When I was thinking about cool adventurous things parents could do, the one thing that kept coming back to me was how we really don’t need to travel far to experience adventure. The UK has so many dramatic to explore. This is good news for families, who generally don’t have the time or ability to disappear for months on end in the wilderness.
Even though we’re a busy little island with 66 million people and 245,000 miles of road, there are still tons of wild and remote places in the UK to visit, more so in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, though England does still have many spots too. I’m not sure why I’m so interested in remote places (I like small, unknown islands too, many of which can also be classed as remote as you’ll see below). Maybe it’s because we are so populated in the UK so do not often get to experience ‘wildness’, or maybe it’s just because I vant to be alone!; for a few days anyway as I mainly spend my time with my young children who talk nonstop at me, god love ’em.
I’ve split this list of wild and remote places in the UK into those that are suitable for families, should you want some adventure and exploration together, and those that are best for adults only; the beauty being all these places are in the UK, so there is a much greater chance of being able to plan a solo adventure for a few days if you crave some ‘me’ time.
What are wild and remote places?
I think that travelling to wild or remote places in Britain gives you a sense of adventure that travelling to easier or manicured places may not. Yet wild and remote places can be quite different from one another too. I would consider a wild place to be extreme, unforgiving or dramatic. A remote place may be none of these things, but should give a feeling of being removed from the normal, whether being an uninhabited island, or far from civilisation.
Master of nature writing, Robert MacFarlane also argues that “you don’t need to go too far to find remoteness. Weather, for instance, can make even a familiar landscape strange. The sudden arrival of snow, fog or mist can transform a copse, field or river into somewhere profoundly foreign. Night can have the same effect.” So, even if you cannot get to any of these places, exploring a nearby place in different weather, or overnight can turn the most boring of walks into an exploration. Win.
Wild and remote places in the UK suitable for families
Devil’s Dyke, West Sussex – deep chalk valley in the pretty South Downs
A walk along the perimeter of the longest, widest and deepest chalk valley in the country will give you grand views stretching north to south, from the pretty Weald countryside to Brighton and the sea beyond. It’s 100m deep, so expect your eyes to stray downwards multiple times too into this enormous cauldron. This deep valley links up to the South Downs Way and Sussex Border Path should you want a longer exploration of the region.
Carn Ingli, Pembrokeshire – ancient hilltop climb with spectacular sea and mountain views
Carn Ingli is a modest 346m high – perfect for little feet – yet the spectacular 360 views from the top are worthy of double the climb. Swivel your head from the northern Pembrokeshire coast all the way round to Cardigan Bay and the peaks of Snowdonia. Carn Ingli is easily accessible from the Norman village of Newport. You can even park a mere mile away from the summit at Carn Ingli Common, and wander across open moorland. More fun all round at the top with scramble-tastic volcanic rocks plus the remains of 2000-year-old Iron Age defensive stone walls.
The Hole of Horcum, North Yorkshire – awesome canyon shrouded in myths and legend
North Yorkshire’s Grand Canyon, as some claim, is another gigantic valley to hike around. It’s a little more windswept than the Devil’s Dyke, but no less awe inspiring; this natural amphitheatre is one mile across and 400 feet deep. A walk here in summer will see riots of purple heather in bloom, but I would come here in spring or summer to claim it all for yourself.
Loch Lubnaig, Argyll and Bute – pretty Scottish loch made for wild swimming
Loch Lubnaig is tiny by Scottish standards; 5km long and 40m deep, but packs a punch, flanked by pine forest and cradled by mountains Ben Ledi and Ben Vorlich. Water babies will be in heaven here with wild swimming, canoeing and kayaking literally on the doorstep. It’s a pretty special place to just do nothing but admire the view too. Loch Lubnaig is easy to get to, but luckily doesn’t suffer from overcrowding. The A84 runs alongside the eastern side of the water, and a cycle trail along the west, perfect for a wild family holiday.
Samson Island, Scilly Islands – castaway Cornish island filled with sandy windswept coves
The Scilly Isles, 28 miles off the Cornish coast, are remote and wild enough for some to visit, but for pure Robinson Crusoe, take a boat ride to uninhabited Samson Island, one of the furthest islands in the archipelago from the coast. Samson Island was abandoned over 150 years ago, and the crumbling buildings and burial sites add a melancholy feel to this already wild place. The birdlife, however, has not taken flight, so be prepared for feathered friends galore including gannets and terns. The island is a teeny 38 hectares, and you can’t stay overnight, so take a wildlife spotting guide, a picnic and a day for pure desert island bliss.
Lundy Island, Devon – blissfully tech- and car-free island ideal for wildlife watching
If you desperately want to stay overnight on a remote island, try Lundy Island, based 12 miles off the coast of Devon. Lundy Island is slightly larger than Samson Island at 3 ½ miles long and half a mile wide, but no less isolated. There are no streetlights and no cars. Less than 20 people live here, though, like Samson Island, the wildlife is epic. It’s known as the Galapagos of the British Isles because of the rich diversity of sea and bird life like puffins, feral sika deer, basking sharks, grey seals and dolphins. Heaven for little Attenboroughs-in-waiting.
