Don’t miss out on beautiful Blighty this year. Here’s an area-by-area guide to some of our top UK-based homegrown holiday treasures for some stunning staycation breaks
The Lake District
It’s a national park and a world heritage site, with mild winters, cool summers and an awful lot of rain – around 80 inches a year – but not enough to deter the millions who visit one of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes. They come for the views of mountains, plunging into long lakes that have filled valleys carved by glaciers. This is serious walking country, with four of its peaks – Scafell Pike, Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw – topping 3000 feet.
Catbells, at 1481 feet, is one of the more accessible fells and is a favourite with families. It offers 360-degree panoramic views that take in Derwentwater, Keswick, Skiddaw, Blencathra and the Western Fells.
Cruise boats on Windermere, Derwentwater, Coniston Water and Ullswater get you to points of interest. Cruise the five-mile long Coniston Water, where Donald Campbell attempted his speed records, on the rebuilt Victorian steam yacht Gondola, or catch one of the vintage boats plying Ullswater, said to be the most beautiful lake in England. It’s also one of the deepest, plunging to 205 feet, and is known as the Dark Lake. In medieval times it was believed to be home to monsters and during World War II it was used to test mini-submarines.
Towns around the lakes accommodate those wet-weather days, but there are other places to visit. These include The World of Beatrix Potter at Bowness-on-Windermere; Beatrix Potter’s house, Hill Top, at Near Sawrey, Hawkshead; the Ruskin Museum, the Lakeland Motor Museum, Wordsworth’s House, the Keswick Museum, the Pencil Museum, and Lowther, Muncaster and Sizergh castles.
The area’s mining heritage should not be forgotten, Graphite, copper, silver, lead and slate have all been mined here and a visit to the famous slate mines and the daredevil walks of the Via Ferrata Classic and Ferrata Xtreme at Honister give you some idea of the kind of conditions that the miners had to endure.
The coastal towns
This ancient county is rugged and mysterious, with an industry of tin mining that dates back 4000 years and a 700-year history of disreputable smuggling activities. It’s a place of myths and legends, of rock-throwing giants and, of course, the noble King Arthur. It is also one of the prettiest counties in England: warmed by the Gulf Stream, it has a sub-tropical climate, producing exotic flora within glorious gardens, and a once-thriving and still-important fishing industry.
The mild climate and a long coast packed with picturesque fishing villages, secret coves and some outstanding surfing beaches make the narrow Cornwall peninsula a much-loved holiday destination. Among the favourite coastal hot spots are Newquay, Perranporth, Porthtowan, Padstow, Helston and Sennen. In the fishing villages of Fowey, Charlestown, Mevagissey, Mousehole, St Makes, Port Isaac and St Ives, you can relax and watch fishing boats bob about on a blue sea.
St Ives has also been attracting artists since the late 19th century and has its own Tate Gallery. To explore the town, use the park and ride from Lelant Saltings or St Earth stations.
At Marazion you can brave the causeway out to St Michael’s Mount to visit the castle and explore the gardens. Make sure you check the tide times carefully, though, so as not to get stranded on the island. Further west along the coast, the vast sandy beach at Porthcurno is overlooked by the famous open-air Minack Theatre, built into the cliff. The first telegraph communication cables connecting England to the US landed at Porthcurno. Visit the fascinating museum there to find out more.
Copper, silver and tin are all part of Cornwall’s mining heritage, with the production of arsenic as a byproduct of the mining process. Mining areas in West Devon and Cornwall became World Heritage Sites in 2007 – explore the relics and museums around on Bodmin Moor as well as along the coast. China clay is the source of the most recent mining activities, with the deposit near St Austell among the largest in the world.
There’s much to see in this beautiful county and if you want to reach all its nooks and crannies, it’s best to use a small vehicle so that you can navigate the narrow lanes.
The miles of Demerara sugar sands that comprise Saunton Sands, Croyde, Woolacombe, and Westward Ho! beaches, with the most perfect waves rushing onto them, make this part of the North Devon coast a serious surfing magnet. The Museum of British Surfing can be found at Braunton. It’s a paradise for thrill-seeking water babies, and is part of the North Devon Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that stretch from Combe Martin to the Hartland Peninsula.
