Why not break your holiday habits by trying something different to explore unusual and exciting places in Britain? Our guide to alternative holiday ideas offers some of the best unusual and off the beaten track experiences around Britain
Try a rail adventure
Hop on a sleeper to Fort William, experience Brunel’s Great Western line along the South Devon coast or cross the Pennines on the Settle to Carlisle route. The UK is full of great rail adventures. Plan a rail holiday yourself or let an expert tour operator arrange everything. Five days exploring the valleys of mid Wales by rail, for example, costs from £395 including accommodation, half board, transport and guides. For a selection of some of the best UK rail holidays, try www.greatrail.com
Take the spectacular Settle to Carlisle route via the Ribblehead viaduct (built 1874) in North Yorkshire. The viaduct is 400m long and 24 massive columns carry it 32m above the moor below. Getty Images
Whittling, woodcraft and wild camping
The National Trust offers hundreds of working holidays every year, ranging from building hedges and clearing canal banks to pruning and weeding vegetables in a stately home’s walled garden. It’s not luxurious but it’s great fun, and you’ll be helping a charity, learning traditional skills and mixing with a team of like-minded workers.
Why not try your hand at some traditional woodland crafts, such as whittling and charcoal-making, on a four-night break at Leith Hill in Surrey for just £115? www.nationaltrust.org.uk/working-holidays
Learn to whittle wood and other traditional woodland crafts with the National Trust. Getty Images
Tackle The Dorset Doddle
The 32-mile hike from Weymouth to Swanage along the South West Coast Path is anything but a doddle. In fact, you’ll need to feel rather energetic and allow at least two or three days to complete it. But the reward for a total of 3,000m of ascent and descent is some of the UK’s finest coastal scenery, including Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and Man O’ War Cove. It’s part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site with spectacular rock formations around every corner – but lots of ups and downs, too. www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk
Walk the spectacular Dorset coast and catch a colourful sunset over Durdle Door. Don’t forget to look for fossils along the way. Getty Images
Drive a vintage car around Wiltshire
First you have to choose from a Wiltshire-based collection of beautifully restored classic Jaguars, MGs, Alfa Romeos and even a convertible Morris Minor. Then you can set off to tour the local sights such as Stonehenge, Avebury and the white horses in old-school motoring style. Three-day hire costs from £395. You have to supply your own flying helmet, goggles and driving gloves. www.vintage-classics.co.uk/classic-car-hire.asp
Take a foodie break in the Cotswolds
Once voted the ‘UK’s favourite village’, the pretty little village of Kingham has recently become the food capital of the Cotswolds. There are two old village pubs: TV chef Emily Watkins from BBC’s Great British Menu now owns the highly rated three-AA-rosette the Kingham Plough, while the Wild Rabbit has been taken over by millionaire organic food crusader Lady Carole Bamford and serves suitably local and natural ingredients to great acclaim.
And just down the lane is Lady B’s Daylesford Farm Shop, one of the UK’s most famous organic food shops. It also offers cookery classes and has a sumptuous café. You can stay in beautifully converted outbuildings at the farm shop, from £490 for four nights. www.daylesford.com/our-cotswold-cottages/
Is the village of Kingham the food capital of the Cotswolds? Getty Images.
