Britain’s coasts and countryside offer quiet, regenerative retreats away from the bustle of major cities and tourist attractions. From beachside bungalows to hillwalks, there is an endless variety of ways to spend your holiday.

By the beach
Go fossil-hunting along the coast or stay in a retro beach hut

1. Sleep in style in St Ives, Cornwall
British seaside b&bs have come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years, but the Salt House takes things to another level. Lost in St Ives’ tangle of cobbled streets, the house is a slice of modernism that would be just as at home in California as Cornwall. Clad in wood, glass and polished concrete, the b&b’s angular architecture feels distinctly at odds with old-world St Ives. Inside, the two rooms (North and South) are straight out of a design magazine: Orla Kiely textiles, enormous flatscreen TVs, spot-lit showers and BoConcept easy chairs, with oceans of light streaming through cinematic windows overlooking the epic sweep of St Ives Bay. Only the promise of warm sand between the toes at the nearby beaches of Porthmoer, Porthminster and Porthgwidden will tempt you away from the b&b’s private, sea-facing terraces. Rooms from £170;

2. Hunt for fossils on the Jurassic Coast
In 1811, a twelve-year old amateur palaeontologist by the name of Mary Anning was strolling along the beach near her home in Lyme Regis when her brother, Joseph, found something sticking out of the cliff. It turned out to be the first ichthyosaur skeleton ever discovered in Britain, and over the next few years, Mary subsequently turned up a pterosaur, two plesiosaurs and a host of other marine fossils (most of which she sold to collectors to help feed her impoverished family). Dorset’s Jurassic coastline remains the UK’s richest area for fossil hunting, and the fragile sandstone cliffs are still yielding frequent finds for collectors – even if they’re not quite on the same scale as Mary’s ground-breaking discoveries. Local expert Brandon Lennon leads regular fossil-hunting expeditions around Lyme Regis – and if you don’t manage to unearth your own ammonite, you can always cheat and buy one from his fossil shop instead. Guided walks £7;

3. Step back in time on the Lincolnshire coast
In the days of transcontinental travel, it’s easy to overlook seaside trips closer to home. A century ago, Lincolnshire’s beaches were awash with holiday-makers escaping the smog of the Midlands’ industrial cities. Now, the coastline is practically deserted and it’s a fantastic place to experience the peculiar charms of the British seaside away from the crowds. Halfway between the kitsch resorts of Mablethorpe and Skegness lies Anderby Creek, an overlooked stretch of Blue Flag beach backed by rolling sand dunes. Design consultant Martin Hoenle renovated a 1959 chalet with stripped wood floors, designer furniture, a flashy kitchen and even a few solar panels. The result, Twentysix, now available to rent and just minutes from the sea. From £350 to £420 per week;

4. Hole up in a beach hut in Tyneside
Technicolour beach huts are a staple feature of the British coastline, but the ones owned by Beach Hut Resorts are just a tiny bit different. These deluxe huts at Whitley Bay, near Newcastle-upon- Tyne, are furnished more like a design hotel than what is essentially a shed by the sea: each one has glossy wooden floors, underfloor heating and luxurious bathrooms. There’s even a 24-hour concierge service if you fancy a cocktail on the deck as the sun goes down. The only thing they can’t provide is a guarantee of decent weather – but when the huts are as swish as this, who needs to go outside? Huts from £301 per week;

5. Go on safari in Scotland
If the idea of sleeping under canvas brings you out in a cold sweat, don’t fret, Lochhouses Farm has just the answer. Situated on an idyllic farm between North Berwick and Dunbar and just a stone’s throw from East Lothian’s finest beach, this fabulous campsite offers a range of African safari tents outfitted with (almost) all the comforts of home: a kitchen area complete with Belfast sink and wood-burning stove, two sleeping areas equipped with proper beds and bunks for the kids and, of course, a shady veranda for that obligatory twilight glass of wine. Best still, a line of sand dunes is all that separates you from the beach. Safari tents from £325 per week;

Unusual summer sleeps
There’s no need to stick to four walls when the weather heats up: spend the night up a tree or in a classic VW camper van

6. Travel the country by gypsy caravan
Fifty years ago, handpainted gypsy caravans, known as vardos, were a common sight on Britain’s backroads. They’re increasingly rare these days and, somehow, mobile motorhomes just don’t have quite the same magic. There are several places around the country where you can sleep in a traditional vardo, but only at Pewsey Vale, Wiltshire, can you actually take one out for a spin. The price at White Horse Gypsy Caravans includes a morning driving lesson with owner Polly Carson, who’ll also accompany you to your first lunch stop at the Triple Crown in Marden. After that, you’re on your own (although a local groom is always a phone call away should you suffer a horse-related emergency). Rattling through the countryside to the gentle clip-clop of a shire horse’s hooves, you’ll feel like you’ve slipped back into Britain’s past – and you’ll find road-sharing motorists pretty forgiving of the slow pace too. £450 per week;

