This year it has felt rather sombrely like an eternal winter. However, now we have weathered the dreary, miserable winter days full of drizzle, hail and the relentless wind, it is now time to lock those well-worn wintertime lifelines of scarves, hats and gloves away for another few months. Yes, July is finally here meaning the hibernation weather has been vanquished and it is time to bask outside in all the resplendent glory that the sunshine brings with it (at least when it chooses to come out!). It is irrefutable that in our city destinations of Aberdeen, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh, you can find some of the most vibrant and pulsating entertainment, dining and retail scenes to be found in the UK, however amongst all those buzzing sights, sounds and noises, there is always a space for tranquillity, peace and clarity to be found. Whether it is spacious parks, stunning beaches or picturesque gardens, there is always a bit of nature to be found amongst the concrete jungle of city blocks and with this much prized heatwave bringing some light to the UK, we felt now would be the perfect time to discover them.
A sparkling skyline created by magnificent granite buildings that glitter in the sun, it is undeniable why Aberdeen also affectionately goes by the title of the “Silver City”. However, do not let that title mislead you because Aberdeen actually has a hidden green side that softens out the harsh edge of the plethora of the outwardly appearing austere granite buildings. Nothing quite cements Aberdeen’s ability to be an equal natural wonder quite like it winning gold at “Britain in Bloom” a record-breaking eleven times.
You may not know it, but over a quarter of Aberdeen’s land is actually open space which is predominantly manifested in the form of gorgeous parks and gardens. Most renowned of all are Duthie Park, Johnstone Gardens and Hazlehead Park; all of which provide an abundance of lush space to have a leisurely walk around; an adrenaline pumping work-out in or a place to indulge in a summer picnic. However, each park also brings with it a myriad of hidden gems and treasures to be unearthed. For instance, in Duthie Park, a venture through the rather mysterious and exotic Winter Gardens will lead you to encounter the largest collection of cacti in the UK while an exploration of the idyllic Johnstone Gardens will enable you to photograph many a memory against the picturesque backdrop of fairy-tale like ethereal ponds, waterfalls and a signature bridge. Moreover, between its pets’ corner, rose garden, maze (the oldest in Scotland!), child’s playground and golf course, Hazlehead Park delivers the perfect family day out away from the hustle and bustle of city life. However, nothing quite epitomises nature in the city quite like the Union Terrace Gardens which present an oasis of tranquillity right in the midst of the city centre. With an abundance of green space to stretch out on, and an iconic floral recreation of Aberdeen’s Coat of Arms to admire, the ambient atmosphere is at total contrast to the fast-pace of life emanating from the surrounding city streets.
However, of course the crowning glory of the cosmopolitan Silver City is the golden sandy shores of Aberdeen’s beach. Aberdeen’s prosperity as a city is based upon the riches that reside below the crashing waves of the North Sea and so it is no surprise that images of the harbour also are commonly used to characterize Aberdeen. Take in the stunning coastal views and breathe in the fresh air as you venture along the coast and some of Britain’s finest beaches including Balmedie Beach.
Alternatively, at this time of the year, the sea also affords a different natural pleasure in the form of our friends with fins: dolphins. Due to Aberdeen being one of the best places in Europe to watch these magnificent animals at home in the sea, it is no wonder it is fast becoming a prime dolphin watching spot. Often frolicking near the harbour, it is not uncommon to witness the dolphins feeding & playing alongside surprise guests such as whales. It is truly a beautiful sight and reflects how there is more to the North Sea than just oil. RSPB Scotland’s DolphinWatch team will be at the Torry Battery Car Pack till mid-August and with dolphins appearing on 90% of 2014’s DolphinWatch days, you cannot miss an opportunity to see such playful, innocent fun.
With one of its defining features being its impressive canal system which covers more miles than Canal City itself, Venice, and runs straight through the heart of Britain’s animated ’Second City’, it can already be inferred the strong sense of nature that permeates throughout Birmingham. The canals provide the best seat in the house for an intensive tour of Birmingham, with none of the stress!
Nothing epitomises Birmingham’s green-side quite like the very aptly named Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park, which, with a collection of over 130 species including the popular likes of lemurs and meerkats, is an simultaneously fun and educational experience which offers much enlightenment in regards to conservation efforts.
Although not quite an authentic natural attraction, the headlining National Sea Life Centre certainly at least presents an opportune moment to get up close and personal with our friends in the sea. Surrounded by a one-million litre ocean tank, which is residence to all kinds of exotic and mesmerizing creatures including tropical fish species, gentle sea turtles and formidable sharks, it is no surprise that the Sea Life Centre is a popular attraction for anyone who wants to experience the wonder of the ocean in a bustling, up-and-coming city jungle. It is truly a whole other world!
However, of course you cannot miss the plentiful supply of headlining Birmingham parks in which to picnic, workout or just simply to admire. One of the most famous parks is Cannon Hill Park which with its pedalo boats in the summer, as well as its collection of tennis courts alongside a bowling green and mini-golf course, provides a lasting day of entertainment for the whole family to bask in. Alternatively, there is the Eastside City Park as well as Kings Heath Park, with the Eastside City Park being of particular importance due to it being the largest single piece of public open space in the bustling city centre and it even winning a special accolade for it being an outstanding public green space (which includes gardens, water features and a Science Garden) at the European Entente Florale 2013 competition.
