1. Three Cliffs Bay
Consistently voted as one of Britain’s best views, Three Cliffs Bay in the Gower was most likely made for picnics. Fringed by dunes and bright yellow gorse, Pennard Pill stream curls through the sands to the sea past a trio of limestone cliffs. At low tide, Three Cliffs connects to popular Oxwich Bay, but even though it’s among Wales’s most photographed spots, the beach is still suitably off the beaten track to remain relatively quiet. The campsite here affords the best panoramic views of the bay, but if you’re daytripping, you can climb the dunes up to the ruins of Pennard Castle for your own perspective of this spectacular sight.
2. Wild swimming in Upper Wharfedale
The countryside around the Yorkshire Dales village of Grassington is dotted with pools and falls, making it an idyllic location for a spot of wild swimming – followed, of course, by a riverside picnic. In the meadows south of Grassington, families mess about in rubber dinghies, skip over stepping-stones and throw themselves down natural water chutes. Nearby Ghaistrill’s Strid offers exhilarating rapids, while Loup Scar tempts the more intrepid with a high jump and plunge pool. Further north, between Grassington and Conistone, steer your picnic gang towards Grass Wood, a delightful ancient woodland carpeted with woodland wild flowers.
3. Temple Above the Atlantic
Perching precariously on a cliff-top, the Italianate Mussenden Temple, on the National Trust’s Downhill Estate in County Londonderry, offers one of Northern Ireland’s most awe-inspiring coastal views. Part of the eccentric Frederick Augustus Hervey’s 18th-century estate, the temple was built as a summer library. It’s certainly a dramatic spot to recline with a book as the waves roll in from the Atlantic and views stretch westwards towards Magilligan Point and County Donegal. An inscription on the building reads: “Tis pleasant, safely to behold from shore. The rolling ship, and hear the tempest roar.” A picnic here gives you the opportunity to do just that.
4. Loch Lomond’s Island of the Nun
Loch Lomond (above) is a superlative spot for a picnic. For a fresh take on one of Scotland’s best views, catch the ferry to the wooded island of Inchcailloch. In 717AD, a missionary named St Kentigerna settled on the island, and in the 12th or 13th century a church was built in her memory. For 500 years, the mainland folk rowed over to worship and bury their dead, and today the ruined graveyard is wonderfully atmospheric. Follow a path to the summit of a wee hill called Tom na nighean (hill of the young women) for views over Loch Lomond’s polka dot of islands and, if you’re incredibly lucky, a chance to see fallow deer swimming between the isles. Head to the sandy bay of Port Bawn on the south side where you’ll find a jetty and picnic area.
5. Norfolk’s windswept dunes
Although it’s one of East Anglia’s most popular stretches of sand, Holkham Beach is so vast you won’t have any trouble finding a secluded spot. The three miles of flat, golden sands stretch as far as the eye can see; even the skies seem somehow bigger here. The beach is part of Holkham National Nature Reserve, and the dunes harbour natterjack toads and as well as a beautiful variety of orchids, thistles and sea lavender; offshore, little terns hover and dive for fish. If the northerly winds pick up, pitch up within the pinewoods that back onto the beach.
6. Seven Sisters of Sussex
Eat your sandwiches opposite one of the most iconic scenes in the country – the Seven Sisters (above). OK, so the shingle beach doesn’t make for the comfiest of meals, but the views are well worth it. The Sisters is a great place to watch the sun set because of the way the light plays over the white cliffs, and it’s also a location that’s captivated filmmakers for decades. Scenes from Atonement and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves should ring bells. Behind the famous chalk cliffs you’ll find meandering rivers, flower-rich downland and a rollercoaster path on which you can walk off your sandwiches.
7. The island of adventure
The National Trust will be opening many of its gardens for longer this summer to let visitors enjoy twilight picnics in the long evenings. One such, Brownsea Island, in the middle of Poole Harbour, Dorset, literally brims with adventure. This is Famous Five country – if you ignore the fact that the harbour is salt water, it’s nearly identical to the description of Whispering Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve. Not only that, it was the birthplace of the Scout Movement in 1907 and was once an old haunt of smugglers. Given this is one of the few places you can see red squirrels in the south of England, you’ll forgive them if they try to steal your Scotch eggs. The island is car-free so you can picnic where you please.
8. A country house picnic
Aside from the manicured slopes, beautifully tended gardens and grand estate view that make this such a classic picnic spot, Chatsworth (above) in Derbyshire has one resounding feature that puts it squarely on the picnic spot wish list – the farm shop is simply brilliant. Arrive with an empty basket and spend an hour filling it with a vast array of delicious home-cooked meats, pies, cheese and bread – 60 percent of which are sourced from within the estate – before finding your own patch of deer-nibbled grass on which to recline. There are no ‘keep off the grass’ signs here, so finding your own slice of Chatsworth is easy as pie.
9. Water lilies and Lakeland views
William Wordsworth likened Loughrigg Tarn, near Elterwater in the Lake District, to “Diana’s looking-glass… round and clear and bright as heaven.” Hidden in a quiet corner of the national park, this almost circular blue pool sits calmly within the ragged beauty of the Langdale Pikes. Water lilies cover its edges in summer and coots bimble around the banks, pecking at the plants and searching for insect larvae to eat. Spread your picnic blanket down beside the shore, or build up an appetite by climbing Loughrigg Fell. At 335m (1,099ft), it’s by no means among Lakeland’s highest peaks, but its isolated position gives it one phenomenal advantage – unhindered views over Ambleside, Windermere and the southern fells.
10. Twilight picnic at Kielder Water
Kielder Water, in Northumberland, is Europe’s largest man-made reservoir and boasts some of the darkest skies in England. According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, it is the most tranquil place in the country – ideal for an al fresco meal. To lose all sight of the beaten track, seek out the Lewisburn inlet, a cove within the forest’s most secluded valley. Cross the new Lewisburn suspension bridge and walk up the hill to Patterson’s Pause to get the most out of those views. Along the 26-mile trail that circles the lake, a unique collection of art installations provide interesting picnic backdrops, from 500 shiny disks hidden among tree branches to a beehive-shaped camera obscura that projects a moving image of the water into the chamber.