Our Favourite UK Moorlands


We’re firm believers that our understanding and appreciation for our moorlands can be enhanced by visiting them. Already treasured by walkers and wildlife enthusiasts alike, travelling through these landscapes can impart you with a sense of freedom and adventure. They can also leave you at the mercy of the elements! Well worth a visit, it’s time to grab your waterproofs and brush up on your navigation skills, as we pick out some of our favourite moorland areas to visit in the UK.

 

Did you know that there is more heather moorland in the UK and Ireland than anywhere else in the world? One of our most important habitats, these great expanses of unenclosed, wild uplands play a vital environmental role thanks to an amazing plant called sphagnum and its ability to capture carbon. When growing healthily, this plant powerhouse takes as much carbon out of the atmosphere as all the forests in the UK and France combined.That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important we protect our moorland areas.

 

If the wonderful sight of purple heather in late summer is your thing, you can also check out this guide from our friends at The Wildlife Trust for other top sites. 


England

North York Moors, Yorkshire

Spend some time in the North York Moors National Park and you'll quickly realise it’s a special place. One of the largest continuous moorland expanses in England, in early summer you’ll hear the call of the moorland birds, such as the red grouse, curlew and golden plover, then later, as the summer evenings draw in, the flowering heather turns the moorland into a purple carpet that stretches for mile after mile. What’s more, much of the North York Moors is open access land, meaning that you can enjoy miles of this spectacular landscape on foot, without having to follow a defined path or track. Unenclosed and unsurpassed, this incredible place responds sensitively to the changing seasons and has a quiet drama all of its own.

Dartmoor, South Devon

A wonderfully wild and exhilarating place, Dartmoor’s 386 sq. miles really does have something for everyone – from cycling, horseback riding, kayaking to wild swimming. However, it’s the open, windswept upland moors, characterised by large expanses of grass and heather, peat blanket bogs, valley mires and staggering granite tors, that make this place a particular paradise for hikers. Walking here offers exciting challenges and some of the most dramatic views in England. Rich in history and legend, the moorland landscapes around here have long provided inspiration for some of Britain’s best authors, poets and playwrights, from Arthur Conan Doyle to Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. Parts of Dartmoor are also one of the few places in England you can wild camp, so sleeping out is another option for you to immerse yourself in this unique landscape.


Exmoor, Somerset / Devon

The outstanding beauty, wildness and tranquillity of the moorlands which dominate Exmoor’s landscape, are some of the UK’s finest. Overlooking the whole of West Somerset, North Devon and the Bristol Channel coast, Exmoor is the protected home to a vast array of species, including majestic red deer and some of the UK’s rarest butterflies and bats. A winding network of footpaths mesh the park together, allowing countless opportunities for exploration. One of the best is The Coleridge Way – a long distance route which rambles over moorland and farmland from Lynton to Nether Stowey, following in the footsteps of Britain’s Romantic poets. Spend time walking here and it’s impossible, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge before you, not to feel inspired.


Forest of Bowland, Lancashire

From its heather-clad moorlands and peat bogs, to the deeply incised wooded valleys and picturesque villages, The Forest of Bowland is an area of richly diverse landscapes, wildlife and heritage with its own distinctive sense of place. Designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, blanket bog in particular is a Bowland speciality and one of the best places in the world to find this type of habitat. Supporting a range of scarce and unusual wild plant species, in April and May in some areas of the Bowland fells you might see one of the UK’s rarest – bog rosemary, which though less aromatic than its cultivated cousins, has beautiful pinky-white bell-shaped flowers.

Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

Set in the rugged heart of Cornwall, this expanse of remote grassland and heather, punctuated by granite outcrops and strewn with boulders, retains a surprising sense of wildness. One the wettest and warmest uplands in Britain (though you might not think so in the snowy depths of winter!) it’s also the only place in the world where the rare Cornish Path Moss grows. Legends and ghost stories abound on Bodmin Moor. Dozmary Pool, where many believe King Arthur's sword Excalibur still lurks, is located here. And should you happen to find yourself alone on the moor as dusk is falling, whatever you do, try not to let your mind dwell on the infamous Beast of Bodmin – named as the result of some sixty sightings of a black panther-like big cat with a supposed taste for attacking the local livestock!


