Spectacular spring breaks: eight places worth visiting
Feeling in need of a good dose of fresh air in the great outdoors? Take advantage of budding spring days by escaping to these enchanting beauty spots for a spell, says Bridgid Benson
Bowers of Flowers, Hartland Peninsula, North Devon
Experience the magic of a carpet of vibrant English bluebells at Hartland Abbey on the north Devon coast, where the woodland garden is cloaked in sapphire all the way to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean.
A former home of Augustinian monks, handsome Hartland was the last English abbey to be dissolved by Henry VIII. In spring, winding woodland paths lead to glades of rare camellias and majestic magnolias in bloom. The air is heavy with bluebell scent and sweet with birdsong. Historic species of daffodils and gentle violets shine out of the grass like jewels.
Enjoy a traditional Devon cream tea in the Old Kitchen at the Abbey or perhaps a picnic at nearby Blackpool Mill, a secluded cove backed by cliffs. Low tide reveals sand, rock pools and fascinating geological formations. From here, the South West Coast Path leads to the lighthouse and dramatic cliffs at Hartland Point where the Bristol Channel and Atlantic Ocean meet.
WHERE TO STAY
Kittiwakes Coastal Cabin is a sweet retreat on a family farm offering sweeping clifftop views of the Atlantic Ocean. Two-day breaks from £90. kittiwakescoastalcabin.co.uk
Main image: ©Jen Bryant Photography
Emerald Rainforest, Sunart Oakwoods, Ardnamurchan, Argyll
Rare Atlantic oak woods are especially beautiful in spring. After winter’s deep sleep, gentle sunlight filters through treetops to encourage unfurling leaves
and nest-building birds in song.
Recognised as temperate rainforest and associated with more than 500 species of plants and animals, the Atlantic oakwoods on the southern shore of Loch Sunart are lush with ferns, lichens and mosses and alive with great spotted woodpeckers, red deer, red squirrels and pine martens.
An elevated boardwalk winds to the beautiful Garbh Eilean wildlife hide. Binoculars and telescopes are provided to observe the wildlife, including harbour porpoise, otters and seals basking in the sun on nearby islands.
Shoreline sea fishing from the rocks along Loch Sunart is free; species include mackerel, cod, pollock and wrasse. For experienced walkers, a challenging 10-mile route up Ben Resipole delivers breathtaking views to the Small Isles and over to the Isle of Skye.
WHERE TO STAY
The family-run Strontian Hotel offers great loch and mountain views, cosy rooms and tasty traditional cuisine in The Bothy
Bar and Restaurant. Dogs are welcome and there’s a drying room for wet weather kit. Twin room from £80 a night. thestrontianhotel.co.uk
Bewitching coast, Bosherstone Ponds, South Pembrokeshire
Lengthening spring days are perfect for coastal walks in spectacular scenery and the loop around the National Trust’s Stackpole Estate in south Pembrokeshire does not disappoint. Allow at least three hours for this favourite ramble, which has easily enough charms for a full day.
The route from Bosherston lily ponds, created in flooded limestone valleys as part of Stackpole’s original ornamental gardens, leads to sandy Broadhaven South beach and the grassland of Stackpole Warren, studded with cowslips in spring.
Walking towards Stackpole Head, Lundy Island is visible on the distant horizon. Seals bob in foaming waves and seabirds nest on high limestone cliffs. Turning inland, the path passes through dappled woodland before reaching the idyllic paradise beach at Barafundle Bay.
From here, it’s a short stroll to one of the smallest harbours in Britain at Stackpole Quay and welcome refreshments at the Boathouse Café. The lovely loop returns to Bosherston across the back of Stackpole Warren.
WHERE TO STAY
The award-winning and attractive Stackpole Inn does a fine line in delicious food and four tasteful en-suite bedrooms. Doubles from £60 a night. stackpoleinn.co.uk
Spectacular seadbirds, Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire
Extraordinary seabird sights and sounds make the RSPB reserve at Bempton a thrilling springtime destination. Extending five kilometres along the coast, towering white chalk sea cliffs resound to the raucous chatter and activity of up to 250,000 breeding seabirds.
Sturdy viewing platforms overhang the cliffs to peer directly into the incredible world of England’s largest seabird gathering. And on a warm spring breeze, a whiff of pungent fishy seabird smells is an unexpected bonus.
Gannets, guillemots, fulmars, razorbills, herring gulls, shags, kittiwakes and burrowing puffins all the nest on the cliffs – the latter are a big hit with visitors. To increase the chance of seeing these hugely popular birds, the RSPB offer daily Puffin Patrols at 11am. Midweek patrols are adult-only; weekend patrols are suitable for families. rspb.org.uk
Stalled by a wet weather day? Along the coast at Bridlington you will find the fascinating Amy Johnson room at Sewerby Hall. It celebrates the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia (in an aircraft without lights, radio or fuel gauge). On display are her medals, cloth helmet and alarmingly flimsy flying suit.
