Toasting St George with a pint is all very well, but there are better ways to celebrate England’s national day. In an extract from TNT‘s online guide, AMY ADAMS offers highlights from all corners of the country.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written about the pilgrimage to the shrine of the murdered archbishop Thomas Beckett, has made Canterbury an important literary, as well as religious, destination. The main attraction is the magnificent cathedral, the seat of the Church of England, that narrowly escaped destruction during World War II.
More than 1000 years old, the only thing new about the New Forest is its National Park status, which was bestowed upon it last year. A royal hunting ground since the time of William the Conqueror, this ancient woodland is famous for its native ponies, leafy glades and bracken-covered headland.
The perfect escape from the frenzy of London combines traditional English holidaymaking with an alternative vibe. Wander around the retro clothes shops and organic cafés of North Laine and you’ll see Brighton’s bohemia is still very much alive. Tuck into fish and chips on the pebble beach and lose your stomach on the Brighton Pier Waltzer.
The festival isn’t the only legendary aspect to Glastonbury, formally the Vale of Avalon. Christ, no less, is rumoured to have visited, and Joseph of Arimathea is said to have brought the Holy Grail here. Myth has it that King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, was forged nearby and the man himself is supposedly buried next to Guinevere at the abbey.
Devon and Cornwall
Tumbling waves, sweeping beaches, good weather and a laidback pace of life – there isn’t a lot wrong with Cornwall and Devon, other than the fact a lot of people have realised this. Come summer, the area bulges with tourists, particularly the key resorts Newquay, Bude, Torquay and Croyde. Get hold of a car so you can skip from hostel to campsite, munching pasties, exploring fishing villages and discovering deserted coves.
The Eden Project
The domed greenhouses of the Eden Project, stuffed with tropical and indigenous plants, let the visitor walk from African rainforests to Peruvian mountain crops in a matter of steps. Artists have found an alternative paradise at St Ives, a muse of a town that now boasts its own Tate gallery.
The star of Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Northanger Abbey epitomises England for many, with its elegant Georgian buildings, leafy parks, ancient abbey and, of course, its Roman bathhouses. Splash out on a ticket to the Roman Baths Museum to see England’s only hot springs, or indulge yourself on a trip to Thermae Bath Spa, a modern complex that boasts an open air pool on the roof.
Oxford University gave birth to the English language and educated JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. There are 39 colleges in total, perhaps the most impressive being Christ Church, New and Magdalen. Fans of the Harry Potter movies should check out the Divinity School and the library at the Bodleian, both of which starred as Hogwarts. Outside the university you’ll find England’s oldest museum, the Ashmolean.
Stonehenge and Avebury
The best way to preserve the mysterious stone circle at Stonehenge without ruining our experience of it is a constant source of dispute. Skip being a part of the debate by heading to Avebury, another Bronze Age stone circle nearby. With less fencing, rope and people, you can wander among the monoliths at will.
The birthplace of Shakespeare and home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, needs little introduction. There are five houses said to be linked to the Bard, including the Tudor house where he was born. See a play at the RSC’s Swan Theatre, or take a river trip down the canal to discover how the theatre got its name.
England’s largest national park (and Europe’s most visited) is a medley of hidden limestone dales, rolling Pennine hills and endless options for walking, climbing and cycling. Charming towns, like Bakewell, provide solace for the weary rambler and at Castleton you can try caving and potholing.
Now a World Heritage site, England’s industrial revolution was born here when Abraham Darby discovered how to smelt iron ore with coke. The iron bridge over the River Severn was the world’s first (built by Abraham Darby III). Nearby is the Blists Hill Victorian Town, with a reconstructed school, pub and doctor’s surgery.
Cambridge has much in common with Oxford, its fellow academic powerhouse; namely, a lot of colleges and quads that merge into one after a while. Soak up the Gothic architecture of King’s College Chapel and check out AA Milne’s original Winnie The Pooh manuscript in the Wren Library before punting down the River Cam to explore the Backs.
The Norfolk coast, with its sandy beaches, idyllic fishing villages and abundant wildlife, is fast becoming part of the backpacker trail. It’s quieter and more relaxed than much of the English coast, but if you’re after some seaside tack, Great Yarmouth has all the candyfloss you need.
The inspiration for Graham Swift’s Waterland is as poetic and slow-moving as the novel. Three rivers meander their way through this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, creating marshes, lakes and the perfect habitat for a variety of birds. The best way to see the Broads is by boat – rent one at Wroxham.
Dominated by its epic minster (the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe), York is a city steeped in its past. There’s the Jorvik Viking Centre, built on an actual Viking Age site, medieval walls encircling cobbled streets, and enough ghost tours to keep you up all night – a good job, because the nightlife won’t. Famed more for its tea shops than its nightclubs, York is historic, not hysteric.
The Brontë sisters grew up in Haworth, a quaint village where you can visit the family parsonage (now a museum). Fans of Emily’s Wuthering Heights should head to Yorkshire’s two national parks. Both the Yorkshire Dales, with its rolling hills and limestone formations, and the barren, heather-covered North York Moors, provide the perfect backdrop for roaming wild in search of Heathcliff.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Near the less than salubrious Wakefield lies the wonderful alfresco gallery of Bretton Park. Antony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth and Anthony Caro all have worked here, but the emphasis is on Henry Moore, whose intriguing, seductive forms decorate the landscape of neat lawns and trees.
Angel of the North
At 65ft high and with a wingspan of 175ft, Antony Gormley’s industrial sculpture has become a landmark of the north. Once nicknamed the Gateshead Flasher, the towering monument has slowly worked its way into the hearts of the locals, and is now more affectionately known as Gabriel.
Built by Roman Emperor Hadrian, to keep the Scots out of England in AD122, the wall of the same name used to run from coast to coast. Now this astonishing feat of engineering begins in Newcastle and winds for 117km through to Carlisle.
The most sparsely populated area of England is a haven of pristine, desolate beaches, imposing castles and seemingly endless landscapes. For serious hikers, this is also the starting point for England’s first and best-known national trail, the Pennine Way.
Lakes and mountains
Keswick is the walking hub of the north, while Windermere and Bowness (the region’s longest lake) are the centre of the action in the south. Facilities to row, cruise, climb and dine are all within splashing distance. Scafell Pike, England’s tallest summit, will keep you on your toes, but if biking’s more your thing, head to Grizedale Forest to follow an elaborate trail of 90 sculptures.
Daffodils and Peter Rabbit
Keats, Coleridge and De Quincey all sought inspiration in the Lake District, following in the footsteps of the area’s most famous son, William Wordsworth. See his homes at Dove Cottage in Grasmere and Rydal Mount near Ambleside. For Beatrix Potter fans, there’s Hilltop Farm where she used to live, in Near Sawrey, and a museum in Hawkshead.
No one’s saying it’s not tacky, least of all the inhabitants, who seem to have embraced its lack of sophistication wholeheartedly. But this is why Blackpool is so much fun. Climb the Eiffel-esque tower, gawp at the Illuminations, and scream your head off on the white-knuckle rides at the Pleasure Beach.
• For more inspiration, see TNT‘s free online guide to England at www.tntmagazine.com/guides.