Surf and the City: Exploring the UK’s wild, wild West (Country)

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Photo credit: Amanda Statham
Photo credit: Amanda Statham

What: A long weekend exploring Wiltshire and Bristol

Where: The UK’s west country

How much: Prairie Lodge at Longleat from £375pn (sleeps six, includes park entry); glamping at The Wave from £120pn (sleeps eight); Brooks Guest House rocket camper, £119pn.

If you’re looking for a break that punches above its weight in terms of activities and great places to stay, you might want to consider heading west for your next long weekend. My recent micro adventure included animal encounters, inland surfing lessons and the bright lights of Bristol, which I can confirm is the perfect combo of fitness, fun and frivolity you want from a three-day escape.

What makes it so wild?

Well lions, tigers and giraffes for starters. Longleat Safari Park is a 1000-acre reserve filled with the kind of exotic animals you’d usually expect to see on a savannah. I explored it with friends in a crocodile-design MINI Countryman Plug-in Hybrid car, part of a collab between the park and MINI (see website for more events). We were impressed by the vast space animals have to roam - it’s definitely more safari hols than zoo vibe.

Photo credit: Amanda Statham
Photo credit: Amanda Statham

Highlights included the monkey enclosure, they fearlessly bound onto car bonnets and chew the wipers (we named ours Malcom), getting within a metre of a snoozing pride of lions, gazing at giraffes and feeding deer by hand.

The best bit? You can actually stay in the park in one of seven cottages. We booked a night in Prairie Lodge and were able to safari right up until closing time and then retreat to this serene spot surrounded by fields and woodland to enjoy the cosy living room, huge open-plan kitchen and three bedrooms.

Photo credit: Amanda Statham
Photo credit: Amanda Statham

How about the surfing?

Also wild thanks to The Wave, a new inland, manmade surfing lagoon just outside Bristol and around an hour’s drive from Longleat. Not only is it the perfect place to learn to surf solo or with a group of mates, it also has a glamping site attached so you can relax in a safari-style tent surrounded by nature after your lesson.

Photo credit: Amanda Statham
Photo credit: Amanda Statham

The whole set up’s impressive and super sustainable, from being powered by renewable energy to the fact you have to ditch your car at the entrance and walk around half a mile to reach the site (while surfers on skateboards and scooters casually overtake you). Once you’re in the low-carbon main building it’s all a breeze with boards and wetsuits on hand and instructors ready to teach you on dry land before heading into the (surprisingly warm) water.

Photo credit: Amanda Statham
Photo credit: Amanda Statham

I had a blast, paddling, popping up and semi-kneeling before finally standing up (a couple of times!). Nothing beats the feeling of gliding into shore, if only for a few seconds, and I’m itching to go back! A one-hour session flies by and is pretty exhausting - you might only burn around 250 calories an hour surfing but you use every muscle and I was starving by the end.

Photo credit: Amanda Statham
Photo credit: Amanda Statham

Handily, there are street food stalls lining the lagoon, including delicious vegan burritos and handmade pizzas for less than £10, plus a rooftop bar where you can watch the surfers and sun set. There’s even a shop selling cool surfwear and accessories which I’d advise against visiting if you’re on a budget as it’s all too tempting.

And the city bit?

Bristol city centre’s just 30 minutes from The Wave, so after 24 hours of riding giants (ok, midgets) it was time to head for the bright lights. Home for the night was budget boutique hotel Brooks Guest House in the heart of the city, which has installed four silver airstream campers on its roof. I loved our cute retro van which slept four and had a tiny toilet and shower room and even a cupboard for a kettle, tea and coffee.

Photo credit: Amanda Statham
Photo credit: Amanda Statham

There’s loads to do in Bristol, but if you’ve never been before I’d recommend hopping on a ferry for a spin around the harbour to see sites like SS Great Britain and Spike Island (there’s an art gallery there worth a browse). The city’s famous for its street art (hello Banksy), and the colourful murals and graffiti are definitely worth tracking down via Where The Wall which offers guided or self-guided tours.

When hunger strikes, hunt out Pho Bristol, a popular Vietnamese restaurant around the corner from the hotel, serving delish vegan dishes like Super Green (morning glory, green beans, pak choi, veg broth, fresh lime and basil) or try crab noodle soup and a healthy smoothie.

After leaving Bristol there was just time for a hike around the ancient standing stones of Avebury, part of the Great West Way during our drive back east on Sunday afternoon. The perfect end to a fun-packed weekend that left me wanting to return to this picturesque pocket of Britain asap.

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