Pensthorpe natural park, Norfolk
There’s art as well as nature among these 280-plus hectares of woods, marshes and wildflower meadows, with the River Wensum winding through them. Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf created one of four on-site gardens: a waterside oasis that looks good even in winter with intricate seed heads, golden grasses and a Monet-style bridge. The gardens and sculptures integrated into the park intensify the natural shapes and colours in the wider, wildlife-rich landscape, whether it’s a mossy willow by the Wensum or a weeping silver birch by Moon Water (Pensthorpe’s main lake). BBC Springwatch was filmed in the park three years running, looking out for badgers, barn owls and bullfinches. There are bird hides to observe the varied habitats, plus crowd-pleasing resident flamingos and timber play areas, indoors and out. Pensthorpe’s owners, Deb Jordan and husband Bill (of Jordans Cereals) opened a new Wetland Discovery area here in 2018.
Open Daily 10am-4pm, online tickets adult £11.95, 3-16s £10.95, pensthorpe.com
Get there X29 bus from Norwich to nearby Fakenham, which stops at the end of the drive, day ticket £4.80.
Eat Pensthorpe’s Courtyard cafe has a big tasty menu, from soup of the day (£4.95) or spuds, salad and quiche (£8.95) to apple crumble and custard (£4.50).
Centre for Alternative Technology, Powys
In 1973, in a disused slate quarry near the town of Machynlleth (Mach), the Centre for Alternative Technology began as an off-grid community looking for ways of life without fossil fuels. The group included gardeners, builders, engineers and architects and its early experiments looked at wind and solar power. Two years later, a visitor centre was opened to help share the vision and today the engaging mix of renewable tech, green buildings, ponds, woods and organic gardens attracts thousands of visitors each year. The impact on the interactive displays may make the odd corner look a bit careworn but the ideas are more vital than ever. The centre’s new report Zero Carbon Britain suggests we could reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions using existing technology.
Open 10am-4pm daily. Winter prices £6.50/£5.50/£3 for adults/concessions/kids (free if you live locally; 20% off with valid train or bus ticket), cat.org.uk
Get there Bus 34 or T2 from Mach station – the T2 is free at weekends. More details here. From Easter to October ride up a mountain on the centre’s water-powered cliff railway (included in entry); at this time of year it’s a 10-minute climb up the steep garden steps.
Eat The centre’s veggie cafe or at Caffi Alys in Mach with homemade soup (around £4.50) and a log fire.
Create centre, Bristol
Bristol was Europe’s first green capital, in 2015; the UK’s first cycling city (more than a decade ago) and is heaving with eco-friendly businesses. Get the boat to Create, a free, council-run environmental hub in a red-brick tobacco warehouse at the point where Bristol’s floating harbour meets the River Avon. There’s a small eco-home in its shadow, open on weekday afternoons. Otherwise, unless there’s an exhibition on, there’s not a huge amount to see inside, though its buzzing cafe makes an excellent base for walks by the gorge with views of Clifton suspension bridge. Combine this with other sights and a boat ride around the harbour using the year-round Bristol ferries. Get off at the Prince Street Bridge jetty to see the wildlife photographer of the year exhibition at MShed (£6, until 4 May 2020) or at City Centre for We the Curious, Bristol’s science museum (adult £14.50, 3-15s £9.50), with new activities responding to the climate crisis.
Open Admission to Create is free, open weekdays 9am-5pm, closed weekends, createbristol.org
Get there Catch the ferry from Temple Meads just outside the station to the Nova Scotia stop (daily, £7 for a day ticket; boats run every 40 minutes – if you need to wait for a ferry, Friska over the footbridge does filter coffee for £1).
Eat Cheerful Café Create offers specials such as Three Bean Chilli (£5.10) or roasted tomato soup (£3.80).
“It gave me hope for the future, this building,” says the guide Jon as he shows an enthusiastic group round the Earthship, near Brighton, that he helped build two decades ago. The off-grid house was built from waste tyres, old bottles and granite offcuts; a turbine and solar panels provide power while rainwater is harvested and used four times via an ingenious system of botanical pods. On the way, visitors walk through a leafy local collective of organic gardens and ecotherapy spaces, all among the woods and cattle-grazed slopes of Stanmer Park. Don’t miss the weekend Permaculture stall behind the church, selling fresh juice from fruit that would otherwise have been wasted.
