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Everyone loves a bargain, especially now the world’s financially screwed. Here’s how to holiday for free. Words: Sasha Heseltine

Christmas and New Year are times for cheer. And bankruptcy. Fortunately, there’s an unbelievable amount to do in the UK for nothing, so being skint is no excuse for failing to get out and explore. Here are some ideas to get started.

Museums great and small

For starters, many major British museums are free, giving access to a mixed bag of collections. You can be sensible and check out striking Pre-Raphaelite paintings at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (bmag.org.uk), or sublime collections of priceless antiquities and decorative arts at both the Ashmolean in Oxford (ashmolean.org) and the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge (fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk).

Or you can be silly and discover obscure local oddities for free. The deeply strange Baked Bean Museum in Port Talbot, Wales, has the world’s only collection of baked-bean memorabilia and a curator who dresses up as ... a baked bean (bakedbeanmuseumofexcellence.org.uk).

On a visit to the Newarke Houses Museum in Leicester (leicester.gov.uk), you get to see the waistcoat of the world’s fattest man, while among the stuffed quaggas and ostriches squirrelled away by Victorian philanthropist Lionel Water Rothschild at the brilliant Natural History Museum in Tring (nhm.ac.uk/tring), you can find a family of stuffed fleas decked out in Mexican costume.

Hit the streets

Most British cities and towns are shrouded in history.

Take self-guided walks around the Roman walls of Chester and York, or explore the Georgian streets and elegant Royal Crescent in Bath. Glasgow’s many free Victorian splendours include a wander around the tombstones of the Necropolis (glasgownecropolis.org). Hit Edinburgh Festival (edinburghfestivals.co.uk) in August and the whole city becomes the entertainment, with buskers, actors and acrobats on every corner.

Markets are another great source of raucous free entertainment, offering local colour and banter with stallholders. Discover Birmingham’s dynamic, multi-cultural Bull Ring Market for anything from silk saris to smoked salmon (ragmarket.com), or wander around the 370 stalls of Lancashire’s fabulous foodie Bury Market (burymarket.com). There are markets to explore in any town any day of the year; see townandcountrymarkets.co.uk for more.

Back in time

There are free historical attractions all over this sceptered isle: the mysterious prehistoric stone circles at Avebury (nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury), a reconstructed Roman fort at Arbeia in Northumberland (twmuseums.org.uk/arbeia), and lonely graves in the plague-struck village of Eyam in the Peak District (eyamplaguevillage.co.uk).

Au naturale

Far from the madding crowd, explore the rugged cliffs of the Jurassic Coast along the 630-mile South West Coastal Path (southwestcoastpath.com), or the undulating Yorkshire Dales when walking parts of the 270-mile Pennine Way (thepennineway.co.uk). Stretching 84 miles from east to west coast, Hadrian’s Wall Path (nationaltrail.co.uk/hadrianswall) follows the Roman remains past grazing land and craggy uplands. For outdoor action, the Cairngorms, Grampians and Snowdonia mountain ranges are there to conquer for free.

Bonkers Britain

There are many oddities to behold around rural Britain. See Another Place – 100 life-size cast-iron human figures scattered about Crosby Beach on Merseyside, a masterpiece by Antony Gormley. Little matches the Electric Brae in Ayrshire: stop your car by the marker stone on the A719 between Dunure and Croy Bay, release the handbrake and feel yourself slowly rolling uphill. It’s an illusion, of course, but intriguing nevertheless.

Eccentricity rages in Britain’s rural communities: it’s free to be a spectator at the venerable sports of cheese rolling in Gloucester (cheese-rolling.co.uk), gurning in Cumbria (whitehaven.org.uk/gurn.html), and worm charming in Cheshire (wormcharming.com). Catch the annual orange races in Totnes, Devon, on August 24, where participants chase fruit down a hill – the winner is the first to reach the bottom with their orange (and dignity) intact (totnesinformation.co.uk).


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