11 wonderful things to enjoy in the countryside without paying a penny

It’s hard to do anything in a city without spending money. Yet in the country, some of the greatest pleasures are there for the taking — here's our 10 for starters.

Flowers

Cow parsley and daffodils might not combine the scent and sophistication of roses and peonies, but they have a capacity to evoke the pleasures of our ever-changing seasons. Better still, rather than costing £20 a bunch, they are free to anyone with a pair of secateurs happy to spend a few hours browsing verges, fields and hedgerows — but be aware of which are protected and don’t take too many. And if you don’t know your cow parsley from your columbine, our simple guide to the wildflowers of Britain is a great place to start.

Lavender surrounded by wildflower meadows in the Cotswolds.

The views

It costs more than £20 to ascend the dizzy heights of The Shard for a hazy view that most people will have seen plenty of times from the window of an aeroplane descending over London. Yet the staggering views offered by a trip to Flamborough Head, Durdle Door or Rhossili Bay cost nothing more than a Thermos of tea, a blister or two and a packet of Hobnobs.

Parking

It can cost £5 an hour to leave your car in the West End (that’s after you’ve forked out for the pleasures of the expanded congestion charge), but in the country you can generally park wherever you like as long as it doesn’t get in anyone’s way. Be aware, however, that, in rural areas, unfamiliar cars are generally put under surveillance of the local Neighbourhood Watch, who will assume you are a fly-tipper. Or worse.

Children’s entertainment

Who needs Thorpe Park when you have a world of adventure on your doorstep? The manifest joys of British Bulldogs, woodland camps, climbing trees, puddles, mud and Poohsticks — and scratched knees — all await children moving to the country.

Christmas greenery

Have you ever wondered why your country cousins have houses that look and smell so wonderful at Christmas? Well, it’s nothing to do with the fact that they invested in some help from the local florist (whose services tend to be seen as an indulgence in the country) or industrial quantities of Jo Malone’s Wood Sage & Sea Salt candles. No, it’s because they’ve raided the hedgerows for armfuls of holly and ivy and decked the halls as if their lives depended on it.

Blue Princess Holly.

Blue Princess Holly.

Exercise

The sedentary lives of city dwellers can lead them to spend hours (and significant amounts of money) in the gym pumping iron and strutting their stuff in front of a Spandex-swathed fitness instructor. The reason that gyms are as rare as almond milk in the country is because by the time you’ve walked the dog, fed the chickens, dug over some rose beds, negotiated a few stiles, stacked some logs and walked to the village shop a few times, you’ll be far too exhausted for anything quite as grim as the gym.

The night sky

Planetarium? Heavens, no! In the absence of light pollution, the night sky in many parts of the country reveals celestial wonders.

As well as a chance to learn to tell the Plough from the Sickle, astronomical study offers the perfect cover for a furtive Cohiba — not to mention any other nefarious activities you may want to keep from your host/spouse/parents.

A lone tree amonst limestone pavement on the hills above the village of Malham in the Yorkshire Dales

Birdsong

You need to spend at least £26 to reach the aviary at London Zoo, but, elsewhere, the joys of birdsong are on the house. The only investment you might like to consider is the ingenious Warblr app that can tell the difference between the strains of a chiffchaff and a willow warbler. Soon, you’ll be working it like a pro.

Churches

It costs almost £20 to cross the threshold of St Paul’s and although you won’t find many Wren-designed edifices outside the M25, a wealth of more modest architectural gems is hidden away. Churches such as St Pancras, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon, cost nothing to enter (but donations will be extremely gratefully received).

The famous ‘Cathedral of the Moors’, otherwise known as St. Pancras Church, Widecombe-in-the-Moor village, in Dartmoor National Park.

Food

It’s possible to pay a small fortune for a punnet of blackberries and a bag of mushrooms from Borough Market, but in hedgerows and woodland they are up for grabs. Depending on the season, you can take your pick of Nature’s bounty — sloes, wild garlic, chestnuts and crab apples all offer the flavour of the countryside.

Swimming

In town, you usually have to pay for the pleasure of a few lengths in a heavily chlorinated pool, but in the country, the bracing waters of British lakes, rivers and beaches offer a far more wholesome experience. You’ll need to make sure you’re swimming in safe waters, and you’ll have to be hardy to keep it up when the weather has turned, but the wildswimming.co.uk website has suggested locations and can help you find like-minded folk to keep you company.

Wild swimming doesn’t get much better than at Coniston Water, in The Lake District. So long as you don’t mind the chill…