Sheffield named best value for a city break in the UK

The survey was conducted in twenty British cities by TripAdvisor. The travel website compared the costs of a night for two in a four star hotel in August, a meal at a restaurant and a short taxi ride. The Scottish capital came in at the most expensive at £330 per night, above Cambridge at £277 and London at £267. In Edinburgh the hotel alone cost £233, more than cost of an entire night at the top thirteen cheapest cities.

 

At the other end of the list, Sheffield has become the most affordable overnight destination at only £154 per night. The bargain holiday destination of choice in Britain replaced Nottingham which occupied the position last year but has since climbed to eighth. Birmingham (£166), Cardiff (£173) and Newcastle upon Tyne (£176) sit at second, third and fourth respectively.

TripAdvisor spokesman James Kay said: ‘For travellers planning a UK break over the upcoming bank holiday weekend, heading north will generally offer the best value for an evening out and overnight stay.’

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Why are UK rail fares so expensive?

Today’s announcement that regulated rail fares will be increased by as much as 5.6 per cent next year is another blow for rail commuters. If you compare this figure to real wages (which have decreased by 0.2 per cent over the last three months) it’s pretty clear that our privatised rail model is broken. It’s been argued however, that a publicly owned rail system could save £1.2 billion a year. This could be used to cut fares by 18 per cent across the board. It would be more efficient, cheaper, greener network that the nation could be proud of.

Since privatisation, the average price of a train journey has increased by 22 per cent and walk-on tickets on some routes have been hiked by a huge 245 per cent. With figures like these it’s not hard to imagine railways becoming the preserve of the rich.

Compared with our European neighbours, the high price of rail fares in the UK seems ludicrous. A study by the TUC looked at the cost of UK rail commutes against similar European journeys. It compared the St Albans to London St Pancras season ticket with similar journeys in Germany, France and Spain and found that we’re paying three times more of our salary just to get to work and back. A recent Passenger Focus survey showed only 45 per cent of passengers believed their train service provides value for money. So it’s clear that we have a problem. But how did we get here and how can we turn things around?

Since British Rail was privatised in 1993, rail services in the UK have been provided by private companies. Rail companies then bid for the right to operate services, a costly, difficult and ultimately, unnecessary procedure. According to Christian Wolmar, transport expert: “No other country in the world runs its railways in this bizarre way and the process in Britain has led to instability and uncertainty in an industry that thrives on consistent and long-term thinking.”



To understand why things have got this bad you have to look at a couple of major flaws in the model of privatised rail. Firstly, lack of competition. Genuinely competitive markets can drive down prices but only if there is genuine choice. As most rail commuters around the UK will tell you, they have one option to get to work so there is no real competition in our rail system. If you’re let down by bad service you can’t commute with an alternative rail provider, you can’t ‘vote with your feet’.

Secondly, the funding model of privatised railways is based on a fiction. The costs of running a ‘public service railway’ are not covered by the fares alone and never will be. So to ensure that railways fulfil certain public service obligations the Government has subsidised train operating companies, but this is not a sustainable funding solution.

When it comes to subsidies, what goes in one end can often seem to come straight out of the other, from taxpayers straight into the pockets of shareholders. For example, between 1997 and 2012 on the West Coast Mainline, Virgin Trains paid out a total of £500 million in dividends, having received a direct subsidy of £2.5 billion.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel and we don’t have to look very far to find it. The inability of two train operators to continue operating the East Coast mainline meant the Government had to step in. A publicly owned operating company, Directly Operated Railways or East Coast took over the route.

Since then East Coast has received £0.46 of government funding per passenger mile, compared to £4.57 on West Coast. At the same time, East Coast returns the highest level of premium back to the Government. Since 2009, it has returned over £1 billion to the Government. This is more than Virgin on West Coast and more than National Express paid while it was running the East Coast service. It also receives far less in indirect subsidy through Network Grant than West Coast.

East Coast also shows that performance and customer service can be improved by a publicly owned railway; it has been the recipient of 35 industry awards and in a recent Passenger Focus survey East Coast has a passenger satisfaction rating of 92 per cent, higher than the 89 per cent for all long distance operators and the highest customer satisfaction rating of any operator ever holding the East Coast franchise. It has just recorded the highest level of ‘employee engagement’ in franchise history, at 71 per cent and sickness absence has been reduced by a third since 2009.

