6 ways to travel sustainably in the British Isles

by | Nov 30, 2021 | Great Britain, Sustainable Tourism, Sustainable Travel, United Kingdom

Over the past couple of years, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many travellers have become more conscious about the way they impact the destinations they visit. Whether you're travelling to the Caribbean, Southern Africa or Europe, there are several sustainable travel practices you can use to ensure your travel impact is a positive one. Here, I share 6 ways to travel sustainably in the British Isles.

6 ways to travel sustainably in the British Isles

1. Stay sustainably.

Choose accommodations that use sustainable practices, such as using shampoo and conditioner dispensers instead of single use plastic bottles, that serve meals prepared with fresh, local ingredients, that strive to reduce waste and that use energy saving equipment and heating systems.

Consider staying in family run bed & breakfasts and boutique hotels or even a heritage-listed building instead of international owned hotel chains.

Headland Hotel, Newquay, Cornwall, England

Headland Hotel, Newquay, Cornwall, England

Pictured is the family-run Headland Hotel in Newquay, Cornwall, which is a Grade II listed building. The owners strive to reduce food miles using fresh, seasonal, local ingredients in their restaurants, to save energy by using hybrid equipment in their gym and an energy saving heating system, and to reduce waste by using paper saving initiatives. Photo via Pixabay.

2. Immerse yourself.

Instead of only visiting tourist hotspots in London and environs, visit off-the-beaten track destinations away from the city and immerse yourself in country life, living and activities.

Consider visiting small rural communities and small coastal ports and fishing villages (the coast is less than an hour away from London). Eat in family run restaurants or a country pub with a carvery.

Get out in nature and go hiking or biking in national parks, Royal parks, country parks and, depending on the time of year, go on a garden or farm tour.

Learn about the country’s past by visiting historical towns and villages, country estates and castles, cathedrals, churches and chapels (even if you can’t go inside), castle ruins, ancient monuments and prehistoric artifacts (not just Stone Henge).

Visit industrial heritage and archeological sites and discover how the British Isles led the industrial revolution.

Visit the UNESCO Word Heritage, the National Trust, British Heritage and the National Garden Scheme websites for ideas on where to go. (Or ask me to plan an itinerary for you!)

Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, Wales

Cemaes, Isle of Anglesey, Wales

Pictured is Cemaes, a fishing village on the north coast of Anglesey in Wales. Situated on Cemaes Bay, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which is partly owned by the National Trust, it is the most northerly village in Wales. Photo via Unsplash.

3. Tour sustainably.

Whether travelling independently, on a self-guided tour or on an escorted tour, choose an itinerary that includes sustainable transportation routes, i.e. routes that include trains, boats and buses instead of routes that require you to rent a car or fly between destinations.

When visiting cities, use public transport where possible, such as the underground, trams, buses, light rail, boats and ferries.
The rail network is second to none with many routes leaving from London (likely your first port of call if you’re not travelling via Ireland). Trains are generally clean and safe, include food and beverage services, restrooms, and free wifi and private overnight cabins (on some routes). A rail journey can be a very relaxed way of getting from A-Z as well as seeing the British countryside.

Rail passes are available that allow you to travel by train on multiple days to multiple destinations without needing to purchase separate tickets, and costing less. You can choose to travel on consecutive days or, for more flexible travel, non-consecutive days, over a set period of time (e.g. 3-day, 7-day, 15-day or 30 day periods).

Some passes are regional so be sure to purchase the right pass if you plan to travel to different regions. Also, be sure to purchase before leaving Canada especially if visiting in high season. Some passes can ONLY be booked ahead and are sent to your home address to ensure you are a visitor not a resident. (PS: Did you know you can book 24 months in advance with cancellation up to 30 days prior to departure. Ask me how!)

Public buses are also an affordable way to travel and give you some degree of flexibility especially on short journeys. However they are slower than trains and may make frequent stops (which can be a bonus) if you’d prefer to hop-on and hop-off at specific points along the route.

You’ll find public buses connecting rural communities as well as coastal towns and villages which negate the need to rent a car and find and pay for parking (especially at busy times of year).

Consider a canal boat holiday for part of your stay and see parts of the country you wouldn’t be able to get to by car. Canal boats also include accommodation and because they go less than 4 miles an hour it’s a very relaxed way of enjoying the British countryside (and even urban landscapes).

Canal boat in West Yorkshire, England

Canal boat in West Yorkshire, England

A canal boat is a relaxing way to see parts of the country you don’t get to see by road or rail. Photo via Pixabay.

4. Stay longer.

While most people travelling to the British Isles for the first time spend much of their vacation in London and its environs, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and other areas of England, such as the West Country, the Midlands, East Anglia, and the North, or even some of the smaller islands in the archipelago, have much to offer too and they are all a train, bus or ferry ride away!

Consider extending your stay so you can tour more of the British Isles and immerse yourself in the different regions. By staying longer and experiencing more during the same vacation it will not only help the environment but also help the economy in smaller communities where you’ll spend your vacation dollars (or pounds)!

Below are some of the things you’ll discover by staying longer and touring further.

