Four ways to discover the UK's ancient rainforest, from Cornwall to Cumbria
Pockets of temperate rainforest — also known as Celtic rainforest — can be found dotted along the west of the UK. Here are four ways to explore it.
Rambling through the woods at Cabilla, in the heart of Cornwall, it would be easy to assume the 80-acre forest is the same as any other in the UK. But, look a little closer, and you’ll notice an intriguing layer of complexity. Here, wisps of greyish-green lichen hang overhead, while epiphyte plants cling precariously to birch branches. Moss-speckled stones carpet the forest floor, while ferns festoon the whole scene. Flora like this, in such abundance, is a telltale sign that this is no ordinary woodland — it’s a temperate rainforest. Cloaking land in regions typically under the influence of the ocean, the high rainfall and humidity that’s special to these forests have helped a rich biodiversity to bloom in every corner, from branch to boulder. In the UK, these rare ancient forests occupy just a tiny segment of the natural landscape, and though they’re threatened, there are plenty of recovery projects underway to help protect them — such as that taking place at Cabilla.
The luxury nature retreat is located on Bodmin Moor, and it’s where landowners Merlin and Lizzie Hanbury-Tenison invite travellers to experience the land through eco-therapy, which includes forest bathing, swimming in natural pools and guided walks, as well as through hands-on forest restoration. As the modern caretakers of this primeval patch of land, they believe that engaging in restoring the land can be as cathartic as focusing explicitly on eco-therapy. Volunteers can lend a hand to their Thousand Year Project: a rewilding plan, which aims to triple the size of the forest that exists within Cabilla’s boundary. Species monitoring, oak tree planting, seeding and pruning are just some of the activities that you can get involved with — in return, there’s a wealth of knowledge to be gained about the rich biological tapestry of the temperate rainforest, from mycelial networks and soil health to the importance of lichen and insects.
How to book: Those who wish to volunteer should contact Cabilla ahead of their visit. The Elements Retreat and The Wild Calm Retreat are available to book, which includes accommodation in luxury wooden cabins and vegetarian meals. Four days, three nights from £775 pp.
Four more areas of temperate rainforest to visit
1. Cambrian Wildwood, Mid Wales
The woodland and blanket bog here are home to roaming roe deer, curlews and badgers, while gorse bushes and crab apple trees speckle the rugged hills and upland heath with yellows and pinks. A temperate rainforest rewilding project aims to plant 8,000 native trees over the coming years, with the aim of boosting the wood’s natural biodiversity.
Where to stay: A collection of hand-built treehouses and wood cabins at Caban, set in bucolic Welsh countryside. From £75 a night.
2. Caledonian Forest, Scotland
Although it was once one contiguous rainforest, today it exists in 35 separate fragments, stretching over 44,000 acres in Scotland. Many of its sites are easily accessed, including at RSPB Glenborrodale, home to more than 200 species of flora and fauna; and sections of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
One of the UK’s largest rewilding projects takes place in the Affric Highlands; the mountain range surrounding Loch Affric. Explore the area by visiting the Dundreggan Rewilding Centre, where you can experience the forest through its range of nature-focused events, or by embarking upon one of its all-ability trails.
Where to stay: Glen Affric is home to one of the largest remaining fragments of temperate forest in the Caledonian Forest. Book the off-grid Athnamullock Bothy, surrounded by mountain scenery. From £144 a night.
3. Naddle Farm, Cumbria
Set in the Lake District nearby the Haweswater reservoir, Naddle Farm has a section of temperate rainforest where a range of experiences can be booked through Wild Haweswater — from one-day fell walks and forest bathing tasters to multi-day wild camping adventures. If you’re bypassing the organised activities, bring your own food and equipment as visitor facilities are limited (there are no public toilets, visitor centres or cafes). Wild Haweswater, run in conjunction with the RSPB, accepts volunteers to help with its ongoing rewilding initiatives.
Where to stay: The 17-room Haweswater Hotel enjoys a beautiful position overlooking the reservoir. Doubles from £159 a night.
4. Dartmoor, Devon
There are five temperate rainforests you can visit around Dartmoor National Park, where rare species found in the wilderness — from the upload moors to the granite tors — include skylarks, cuckoos and southern damselflies. Wistman’s Wood is a great place to start. Situated in the West Dart Valley, it’s home to exceptionally rare horsehair lichen, plus vulnerable moor and grassland habitats.
Where to stay: The nearby riverside Two Bridges Hotel has 32 rooms, each oozing with historic charm. It’s also home to a two-AA-Rosette restaurant. Doubles from £162 a night.
To learn more about temperate rainforests in the UK, visit Guy Shrubsole’s Lost Rainforests of Britain map.
Follow us on social media