Glasgow may well be a prime dynamic leisure hub due to its renowned nightlife and retail scenes, however with its collection of 90 parks, it is clear that Glasgow is more than a little in touch with its green side also. However, in fairness, the sassy yet warmly hospitable city has much to live up to considering that in Gaelic; Glasgow translates as “Dear Green Place”. Therefore, be under no illusion that Glasgow is all about the bright lights, the vibrating bass and the chime of cash registers, there is so much underestimated natural beauty and peace to be uncovered alongside the magnificence of its prestigious architecture.
No park brings nature to the city quite like Glasgow Green; Glasgow’s oldest and most city central park. Famous not just for its age or location, Glasgow Green also features the largest terracotta fountain in the world. However, that is not the only treasure to be enjoyed as within the stunning grounds you will also come across the People’s Palace and the Winter Gardens; a Victorian glasshouse masterpiece which will generate much wonder due to it being residence to all kinds of tropical and mysterious plant species.
However, it is the West End of Glasgow that is a particular natural showcase due to it being home to both the renowned Kelvingrove Park and Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. Nothing enhances the beauty of Kelvingrove Park quite like its location on the banks of the River Kelvin. If its location was not idyllic enough, its status as a Victorian park only goes to exacerbate this considering the air of splendour and grandeur it conjures. The prestigious Kelvingrove Museum and Art Galleries aside, one of the park’s most stunning features is the tranquil walks it affords alongside the breath-taking river walkways and the plentiful supply of wildlife you might have the fortune of crossing.
Internationally recognised for many a thing, whether it is its warm hospitality or its inspiring art scene, Glasgow is also a winner on a global scale when it comes to its highly-esteemed Botanic Gardens. Well-regarded when it comes to both the glasshouses’ architecture and the wondrous exotic collection of plants they behold, the wooded walks and formal gardens are truly a natural haven that is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Glasgow’s streets.
One other natural highlight worth mentioning is the picturesque Victoria Park which due to its stunning horticultural backdrop of beautiful floral displays, is often regarded as one of the loveliest parks in Glasgow. However, the real treasure it beholds is Glasgow’s most ancient attraction: the Fossil Grove. Open between April and September, the Fossil Grove consists of a fossilized grove of prehistoric trees which to give any indication of their age, are so historic that they are double the age of dinosaurs.
This year in particular is an opportune time to consider Glasgow as a “Dear Green Place” due to it being the “Year of Green”; a year in which there is much jubilation and cheer in correspondence with Glasgow’s mission to become a sustainable city in the future. As a result, there are many an exciting event to partake in; including the likes of Twilight Walks and Wildlife Garden Festivals.
With its ideal location on the mighty Firth of Forth, it is no surprise that Scotland’s most bustling city is also greatly in touch with Mother Nature. It is a side that can only be reinforced due to it proudly receiving a Gold Award in the Britain in Bloom Awards 2013, one of the most prestigious awards when it comes to celebrating Britain’s best and most stunning gardens. Of course one of Edinburgh’s headlining attractions is the renowned Edinburgh Zoo which is home to many a fascinating furry resident including meerkats, tigers, rhinos and penguins.
The pinnacle of Edinburgh’s nature scene is most definitely the Royal Botanic Gardens which in itself provides over 70 acres of sweet-smelling, scenic gardens that contains wondrous plant species from all parts of the world. These gardens are so magical and beloved as they are rumoured to be some of the most excellent in the world due to them being residence to all kinds of special and rare plant species. Between the gardens, the greenhouses and the eco-centre, there is so much beauty to be admired and knowledge to be gained and all in a tranquil setting that is only a mile from the fast-paced Edinburgh streets. It is certainly a prime natural spot with the award-winning Inverleith Park being located in the near vicinity which offers mesmerizing cityscape views that cannot be easily replicated.
However, do not assume that nature is only to be found on the outskirts of the city, there is much green space to seek solitude in, even amongst the animation and the incessant hustle and bustle of Scotland’s Capital. At the base of the Royal Mile, you can explore the spacious Holyrood Park but the ultimate crowning glory in the area has to be Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano, which provides a heavy workout as well some of the most renowned and photo-worthy views of the whole city. Whether you hike it, walk it or even run it, the magnificent views will certainly make an intrepid adventure of Arthur’s Seat worth it! Alternatively, if you are needing somewhere to relax right there and then after an ambitious shopping spree on some of the nation’s most beloved high streets, then the extremely city central Princes Street Gardens should tick the box. Residence to some of the most iconic Edinburgh attractions that make their way into every picture perfect postcard, including the Scott Monument and the grandeur of the Ross Fountain, it is not surprising that these gardens are packed on a warm’s summer day due to the surrounding all-encompassing beauty and energy of Edinburgh’s historic streets.
Ultimately, there is so much natural beauty hiding amongst the concrete camouflage of some of the UK’s most cosmopolitan and dynamic cities, and it is waiting for you to discover it. Therefore, get your picnic baskets, running shoes and cameras at the ready, with the UK currently basking in the glow of a heatwave, now is the perfect time to breathe in that fresh summer air while enjoying nature’s gifts.