England: Britain’s best

Anna Leask takes a trip around England’s picturesque and historical hot spots.

It was a glorious day when we left London, unseasonably so.

Though it was summer, London’s not known for searingly hot weather, but for us the old girl had turned it on. The city was bathed in spring sunlight, the mercury at a delicious degree and the streets and parks filled with people basking, picnicking, drinking and living their best lives.

My tour bus weaved through the city, heading for the English countryside. I pondered what the heck I was doing leaving lovely London on such a stellar day.

But after we crept through the suburbs and hit the green outside the city I became satisfied that my decision to explore the motherland beyond the big smoke was solid.

I was on a bus full of strangers — an odd concept for the first day but one with which you quickly become comfortable — and we were on an 11-day tour, the Best of Britain.

The itinerary weaved from London to the southwest as far as Plymouth, then up to Cardiff, further up to Liverpool, the Lakes District, the low and highlands of Scotland and back, stopping in various small towns along the way.

Me, I love a road trip.

I love breaking up the kilometres with stops to explore the nooks and crannies of the world, take photos in little-known locations and just add adventure to the day.

So once we got on the road and I started seeing the vastness of England stretch out around me, I was excited to see what would be around each corner.

It was hard to choose favourites, but I’ve selected a handful of places I think are absolute must-visits when you’re in England.

Get yourself out of the city, get behind the wheel or into the comfort and laziness of a tour bus and get to know the England.

GRASMERE

Poet William Wordsworth lived in Grasmere for 14 years and described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”. He wasn’t wrong.

These days the village is more geared up for tourists than writers; it’s bustling and busy with plenty of options for food, drink, shopping and accommodation.

Grasmere is in the middle of the Lake District and sits alongside its namesake body of water. But it’s nearby Lake Windermere that took my breath away. It’s England’s largest lake and offered glorious scenery as we cruised across the waters, including stunning stately homes and the majestic Wray Castle.

After the cruise we had a quick tea and scone stop before boarding the steam train that winds its way from the lake to the small town of Haverthwaite. The Lake District is dreamy, steeped in history, picturesque views and idyllic backdrops and Grasmere is just the beginning.

POLPERRO

Polperro, on the Cornish coast, is a gorgeous little village with hidden treasures.

Our bus stopped just outside the town — the streets are far too narrow for such beastly transportation — and we meandered down past colourful hanging flower baskets and shops selling Cornish pasties to explore.

The smell of the pasties was divine and it took all our willpower not to gorge on the traditional pie-like creations — but we managed to hold off, knowing there were even more mouthwatering seafood dishes on offer near the beach.

Polperro is quaint, unspoiled and has a lovely seaside vibe. It’s relaxing but invigorating walking through the streets as seagulls sing and the tide laps up to the shore bringing with it that familiar ocean scent.

In summer, the beach is packed, the town bursting with tourists. When we visited it was bustling but not frantic, the sun was searing and we had our pick of the town’s best.

We chose the oldest pub in Polperro for lunch, The Three Pilchards, and climbed our way up the steep steps to the rooftop garden bar. There, as the sun beat down, we drank beer, ate chips (the hot kind, not to be mistaken for crisps) and took in the sea air.

GLASTONBURY

There’s more to Glastonbury than the music festival, and it was one of the highlights on my list of British towns.

Glastonbury is an eclectic little town in Somerset, full of quirky and mysterious treasures.

It is very New Age and neo-pagan and there are many places where you can buy yourself a crystal, rune stones or some other mythical-propertied purchase.

A trip to Glastonbury would not be complete without a visit to the historic abbey.

Said to be the final resting-place of King Arthur, the abbey is a heritage site and a stunning visitor attraction.

The ruins sit amid an expanse of vibrant green grass and you can wander through the immaculately kept remains of the former monastery at your leisure.

I’m a bit of a history nerd — and I love an old building — so exploring the abbey was a real highlight.

Overlooking it is another of Glastonbury’s famed stops, the Abbey Tea Rooms. If you get to the town and you’re yet to partake in a traditional English tea, this is the place to do it.

Owned by the same woman for 25 years, the tea rooms boast a delectable array of treats and nibbles all concocted using local ingredients and traditional cooking methods.

It’s hard to imagine anyone walking out empty-handed from this beauty.

LUDLOW

Ludlow Castle is the shining star of this beautifully English town. It’s one of those magical sites where you can climb towers and enter old rooms and get close up to the history.

Construction started on the castle in about 1085 but over the next two centuries many parts were added, so it showcases examples of Norman, Medieval and Tudor architecture.

Again, we had limited time in Ludlow, but managed to have a decent look through the shops and take in the eye-catching half-timbered buildings.

The buildings are synonymous with old England, with their dark framework and plaster panelling between.

There are around 500 heritage-listed buildings in Ludlow, so if architecture is your thing, it’s a town you will love.

CHESTER

Chester is another history buff’s paradise. Founded as a Roman fort, it was one of the main army camps in Roman Britain.

It’s one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain and like Ludlow, has it’s fair share of half-timbered buildings.

These include The Rows, unique covered balcony walkways that run the length of blocks of shops.

Chester is a fabulous photo stop, and has many pubs and restaurants to wet your whistle while you’re on the road. It’s also home to the Eastgate Clock, said to be the most photographed clock in the country after London’s Big Ben.

The clock stands on the original entrance to what was the Roman fort — Deva Victrix.

YORK

York is another town offering much to do and see and though we were there for only one night, we managed to get out and about and experience the best bits.
My favourite part of the city is known as the Shambles. An old street with overhanging buildings, the Shambles is today lined with shops — from jewellery to clothing, old-fashioned sweets to art and knick-knacks.

It was once the street where York’s butchers plied their trade and the name, originally “The Great Flesh Shambles”, is said to come from the Anglo Saxon word for the shelves on which they displayed their wares.

If you have time, definitely check out the great Gothic church, York Minster, or perhaps take the renowned selfie tour, which leads you around the city’s most photographic spots to ensure you get the perfect holiday snaps.

Checklist

GETTING AROUND

Trafalgar

‘s 11-day Best of Britain guided holiday, from $3398 per person twin share. Savings on bookings before October 31, departures from April 2019. Ph 0800 484 333.

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