7. Kip in a treehouse
Sleeping under the stars is one thing, but if you’re looking for something really special, how about sleeping up a tree? At Castle Cottage, in the grounds of Coates Castle in West Sussex, luxurious accommodation sits in the branches of an enormous sweet chestnut. From the ground floor, a cast-iron staircase spirals up to the treetop bedroom, complete with glass-roofed bathroom and a balcony overlooking a lily pond. It’s short on space – not least because a tree trunk is growing on either side of the bed – but you’ll be hard pushed to find a more romantic spot. From £145;

8. Bunk in a horse truck
On the banks of Loch Voil in Perthshire, the Lovestruck at Mhor is a mobile home with a difference. The Bedford truck was once used to transport horses and has now been converted into one of Scotland’s most unusual places to stay. It’s crammed with rustic charm – with rough wood on the walls, gingham curtains and a cabin bunk. While the accommodation may be basic, the food is not: the truck sits in the garden of the Mhor, Perthshire’s renowned gourmet hotel. Lovestruck is open for the summer until mid-September. From £250 for two nights;

9. Hire a camper van
If there’s one vehicle that epitomises the summer road trip, it’s a classic VW camper van. Hire companies abound in surfy areas, such as Devon, Cornwall and Wales, but a more unusual option is to cruise from the Lake District to the Yorkshire Dales and the Scottish Borders. Lakeland Campers has a beautiful sky-blue van that dates from 1969 and goes by the name of Dolly. She comes with all essential camper accessories: rooftop hammock, kitchen kit, picnic awning and fold-out bed. £495 to £550 per week;

10. Spend the night in a lighthouse
Britain claims more lighthouses per square metre of coastline than anywhere else in Europe. In the days of GPS navigation and computerised sea charts, these cliff-top beacons are no longer the indispensable resource they once were to generations of seafarers. Most of the country’s lighthouses have now been automated and are operated by the flick of a switch from Trinity House’s control centre in Harwich, Essex. While the lighthouse keepers may be gone, many of their cottages have been converted into super seaside apartments. At the South Foreland Lighthouse, overlooking Dover’s white cliffs and the treacherous shipwreck spot of Goodwin Sands, the cottage is now owned by the National Trust and consists of a kitchen, lounge and two bedrooms. There’s also a tiny garden with views over Europe’s busiest shipping lane – although at over 90 metres up, it might be a bit blustery for barbecues. £458 per week for lighthouse hire;

On the water
Britain’s seas and inland waterways are the perfect places to enjoy a long, lazy summer

11. Putter down the Thames with a picnic
When the city gets too much, Londoners have their very own inbuilt escape route along the River Thames. Less than an hour away from the capital’s skyscrapers lies the idyllic English countryside that inspired Kenneth Graeme’s The Wind in the Willows. It’s a setting that’s hardly changed in a hundred years: weeping willows line the riverbanks and weekend pleasureboaters paddle along past sleepy villages. To really appreciate the Thames, you’ll need to get out on the water: the Beetle and Wedge restaurant in Moulsford hires out vintage riverboats, including a wooden launch called The Rose O’Dea that dates from 1904. For £15 per person, they’ll even pack you a picnic. Boat hire from £60 per hour/£325 per day;

12. Stop for a pint in a creekside pub
Cornwall is famed for its coastline, but it’s worth taking time to explore the county’s rivers and estuaries too. Lined with overhanging oaks and hidden inlets, Cornwall’s creeks shelter some fantastic places for a pint. One example is the 300-year-old Ferryboat Inn, at the base of a steep hill beside the village of Helford Passage. It has recently been spruced up by the Wright Brothers, the UK’s premier oyster merchants, who also run the county’s largest oyster farm at Porth Navas just along the river. The menu is crammed with local goodies, including lobster, crab and freshly shucked oysters. It even sits on its own sandy beach – perfect for a post-pint paddle. Mains from around £10.50;

13. Pilot a boat down the Kennet & Avon Canal
There can be few finer ways to see the British landscape than from the deck of your own narrowboat. Britain has over 2,000 miles of canals, originally constructed to transport goods between Britain’s industrial cities. Now the only vessels you’ll see on the waterways are houseboats and holiday barges. The Kennett and Avon Canal meanders for 87 miles between Bath and Newbury, and is known for its complex system of locks. The most impressive are at Caen Hill and Devizes, where the level of the water rises 72 metres in just two miles. Moonrakers has three narrowboats for hire, with luxury touches such as kingsize beds and Jacuzzi baths. From £1,230 per week;

14. Island-hop around the Orkneys
For that end-of-theworld feel, nowhere in Britain compares to the Orkneys. This remote archipelago consists of around 70 islands, many of which have been inhabited since prehistoric times. The islands are littered with ancient monuments, as well as Britain’s best-preserved Neolithic settlement, the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae. But the islands’ untamed scenery steals the show: sawtooth cliffs, stately sea stacks and some of the wildest, emptiest beaches in Britain. Hopping between the islands on a ferry is all part of the experience: on your way to the more remote islands, such as Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay, you might well find you’re the only passenger.

