By Rebecca Miles – 3rd March 2021
For a staycation with a difference, go where the wild things are and book a stay in one of the country’s vast, untamed nature reserves, safari parks and rewilding projects. These are the wildest places to stay in the UK, and they are bursting with beauty, nature and, of course, wildlife.
Reconnecting with nature has been one of silver linings to the pandemic, and these places offer that opportunity in spades. In the UK there are 390 nature reserves to explore, and while not all of them offer the chance to stay the night, there are some real treats available.
Conservation projects and rewilding programmes are also beginning to offer some alternative accommodation options, which encourage guests to reconnect with the countryside and experience for themselves first-hand the work that goes into preserving our countryside.
It’s often a double win when you stay at one of these places – not only do you have an incredible experience staying somewhere remote and most likely seeing some wild animals up close and personal, you also help support the invaluable conservation work these organisations are carrying out.
Take your pick from the newest accommodation at Kent’s Port Lympne – luxury cabins and wigwams in the midst of the wildlife reserve, to shepherd’s huts at the blissfully peaceful Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey, from sumptuously cosy self-catering cottages on a vast conservation project in the Scottish Highlands to geodome tents at the Durrell Wildlife Camp in Jersey.
Some are aimed squarely at families, others are firmly for couples, and some suit groups, but however you’re travelling be prepared for a wild old time at some of the wildest places to stay in the UK.
Hang out with two rare Amur leopards and a pair of white rhinos in the middle of the Kent countryside at the 600-acre Port Lympne Reserve by booking into the new Leopard Creek accommodation in a quiet corner of this exceptional park.
Overlooking the leopard enclosure are three options – cosy two-person Cubs, stylish four-person Cabins (two adults and two small children) and luxurious four-person Wigwams (two adults and two children). All have been lavishly decorated and offer total seclusion, plus sea views from the private outside seating areas with woodburners.
Leopard Creek joins Lion Lodge and Tiger Lodge as some of the most luxurious accommodation at the reserve, but other, cheaper, options include Pinewood glamping pods, Forest Hideaway dens and the Port Lympne hotel. Book into any of the 14 options and you’ll get out of hours access to the Reserve, plus a safari through the South American, Asian and African Experience zones, which are home to bears, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, camels and more.
Prices at Leopard Creek start from £319 a night, accommodation only. Find out more here
One of the largest rewilding projects in lowland Britain, at Knepp Safaris herds of wild ponies, cattle, deer and pigs roam around the 3,500 acres of Sussex countryside, regenerating the habitat and simply allowing nature to take its course.
And among it all, in a bucolic wildflower meadow on the edge of an ancient wood, is the campsite, where each pitch has its own fire pit and barbecue grill, and there are glamping options including tree houses, yurts and bell tents.
For you and I, that means the chance to be at one with nature and really get away from it all – and because the owners want to ensure quiet observation of the wildlife, no under 12s are allowed.
While you’re staying over, we recommend booking in for a dawn or dusk safari and enjoying the thousands of birds, mammals, butterflies, beetles, reptiles, plants and fungi in a setting that feels as wild as the African bush.
Two nights glamping starts from £210 based on two people sharing, the campsite is £20 per person per night. Find out more here
It’s all about the big skies at Elmley. The sort of skies that need gazing at, while contemplating life, love, the universe, and that never look as good captured on camera as they do in real life.
While on the ground at the Elmley Nature Reserve, the 3,300-acre estate on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames, the mix of freshwater grazing marsh wetland, salt marsh and mudflats mean literally tons of birds – waders and wildfowl, plus hare, watervoles, and rare invertebrates, call it home.
Feel like you’ve got the place to yourself and opt to stay over, either in the Kingshill Farmhouse, Elmley Cottage, or in one of the eight cabins and huts dotted around the reserve, including two new shepherd’s huts with terraces and outside baths with views. Also launching this summer are bell tents, sleeping up to two adults and two children.
