Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.
This may not be a part of England that I have visited as much as others but it has not been excluded either. London has drawn me a few times but that now has it own entry so here is a selection of what is to be found beyond England's (and Britain's) capital city.
So far, cities like Oxford and Cambridge have made for day trips and weekend stays while I have been known to travel to Hertfordshire on business too. There is more to savour should England's midlands and north, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and other shores ever need supplementing.
Bedfordshire easily could be overlooked in favour of other places but it too has its attractions. Firstly, there is Shuttleworth with its aircraft collection, Swiss garden and country house. Then there is a museum dedicated to John Bunyan, a persecuted Baptist, at a present day Baptist church in Bedford itself. Lastly on the list for now, you will find Woburn Abbey and Gardens not far from Milton Keynes or Bletchley. This is one of the Treasure Houses of England and has a deer park as well as gardens. There is a hotel too if you want to stay the night and the nearby village of Woburn has a Georgian feel.
While the River Thames website serves more than Windsor, the river does pass there so I thought that I would add it to this selection. The main attraction here is the imposing Windsor Great Park with the imposing castle dominating the illustrious long avenue leading up to it. The royal theme continues with Royal Ascot nearby so you are not going escape much of that influence around these parts.
Aside from going to Aylesbury for a work interview after university, my exposure to Buckinghamshire has been minimal. The area though is home to the Chiltern hills, Stowe and other outposts of classic English idyll. All in all, it just could be one of those areas that defines Englishness for many and the county also was home to the author Roald Dahl for several decades. The latter fact means that you will a museum dedicated to the author in the village where he lived for so long.
Following a visit to Oxford, Cambridge emerged as another visiting option. Getting there might be less convenient than Oxford and, perhaps illogically, the quickest way to get there from Macclesfield is to via London. With all those university buildings, it proved to be worth the effort and the website features surrounding nearby destinations such as Ely with its cathedral, Dowcra's Manor Garden near Shepreth or the Manor at Hemingford Grey. Following recent royal happenings, the city has a higher profile not that it ever was without its share of fame anyway. That visit may be worth making sooner rather than later and this website has to be worth surveying while planning that.
Historically, this was in the county of Northamptonshire and it now finds itself in the ceremonial county of Cambridgeshire while remaining a unitary local authority all of its own. Admittedly, I only ever have passed through the place on trains so its delights have been lost on me. The website may change that for you.
Any illusions that Essex was devoid of green countryside and places to see were dispelled by a feature in the March 2012 edition of Discover Britain magazine. In fact, there does seem to quite a lot to see and Visit Essex does no harm at all in providing the usual fare that anyone needs in order to plan a trip anywhere. After all, the likes of Saffron Walden make good places to find Tudor architecture so that should be one point of note as is the existence of the Munnings Art Museum. Then, there is Copped Hall near Epping and that is within sight of the M25. Essex is starting to lose its stereotype for me now.
Until I happened on the local county council's website, I had no idea that there were two national parks covering different parts of the county. While I knew about the New Forest National Park, it never crossed my mind the the South Downs one crept in here too. After those, there's the North Wessex Downs AONB too so there should be something here for those wanting to find a quiet peaceful corner for a little escape from the everyday hurly burly. Others may want something like Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton, the motor museum at Beaulieu or the gardens and steam railway at Exbury so those attractions are there too.
This is the second most recently set up National Park and there was a time when this web portal went about attracting the usual audience for such delights. Though you will find the full spectrum of attractions still, things are more muted than they were before. The extensive range of information means that you should not be at a loss trying to plan a trip here.
It may be off its coast and possess a very independent identity but the Isle of Wight entry still fits in this Hampshire section because you have to get there from the mainland somehow. With over half the island designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it looks as if there's plenty for those seeking out unspoilt spaces. Walkers very definitely are welcome and there's an annual walking festival too. With the variety of what's on offer, I am not too surprised that folk are drawn here from the everyday hurly burly.
For those after some more historical explorations, there also is Brading Roman Villa and Queen Victoria often frequented Osborne House on the island. With all the coastal walking on offer, I wonder if I ever would get as far as such things given my track record but they are there for fans of history and add variety too.
This town both has good rail connections and is located in the South Downs National Park so it sounds like a good escape from the hustle and bustle of London, Portsmouth or Southampton. This town council website then could have its uses if you are planning on spending time exploring around here.
