Seeing the English Countryside
Almost no place in the world conjures up cozier images than the English countryside. Crooked little cobblestone streets, lush gardens full of endless cutting flowers, tiny cottages with delicate puffs of smoke coming out of chimneys. It’s enough to make you want to get on a plane and go! Even if you’re going to London you might as well take a day trip and get a taste of that picture-perfect Englishness. Here, our members make suggestions about great little towns and villages to check out the next time you’re in the U.K.
If you like English history, Dorset is a great choice:
“Dorset might be a good bet. Wonderful countryside & coast, loads of history & prehistoric sites.....Dorchester (the excellent Monkeyworld primate rescue centre in nearby Wool might appeal to your daughter?) Devizes, Lyme Regis (the Jurassic Coast, with loads of fossils). Then maybe into Devon....Exeter base and explore Exmoor and the coast on daytrips?”
For sheer beauty, there is nothing like the Cotswolds:
“ . . . you might think about the Cotswolds, which is full of pretty villages? Getting to e.g. Stow-on-the-Wold from Heathrow should take less than 2 hours (assuming traffic is ok).”
“Head up the Motorway (M25, M40) to Oxford. As parking is a nightmare there use Thornhill Park and Ride, you'll see it as you come into the city (by now you'll be on the A40) and leave the car and take the bus to the city and University area. When you return to your car use the A40 to head into the Cotswolds, first stop Burford, plenty of B&B's, then on to Bibury, Cirencester, Tetbury, past Prince Charles pad at Didmarton and along the A46 to Bath. Of course this Cotswold route is one of hundreds you could do but it is the most convenient route from Oxford to Bath. If you've time then take a detour north of Oxford to Woodstock and Blenheim Palace then regain your A40 route by going via Bladon (Sir Winston Churchill's grave) and Witney.”
“I stayed at a great B&B in Bourton-on-Water last May. It was very central to the Cotswolds, very friendly people and not expensive at all. I didn't have a car, but I noticed a parking lot right in front of the house.”
“there are loads of things to do in all the places you mention. Cruising through Cotswold villages, stopping when things catch your eye. The 18month old will enjoy letting off some energy in Victoria Park in Bath, or going on a Rosie and Jim canal trip in Stratford up on Avon, or the model village in Bourton on the Water. Not sure about Punting in Oxford for an 18month old, but his parents might like it.
Both Bath and Oxford have blue guides who will do walks (often for free) around the city, and have tourist buses, which will allow you to see the town with narration and you can then choose to see other things.”
And then there are the old standbys:
Oxford of course
“I have lived all my life in Cambridge which is a beautiful city, full of great architecture. I am now living (since a year) in Norwich, which you will find near the east coast north east from Cambridge. It is a lovely city with many churches, cobbled lanes, small shops, two cathedrals and numerous eating places and pubs.”
“Cardiff and Swansea are indeed fabulous cities and the Gower Peninsula near Swansea is wonderful. However, if you want to base yourself somewhere more rural (which is always my wish, as I live in London), the Brecon Beacons/Black Mountains area of south Wales is great: either Brecon itself, or, a short distance away, the border town of Hay. The former is a more traditional type of small town - Hay is impossible to describe in a short posting: a very unusual place that is worth researching before you make your choice. I also very much like the Pembrokeshire coast, St Davids, and the Cardigan bay area. Tenby is a good base, out of the height of the holiday season, for Pembrokeshire.”
“Why not try somewhere like Abergavenny as a base...its surrounded by glorious countryside.”
“Bristol (possibly Cardiff) would be a good city base - you can easily get to Bath, Salisbury, the West Country, South Wales, Abergavenny (Black Mountains), the Welsh Marches (Ludlow, Craven Arms), Shrewsbury ...from here by train. Basing yourself in Harrogate, you can catch local buses into the Yorkshire Dales National Park. You can also catch both trains and buses to historic York and onwards to the North York Moors National Park and the Yorkshire Coast with places like Whitby (to go from York to Whitby you go across the moors).”
“Don't discount Kent either - some lovely towns to visit, especially along the coast if you want to see the sea! Canterbury, Whitstable, Margate, Deal are some good ones.”
“Also check out the date of the Badminton Horse Trials, which usually late April /early May, and depending on your interest, might be a blessing (if you like horse trials) or not (because of difficulty in getting accommodation and increased traffic.
If you are around in Late May, check out the dates of the Bath Festival, ( that is usually around the last week of May), because again, there will be implications for accommodation, and you might find some fun things to do.
And finally, May is the end of the academic year in Oxford, so again depending on the timing of your visit and interest, you might find access to colleges limited (exam time etc.).”
“In Wales you should go to Swansea or Cardiff, from there you can get to the other places easily. I always loved to spend my vacation in the South of England (Cornwall) or the North (Cumbria). But there are lovely places everywhere e. g. Bornemouth Lyme Regis etc.”
“I'd say somewhere around Bangor might be a good base. I've never actually been to Bangor but as it's a fairly large town I'd say the public transport network should be fairly widespread. It's also near enough to all the major sites.”
“You might enjoy Oxford or Cambridge. These college towns have preserved a lot of their medieval roots, especially in their famous quadrangles and along the rivers where generations of students have "punted."
