If you’re looking to explore somewhere fun, adventurous and picturesque, then an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is exactly where you should head. AONBs in the UK are areas of land that are legally protected to conserve and enhance their natural beauty. As some of the most stunning places in the UK, they really do live up to their name.
For decades, AONBs have attracted visitors looking for beautiful scenery to discover while gaining a new sense of appreciation for the unique natural beauty of the British landscape. So, if that sounds right up your street, and you’re thinking about which AONB to visit, here are our best picks for your next adventure.
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to Visit
There are 46 AONBs in the UK, which are dotted around Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Scotland, however, works on a different system called National Scenic Areas, of which there are 40. If planning a visit to one is on your to-do list this year, here are just a few that you should definitely visit.
The Largest AONB – The Cotswolds, England
Of the 46 AONBs, the Cotswolds is the largest and arguably the most well-known. This quintessentially English landscape covers parts of six counties, including Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. It’s full of historic markets, rolling hills, and postcard-perfect villages for you to visit and hike over while you drink in all the views it has to offer.
Having been defined as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966, The Cotswolds officially became the second-largest protected landscape in England, after the Lake District National Park, covering around 790 sq miles.
The Smallest AONB – The Isles of Scilly, England
It may be the smallest AONB in the UK, but the Isles of Scilly – an extensive group of islands located 28 miles off the Cornish Coast – certainly leave just as much impact as the largest. According to a Which? survey, conducted May 2021, it was voted the best Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, being rated 5/5 for walks, peacefulness, wildlife and scenery.
Getting to the Isles of Scilly is a bit tricky, but its splendour and tranquillity amply reward those who get the ferry or fly over. Despite being made up of 140 islands, only five are inhabited, with the largest home to around 1,800 people. And, with no cars allowed from the mainland, the isles are really left to thrive.
The Oldest AONB – Gower Peninsula, Wales
Gower Peninsula is the oldest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, being designated in 1956 for its classic limestone coast and various natural habitats.
Every year, the Gower Peninsula welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors, and it’s not difficult to see why. This AONB boasts award-winning beaches, wooded valleys, traditional villages and a dramatic coast, making it the perfect place for the whole family to explore, connect with nature and unwind.
The Newest (Extended) AONB – Tamar Valley, England
The Tamar Valley was the last confirmed AONB, appointed in 1995, although the Clwydian Range AONB, initially designated in 1985, was extended in 2012 to form the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley. Nonetheless, Tamar Valley on the Devon & Cornwall border is defined and shaped by the three rivers – Tamar, Tavy and Lynher.
The area is famous for its mining heritage, and the valley itself is in the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, a World Heritage Site, so you have plenty to discover while you take in all the history. From walking and sightseeing to visiting historic gardens, there’s something for everyone in Tamar Valley.
One of the Most Varied AONBs – Antrim Coast and Glens, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland may only have nine Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but each packs a punch. The Antrim Coast and Glens AONB offers visitors some of the most beautiful and varied scenery that Northern Ireland, and the UK, has to offer. There are gentle bays, exposed moorlands, waterfalls, woodlands and even an island – Rathlin Island – that is a wildlife-lovers’ paradise to explore.
If a road trip is on your UK bucket list, the Glens of Antrim, also known as The Glens, make for a memorable driving route that you should definitely have mapped out.
There you have it - five of our top Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty picks. For even more trips in nature, there are plenty of other walks you can do around the UK or some amazing hikes in The Peak District. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy all the UK has to offer!
If you’re worried you might get lost, learning new skills such as navigation or sport and expeditions as an adult volunteer or a cadet can help you feel confident with your explorations while building your lust for adventure. Find your nearest detachment today for more information.