WHERE TO STAY
Rockville Farm Cottages is a short walk from the RSPB reserve. Each cottage offers creature comforts in renovated farm buildings. Three-night break from £160. rockvillefarmcottages.co.uk
Wordsworth's Delight, River Duddon, Cumbria
William Wordsworth was so inspired by the Duddon Valley in southern Lakeland that he composed a series of sonnets celebrating the unspoiled landscape through which the splashy River Duddon wriggles like a snake.
Tucked between Eskdale and Coniston, this favourite valley offers great walking alongside the gurgling beck or high up on the fells. On a clear spring day, an expedition to the jagged rock teeth of Swinside Neolithic stone circle is especially rewarding; the views of Scafell Pike, Dunnerdale and the River Duddon’s journey to the sea are magnificent.
Intrepid spring lambs provide much entertainment and the landscape resounds to the bleat of woolly youngsters who have momentarily lost sight of mum.
Deep pools near the hamlet of Ulpha make for fantastically lazy river swimming on hotter spring days, or set up a sumptuous picnic on one of the large boulders sitting midstream and watch delightful, darting kingfishers and bobbing dippers.
WHERE TO STAY
Remote and peaceful Woodend House offers self catering or B&B stays in the Buttery, Bothy and Schoolhouse cottages, which all have wood-burning stoves and wi-fi. Doubles from £40 a night. woodendhouse.co.uk
Island Adventures, Hilbre Merseyside
Spring is a great time to pack a picnic, rug and binoculars and visit the trio of Hilbre Islands at the mouth of the Dee estuary between England and Wales.
The walk from West Kirby to Little Eye, Middle Eye and Hilbre takes around an hour over flat, wet sand – so sturdy boots are a good idea. It is essential to check tide times and keep to the dogleg route, which avoids sinking sand. Find information on noticeboards at West Kirby beach.
The easy crossing is a great adventure for all the family. From the islands, a stunning sweep of coastal scenery includes the peaks of west Snowdonia, the Great Orme at Llandudno, the Isle of Anglesey and Liverpool Bay. Look out for grey seals hauled out on sandbanks, their eerie moans carrying on the wind.
Without shops or facilities, the uninhabited wild islands feel like a total escape. Pack all you need in your rucksack and you’ll return with rosy cheeks and fantastic memories.
WHERE TO STAY
42 Caldy Road B&B. Perfectly situated for coastal walks on the Wirral peninsula, this elegant townhouse offers stunning Dee estuary and sunset views from the guest lounge. Doubles from £95 a night. 42caldyroad.co.uk
Panramic scenery, Duncryne Hill, Gartocharn
One of Scotland’s loveliest sights is the unforgettable vista from the top of Duncryne Hill, a hike achieved by most walkers in less than 30 minutes.
The one-mile ascent of the volcanic plug, known fondly as The Dumpling, is a steep challenge on a well-marked path, yet the view on a clear spring day is so awesome that there will be plenty of time to catch your breath while soaking up the Highland panorama of Scotland’s first National Park.
At just 141m above sea level, Duncryne looks beyond Loch Lomond’s shores and 30 wooded islands towards the Arrochar Alps. The famous mountains of Ben Vorlich, Ben Lomond and Ben Arthur are all on the scene, often still snow-capped in spring.From Duncryne, a short trip will take you to the cruise boats and Highland shopping at the Loch Lomond Shores Visitor Centre.
WHERE TO STAY
Ardoch Cottage is a short walk from The Dumpling. Good quality bed and breakfast accommodation, views to Ben Lomond and a crackling log fire in the guest lounge. Doubles from £76 a night. ardochcottage.co.uk
Down by the Creek, Mersea Island, Essex
Welcome spring with a jaunt to the coast of southeast Essex, where mudflats and saltmarshes, quirky houseboats and rows of pretty beach huts give Mersea Island an atmosphere all of its own.
Connected to the mainland by The Strood tidal causeway, Mersea is just five miles long by two wide. Its two hubs differ in character. East Mersea is a tranquil hamlet surrounded by farmland with views of wildfowl and waders on the tidal mudflats of the Colne and Blackwater estuaries. West Mersea is a charming, low-key resort – the place to build sandcastles, enjoy harbour boat trips and dine out on sweet and delicate native Colchester oysters, washed down with wine from the island vineyard. From West Mersea, the circular walk of 13 miles around the island is a great way to enjoy the salty estuary air.
WHERE TO STAY
For the authentic Mersey experience, Mojo Houseboat B&B offers a cabin with a glass ceiling to the stars and breakfast in the company of oystercatchers. Boat hire from £125 a night. mojoatmersea.co.uk