The fact that East Coast has returned over £1 billion for the taxpayer is good news for the public – and those that travel on this part of the network. The trouble is that the rest of us are often subject to substandard service and rocketing prices. The only sustainable alternative is a completely joined up, public system. It’s easy and cheap to do; as each franchise expires the route could be returned to the public.

Joe Cox is Research Co-ordinator for the Compass pressure group

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Wildlife Weekend: Britain’s skies are abuzz with beautiful dragonflies

Wat Tyler Country Park in Essex is the most reliable site for southern migrant hawker. This large dragonfly, with electric-blue eyes, first bred in Britain in 2010 and has the merest toe-hold in the country. Look for it above ponds or ditches, along the entrance road. While you search, check for scarce emerald damselfly in sedges lining the pools. While no newcomer, this metallic-green damsel is nationally threatened. Commoner dragonflies include migrant hawker and ruddy and common darters.

Then drive south and head into north Kent. Pass the afternoon at RSPB Cliffe Pools. Common dragonflies abound, but a trio of rarities share top billing. It is a stronghold for scarce emerald damselfly,and it has become Britain’s most reliable site for southern emerald damselfly, a verdant species that colonised in 2010. Amazingly, the vicinity sometimes also hosts southern migrant hawker.

Start the next morning on the Isle of Sheppey for the rarest of the magnificent seven. After an assumed absence from Britain of nearly 60 years, dainty damselfly was rediscovered here in 2010. This tiny, feeble-flying damselfly has the most precarious grasp on British terrain.

More reliable is willow emerald damselfly south of Reculver. With only three records in Britain before 2009, an amazing 400 were found that year at 35 sites in East Anglia. Look on the channels themselves for small red-eyed damselfly.

Hence to Sandwich Bay on the Isle of Thanet. Restharrow Scrape, 1km south of the bird observatory, is one of the most reliable British sites for red-veined darter.  Also here should be brown hawker, black-tailed skimmer and red-eyed damselfly.

For your final dragonfly rarity, journey south to Dungeness. First recorded in Britain in 1996, lesser emperor breeds now at the Long Pits. Seeing this imperial immigrant would provide a remarkable finale  to a weekend searching for the magnificent seven.

This is an edited extract from 52 Wildlife Weekends by James Lowen, published by Bradt. IoS readers can buy a copy for just £7.79 (inc UK pp) by visiting bradtguides.com and using the discount code 52WW. Offer valid until 31 Janurary 2015

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Journey to the edge of Britain: Lewis and Harris island

Her voice is soft as rain, swooping as a seabird, rooted in the traditions of the Hebrides. When she stops, the audience rise to their feet in a breaking wave of fierce applause.

The Mischa Macpherson Trio have come to Stornoway for the Hebridean Celtic Festival, an annual gathering of the music and people of the Outer Hebrides. And I have come too, in this year of Scotland’s independence referendum, to enter the Gaelic world of the largest island: Lewis and Harris, a single landmass adrift in the North Atlantic, the very edge of Britishness.

“This is the loveliest island in the world,” says Mischa over a coffee after her show. She’s only 20 but has already won the Radio 2 Young Folk Award and studied music in Helsinki. “I’m so thankful I was brought up here. You feel so close to nature and wildlife – it’s stunningly beautiful. You could be 80 and living here and you’d still appreciate it.”

Stornoway is the island’s tiny capital and next morning I wander its granite streets, past the harbour lined with fishermen in yellow oilskins, heaving nets and chatting in Gaelic. Somewhere a bagpipe plays. Between chippies and craftshops, I spot the “Yes” campaign office and wander in. I’m buttonholed by Ian Martin, who tells me about the Highland clearances and the Battle of Culloden. “I’m not against the English,” he warns, “but we don’t need Westminster. I’d rather have Brussels. We want to make our own decisions. We want Scotland to be part of the global village.”