Prices start from £85 a night in the huts, a B&B room in Kingshill Farmhouse from £180 a night. Find out more here
Billed as one of the most ambitious rewilding projects in the Scottish Highlands, with four million trees already planted, the Killiehuntly Estate in the Cairngorms National Park is classic Scotland – all wild forests, rambling mountains and deep, dark lochs.
Set among this raw beauty are an inviting farmhouse and a couple of cottages – the farmhouse has five bedrooms, and can either be rented whole or individually on a B&B basis, the two cottages, Killiehuntly Bothy and Geordie’s Cottage, sleep four and five respectively.
Influenced by the Danish owners of the estate (who own the two neighbouring ones too – and have created the WildLand family of properties with a 200-year vision for conservation in the Scottish Highlands), the accommodation is all understated luxury, earthy textures and effortless Scandi chic.
And outside? Relax and reconnect, to the sound of rivers rushing and summer swallows swooping.
Rooms start in the Farmhouse from £395, based on two sharing, and include breakfast and dinner; children under 10 can’t stay in the Farmhouse, but are welcome in the Cottages. Find out more here
Fancy having breakfast while watching some orang-utans have theirs? Or spying lemurs playing around the lake? At the Durrell Wildlife Camp in Jersey you can, when you book into one of the zoo’s geodesic domes.
Set up by the much-loved Gerald Durrell in 1959, Jersey Zoo (formerly Durrell Wildlife Park) prides itself on its conservation work and works hard to protect rare and endangered species. Expect to see the Madagascar side-necked turtle, black lion tamarin, Saint Lucia amazon parrot, and the pgymy hog, as well as gorillas, bears, meerkats and bats.
Each glamping dome sleeps up to four, and has a stove, its own neighbouring shower and toilet pod and cooking facilities. Two of the pods are accessible for disabled guests, and additional tipis for children can be arranged.
Prices start from £480 for a three-night stay. Find out more here
Wonderfully remote, the Alladale Wilderness Reserve is 23,000 acres of rugged mountains, forests, rivers and lochs an hour north of Inverness. And set among this raw, untamed beauty are four distinct lodges, sleeping from two to 20, in style.
Three of the four come catered, so get planning the ultimate friends reunion at the Alladale Lodge, which sleeps up to 14. A Victorian manor refurbished by Laura Ashley, it’s traditional yet modern – with a sauna, gym and snooker room.
For a complete escape for it all, book Deanich Lodge, Alladale’s only self-catered option and a former historic hunting lodge seven miles from Alladale Lodge. Accessible only by a track road, it sits alone in a green valley alongside a crystal-clear stream. Sleeping up to 18, it’s an incredible spot for star gazing and trout fishing, cycling and hiking, and watching the reserve’s wildlife, including red deer and golden eagles, at play.
All stays at Alladale contribute to the estate’s conservation work, which includes extensive native tree planting, peatland restoration, outdoor learning for teenagers and multiple wildlife projects.
Prices start from £2,950 for a week’s catered accommodation. Find out more here
New for this year at the West Midlands Safari Park are eight luxury lodges set among the newly-updated reserves – take your pick from sleeping among the elephant or cheetah habitats. The six lodges at the elephant reserve offer the only accommodation experience with magnificent African elephants in the UK.
The elephant lodges sleep up to five (one of them is wheelchair accessible), while the cheetah lodges can sleep up to six, and all offer ring-side views of the animals and fantastic views as the sun sets.
Around 140 different species live at the Park alongside the elephants and cheetahs, so also expect to see lions, giraffes and rhinos. Included in the price is breakfast and dinner, plus entry to West Midlands Safari Park and all attractions, including the 20 theme park rides, so take your time on the four-mile drive-through safari, and relax over dinner at the Cellarz restaurant.
Prices start from £171 per adult per night, including breakfast, dinner and park entry. Find out more here
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