How slow can you go? The best British adventures to enjoy at a slower pace

Tor McIntosh
·8-min read
 Scotland Dhoruis Bay - istock
Scotland Dhoruis Bay - istock

If, like me, you fancy becoming a slow adventurer, I recommend the finest, not the fastest route. Pause on your journey to marvel at intimate encounters with wildlife or discover more about a place, its people and its heritage. Allow yourself quality time to sit under a tree or on a clifftop and take in your surroundings. But most importantly, remember to smile, breathe, and adventure slowly.

Sussex, South East

Rockpooling at Birling Gap

The UK boasts numerous rockpooling locations, where the ebbing tide leaves behind deep pools, each teeming with marine life. Peering into them reveals a fascinating world, often without any need to scoop a hand or container through the water. As you nudge some seaweed to one side, a fish, perhaps a goby or a blenny, dashes to safety deep beneath a rocky overhang, while scores of dark red, jellylike blobs of beadlet anemones cling to dry rocks around the pools.

How to do it

All you need is knowledge of the tide times and some non-slip footwear that you don’t mind getting wet. I opted for Birling Gap, a sand and shingle beach on the unspoilt East Sussex coastline.

Slow travel adventure: seashore code
Slow travel adventure: seashore code

Bristol, South West

Experience the dawn chorus in Leigh Woods

Arriving in the woods while it was still eerily dark and quiet, it wasn’t long before the silence was broken and the first performer began: the familiar fluting melody of a blackbird. As light started to fill the sky it was soon joined by countless others; some easily identified, although our collective knowledge as amateur birders was pushed to its limit by others. Once rays of sunlight were streaming through the beech trees, two song thrushes began foraging in the fallen leaves, their speckled chests all the more resplendent when seen through binoculars. Studies have shown that getting close to nature – and in particular listening to birdsong – is good for our mental well-being, and the few hours that I spent listening to the dawn chorus certainly left me feeling relaxed and ready for the day ahead.

How to do it

You are just as likely to hear the dawn chorus in an urban environment as in dense woodland, and Leigh Woods offers the best of both worlds. Only a few miles from Bristol’s city centre, it is an urban wilderness teeming with wildlife, providing city dwellers with a vast green space in which to enjoy natural wonders such as the dawn chorus.

Slow travel: Dawn chorus
Slow travel: Dawn chorus
Leigh Woods - Tor McIntosh
Leigh Woods - Tor McIntosh

Norfolk, East

A canoe trail along the river Bure

It was mid-May and the river was alive with wildlife; some birds and animals clearly visible, others apparent only from sounds or incredibly subtle signs. On the water’s surface, newly emerged mayflies floated along, flexing their wings in readiness to take flight, while red-eyed damselflies flitted into the air from the rubbery pads of yellow water lilies. For several minutes we shadowed a trio of mute swans along a particularly attractive tree-lined stretch of the river, our presence leaving them completely unfazed as they glided elegantly and serenely through the water. Above the grazing marshes that extended either side of the river, flights of swallows and house martins darted across the cloudless blue sky, feeding on insects. At one point I even spotted two distinctive scythe-shaped shadows that were joining in the feeding frenzy: swifts – my first sighting of the season.

How to do it

I joined Mark, who is also known as The Canoe Man, on a guided wildlife canoe trail along one of his favourite stretches of the river Bure; it’s one of seven rivers and more than 60 man-made open areas of water that define the unique wetland landscape of the Broads National Park.

river Bure - Getty
river Bure - Getty

Cumbria, North

A guided wild swim in Rydal Water

Setting off along a tranquil stretch of river lined with overhanging trees, tall rushes and water lilies, it was immediately clear that this swim was not about speed or style; it was about soaking up the environment. The water was surprisingly warm, and my decades-long fear of not knowing what lies beneath when swimming outdoors was quashed the moment I put my head underwater to take my first few strokes of front crawl. The unexpectedly clear water revealed an undiscovered world of delights through my goggles: an array of aquatic plants swayed in the current; shoals of tiny silvery fish darted between rocks; and natural drops and rises revealed the changing topography of the river bed as we journeyed downstream.

