Naturally, there are the highlights to consider on a visit to the United Kingdom such as London, Edinburgh, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cambridge, Canterbury, the Cotswolds, Lake District, and so on. However, should you have already covered the principal highlights or want to include some different places or sites, then here are a number of suggestions to include on your following UK holidays.
This selection is certainly a mere fragment of different and unusual places in the UK. It may not be large in size in comparison with other European countries, but the UK certainly adequately competes in other ways.
I would not say that Liverpool should be one of your first choices of destinations unless, of course, like me, you are a Beatles fan and want to “make a pilgrimage” to the city of their origins. You can either explore the various sites associated with the group or you can take the 2-hour “Magical Mystery Bus Tour.” The tour includes driving by the Beatles’ childhood homes, the actual Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, and a visit to the famous Cavern Club where they played hundreds of times. For accommodation, you can stay at the luxury, Hard Day’s Night Hotel, attached to which is a restaurant with original Beatles artwork. The National Trust also runs a tour of the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. There is a statue of Eleanor Rigby sitting on a stone bench in Liverpool’s city centre, with a plaque dedicated to “All the Lonely People.” Just outside the Cavern Pub is a statue of John Lennon leaning on the side of a brick wall. There’s more, if you are really into the Fab Four. Your visit could coincide with Beatleweek, when bands arrive from all over the world to perform.
Chester is an old walled city with a long history dating back to Roman occupation times. It has a number of archaeological and architectural treasures. The Roman Wall, first built in 70 AD, is virtually intact and covers a circuit of 3.2 kilometres/2 miles. An excellent way of getting to know Chester is to walk the whole or part of the wall. The other major attraction is The Rows, a two-level gallery and shopping arcade along four streets. It is a mixture of Victorian and Tudor styles. In Eastgate is the most famous clock in England, after Big Ben in London. If getting tired or thirsty, you might want to pop in Chester’s oldest timber-framed building constructed in 1664, for the Bear and Billet Pub. Chester’s cathedral, formerly a Benedictine abbey, retains much of its original 12th Century structure with a bell tower that offers panoramic views of the city. Just outside the city walls is a Roman arena that once seated 7,000 spectators, which would make it the country’s largest.
Durham could be one of the most underrated destinations in England. It is an attractive, historic city with much to offer on UK holidays. Part of its charm is that it is a city built on a series of hills overlooking a river whose steep banks are densely wooded, adding to the picturesque beauty of Durham. The whole of the centre of Durham is designated a conservation area and the 11th Century cathedral, which dominates the skyline, is the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. Durham Cathedral is renowned for its magnificent Romanesque architecture with its breathtaking vaulted ceiling. The cathedral and the adjacent 11th Century castle are designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The castle has been the home of Durham University since 1832. There is a range of museums and galleries to entertain visitors. Durham University’s Oriental Museum is the only museum devoted to artifacts from ancient Egypt to modern China in the north of England, plus it has art and archaeology from Northern Africa and Asia. The Beamish is an open air museum depicting the story of life in North East England during the 1820s, 1900s, and 1940s. The Beamish Tramway here re-creates the experience and atmosphere of a tramway operation of an earlier generation. As well as the electric streetcars, there are replica Edwardian motor buses. For public spaces, there are the Old Durham Gardens, reached by a pleasant stroll through woodlands or via the riverside. There is also Durham University’s 10 hectare Botanic Garden, set among beautiful woodlands on the southern outskirts of the city. With all this, you can see why I say Durham is somewhat underrated.
Harrogate is one of Britain’s designated spa towns in North Yorkshire. Recent polls have consistently voted it “The Happiest Place to Live” in Britain. It is a spa due to the minerals found in its water supply and has been a spa since the 16th century. The Royal Pump Room houses Europe‘s strongest sulphur well but is now a museum showcasing the town’s spa history. The Montpellier Quarter is the centre of the town’s nightlife. Here you will find a Yorkshire institution, Betty’s Tea Rooms, regionally renowned. The Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate contains 2,000 works of art, principally from the 19th and 20th centuries. The first impression you get of the town is how green it is, due to the numerous green open spaces. These include the Valley Gardens, the town’s main park, The Stray, an area of open parkland in the centre of the town (during the Victorian period, there was a racecourse for horses here), and the Crescent Gardens which are surrounded by the town’s main attractions such as the Royal Pump Room, the Royal Baths, and the Royal Hall, as well as the Town Hall. Harrogate is also an excellent centre for shopping.
Ilkley Moor and Otley Chevin, Yorkshire
For lovers of dramatic and wild countryside, you can really get off the beaten path by visiting the towns of Ilkley and Otley, both of which are nestled in adjacent valleys surrounded by magnificent landscapes. These landscapes are The Moors, as they are known locally. You may be conversant with the traditional Yorkshire song, On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at (dialect for “On Ilkley Moor without a hat”). Ilkley is a pretty spa town with a hill overlooking it called The Cow and Calf Rocks. It has a centre with Victorian architecture, wide streets, and floral displays. And it has a Betty’s Tea shop! Ilkley Moor is the perfect place to marvel at sweeping panoramic views of the valleys below. Otley is a market town just to the south of Ilkley and is known for an important native son, Thomas Chippendale, the furniture maker, and J.M.W. Turner, the artist, who spent a lot of time here. The major attraction here is the moors and specifically, Otley Chevin, which rises steeply above the town, offering stunning views over Otley and the surrounding countryside.
