For CLC World’s next Top Holiday Destination 2020, we stay close to home and (re)discover England. Poets have waxed lyrical about this green and pleasant land, where history seeps from every stone and nature holds sway with dramatic landscapes.
Every point on the compass offers a unique experience – from the country’s capital London with its eclectic mix of quiet corners, nightlong parties, ancient history and modern art, to the wilds of the Yorkshire Moors, the dreaming spires of Oxford and the buzz of Liverpool. It’s what travel adventures are made for.
London is one of the world’s most visited cities and one of the most culturally diverse. With a history stretching back over thousands of years, it is modern and feisty yet with tranquil corners. Whether you take city breaks for history, food, art and culture or a heady mix of all, you’ll never be stuck for things to do in the capital.
Amazingly, many of London’s top attractions are free including the Tate Modern, Natural History Museum and Royal Greenwich. If the weather’s good, skip the London Underground one day and walk through the city’s parks, along its famous streets – Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street to name but three – and make your way to the street markets for great food in casual settings.
Some of England’s most recognisable sights are in London: the gothic grandeur of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the 900-year-old-Tower of London, and the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Take a ride on the London Eye and capture the changing skyline as modern architecture such as The Shard, The Gherkin and The Walkie-Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street) rises above old London, adding to the conversation.
Head to the outskirts and Kew Gardens, Richmond or Hampton Court Palace for a more tranquil London where you enjoy English beer and gin in a riverside pub.
In the evenings, watch a show in the West End, experience Shakespeare at The Globe or enjoy something a little more edgy at one of the many theatres dotted around the city, before a late meal, nightcap or clubbing.
England’s south-western counties are a timeline from pre-history to modern day set in rolling countryside, along towering cliffs and hip cities.
Stonehenge is England’s most iconic archaeological site. This ring of monolithic stones has attracted pilgrims and poets for 5,000 years and still emits a mystical aura. No longer can you walk amid the stones but their silent testimony to so much history is touching.
Drop down to Dorset and travel along the Jurassic Coast to East Devon taking in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the attractive towns of Dorchester, Lyme Regis and Seaton and the natural coastal landscape of Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and Chesil Beach.
At the mouth of the River Exe, turn inland to the small but historically weighty city of Exeter. With its city walls dating back to the Roman period, the Gothic Cathedral, Norman Castle and vaulted, medieval underground passages snaking beneath it, Exeter is a fantastic city break.
Cornwall is a beach lover’s dream, from long stretches of sand to secluded coves you can wile away the hours with a book or catch the surf. Pretty fishing villages, mythology, wonderfully fresh and tasty seafood and some fun sights are all wrapped in the country’s most western county. CLC Trenython Manor is the perfect base for your Cornwall holidays.
Devon’s wondrous countryside, cream teas and Dartmoor ponies make it hard to pass through. So linger a while and savour some of the northern coastline. Walk the steep cobbled path down to the harbour at Clovelly and pop into the only town with an exclamation mark – Westward Ho! – with its wide beach and dunes.
The cities of Bristol and Bath are popular for myriad reasons. Bath is genteel and historic with Roman Baths, Regency architecture and tearooms, while Bristol is innovation and creativity – though both are packed full of history and character. Great for two city breaks or a week long holiday in England.
The North West
Where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea, you’ll find Liverpool. A port from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, it’s famously The Beatles’ hometown. Ferries cruise the waterfront past the iconic “Three Graces” – Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building – on the Pier Head.
Also on the waterfront, the Museum of Liverpool traces the city’s history, and the Tate Liverpool is a great stop for international modern art. Take a Beatles heritage tour to the Cavern Club, Penny Lane and the musicians’ childhood homes. The International Slavery Museum gives you an insight into the role of the port and the British Empire in the slave trade.
From cityscape to the idyllic countryside that inspired Romantic poets and Beatrix Potter. The Lake District is picture perfect with its mountain tarns, lakes that glitter in the sun and hillside farms.
Cruise the lakes, hike the mountains and visit the many literary connections from William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome and Peter Rabbit’s creator, Beatrix Potter. However you choose to spend your time there, your imagination will be stirred.
Walk the Wall
It may have taken the Romans a while to conquer Britain (if they ever truly did), but they constructed one of Rome’s greatest engineering projects, named in honour of the emperor who ordered it built, here.