The town beside it looks a very strange sort of place but this is an appealing counterpoint and it's near Hatfield's train station too. There are royal connections and quite a lot to see by all accounts, particularly given that it's one of England's ten Treasure Houses and there's a lot to see on the website as well. The estate village also is a pretty place to with a church of some antiquity. It's all a far cry from modern attempts at urban planning that sit across the busy A1000 from it.
This may be a place that I have whizzed past on the way between Macclesfield and London but its town council have complied an accommodation listing and a town history who want to stop off there. The town also has been included under the curious Dacorum banner along with Hemel Hempstead and and Berkamstead.
All of these are part of the same network and advertise the attractions of England's Garden County. A wealth of coastline is there to be explored and a multitude of gardens and historic houses to keep anyone busy. In addition, there is the ancient pilgrimage destination of Canterbury with its cathedrals and its place in English literatures with there being at least one tour pertaining to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales available in the city. Away from this, there are historic villages like Cliffe on the Hoo Peninsula and that too has its literary connections with Charles Dickens finding inspiration here for the novel Great Expectations.
The white chalk cliffs of the south-east of England are synonymous with returning home in the English psyche. Many a tail of Word War I and World War II features a mention of these and it helps that they look stunning too. With that in mind, it hardly is surprising that folk are drawn to England's south-eastern corner and that is what this website is promoting.
There is a lot of history in Dover and much of that is to be found in this museum. This includes a boat from the Bronze Age along with other artefacts from between the Palaeolithic and Saxon times. It is all in a three story building dating from 1991 so it sounds as if there is a lot to see.
Kent is full of castles so here is a selection. Of these, Leeds Castle sounds as if it should be in Yorkshire and I thought as much when I saw a fireworks display there on television a few years ago yet it is near Maidstone and Bearstead. Once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, Hever Castle then is shared with Surrey and Sussex but I have left it with Kent for sake of ease. Nearby Chiddingstone Castle is nearer to Royal Tunbridge Wells and offers seasonal opening and then only on certain days of the week so you need to plan ahead for this. Lastly, Penhurst Place does not sound like it has a castle at all but it very much does so among all its lovely gardens.
Though famed for big skies due to the flatness of the land, this is not somewhere that I have visited though work trips to and from Hertfordshire exposed me to leaflets featuring some of the area's attractions in hotel foyer racks. The city of Norwich is its county town and has an historic cathedral as well as associations with Colman's Mustard. The county also is famous for its long coastline extending east and west from the likes of Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and Cromer. The royal residence of Sandringham is not far from the coast as are attractions like Holkham Hall and its estate together with Norfolk Lavender. Further inland, the Broads then are shared with Suffolk and offer more natural experiences to savour.
My only actual encounters with Northamptonshire may have been while travelling south to London from Macclesfield, Certainly, Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough come to mind as stations that I passed on the Midland Mainline while diverting away from the West Coast Mainline for one such journey. Speaking of the later, Northampton may not be so far away from that either.
My overlooking the place may stem from its lack of hills but that is not to say that the place is not pretty, albeit in a man-made sort of way. Terms like the "Rose of the Shires" do make their appearance, after all. More topically, it does host the final resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales and I do remember seeing television images in 1997 of the final journey to the Althorp Estate and it is not the only one in the county for there are others like Cottesbrooke Hall & Gardens. The Silverstone Formula One racing circuit is found here too so that's another reason for noticing this part of the world.
It was a pair of business trips that took me to Oxford before I decided to pay the place a proper visit on a sunny day in February 2011. For anyone partial to stunning elegant architecture, it certainly is a top place to explore. University buildings are the main draw and you have to wonder what funded them but there is Oxford Castle too. For times when the weather is not amenable to outdoor strolling, there are places like the Ashmolean Museum. Of course, there's more to Oxfordshire (Oxon. for short) than even this and the likes of Buscot Park, Abingdon County Museum and Didcot Railway Centre demonstrate variety.
To my mind, Oxfordshire has always seemed a little too far north to be included in the south east of England though that's the region to which it belongs. This is the official website of Tourism South East and covers not just Oxfordshire and the nearby Home Counties but also all the way south to Brighton and such places. Is using the name of a certain classic pop music group for the site a little too clever though?
