs and 50 piglets to be born in February, with more expected for Easter.  They have other attractions such a baby Alpaca called Snowy.

Houseboat holidays in Devon

These houseboat holidays in Devon look like a gorgeous way of spending a week or two.
“This area boasts 35 acres of unspoilt countryside, offering the opportunity to stay on board a unique houseboat. Each widebeam barge is permanently moored on her own private jetty and sleeps 4 to 6 in ensuite cabins.  Watch the busy wildlife right outside the galley window. Land organic rainbow trout for dinner. Be awed by the silent swoop of the barn owl. And in the evening as you watch the sun setting from the aft deck know that it has given its solar energy to power your lighting for the night ahead.”

Ice skating in the Fens

For the first time in many years, the freezing conditions have been perfect for ice skating, allowing the inhabitants of the Cambridgeshire Fens to revel in a centuries-old tradition. The Guardian

The Fens of East Anglia, with their meres and washes, networks of drainage ditches, slow-flowing rivers and easily flooded meadows, form an ideal skating terrain. Skates were introduced into Britain from Holland or France in the seventeenth century. It is not known when the first skating matches were held, but by the early nineteenth century they had become a feature of cold winters in the Fens. The golden age of fen skating was the second half of the nineteenth century, when thousands of people turned out to watch the top skaters. Wikipedia

Sleeping in an igloo


David Munt from Potter’s Bar, Hertfordshire braved the Arctic weather and sub-zero temperatures to spend a night in an igloo in his garden. He decided to sleep in his creation after spending the previous day making the igloo from snow and ice, with help from the children on his street. 

Ideas for walking in the snow

Yowie snowshoes were designed, fittingly, in Australia.  They look like beach sandals attached to rubber flippers with a deep hexagonal tread and metal cleats.  Extremely versatile and user-friendly, once you’re strapped in, with body weight nicely spread out to avoid sinking, you can enjoy  snow walks on the flat or more challenging treks up and down mountains.  The material reportedly offers better insulation from the cold than more conventional heavy-duty snowshoes. They are also lighter, cheaper and easier to stow in your ruck sack.

Another idea is to use ice grips – unobtrusive devices you can attach to your usual footwear to radically increase traction on slippery surfaces.

Herding ducks with the Quack Pack

Meirion Owen is an expert sheep dog handler, who’s been working with Border Collies since he was nine. He now travels around Britain, showing the skills of this intelligent breed at fairs, private parties and, increasingly, corporate days out. The other stars of the Quack Pack are a troop of Indian Runner ducks, who love to charge around at a fast pace in a tight group (with the occasional lone rebel). First of all, Owen gives a demonstration of how it’s done, instructing his dogs with only four commands to herd the ducks through an obstacle course. Then the spectators have a go.

“We never try to embarrass anyone,” he says. “I’ll always try to help. With duck herding, there is a sense of the unexpected and seeing a manager lose control of his ducks is great entertainment for the staff.”

A recent tendency among lowland livestock farmers is to replace Border Collies with quads, and Owen would like to turn this around by promoting the many qualities of this breed.  More information

Living in the Stone Age

The Woodcraft School runs various courses for acquiring skills that pre-historical man needed for survival.   Bark, Bone and Antler is a particularly interesting 2-day course that explores the materials available to our primitive ancestors.  Those attending will be taught about the sustainable harvest of bark, weaving crafts to make knife sheaths, folding crafts to make baskets and containers, and the preparation of bone and antler.

This particular course will be held in May 2010 in West Sussex, with groups limited to 12, but there are many others to choose from.

Parahawking in Wales

Paragliders will use birds of prey to guide them to the best thermals.  They often report that the birds are not afraid of them and will even approach out of curiosity.  Parahawking takes this one step further.  You’re taken on a tandem paraglider and specially trained birds of prey will accompany you on your flight, rewarded by offerings of food.  This unforgettable experience is available in Wales, organised by the Axis paragliding school

Husky trekking in the Yorkshire moors

With Pesky Husky Trekking you can become a musher for a day.  Instead of a sledge, you stand on a specially designed non-motorised scooter.  And instead of snow-covered arctic lands, the Siberian huskies whisk you through the Yorkshire countryside.  The experience is only available between October and March, after which it becomes too warm for an energetic husky.  You can start off on a practice lap or do a more advanced trek of up to two hours.

Self catering for 2 or 3 in the Peak District

This looks like a rather nice place to stay in the Peak District. Set in a peaceful and secluded location close to Buxton and Bakewell, the farm occupies a stunning position in a lovely valley. From the outside it looks like a typical Peak District farm, sitting in 12 acres of pastureland at the foot of the National Trust-owned High Wheeldon. But the weathered limestone walls conceal the latest in green building technology, earning the holiday cottages a Peak District Environmental Quality Mark alongside its Green Tourism Business Scheme accreditation. More here
Note: the house holds a Visit Britain ‘Walkers welcome’ award. A separate space is available for drying outdoor clothing and footwear, so clothes can dry overnight. We provide boot scrapes at main doors. Guest have access to facilities with water supply for cleaning boots and outdoor clothing. We lend guests maps and books on walking in the area.

Wildlife boat trips in Wales

Sealife Adventure, associated with Sea Trust (part of the Wales Wildlife Trust), run trips off the Pembrokeshire coast to the islands of Grassholm, and its impressive gannet colony, Skomer, with its puffins and guillemots, and Skokholm, famous for its population of Manx shearwater. There are large numbers of Grey seals in the area, and the chance of watching dolphins as they race the boat.  More information

Whale and dolphin conservation holiday in Scotland

Get involved directly with whale and dolphin research by visiting some of the remotest islands in the Hebrides on this great conservation holiday: witness some of the most breath-taking scenery, gain sailing skills and contribute to the protection the marine environment – all in one trip!

Regular visitors include minke whales, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins plus the occasional ‘rare species’ while our resident populations of bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises are sure to delight. As part of the field team onboard our research vessel, Silurian, you will be helping us to produce the data sets that our science department will use in logistical analysis in the winter months.

All in all, a very exciting and worthwhile way of spending nine days.

More here