15. Steer a yacht through the Norfolk Broads
While the summer crowds make a beeline for the Sussex coastline, more discerning folk head for the Norfolk Broads. This beautiful national park is a dense web of waterways, fens, marshes, reedbeds and wild meadows that collectively make up the nation’s largest native wetland. The Broads also harbour some of the country’s rarest wildlife, including otters, water voles, bitterns and great crested grebes. The best way to navigate the Broads is still by boat, and the best boat to have is a traditional sloop. Hunter’s Yard, a family-run boatyard in Ludham near Norwich, hires out beautiful, 1930s timber sloops that sleep between two and five people. From £227 for two days;

See more of the great outdoors
Jump on a bicycle or a horse to make the most of the British countryside

16. Cycle through the Peak District
The Peak District became Britain’s first national park in 1951 and it still retains an untamed grandeur that many parts of Britain lost long ago. Visitors flock to the Haworth home of the Brontë sisters, while hilltop trails draw hikers from across the country. But the Peak District also has a growing reputation as a top cycling spot. Several long-distance paths cut across the park, including the 17½-mile High Peak Trail, which follows the disused railway line between Cromford and Dowlow, and there are another 120 miles of trails to tackle along the Pennine Bridleway. Peak Tours offers a range of cycling trips, whether you fancy a leisurely lowland pedal or something more demanding. Bike hire from £15 per day;

17. Kayak on the Scottish coast
Scotland’s coastline looks impressive enough from the shore, but seeing it from the sea provides an entirely different perspective. Kayaks are ideal for navigating the jagged coastal geography, and open up some of its most secret corners – such as tiny coves and offshore islands that are otherwise off limits. Since they’re practically silent, they also allow you to get very close to Scotland’s wildlife – if you’re really lucky, you might find a pod of dolphins or porpoises has decided to tag along for the journey. Kayak Scotland, based in Aviemore, offers guided holidays for all abilities, lasting from one day to a week. From £165 for a two-day trip;

18. Get in the saddle on Exmoor
Before the days of road and rail, the only way to reach much of rural Britain was on foot – or, better still, hoof. Thousands of miles of public bridleways still crisscross the countryside, and from the saddle you’ll have an ideal vantage point from which to admire the views. Many of Exmoor’s winding paths have been in use since the days of the druids, and they’re usually quieter than those of Britain’s better-known national parks. Riding stables are dotted all over Exmoor: Outovercott Stables is based near Lynton and offers guided horse treks, including a scenic ride through the Valley of Rocks to the Exmoor coast. From £25 per hour;

19. Go surfing in Pembrokeshire
Battered by waves sweeping in from the Atlantic and with one of the highest annual sunshine rates in the country, Pembrokeshire’s coast has lured surfing dudes and dudettes since the sport first became popular in Britain in the 20th century. And there can be few more beautiful places to learn to ride a board. St Davids, in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, makes a good base, with plenty of restaurants and pubs if you tire of the wetsuit. Whitesands Surf School runs two lessons a day over the summer months; after a course lasting 2½ hours, the expectation is that you will at least be able to stand up on the board for more than a nanosecond. £30;

20. Swim in the Serpentine
It’s accepted that the British are an eccentric bunch, but the Serpentine Swimming Club still manages to raise a few eyebrows. For over a century, members have braved the icy waters of the Serpentine on Christmas Day for the annual Peter Pan Cup. The winter event is reserved for experienced swimmers, but ordinary souls can still indulge in an outdoor dip thanks to the Serpentine Lido, which opens in the lake on 1 May every year. The average water temperature is a very reasonable 21˚C in August. After your swim, sitting on the waterside deck with a drink at the Serpentine Gin Bar, you might find the alfresco atmosphere feels closer to Barcelona than London. £4 entry;

21. Lose yourself in the Welsh mountains
If it’s isolated natural beauty you’re after, Cader Idris might be just the ticket. The remote mountain range in the south of Snowdonia National Park is one of Wales’s best spots for rambling. Trails wind their way around the Cregennan Lakes and forest of Coed y Brenin, but it’s the ‘haunted mountain’ of Cader Idris itself that steals the show. Legend has it that the mountain was once home to a Welsh giant, and the landscape is certainly epic in scale. Head for Gallestra (left), a farmhouse that marries oak beams and slate roofs with more than a dash of style. It’s set in vast private farmland and offers more rambling potential than you can shake a knotted walking stick at. Two nights from £165 to £287;

The article '21 British alfresco activities' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.