From scrambling rocky waterfalls to paddling winding rivers, there’s an outdoor adventure in England to rebalance the soul, re-energise the spirit and reboot the mind. Here’s how to embrace your adventurous side in England.
England is a mild and pleasant land. Rolling hills carved by winding country lanes, fields dotted with sheep, charming villages from another time. But lurking beneath the cream teas, England has a wild side waiting to be uncovered.
From the heights of craggy mountains to the depths of sinuous cave networks; from the coves of dramatic coastlines to the wilds of remote moorlands, this surprisingly diverse landscape summons us to connect with nature, exercise the body and re-energise the mind.
It entices us to throw on shorts and t-shirt as soon as the sun comes out; lures us into firing up the BBQ with a gale approaching; seduces us into braving freezing seas, blustery winds and driving rain, all to share a challenge and embrace an adventure.
In this compact country, your next invigorating experience is never far away. So, buckle up for adventures mild to wild and embrace the rugged realm with our favourite outdoor activities in England.
01. SCRAMBLE HELVELLYN IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in the Lake District but it punches above its weight. The best ascent is via the thin precipitous ridge of Striding Edge. This narrow arête is considered one of the easiest Grade 1 Scrambles in England making it the perfect course for beginners.
There are several paths to choose, so if the trail over the top looks too difficult, it’s possible to skirt the ridge and find a section that looks more achievable. No special equipment or knowledge of climbing is required, all you need is a good head for heights, steady foot placement, and a reasonable level of fitness.
It’s a great adventure to undertake with someone who can give you moral support along the way. Once at the top, the views of the crinkling ridges of the Lake District make it all worthwhile. Descend via Swirral Edge, a much wider ridge that will feel like a breeze after tackling Striding Edge on the way up.
02. SEA KAYAK AROUND OLD HARRY ROCKS
Standing guard off the coast, Old Harry Rocks has been keeping a watchful eye on England for around 65 million years. The dazzling outcrop of limestone marks the start of the Jurassic Coast – a 95 mile stretch of windswept coastline with dramatic viewpoints.
There are many ways to view these towering cliffs. Walk along the beautiful flower-strewn cliff edge, cycle along bumpy bridleways or join a cruise from Poole Harbour. But the most energetic, adventurous and sustainable way to see them is from a kayak. Paddling around the base of these giant white stacks and immersing in their grandeur is one of the most satisfying outdoor adventure activities in England.
Fore Adventures offer half-day kayak tours around Old Harry Rocks from Studland Bay.
03. ROCK CLIMB UP MALHAM COVE
Malham Cove has been described as one of the geological wonders of England. Formed at the end of the last ice age, the curved limestone pavement stretches 300 metres across and drops 80 metres to the valley below.
The resulting vertical cliff face has some of the biggest and most-challenging rock climbs in the country. For climbers who know their stuff, it’s the perfect location set amongst the stunning Yorkshire scenery.
There are also plenty of opportunities for beginners looking for an activity to test the sense of adventure. Elemental Mountaineering offer courses in sport climbing where pre-placed bolted anchors are used to allow people with all levels of ability the opportunity to try climbing in a safe and fun way. With expert guidance, you’ll be achieving goals you never thought possible.
04. SNORKEL WITH SEALS AT THE FARNE ISLANDS
The Farne Islands, just off the Northumberland Coast, are home to around 5,000 grey seals. You can visit them on a sightseeing boat trip from the town of Seahouses, but a more adventurous way to encounter them is on a snorkelling tour.
Fifth Point Diving run seal snorkelling safaris where you can learn about the life and habitat of these playful creatures in a responsible and engaging way. With a focus on conservation, Fifth Point have a strict interaction policy and a careful approach to minimise their impact on the ocean. It’s one of the best wildlife adventures in the UK and a great way to connect with nature.
With plenty of other great outdoor activities in Northumberland, including walks along the under-visited coastal path and paddle-boarding opportunities around Embleton Bay, the county makes for a great adventure break in England.
05. YORKSHIRE THREE PEAKS CHALLENGE
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is a 24-mile hill walk ascending a total of 5,200 feet (1585 metres) over the three mountains of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.
There’s no driving between the mountains, so it’s just one long day of walking. The goal is to complete them all in under 12 hours either as part of an organised event or on your own. This outdoor adventure is a test of endurance so it’s a great activity to do in a group where you can help motivate each other.