Marsden Moor, The Pennines

With over 5000 acres of moorland to explore, Marsden Moor is the perfect place to get away from it all. Deep peat covers most of it, providing the ideal habitat for plants and animals that can cope with heavy rainfall, little shelter and acidic soil. The mixed heather and cotton grass moorland are home to mountain hares which with any luck you may see bounding across the moors in a zigzag pattern. Marsden is also a site of special scientific interest on account of its breeding bird population and is of European importance for some declining upland species. Criss-crossed with footpaths, everything from gentle strolls to challenging full day hikes, there's something here to suit all walking abilities and, more often than not, you’ll have it all to yourself.

Northumberland National Park, Northumberland

Northumberland is renowned for its wide-open heather moorland habitat, which covers about 70% of its National Park. The best displays of heather grow on the long sandstone ridge of the Simonside Hills, but other plants, flowers and animals have thrived here too. Ling, the most common heather in the park, carpets large areas, providing food for red grouse - one of the few birds to live in the hills all year round. In August each year, when the moors turn purple in a spectacular display of flowering heather, local beekeepers move their hives to this nectar source and harvest delicious, thick honey. Peat bogs too, whilst admittedly not great to walk on, are vital for the local landscape. And let it be known, Northumberland has some of the best bogs you can find anywhere in Europe.


Kinder Moorland, Peak District

If you’re looking for dramatic landscapes look no further than the High Peak Moors; rocky tors, spectacular valleys and cloughs, and miles of wild and remote peat bog – this place has it all. Walk from Edale station up onto the windswept Kinder plateau and it’s easy to see why this place is loved and valued by so many for exercise, to witness amazing wildlife, or simply to catch a view. These moorlands also provide an important nesting habitat for a wide range of bird species from the iconic raptors such as hen harrier, merlin and short eared owl, through to wading birds such as curlew and golden plover which in summer enrich the moor with some of nature’s most iconic sounds.


Scotland

Rannoch Moor, Glencoe Highlands

Often referred to as one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe, Rannoch Moor is a place of extremes and contradictions, and over the centuries it has inspired and awed in equal measure. Providing a suitably contrasting backdrop to the mountains of Glen Coe, this is surely one the UK’s most dramatic landscapes. Despite its harsh conditions, this challenging stretch of blanket peat bog, lochans, rivers, heather hillocks and rocky outcrops supports a wealth of plants, insect, bird and animal life, ranging from curlews and grouse to roe and red deer. Its remoteness is striking and traversing it on foot is an unforgettable experience. Alternatively, the famous West Highland Railway line crosses the moorland for 23 miles, offering a unique and accessible perspective on Scotland’s signature landscape.

Dava Moor, Moray

If you cross Dava moor on a clear day you will be rewarded with views to the north over the shire counties of Nairn, Inverness, Moray, Ross & Cromarty, and Sutherland whilst to the south the Cromdale Hills and the Cairngorm Mountains dominate the skyline. If you walk the 24-mile Dava Way which links the historic towns of Forres in Moray with Grantown-on-Spey in the Cairngorms National Park, keep an eye out for red deer and red grouse across the moors and black grouse where moorland meets the woodland.


Wales

Denbigh Moors, Conwy & Denbighshire

This upland region between Snowdonia and the Clwydian ranges is a surviving part of an immense grouse moor and shooting estate. Whilst the eastern side includes the peaks of Tir Mostyn and Foel Goch, as well as the Alwen and Brenig – the moorland’s two major valleys, as you rise over the moorland between Denbigh and Bala you’ll find the ghostly ruins of a once lavish mansion - Gwylfa Hiraethog. Built in 1911 it’s said to have once been the highest inhabited house in Wales, boasting wider views than any other house in Britain. Just after it was built, former Prime Minister Lloyd George addressed a large crowd from its balcony, presumably with a voice a powerful as the winds that sweep across this remote place. Nowadays the house is a remote and foreboding ruin, which you can visit in conjunction with a drink in Wales’ highest pub – The Sportsmans – which is located nearby.



Northern Ireland

The Garron Plateau, County Antrim

This Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) is the largest area of intact blanket bog in Northern Ireland. Located to the north-east of Ballymena and stretching to Garron Point, where dramatic stepped cliffs fall into the sea, the plateau supports one of the UK’s largest populations of the marsh saxifrage – a yellow-flowered perennial plant that can’t be found anywhere else in Northern Ireland. If you manage to find it, perhaps you’ll also be able to locate the abandoned settlement of Galboly, otherwise known as ‘the hidden village’, nestled amongst one of the nine glens of Antrim above Garron Point. It’s last resident – a monk - died in 2013 and its since been one of the more remote locations used for the ever-popular Game of Thrones.


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