As the year draws to a close and temperatures plunge, sending snow swirling and bringing woolens out, it is tempting to bundle up before roaring fires or head for warmer climes. But this is also when nature is at her best.
The United Kingdom, in particular, has an array of winter activities on offer. From the fierce coastline of the Cornwall to the moors of Devon, to the magical beauty of the Lake District to the adrenaline-inducing ski slopes of Scotland, the U.K. has a getaway for every kind of soul.
The westernmost part of England, with a little bit of land jutting out into the Celtic sea, is aptly called Land’s End. It is a cluster of jagged cliffs, promontories and coves that make for a spectacularly dramatic coastline. Adding to this striking landscape are sandy beaches that skirt the land mass. This is quite stunning during much of the year, but it makes for an ideal place during winter, when the landscape takes on a wildness that is at once fierce and beautiful. If this only whets one’s appetite for more, then take your pick from the Lost Gardens of Heligan, the Isles of Scilly (a cluster of islands off the Cornwall coast where the Tresco Abbey Gardens are bound to mesmerize), or the Eden Project on the mainland where exotic plants are grown in conservatories and transport visitors to a surreal sylvan wonderland.
In England’s southwest is Devon, home to two fabulous national parks – Exmoor and Dartmoor. For visitors with a literary bent of mind, these should also bring to mind images from the classic work, “Wuthering Heights.” As the names indicate, these are exposed moorlands, which are lush green and carpeted with moss and heather and exposed rock during much of the year. But in winter, the landscape is hauntingly beautiful. The uneven and rugged landscape takes on a magical frosty glow owing to precipitation, making this among the best winter holiday destinations. While stepping out early in the morning during the winter might seem like an imposition or foolhardy exercise, it is well worth the effort to bundle up properly and stir out at sunrise. That is when the whole place becomes surreal – the skies stretch out above the undulating land whose frosty surface sunbeams light up for miles. Adding an extra dimension to this landscape are a local favorite – hardy and endearing ponies with their thick, shaggy manes.
If Devon is ethereal, giving it company is the adjacent region of Somerset, which shares a part of the Exmoor National Park. Quite apart from the park, it is also known for its rolling hills, rural countryside and sprawling flatlands – the Somerset Levels. While the moors and the wilderness of the coastline are equally riveting in winter, it is the Mendip Hills that are particularly spectacular. The whole area is coated in frost and blanketed by snow and takes on a magical white wonderland-like appearance. The best way to experience it is to sink your boots in the snow, tramping through rolling fields, ancient woodland and meandering hills. If you are up for it, exert a bit and climb one of the gentle peaks for breathtaking views of the stunning countryside, explore caves with stalagmites and stalactites and rivers that run underground, or head to the dramatic Cheddar Gorge, a jaw-dropping canyon. By far this is one of the best winter destinations in the UK.
Trying to rank the UK’s most beautiful places is a futile exercise since there are far too many with far too diverse attributes. But perhaps the title of England’s most beautiful place can arguably be assigned to Cumbria in northwest England, on its border with Scotland. The single most important attribute that tips the scales in favor of Cumbria and gives it bragging rights is the Lake District National Park. It comprises 16 lakes and over 50 large water bodies and several other water bodies of varying sizes. Besides, it has a series of fells, mountains and valleys, which add to the grandeur and beauty of the district. It boasts England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, and its largest lake, Lake Windermere. No surprise then that for long Cumbria has inspired creative people, especially artists and writers and unleashed their talent, the best-known of them being William Wordsworth. In winter, the whole area becomes even more magical and rather surreal, covered by ground frost and snow and offering visitors plenty of walking and trekking trails.
There cannot be talk of winter without mentioning the stunning highlands and mountains of Scotland, the most mountainous part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has an astonishing number of peaks and hills and is paradise for trekkers. In winter, many peaks receive light to heavy snowfall and become ideal winter destinations. For skiers, there are numerous spots to visit, such as Glencoe, Nevis, Cairngorm, Glenshee and Lecht. Heading to the Isle of Skye, just off the coast of western Scotland, is also a good idea since it has stunning hill and mountain slopes and is among the most surreal winter holiday destinations.
The northernmost part of Northern Ireland ushers in spectacular sunrises and sunsets during winter, and the landscape takes on a surreal quality. Meander through the countryside’s walking and trekking trails or experience mysterious sights such as the Dark Hedges, the jaw-dropping Carrick a Rede bridge, or the dark and desolate Dunluce Castle. But for sheer drama, nothing can compete with Giant’s Causeway, a collection of basalt rock formations rising majestically and mysteriously out of the sea.
Visitors are spoiled for choice in terms of winter destinations in the UK. And while spring and summer are beautiful everywhere, winter with its snow and frost imbue places across its length and breadth with a special kind of wild beauty and it comes down to a matter of what speaks to each kind of soul. You still can travel during times of COVID. Here’s how