Britain’s natural wonders offer a glimpse into the country’s awe-inspiring ancient past; one that created cavernous gorges, spectacular limestone amphitheatres and breathtaking chalk cliffs. These spots have fascinated visitors for centuries, so why not get dreaming of a natural wonder-inspired adventure?
Find out more about these iconic landscapes at these spectacular ancient sites, all worthy of a spot on any nature-lover's British bucket-list…
For those dreaming of tasting bracing sea air whilst looking onto a magical scene of azure blue waters, The Needles is just the place. These three jagged chalk rocks jutting from the western coast of the Isle of Wight once made up part of the headland, but over time erosion has separated them from the coast. They’re best seen from The Needles Old Battery, a Victorian fort built to protect Britain from invasion. On a clear day, the contrast between gleaming bleached rock, blue foaming water and the endless sky above is spectacular. Some of the best vistas can be enjoyed from aboard the airborne chairlift, which provides a bird’s eye view of the Alum Bay cliffs, the rock formation and the site’s impressive lighthouse – just don’t be tempted to look down!
Did you know? None of the squat forms are particularly needle-like. The name refers to two earlier members of the group that crashed into the sea after a storm in 1764.
Travellers longing to experience the stunning scenery and rugged charm of northern England can get inspired by Yorkshire’s Malham Cove, Mother Nature’s limestone amphitheatre. The curving crag of the Cove features an 80-metre high cliff that was created at the end of the last Ice Age by meltwater, which left an expansive, breathtaking cliff and plateau above. At the top of the cliff is a limestone pavement, scoured by the retreating glacier, thus creating a strangely regular feature that resembles rough paving slabs. The views from the pavement across Yorkshire are fantastic and the area is excellent for walking. The landscape should also pique the interest of bird lovers, as it is home to both Peregrine Falcons and Tawny Owls.
Did you know? Malham Cove appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.
The Dorset and East Devon Coast, also known as the Jurassic Coast, is one of Britain’s outstanding natural gems and was the first ever site to be inscribed as a 'natural' World Heritage Site. It spans 95 miles of sensational coastline all the way from East Devon to Dorset. What makes this coast so special is the way its cliff exposures provide an almost continuous geological 'walk through time' spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods - a time capsule holding 185 million years of the Earth's history. Eager adventurers can lose themselves as they imagine walking along the cliff-top paths to see some of England’s most spectacular geology including Durdle Door, the large limestone arch near Lulworth. There’s also Old Harry Rocks, a mesmerising trio of chalk formations that stand proudly on the Isle of Purbeck, marking the eastern-most point of Dorset’s coastline.
Did you know? Scenes from the Oscar Wilde biopic Wilde, starring Stephen Fry and Jude Law, were shot here.
Britain’s biggest gorge was gouged out of Somerset by meltwater floods more than one million years ago, leaving a spectacular steep-sided ravine that cleaves the countryside in two. A whopping 137-metres deep and three-miles long, Cheddar Gorge provides an expansive look into prehistoric Britain.
The gorge is an unforgettable spot for cliff-top walks, rock climbing and discovering the show caves. Home to weird and wonderful rock formations and an underground river, the caves found at Cheddar Gorge are just as much a natural wonder as the cliffs themselves. For those picturing an epic road trip around Britain, Cheddar Gorge is less than an hour from the historic cities of Bath and Bristol.
Did you know? Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, known as the Cheddar Man, was found in one of the caves here.
For those dreaming of breathtaking coastal walks and windswept views, the South of England’s white chalk cliffs offer an unmissable taste of Britain’s natural beauty. A symbol of Britain’s proud island history, some of the most dramatic white cliffs in the UK are in the Seven Sisters Country Park along the Sussex Heritage Coast.
This classic view is best enjoyed from Seaford Head, for sweeping vistas of the snow-white cliffs beyond. Over the centuries, their imposing might has repelled invaders and welcomed weary seafarers home. But the cliffs are gently eroding thanks to the elements, so why not add this historic natural landmark to the must-see list before they change?
Did you know? The cliffs appear in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and Atonement, among a host of other films.
Like discovering nature’s quirkier side? Imagine a trip to Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire, lying just eight miles from the historic town of Harrogate. This collection of crazily balanced rocks have fascinated visitors for centuries. Formed by the glaciation and erosion of millstone grit sandstone over thousands of years, the formations have acquired names that (supposedly) reflect their shapes. Look out for The Watchdog, The Sphinx, The Turtle, The Dancing Bear and The Camel. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, its 454-acres are also home to herds of red, roe and sika deer that roam freely across the landscape. There are also majestic birds such as kestrels and owls, as well as a range of protected butterflies that live around this natural wonder.
Did you know? Early observers thought the naturally formed rocks were carved by druids, members of ancient Celtic culture.
Longing to experience nature’s whimsy? Why not envision a trip to The Giant's Causeway, an out-of-this-world natural wonder that lies at the foot of basalt cliffs along the rugged Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. This intriguing rock formation, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is made up of some 40,000 tightly packed black basalt columns sticking out of the sea, some of which reach as high as 39 feet into the air. The polygonal pillars are strangely regular, almost as if formed by hand, but were in fact moulded over 50 million years ago by intense volcanic lava that cooled at a rapid speed, breaking into distinctive shapes.
Did you know? Legend has it that the causeway was formed by Irish giant Finn McCool who wanted to cross the Irish Sea to fight Scottish rival, Benandonner.
Across the Irish Sea from the Giant’s Causeway is Fingal’s Cave, a sea cave on the island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides that deserves a place on any nature-inspired bucket list. Formed by part of the same ancient lava flow that created the Causeway, it has been an inspiration to artists and writers for hundreds of years. Sir Walter Scott said it ‘baffled all description’ and the composer Felix Mendelssohn composed his Hebrides Overture after hearing the strange echoes caused by water sloshing around the cave.
Did you know? The name of Fingal’s Cave in Gaelic, Uamh-Binn, means ‘cave of melody’.
Trotternish Peninsula, Isle of Skye, Scotland
The most northerly of the Isle of Skye’s peninsulas boasts some spectacular geology and scenes of true otherworldliness. So evocative is the region, it’s easy to imagine taking the easterly coast road to see the bizarre Tolkienesque spikes of the Quiraing landslip and the Old Man of Storr, a monolith of basalt rising 49 metres. It was in this startling landscape that Bonnie Prince Charlie hid from government troops after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The region also has a rich prehistoric story, as fascinating footprint and bone evidence suggests it was once a dinosaur stomping ground.
Did you know? Trotternish is also home to Kilt Rock, a sheer cliff of hexagonal basalt named after the Scottish national dress it resembles.
Hikers itching to don their walking boots and explore new terrain might enjoy imagining a trip to North Wales, to conquer Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr. These two mountains are among the most striking in a region not short on epic, rugged scenery. Glyder Fach (994 metres) is crowned by the famous cantilever rock, a massive precariously balanced slab that’s a favourite spot for climbers. Glyder Fawr (1,001 metres), which translates as ‘big lump’ in Welsh, rewards adventurers with a craggy summit littered with spiky frost-shattered rocks angled like ancient tombstones.
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