The north coast is where the ridges of Exmoor drop dramatically to the sea. In fact, some of the smaller beaches around this northern coast are so isolated, and the paths down to them so potentially hazardous, that if you reach them you could possibly have the place to yourself for days.
A Victorian heritage
Many of the area’s main resorts were developed in the Victorian era. Steep roads descend into Ilfracombe, where you pass through tunnels carved in the 1820s to reach the beaches, where tidal pools are great for rock pooling. Ilfracombe is a charming collection of colourful shop-front facades, cosy coffee shops, more than its fair share of imposing Victorian churches and a 20m-tall bronze statue – Verity – a gift to the town by artist Damien Hirst.
Picnic at the dramatic Valley of the Rocks near Lynton, which has a collection of cafés, boutiques and pasty shops, and some great views out into the Bristol Channel. Linking clifftop Lynton to Lynmouth below is the famous funicular railway, the world’s highest and steepest completely water-powered railway.
Heading east, behind Saunton Sands, is Braunton Burrows, one of the largest sand dune systems in the British Isles and a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve. Further east still is the Hartland Heritage Coast and the famous village of Clovelly, with its cobblestone street descending steeply to the harbour. Goods are transported by sledge or donkey, no cars are allowed. Take time to visit Hartland Abbey and its stunning gardens, which date back to the 12th century.
Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia National Park covers 823 square miles of mountains and coastline. Aside from beautiful beaches, one of the coastal highlights is Portmeirion, the truly extraordinary creation of architect Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978), who built the village.
An Italian-style piazza – including pool, a fountain and a mock chessboard – lies at its heart. The village is the setting for the 1960s cult TV series The Prisoner.
A ride on the Welsh Highland Railway steam train from nearby Porthmadog to Caernarfon takes in Snowdonia’s spectacular scenery. On its 25-mile route, the railway offers fabulous views of rivers, waterfalls, lakes and mountains, including the summit of Snowdon, before descending into Caernarfon and allowing the first glimpse of its magnificent castle.
A real high point
At 3560 feet, Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and England, and it can be ascended on foot or by rail, with a good starting point for both at the lakeside village of Llanberis. The Llanberis path is one of the easiest walks up Snowdon, and among the longest at 4.5 miles. About two-thirds of the way up, the gradient turns from ‘manageable’ to ‘challenging’, and requires many stops, but the astonishing views will provide reward and at the top there is a café.
Llanberis is also home to a ruined castle, a hydro-electric power station attraction, a lakeside steam railway and the National Slate Museum. You can use the Ffestiniog Railway, the world’s oldest narrow-gauge steam railway, which departs from Portmadog, to reach the Llechwedd Slate Caverns at Blaenau Ffestioniog. The venue hosts Bounce Below, an underground trampoline park, Titan, a four-person zip-wire, and the Quarry Explorer, a 1.5-hour tour through slate quarries and into the mountains.
En route to Snowdonia’s northernmost point, Conwy, you’ll find the famous Bodnant Gardens. And in Conway itself, there’s another formidable medieval castle, as well as Plas Mawr, the finest Elizabethan merchant’s townhouse in Britain.
Driving through the Cairngorms National Park is spectacular at any time of year, but the area is particularly beautiful during the autumn, when the lower mountain slopes are cloaked in forests of gold, red and green.
Speyside is famous for its Whisky Trail, but it’s also great for walking and cycle rides along the Speyside Way, and there is climbing, too. Stay at Grantown-on-Spey and you are just 45 minutes from Inverness, an hour or so from Elgin, Loch Ness and Cullen for the dolphins, and less than half an hour from Aviemore. For children, there’s the year round Landmark Forest Adventure Park and the reindeer at Glenmore.
A tasty trail
Follow the Speyside Malt Whisky Trail and you will take in some glorious scenery as the River Spey winds its way from the Cairngorms to Spey Bay. The trail comprises nine sites, eight distilleries and one cooperage, where you can learn how barrels that once held sherry from Spain and bourbon from the US are repurposed for the malt-whisky industry. If you only have time to stop at one distillery, designate another driver and go for Glen Grant at Rothes, which has a really beautiful garden to wander through, as well as a fascinating tour of its distillery. As is the custom in such places, the tour also includes a tasting.