Next door, I find a place to try another kind of local identity – the food. Digby Chick is the best restaurant on the island, its tables crammed with noisy local families. I order a fabulous starter of smoked mackerel mousse with earthy cubes of beetroot, then a platter of locally caught seafood – scallops, salmon, herring and hake. Washed down with a glass of chablis, it’s a sparkling introduction to the pleasures of island life.

Further pleasures await down the street, in a contemporary tweed shop called By Rosie. Harris Tweed is enjoying a fashion moment, turning up on everything from Dr Martens boots and Nike trainers to Chanel jackets (Vivienne Westwood has long been a fan). And Rosie Wiscombe, in her elegant workshop, makes it into the prettiest purses, handbags and even hoodies.


Stornoway is the islands tiny capital and next morning I wander its granite streets, past the harbour lined with fishermen in yellow oilskins, heaving nets and chatting in GaelicStornoway is the island’s tiny capital and next morning I wander its granite streets, past the harbour lined with fishermen in yellow oilskins, heaving nets and chatting in Gaelic

“Tweed is great to work with, it’s got such personality,” she smiles. “Look at this piece, it’s a riot of pinks and greens and blues. And I’m inspired by the landscape. One of my colour schemes has greys and blues for Stornoway harbour. Another is called Beach, for the sea, the sand and the orange flowers.”

Looking for some sea and sand, I drive out of Stornoway, west across Lewis. The road crosses vast bogs where peat is being cut for fuel, reminding me of the peat-bog burials of Ireland and Denmark, where ancient people believed these waterlands were a meeting point of Heaven and Earth. Perhaps they were right.

Then the road becomes a single lane twisting among lochs and hills to a wild shore. This is where Britain ends. I park at the sweeping sands of Uig beach, the loveliest on Lewis. Here, in 1831, a crofter found the Lewis Chessmen – 78 pieces carved from walrus tusks by Norsemen.

Along the bay is the islands’ only distillery, Abhainn Dearg. It’s a clutter of sheds beside the Red River, so-called because it once ran red with blood in a skirmish with Viking invaders – an earlier independence struggle.

Joni MacDonald shows me the still room and pours a dram of whisky. It tastes a little young but has the smoke and singe of the real thing. Joni sighs. “I was brought up in the next village. It was good, we were free, we had the luxury of the hills and the sea. I went away to the mainland for 30 years to work as a nurse. But now I’m back.”

I drive along the ragged coast to Gearrannan for the night. Here, an abandoned village of traditional blackhouses has been restored as holiday lets. They look like Hobbit homes, half-sunk into the ground to escape the winter gales, their thatch held down by ropes. One is kept as it was in the 1950s.

There’s peat in the hearth, a bed in the living room and a Bible on the shelf. A family tree on the wall dates back to Donald Macleod of 1775: that’s 30 years after the Battle of Culloden. The last villagers left in 1974, but at the top of the lane I meet a man whose mother was born here. “I remember visiting the last two old ladies who lived here,” he says. “In the end they were happy to go. There was no running water, no sanitation, no one left. It was time to leave.”

Next morning, in search of living heritage, I visit a tweed maker in the village of Carloway. Norman Mackenzie is a grey-haired man who learnt the craft as a boy by watching his uncle in the weaving shed where we meet today. He sits at a Hattersley loom from the 1950s and clatters it into life by pedalling.

As the shuttle whizzes, he explains how the fabric has to be spun, dyed and woven entirely by hand, in cottages on the islands, to receive its coveted label. “The biggest buyers are Japanese. They like that it’s a hand-woven fabric made for hundreds of years on the edge of the world, a quality product with all this history.”

There’s more history down the road at Callanish, where the grandest prehistoric site in Scotland is a rival to Stonehenge. High on a hill, above a lake ringed by sacred sites, Iron Age farmers built a magnificent stone circle 5,000 years ago. It’s guarded by a line of granite slabs twice the height of a man and twisted by the wind.

At its centre broods a 20ft monolith, like an old man from another time. Beneath it is a pit where human bones were found. I step down into the hollow and look back up. I see sky and stones, the ancient silhouettes encircling me with their stillness and strength. In the distance I glimpse a mountain range the locals call Cailleach na Mointeach, the Old Woman of the Moors, because it looks like a woman lying asleep. She is perhaps a memory of the cult of Mother Earth.