Hadrian’s Wall runs across the Britain’s narrow neck, from the Solway Firth in the west almost to the mouth of the Tyne in the east. Every Roman mile (0.95 miles) was a gateway guarded by a small fort (milecastle) and between each milecastle were two observation turrets. This is a fantastic coast-to-coast hike across the top of England, which takes 5-10 days depending on how awe-struck you are by the views.
Housesteads is the wall’s most dramatic site and the best preserved Roman fort in the country. From the ridge, you can see Northumberland National Park and the wall snaking into the distance.
Half the size of Belgium, Yorkshire is almost a country in itself. Its atmospheric moors and dramatic coastline braced against the North Sea have enchanted people for centuries, and visitors have thronged to take the water at Harrogate, hike or cycle the dales and explore ruined abbeys.
Medieval York, with its Roman and Viking past, draws people to it, but the region has many more towns, villages and sights to explore with favourites such as Castle Howard, Whitby Abbey and Skipton Castle enticing people in.
For food and drink lovers, Yorkshire is, perhaps surprisingly to outsiders, a veritable foodies’ delight. It’s not just Yorkshire Pudding that hails from here, Leeds has a heady craft-beer scene with innovative brewery taprooms, while the revitalised Georgian market town of Malton is a haven for artisan food and drink producers.
The Midlands & The Marches
Green valleys, chocolate-box pretty villages with black and white timbered houses, legendary woodlands like Sherwood Forest and stately homes from which you expect a horde of men in breeches and giggling girls with parasols to emerge – the heart of England is the place to be.
There are also relics of the bygone industrial age when cities grew around the mills and the canals traced a network of waterways, which today transport you through quiet countryside to Coventry, Aylesbury, Leicester and Market Harborough.
For clean air and rolling hills head to the Peak District National Park and the Shropshire Hills in the Marches, along the English–Welsh border, and become one with nature.
The Oxford Cambridge Arc
England’s oldest seats of learning, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, may compete annually in all manner of sporting pursuits, the Boat Race being the most famous, but they are linked by a notional arc of agricultural and urban land via Milton Keynes and other towns and villages.
Oxford is the city of dreaming spires, with the honey-coloured university colleges draped along the river and in the centre of town. Visitors flock to Oxford to the colleges, and to admire the magnificent museums and archives such as the Bodleian Library and Ashmolean Museum.
Cambridge, like Oxford, is full of exquisite architecture which exudes history and tradition. Look before you step into the cobbled passageways along which cyclists loaded down with books hare. Take a punt along The Backs in what feels like a very English displacement of Venice before heading to a traditional pub for a pint and possible philosophical discussion.
The Oxford Cambridge Arc has brought you safely to rest in East Anglia, which unfolds before you as the vast wetlands of the Fens reach for the sandy beaches.
Alongside Cambridge is the cosmopolitan city of Norwich, pretty market towns and villages so picturesque you’ll believe they’ve been created just for visitors. Ely Cathedral, dubbed the ‘Ship of the Fens’, rises out of the flat fenland and dominates the landscape. This land inspired Gainsborough and Constable, and you can see why.
The coastline is dotted with charming fishing villages and traditional seaside resorts, while inland are the Norfolk Broads, the ideal location for some serious R&R.
Scattered around the English coastline are numerous isles offering the perfect escape. Off the Hampshire coast is the Isle of Wight, a favoured retreat of Queen Victoria whilst her beloved Albert was alive. Visit her old home Osborne House, Carisbrooke Castle where Charles I was imprisoned, the natural formation of the Needles and The Garlic Farm.
The Isles of Scilly, a flight or boat ride from Cornwall’s toe or Exeter airport, offer a simpler, more peaceful life. Five inhabited islands – St. Mary’s, Tresco, St. Martin’s, Bryher and St. Agnes – have their own characteristics. History and archaeology sit beside sweeping sea vistas and wonderful wildlife.
The Isle of Man is a state of its own, but easily reachable from the English mainland. Home to the world’s oldest continuous parliament, the Tynwald, it has beautiful scenery and is one of only five UNESCO designated biosphere reserves in the UK.
Saint Aidan picked the perfect spot for a monastery when he rocked up on Lindisfarne in the 7th century. Sandy bays are a romantic place from which to watch the sun rise and set, while the ruins of the Priory and Castle give you a glimpse into the island’s history.
England is deserving of a top destination label with so much to offer for city breaks, family staycations, or a tour of the country from the border with Scotland to the Cornish toe dipped in the Atlantic Ocean.
If you’re a CLC World Member, remember your personal travel agent, CLC World Travel is on hand to help you plan your England holidays once travel is again possible.