Guide to the UK’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Published: Wednesday 23rd Apr 2014
Written by: Sally Sims
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) describes perfectly what one is – a beautiful landscape that is protected because of its scenic views, rare wildlife, distinctive character or historical importance. They range from coastal cliffs and moorland to rolling valley and ancient woodland. AONBs are similar to national parks but differ because they have fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation.
There are 38 AONBs in England and Wales and hopefully you will have one nearby on your holiday. Here’s a guide to some of our finest AONBs:
The Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty takes in a strip of land along the north Norfolk coast which includes the sand dunes of awe-inspiring Holkam beach, the saltmarshes of Cley and Salthouse, and the coastal villages of Wells, Brancaster and Blakeney. Visitors will find beautiful sandy beaches, opportunities to spot wading birds and grey seals, attractive hamlets of flint cottages and welcoming pubs.
The gently rolling countryside of the Dedham Vale AONB along the Essex/Suffolk border takes you through the countryside that inspired famous landscape painter John Constable. Following the River Stour, the valley is characterised by green farmland, lush meadows and pretty villages with thatched and timbered houses.
If you like fossil-hunting then beaches such as Lyme Regis in the Dorset AONB are the places to visit. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty takes in all sort of attractions such as the famous Lulworth Cove and the rocks at Durdle Door to the market town of Dorchester and the prosperous coastal community of Poole. This is Thomas Hardy country.
Offering some of the best cliff views in the country, the North Devon AONB takes in the jagged rocks of Hartland Point, the windswept majesty of Westward Ho! and the cobbled alleys and picture postcard coastal cottages of Clovelly. For visitors wanting to experience the full force of the Atlantic winds, the South West Coast Path takes walkers along the exposed cliff tops.
Ranging from the wind-torn headlands in the north to the attractive cottages of the south, the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is known for its diversity. Here you’ll find Land’s End – the most southerly point in England – the rocks of Lizard Point and the granite heath of Bodmin Moor.
The High Weald AONB stretches across Surrey, Sussex and Kent and is the name for the area of land that sits between the North and South Downs. Typified by rolling farmland and woods, Ashdown Forest can be found here – the place where AA Milne based many of Winnie the Pooh’s adventures. There’s even a tree with Winnie’s door set into the base!
Meeting the sea at the white cliffs of Dover, delights found in the Kent AONB include the famous Pilgrim’s Way footpath and the cathedral city of Canterbury. The historic parkland of Knole and Winston Churchill's family home at Chartwell – now both National Trust properties – are places well worth a visit here.
Located on the eastern flanks of the Yorkshire Pennines, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty includes various habitats within its boundaries, from moorland and meadows to woodlands and hedgerows. Places of interest to take in on your travels include the mini-Stonehenge folly of Druid’s Temple and the National Trust properties of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal water gardens.
The heather-covered moorland and wooded stretches of the Forest of Bowland AONB attract walkers to this isolated corner of Lancashire. With drystone walls traversing the landscape, one of the best-known peaks in this area is the prominent Pendle Hill. The towns of Preston, Lancaster and Burnley all border this AONB.
You’ll find majestic sweeping beaches and miles of sand dunes along the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Home to the stunning coastal setting of Bamburgh Castle, the area also takes in the picturesque Berwick-upon-Tweed – England’s most northerly town – with its three famous bridges including the superb Royal Border railway viaduct.
Both a haven for wildlife and a magnet for water sports enthusiasts and holidaying families alike, the Gower AONB in south Wales offers a fabulous coastline and an outstanding natural environment. The UK’s first AONB, Gower's natural environment varies from heath and grassland to dunes and oak woodland.
The Anglesey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an island that lies off the north-west corner of Wales where you’ll find limestone cliffs, sandy beaches and coastal heath. Home to Beaumaris Castle – a World Heritage Site, Anglesey offers pursuits such as sailing, riding and cliff climbing. A 125-mile long coastal path is one to be enjoyed by walkers.