“When I went to England last year I stayed in the charming medieval town of Guildford. It's an easy ride from London (about 40 minutes by train) and I really enjoyed the atmosphere in that town.”
“Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent is well worth a visit and only a short train journey from London (about 40 mins). It is famous for The Pantiles and its Chalybeate Spring (which you can still drink from today!) and is currently celebrating its 400-year anniversary with a walking tour of historic places of interest within the town.”
“For a really quaint English village go see Shere in Surrey...not that far from Gatwick. Lovely old church, olde worlde shops and Cameron Diaz the film star was there earlier this year making her latest film "Holiday". They covered the whole village in artificial snow.... looked amazing. Of course, there’s always Windsor and its fabulous castle/palace...well worth a visit.”
Daytrips to the English Countryside from London
“Downe in Kent (train to Orpington and then bus), and you can also visit Charles Darwin's House if you are interested. Burnham on Crouch in Essex, just over one hour by train, and a pleasant little seaside place. Eynsford in Kent (under 50 minutes by train). You can visit a nearby Roman villa if you like.”
“You could, for example, take the train to Pangbourne (about an hour and a bit), which is really quite pretty. The River Thames runs through it, there are ancient cottages and church, good pubs and cafes, lovely beechwood walks 10 minutes' walk over the river in Whitchurch-on-Thames (even more village-y).”
“Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire is a village which looks quite pretty and is only 40 minutes by from London Marylebone. It has a museum about the writer Roald Dahl, who lived here, an historic church and several cafes/pubs/restaurants, and is a good base for country walks (as is Wendover, the next stop on the line, which also has a great chocolate shop). You can buy a copy of the local 'walkers and riders map' at the Great Missenden station coffee kiosk. But it doesn't have a village green or duck pond, if you are looking for an idealised English village.”
“I would certainly agree with Eynsford, or Shoreham the next station down the line. Both are very villagey, easy to get to and full of interest. I once lived in nearby Sevenoaks. The National Trust village of Chiddingstone is a little but harder to get to (nearest station Penshurst, about 3 miles) but well worth the effort.
I once lived in Tonbridge, 40 minutes by train from London, and within a few miles we could enjoy the very nice villages of Leigh, Penshurst, Hever, Cowden, Wateringbury and Frant. All have railway stations and are easy to reach from London. However, they will be very quiet during the day as all the inhabitants would have been on those trains and off to work in London early that morning. They will all have old churches, old pubs, old shops (mostly closed now sadly) and there are several large stately homes nearby to most of them. The countryside is still mainly agricultural and very pleasant for the most part. I think you will find something to visit in my former county of Kent.”
“Cookham on the Thames in Berkshire is a little over an hour from Paddington. Haven't been there, got it from my guidebook, looks interesting -- home of the artist Stanley Spencer and the Office of the Keeper of the Royal Swans...”
“Cookham is lovely - it will take you 50 minutes by train from Paddington, trains go at 57 minutes past the hour and you need to change at Maidenhead onto the Cookham spur line. It has all the ingredients of a perfect English village, lovely old buildings, mediaeval stone church, pubs by the village green and the Thames, pretty high street lined with lovely old houses and shops, the Stanley Spenser Gallery in the old Methodist Hall, lots of walks.”
“There really are many places, as the others have suggested. For example, if you take a train north you can be in rural Hertfordshire in half an hour. The real snag is that most little villages don't have railway stations so you'll need to catch a bus - and they're not frequent in the countryside.
Because it's my favourite part of the world I suggest you consider the New Forest on the south coast. You can catch a train from Waterloo to Brockenhurst, a largish village right in the heart of the forest. The journey takes about one and a half hours.”
Where to See the English Seaside:
“My wife and I toured the country side several years ago. We enjoyed torque (Pronounced tor-Key ,spelling not quite right).Its the area where John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers” was supposedly at. It has nice beaches and is a very English vacation spot. The towns are very quaint, and the people are great.”
“Torquay was the fictional setting for Fawlty Towers but it was almost all filmed in studios, the few outdoor scenes were filmed at a large house north west of London which has since burned down. Nothing was ever filmed in Torquay!! It's still a great place to stay though (Torquay I mean, not Fawlty Towers).”
“Maybe Brighton, the Regency seaside town. Always interesting at any time of year!”
Seeing the English Countryside: Car vs. Train vs. Bus
“I did this approximately 15 times and I recommend to take buses, because trains are very expensive in Britain, and after the privatisation of the train companies there are no more good connections to get through Britain.”
Some General Tips for Seeing the English Countryside
“I suggest you make sure you book accommodation well in advance for Bath & Oxford. Driving is great, but finding a place to park is a problem. Better to drive your car into a paid car park and take a sightseeing bus, hop on and hop off.”
“If you hire a car, it gives you a lot of freedom to explore all the little villages. Beware of Oxford during the rush hour and on Saturdays, the traffic is terrible.”
“In may the fields will be full of young lambs...they will also be on the menu in a lot of the pub restaurants. The Cotswolds is built on the wealth of the medieval wool trade. Visit Upper Slaughter.”
“But if you are going in November, and hoping to go somewhere on the day of your arrival, you won't have a great deal of daylight, so you might want to go somewhere a little closer to Gatwick.”