Did you know that 800 years ago, reindeer were native to the UK? In 1952, they were reintroduced here by a Swedish Sami, Mikel Utsi, who spotted lichens – the animal’s chief foodstuff – growing on the ground, rocks and trees. Today, the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd comprises 150 beasts that roam the Cairngorms and the Cromdale Hills near Glenlivet.
Visit the shop and paddocks at Glenmore, six miles east of Aviemore, next door to the Glenmore Forest Park Visitor Centre.
Speyside is just part of a spectacularly scenic circular driving route, the North East 250. The route takes in Aberdeen, Deeside, the Cairngorms, Speyside, the Moray Coast and the East Coast. Dip in and out of it as time allows and enjoy castles, villages, mountains, museums, ski school and dolphin centres.
EAST OF ENGLAND
Norfolk’s enduring appeal is down to both natural and human activity. The region’s flat topography has given rise to salt marshes around its coastline, providing a haven for wildlife and migrating birds, while medieval peat digging in the floodplains in the east of the county are the origins of the Broads.
History, too, plays its part in drawing visitors. This is Nelson’s county – the Lord Admiral was born and grew up in Burnham Market and attended Norwich Grammar School.
It’s also the location of the Queen’s summer palace – Sandringham – and several fine houses, including Holkham Hall, Houghton Hall, Blickling Hall, Felbrigg Hall and Wiveton Hall.
The city of Norwich was once home to the Iceni tribe and Queen Boudicca, was occupied by the Romans and became the largest walled town in medieval England. King’s Lynn was an important Hanseatic port from the 12th century.
East of King’s Lynn is the ancient village of Castle Acre, which has a Cluniac Priory and a castle. Now ruined, it dates back to the time of William the Conqueror, while the impressive Priory is an offshoot of the one at Lewes in East Sussex. The ruins show that this was a very rick order and include the best-preserved two-storey latrine in England.
Water and steam
More recent history includes a working watermill at Letheringsett, and the North Norfolk Railway, known as the Poppy Line, on which steam and diesel locomotives pull beautiful wooden carriages between Holt and Sheringham. At Weybourne is the Muckleburgh Military Collection, a museum built on the grounds of a former Royal Artillery training camp.
From King’s Lynn to Great Yarmouth, the coastline offers a diverse mix of nature reserves and handsome seaside resorts. This county, once one of the most densely populated areas of England, is a visitor treasure trove.
HEART OF ENGLAND
The Peak District
Did you know that more than two-thirds of the UK’s population lives within four hours’ drive of the Peak District National Park? That makes it perfect as a staycation destination. This wild and craggy place, carved out by an Ice Age glacier, lies between the conurbations of Manchester and Sheffield, offering refuge from the stresses of city life. Its stresses are of a different nature.
Winnats Pass, in Derbyshire’s High Peak district, for example, is listed on a website of the world’s most dangerous roads. Its steep and narrow, with few lay-bys and turning points, so don’t attempt to tow your caravan along it…
Follow the A6187 from Sheffield to Castleton in Hope Valley for a gentler introduction to the visitor treats in store. The road is high, but easily navigable, with gorgeous views across the Dales before its descent into Hathersage and Hope Valley.
The hills around Castleton are home to subterranean rivers and huge underground caverns, where on elf the world’s rarest semi-precious stones, the purpler-blue and yellow Blue John, is mined. Since Roman times, lead mining was the industry here, by the 18th century there wren said to be 25,000 mineshafts.
At Speedwell Caverns much of the tour is by boat, but a visit to the Blue John Cavern involves a couple of hundred steps. Opposite the cavern entrance is Mam Tor – the shivering mountain – popular with walkers for the far-reaching views.
In nearby Derwent Valley are the Howden, Derwent and Ladybower Reservoirs, famous for being used as practice runs for the RAF’s Dambuster raids on the dams of Germany in World War II. Today, there are great areas for birdwatching.
Proof of the pudding
If you are partial to a pudding, the towns of Buxton and Bakewell should be on your must-see list. After a visit to the world-famous Bakewell Pudding Shop, pop into the parish church for a glimpse of the 1000-year-old Anglo-Saxon stones stored in the porch and the crosses in the churchyard.