Go castle counting in north-east Scotland
With a total of more than 300 forts and stately homes, there are more castles per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. A dedicated ‘Castle Trail’ lets you discover 18 of the most dramatic sites in a self-drive, four-day itinerary. The drives are punctuated with sightseeing walks through gardens and countryside. The highlights include the tough stone 17th-century Cairngorm fortress at Braemar, the elegant loch-side baronial palace at Fyvie and spotting puffins and dolphins from the spectacular cliff-top stronghold of Dunnottar. www.visitscotland.com/see-do/itineraries/castles/scotlands-castle-trail
Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north east coast of Scotland, about two miles (3 km) south of Stonehaven. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been an early fortress of the Dark Ages. Getty Images
Hole up in a historic Oxford College
Many of Oxford University’s colleges offer B&B in their rooms when students are away. The best of these can be in medieval buildings overlooking ancient quads or alongside Oxford’s watermeadows and riverside walks. Don’t worry about dirty socks and posters of Black Sabbath, the rooms are completely cleared of student detritus before guests arrive. Note that beds are typically singles but cheap enough for a couple to take adjoining ensuite rooms each. Prices of under £80 are common. And don’t miss the highlight of breakfast in the Hogwarts-style grandeur of the college’s dining hall. www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com/college_rooms.aspx
Cruise on a working ship
THV Patricia is Trinity House’s flagship, a busy, working vessel constantly maintaining buoys, marking wrecks and supplying lighthouses and lightships. Paying passengers are welcome aboard to share a week of Patricia’s duties. There are six surprisingly luxurious double en-suite cabins, a smart lounge and dining room, and unique coastal panoramas from the viewing deck.
You can even help with some of the activities… just don’t expect a swimming pool or nightly cabaret shows. Seven-night trips cost from £1,540 per person. www.wildwings.co.uk/app-holidays/patricia-voyages
Cycle through Constable Country
Willy Lot’s House Cottage, Flatford Mill, Suffolk, England. An ancient farmhouse made famous by a painting by artist John Constable. (Getty Images)
The leafy River Stour villages along the Essex/Suffolk border were once immortalised by Constable’s brushstrokes. You can potter around this gentle rural landscape trying to spot the locations he painted. These flat, quiet lanes are perfect for rediscovering cycling. If you’re uncertain, a holiday of circular rides gives you the choice of pedalling as much, or as little, as you like. Route notes and two nights’ bed and breakfast at a four-star hotel with spa and leisure facilities cost from £231. www.cyclebreaks.com
Scottish island hopping
The tropical white sands of the Isle of Berneray (Bearnaraidh). a small island located in the sound of Harris at the nothern tip of North Uist. (Getty Images)
Step aboard a converted traditional wooden fishing boat for a luxury small-ship tour of the Western Isles. It’s a chance to spot wildlife – including whales and dolphins – learn some history and roam true wilderness areas with a small group of like-minded passengers. Spend six nights exploring the coast of Skye and the islands of the Inner Hebrides from £2,095. www.themajesticline.co.uk
Sail away from the campsite
Can’t decide whether to go boating or caravanning? Try a caravan that floats. A cunning invention from Germany, the Sealander is a towable, two-bed, amphibious mobile home with an electric outboard motor and a removable roof. It’s just 3.5m long and 1.6m wide. The downside is that it costs around £13,000. It has cooking, eating and sleeping facilities, so you can head to a campsite, spend your nights on shore and your days sailing across the water. www.sealander.de
Sealander – the caravan that turns into a boat.