James Herriot Country, Yorkshire
Most of us have read or watched on TV, at some time, the famous fictional character, James Herriot, and his experiences as a country vet, and, like me, marvelled at the beauty of the countryside in which he worked. Herriot Country covers some of the most beautiful countryside in the expansive, sweeping hills and valleys of the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales, as well as the charming market towns and picturesque villages such as Thirsk, Northallerton, Easingwold, Great Ayton, and Bedale. Herriot Country is ideal as a base, on UK holidays, to tour and explore the unspoiled landscape. Thousands visit The World of James Herriot Museum in his hometown of Thirsk.
Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire
Now I am really taking you off the beaten track. Hebden Bridge is a market town perched on the edge of some of the wildest countryside in the UK. (Think Wuthering Heights-style). Once a small mill town with no obvious reasons to visit, it is now a major tourist centre for UK holidays. Why? Hebden Bridge has built a reputation for “great little shops” and has an unusually large number of independent shops for a UK town of its size, plus it has more than 20 cafes and tea rooms and around 20 pubs and restaurants. In a national survey, Hebden Bridge was ranked sixth on a diversity scale and was praised for its independent shops and unique shopping experiences. Another accolade given was as “Best Small Outdoor Market” in the Great British Market Awards. The town holds many cultural events which include the traditional Pace Egg plays, the Piano and Burlesque festivals, the Folk Roots Festival, the Arts Festival, the Fringe Arts Festival, the Beer and Cider Festival, and the Dance Festival. Wow! And there are more. If you are an avid British TV program watcher, Happy Valley, the crime series, was set in and around Hebden Bridge.
Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the north-east coast of England and is also known as Holy Island. It has a long history dating back to the 6th century and was an important centre of Celtic Christianity. After Viking invasions and the Norman Conquest of England, a priory was established here. A small castle was built on the island in 1550. Lindisfarne measures 4.8 kilometres/3 miles from east to west and 2.4 kilometres/1.5 miles from north to south. The nearest point of the island to the mainland of England is 1.6 kilometres/1 mile. It is accessible, most times, at low tide by crossing sand and mud flats which are covered with water at high tides. The island is surrounded by the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, attracting birdwatchers and where 330 bird species have been recorded. Some of the other attractions on the island are the Lindisfarne Castle, which can be seen from miles around and which offers spectacular views, and Lindisfarne Priory, a famous Benedictine monastery well worth visiting.
Located on the border with England in south-east Wales, Hay-on-Wye is a small, pretty market town which is known for its literary associations. It has been described as “The Town of Books” and is the National Book Town of Wales. There are possibly as many books in book stores as people in the town (maybe a slight exaggeration but you won’t find a better ratio elsewhere). Every year, a major literary festival is held called the Hay Festival which attracts thousands of visitors over a 10-day period at the beginning of June. It brings together well-known writers from around the world to discuss and share stories. Someone once described the festival as “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Another festival here is the HowTheLightGetsIn, a combination of philosophy and music which again attracts thousands of visitors. Other attractions in and around Hay-on-Wye are the Thursday Market, offering a myriad of items, the fortress and castle dating back to the 12th century, and the nearby countryside, perfect for short and long scenic walks.
Portmeirion is situated on the north-west coast of Wales and is famous for being a replica in miniature of a picturesque Italian village. It was the brainchild of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis (1884-1978) who dreamed of recreating an Italian village in Wales. Portmeirion is located on a promontory next to the beautiful Gwylt Gardens. There is also a hotel in the village, formerly a mansion owned by the creator, plus shops, restaurants, gardens, and beaches. Surrounding the village are 70 acres of woodland walks.
Every year, the International Music Eisteddfod takes place in Llangollen, North Wales during the second week of July. Singers and dancers, who come from all over the world, are invited to perform in more than 20 quality competitions. This is followed by, every evening, concerts given by both the competitors and professional artists. Over 5,000 singers, dancers, and musicians attend from around 50 countries to perform to audiences of more than 50,000 over the 6 days of the event. Well-known past performers have included Luciano Pavarotti, Kiri Te Kanawa, and the Red Army Ensemble.
The beautiful Brecon Beacons are one of four ranges of dramatic mountains and hills in South Wales which make up the Brecon Beacons National Park. Within the park are rushing streams and rivers, reservoirs, and Wales’ largest natural lake. There are colourful market towns and pleasant country villages to visit on UK holidays. There are several medieval castles such as Carreg Cennen Castle, which is perched high up on a craggy hill. Other activities available include attractive waterfalls, wildlife to be seen in nature reserves, and the ability to cycle and hike.
That concludes my “off the beaten track” suggestions for Great Britain. Perhaps, you might stumble across more gems on your UK holidays.