“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” is one of the most famous quotes of John Muir, the Scottish pioneer and father of National Parks. And it seems that most of his countrymen would agree with him. One only has to take a walk in the country to witness the British people’s undying love for nature. Their ability to conserve natural areas and enjoy nature can be seen everywhere, from the most modest gardens to the most spectacular National Park.
Recent years have seen a series of eco-friendly projects spring up across the country, each revealing how man’s destiny is interconnected with nature and many focusing on the preservation of natural attractions such as the White Cliffs of Dover. Here are some of the most interesting, including directions on how to get to them by public transport.
The story behind Knepp Wildland has all the ingredients of a hit TV series. In 1983 Sir Charles Burrell, an aristocrat with lineage dating back to the 15th century, inherited a palace and farming grounds in Surrey, just 60km from London. On realising that conventional livestock farming brought less and less profit, he decided to revolutionise the traditional system that had been used on the farm for hundreds of years, instead creating a wild environment in which nature rules.
Isabella Tree, writer and wife of Sir Charles Burrell, recently published Wilding, which recounts their adventures as they worked towards this transition. The book reveals how their neighbours were horrified to see the farm become a wild and (in their eyes) neglected area, but how Mother Nature eventually took back what was rightfully hers, creating a natural, verdant paradise. Isabella also reveals how rare birds such as turtle doves returned to the area, after having reduced in numbers by 93% since 1994.
Aside from providing a home for dozens of species, Knepp Wildland also offers a range of accommodation options, including glamping and camping. From a romantic weekend away to a solo wildlife-watching break, it’s well worth visiting and exploring Knepp’s 1,400 hectares of land - there’s even safaris led by expert guides, who will take you to see the best wildlife hotspots, depending on the season.
How to get there: The nearest railway station is Horsham, followed by a bus or a taxi to travel the last few kilometres. Knepp also has electric car charging stations.
This natural attraction, with its impressive cliffs that resemble a canvas painted in blue marine and white chalk tones, is one of the most iconic landscapes in the country. Visiting the white cliffs of Dover allows you to enjoy an up-close view of the English Channel and the French coast and see how little physical distance separates the United Kingdom from continental Europe. The best way to explore the cliffs is on foot, as the walk will sharpen your senses and allow you to enjoy the marvellous views and feel the gentle sea breeze.
A good option is to walk to South Foreland lighthouse, passing the port of Dover - the busiest passenger port in the world. It takes less than two hours to get there and back, and you can see a map of the route here. The lighthouse that stands there now is Victorian and dates from the 19th century, but one has stood on the site since the 14th century. On arrival, you’ll find Mrs Knott’s tea room. An excellent stop for lovers of tradition and those with a sweet tooth, the tea room offers home-made British delicacies such as scones and jam, slices of Victoria sandwich cake and tea served in mismatched china cups, not to mention a record player that brings back memories of the 1950s and which adds to its vintage charm.
How to get there: The easiest way to get to Dover is to go to Dover Priory Station, which is just over one hour by train from London St Pancras.
How does nature support mankind? You can find the answer to this and many other questions in one place, The Eden Project. Situated in the county of Cornwall, in the westernmost corner of the country, this non-profit organisation was set up by a group of friends about twenty years ago on the site of an abandoned China clay pit. Since then, it has grown exponentially to become what it is today: a world-renowned garden and research centre that receives thousands of visitors every year, and a study in how to best build effective relationships between humans and nature.
As you explore the different biomes, the iconic structures that are synonymous with the project across the globe, you’ll discover more about the connection between the man-made and natural world. You’ll also learn how The Eden Project put all their efforts into promoting practices that are kinder to nature and that benefit the environment and mankind alike. One biome has a Mediterranean ecosystem and the other, which is even larger, a rainforest that is home to more than 1,000 plant species and the largest indoor waterfall in the world.
The project also has room for culture - in the warmer months they hold summer concerts (The Eden Sessions) and they also stage exhibitions throughout the year by local and emerging artists and better-known ones, not to mention performances, installations and storytelling sessions.
How to get there: The nearest railway station is St Austell, which has buses that connect to the Eden Project (specifically the D5). It is advisable to book the tickets before planning your trip.
This botanical paradise, located in south-west London, has all the ingredients required for a perfect day surrounded by nature, all without leaving the city.
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is one of the sites with the greatest biodiversity in the world. Discover carnivorous plants and a Japanese garden in which to forget about the world, explore the science behind its incredible collection of plants, wander amongst more than 14,000 trees and learn more about how to produce food sustainably in the fabulous kitchen garden… the options are as vast as Kew’s 120 hectares of grounds.
With countless opportunities to take spectacular pictures at any time of year, Kew is also very insta-friendly. Hide among the Californian sequoias or pose with one of more than 1,500 temperate plant species that grow in Temperate House, the largest Victorian greenhouse on the planet. Kew is a place that takes you to faraway lands and allows you to explore the wealth of plants and trees that exist on earth, all in one spot. For that reason alone, it is well worth visiting.
How to get there: Kew Gardens station is on the District line and is also served by the North London overground line. It is a one-minute walk from the station itself to Kew Gardens.
This delightful fishing village is situated in north-east Scotland and is 45 kilometres from Inverness. It defines itself as a place where people, nature and culture come together and is also the birthplace of the Findhorn Foundation, a non-profit organisation. Set up in 1972, the foundation is dedicated mostly to educational programmes and has an eco-village that can be visited. There you will be able to see what it’s like to live in tune with nature. If you have time and want to find out more, you can even book an eco-village experience week, in which the ground rules are listening to your inner voice, co-creating with nature and putting your heart into your work.
How to get there: The nearest railway station is Forres. From there, take the number 31 bus (it is a direct bus but you will need to request the stop).