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Staycations | The best beaches, forests, parks and hikes for some socially distanced escapes in England

By Rebecca Miles – 15th December 2020

If we’ve learnt one thing from 2020 it’s that nature, the great outdoors and our incredible countryside are really, really important to our wellbeing. And we’re so fortunate to have some of the best beaches, forests, parks and hikes spread across the country, so wherever you live you’re never far from a beauty spot.

But these listed here aren’t your typical beauty spots. These have been suggested by Clarks – yes, Clarks the shoe shop – to encourage and inspire us to get out walking (in Clarks walking boots, of course!), and are not the usual places.

To find the most secluded spots in the country, Clarks analysed the reviews of over 5,000 TripAdvisor attractions, spanning beaches, forests, parks and hiking trails, crunching data to rank outdoor destinations with the lowest number of reviews but highest concentration of five-star ratings in order to present its ultimate list of hidden gems in the UK.

Have you visited any of these, and where would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below

The best beach in England

Screenshot from Instagram @thewashingtonwanderers showing Marske Sands beach with headland in the distance, one of the best beaches in England
Marske Beach in North Yorkshire, 'a wild and wondrous' stretch of coast between Whitby and Redcar, from @thewashingtonwanderers

It’s hard to beat being by the sea but crowded beaches tend to take the edge off the appeal for us. So strike out to the ‘wild and wonderous’ Marske Sands Beach in North Yorkshire, just south of Redcar. One reviewer described it as, “The perfect place to cleanse and invigorate your mind.”

Best forests in England

Relax and unwind with a wander through a forest. Whether you’re going for the full-on immersive experience of forest bathing, the ancient Japanese practice of being calm and quiet among the trees while focusing on your breathing, or exploring and adventuring through the woods, climbing trees and making dens, forests are utterly restorative.

On the list is the aptly named Great Wood, in the Quantocks in Somerset. Its two-mile red walk is ideal for families, and keep an eye out for red deer, buzzards and crossbills among the Douglas fir trees.

Or head north a little to South Gloucestershire and the Lower Woods Nature Reserve, near Wickwar. The largest Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserve and one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in South England, it’s home to muntjac and roe deer, and is brimming with wildflowers, snowdrops, bluebells and wild orchids.

Over in Norfolk the focus is often on the coast or the Broads, but come inland to an area known as the Brecks and you’ll find the tranquil Tetford Forest and Kings Forest, collectively the largest lowland forest in the UK. Historically, a ‘breck’ was a temporary field cultivated for a few years then allowed to revert to heath once the soil was exhausted, and this unusual heath land is now vital for wildlife conservation.

Best parks in England

It’s easy to underestimate the simple park, but they’ve been a lifesaver for so many during 2020. And a lot of their beauty often comes from their convenient locations – none more so than Southampton Common, Hampshire, rated “a remarkably peaceful place” given its central location. It’s got everything from woodland to parkland, rough grassland to ponds and an ornamental lake, plus a big adventure playground and nature trails.

Other entries on the list worth visiting include Leavesden Country Park in Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, the Tyne Riverside Country Park in Tyne and Wear, and the Wildgrounds Nature Reserve in Gosport, Hampshire.

Best hikes in England

The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and following your nose is surprisingly rewarding. But where to head to when you’ve exhausted all your usual routes? The research from Clarks produced these results:

– Lanhydrock to Respryn Woods circular walk ambles through the grounds of the National Trust’s Lanhydrock estate and follows the River Fowey in Cornwall before passing through ancient bluebell woods.

– Walking from Salcombe to Gara Rock, in the South Hams, Devon, takes in part of the South West Coastal Path, and also involves an ancient wooded trail up the valley, stunning views of the Salcombe estuary, and a cute trip on the East Portlemouth ferry. Stop for a play on Mill Bay beach and pick up ice creams from the Venue Café or Gara Rock hotel’s Garavan.

– Rannerdale Knotts, in Cumbria, in ‘picturesque’. Starting from the village of Buttermere, this three-mile circular walk with views of Crummock Water climbs to Rannerdale Knotts at 283m before returning through Ghyll Wood.

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