Open Once a month on a Sunday there’s a public tour (£5). You can also visit low-carbon houses around the country through the Green Open Homes scheme.
Get there A 30-min stroll through Stanmer Park from Falmer station. Change at Brighton station for frequent trains to Falmer. The weekend 78 bus from Brighton station stops even closer.
Eat Tea rooms in Stanmer and a cornucopia of choices in Brighton. Check out Curry Leaf’s cafes or station kiosk: crispy green veg fritters (£5.50) or masala dosa (£8.25) and a commitment to plastic-free catering.
Woodland walkways weave through the trees, red squirrels chase each other over the sweet chestnut leaves below and a wolf pack hides in the bracken. There are bears, otters, rootling boar and watchful lynx in this wildlife park near Herne Bay. It opened in 1999 to house creatures that are, or have been, native to Britain and some of the enclosures now feel a bit dated, but Wildwood Trust is also a working conservation charity. It helps with programmes to reintroduce beavers, save water voles or use wild horses to restore habitat. Good for families, with a huge adventure playground, Wildwood offers half-price entry to those who arrive by public transport.
Open 10am-3pm in winter, around £6/£5 for adults/kids with bus discount, kent.wildwoodtrust.org
Get there Catch the Triangle bus from Canterbury’s bus station (£6.60 return, kids £1 extra each); it leaves every quarter of an hour and takes 20 minutes to reach Wildwood’s gate. More possibilities at Good Journey.
Eat Hop off the bus at Burgate in Canterbury for a big choice of places to eat, including Veg Box, where a colourful Buddha bowl or hotpot is £7.
Knepp Wildland, Sussex
“Rewilding is restoration by letting go, allowing nature to take the driving seat.” Since Isabella Tree published her bestselling book in 2018, these 1,200-odd hectares of Sussex countryside have become Britain’s most famous rewilding project. Her book describes how Tree, with her husband Charles Burrell, abandoned traditional farming in 2001 and used grazing animals to regenerate biodiverse habitats with astonishing results. Knepp has become a sanctuary for turtle doves and nightingales, bats, beetles and butterflies. In summer, you can stay in yurts and treehouses and join wildlife safaris, but the estate is a lovely place for a muddy country walk at any time of year, knepp.co.uk
Open Paths are open all year, free. Take a map and boots, and follow the 5½-mile Castle Walk, marked by flashes of pink paint for a rewarding parkland loop past grazing longhorn cows, fallow deer and the Mill Pond, dotted with water birds.
Get there Catch bus 23, hourly from Horsham railway station, to Partridge Green Turn. Cross the main road and head away from the noise along the lane and through the gate. A permissive path leads left towards the ruined castle.
Eat The Crown Inn on Dial Post’s village green (half a mile’s detour south down Swallows Lane). Menu changes but expect dishes such as parsnip soup with chestnut crumb (£7.50) or terrine of local game with salad (£7).
Loch Leven, Kinross
Cycle round a freshwater loch, home to one of Europe’s biggest inland gatherings of breeding ducks. This marsh-fringed lake attracts flocks of wintering waterfowl from around the world, including thousands of pink-footed geese who come back here from Iceland and Greenland each autumn. Mary, Queen of Scots was locked up in the 14th-century tower house on one of the loch’s seven islands; there are panoramic views and bird hides along the flat, 13-mile, traffic-free heritage trail that circles the loch.
Open The trail and nature reserve are open all the time, free; the RSPB centre (adult £5, children £1) on the southern shore is open daily 10am-4pm (last orders in cafe at 3pm).
Get there Get the hourly X56 coach towards Perth (£7 day return from Edinburgh). It stops in Kinross, about half a mile from the loch. Hire bikes in Kinross at Loch Leven cycles (9am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday or by appointment, £20/day) and access the trail from the pier.
Eat RSPB cafe, four miles from the pier (heading anti-clockwise). The vegan chef serves locally sourced food including veggie haggis and baked tatties (£6), pasta with homemade pesto (£5.80), vegan scones and cakes (£2.50). The cafe has views over the loch and telescopes so you can watch birds while you wait for food. An underpass, opened in October 2019, lets cyclists cross safely under the road from the trail to the cafe.