It’s time to go deeper into the Hebrides. I turn the car south and head for Harris, the wilder land below Lewis. Mountains surge around the road. A stag with massive antlers leaps away. Eriskay ponies graze the moor, tiny as the Viking ponies of Iceland. Then the road curves round a glittering sea-loch and into Tarbert, the hamlet where I will stay tonight.

Astonishingly, beside the empty harbour and sleepy houses I find the Hotel Hebrides, a boutique place whose bar and restaurant are crowded with locals and tourists. It’s a tiny outpost of contemporary style, the bedrooms form a sumptuous picture of charcoal walls and satin fabrics.

I settle into its restaurant and attack a bowl of seafood chowder, rich with the briny, earthy, metallic tang of mussels, scallops and langoustines, like a bucket of the sea itself. I finish off with a single malt, whose honeyed smoke wafts me up to a silky bed.

My last day on the island is a long and elemental journey to the southern tip of Harris, over high moorland to a plunging road between mountains and sea. The colours are indeed those of the tweed – purple heather, granite hills, copper beaches, pewter skyline. The waters shift from jade to sapphire to amethyst.

At Luskentyre, I walk on a beach that may be the finest in Britain, a vast stretch of sand and shallows where light and wind dance across high dunes and seabirds soar. At Scarista, I find a single standing stone among wildflowers by the sea, watching over a world it has known for thousands of years.


The coastline near Luskentyre, Harris, Outer HebridesThe coastline near Luskentyre, Harris, Outer Hebrides

I end my journey at Rodel, the southern point of Harris, where a medieval church tower offers astounding views of islands running further south, layer after layer, fading into the silver horizon. From here the Hebrides stretch for another 100 miles, smaller and remoter, linked to the outer world by ferries. At their southern tip, the people speak Gaelic as a mother tongue and are Catholics, because the Protestant Reformation never reached there.

But the Vikings did – and the ancient Irish and modern Europe – and I realise that these islands belong to a northern world with different allegiances and stories to those I know in England. They reach seawards in layers of place and time, history and people, and outwards in their hopes for the future.

No wonder they are debating whether finally to go their own way this September.

Getting there

Jonathan Lorie travelled with Visit Scotland (visitscotland.com). He  flew with Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com), which serves Stornoway from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. Eastern Airways (0870  366 9100; easternairways.com) flies from Aberdeen.

You can also reach Lewis and Harris on Caledonian MacBrayne ferries (0800 066 5000; calmac.co.uk):  from Ullapool to Stornoway or from Uig (Skye) to Tarbert.

Staying there

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village on Lewis (01851 643416; gearrannan .com) has houses from £50 per night for two people and a hostel from £15pp per night. Hotel Hebrides on Harris (01859 502364; hotel-hebrides .com) has double rooms from £130.

Visting there

Digby Chick Restaurant, Stornoway (01851 700026; digbychick.co.uk); lunch menu £13.50.

By Rosie (01851 701622;  byrosie.co.uk).

Norman Mackenzie at Carloway Harris Tweeds (01851 643413).

More information

visitouterhebrides.co.uk.

The Hebridean Celtic Festival takes place in July (hebceltfest.com) and Hebtember is in September  (hebtember.co.uk).

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Seaside stay: A tired guesthouse on Regency Square has been transformed by two young, creative hoteliers

That was until 2008, when twenty-something Justin Salisbury became an accidental hotelier. It all came about after his mother, owner of a rather tired seaside guesthouse named The Malvern, was injured in an accident involving a bus, forcing Justin to quit university in order to help out with the family business.

However, after spending time serving guests amid brown carpets, net curtains and Seventies-style woodchip wallpaper with his partner Charlotte Newey, Justin decided a change was needed. Rather than opt for a traditional makeover though, the couple invited local artists to use the hotel as a blank canvas and over time collected a range of modern prints from nearby galleries to hang on the walls. The result became the Artist Residence, which has since spawned an outpost in Penzance, with a third addition coming to London’s Pimlico this month.