Apparently, Suffolk offers a bit of variety with unspoilt coastline, interesting towns and rolling countryside. It has its famous characters too with the likes of Gainsborough and Britten coming to mind. My attention may drift towards hill country and what's nearer to hand but it's always good to take of note of what is on offer elsewhere.
This is a national park shared with Norfolk that conserves the area's wetlands. They may lack hills like other parts but the uniqueness of habitats and diversity of wildlife make this a special place and there's plenty of scope for water-based recreation too. Naturally, the website offers all that you need to plan a visit of your own.
The memories may be fading but the town of Guildford only ever came to be notice was because of an act of terrorism committed in the 1970's, a pub bombing that sadly cause death, serious injury and a consequent miscarriage of justice. Thankfully, we find ourselves in happier times so this website can promote the charms of this area on London's doorstep. After all, there is the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty and town has plenty of heritage architecture too.
Sussex is a curious mix of iconic coastline, seaside resorts, gentle rolling countryside, castles, large country houses and at least one bustling conurbation (Brighton does come to mind...). This also is 1066 Country so you find places like Hastings and Battle that often are associated readily with the Norman invasion of the same year. When you consider that, it perhaps is not so surprising to find somewhere like Arundel Castle near the coast. Times eventually grew gentler as you will see from the likes of Parham House & Gardens near Pulborough or St. Mary's House & Gardens near Bramber, both of which are in West Sussex. Recent centuries have seen life grow even gentler again away from global episodes like World Wars and places like Worthing mix coastal and inland pleasures. It is rolling hills that are what you will find around Lewes or Wealdon with the South Downs National Park never far away and that even applies to somewhere like Horsham too.
A number of different visitor attractions like Borde Hill Garden have come together to bring you this website to sell an area with the South Downs National Park and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Beauty as other lures. There are others though for ones like the Sussex Prairie Garden do not get a mention so a wider search would do no harm either.
It is not the largest of places but it is blessed by beaches and is on the Sussex coast not far from either Hastings or Eastbourne. The place also is supposed to be where British motor racing began as well as being considered the third most desirable seaside town as a place to live in a 2007 national survey. The only way to check out those claims probably is to go there and have a look so this website helps with that too.
Brighton seems to be a vibrant sort of place and it has the visitor website to go with that sort of image. It just goes to show that you can come a long way from seaside roots. For those seeking a less frenetic break, there's a mention of walking and cycling through the surrounding countryside too. Nearby historic sites like Newhaven Fort also could be a worth a look so there is more hereabouts than you might expect.
While the house itself is a curiosity, it is the surrounding gardens that are the real draw here and these got featured in a BBC television documentary series on historic gardens, which is how they came to my notice. They are the creation of gardener and gardening writer Christopher Lloyd and his parents, and appear to display a certain lack of formality that was typical of cottage gardens once upon a time. Over time, lawns got replaced by meadows, the sort of thing that was tolerated as pasture in Britain and Ireland before modern grass monoculture took hold.
In the middle of all this is a timber-framed farmhouse with one extension of similar antiquity brought in from elsewhere and another of more modern construction that fits in with the rest of the building well. The latter was added during the houses's refurbishment by Christopher Lloyd's parents just before World War I.
With Christopher Lloyd no longer being with us, the property is owned and managed by its own charitable trust these days. Head Gardener Fergus Garret continues to look after the gardens much like Christopher Lloyd would have done while not avoiding a little experimentation with the planting either. The place also is open to the public for a fee and the informative and well presented website lists opening times and prices so you know when to come and those for annual tickets look very reasonable.
These chalk cliffs are among England's most iconic sights and also fall within the South Downs National Park. The white eminences even can be seen from the air as I found on a flight from Geneva to Manchester. Most people enjoy them from closer to the ground though and that is what this website is there to assist with its mix of information regarding various practicalities. Safety is among these too since the soft chalk makes for unstable cliff faces at times and knowing how to care for such a place as a visitor is just as important.
Much of Sussex is rural so it probably is of little surprise that there is a museum preserving the way that country life used to be. To someone from rural Ireland, the displays of traditional crafts and demonstrations of vintage machinery are not unfamiliar but I suspect that all this could be quite an education for those who know only urban life. With our present day disconnection with country life, such an attraction really does have a place.