Wild days out for Easter: UK walks, attractions and activities – without the crowds

Big-name attractions are heaving over the spring break but the UK has a wealth of spectacular, less-well-known days out. Our experts reveal their favourites

Wild swimming, Pembrokeshire

The sea is not warm over Easter (just 9-10C), but sunshine and warm air make a difference, tempting swimmers to strip for a quick dash and splash. I love Wales for a spring break. Trefalen Farm campsite at Bosherston in Pembrokeshire is basic but perfectly situated – who needs a shower block when you can scramble down to the sea for a wake-up dip? From the site, you can walk across Broadhaven, Barafundle (accessible only by foot) and on to Stackpole Quay, where a National Trust cafe does wonderful hot soups and drinks. Afterwards, you could explore the paths around Bosherton Ponds, where otters are frequently seen.
Kate Rew, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society and crowd-sourced swim map wildswim.com

Canoeing, river Wye

Canoe the Wye Family half day

Around Symonds Yat, the river Wye winds down a beautiful wooded valley. It is wide and imposing and the trees and hills give an impression of wilderness. The first time I canoed this stretch of the river, I kept asking myself: “How have I waited so long to do this?” It is beautiful, sedate paddling, with one or two stretches of very gentle but fun rapids to break up the rhythm a little. The Wye is set up nicely for people to try canoeing with companies such Canoe The Wye (£50 a day for two adults in one canoe, canoethewye.co.uk) there to make all the logistics simple. With trips on offer ranging from half-day taster sessions all the way up to seven-day expedition-style holidays, there is something for everyone.
Alastair Humphreys, author of Micro Adventures (William Collins, £14.50)

Art walk, Lake District

Merz Barn, Lake District
Merz Barn, Lake District. Photograph: Michael Hirst

A lovely 45-minute walk starts at Wainwright’s Inn in Langdale. Take the footpath down the stream, emerging eventually near the Britannia Inn in Elterwater. From there, go left until the main road and left again to get to the Merz Barn. A peculiar twist of fate brought Kurt Schwitters, pioneer of installation art and veteran of Weimar Berlin and the Dadaist movement, to the Lake District. He had been denounced by the Nazis as a degenerate artist, forced into exile, then interned on the Isle of Man, before moving to Ambleside after the war. While there, he received a £1,000 grant from New York’s Moma to restore his German installations. Instead, he built one in Langdale. The actual artwork is in Newcastle’s Hatton Gallery, but the barn is now an art centre and place of pilgrimage for art lovers. There’s a memorial garden, information about the history and an artist-in-residence. Armitt Museum in Ambleside and Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal both have works by Schwitters.
Ian Hunter, artist/curator of the Merz Barn and former director of New Zealand’s National Art Gallery

Cycling, Isle of Wight

Cyclists on Tennyson Down, near Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight, England, UK,

The 68-mile cycle route around the island is well-signposted and there’s much on the way to surprise a first-time visitor. Heading clockwise from the ferry terminal at Ryde, you reach Bembridge, where there’s a fishmonger who does excellent dressed crab fresh from the bay – match it with some crusty bread from the bakery. Camp at Compton Farm in the south-west, by the island’s best sandy beach. The vertiginous military road to Freshwater is all the more thrilling to ride given the high chance it will fall into the sea sometime in the next few years. The Red Lion in Freshwater is a good pub stop. It was near here at Afton Down in 1970 that Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Miles Davis rocked an incredible 600,000 festivalgoers – four times bigger than Glastonbury. Further on around the island at Newtown, don’t miss the Elizabethan Town Hall, saved by the anonymous benefactors of Ferguson’s Gang, a group of masked women who, in the 1920s and 30s, set about saving England’s heritage from destruction. The sea is an ever-present companion on the route, which includes a ferry hop across the river Medina at Cowes.

Jack Thurston, author of the Lost Lanes cycling guidebooks series (wildthingspublishing.com, £14.99) and presenter of The Bike Show podcast

History drive, Co Tyrone

Beaghmore Stone Circles
Beaghmore Stone Circles. Photograph: Alamy

This 25-mile drive, through an area that has been continuously inhabited for 6,000 years, starts at Lissan House, just north of Cookstown. A restored 17th-century building, this was home for more than five centuries – until 2006 – to the fascinating Staples family. From there, head south down Cookstown’s main street, then take the A505 west to Wellbrook, a working, water-powered 18th-century linen “beetling” mill. Beetling was the once-common process of wetting, rolling and beating linen. The Ballinderry river that powers the mill is one of the purest, most natural rivers left in these islands. After Wellbrook, go west on the A505 following signs for Beaghmore Stone Circles. This brings you up into the high ground of Dark Tyrone, where we are establishing a dark skies park. Beaghmore is part of a pattern of standing stones that runs all the way down to Brittany in France. This is the edge of the high Sperrins and, on the right day, views west are across the ancient Muintir Luinigh, the last Irish-speaking part of Tyrone. Close by is Davagh Forest mountain biking centre. From there, follow signs to Draperstown and the Shepherd’s Rest bar, restaurant and campsite.
Sean Clarke and Mark Conway, historians and campaigners involved in Ancient Ulster Landscape, a project to conserve 144 sq km of neolithic landscape in Northern Ireland