06. SURF AT WATERGATE BAY
Facing southwest towards the Atlantic rollers, the gently sloping sandy beach and consistent swell of Watergate Bay in Cornwall provides the perfect playground for surfing enthusiasts.
But the sweeping beach has a variety of sections that are suitable for people with different levels of surfing abilities. Complete beginners (like us) can take exciting half-day lessons from Extreme Academy to master new skills. While we didn’t enter the blue room they did get us standing for a few seconds and riding into shore.
Lessons are given in small groups making it the perfect adventure activity for families or groups of friends to try something new together. The large beach has room for everyone and you could also try kitesurfing, wave skiing, traction kiting, kitebuggying or coasteering. Plenty of reasons to head here for an action-charged weekend break in England.
07. VIA FERRATA AT HONISTER SLATE MINE
At the top of the Honister Pass, amongst the debris of the last remaining slate mine in Britain, one of the most exhilarating outdoor adventures in England takes place, Honister’s Via Ferrata Extreme.
Over three hours, scale the edge of Fleetwith Pike using vertical ladders clinging to overhanging rock, cross a nerve-testing Burma bridge and clamber up a cargo net. It ends with a scramble to the peak providing remarkable views over Buttermere and a strong sense of satisfaction.
Clipped on to iron rails throughout the ascent, you need to be comfortable with heights, but no climbing experience is necessary. Providing you have a reasonable level of fitness, a good head for heights and a strong sense of adventure, the via ferrata is an outdoor activity delivering a moderate dose of adrenaline.
08. PUNT ON THE CAM
Punting is an acquired art. Standing on the back of a flatboat and propelling it forward using a long pole pushing against a riverbed sounds like it should be easy. Yet every time we do it, we’re just as shaky as the last and happy if we make it back dry.
The best place to try punting is on the River Cam in Cambridge. Drift past the backs of beautiful colleges and architectural masterpieces set on the grassy banks of this world-renowned university city. Expect to have close encounters with brick walls, the underside of bridges and other understanding punters on this feel-good adventure on a day trip to Cambridge.
If you’d prefer to relax and admire the stunning setting, join a guided punt from current university students who will regale you with knowledgeable anecdotes while expertly commandeering their vessel.
09. HIKE THE SEVEN SISTERS
There are few more iconic sights of Britain than the Seven Sisters Cliffs. Stretched between Seaford and Eastbourne on England’s south coast, these pristine white cliffs form some of the country’s finest scenery. With a blanket of green grass on top, the glow of the sea below, and a luminance of white rock, the Seven Sisters are spellbinding.
The best way to see them is to hike from Seaford to the charming village of East Dean. Along the way you’ll pass the coastguard cottages at Cuckmere Haven, Beachy Head, Belle Tout Lighthouse and miles of glorious scenery. Although the undulating coastal hills make this a strenuous activity, Seven Sisters is nourishment for the soul and a great way to connect with the outdoors.
If the weather is good, go for a dip at Birling Gap beach or take a break from the walk to kayak down the Cuckmere River.
10. WILD SWIM IN WASTWATER
As the deepest lake in the Lake District, and surrounded by dramatic craggy mountains, swimming in Wastwater is one of the more refreshing adventure activities in England. The cold waters are the perfect way to invigorate mind and body while embracing the beauty of the great outdoors.
The spine of rocky scree on one side and the imposing face of Great Gable in the background provides a perfect setting for an adventure outing in England.
Several stone beaches are dotted around the shore where you can either launch for a long swim or lay in the shallows soaking up the views from the bank. With few facilities at Wastwater, it’s a great opportunity to connect with family and friends in a rugged but idyllic environment.
For more options in the area, read our guide to wild swimming in the Lake District.
11. CYCLE THROUGH SWALEDALE
With its long windy valleys and high passes, the Yorkshire Dales offers some of the best cycling in the UK. For experienced cyclists, the trail between Hawes and Oughtershaw climbs 303 metres to Fleet Moss, the highest pass in the Dales.
For beginners, one of the best areas for cycling in Yorkshire is Swaledale where the roads are quieter, and you can choose a course to match your level of ability. Cruise the road on the valley floor, join the specifically designed 20-kilometre Swale Trail, or head out of the valley and up onto the passes. There’s a mix of gravel tracks, mountain trails and paved roads for a varied adventure break in England.