Buxton, built on the site of thermal springs, dates back to Roman times as a spa town; today its Georgian and Victorian architecture boasts an opera house, a glass pavilion housing a tropical garden, and the Buxton Pudding Emporium. And the difference between a Bakewell and a Buxton pudding? Almonds!
SOMERSET, AVON & WILTSHIRE
Bath and Bristol
The beautiful cities of Bath and Bristol lie just 13 miles apart on the River Avon, although it will take you around 50 minutes to drive between the two.
The spa city of Bath is set in a hollow at the southern end of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, while Bristol developed as a port at the confluence of the rivers Avon and Frome, eight miles inland from the Bristol Channel.
Extreme tides in the Bristol Channel allowed the navigation of large ships into its harbour. Both cities have water very much at their heart, for quite different reasons.
Bath is by far the older of the two; legend has it the settlement was founded in 860 BC, when Prince Bladed, father of King Lear and stricken by leprosy, followed the example of some diseased pigs and covered his skin in the mud found in a hot spring there (as you do). Miraculously, he and the pigs were cured of their ailments, marking the beginning of centuries of exploitation of the hot springs’ healing qualities.
In the first century AD, the Romans built a temple here, dedicated to the Celtic god of Sul (to appease the Britons) and the Roman goddess Minerva. Public baths were added and a town, Aquae Sulis, grew up around the temple.
The Saxons occupied the area during the sixth century, Alfred the Great fortified it in the ninth, and in the 10th, Edgar, first king of England, was crowned here.
It gained an abbey in the 12th century, which was remodelled during the 16th. All the while, people continued to visit, hoping to heal their ailments in the hot springs.
Where the rivers meet
Bristol, as mentioned, was built on a convergence of two rivers, the Avon and the Frome. Waterways are at its heart, and you should be sure to visit Narrow Quay – home of renowned arts venue Arnolfini – before heading to the Wapping Wharf area of Spike Island, the focus of the harbour. Here you’ll find M Shed, a disused 1950s transit warehouse that has been transformed into a fabulous free museum, all about Bristol and its people.
The city centre is a mix of newer buildings around historic streets, such as Christmas Steps, the lanes around St Nicholas Market, and the Corn Exchange, Bristol’s trading hub since 1743.
SOUTH EAST ENGLAND
Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is a perennial favourite among British holidaymakers. Many of us will remember family breaks from bygone years starting with that exciting 45-minute ferry crossing that marked the beginning of the holiday.
Why do we love it so much? Perhaps it’s the island’s size, at just 23 miles long by 13 miles wide, making it very manageable to explore. There’s variety, too, from clifftops to nature reserves, geological formations to constructed defences, botanical gardens to a garlic farm.
The island was a favourite with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who had a summer palace built here, and poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who lived here for the latter half of his life. Wildlife watchers will be treated to glimpses of seabirds, seals and red squirrels. The beaches will reward fossil-hunters and surfers and, of course, there is the sailing. The famous Cowes Week regatta takes place in the first week of August.
With 805km of footpaths, the island has a choice of walks for a range of abilities, and you’re sure to come across something interesting. Much of the area is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. At the north-west end is the Newtown Nature Reserve, while to the south-west there’s The Needles landmark, where the 19th-century Old and New Batteries lie, built to protect Portsmouth’s dockyards from attack.
From here you can take a chairlift to the beach. Close by is the National Trust Mottistone Gardens and Estate, near Brighstone. The gardens, clustered round an ancient manor house, have a Mediterranean-style planting scheme.
Don’t miss Britain’s hottest garden – Ventnor Botanic Garden – where underground caverns, secret passageways and tunnels abound.
On the north coast is the Italianate-style Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s summer palace. Of particular interest here is the magnificent, Indian-inspired Dunbar Wing.
Warm summers and mild winters have made Dorset a popular area for tourism. Chalk, limestone, clay, shale, gravel and sand are its bedrock; having no coal, it was bypassed by the Industrial Revolution, leaving the unspoilt countryside home to beautiful market towns and picturesque villages. It does have oil, however, at Kimmeridge, where the UK’s oldest ‘nodding donkey’ has been pumping since 1961.