How to do it

I joined a small group on a guided swim along a stretch of the river Rothay before joining Rydal Water – one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District – with open-water swimming specialists Swim the Lakes.

Slow travel: open water swimming
Slow travel: open water swimming
Guided wild swim in Rydal Water - Tor McIntosh
Guided wild swim in Rydal Water - Tor McIntosh

Derbyshire, Midlands

A sketchbook stroll in Dovedale

I must admit to being neither competent nor confident at sketching. Nevertheless, the concept of strolling through a rural landscape with a sketchbook and pen evoked an air of romanticism. The focus of my gaze was Dovedale, a picturesque limestone valley in the southern Peak District, and it was at the southern end, where you can cross the river Dove’s stepping stones, that I chose to amble with my sketchbook. It took a while to get myself into the drawing zone, but once I tuned into the landscape with an artist’s eye I soon settled into a rhythm of walking, looking and, every so often, pausing to create a simple line drawing that traced the contours of the landscape.

How to do it

Dominated by the river Dove, which marks the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire, the Dovedale valley runs for just over three miles between Milldale in the north and a wooded ravine in the south.

Dovedale, River - Getty
Dovedale, River - Getty

Wrexham, Wales

Identifying winter trees at Erddig

The more closely you observe a woodland in winter, the clearer it becomes that it is not a “dead” season. During this quiet time for trees, life moves more slowly. But it still moves, with some trees, such as the hazel, already starting to flower, providing welcome colour to the bleak landscape. With leaves absent, the woodland opens up and reveals details that the distractions of the other seasons often cover. No longer do you only hear the calls and rustling of birds; you can see them too.

How to do it

I travelled to the Erddig estate near Wrexham for a tree identification course with James Kendall, the co-founder of Woodland Classroom.

Identifying winter trees at Erddig  - Tor McIntosh
Identifying winter trees at Erddig - Tor McIntosh

North Yorkshire, North East

Mountain-biking the Swale Trail

Between Reeth and the village of Gunnerside it was easy riding along a riverside track where lush hedgerows were brimming with blowsy cow parsley, while swallows and house martins nosily darted across fields. Crossing the bridge at Gunnerside, I made a long climb to a stunning open track with views across the valley to the village of Muker across the river Swale. There was an atmospheric beauty to the landscape blanketed in low grey clouds, which occasionally lifted to reveal the rounded high fells. Far below, the river, gushing after days of heavy rain, roared.

How to do it

Swaledale is, for many, the most beautiful valley in the Yorkshire Dales. Although not completely traffic-free, the Swale Trail – a 12-mile waymarked route following the river Swale from Reeth to Keld – mainly keeps to stone tracks and quiet roads as it follows the river upstream.

Barns, Muker, Yorkshire Dales - Getty
Barns, Muker, Yorkshire Dales - Getty

Argyll, Scotland

Walking, wildlife and whisky on the Isle of Islay

Following Jim McEwan, retired master distiller at Bruichladdich, we negotiated a steep climb through swathes of head-high bracken in the remote north-west corner of the Isle of Islay, the southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides. I was spoiled by its rich and diverse wildlife, from tiny blue butterflies dancing across grasslands to gannets plunge-diving for fish. I may have had the good fortune to explore a remote corner of Islay with a whisky legend but it is, in fact, virtually impossible to visit the island and not immerse yourself in its whisky heritage. According to legend, it was Irish monks who first brought whisky distilling to the island during the early 14th century, attracted to Islay’s abundance of peat, spring water and barley. At Bruichladdich, I swilled the light amber-coloured liquid around my glass and inhaled the gentle smoky aroma before taking a sip. The sea salt that I’d tasted on my lips after my windswept coastal walk the previous day was now delighting my taste buds, along with a fresh citrus tang.

How to do it

With 130 miles of coast, it’s no surprise that the taste and smell of the sea seep into Islay’s whiskies. I discovered more on a Warehouse Experience tour of the Bruichladdich Distillery.

Slow Adventures by Tor McIntosh (RRP £12.99). Buy now for £10.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514