A grave stroll, London

Victorian graves, Kensal Green Cemetery
Kensal Green Cemetery. Photograph: Alamy

Kensal Green Cemetery in west London, founded in 1833, is modelled on Père-Lachaise in Paris. It’s stuffed with wildlife – especially birds – and wonderful architecture, with grand Victorian tombs in every style from classical to ancient Egyptian. The catacombs shouldn’t be missed, nor the beautiful Anglican chapel. There are some great authors and playwrights interred here: from Wilkie Collins and William Makepeace Thackeray to Harold Pinter and Terence Rattigan. There are also engineers (Charles Babbage, both Brunels) and less well-known figures who are fun to research: try Baron Gunther Rau von Holzhause who, in 1905, met a scandalous end in an actress’s bedroom, or Sophie Dawes, the impoverished Isle of Wight fisherman’s daughter who became Baronne de Feuchères at the French court. It is, however, the sheer number of architectural gems that makes Kensal Green so interesting. I normally walk down Ladbroke Grove afterwards, then cut left down Southam Street (famous for Roger Mayne’s photographs – look them up! – and mentioned in Alan Johnson’s autobiography) and visit the Portobello Road’s cafes.
Tom Quinn, author of London’s Strangest Tales (Pavilion Books, £7.99) and Secret Britain (IMM Lifestyle Books, £14.99)

Glorious gardens, Worcestershire

Walled Garden and Roses, Spetchley
Spetchley Park. Photograph: Roger Lane/Picfair.com

The West Midlands has swathes of non-urbanised green, full of character and wildlife. Start at The Knapp and Paper Mill nature reserve, west of Worcester: an old orchard leads to a trail through wildflower meadows and a river where otters have been seen. A short drive takes you to the Fold Café, a 17th-century threshing barn where there’s delicious organic slow food. From there, head east to Spetchley Park. This 400-year-old garden is the joyous result of one family’s dedication. Two Edwardian women were particularly influential: Ellen Willmott and her sister, Rose Berkeley, designed and planted much of the space. There are formal elements, but it mostly consists of packed borders and specimen trees that create a magical place. Serious gardeners will be impressed by the variety of plants. My favourite corner is the Fountain Garden, where I’m convinced Ellen’s ghost lingers, plus there’s a cafe for teas and light lunches.
Tania Pascoe, author of Wild Garden Weekends (wildthingspublishing.com, £16.99)

Ore and peace, North York Moors

Looking down the Ingleby Incline track in the North York Moors
Ingleby Incline track in the North York Moors. Photograph: Alamy

There are a lot of unknown aspects and special places in these moors. Some of these elements can be found along the trackbed of the old Rosedale Railway (OS Explorer OL26): start from the Lion Inn on Blakey ridge (reputedly England’s most remote pub) and, after taking in the view, walk down the waymarked footpath to the visible track. From here, follow a great horseshoe loop on the contour rail bed to the stone calcining kilns where the iron ore was roasted. Nowadays, it’s a tranquil spot, but in Victorian times these ovens must have filled the sky with a fiery light. It’s remarkable that at one time England accounted for almost half the world’s iron and steel production, and almost half of that came from north-east Yorkshire. Sydney Harbour Bridge started out as Yorkshire ironstone. The route back crosses the valley past Dale Head and Moorland Farms, then up to the road. Retrace your steps to the Lion, where there are local beers and good pub grub. It’s around five miles in all. There is also an excellent mountain bike route: take a path behind the pub and head down the old Rosedale railbed, pedal around the heads of Farndale and Bransdale to the Ingleby Incline top. There are truly spectacular views and lots of birds. Watch out for red and black grouse, curlews and our local rarity, the ring ouzel.
Geoff Taylor, vice-chair of This Exploited Land, a £3.8m Heritage Lottery-funded project in the North York Moors national park

Patterns in the sea, Dorset

Chapman’s Pool on the Purbeck Coast, Dorset UK
Chapman’s Pool on the Purbeck Coast. Photograph: Alamy

I love to set out south from Worth Matravers near Swanage (OS Explorer OL15), then head west along the coast path to Chapman’s Pool (it’s more a beach than a pool). Rounding the headland, look out for the way waves at the coast always bend towards the land – the ancient Greeks wrote about the way waves “attack the headlands” (an effect called refraction). On reaching Chapman’s Pool, you can see how waves always fan out after passing through a gap (called diffraction). Together, these effects produce crescent-shaped beaches. Because Easter is close to the vernal equinox and follows a full moon, you can expect some big tides and unusually powerful seas. From Chapman’s Pool follow the path east back into the village. It’s great scenery all the way and there’s a lovely pub in the village: the Square and Compass. This is not one for a very windy day as the path goes quite close to some steep drops in places.
Tristan Gooley, author of How to Read Water: Clues & Patterns from Puddles to the Sea (Sceptre, £9.99)

Moonshine meander, Isle of Mull


Mull’s west coast feels wild and remote and has some fantastic walks. One of my favourites is around Treshnish Point (OS Explorer 374). Two miles south-west of Calgary (13 miles west of Tobermory) there’s a small car park in an old quarry. Walk back down the road and take the track towards Treshnish Farm, then down to Port Haunn, a village emptied during the Highland Clearances. From there, follow the path south around the coast. Watch out for seals, otters, sea eagles and golden eagles. There are great views out to the Treshnish Isles, where there’s a big puffin colony. Near another ruined village, Crackaig, head towards the shore and the Still Cave, named after the illicit whisky made there – reputedly the best moonshine on Mull. From Crackaig, head up the valley and back to the road.
Rob Barlow, sea captain and owner of Hebrides Cruises, based in Oban

• This article was amended on 11 April 2017. An earlier version said the Isle of Wight festival was at Godshill in 1970; that was the location of the 1968 festival.


Compiled by Kevin Rushby

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