Dales Bike Centre provides road bikes, mountain bikes and e-bikes to make those hills a little easier. They also have maps of the area with suggested itineraries.
12. CANOE THE RIVER WYE
The River Wye stretches 215 kilometres from the Welsh Cambrian Mountains to the Severn Estuary just north of Bristol. In places, it defines the border between England and Wales. There are few better days out with family and friends than hiring a canoe and slowly drifting down this picturesque river.
One of the best sections for canoeing is from Kerne Bridge to Symonds Yat. The water is relatively fast-flowing, so you barely need to paddle as you make your way downstream. A couple of mini-rapids provide a hint of adrenaline. The scenery is incredible with riverside castles, stony beaches and steep-sided cliffs.
Canoe the Wye have a range of half-day and full-day options and provide all the equipment you need plus a safety briefing. It’s a fun and achievable outdoor adventure for almost everyone.
13. RIVER SWIM IN THE THAMES
Stretching for 215 miles, the River Thames is the longest river entirely within England. It winds its way from the edge of the Cotswolds, through Oxford, Reading, Henley, and Windsor before entering the North Sea just east of London. During its journey, it changes from an idyllic reed-fringed brook to a wide fast flowing tidal river.
It is not recommended to swim in the tidal section of the Thames (east of Putney Bridge to the North Sea), but as you head west the river gets cleaner, safer (less boat traffic) and much more beautiful.
At some of the more secluded locations along the river it feels like a remote jungle-framed hideaway. Shillingford is a lovely, shaded section of the river, perfect for relaxing family downtime. Enjoy a picnic at one of the many sections hidden in a natural reed-lined alcove by the gently flowing river and jump in for some refreshing Thames swimming. It’s an easy to achieve and completely free mini-adventure in England.
14. WALK THE BEST OF HADRIAN’S WALL
Hadrian’s Wall stretches from coast to coast along undulating countryside of glacial lakes and rocky crags. Built by the Romans to defend the furthest north-western edges of their empire, the defensive fortification consisted of a 10-foot wall with forts and turrets backed by a massive ditch.
Walking the entire length of the defensive wall takes 5 to 7 days, but the best-preserved sections of the wall with the most dramatic viewpoints and best scenery are all in a relatively compact central section between Steel Rigg and the Vindolanda Museum. It’s easily visited on a short, outdoor-based break in England.
Follow our Hadrian’s Wall walk to discover the finest Roman ruins in the country and enjoy a day out surrounded by the most scenic and wild sections of the Northumberland National Park.
15. GHYLL SCRAMBLE IN THE LAKE DISTRICT
While the Lake District is known for some of the best hiking in England, there’s another aspect to this superb outdoor destination that provides one of the most exhilarating adventure activities in the country.
Ghyll scrambling is the art of climbing up the waterfall of a deep ravine (ghyll) using ropes and pullies connected to a harness. With protective gear including a specially designed wetsuit and helmet, it’s a thrilling outdoor adventure available to people with all levels of ability.
Crags Adventures offers organised trips lasting from 2 hours to full-day excursions. On the tour you’ll be hoisted up waterfalls via a rope, slide down canyons, leap into deep pools of water and scramble over boulders in the river. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable adventure under the guidance of an expert who can tailor the course to your level of comfort.
The best Ghyll Scrambling locations are Church Beck (Coniston), Stickle Ghyll (Langdales) and the most challenging of all, Esk Ghyll (Esk Valley).
16. CAVING IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES
With over 2,500 known caves forming the longest system in Britain, the Yorkshire Dales National Park is the perfect spot to try caving. Surrounded by pitch black with the course lit by a head torch, it’s an eerie but exciting adventure experience in England.
Lost Earth Adventures provides a range of caving tours based on your experience and comfort level. Wearing a protective helmet, knee pads and boiler suits, you’ll be guided through narrow gaps, descend underground waterfalls with the assistance of ropes, and wade through underground rivers. It’s a wonderful experience to test your nerves in a safe and surreal environment.
Another option for visiting a cave is to descend by winch to Gaping Gill – a massive subterranean chamber, large enough to fit St Paul’s Cathedral. Winching is organised by Bradford and Craven Pothole Clubs, but it is only possible one week in May and one week in August.
As London based travel bloggers, we’re often exploring exotic destinations far from home, but there’s a wealth of great experiences to be had within the UK. Here are some of our favourite guides to our home country. For more see our Britain page.
OUTDOORS IN ENGLAND
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