UK adventure vacations for solos

After six days on horseback traversing the Welsh countryside, following ancient drovers’ tracks, crossing fords, through forest and valleys, over hills and moorland, the sense of achievement from reaching your final destination is sensational. To top it off, as you meet the glorious Welsh coast, the last section lets you finish with a gallop along a sandy beach. What a way to reward your efforts completing this epic horseback journey across Wales.

“This is our flagship route,” says Matt Williams, from our partner Freerein Riding Vacations, “and people definitely book it looking for an adventure.”

The pleasure of exploring remote landscapes or using new ways to see lesser-visited aspects of well-known destinations is one shared by many of our UK adventure vacations for solos. And, crucially, these trips are guided by people not only knowledgeable about the places, the local culture, the wildlife, but passionate to share their knowledge with their guests. The guides understand why these places and activities appeal so much.

“One of the biggest reasons people say they join my vacations is shutting off and getting away from the world,” says Dane Stewart, founder of our partner Tistel Wildlife Guiding. “They say they gain a greater appreciation for things we often take for granted. They find themselves thinking about the bigger picture.”

The Covid-19 pandemic affected everyone in different ways, but something that many of us had in common was an urge to broaden our horizons despite closed borders preventing international travel for months at a time. Naturally, people around the world looked to their own backyards, and found places and activities they’d perhaps never considered before. And they loved it.

Solo activity vacations in the UK explore wild landscapes, traveling through open countryside, forest, coast and national parks. But though they’re packed with activity, ‘solo’ is a bit of a misnomer, as while you might set off from home alone, you won’t be on your own for the duration of your trip. Since not everyone has friends or family free to travel with them or are interested in the same kind of things, joining a small group tour is a convenient way to meet people with shared passions.

Why go on a singles adventure vacation in the UK?

Meike van Krimpen, from our partner Wilderness Scotland, says that beyond the camaraderie, solo travelers on their small group kayaking and canoeing vacations relish accessing parts of the Scottish coast that would be much more difficult to explore independently. Additionally, group travel takes all the hassle out of logistics, safety and route planning.

The guides are key to everything. “They are on the frontline for an average of 100 days each year, so their skills, knowledge and experience are vast,” says Meike. “They strive to connect our clients to Scotland’s local natural and cultural heritage, in addition to taking care of their needs and safety throughout the trip. Because we keep our guide-to-guest ratio small it allows the guides to really get to know each participant and their requirements individually.”

The downside to so many people from the UK choosing to vacation closer to home is that many sought-after locations, from the Lake District to Cairngorms National Park, have been overwhelmed by visitors at times. That has led to a rise in litter, popular walking trails suffering from greater erosion, and tents and campfires popping up in unsuitable places.

“What I call ‘dirty camping’ has become more of an issue recently,” says Dane Stewart. “It’s good that more people are camping, of course, but too often it’s not being done right.”

When you join a solo adventure vacation, your guides will be clued up on ‘leave no trace’ principles in sometimes fragile habitats, and ensure that any wildlife you encounter is approached responsibly. They’ll aim to avoid putting extra pressure on the busiest areas, whether that’s by choosing different hiking routes or coming at different times of day to avoid larger sightseeing groups. Smaller groups can also use smaller hotels, inns and B&Bs, which are often owned by people from the community, rather than chain hotels which do little for the local economy.
Travel Team
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Where can I go on vacation alone in the UK?

Group vacations for singles in the UK often look north of the border to Scotland, where activities range from sea kayaking in the Highlands to wildlife watching in the Cairngorms while based in a gloriously secluded woodland encampment. In England, you could cycle through the Lake District, while in Wales you can join small groups kayaking off the Pembrokeshire coast, hiking in Snowdonia, or horse riding from the Wye Valley to the Dovey Estuary on an epic border-to-coast journey.

“Mid Wales is an incredible country for riding,” says Matt Williams, “and we wanted to offer this trip as a chance for others to see the very best parts, whilst also experiencing a proper trail ride, traveling from place to place with a destination at the other end.

“There is a wonderful section on day three where you follow an ancient drovers’ track along the river, crossing ford after ford after ford. It feels so old and you really get a sense of what it must have been like to travel these roads hundreds of years ago. It’s so much fun to wade through the fords with the horses.”

Wildlife is a big part of the appeal on many solo activity vacations in the UK. Despite this being one of the most nature-depleted nations in the world, if you’re in the right place with a knowledgeable guide, you can count on at least a few good wildlife sightings.

There are seals in abundance, as well as dolphins and porpoises off the Welsh coast. Curious seals and otters poke their heads up to watch kayakers go by off Skye in the Scottish Highlands. In the Cairngorms, expert trackers such as Dane Stewart, who picked up his guiding qualifications in South Africa, can bring you up close with everything from reindeer to red squirrels, pine martens and all manner of birdlife.

What do solo adventure vacations in the UK involve?

Small group trips are by their nature very sociable and you’ll usually get to meet everyone else, as well as your guide(s), on the first evening before the activities get underway. Group numbers vary, from 2-6 people on a Cairngorms wildlife watching trip, up to eight while sea kayaking, and a maximum of 12 while cycling in the Lake District.

“We get all sorts of people from all walks of life, and it’s great because although everyone is so different, we all have one thing in common – horses!” says Matt Williams. “We get loads of solo travelers, some couples, friends... every trip has a unique group, so you never know who you’re going to be riding across Wales with.”
And while traveling solo can sometimes seem a daunting prospect the first time you do it, many become hooked. “Some come again and again,” agrees Meike van Krimpen. “We even have people on their 12th trip and more. Often they book trips with the same guide as they’ve formed a bond and like that particular guide’s style. We’ve also had guests who have made friends on a normal tour and meet up a few years later on a private trip.”

You can expect to be matched up with people from a diverse range of ages and backgrounds wherever you go, usually with at least half the group traveling solo and many aged 50-plus. Some solo activity vacations see a greater proportion of female guests, while others offer women only vacations on set dates.

When staying in hotels or B&Bs, you’ll typically share a room with another member of the group. In most cases single supplements will be available, though sometimes limited.

Most vacations will have you out and about every day, with perhaps a rest day included for longer trips. Anyone of reasonable fitness should have little difficulty keeping up, though in some cases – such as during a border-to-coast riding vacation – you’ll need to have experience on horseback.

“You need to be comfortable in the saddle and riding fit as the days are very long and the terrain can be challenging,” advises Matt Williams. “Due to the ever-changing terrain there aren’t many opportunities for fast riding, but the finale of the trip is a lovely canter on the beach, so riders must be happy and confident controlling a horse in open spaces.”

There’s one last point worth adding. The people behind our solo adventure vacations, skilfully organising and guiding these small group trips, are well aware that many of their travelers come looking to get away from it all. So while there’s always companionship and conversation if you want it, any time you want to keep a little distance from the rest of the group for a while and disappear into your own thoughts, you just need to let your guide know.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tom Austin] [Intro: Freerein Riding Vacations] [Where can I go?: Roddy Mcdowell] [What do they involve?: Phil and Pam Gradwell]