The Great Outdoors! 10 of England’s Natural Marvels is about nature attractions, landscapes and travel in England, UK.
From gentle, rolling meadows and sprawling heather-topped moorlands to towering evergreen forests, rugged mountains, and golden coastlines, throughout England there is a variety of lush landscapes and epic scenery.
Although the country is already famous for its quintessential countryside, castles, palaces, stately homes, and historic cities, there’s also a cornucopia of enthralling natural marvels that are not as commonly known.
Venturing off the beaten track can lead to an array of terrain and fascinating sights, including wild rivers, great lakes, hidden caverns, and compelling rock creations. Many of these places are home to the country’s native animals and birds, and every year intrepid tourists from far and wide arrive to tackle adventurous challenges, explore the ecology, or simply take it all in.
Since England is a small, well-connected country with extensive roads, motorways, and public transport, travelling around is straightforward and well sign-posted. Getting to any major attraction is typically reachable within a couple of hours of travel time and is guaranteed to be within miles of hospitable places to eat, rest, or sleep.
Several laws make accessing natural spaces in England free, with numerous footpaths, bridleways, and cycle routes that are “public rights of way.” Everyone in England has a “right to roam,” which means it’s legal to wander open land, including mountains, moors, woodlands and some of the terrain around the English Coastal Path.
Many of England’s natural habitats are managed by organisations like the Woodland Trust and the Canal and River Trust. However, the majority of sites that are of cultural, historical, and scientific worth are protected by the National Trust. The National Trust was founded in 1885 and, through a wide range of projects, initiatives, and programmes, preserves the nation’s heritage.
Over 5 million people are members of the National Trust, contributing to the organisations conservation efforts through an annual membership fee and enjoying the benefits of free entry and parking at over 500 locations.
However, non-members of the National Trust can still access these places with ease, normally only having to pay small entrance and parking fees that generally go towards the operational upkeep of the sites.
The outdoors life
Spending time in nature can be an act of self-care and of benefit to both your physical and mental health. Research studies have shown that accessing the great outdoors can improve your mood, reduce stress and loneliness, and improve focus and concentration.
Pursuing outdoors activities can provide a personal challenge, something to overcome, and the rewarding sense of satisfaction and achievement when breaking free from your comfort zone can boost confidence and self-esteem.
When I was a kid, my family had a touring caravan, and we’d often take off for a weekend to discover a new place in the British Isles, but where some of my family (specifically my mum) liked to visit local historic sites, I’d always prefer to scrub around in forests, rivers, and lakes, looking for wildlife, climbing trees, and hiking mountains.
Being from the North-West, the closest and most exciting place for us to getaway to was the Lake District in Cumbria, but we also spent holidays all over the UK. In the Lakes, our most visited place was Lake Coniston, the third largest lake in the region, with a length of 5 miles and a depth of 184 feet.
As well as being captivatingly beautiful, Lake Coniston is a hub for activities and a stones-throw from other natural attractions, including the neighbouring Grizedale Forest, Tarn Hows, Peel Island, the Coniston copper mines, and the mighty Old Man of Coniston mountain. Although it’s not here on the list of 10 of England’s natural marvels, Lake Coniston is a wonder in its own right and is one of the places where I first learned to value what nature has to offer.
Later, when I went to university in Nottingham, I had opportunities to travel around the East Midlands region and for several years lived next to the Trent, the third-longest river in England. After that, I worked for a bicycle company and regularly took the latest mountain bike models on weekend promo tours, visiting famous forest trails in different corners of the country.
Along with some other spontaneous excursions, and friends around the country, these past experiences have shown me some of England’s great beauty spots, and I wanted to share some of the most unique that I can vouch are well worth a visit. For some outdoor inspiration and travel ideas, read on for 10 of England’s natural marvels!
1. Lake Windermere, Cumbria
Lake Windermere is England’s largest natural lake, situated in the Lake District, Cumbria. It’s 10.5 miles long and 220 feet deep and was formed during the British and Irish Ice Sheet’s retreat following the Last Glacial Maximum, somewhere between 14,700 and 17,000 years ago.
The magnificent lake is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Lake District, and visitors to the area can find quaint waterfront villages, water sports, fishing, boat rides, nature trails, or hiking routes that take in panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
2. Formby Sand Dunes, Merseyside
The towering, reddish Formby Sand Dunes in Merseyside give off Sahara desert vibes, which is pretty unexpected so close to the city of Liverpool. The coastal dunes are a “Site of Special Scientific Interest” because they are considered to be one of the most significant dune habitats in north-western Europe.
It’s possible to access the stunning, expansive sands of the beach and explore the dunes thanks to a network of paths and walkways that are accessible from visitor car parks. Backing on to the sands is a forest nature reserve, where leaning, windswept pine trees grow and numerous endangered species, including red squirrels, northern tiger beetles, and natterjack toads, call home.
3. The Strid, Yorkshire
The Strid is a section of the River Wharfe near Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire. Although it may seem picturesque, the unassuming stretch of water has earned natural marvel status as it’s one of the most deadly in the world.
The unfathomably deep, six-foot-wide section of river has claimed all the lives that have entered it throughout its history. The majority of the river’s water is contained beneath the visible surface in a network of caves and tunnels, and a strong undercurrent makes it impossible to escape. Surrounding the Strid is one of the best places to see ancient sessile oak woodland in the Yorkshire Dales, and visitors to the area can also explore the historical Bolton Abbey.
4. Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
Britain’s largest limestone gorge cuts through the Mendip Hills, close to Somerset’s cheese capital, Cheddar. The gorge is host to a number of stalactite-filled caverns and stunning cliffs reaching up to 130 metres in height.
Cheddar Gorge is a recognised “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, and in 1903, the Cheddar Man skeleton, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton dating back to Mesolithic period, was discovered there. The Gorge is home to rare horseshoe bats that live in the caves, as well as wild goats and the endangered Soay sheep.
5. Aira Force, Cumbria
Situated near Ullswater, Aira Force is one of the Lake District’s most famous and dramatic waterfalls, powered by rainwater running down from the region’s high fells. The Aira Force cascade falls for over 70 metres and is accompanied by a series of pools, rugged rocks, and steep ravines.
Visitors to the site will find a network of tracks, footpaths, and stone bridges that date back to the 1700s. The surrounding woodlands are home to red squirrels, and the site has a tearoom, picnic areas, and a natural children’s play area.
6. The Major Oak at Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Sherwood Forest, spread over 420 hectares of land, is a royal forest in Nottinghamshire, England. Aside from the visitors centre and park trails, the principal attraction in the forest is the iconic Major Oak Tree. It’s believed the tree has been standing for anywhere between 800 and 1100 years and is one of the oldest and largest in Britain, with a trunk circumference of 11 metres and an approximate weight of 23 tonnes.
Legend has it that the Major Oak served as a place of refuge for Robin Hood and his Merry Men, who camped beneath its limbs and were sheltered from enemies inside its enormous trunk. Nowadays, supports have been erected to prop up the tree, and as a further preservative measure, tourists are kept a safe distance away by surrounding fencing.
7. Seven Sisters, Sussex
The border of the South Downs National Park is marked by stunning chalk cliffs known as the Severn Sisters. Although the reason for the seven hilltops’ nickname of “sisters” is unknown, it is thought to have something to do with the Pleiades of Greek mythology.
The area has many scenic walking trails that are the ideal way to take in breath-taking views of the bright white cliffs and the surrounding grasslands, with the cliff-top trail from Seaford to Eastbourne being the most popular route. The chalk cliffs will appear considerably different in years to come due to climate change and the increasing rate of coastal erosion across Britain.
8. Blue John Cavern, Derbyshire
The Blue John Cavern is one of a series of caves in Castleton, Derbyshire, thought to be over 250 million years old. The semi-precious mineral Blue John, which is unique to this area, gives the cavern its name. The crystalline mineral is vibrant yellow and blue in colour and is still mined to this day, in small quantities, to make jewellery.
Visitors to the site can explore the undulating stalagmites and stone formations, perhaps even spotting the cavern’s namesake rock. The caverns have been paved and fitted with mood-setting lighting for tourists. Guided tours take place and there is also an onsite visitor centre, museum, and gift shop.
9. Durdle Door, Dorset
The stunning Jurassic Coast of Dorset is home to this well-known geological marvel, The Durdle Door, an enormous limestone arch. Around 10,000 years ago, the tide is believed to have carved out the entryway in the rock, resulting in a perfectly standing, mesmerising structure.
The Jurassic Coast stretches along 95 miles of the South Coast and is famous for its diverse geology, which exhibits 185 million years of the Earth’s history and has on occasion revealed dinosaur fossils. Thousands of visitors flock to the Jurassic Coast and the Durdle Door each year. Close to the celebrated formation is a beautiful beach that is perfect for unwinding with a picnic, soaking up the summer sun, or taking a dip in the pristine waters.
10. Scafell Pike, Cumbria
Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain at 978 metres, is also possibly its most remarkable, offering sweeping views that are difficult to match. The mountain and its neighbours form part of an extinct volcano that was active around 400–450 million years ago.
There are three main routes up the mountain that vary in length and difficulty, each starting from a different side of the mountain. The shortest and quickest climb to the summit starts from the parish of Wasdale. Those who make the ascent to the peak are rewarded for their efforts with awe-inspiring panoramas, which, on a clear day, can include all four of the British Isles; England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The artist Vincent Van Gogh once said, “If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” And for me, this rings true. The complexities and shapes of landscapes that have been created, aged, and altered by evolution and the elements over time are, in my opinion, the most impressive.
I feel more connected, energised, and free when exploring the outdoors, but I also find there’s something humbling about being surrounded by nature’s formations. It can profoundly diminish any sense of self-importance and serve as a reminder of the relatively short time we have on an ever-changing planet that has been moulded over millions of years.
The intricacy of the world is something that we can easily be distracted from and take for granted, which is one of the reasons I like to get out, switch off from the noise and explore wherever I am. In the last few years, I have been lucky to experience some natural marvels on the other side of the globe too, in Mexico and Central America.
Originally, I was going to write this blog for the whole United Kingdom, but I soon remembered too many places to fit into one post, so I opted to focus on England for now. With British summertime around the corner its the perfect time to voyage into the great outdoors!
Have you been to any of these natural marvels in England? Or do you have any recommendations that didn’t make it on the list? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!
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All text ©J. Thomson, 2023