Winning Tip: Woods and Romans, West Sussex
Like many, I suppose, we discovered that the confinement gave us the most beautiful gifts: time, but also, with two children under the age of five, the absolute need to leave the house. A few miles from us, between Chichester and Arundel, is Eartham Wood. This beech forest, divided almost perfectly in half by Stane Street, the Roman road that used to link Chichester and London, is zigzagged along bridleways and trails, and is part of the Monarch way long distance road. Even on gloriously sunny weekends, you can walk for hours and hear no other voice.
Worth the climb, Dolomites
A miracle! The virus eased a bit, giving the opportunity to escape and enjoy the beautiful late summer days in the Dolomites. A sweaty climb up the famous Tridentine Brigade via ferrata revealed the welcome sight of Pisciadù refuge, 10 minutes from the end of the precipitated bridge. High above Passo Gardeno, he served us cold beer, ham, eggs and potatoes, rustic style on a terrace surrounded by spectacular limestone towers. Later, from Corvara, far below, we looked again at the only light in the rifugio, which flickered in the dark black sky. On another occasion we will stay there.
Nature and ancient history, South Devon
I discovered Pebble heaths while looking for wild places to walk closer to home in Exeter. They offer over 1,000 acres of moorland and woodland along a high ridge, with panoramic views of the countryside and the coast (Sidmouth is just a few miles east). Social distancing is easy with just a few visitors over a vast expanse. There is no cafe, shop, or timed entry to remind you how the world has changed, just the calming influence of nature and ancient history. Of international importance for wildlife, there is also an Iron Age fort. These commons were made available to the public in 1930 for “air and exercise”, highly prized in 2020.
River swimming, North Yorkshire
Tried almost every known wild swimming spot in Yorkshire, but discovered the best of all on a walk along the River Ure north of West Witton in Wensleydale. The river bends at this point creating a pool where the water recedes. It is protected by a steep, wooded slope and there is also a stony beach with grass, perfect for a picnic. As we swam, a herd of cows descended single file for a drink and then went back up to their paddock. During two visits on scorching days, they were our only company.
Top Trumps, Cambridgeshire
Trumpington Meadows Nature Reserve It is a relatively new reservation that straddles the M11 south of Cambridge and is within walking distance of my home. Lockdown emphasized the importance of local patches, and in the summer I was excited to discover a short but flourishing trail along the river in the preserve that I hadn’t explored before. From the splashes of sociable goldfinches in the meadow to the reassuring number of butterflies among the wildflowers, there was much to delight in. Above all, the wildlife seemed less bothered by the proximity of the highway than I was.
Flat, wet and wonderful, Cumbria
Look, a slow worm! Not so slow, it shoots out of the way into the wet moss. I discovered this legless lizard in South Solway Mosses Nature Reserve near my home in North Cumbria during closing. Just five minutes away, it provides a place to escape the confines of my home. I love the swaying of the abundant hare-tailed milkweed in the wind. I also saw swamp rosemary and all three species of sundew in one afternoon. It is flat and wet, but there is an exceptional view towards the Skiddaw massif, where we hiked before closing.
Wild Oasis, Brighton
Racehill Community Garden It is found in the calcareous lowlands high up on the eastern fringe of Brighton. Established by volunteers in 2013, this three-acre site features a wide variety of fruit trees and hedge plants. During the summer he wandered among the colorful sweet peas and daisies, savoring this wild oasis that, until this year, he had ignored. I sat on the wooden benches to take in the expansive views of the sea. As summer progressed to fall, I went back to picking blackberries and some plums.
Post-industrial beauty, Cornwall
Living in Cornwall, I am used to amazing discoveries on my doorstep. But Luxulyan Valley proved to be in another league on a crisp November morning. It is a natural forest and now a post-industrial nature reserve riddled with mining debris and historically significant infrastructure including a viaduct-aqueduct and a water-powered freight rail that no longer exists. All of this was enhanced by dappled sunlight, fast-flowing waterways, a cool mist in the valley, and a friend I hadn’t seen since before closing.
Wild plunge pool, Sardinia
Sardinia is dotted with amazing swimming spots and the Swimming Pool Naturale di Caddargiu ‘e Sini, which we visited in September, has to be one of the most beautiful. From the bridge about five minutes north of Ussassai; from there and down the river by a makeshift stile next to the road. Walk south through shallow river pools surrounded by olive trees. You will arrive at a light green plunge pool surrounded by white steel rocks, perfect for diving. For an after-swim picnic, shop for delicious tarts filled with fresh tomatoes and herbs from The gold of the granaries on the way back to the coast in Bari Sardo before going. Take the winding mountain roads to see haunting abandoned villages like Gairo Vecchia.
Black white and weird all over, Eswatini
We were lucky enough to visit the lovely Mkhaya Game Reserve in January, before Covid closed tours. Little Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) prides itself on its conservation record (only three rhinos have been poached here in 40 years). And it is the rhinos that are the great attraction: both varieties, the white and the rarest, black, are abundant here. If you’ve always wanted to go on safari but don’t have time for glitzy lodges, this is the way to do it. Guests stay in simple, open but comfortable stone cabins and enjoy spectacular food, entertainment, and unforgettable rhino experiences, including an up-close walking safari. And there is no wifi.
• Double £ 280 with meals and safaris, biggameparks.org
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