British beauties to make your heart beat faster
consists of six square miles of daffodil fields and talc-soft beaches. The largest, the Cotswolds, covers 790 sq miles of rolling hills and mellow stone villages between Bath and Chipping Campden. Wales has five, including Anglesey and the Wye Valley, Ulster has nine and Scotland has its own version known as National Scenic Areas (NSAs), with Loch Lomond, Glen Affric and Ardnamurchan prominent.
The intention of an AONB was to afford the same status and protection as our National Parks. Sadly, it has not always prevented the exploitation of these crown jewels of the British countryside. But now and for a while yet, they remain not just beautiful but outstandingly so, and there are more than enough to last you a lifetime of visits. Here are my 10 favourites. This is the biggest AONB in Wales, covering most of the island’s 125-mile coastline and also including Holyhead Mountain and Mynydd Bodafon, at 584ft its highest point. As well as sand dunes, coves and breezy cliff-tops it is holy ground, littered with burial mounds and standing stones. Charles Tunnicliffe, the celebrated wildlife artist, lived at Malltraeth on the Afon Cefni estuary until his death in 1979 (visitanglesey. co.uk). Just one hour from London lies the epicentre of Constable Country, straddling the willows and watermeadows of the Stour river on the Essex-Suffolk border. To visit Flatford Mill is to step into The Hay Wain, immortalised in 1821 by John Constable’s most famous painting. Explore on foot, following the Stour Valley Path, or by bike on the 70-mile Stour Valley cycle route (dedhamvalestourvalley.org). The wildest of Scotland’s 40 NSAs; a range of dark and brooding mountains with Glen Sligachan dividing the jagged gabbro peaks and corries of the Black Cuillin from the more rounded granite summits of the Red Cuillin. The area offers the finest mountain climbing and walking in Britain, with 12 Munros (summits higher than 3,000ft) in the Black Cuillin (skye.co.uk). Forest’s pre-Conquest woodlands and all around are vivid reminders of the long ago, such as Avebury’s stone circle. A walk along The Ridgeway will reveal the best of it, a prehistoric track that starts at Overton Hill (northwessexdowns.org.uk). and ospreys frequent the lochs and the pine forests are home to red squirrels (scotland.forestry.gov.uk/visit/ glen-affric). Unique in having 12 separate areas managed as a single AONB. Consisting of Bodmin Moor and 11 stretches of Cornwall’s incomparable coastline, it covers nearly a third of the county, including the razorback cliffs of Hartland Point, the sands and surfing beaches of the Camel estuary around Rock and Padstow and the gaunt granite headlands of West Penwith so familiar to Poldark fans (cornwallaonb.gov.uk). Follow the Pennine Way as its snakes across UK’s second largest AONB from the Yorkshire Dales National Park to the Northumberland National Park. Within its 770 sq miles of heather moors, deep dales, rushing rivers and old-fashioned hay meadows lives a wealth of wildlife, including black grouse, short-eared owls and rare arctic alpine plants. All this plus England’s biggest waterfalls – High Force and Cauldron Snout (northpennines.org.uk).
For more about Britain’s AONBs see landscapesforlife.org.uk.
a selection of Brian Jackman’s lyrical nature writing, has recently been published by Bradt at £9.99.
Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands, left, and the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Elgol beach in the Highlands with a snow-covered Cuillin in the background, below; left fallow deer pause in an ancient forest