England! That green and pleasant land. An inspiration to poets and painters, writers and filmmakers, from Cornwall’s rugged cliffs and golden beaches to the gentle rolling hills and honey-stone dwellings of the Cotswolds, and then again the granite fells and glassy meres of the Lake District.
And then there are the cities. Brash and energetic London is where the action is, while elegance and refinement can be readily found a two-hour train ride away in Bath – city of Georgian grandeur, Jane Austen and invigorating hot springs.
It would be an insurmountable task to catalogue all that this little country has to offer, but here, we present the essentials – the 10 starting points that everybody really ought to visit in order to see England at its very best.
The glorious, honey-coloured towns and villages of the Cotswolds look as if they have strayed into the 21st century from another era. The area is characterised by gentle dynamism, with lively galleries, vibrant festivals and a liberal endowment of intriguing museums. Covering nearly 800 square miles across five counties (Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire), this region of ‘wolds’, or rolling hills, is the biggest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales.
Every season here has intrinsic appeal. Crowd-free winters are ideal for bracing walks, fire-side pub sessions – and lower hotel prices. Come in spring to see lambs and wild daffodils. Visit in summer (inevitably with many others) for magical light, particularly in the long evenings. Or make an autumn excursion for a quieter atmosphere and wonderful leaf colour, especially at the two great arboreta, Westonbirt and Batsford.
Craggy coves and cream teas, surf breaks and strolls, picnics and pints in pub gardens – holidays in Devon are wholesome, simple and scenic. A visit here mixes two of life’s loveliest pleasures: good food and the great outdoors. Most people are drawn to the magnificent beaches on the south and north coasts, but inland Devon has its appeal, too: Dartmoor and Exmoor are vast granite plateaux offering solitude and big skies, while the gentler, Friesian-filled pastures of mid-Devon hide clusters of thatched villages, meandering rivers and thickly wooded cleaves.
A visit here mixes two of life’s loveliest pleasures: good food and the great outdoors. Devon folk make the most of the rich larder of food on their doorstep. Lamb, venison, pheasant, pork and seafood are staples, and the county’s farmers’ markets are full of artisan producers selling delicious cider, apple juice, cheese and ice cream.
Visitors flock to Yorkshire because there is no place on earth like God’s Own County. The sheer beauty of the landscape, sometimes as unexpected as a dilapidated mill chimney stabbing up through a leaden sky, has inspired generations of painters: from John Atkinson Grimshaw’s moonscapes to the Victorian artists of the Staithes Group to David Hockney’s Yorkshire Wolds. It boasts three national parks, a wild and rugged coastline, and wonderful Victorian architecture, not least the preserved terraced streets and mills of the World Heritage Site of Saltaire.
Not only that, but its food and drink reputation now matches that of any other destination in Britain, with more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else bar London. The only downside for visitors is the secret is out. Some 40 million visitors now travel here every year for heritage-related tourism alone. Good job its grand old cities and sweeping moors and Dales are large enough to soak them all up.