THE BED

The property sits at the top end of Regency Square, with views of Brighton’s seaside and the skeleton of the West Pier from its open-plan breakfast and reception room. The only thing to distract you from such a plum location is the art: a trio of full-wall prints by Brighton-based artist, Bonnie and Clyde, lines one wall; David Spiller’s Love is the Light depicts the Disney character Goofy on another; and a screen print of Audrey Hepburn by street artist, Pure Evil, sits by the entrance.

This space leads through to what was, until 2012, the George Hotel – an adjoining property that Justin and Charlotte acquired and rebranded as an extension, adding a further eight “House” rooms to take the total up to 23.

I was in a large suite – B2 – in the original part of the BB, which had a separate bedroom and living area, fitted with four fold-down bunk beds for larger groups. Peeling paint, distressed mirrors and reclaimed floorboards created a consciously unfinished feel. For sea views and a private balcony, choose room 2 or 3.

THE BREAKFAST

Grab the papers and settle down at one of the long communal wooden benches, lined with old school chairs. The menu ranges from a Mini Full English, with eggs, streaky bacon and chipolatas from the Brighton Sausage Company; to American pancakes, with spiced berry compôte and a dollop of Greek yogurt. I went for the pan-fried mushrooms and halloumi with vine-roasted tomatoes and an English muffin.

There’s also the Cocktail Shack, with interiors created from reclaimed wood from the West Pier, which serves Aperol caipirinhas and more from 5pm.


Artist Residence, B  B BrightonArtist Residence, B B Brighton

THE HOSTS

… were absent for the weekend, which didn’t matter. The BB functions more like a hotel anyway, with a team of young, enthusiastic staff on hand to offer recommendations and directions. Scattered around the reception area, you’ll also find handy fold-out business cards, which point towards the best bars, galleries and restaurants, plus miniature Rough Guides of the city, which are free to pick up and take away.

THE WEEKEND

Start in the Lanes by browsing the city’s one-off boutiques: try Sass Belle (01273 204927; sassandbelle .co.uk) for vintage gifts; Abode (01273 621116; abodeliving.co.uk) for homewares; and Art Republic (01273 766360; artrepublic.com) to replicate the look at the Artist Residence.

For clothes, seek out upmarket Tribeca (01273 673 755; tribeca- brighton.co.uk) and Sixties-centric Starfish (01273 680 868).

Finally, rummage through the maze of antiques and bric-a-brac that is Snoopers Paradise (01273 602 558) before dropping into Komedia (0845 293 8480; komedia.co.uk) for its must-see Krater Comedy Club, which has five shows a week (Thursday to Sunday).

THE PIT-STOP

To get a flavour of what the new Artist Residence in London will be like, drop into 64 Degrees (01273 770 115; 64deg rees.co.uk). Justin has teamed up with this high-concept eatery on Meeting House Lane to introduce a restaurant at the Pimlico property – transforming the success of the two previous BBs into a fully-fledged boutique hotel.

In the Brighton restaurant, diners sit at high tables surrounding a frenetic open kitchen, as a team of chefs serves up tapas-style small plates such as scallops with land cress and lardo (£9).

THE ESSENTIALS

Artist Residence, 33 Regency Square, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 2GG (01273 324302; artistresidence.co.uk). Doubles start at £65, including breakfast.

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Paragliding over the South Downs: The only way to learn how to fly is to jump off

But here I am, floating like a cloud above the Sussex countryside, completely on my own after barely a morning’s tuition. How did this happen?

An upwards glance reassures me that the massive material wing is still there as I glide through the air at the civilised pace of 25kmph. From my harness I can see the rolling hills of the South Downs fading into the distance. It’s idyllic, though the instructor on the ground is a touch distracting. He’s punching and pulling at the air, demanding I mirror his movements to land in the right place. But I can’t take my eyes off the view.

“Don’t mind him,” says Steve afterwards, owner and chief instructor at Airworks Paragliding School, as I bundle up the strings and canopy to hike back to the top of the hill. “That’s just John. He loves shouting.”

I’m on a paragliding introduction day: a two-hour safety and equipment briefing at the Airworks HQ, before being driven to a hillside near Lewes to try out our flying machines.

My fellow flyers are similarly nervous about flying solo. “We offer tandem flights,” says Steve, “but I think flying on your own is more rewarding.”

