Martin Dorey has plans for you. He’s been touring Scotland and England in his camper van recently for his latest book project, Take the Slow Road. So he’s seen a bit of what there is to do in our beautiful islands! Here he shares his top 10 for fantastic places to go and things to do in this year. If you’re looking for inspiration for your bucket list, it doesn’t get much better.
1. Hop it to a remote Scottish island
Be still my aching heart. Once you’ve been to the Scottish islands you’ll forever want to be back there, among the heather and the ancients and the sea and sky and, hopefully, sun. Travelling in a motorhome or camper van is one of the best ways of seeing them. You’ll always have some where to make a cuppa and can travel rootlessly, drifting under your own steam to the places that move you. Harris, with its stunning coastal machair and white beaches, is heavenly. The Uists have great walking and more lovely beaches and ancient sites. Lewis has standing stones to rival Stonehenge and Arran has a little bit of everything. Go with CalMac Ferries.
2. Drive the Snowdonia coast
Between Aberdovey and Porthmadoc, on the Snowdonia coast, lie all kinds of amazing adventures for all kinds of adventurous souls. Start by scouring the skies above Machynlleth, at the Bwlch Nant Yr Arian Visitor Centre, where over 150 red kites come to feed each day. Next, grab your crab line for some finger nipping fun at Aberdovey, then head to Fairbourne for a ride on the steam railway and a ferry ride to Borth for a chip butty lunch. Then, if you can find it, head to the Blue Lake for an invigorating swim in a spectacular disused quarry. Finally, do not miss Port Merion, the famous little village that’s more Milan than Menai. An amazing slow road adventure in West Wales.
3. Snorkel with the seals on Lundy Island
You might have to leave your unit behind in Bideford for the day (The local council, Torridge, allow motorhomes to overnight in seaside car parks) but it’ll be worth it. Lundy is a fabulous island off the north Devon coast that’s got a small colony of friendly seals and lovely clear water. It is a nature and marine reserve, which means that there is an abundance of life above and beneath the surface. Plus, the local rangers can take you on a snorkel tour to discover Lundy’s beautiful underwater world, which includes the furry, frolicsome favourites, the Lundy seals themselves. If you don’t want to get wet Lundy has plenty more above the waves, including the elusive, sometimes sighted puffin, colonies of squawking seabirds, soay sheep and three lighthouses.
4. Ride like you are ten again
It’s been a long time since I was ten. But I did my best effort yet by cycling at one of the 7Stanes mountains biking centres in the Scottish Borders last year. The thrill of riding an off road, single track route that’s been specially designed for mountain bikes took me right back to a childhood wrecking my racer in the woods near my house. Happily the trails are graded like ski runs so you’ll know which one is right for you. Thankfully you don’t have to go all the way to Scotland to enjoy the thrill of an off road adventure. My favourite, near me in Cornwall, is the Bodmin Beast, a blue route at Cardinham Woods. Ready, steady….wheeeeee!
5. Do a mile on a mountain zip wire
I felt a bit irresponsible sending my two girls down first at Velocity, Zipworld in North Wales, but I couldn’t find another way to do it. The 100 mph zip wire, Europe’s longest, has two parallel lines, which means that I had to send the two of them down together, rather than leave one of them alone at the top. This left me looking into the abyss of the Penrhyn Slate Quarry near Bethesda and wondering if they made it down to the bottom in two pieces. That’s because you can’t see the end of the line. You can see the coast, the blue lake hundreds of metres below you and the scared look on everyone’s faces who are next in line, but not that your children survived. Needless to say safety is paramount and the staff are excellent at looking after everyone, so I needn’t have worried. They were perfectly happy. In fact, all they could say was “Let’s do it again!”
6. Take the kids fossil hunting
The Jurassic Coast, which includes Dorset and part of Devon’s south coast, is where you’ll find some of the best fossil hunting in the UK. And Charmouth, the central hub of Jurassic Coast hunting, is the very best place to start. There is a fab café right on the beach and a fossil museum that contains some remarkable finds. You can rent a hammer to do it on your own or follow a guided walk with one of the wardens. Either way it’s a great day out and will always reveal exciting finds. There is great camping nearby and Kimmeridge Bay and Durdle Dor aren’t too far away, if you fancy road trip weekend adventure.
7. Dare to bare on a skinny dipping adventure
I’m not suggesting you take your clothes off on Brighton Beach (or somewhere equally public) but I would like to cajole you into the idea of casting aside your worldly clobber and dashing, with absolute abandon, into a river, lake or sea somewhere away from prying eyes this summer. Once you’ve inched – or dived – into the water your skin will tingle, you’ll feel more alive than you ever did and you’ll experience a sense of freedom like no other. It’s a great thing to brave this kind of carefree contrivance and all the better done with good friends who know you well enough to never bat an eyelid at your unadorned and radiant beauty. Failing that, try a wild swim. It’s the next best thing!
8. Climb a mountain, any mountain
You don’t have to be a climber to enjoy the views from the top of a mountain. There are plenty of places where you can scale a peak without any particular skills, other than common sense and an ability to walk up a big - and possibly a bit steep - hill. All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other and enjoy the experience. Relish getting all that fresh air in your lungs, making your limbs work and being out, away from the sofa. It is brilliant, trust me. And, once you get to the top you’ll be able to savour the results of your hard work. It’s one of the most satisfying things you could do. Try it. Heck, if it’s that tough, there are some places you can even get the train back down again, like Snowdon.
9. Have a go at wakeboarding
I bet you thought you’d never be able to walk on water, did you? Well, now you can. And you don’t even need a boat to do it. In North Devon (and at lots of other locations around the UK) you can learn how to wakeboard using a cable tow at North Devon Wake Park. They do a mean bacon butty too. Cable towing is easier than towing behind a boat and can be repetitive so you can practice the same move over and over again if you want to improve. It’s also a lot of fun. An added bonus comes in the form of an Aquapark for the kids to play on while you do your moves. Bonus! Lots of great camping nearby in North Devon too.
10. Ride a rickety rollercoaster
Rollercoasters are scary, right? Well how about riding one that’s made of wood? You might think it’s going to be double the risk with all the creaking and shifting about that it’s doing, but really, that’s all part of the fun. Wooden rollercoasters are meant to be rickety, just for the thrill of it. The Big Dipper at Blackpool is one of the best, as is Great Yarmouth’s The Scenic. Margate’s Scenic Railway reopened in 2015 to much applause from people who had ridden it as children. It originally opened in 1920, which means it’s the oldest in the UK. Even though it’s been extensively renovated following a fire and falling into disrepair it’ll still creak when you ride it. Scared? Scream if you want to go faster!!!