If your New Year's goals involve traveling more, staying active or learning a new skill, you can accomplish all of them at the same time by joining in one of Britain’s favorite pastimes: outdoor recreation. No matter where you plan to visit, the allure of seeing a different slice of life each day — all while exploring the beauty of the country and giving your legs a run for their money — should be enough to carry you through the next few weeks of cold, lonely winter.
You can travel, stay fit and try something new all at once by learning to surf overseas in Cornwall, at the far southwest tip of England. Cornwall may not be the Gold Coast of Australia, but believe it or not, it’s is a great place to surf. Because the county is on a peninsula that juts right out into the Atlantic, it gets a good amount of swell.
With a (relatively) mild climate and a bunch of pretty great beaches, it’s an excellent alternative for people looking to try something different or just take a detour as part of a longer trip to the UK. As an added bonus, there is great rock climbing around the extreme western part of Cornwall — as good a two-for-one as you’ll find in outdoor adventure sports!
If you’re looking to master a new skill but less interested in having the ocean knock you around a bit, why not visit the birthplace of golf for a few rounds? With fresh air and a countryside that is tailor-made for the sport, you couldn’t pick a better location to learn than Scotland.
The links at St Andrews have operated for about 600 years, and the Old Course is said to be the birthplace of the sport. People around there know a thing or two about how to swing a club and are more than happy to share their expertise. And since it’s less than two hours from Glasgow and about an hour and a half from Edinburgh, you can swing by easily for a round and be back in a major Scottish city by supper, if you please.
In Scotland and Wales, hillwalking (hiking) is a way of life, and locals and visitors like hitting the trail on their own or in organized tours. While you’re in Edinburgh, you can hike up Arthur's Seat, a dormant volcano that lies in the midst of that wonderful city. A path goes up to the summit, or you can carve your own, but either way the views are spectacular and solid footwear essential (yes, even on the path). It’s a very doable, enjoyable classic hillside hike and a great way to see the city from a new angle while getting your limbs freed up from desk work.
If you’d like to work up to a challenge, the Scottish Highlands could fit the bill perfectly. The path up Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, will pique adventurous and seasoned hikers’ interests. The 10-mile route is a full day hike (about 7-9 hours, depending on your speed and how often you stop for snacks) from its base near the town of Fort William and relatively steep. Ben Nevis reaches a height of 4409 feet, so you’d be wise to pack layers and check weather reports in advance. But with a bit of training and a healthy dose of can-do spirit, the hike is worth it — especially when you can say, “I’m the king of the castle!” at the highest point in all of Britain.
Another item to keep you focused on your New Year’s resolutions and not on the dreary gray skies: Plan a cycling tour in the UK. You can tie it in with a Scottish Highlands adventure and explore beautiful craggy countryside. Endless areas of England are easy to tour by bike, especially given the Sustrans national cycle network, which allows cyclists to crisscross the country in relative peace. The gorgeous Lake District in the north is appealing for those seeking rolling hills, broad vistas and, of course, lakes.
Those looking to try something a little different with a variety of scenery should look into planning a cycling trip to the small towns and wandering hills of Wales. Here, hundreds of miles of traffic-free routes are great for both families and distance cyclists.
So don’t fret. Winter won’t be here forever, and the harder you work now, the more you’ll have earned that trip to the UK to try surfing on a golden coast, golfing in the sport's birthplace, or seeing life from a bike saddle or the top of the world.
by Leigh Bryant