Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Jun 17, 2016

Exactly what they say they are, AONB are landscapes whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so precious that it is in the nation's interest to safeguard them. Visit them all to experience Britain's most luscious, living, working landscapes.

Dramatic coast - Causeway Coast, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

  Eighteen miles of spectacular coastal scenery with dramatic cliffs, sandy beaches and dark volcanic rocks aren't even the most memorable part of Northern Ireland's Causeway Coast. The area is also home to the Giant's Causeway (Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site) - a place where geology, history and old Irish legends merge - and whose dramatic landscape made it the perfect location for filming of popular TV series Game of Thrones . Discover small harbours, fisheries and farms along the coastline on a road trip of a lifetime, stopping off along the way to spot wildlife on the offshore islands and rocks. www.causewaycoastandglens.com

  Getting there: Belfast is approximately 1.5 hours by car.

  Where to stay: Luxury four-star boutique hotel, The Bushmills Inn, is a great base from which to explore gorgeous beaches, hike in unspoilt countryside or play golf on some of Ireland's finest courses before relaxing in front of an open fire. www.bushmillsinn.com

Adventure seekers' dream - Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland

  Twelve glorious peaks, including Northern Ireland's highest mountain, the 850 metre high Slieve Donard, combine to make the Mourne Mountains the mountain biking capital of Ireland. Boasting two national mountain biking centres and excellent cycling trails encompassing famous lakes, a stunning Victorian Castle, incredible panoramic views and flowing singletracks make it a must-visit for mountain bikers of all ages and abilities. Walkers, climbers and horse-riders also love exploring the area's rivers, lakes and reservoirs, while at the top of the adventure scale the Life multi-activity centre offers bouldering, canoeing, kayaking, climbing walls, archery and laser clay pigeon shooting.

  Getting there: The Mourne Mountains are in County Down, only an hour's drive from Belfast.

  Where to stay: Mountain biking groups will love the comfort of a self-catering cottage after an energetic day cycling the Rostrevor Mountain Bike Trails. Choose from child- (and dog!) friendly cottages in varying sizes - all with added Irish charm. www.rostrevorholidays.com

Wildlife watchers - Strangford and Lecale, Northern Ireland

  One of Europe's most important wildlife sites and representing the largest sea lough (lake) in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Strangford is known for its exposed coast and sheltered bays - a natural haven for its rich variety of species. The coastal area extends inland by Quoile River, dominated by the historical town of Downpatrick, and then south along the shore of the Irish Sea. Surrounded by picturesque towns, pretty villages and historic sites, the contrast between the expansive open waters and the surrounding hills is an experience never to be forgotten.   

  Getting there: Strangford and Lecale are in County Down, Northern Ireland, easily accessible by bus from Belfast.

  Where to stay: Anna's House bed and breakfast is a spacious, eco-friendly country house set in gardens with views over a lake from a glass-walled extension. Warm hospitality and home baked bread add to its charm. www.annashouse.com

  Romantic riverside retreat - Wye Valley, Monmouthshire, south-east Wales

  William Wordsworth sighed over its "steep woods, lofty cliffs and green pastoral landscape", while JMW Turner immortalised it in his paintings. Over two centuries later, the Wye Valley is still as enchanting as ever. Particularly beautiful in spring as buds are beginning to bloom, and unforgettable for the rich colours of ash, beech and oak come autumn, Wye Valley is one of Britain's finest riverside landscapes. Attracting canoeists, climbers and riders, the stretch of the River Wye between Monmouth and Tintern is serenely romantic with mist rising over the water on crisp autumn mornings.  

  Getting there: Lying on the border between Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, Wye Valley is approximately 1.5 hours' drive from Birmingham and three hours from London.

  Where to stay: Hafod Glan Gwy (meaning summer house by the river) is a stylish cabin complete with faux fur throws, a wood burning stove, floor to ceiling windows and private patio by the River Wye. www.sheepskinlife.com

Sun, surf and salty air - Gower, south Wales

  With cliffs and woodlands ringed by sparkling beaches, Gower is adored by walkers, birdwatchers, sunbathers and surfers. Rhossili, a three-mile stretch of gleaming white sand, is the pride of the Gower Peninsula and - when conditions are right - you'll find some of the best surf in Wales off Gower's beaches and bays. Looping network of lanes, cycle routes and footpaths lead through breezy coastal landscapes scented with bracken, sea salt and wild garlic, while hours can be spent spotting blackcaps, warblers and goldcrests in the woodlands.  

  Getting there: Within easy reach of the busy urban areas around Llanelli and Port Talbot, Gower is only five miles from Swansea city centre, 3.5 hours by train from London.

  Where to stay: Self-catering with style, The Towers (the lodge at the gates to Penrice Castle above Oxwich Bay) has a turreted bedroom and access to acres of parkland. www.penricecastle.co.uk

Family fun - Llŷn Peninsula, north-west Wales

  Tucked away beyond Snowdonia's craggiest peaks with the Irish Sea on one side and Cardigan Bay on the other, the Llŷn has a distinctive, unspoilt character. The AONB protects around a quarter of the area, including wild stretches of coast, long-extinct volcanic peaks and grassy hillsides dotted with Iron Age forts. Its sunny southern coast draws walkers and wakeboarders but it's the Llŷn's family-friendly resorts and laidback beaches that draw visitors every summer. Pwllheli and Abersoch are both busy sailing towns, which host Wakestock every July, a youth-friendly festival of wakeboarding and pop music, and an annual Regatta in August complete with dinghy races, crab-catching, sandcastle-building and beachhut-decorating.

