The North of England is a veritable playground for adventure. Away from built-up areas like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle, you’ll find great, sparse uplands, isolated coasts, and perhaps even the occasional forest.
These remote places have become hotspots for outdoor activities, including long-distance treks, rock climbing, caving and water sports. This article brings together 12 of the best and most remote adventures in the North, including directions and details on expert local guides.
Before we start, it’s important to note that all these activities are potentially dangerous. They require forward planning, and in many cases should only be attempted with expert guidance. Check in with a knowledgeable authority before you set off.
Word of caution: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, before visiting these locations you should refer to guidelines on accessing green spaces safely in England. Some attractions and facilities may also be closed, so check before you go.
1. Potholing at Gaping Gill
Where: Clapdale Dr, Yorkshire Dales National Park, Clapham LA2 8EE (Google Maps)
The ruggedly beautiful Fell Beck zig-zags a short way from the foot of Ingleborough mountain, then vanishes. Like many potholers who’ve followed it, the stream has found its way to Gaping Gill, a limestone cave system of roughly comparable dimensions to York Minster. The cathedralesque Main Chamber of the system can be accessed via a 100-meter winch ride, passing through Britain’s highest unbroken waterfall.
Chances to explore Gaping Gill, which is just a 30km drive from Lancaster, come around a few times a year, courtesy of Bradford Pothole Club and Craven Pothole Club’s open winch meets. These public sessions take place over several days in May and August respectively. As the Yorkshire Dales website wryly notes, it’s free to go down – but you’ll have to pay a winch fee to come back up.
2. Rock climbing at Smugglers Terrace
Where: Ravenscar, Scarborough YO13 0ET (Google Maps)
First discovered by the UK climbing community in 2011, Smugglers Terrace on the North Yorkshire coast is one of the hidden gems of British rock climbing. The crag is home to over 100 climbs – a number that continues to grow as more climbers explore the area.
“The climbing ranges from friendly and easy routes up the stupendous cracklines, to some of the hardest and most dangerous pitches in the north of England,” says local climbing coach Franco Cookson.
“The hardest climb is Hakers Gonna Hake [E8], which involves massive jumps between tiny holds, where the outcome of messing it up is hitting the ground and your belayer."
UKC has detailed info on climbing at Smugglers Terrace and how to get there.
3. Ghyll Scrambling in the Eskdale Valley
Where: Near Eskdale Green, Holmrook CA19 1TX (Google Maps)
Here’s an adventurous outdoor activity you may not have tried before. Ghyll scrambling is a bit like gorge walking, but with added swimming, jumps – and, as the name would suggest, scrambling up or down a ghyll, which is a Lakeland word for a narrow mountain stream or ravine.
Ghyll scrambling is a varied pursuit. Some scrambles are upstream, some are downstream. Some are with ropes, some are without. The common factor is an exciting journey through rock and rapid water, in one of the wildest corners of the country.
Father-son team Andy and Chris Brown of Ghyllscrambling.co.uk lead regular ghyll scrambling trips around the Lake District and the Eskdale Valley. Expert support is a must when tackling a remote adventure like this, so we suggest you get in touch with the team to book a guided scram.
4. Caving at Carlswark Cavern
Where: Stoney Middleton, Hope Valley S32 4TS (Google Maps)
Even in England’s wildest uplands, you’re likely to see signs of civilisation – a road, a farm, a windfarm, or perhaps the claret signage of a distant Toby Carvery.
If you want to get away from all that, your best bet might be to go underground. The north has plenty of caves to explore, many of which can be found among the labyrinthine limestone systems of White Peak, in the southern and central parts of the Peak District.
Chris Adkin of Peaks & Paddles leads adventurous activities around the Peaks, including group caving expeditions at Carlswark Cave near Stoney Middleton.
“Carlswark is quite physical, but suitable for beginners. It involves a couple of hours underground, with optional squeezes,” says Adkin.
“You can get so far then come back out the way you came; or you can carry on and go more committed – but you get extremely wet by doing that."
If Carlswark Cave doesn’t quite fulfil your quota of stalagmites, stalactites and stalagmitic columns, there’s further adventure to be had at nearby Bagshawe Cavern, Giants Cave, Jug Holes Cave and Mouldridge Mine.
5. Mountain biking in the Forest of Bowland
Cocklet Hill Car Park, Gisburn Forest, Hole House Ln, Clitheroe BB7 4TS (Google Maps)
Rugged terrain, relatively few tourists and a great selection of trails make the Forest of Bowland one of the best places in the north for a mountain biking jaunt.
This sparsely peopled region of fells, valleys and moorland is one of the north’s lesser-known Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Trail Motions teaches mountain bike skills courses and sessions at Gisburn Forest, which lies at the far edge of the AONB. Check out their site for more info, or explore other cycle routes around the Forest of Bowland off your own bat.
Gisburn Forest is an unusual part of the Forest of Bowland, insofar as it has a lot of tree cover. Most of the area is bare and rugged moors and fells, which might be why its MTB trails are held in such high regard.
6. Watersports at Kielder Water
Kielder Waterside, Kielder Forest Park, Hexham NE48 1BT (Google Maps)
Kielder Water is a huge human-made lake, located just south of the Scottish border in Kielder Forest Park. It’s a great spot for watersports, offering sailing, canoeing, rowing, water-skiing and various other aquatic activities for people of all experience levels.
