We all love a comfy hotel room, but if you crave some adventure, why not try sleeping out in the great outdoors? Phoebe Smith, author of Extreme Sleeps, picks her favourite spots to camp out in Scotland, England and Wales (and tells you where to stay if creature comforts beckon too).
Where? Snowdonia National Park
What? Soaring mountains, glacially scoured valleys, sparkling lakes… this is where my addiction to extreme sleeping started. I headed out alone – just me and the tent and followed a ridge that runs opposite the infamous Snowdon, the sea on one side and more hills rising on the other – it was exquisite.
Then I looked down. I glimpsed the lake nestled at the bottom of the slopes like a giant bowl and knew I had found my sleeping spot. I clambered down and set up my wild camp far away from anyone. The grass was my mattress, the mountains around me were my bedroom walls and the ceiling was the stars. The mountains never looked more beautiful than they did the next morning.
The Softer Option: Want the thrills of Snowdonia without time under canvas? Try the BEST WESTERN Waterloo Hotel and Lodge in the picture-postcard Betws-y-Coed. There’s a heated pool, Jacuzzi and sauna, and all mod-cons, with the wilds of Snowdonia on the doorstep.
What? Blame Sherlock Holmes – he started it with The Hound of the Baskervilles, a tale of a ferocious creature that lurked on the moorland hunting for prey. Since then, wild places have been synonymous with dangerous beasts and Dartmoor’s been something of a hot spot for Big Cat sightings.
When I arrived in Ivybridge, it was dark, a Hammer Horror movie owl hoot startled me as I walked on to the high tors beyond, the light from the full moon broke the darkness. It was two hours before I reached a high point and decided to bed down.
A cow wandered over to make friends, mooching around while I boiled up a hot chocolate on my stove. I woke the next morning to see the sun emerge from the hills beyond, erupting like a beacon of early auburn light. There were no Big Cats. Just a panorama for me to enjoy while the world slept below.
The Softer Option: Prefer to cosy up after a day exploring Dartmoor National Park? Head to the BEST WESTERN Duke of Cornwall Hotel in Plymouth. The first luxury hotel in town and the grandeur remains – think turrets, oak panels and sweeping sea views.
What? Deep in Scotland’s most eastern National Park are the sprawling mammoth mountains of the Cairngorms. Accessed most easily from Aviemore, this place becomes busy in the winter when skiers descend. I came in the autumn, before the first flurry landed.
My goal was to reach the Shelter Stone, a giant boulder in a valley accessible only by foot, the birthplace of the oldest mountaineering club in Scotland back in the 1880s.
It took me several hours to reach and locate it – but it was worth it. The sandy edge of Loch A’an greets those persistent enough to come here. The giant massif reflected in the still water. I crawled under the massive stone, held up by other large rocks, and slept, dry, in my sleeping bag, while a storm raged outside… For that night, I felt like part of those great mountains and a tiny bit like a real expeditioner.
The Softer Option: If you’d prefer a squishy mattress to a rocky bed, check into BEST WESTERN Inverness Palace Hotel & Spa or BEST WESTERN PLUS Inverness Lochardil House Hotel. Both are in Inverness, offering creature comforts close to the great outdoors.
Phoebe Smith is a tireless adventurer and editor of the travel magazine Wanderlust. Her new book Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a Wild Camper (Summersdale) is out now.