Beyond London: Seven places to see in England this year

6 June 2019

The bright lights and big city appeal of London has long attracted Kiwi travellers. But in a country so easily explored by road or rail, why miss out on England’s most charming regional spots? From the Lake District to the Cornish coast, England’s storybook beauty is guaranteed to surprise and enchant you. Here are seven spots less than seven hours drive from London which are well worth a visit.

 

Brighton, Sussex

From its winding alleyways adorned with boutique shops to King George IV’s opulent seaside palace, Brighton’s got activities for every taste. Take shelter from dive-bombing seagulls by spending a few frivolous hours on Brighton’s famous pier riding the mini roller coaster, or watching tickets spill out from a Coronation Street-themed arcade game – it’s just retro enough to be cool. Bargain hunters can head to the Brighton Lanes: snaking streets filled with independent stores and boutiques selling everything from edgy fashion to bonsai trees.

No Brighton trip is complete without a visit to the seemingly out of place but nonetheless spectacular Royal Pavilion. The 200-year-old Indian-inspired palace and former home of the Prince of Wales boasts regency gardens and a wildly extravagant banquet hall, music room and saloon to explore. It’s a taste of the Taj by the seaside.

The carousel at the end of Brighton Pier. Credit: Visit England/Andrew Marshall

Corfe Castle, Dorset

Complete with a crumbling thousand-year-old castle, houses fit for forest pixies and excellent traditional pubs and bakeries, Corfe has to be one of England’s most gorgeous villages. The 1,400-person parish is looked over by the ruins of the 12th century castle of the same name. If you visit in summer you may time it right for the annual Saxons vs. Vikings re-enactment that commemorates a battle that took place in the 870s. Hundreds of history enthusiasts gather to camp and go to ‘war’ beneath the slowly-sinking castle walls. Staying true to character, you can watch them skinning badgers in their tents once the battle is over.

Afterwards, a wander through the quaint streets of Corfe is just the antidote to the pretend violence. Many of the thatched stone cottages in the village are centuries-old, and their heritage status means they’ve been kept in pristine, original condition.

The annual Vikings vs Saxons battle re-enactment, Corfe. Photo: Kristin Hall

Durdle Door, Dorset

The Cliffs of Dover get most of the glory when it comes to English coastlines, but the chalk face made famous in song looks positively plain in comparison to the beauty of Durdle Door. This fantastical-sounding wonder is a natural limestone archway carved by the pounding of the ocean, and forms part of the Jurassic Coast, England’s only natural World Heritage site. Climb the surrounding hills to snap ‘the door’ flanked by rolling hills, cliffs and yellow-sand beaches. The sight is even more spectacular at sunrise.

The magnificent Jurassic Coast, Dorset, with the Durdle Door archway jutting out into the sea. Photo: Kristin Hall

Cornwall’s beaches

Cornwall has a special place in the hearts of many English people, and not just because of the pasties. Long associated with memories of family holidays to the beach, Cornwall has seen a drop in domestic visitors as cheap international flights have allowed Brits to escape to warmer climes.

But that doesn’t mean the Cornish coast should be overlooked. With electric blue waves and secret bays protected by towering rocky cliffs, Cornwall looks just as good as any Mediterranean hotspot without nearly as many people. Porthcurno Beach is particularly serene which you should combine with a night out at the Minack Theatre. The open-air amphitheatre with stunning sea views host dozens of performances a year. Its Shakespeare set to the ambience of crashing Atlantic waves – what could be better?

A gorgeous beach in Cornwall. Photo: Kristin Hall

Tintagel and Boscastle, Cornwall

If quirk is what you’re after, Tintagel and neighbouring Boscastle have it by the cauldron-load. Many will know Tintagel as the supposed birthplace of King Arthur, and the area around the castle ruins include plenty of attractions trumpeting connections to the Knights of the Round Table. However, the real magic is deep in St Nectan’s Glen, a waterfall that’s better be described as an ethereal experience. A 15 minute wander through the woods leads you to trees adorned with charms, ribbons, and, eventually, some eccentric-looking locals splashing about under the 60 foot waterfall, referred to by many as 'Merlin's Well'. For reasons unknown, Cornwall has long-attracted those who believe in the occult – there’s even a well-stocked museum dedicated to witchcraft and magic in Boscastle, a pretty coastal port town less than four miles from Tintagel.

 

St Nectan's Glen, near Tintagel. Photo: Getty

The Lake District

Ever lusted after the scenes described in the works of William Wordsworth or Beatrix Potter? Head north to immerse yourself in the incredible beauty of England’s Lake District.

Spanning over 2,300 square kilometres and encompassing 42 delightful villages and towns, this is the old England you weren’t sure still existed. Pastoral, old-fashioned, and utterly gorgeous at every turn, the district is best explored by car so you can find a patch of mountain or lakefront just for you. Wild camping is allowed in the Lake District as long as you keep your spot clean and tidy. So grab a cheap tent and spend the night under the stars.

The following days are best spent hiking through tiny parishes, diving into the brisk waters of any of the district's 16 lakes, and recovering with a steak and ale pie by the fire of a thatched pub. Bliss.

The Lake District, northern England. Photo: Kristin Hall

The Cotswolds

Prefer life in the slow lane? Head to the Cotswolds, where the slow lane is the only lane. This charming part of west England is best explored by car or bike, and the wing-mirror tickling width of the country lanes ensures you’ll always take your time.

Explore the ancient riverside village of Bilbury which has some of the most picturesque (and most photographed) cottages in England, or watch ducks paddle lazily past the stately rose-coloured homes of Lower Slaughter. Delight in the eclectic array of timeworn tomes in the bookstores of Cheltenham, or sit down for a scone or two (jam first, then cream, as the Queen prefers) in cosmopolitan Cirencester to really round off your English experience

The village of Burford, The Cotswolds. Photo: Getty Images

 

Kristin Hall

Kristin Hall is a former TVNZ reporter currently travelling through Europe on her belated OE.