  Getting there: Llŷn Peninsula is in north-west Wales. The A55 road provides a quick and easy route along the north Wales coast from Chester to Bangor and the M54 and A5 roads through the scenic heartland of North Wales give the best route from Midlands and southern England. Manchester, in the north-west of England is approximately 2.5 hours by car.

  Where to stay: A good budget option for families, the Glan Morfa Ganol converted stable and barn cottages are located on a working farm in Pwellheli and has a children's play area plus easy access to the beach. www.stayinwales.co.uk

Picturesque villages - The Chiltern Hills, south-east England

  Gentle rolling chalk hills dotted with agriculture woodlands, hedgerows and small traditional English towns and villages make the Chilterns the perfect place to unwind in picture-postcard surroundings. Explore the region's pretty villages on foot, stopping along the way in a traditional English pub after an amble through woodlands dotted with bluebells. Be sure to visit the beautiful village of Turville, home to the windmill in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and explore castle remains, manor houses and gardens along the way. 

Getting there: The Chilterns fall within four of the central-southern English counties: Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, and are approximately two hours by train from London.

  Where to stay: For a good mid-price option, check in to the Stag & Huntsman B&B in Hambleden, a lovely pub in the heart of one of the prettiest villages in Britain that has good-value double rooms within staggering distance after indulging in too much hearty pub grub. www.thestagandhuntsman.co.uk

Quirky and remote - Northumberland Coast, north-east England

  This bright, wild, lonely coast sweeps along some of Britain's finest beaches and is internationally noted for its wildlife. The AONB, a narrow coastal strip, stretches from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Amble and is the perfect spot to explore miles of beautiful beaches and dunes. Explore Lindisfarne and its treacherous inter-tidal flats, the small islands and rocks of the Farne Islands and the protected sea bird sanctuary further out from the coast, as well as the dramatic setting for Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castles, before dining on fresh potted crab from the harbour village of Craster.

  Getting there: Northumberland is located in north-east England, with the nearest major city being Newcastle upon Tyne, approximately two hours by train from Edinburgh and three hours from London.

  Where to stay: For something a little different to camping, get comfortable in a wigwam on a camping site just over half a mile from the sea and a mile from the village of Seahouses. Including all the mod-cons, the wooden holiday homes are inspired by the upturned boat sheds at nearby Holy Island and offer a novel way to enjoy a seaside holiday. www.springhill-farm.co.uk

Luxury lodging in a celebrity hideout - The Cotswolds, south-west England

  With its honey coloured cottages, sleepy country pubs, and gently sloping green hills, The Cotswolds is Britain's largest designated area of natural beauty. A world away from the hustle and bustle of London, it is a favourite rural retreat of celebrities including supermodel Kate Moss and her friend fashion designer Stella McCartney, film stars Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley and artist Damien Hirst.

  Getting there: Motorways make the Cotswolds, in the south-west of England, accessible to visitors from Bristol, London and the West Midlands (central England). Trains from London run regularly to Cotswold stations with most journeys taking between one to two hours.

  Where to stay: Dormy House boutique hotel is a 17th-century farmhouse given a 21st-century twist with retro-chic rooms reflecting the hotel's cosmopolitan clientele. Enjoy the nearby Broadway Golf Club and the locally lauded country pub. www.dormyhouse.co.uk

Eco-retreat - Dumfries & Galloway, south-west Scotland

  Dumfries and Galloway is home to three of Scotland's National Scenic Areas (the Scottish equivalent of an AONB) including the Nith Estuary, the East Stewartry Coast and the Fleet Valley. Experience the history, wildlife, farmland and views of the varied landscape, with land rising gently from the coast, through the narrow wooded valley, to the open heather clad hills. With so much to explore, there's no chance of getting bored.

  Getting there: Dumfries And Galloway is in the south-western corner of Scotland, approximately one hour's drive from central Glasgow and about 1.5 hours from Edinburgh.

  Where to stay: 3Glens is an eco-friendly B&B with a wall of windows that open on to spectacular views across the three glens (hence the name!) of Dla What, Castlefern and Craigdarroch. Expect full Scottish breakfast and luxurious bedrooms. www.3glens.com

 

Magnificent mountains - Ben Nevis, Scottish Highlands

The highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis stands 1,344 metres above sea level in the Scottish Highlands, close to the town of Fort William. Popular with walkers (though the mountain's quickly changing climate means the mountain is intolerant of inexperienced or ill-prepared walkers), it provides a dramatic backdrop to the small Highland town community of Fort William - the perfect place for tea and cake after a long day's walking in the shadow of the mountain.

  Getting there: Fort William is 100 miles from Glasgow airport and 145 miles from Edinburgh.

  Where to stay: Lochy Holiday Camping and Touring Park in Fort William provides a peaceful riverside location with great views of Ben Nevis and separate pitches for tents, touring caravans and motorhomes. www.lochy-holiday-park.co.uk