Practise painting seascapes
The Tate Gallery at St Ives Getty Images)
Where better to learn to paint seascapes than at the St Ives School of Painting? Not far from the Tate Gallery in this Cornish artists’ haven, you’ll spend four days trying to capture the beauty of the sea and the shore. ‘Where the sea meets the land’ is just one of a long list of art courses for everyone from beginners upwards. Note that the £295 fee includes all materials but not accommodation. www.schoolofpainting.co.uk
Stay on Prince Charles’ farm
Charles and Camilla often escape the pomp of their royal duties to their little-known home among beautiful rolling hills near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire. Surprisingly, half of their Llwynywermod Farm holiday retreat is available to rent to ordinary commoners when the heir to the throne isn’t there. These two adjoining cottages provide a fascinating glimpse of their lifestyles and a chance to share their tranquil rural retreat. There’s no throne room or dungeon but you’ll need to be vetted, negotiate tight security and ignore sentry boxes hidden in the trees. It’s worth the hassle to experience the immaculate cottages full of royal nick-nacks, Charles’s charming garden and the walks teeming with wildlife, including red kites. Rent a two-bedroom cottage from £450 a week. www.duchyofcornwallholidaycottages.co.uk
Get snapping in the Brecon Beacons
Professional landscape and wildlife photographer Steve Hedges’ inspiring three-day course is held amid the peaks, valleys and waterfalls of the Brecon Beacons National Park. So you’ll need to be energetic enough to walk around the hills all day. Steve’s small-group workshops help everyone from beginners to experts develop artistic and technical skills while exploring the Beacons countryside. The workshop costs from £235 but accommodation is extra. www.stevehedgesphotography.co.uk
Take a garden touring holiday
From Cornwall’s lush floral gardens to the grand formal greenery of north Scotland, the Royal Horticultural Society offers short breaks to sights across the UK throughout the year. A four-day visit to Herefordshire, for example, includes a tour of an acclaimed biannual flower show in the Malvern Hills and guided visits to fine local gardens such as Sir Roy Strong’s The Laskett and Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Stockton Bury. From £455 per person, including three nights dinner, bed and breakfast at Three Counties Hotel. www.rhs.org.uk/shop/rhs-garden-holidays
Discover the secrets of the stones
Look for answers in the stones. Wasdale and Wast Water in Lake District National Park. (Getty Images)
Travel back in time by walking directly through the fascinating geological past of the Lake District. Listen as a geologist reveals the history of the rocks beneath your feet among some of Britain’s finest scenery. Prices are from £509 for four nights, with full-board country house accommodation, expert geological guide and local transport provided. www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/geology-lake-district/
Enjoy a lamb-watching break
This is the perfect time to visit a farm and see newborn lambs skipping through the grass. There are hundreds of British sheep farms that provide accommodation, either as B&B rooms or in self-catering cottages. For example, try Mercaston Hall Farm in Derbyshire, with rooms from £75 a night, or Dolberthog Farm in Powys, from £66 a night. Find your ideal farm with farmstay.co.uk. www.farmstay.co.uk/Accommodation/HolidayIdeas/lambwatch
Birdwatching in the Yorkshire Dales
Discover moorland birds in wonderful landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales.
An expert guide will help you tell your pipits from your linnets on a leisurely six-mile adventure through woods, heaths and meadows each day. You may spot curlews and dippers, too. The holiday is suitable for everyone from beginners to experts. And you’ll stay in a grand 19th-century country house in the Dales National Park, with prices from £739 for seven nights. www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/birdwatching-yorkshire-dales/
Immerse yourself in music
Traditional and modern morris dancing during Sidmouth Folk Week in Devon.
From Sidmouth to Stornaway, there are scores of festivals featuring traditional British music in 2016. The Hebridean Celtic Festival on the Isle of Lewis is always memorable but, as this will be the 20th annual gathering and Gaelic favourites Runrig are headlining, expect a special celebratory atmosphere.www.hebceltfest.com
Explore an ancient island kingdom
Piel Island is half a mile off the southwest tip of Cumbria. Its 50 acres contain an English Heritage castle, the 18th-century Ship Inn and a few old pilots’ cottages. The human population is just 10 but Piel is a haven for hundreds of seabirds that nest on the beach. Fishing and seal-spotting boat trips can be arranged, too.
The lifeboat station in the harbour on Roa Island, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria circa 1989. The castle on nearby Piel Island can be seen in the background. (Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)
Piel was the starting point, 500 years ago, for Lambert Simnel’s ill-fated revolt against Henry VII. That story has since transformed into an unlikely tradition: the Ship Inn’s landlords are grandly crowned ‘King of Piel’ and have the power to bestow knighthoods to any visitor who sits in an ancient ceremonial ‘throne’ (and buys a round of drinks for all). The pub serves food packed with local produce and has ensuite rooms, a bunkhouse and campsite (just £5 a night). www.pielisland.co.uk