Keswick Brewery, Cumbria
Lots of breweries are striving to be greener and Keswick, behind a revamped YHA hostel on the pretty River Greta, is one of them. Owner Sue Jefferson uses Herdwick sheep’s wool to lag the tanks and works to reduce waste. What makes this brewery special, though, is its Lakeland setting and great bus routes to get there. From Penrith railway station, the buses pass monumental slopes, whitewashed cottages and marshy tarns. Hop off just before reaching Keswick and walk half a mile up Eleventrees Road to Castlerigg stone circle (free) a numinous hilltop ring of 40 boulders. It’s one of Britain’s oldest, most impressive and atmospheric prehistoric monuments.
Open There are brewery tours Tuesday to Saturday at 11.30am and 1.30pm (book online, £10). The new Fox Tap bar is open Tuesday to Saturday afternoons, keswickbrewery.co.uk
Get there Buses X4 or X5 from outside Penrith railway station on the mainline from Euston to Glasgow and Edinburgh (three hours from London by train, now with Avanti West Coast, who took over from Virgin in December 2019). Bus 555 from Windermere takes an even more spectacular route through the heart of the Lake District.
Eat Abraham’s Café on the top floor of the George Fisher outdoor shop – great views and sustaining homemade food. Soup of the day with organic bread (£5.30) or Cumberland rarebit (£8.75).
St Nicks nature reserve and environment centre, York
Walking through the tree tunnels and grassy paths of St Nicholas Fields, catch the odd glimpse of York Minster or a waft of chocolate from the Nestlé Rowntree factory. It’s startling to remember the city centre is just a mile away. These nine hectares of urban nature reserve, now alive with birdsong and wildflowers, were once York’s rubbish tip; people say the numerous apple trees grew from Rowntree waste. There’s a mini-Stonehenge in the middle, made from stones dumped here when the area was a landfill site. The little environment centre opened in 2000 with what were then cutting-edge features: living roof, passive solar design, renewable energy and compost loos. It still has a utopian feel, with its enthusiastic volunteers and jars of homemade chutney. The centre runs conservation afternoons, ecotherapy sessions and a kerbside recycling scheme using trikes.
Open The reserve is open all the time, the environment centre, generally, Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm, both free, stnicks.org.uk
Get there By bike or on foot along partially traffic-free Sustrans route 658. Bikes, if you need them, from Cycle Heaven at York station (from £10 for 2 hours). Alternatively, bus 6 from Rougier Street stops near Rawdon Avenue, very close to the environment centre.
Eat Lots of options in the city centre, such as cosy Goji on Goodramgate, 10 minutes away by bike. This veteran veggie cafe has been open 10 years, serving dishes including butternut squash and cashew rarebit with roast peppers and mushrooms (£5.95).
Findhorn Foundation, Moray
The original, ultimate green destination, describing itself as “a living model for the future”, the Findhorn Foundation has been blazing a trail since the 1960s; founder Dorothy Maclean celebrated her 100th birthday on 7 January. It continues to offer spiritual, practical and environmental courses, from sustainable living to celebrating Celtic festivals. This is an international community and eco-village with a bakery, publishers, pottery, arts centre; there are also gigs, films, comedy and theatre on offer in the Universal Hall. Trees for Life, which enlist volunteers to help rewild the Scottish Highlands and restore the Caledonian Forest, also has its offices nearby.
Open Weekdays in winter 11am-3pm for self-guided visits (guidebook £7) with tours (£8) on Wednesdays at 11am (more often in summer). Join a week-long course, or be a guest for the day (£25 with lunch and dinner, from 21 January), findhorn.org.
Get there Take a train to Forres from Inverness and then hourly bus 31 (ask the driver to stop at the Findhorn Foundation – not to be confused with the village, which is a mile further on). Findhorn also runs a shuttle bus to collect people taking part in workshops from some trains.
Eat At the veggie Phoenix cafe in the eco-village itself, serving homemade soups (£4.25) or mains such as spanakopita (spinach pie, £7.50). The Bakehouse cafe in Findhorn village is open daily all year, with local, organic food – soup and oatcakes (£4) or spiced lentil dahl with raita, chutney and Findhorn bakery flatbread (£8).
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Source: Wildlife | The Guardian