The green vales and dales of Britain, with its bald hill sides and fields, some framed by hedges, others by little stone walls, and a scattering of sheep here and there, or fields of wheat gently wafting in the breeze... Emerald green, when the sun shines down after a refreshing summer shower, or soft, pastel green when the land is dunked in mizzle. Britain, the small country with a big history: No matter where you go, you can hear the echoes of the past ringing from the old stone walls of ancient ruins and prehistoric monuments. Megalithic stone circles and neolithic tombs, haunted castles and cathedrals, each tell their story of bickering dukes or knights in shining armour. Britain's history is fascinating because it is as rich and intricate as a fairytale - the stuff that myths and legends are made of, which regularly intertwine with historical facts to create a rich yarn for story-tellers. It is easy to conjure up these yesteryears in the mind's eye.
Yet, for all its green appearance, Britain is not the easiest country when it comes to eco-friendly vacations. Why? Because the logistics of transportation are really quite terrible. As long as you stick to the cities and don't want to go off the beaten path, it is just about ok. But discovering the countryside can be quite difficult unless one has a car. Public transport, frankly, is a shambles, by European standards. Buses run infrequently (and often not on time) and trains only service certain main lines. There are Greyhound like bus services among the major cities and these are often the best option for reliable service, at least between cities.
One might think that cycling could be a good alternative, but given the general absence of well-marked and protected cycling routes and the hilly terrain, this is more for hardy pros than 'leisure cyclists'. One interesting way to access the country's interior is by narrow boat. Narrow boats are just what the name indicates - narrow canal boats, kitted out with life's essentials, though not exactly offering a lot of space to party. However, it is a unique way of discovering a side of Britain that is usually hidden from view. There are some companies that rent out boats for holiday makers. Mooring places are placed along the canals - and are often quite cheap, making this an attractive option, even for city visits, if you are the boating type.
Alternatively, the tow-paths next to the little canals and rivers used by the narrow boats also make half decent bike trails. The only problem with them is that they are often frequented by walkers as well. The paths are usually quite narrow, so not allowing much space for both cyclists, hikers, dog-walkers and pram-pushers.
What about hiking? Well, yes, there is that. The British love to hike and there are indeed some lovely walks, including some long distance routes. There are 'footpath' signs everywhere - down the lane and across fields, even through people's yards and round the cowsheds (and all the muck). But there are very few designated routes or trails, so although you know when you are on a footpath, there is no way of knowing where it goes unless you have a map. Ordnance and Survey maps are excellent and an essential tool for anybody who wants to explore the British countryside. There are also hiking guides with suggested walks from one place to another or in circuits, but often it is necessary to get to the trailhead by car as they start a long way from the nearest town with no useful bus services nearby.
The best areas in Britain for a hiking holiday are Cornwall, Devon, The Lake District, Wales, Pennines, Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Scotland. The Pennine Way is a long distance route that traverses the full length of the Pennine mountain range - 429km in total. Another fabulous walking experience can be had following the coastal path. There are many cute villages, historical pubs, castle ruins etc. along the ways and the best scenery that Britain has to offer. The AA (UK equivalent of AAA) publishes some decent walking guidebooks as well as lodging guides. They even have a 'green room' guide to ecologically sensitive accommodations.
The tourism board operates an accreditation system for green tourism businesses such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, tour operators and visitor attractions. Although it is not very apparent how a business is required to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability (the website lists a range of criteria, but it also seems as though it is a paid membership scheme, which raises questions). Apparently they are checked periodically so as to ascertain that they still adhere to some type of eco-principles. Accommodations of all types and standards participate in the scheme, from simple B & B's to manor farmhouse inns or converted country estates.
True wilderness experiences are hard to come by in a densely crowded place like Britain and you have to go quite a long way off the beaten track, into the highlands and islands of Scotland to find them. The more southern and western parts of Britain are quite delightful and fascinating in their own way, but one can hardly describe them as 'wild'. Britain is a highly domesticated country, quaint though it may be.
However, in my opinion some of the best 'green' attractions in Britain are its many formal and informal gardens. The British are mad about gardening and excel in creating some of the most exquisite gardenscapes to be found anywhere. Many of them can be visited, whether they belong to British Heritage, the National Trust or are privately owned. Some gardens can be very formal (and probably rather toxic), but others are nothing but delightful and well worth a visit if you love plants.
As for wildlife watching, your chances of seeing anything much more interesting than roaming deer or perhaps a badger, are minimal. In some coastal areas you may see dolphins or seals, but that is about it. Birdwatching is more worthwhile and there are a number of interesting habitats for birders. The best places are on the coast.
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