For info on coaching sessions, boat rental and fees for using a boat of your own at Kielder Water, check out Visit Kielder’s guide on water activities at Kielder Water & Forest Park.
It’s also worth noting that Kielder Forest Park is the focus of the largest area of protected night sky in Europe, with low levels of light pollution in the surrounding area. If you’re visiting, pack a telescope or plan a visit to Kielder Observatory.
7. Sea kayaking off the Northumberland Coast
Longhoughton Beach, Alnwick NE66 3AL (Google Maps)
The Northumberland Coast is a 40-mile stretch of salty cliffs, sleepy towns and sandy beaches, peppered with ruined castles, nature reserves and historic religious sites.
One of the best ways to explore the coastline is by sea kayak. On a calm day, you can paddle to some truly wild places only otherwise accessible with climbing gear or a pair of wings.
Adventure Northumberland offers sea kayaking excursions at Sugar Sands, near Longhoughton, from March 1 - October 31. Participants can expect to see bays, coves and gullies, lots of seabirds, and maybe the occasional seal or dolphin. The same company is soon to start running sea kayaking trips to Coquet Island, a mile off the coast, which is home to UK’s only roseate tern breeding colony.
If you’re in the area, grab some lunch from Beaches, a seafood restaurant in Alnmouth. They make a mean chowder.
8. Hiking the Pennine Way
Edale, Hope Valley (Google Maps)
Fancy a real adventure? The Pennine Way is a 268-mile walking trail, stretching right along the hilly spine of the North. The route takes in the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the North Pennine hills, and many a fine pub along the way.
Walking the Pennine Way takes a lot of time, effort and preparation. The route takes about three weeks to hike, and is best hiked from May to September, assuming you prefer to avoid challenging conditions (see the photo above).
The starting point linked above is in the Peak District, at the southern extreme of the Pennine Way. You may prefer to start the adventure at the northern extreme, Kirk Yetholm, in the Scottish Borders.
9. Via Ferrata climbing and rope walking at Honister Slate Mine
Honister Pass, Borrowdale, Keswick, Cumbria CA12 5XN (Google Maps)
For some people, getting to work is an adventure in itself.
This was certainly true of the slate miners of Honister, who used to reach their workstations up Fleetwith Pike by way of a blood-curdling series of mountain tracks and ladders.
Now with added cables and safety harnesses, this sketchiest of commutes can be climbed as a via ferrata adventure, involving cliff-edge ladders, optional Burma bridge and cargo net crossings, and lots and lots of metal rungs. The route ascends to 648 meters – over twice as high as the Shard.
Trips up the via ferrata – which means ‘iron ladder’ in Latin, fact fans – are available from £40pp, exclusively via Honister.
10. Kitesurfing off Walney Island, Cumbria
15 Eden Ave, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness LA14 3XW (Google Maps)
Neighbouring the town of Barrow-in-Furness, Walney Island isn’t quite so remote as the other locations featured in this list. And yet, the area boasts some the most isolated stretches of coast in Northern England, with long, sandy beaches that make for ideal kitesurfing spots when conditions are favourable.
Local kiter Chris Ainsbury is set to open a kitesurfing school at Earnse Bay, Walney Island in May 2020. “It’s a quiet beach, and at the most on an awesome day you’ll get 25 kiters, so there’s plenty of riding space,” he says.
“Jo Wilson is our local kiter smashing tricks in the lagoons to the north of the beach and waves to the south, in an area of two miles.”
Contact Chrisainsat15@aol.com for info on the upcoming courses and kitesurfing facilities at Walney Island.
11. Climbing at Malham Cove
Malham, Skipton BD23 4DJ (Google Maps)
Malham Cove’s bright, gently curving limestone face, 80 meters high and 300 meters wide, is an emblem of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s also a crucible of English climbing.
UK Climbing’s log records 326 climbs at the site, including “a right wing of superb trad lines with the best routes in the HVS to E4 category; and a left wing with worthwhile short, easier routes (S to E1) and short technical but less popular, hard trad up to E5."
Malham is home to the UK’s only grade 9b sports climb, Rainman. Many of the world's best climbers have tried to take it on and failed, so maybe work your way up to it, yeah?
Most climbers will be content to attempt the many moderate-grade climbs at Malham Cove. Once you’re done, take a hike up to the top of the cove to check out its famous ‘limestone pavement’.
12. Climbing England’s tallest mountain, Scafell Pike
Scafell Pike, Seascale CA19 1TH (Google Maps)
Scafell Pike is notoriously tricky to get to. England’s tallest peak stands slap-bang in the middle of the Lake District, a long and rocky walk away from the nearest roads and facilities.
If you’re up for the challenge of getting there, you’ll be in good stead for the challenge of climbing the mountain itself: a steep trek with plenty of scrambling and the distinct possibility of adverse weather.
Your reward will be reaching the very top of England, and if you’re lucky with the weather, views of Snowdonia, the Yorkshire Three Peaks, and the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland.
It goes without saying that climbing Scafell Pike requires thorough planning and preparation. Read the National Trust’s advice before you go.