Orford Ness, Suffolk – end-of-the-world shingle desert
This wild and remote shingle spit runs ten miles along the desolate Suffolk coastline, and is really nowhere like anywhere else in the UK. It’s one of the rarest habitats in Britain and so is a unique nature reserve. Orford Ness also has a military background, having been used as a secret testing zone during the Cold and World Wars, so feels hostile in history as well as landscape. A short boat trip across the River Alde is needed to reach Orford Ness. From there, there are two waymarked trails to follow to explore brackish lagoons, mudflats, salt marsh, grasslands and vegetated shingle.
Cairngorms, Scotland – alpine mountain wilderness with sub-Arctic climate
In the Highlands of Scotland lie the Cairngorms, whose snowy mountain landscape supports golden eagles, mountain hares, red squirrels and ospreys. The Cairngorms are massive, covering 1500 square miles, and including the UK’s largest mountainscape. There are over 50 summits higher than 2900ft in the park. This is a climber’s dream. Whether you are an avid climber or just want to hike or find a solitary spot to enjoy the high-altitude vistas, the Cairngorms are something very special. If you come here during Autumn or Winter, you may also be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights. There is much to do in the region for families too with plenty of accommodation. I can’t think of a better place to spend a snowy Christmas one year.
Kielder Water, Northumberland – one of the best places in the world to see the starry night
Kielder Water is a large man-made reservoir in Northumberland, and is surrounded by one of the biggest man-made forests in Europe too. There’s a huge amount of family-friendly activities here, and even a visitor centre and café. Mountain biking, kayaking, zip wires are all on offer, but you only need to get a few miles into the forest, and things begin to feel a little wilder. In fact, a spot in Kielder Forest is the most remote spot in England, being (a somewhat depressing mere) 5 miles from the nearest road. There are trails galore in the forest as well as eight bothies and designated wild camping spots. Kielder Water is famed for its dark skies due to the minimal light pollution, so a night out under canvas here would be dreamy.
Glen Coe, Scottish Highlands – dramatic and other-worldly mountain landscapes
‘Outdoor capital of the UK’ goes to Glen Coe in the highlands of Scotland. There’s loads for families to do here and is very popular with hillwalkers and climbers too, but it’s a large enough place to feel properly wild. Vast Rannoch Moor and the towering mountain of Buachaille Etive Mor should knock the stuffing out of even the most hardened soul. Glen Coe is one of Scotland’s most beautiful and emotive places. Even 007 thinks so, as he chose to live there in the Skyfall film.
Wild and remote places in the UK best for adults only
Knoydart Peninsula – Britain’s last remaining wilderness
For true intrepid adventure, take a hike to Knoydart Peninsula in the West Highlands of Scotland. It can only be reached via a 20-mile trek through difficult terrain or through choppy water by boat. Your reward at the end is golden sandy beaches, icy cold ocean waters populated with whales and dolphins, dramatic mountain peaks and rugged moorland. Don’t expect TV or mobile phone reception here. It really is the last frontier. Cycles available to hire and boat trips available.
Dartmoor, Devon – England’s best spot for wild camping
All of Dartmoor is beautiful, but for wilder roaming you want southern Dartmoor, with its heather-filled moorland, tussocky grass, wetlands and granite tors. Apparently Duck’s Pool is one of Dartmoor’s remotest areas – remember the bog scene from Labyrinth? Yes that. Misty, dank and a possibly a little scary too. Dartmoor is the only official place in England where wild camping is permitted, so it really would be rude not too while you’re here.
Northern Rhinogs, Wales – some of the toughest hillclimbing in the country
Hillwalking the Northern Rhinogs, a mountain range in North Wales, is not to be undertaken lightly. There is little in the way of waymarked trails, and the terrain is challenging. To reach them, first traverse along the rocky backbone of two rolling hills; Y Llethr and Diffwys before heading back down to the Llyn Hywel lake, and the rugged twin Rhinog peaks beyond. Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr are granite-splintered peaks, and tackling them is treacherous, with loose rock and unpassable crags to overcome. Best saved for a sunny day.
Handa Island, Scotland – a remote haven for breeding seabirds
With a little bit of organisation it is possible to sea kayak over to Handa Island, on the west coast of Scotland, and wild camp in summer, though most people arrive by boat. How about that for a wild adventure?! Oh, and you might even bump into some whales and dolphins along the way. Handa Island is a true remote gem, containing one of the largest guillemot colonies in the UK and 200 pairs of puffins who nest on skyscraper sandstone cliffs. Scotland knows how to do beaches, and Handa Island does not disappoint, with many unspoilt stretches of white sand coastline.
Cheviot Hills, The Pennines – open, rolling hills and peaceful walking
The Cheviot Hills in Northumberland are a joy to visit any time of year. They sit across the border of England and Scotland. There are vast amounts of trails to hike in the area, though reaching the summit of the Cheviot Hills will take some effort.
Connemara, Ireland – raw, unforgiving frontier wilderness
Visiting Connemara is a game of two halves. On a bad day, there will be gale force winds blowing in from the stormy Atlantic and low, dark fog rolling across bogs and meadowlands. But on a good day, expect ivory-white powder beaches, rainbow-coloured grasslands and dramatic mountain views. Connemara, in north-west County Galway, is bound by the Atlantic on three sides, with Lough Corrib on the fourth, so feels far removed from the mainland. It is a confusing jigsaw of inlets, islands and peninsulas and a mix of bog, lake, moorland, meadows and mountains. It may be one of the most beautiful places you may find, and one of the most wild.