He’s not wrong. On my first attempt, I run down the hill, pulling on the strings of the wing until it arcs up and rests over my head. Once it’s up in the air, held aloft by a gentle breeze, I get it moving forward by bending over double and jumping in large, bouncing strides. It’s not easy, but as the hill drops away, and my kangaroo jumps increase in speed and length, my feet are lifted gently into the air. Steering the “wing” is fairly straightforward.

Pull the cord towards your left shoulder to turn left, pull right to turn right and pull both together to lose speed and altitude. My flight is over 100 metres long and at least 10 metres in the air. I’d go higher with a tandem flight (hundreds if not thousands of metres into the air) but for a first solo attempt, it’s far higher than I was expecting.

As I land gently on the ground, the desire to get back to the top of the slope to repeat the jump is overwhelming. I can see why paragliding is an addictive sport.  “People often seem surprised that you fly on your first day,” says Steve. “But the only way to learn is to get up that hill and jump off it.”

Airworks is one of 11 companies flying over the South Downs; it’s the least-windy part of the country, making it perfect for flying clubs. It’s gentle, but exhilarating and a great way to conquer your fears.

Taster sessions with Airworks Paragliding Centre (01273 434 002; airworks.co.uk) cost £115 with transport and equipment.

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Where to visit in Scotland: From Edinburgh Festival to the Isle of Staffa

Decorated with glens, lochs, and castles, the varied landscapes of Scotland will always make for excellent travelling destinations. It’s worth packing a tent and swimming gear so you have the option to pitch up in one of Scotland’s numerous area of breath-taking natural beauty. Up in the Highlands, and especially in the islands of the Outer Hebrides, it’s hard to believe you are in the British Isles at all. In fact Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming: Hidden Beaches, says that the white sandy coastlines of Uist, Lewis and South Harris were once mistakenly used in a Thai tourist brochure.

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Wild ponds to water slides: Five ways to enjoy swimming in Britain

A pool with a view

Plying the cool waters of Ilkley Lido (01943 600453; ilkleylido.co.uk; adults £5.70; concessions £2.80), soaking up verdant views of Ilkley Moor, it’s easy to slip into a blissful blur, even during the busy summer holidays. With tennis and bowls offered beyond the poolside, as well as a café and picnic area, you could happily spend the whole day here. But if you have reserves of energy, follow up your dip with a stroll on the moor (ilkleymoor.org/walks), then amble back into town for afternoon tea at Betty’s (01943 608029; bettys.co.uk).

In with the tide

Rock pooling takes a different context at Bude Sea Pool (budeseapool.net; admission free). Built in 1930, the tidal pool is cut into the Cornish coastline. As the pool fills at high tide and warms throughout the day, it offers a sheltered, less bracing alternative to braving the Atlantic waves. It’s also one of few remaining tidal pools in Britain. The ASA (swimming.org/asa) is offering free improver swimming lessons at the pool for seven to 14-year-olds on various dates until 26 August (bookings: 07508 737570).



The Bude Sea Pool, CornwallThe Bude Sea Pool, Cornwall (Alamy)

A freshwater dip

Llyn Gwynant delivers on top-quality swimming and stunning scenery: this vast lake in the Nant Gwynant valley is surrounded by the green slopes of Snowdonia. Cool Camping (coolcamping.co.uk) recommends the Llyn Gwynant campsite (01766 890302) at the northern tip of the lake as “one of Britain’s best for an activity-based family”. The campsite offers kayaking and canoeing on the water and there’s a wood-fired pizza stall nearby; pitches from £8 per person per night. On hot days, cool off by easing yourself into the water (both ends are shallow) to glide across to “Elephants Rock”.

Fast and furious

Rush ‘n’ Rampage. The Master Blaster Water Coaster. Flash Flood. You get the idea – Alton Towers waterpark (0871 222 9901; altontowers.com/waterpark) offers high-octane thrills and plenty of splash action. Bolstering the indoor pool offering are flumes, slides, rapids and water features that range from the lazy river to a waterborne rollercoaster. Tickets cost £16.50 adult, £11.75 under-12s but are slightly cheaper if you book online. The adjoining Splash Landings Hotel is a Caribbean-themed retreat where packages start at £260 for a night’s BB in a family room with two days’ admission to the waterpark for four.

