Five great cities
A cumbersome title, perhaps, but it’s ‘two for the price of one’ that’s made this corner of the North-East a shining example of urban regeneration done right. The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts, Sage Music Centre and ‘blinking eye’ Millennium Bridge make pretty jaw-dropping backdrops to a quayside pubcrawl – those wishing to truly say they’ve kept up with the Geordies in the Brown Ale-downing department, however, should brave the Bigg Market, while those in search of something less mainstream should head to the area around Central Station.
Between drinking sessions, squeeze in a visit to Gateshead’s MetroCentre (Europe’s biggest shopping mall), take in a game at St James’ Park or some contemporary art at the Baltic – and to round off the weekend, take the Metro to the coast for a browse in the flea market at Tynemouth station, followed by a walk on the beach and some of the best fish and chips in the country at Bill’s Fish Bar, Cullercoats. See www.newcastle gateshead.co.uk; www.onenortheast.co.uk. – ELISE RANA
From Roman foundations to Viking takeover to gunpowder plotting to industrial revolution, a day in York is a crash-course in English history. Soak it up with a walk around the city walls, a wander through the jumble of medieval streets and alleys, or try the Jorvik Viking Centre for a more pungent experience. Museum-wise though, the current buzz is centred around the newly reopened York Gallery. Come evening, you’re better heading to Leeds for a clubbing fix, but thanks to the healthy student population cosy, real ale drinking dens abound, with a few slightly more upmarket options such as the Orgasmic Cafe towards the city centre. Alternatively, spend your evening getting freaked out on a night-time ghost walk – with all that history comes plenty of restless spirits, and York has the honour of being the most haunted place in the UK. See www.york-tourism.co.uk. – ER
This seaside town is hardly off the beaten track, but at least it’s close enough to leave you with no excuse for not visiting. Since the Prince Regent decamped here as a place to party in the early 1800s, London-On-Sea has long been an escape venue from the choking capital. While the Mods and Rockers are no longer squaring up on the pebbled beaches, it’s still a magnet for artistic types and alternative sub-cultures, as you’ll no doubt figure when mooching around the funky, quirky boutiques of North Laine. Enjoy the seaside experience with a walk along the pretty promenade, try your hand at the rigged games on the pier to win a deformed Winnie the Pooh then hit the clubs: at the likes of Honey Club, Ocean Rooms and the ZAP club, dancefloor hedonism is alive and well in Fatboy Slim’s adopted hometown. See www.visitbrighton.co.uk. – ER
Manchester may have lost a few coats of sheen during the decade and a half since ‘Madchester’ had the coolest music scene in the world, but the cocky, youth-driven city remains one of the UK’s heavyweight party capitals. Head up from Piccadilly onto the dubious looking Oldham Street to get to the Northern Quarter, still the best place to check out the Manchester sound. Look out for bars such as the Boardwalk on Little Peter Street and The Citadel on Waterloo Street where you’ll encounter a healthy scene in smaller, upcoming acts. House and trance is the staple for the late night scene and is best unearthed post 2am at the 24-hour Redlight at Sankeys and the Tangled Club at Phoenix. Chorlton, near the south of the city, also sports a pretty good stoner vibe, but can be a bit too vegan-hippy for a double-fisted drinking Antipodean crowd. The best day attraction in our book is the shimmering glass citadel in Cathedral Gardens, known as Urbis. This futuristic museum has cutting edge interactive displays that allow you to ‘journey through’ and ‘explore’ different cities of the world, from Sao Paolo to Los Angeles, but the Tokyo display is most likely to twist your melon. See www.visitmanchester.com. – SEAN MAHER
Liverpudlians, like most northerners, take a bit of a beating down south. Standard London notation says Scousers have a bit of a penchant for nicking things and getting into fights. Certainly an all-in brawl at local lad Wayne Rooney’s birthday party didn’t help alleviate the stereotype. How the glory days have been forgotten, when the Merseybeat revolution from the port city poured out some of the best music of the ’60s. You may have heard of The Beatles. Their Museum on the refurbished Albert Docks and former haunt, the rebuilt Cavern Club, are must-dos for music fans. The city is shaking off its working-class image and managing to embrace it all at once, proud of its heritage but beginning to once again become an artistic and entertainment hothouse. The Tate Liverpool features some of the best modern art in Europe, which has helped Merseyside to the European City of Culture title for 2008. In the great northern tradition, there’s never a shortage of pubs and clubs to keep you raging until the wee hours, complete with lasses tottering around in skirts that would be considered belts in other parts of the country. Whether strolling alongside the Mersey, taking in a football match at Anfield or Goodison Park or boozing with the university crowd around Concert Square, you’ll quickly realise there’s more to Liverpool than a day trip to the Grand National. Stay long enough and you might even start to understand the accent. See www.visitliverpool.com. – PHIL LUTTON
Five places to go wild in the country
Northumberland National Park
In terms of getting away from it all, you could do worse than head for the most sparsely populated part of England. The ‘land of far horizons’ is a beautiful place of pristine, desolate beaches, imposing castles and endless, endless land. From the Cheviot Hills in the north to Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site (the northern frontier of the Roman Empire in 122AD) in the south, the national park covers a not-to- be-sniffed-at 1030km2 that you could lose yourself in for weeks. For some serious hiking, this is also the starting point for England’s first and best-known National Trail, the Pennine Way. See www.nnpa.org.uk.
