Winter is upon us, bringing with it the cold, damp and dark. But we’re not complaining. Is there any better feeling than curling up safe and warm inside as the wind howls and rain lashes at the window? In answer, we present our pick of England’s best cosy towns – perfect for snuggling up by a crackling log fire, or even braving the outdoors for a worth-the-effort Christmas market.
Chester is the classy, brunette beauty to its brasher, WAG-glam/ bottle-blonde neighbour, Liverpool. It’s a quietly impressive city that has been blessed with enough pulling power to render any ancillary enhancements inessential. Within its red sandstone Roman walls (the most complete city walls in Britain left over from the occupation 2000 years ago), a maze of cobbled streets and tightly packed black-and-white Tudor-style buildings transport the visitor to times way back yonder. Indeed, the two-tier, 700-year-old shopping galleries that congregate around The Cross area of town can’t help but muster period-drama-inspired imaginings of horses and carts, soot-smeared peasants and gentlewomen wrapped in frilly bonnets.
Cosy credentials: True to its historical form, Chester has created a ‘Victorian Christmas’ in the centre of town. Fairy lights, frosted trees and the streets’ distinctly period looks promise festivities with a Dickensian feel. There’s an embarrassment of snuggle-friendly B&Bs in Chester to choose from, or you could make a weekend extra cosy with a stay at the Doubletree by Hilton – the spa offers couples treatments that include access to a private suite with sauna and Jacuzzi. Now that’s cosy. (doubletree1.hilton.com).
Get there: London Euston to Chester with Virgin Trains. (virgintrains.co.uk).
Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire
In spite of its proximity to Hull, the vaguely depressing port city by the River Humber, Beverley is one of the most handsome towns in England, a tangle of Georgian and Victorian architecture. The market town will no doubt be a-buzz at Christmas, and its selection of ancient pubs – including the Sun Inn, which dates back to 1530 and keeps it old-style with worn stone floors and coal fires, and The White Horse Inn with its Victorian-era gas lighting – are perfect for a cosy ale or three.
Oxford’s Norman-era castle hosts a Christmas market from December 2. Choirs and brass bands provide the carols; elbow snotty children out of the way and grab a ride on the carousel. There’s a YHA if you’re on a budget, but if you’ve got romance in mind, try the 17th-century Old Parsonage Hotel. Log fires, creaky floorboards and old leather armchairs complete the cosy picture. (oldparsonage-hotel.co.uk).
This harbour city has hopped aboard the Victorian Christmas bandwagon and is putting on a three-day Victorian Festival of Christmas at its historic dockyard from November 25. The largest Crimbo market on the south coast will offer up 140 stalls, a Victorian Magic Lantern show, the chance to pet baby reindeer (all together now: awwww), and snowy white streets filled with folk riding penny farthings.
Get there: London Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour with South West Trains (southwesttrains.co.uk).
Mere mention of the Cotswolds conjures a slideshow of cosy images: bracing country walks braved in fluffy jumpers, succeeded by retirement to a rustic-chic retreat. Cheltenham is the upmarket and handsomely historic town at the centre of this region, but six miles outside of it is the Frogmill Hotel, set in a sprawling country house. A two-night stay with breakfasts, three-course meal, mulled wine and mince pies is £95pp until December 23. (hotelshopuk.com).
Get there: London Paddington to Cheltenham with First Great Western (firstgreatwestern.co.uk).