The principal coastal towns are Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch in the south-east, but it’s from Studland in the east to Ware in the west that the coastline, rich in fossils, has been designated a World Heritage Site, offering a unique and fascinating area to explore.
Walk this way
This is a wonderful county for walkers, who can pick up the South West Coast Path at the entrance to Poole Harbour and follow it, taking in Old Harry Rocks, two nature reserves Kimemridge, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door, Weymouth, the Isle of Portland, Chesil Beach, and then on through Lyme Regis into Devon.
At Kimmeridge the Wild Seas Centre runs rockpooling, crabbing and snorkelling trails in its shallow waters and the area is popular with surfers and windsurfers. A little further west and set within a gap in the Purbeck Hills is Corfe Castle and its model village. The horseshoe-shaped Lulworth Cove offers safe bathing and coasteering, plus geological wonders that extend along the coast, taking in the iconic Durdle Door.
Further west is the popular seaside resort of Weymouth, with its long, sandy shoreline, beach huts and Punch and Judy show.
The southernmost point of the Jurassic Coast is the Isle of Portland, which is connected to the mainland by the southern end of the 18-mile sweep of Chesil Beach. This extraordinary shingle barrier rises around 36 feet above sea level and between it and the mainland is a lagoon, known as the Fleet, which is an important area for wildlife. Behind Chesil Beach is the ancient village of Abbotsbury, which is famous for its long-established swannery and sub-tropical gardens, founded back in 1765.
The glorious A2
There’s so much to love about beautiful Northern Ireland, including the opportunity for a breathtaking road trip along the awesome A2 coastal route.
Following Northern Ireland’s A2 will take you along the country’s stunning eastern coast. En route, explore the Mourne Mountains, splendid loughs and the city of Belfast, in an ancient landscape that hosted prehistoric communities, Vikings and Normans.
Working from south to north, the A2 starts at Newry, at the head of Carlingford Lough; follow the north side of the lough. By skirting the lough and the coast of Co Down, you are going around the Mourne Mountains. The spectacular ring of 12 peaks, the highest of which is Slieve Donard, is said to have inspired CS Lewis’s Narnia. If you can, take the time to follow part of the 26-mile Mourne Way Walk.
Passing by the dune landscape of Murlough National Nature Reserve on the Mourne Coastal Route to Belfast, you then follow the west side of Dundrum Bay to Clough. Turning right, the A2 skirts the coast to Strangford at the southern end of the huge lough. St Patrick is said to have sailed through the Strangford Narrows, bringing Christianity here in the fifth century, followed by the Vikings in the ninth and 11th centuries, and the Normans in the 12th century.
Today, activities on the water include sailing, kayaking, diving, fishing, kite surfing, windsurfing, boating and birdwatching.
This beautiful region might not be the first that springs to mind when you’re planning a caravan tour, but there’s so much to enjoy here, you’ll wonder why you never visited before.
For starters, there’s the iconic sights of Hadrian’s Wall; step out on foot along the national trail, or cycle along its route to enjoy some of the areas tremendous history.
There are lots of historic attractions along the way, including Vindolanda, Carrawburgh, and many others, bringing to life the Roman period and its huge impact on the landscape.
You’ll find plenty of islands to explore, and along with them, a host of wildlife-watching opportunities. Puffins, grey seals and dolphins can all be spotted on one of the specialist boat trips plying the waters around the Farne Islands, Coquet Island and stunning Lindisfarne – you can negotiate the causeway (be sure to time the tides correctly!) to visit the fabulous castle.
Other great historical sites in the area include the castles at Alnwick and Bamburgh, while wildlife lovers should be sure to make a visit to the Andy Howey Birds of Prey & Reptiles Centre, at Haggerston Castle.
Take the train
The Heatherslaw Light Railway makes a fun day out for all the family – this 15-inch gauge railway operates between Heatherslaw Station and Etal Castle, a round trip of around four miles. Along the way you will enjoy stunning views of the Northumberland countryside; free parking is also available at both ends of the line.
The more adventurous should make a beeline for Kielder Border Forest, where you will find the Kielder Water reservoir, which offers a host of walking and cycling routes. There are plenty of activities on offer in the Northumberland National Park, too; as a designated Dark Sky Park, this is a brilliant place for stargazing.
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