Visiting a beautiful place by day is wonderful, but to really understand it, to connect with it in a deeper way, to witness it at its most unfamiliar, you can’t beat sleeping out within the landscape, says Phoebe Smith, author of Extreme Sleeps. So pack your tent or bivvy bag, remember a wilderness lover’s simple rules (arrive late, leave early, pack out all rubbish with you, go to the toilet at least 50m clear of any streams and leave no trace of your visit) and prepare to go wild.
1. Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
Wedged in between the cliffs at the rugged west end of Scotland is a stretch of golden sand. Fringed by silty dunes so soft they could give a mattress a run for its money, edged by weather-sculpted granite cliffs so well cut you'd think they were sculpted by a giant artist and hemmed by a sea so deeply turquoise you can justifiably use the term ‘azure’ without anyone scoffing, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to the Caribbean. If it were anywhere else in the UK they'd be a giant car parking lot, deck chair kiosks and donkey rides quicker than you could say Promenade. However, what Sandwood has going for it, that other places can't rival, is its remoteness. It takes effort to reach it, but once you do, the dunes are yours for the picking, with nothing but the sound of waves to lull you to sleep.
2. Loch Enoch, Galloway Forest
The Southern Uplands are an area often ignored by mountain lovers – but they’re missing out. The Galloway National Park not only offers hills punctuated by lochans just over the Scottish border, but it was also the first place in the UK to be designated a Dark Sky Reserve, meaning that it's distance from light pollution makes it the perfect place to go star gazing. Head to Loch Enoch beneath the slopes of The Merrick a place where little spits of sand line the water at its southern edges. Choose the perfect one and you could enjoy views of the stars come out to play.
3. Peppercombe Beach, North Devon
Along the northern reaches of the South West Coast Path is one of the most beautifully secluded shingle beaches in England. Surrounded by rising cliffs of burnt crimson on one side, the rhythmic lapping of the waves on the other, and a pebbled shore made smooth by the sea at your feet – there are fewer better places to spend the night. Check the tide before you head out and look above you for any loose overhangs, then climb in your bivvy and watch the sun set.
4. Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons
The Brecon Beacons National Park offers a multitude of wild and dramatic spots – from the central mountain range that takes the Brecon Beacons moniker, to mountain bike friendly Fforest Fawr and Black Mountain in the west. However, spread out to the east and into the English border the Black Mountains (plural – just to confuse you) is often cast in the shadow of the rest. But that’s good news for wilderness lovers. Thanks to the vast appeal of the other three it’s actually the perfect place to find a little patch of seclusion to spend the night watching the stars. Head up onto Rhos Dirion for a summit sleep, or pitch up riverside alongside Myndd Bychan.
5. Carneddau, Snowdonia
Formed over 400million years ago when volcanoes were in full flow and land was rising up from the ocean, the rounded and smooth undulations of the Carneddau range were finished off courtesy of an ice sheet retreating which left many cwms and their associated lakes pock-marking the landscape. Now this stretch of high land, which boasts seven of the highest hills in the country, is a mix of grass and heather covered soil, a smattering of boulders and slithering rivers offering an abundance of places to pitch a tent away from the crowds of Snowdon. Head to the shores of the Melynllyn for a lakeside sleep beneath an impressive amphitheatre of rock.
6. Ugborough Moor, Dartmoor
Rising above the towns on the fringes of southwest England is the vast and rough granite moorland of Dartmoor National Park. Snaking rivers cut through the landscape, while peregrine falcons circle above the weather scoured tors. Thanks to an ancient bylaw wild camping is permitted in most parts meaning endless possibilities for tent-assisted exploration. A great option is the high ground above Ivybridge where you can climb fast using the Two Moors Way right from the centre and set up camp with views over the town and countryside below. Bliss.
7. Ennerdale Valley, Lake District
Over on the far side of the western fells something big stirs in the forest. It’s not one of the many sheep that chomp their way over the hillsides in the rest of the National Park. No, this is an altogether different beast munching the cud then moving on slowly, nonchalantly. These are Galloway cattle and they’re not just here by accident. They are all part of a bigger scheme, one to re-wild the Ennerdale Valley. Here, slowly, the trees are allowed to break free of their man made enclosures and grow higgledy piggledy, native, slow-growing saplings have been planted among the conifer plantations and the river has been allowed to cut its own path. Here also, walkers are encouraged to leave paths to explore, making it an place for a wild night out in the woods.
8. Camasunary, Isle of Skye
Ostensibly guarded by the peaks of Blaven, Sgurr na Stri and their bigger infamous Cuillin brothers, is the beachside estate of Camasunary. Walking in from the tiny hamlet of Kilmarie, you’d be forgiven for questioning just where these great mountains and so-called wild land are hiding, but, then you reach Am Mam. Here the route takes what feels like a secret passageway to a remote beach where mountain and sea combine in spectacular fashion. Here you can pitch a tent or sleep in a perfectly positioned bothy and wake to watch dawn break over the isles of Eigg and Rum.
9. Cairngorms, Scotland
The Cairngorms National Park is a very special place. Home to clusters of proper mountains – with a capital M – you can leave the comely town of Aviemore and within minutes be ascending peaks that frequently top the 4000ft mark. This sprawling mass of giants can catch out even the most well-equipped mountaineers – so care is definitely needed, but pick the right weather and you will be rewarded with views where the mountains seem to stretch on unending for miles. As with all of Scotland, you are allowed to wild camp pretty much anywhere so the peaks are quite literally your oyster. Try the sparkling water of Loch A’an deep in the belly of the mountains where the only way in or out is by boot.
10. The Cheviots, Borderlands, Northumberland
Way up in the far northern reaches of England, before the land morphs seamlessly into Scotland, is the least populated National Park in the UK – Northumberland. Not only do fewer people live within its boundaries than anywhere else, but – perhaps even better – fewer visitors come here than they do other parks. Head up onto the rounded Cheviots using the Pennine Way from Byrness to the south or from Kirk Yetholm to the north. Here you can tread the fine line between Scotland and England (do check the map as the path runs in part along the boundary of the Otterburn Military Training Zone) as this part of the path walks for a while on the Border Ridge, betwixt the two. Here you can set up a camp that spans the the two countries.
To learn more about Phoebe Smith and her latest work, visit www.phoebe-smith.com/books
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