If you tour Great Britain and Ireland, you’ll find that we don’t all speak the same, and that there are numerous regional dialects and accents. In Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and in parts of southwestern England, some people even speak a different language, keeping their national heritage alive.

You’ll also discover a variety of regional cuisine, including neeps and tatties, grouse, black pudding, shortbread, scotch pie and, of course, haggis in Scotland; Welsh rarebit, barabrith, leek soup, Caerphilly cheese and Welsh cakes in Wales, Irish stew, soda bread, Barmbrack, coddle and boxty (pancake) in Ireland; as well as numerous regional foods from around different parts of England (too many for this post).

Of course, for those that like a tipple or two, you’ll find regional beers and ales, as well as regional spirits, and even home grown wine, as well as traditional cider (do not give it to kids)!

For nature lovers, photographers and outdoorsy peeps, the British Isles have a variety of rural landscapes for you to explore including hills and dales, moors and heathlands, mountains, lakes and lochs. There are chalk cliffs and escarpments, narrow winding gorges and wide valleys with meandering rivers to explore. At the coast you’ll find rugged cliffs, bays and coves, golden sand beaches (some that stretch for miles) and rocky pebble beaches. In the east you’ll find flat fens with dykes that seem to stretch for miles. And around the country you’ll come across waterfalls and babbling brooks, forests, woodlands and thickets.

Despite the notion that Britain is crowded you’ll also find plenty of undulating farmland framed by high hedgerows, ancient stone walls or lined with tress, often dotted with tors and other unusual rock formations or hummocks and ridges indicating archaeological remains lie below.

There is also an abundance of public foot paths, nature trails and rights of way that traverse all over the land, even through private property, so you can be far from the madding crowd and in your own carefree world (it’s probably one of the main things I miss from my homeland).

Ribblehead Viaduct, North Yorkshire England

Ribblehead Viaduct or Batty Moss Viaduct in the North Yorkshire Dales

Stay longer and discover hidden gems such as the Ribblehead Viaduct in Yorkshire. This photo is significant as it highlights some of England’s unique and stunning landscape, an industrial and engineering masterpiece and a sustainable way to travel. Photo via Pixabay.

5. Travel off-peak.

Travel in the off-season when the tourist hot spots are less crowded and prices are cheaper. While some local amenities and/or sites may be closed during the winter, many businesses in tourist areas stay open throughout the year and could benefit from off-peak visitors.

Not only will it be cheaper for you, you’ll benefit from not having to queue to get into popular sites, and you’ll often get a chance to chat with the owners/staff at your accommodations, in restaurants and small stores and learn about hidden gems and other local insights.

Consider travelling in mid-May when the weather is fairly mild, the spring flowers are in full bloom but local schools are not on holiday yet. By May the days are also starting to get fairly long so you’ll have plenty of time to explore.

Or travel in October when the autumn colours adorn the trees. The weather is usually cool and breezy (especially at the coast) but if you’re lucky you’ll have days with warm late summer weather scattered throughout your stay.

If you prefer warmer weather, early June before school is out and early September after the kids go back to school, are good times to visit. However tourist spots may still be somewhat crowded and accommodation prices higher.

If your interests lie in urban centres and indoor activities (such as visiting estate homes, museums, galleries, shopping) or culinary experiences in restaurants and pubs, winter can be a great time to visit and the establishments will appreciate the out-of-season business.

Even coastal cliff hikes and beach walks can be fun in winter as long as you don’t pick a stormy day to do so. (Been there, done that, just for the fun of it! 😂)

Whichever season you travel, you should book ahead as much as possible and if travelling in the winter, you may want to check to see what’s open and closed for the season, to avoid disappointment.

Howth Head Peninsula, Dublin, Ireland

Howth Head Peninsula, Dublin, Ireland

Although never likely to be as crowded as Dublin itself, when you travel off-peak, you could find yourself enjoying beautiful spots like this all to yourself. Bliss! Photo via Pixabay.

6. Support local.

Instead of waiting to purchase souvenirs in the duty free stores at the airport before your flight home, support local businesses by collecting souvenirs from a variety of stores during your stay.

Souvenirs bought at places you visited will have more meaning and be more memorable and significant than souvenirs bought in a rush at the airport. They’ll serve as reminders of the locations you stayed, sites you visited and places you explored, and be reminiscent of enjoyable moments during your vacation.

Not only that, but the communities and store owners where you purchased them will benefit economically rather than the large conglomerates selling items at the airport. They’ll often also be cheaper!

Consider purchasing craft items that were made locally instead of mass marketed souvenirs. Not only do the stores where you purchase them benefit, but the local artisans will also benefit.

If you’re worried about space and weight in your suitcase while you’re travelling, consider donating items of clothing you probably won’t wear again to a local charity store. Or choose items that don’t take up a lot of space or that can fit inside something else. If it’s a breakable or can be damaged, carry it in your hand luggage and forgo the duty free bottle at the airport!

A landscape painting of an area you visited can be rolled up and placed inside a protective tube that doesn’t weigh too much. It’s a great way to be remember how beautiful the British Isles are and may even inspire you re-visit one day.

Loch Leven near Glencoe, in the Highlands of Scotland.

Loch Leven near Glencoe, in the Highlands of Scotland.

Photo via Pixabay.

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