Try: Unlocking the land’s secrets with a bit of local wisdom – Jon Monks is a working Northumbrian hill shepherd whose walks (01670-774 675; www.shepherdswalks.com) help raise funds for local conservation charities. – ER
It may be the first national park to be designated in England in 15 years but that’s where the appropriateness of the New Forest’s name ends. A royal hunting ground since before the time of William the Conqueror, this ancient woodland is known for the shaggy little native ponies that wander wild among the leafy glades and bracken-covered heathland. See www. newforestnpa.gov.uk; www.thenewforest.co.uk.
Try: Exploring on horseback. Burley Villa near New Milton (01425-610 278; www.burleyvilla.co.uk) offer English saddle forest hacks or the more relaxed (and easier for beginners) western style of riding. – ER
Broads, if you didn’t know, are shallow lakes, not game females; Norfolk’s vast wetland is an English national park quite unlike any other. As well as natural beauty and wildlife, the area contains an abundance of Roman and Norman remains and attracts a million visitors a year, many of them taking to the water to explore. See www.broads-authority.gov.uk.
Try: Eco-friendly boating. There are about 20 electric boats for day hire on the Broads, which, as well as reducing noise pollution, have finer hulls that produce less wash. See www.electric-boat-association.org.uk. – TOM FULFORD-JONES
Ireland doesn’t have a monopoly on rolling green hills, you know. The Peak District, Europe’s most visited national park, covers roughly 1400km2 between Manchester, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent. The aforementioned green hills, divided by rock walls and dotted with sheep, make ideal terrain for ramblers, with some 2570km of public rights of way. Charming towns such as Castleton and Bakewell welcome weary walkers with a wealth of watering holes while, if you like your wildlife a little more manicured, the region has numerous stately homes, all kitted out with the compulsory faultless gardens.
Try: For a quaint village, Castleton has a burgeoning underground scene – in the form of caving and potholing. Don overalls and a miner’s helmet and get exploring. See www.PeakDistrictCaving.info. – CONAL HANNA
No rolling hills and glassy lakes are pretty enough to make sitting in a traffic jam a pleasant experience, so if you want see the Lakes without a blanket of exhaust fumes there are a few places to avoid. Namely, the entire perimeter of Windermere Lake. If you’re going in summer stick to Coniston Water and swim to Peel Island (better known as the Wild Cat Island in Arthur Ransom’s Swallows And Amazons) for some cliff-diving before scaling the Old Man of Coniston. On the road between Hawkeshead and Ambleside you’ll find the Drunken Duck Inn. Its outdoor tables overlooking the surrounding valley are an ideal place for you to sit and swig locally brewed ales. Nearby is the vast Grizedale Forest where you can grab a bike and follow an elaborate trail of 90 sculptures or Go Ape! (www.goape.co.uk) on a mile-long network of rope bridges, trapezes and death slides that stretches through the tree canopy. Further north, Keswick is the centre of the action, particularly the walking kind. But if you’re after tranquil times, try the nearby valleys of Borrowdale and Buttermere and hunt out ‘Old Man Pubs’ as far from ironic as Hoxton is from the Lake District. – AMY ADAMS
Don’t leave without:
Experiencing the fever of a football match
It might be freezing, there may only be 17 people and a dog present and the spectacle will likely be less entertaining than cutting your nails, but it’s an institution of such magnitude that it dwarfs everything else nine months a year. Football is virtually always in season, and whether you’re at cash-rich Chelsea or lowly Leyton Orient, it’s a part of English culture that crosses all barriers.
Chilling out at a summer festival
If you missed out on Glastonbury tickets, a suitably blissed-out musical experience can still be had. Try Womad for world music (www.womad.org); the Big Chill for ambient sounds (www.bigchill.net), Download for metal (www.download festival.co.uk), Creamfields for dance (www.creamfields.com) or the Cambridge Folk Festival for beards and ale-drinking (www.cambridgefolkfestival.co.uk). See www.virtual-festivals.com.
Surfing in Cornwall
It may not be Maui, but don’t underestimate the dedication of England’s surf community – hit Newquay in the midst of one of the many surf competitions if you need convincing. See www.britsurf.co.uk.
Walking in the woods
Made up of oak, ash, hazel and rowan, deciduous woodland areas like the Forest of Dean or the New Forest are beautiful places to see the changing seasons. Go in spring for carpets of bluebells and snowdrops, or autumn for a canopy of blazing yellows, oranges and reds. See www.forestry.gov.uk.
Get cosy by the fire in a country pub
It almost makes winter bearable. Once you’ve tasted your first properly poured pint of real ale you’ll never drink watered-down lager in a soulless chain bar again. Hopefully. See www.camra.org.uk.
In the words of Spinal Tap: no-one knows who they were, or what they were doing. Draw your own conclusions about what England’s prehistoric inhabitants were up to with a visit to the stone circles at Avebury in Wiltshire, Bodmin Moor or Castlerigg near Keswick in the Lake District.
See how the other half live(d)
There are stately homes, historic houses, castles and other important buildings all over England – the confusing part is working out who looks after what. The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) administers stately homes and other buildings and gardens, while English Heritage (www.english-heritage.org.uk) tends to look after castles and more ancient sites.
A Great British Heritage Pass gives you free entry to all properties belonging to the National Trust, English Heritage and privately owned houses including Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth and Woburn Abbey, as well as houses in the Historic Houses Association and Historic Royal Palaces Agency and more. The pass can normally only be bought outside the UK, but you can get one at the Britain and London Visitor Centre in Regent Street if you can provide identification showing you are from overseas. See www.visitengland.com.