Cast away

The waters off the coast of Achmelvich are recommended by Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming: Hidden Beaches (wildswimming.co.uk). In this unspoilt corner of the Scottish Highlands there are a number of secluded, white sand spots to choose from, including a near-turquoise bay that shelves gently down from the shoreline. Access is by single-track road (three miles from Lochinver) so the area rarely gets crowded. Stay at Hillhead Caravans (01571 844206; achmelvich-holidays.co.uk; from £280 per week self-catering) next to the bay then head down to the water for swims at sunrise or sunset.

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Top places to swim in the UK – from wild ponds to water slides

A pool with a view

Plying the cool waters of Ilkley Lido (01943 600453; ilkleylido.co.uk; adults £5.70; concessions £2.80), soaking up verdant views of Ilkley Moor, it’s easy to slip into a blissful blur, even during the busy summer holidays. With tennis and bowls offered beyond the poolside, as well as a café and picnic area, you could happily spend the whole day here. But if you have reserves of energy, follow up your dip with a stroll on the moor (ilkleymoor.org/walks), then amble back into town for afternoon tea at Betty’s (01943 608029; bettys.co.uk).

In with the tide

Rock pooling takes a different context at Bude Sea Pool (budeseapool.net; admission free). Built in 1930, the tidal pool is cut into the Cornish coastline. As the pool fills at high tide and warms throughout the day, it offers a sheltered, less bracing alternative to braving the Atlantic waves. It’s also one of few remaining tidal pools in Britain. The ASA (swimming.org/asa) is offering free improver swimming lessons at the pool for seven to 14-year-olds on various dates until 26 August (bookings: 07508 737570).



The Bude Sea Pool, CornwallThe Bude Sea Pool, Cornwall (Alamy)

A freshwater dip

Llyn Gwynant delivers on top-quality swimming and stunning scenery: this vast lake in the Nant Gwynant valley is surrounded by the green slopes of Snowdonia. Cool Camping (coolcamping.co.uk) recommends the Llyn Gwynant campsite (01766 890302) at the northern tip of the lake as “one of Britain’s best for an activity-based family”. The campsite offers kayaking and canoeing on the water and there’s a wood-fired pizza stall nearby; pitches from £8 per person per night. On hot days, cool off by easing yourself into the water (both ends are shallow) to glide across to “Elephants Rock”.

Fast and furious

Rush ‘n’ Rampage. The Master Blaster Water Coaster. Flash Flood. You get the idea – Alton Towers waterpark (0871 222 9901; altontowers.com/waterpark) offers high-octane thrills and plenty of splash action. Bolstering the indoor pool offering are flumes, slides, rapids and water features that range from the lazy river to a waterborne rollercoaster. Tickets cost £16.50 adult, £11.75 under-12s but are slightly cheaper if you book online. The adjoining Splash Landings Hotel is a Caribbean-themed retreat where packages start at £260 for a night’s BB in a family room with two days’ admission to the waterpark for four.

Cast away

The waters off the coast of Achmelvich are recommended by Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming: Hidden Beaches (wildswimming.co.uk). In this unspoilt corner of the Scottish Highlands there are a number of secluded, white sand spots to choose from, including a near-turquoise bay that shelves gently down from the shoreline. Access is by single-track road (three miles from Lochinver) so the area rarely gets crowded. Stay at Hillhead Caravans (01571 844206; achmelvich-holidays.co.uk; from £280 per week self-catering) next to the bay then head down to the water for swims at sunrise or sunset.

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From Edinburgh Festival to the Isle of Staffa: Where to visit in Scotland

Decorated with glens, lochs, and castles, the varied landscapes of Scotland will always make for excellent travelling destinations. It’s worth packing a tent and swimming gear so you have the option to pitch up in one of Scotland’s numerous area of breath-taking natural beauty. Up in the Highlands, and especially in the islands of the Outer Hebrides, it’s hard to believe you are in the British Isles at all. In fact Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming: Hidden Beaches, says that the white sandy coastlines of Uist, Lewis and South Harris were once mistakenly used in a Thai tourist brochure.

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