By Monika Komar
New year, new destinations. There’s no better way to start a year than organising holidays to look forward to and if traveling is one of your resolutions for 2017, the UK should be on your list. Not London or Stonehenge, though, because even though they are interesting, important and truly worth a visit, there is so much more to Britain than these.
Here are some of the places I visited last year that should be on your ‘must visit’ list in 2017.
My love affair with Wales started in Gower Peninsula, a beautiful place a short drive away from Swansea. Although it will often welcome you with rain and grey skies, camping near Three Cliffs Bay, hiking across the moors and woodlands, exploring the beaches, cliffs and caves, and eating freshly-baked Welsh cakes make up for the bad weather. You can’t help loving Gower. And it’s not just my opinion – the peninsula was classified as UK’s first Area of Outstanding Beauty over 60 years ago. I rest my case.
Wells is a small town known for its beautiful cathedral and medieval architecture. If you’re a movie geek, you would also recognise it from ‘Hot Fuzz’ as many scenes were shot in Wells. With the majestic Bishop’s Palace and Gardens, traditional Vicar’s Close and old-fashioned market place, the town takes you on a trip back in time – and behind the scenes of the film.
Wells is located near Mendip Hills and Wookey Hole Caves – a group of spectacular limestone caverns, which you can explore with a guided tour. At the end of the trip you can even buy some of the cheese which matures in the deep corners of the caves. Combined, Wells and Wookey Hole make a fantastic day out.
Over the thousand years it has been around, Corfe Castle has seen war and piece, served as prison and residency to royalty, withstood siege and suffered demolition. Today, it’s one of the most dramatic medieval monuments in the UK. To reach it from the closest town, Swanage, you can either take a long, beautiful walk or hitch a ride on a good old steam train. The castle is located in the village of Corfe, where you can find accommodation and pubs, but the neighbouring hills host decent camping sites, some of which, like Downshay Farm, overlook the Castle.
If you are desperate to see Stonehenge, you can’t miss Salisbury, a medieval city located 9 miles away from the stone circle. The main character on the Salisbury stage is the magnificent 13th-century cathedral – a building so grand, it leaves you feeling inspired if a little insignificant. But there’s also the main square, with its weekly markets and shopping, Old Sarum, the remains of early settlement in the area, and an incredible number of lovely restaurants, bars and pubs. In the summer, Salisbury hosts an art festival and sometimes you can spot rather modern exhibitions in open air, such as a giant wire rabbit-human on its knees in front of the cathedral.
I could not pick only one place worth visiting in the Lake District and the best way to explore it is to travel between villages and lakes; each one prettier than the last. Although the most popular places like Windermere and Kendal are beautiful, it’s great to try smaller places, such as Rydal, with its beautiful White Moss Walks, and Threlkeld, a tiny, quiet village on the bottom of the Blencathra mountain, which is also a good place for a hike. A piece of advice – if visiting in November, remember it gets dark and misty earlier than you’d expect.
Eden Project is something truly unique – a cross between a nature reserve, museum and botanical garden. It’s home to world’s largest indoor rainforest, over a thousand mediterranean plants (and thousands of others), and a perfume garden. Eden Project explains nature and the environment like no other place and it’s a great day out when exploring Cornwall. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also jump on England’s longest zip wire there.
Portmeirion looks too magical to be real – and it is. It’s kinda fake. Designed in a style of an Italian village, it feels foreign contrasted with what you typically think of when you picture North Wales. It’s wildly colourful and summery; with fantastic gardens and ponds outside airy, welcoming buildings. It’s a very unique place and if you make it all the way up there, you might as well take a stroll up the beautiful Snowdon – the highest mountain in Wales.
Those green hills on the box of Yorkshire tea and kitchen towels you can buy in souvenir shops in London are no advertising trick – it truly is that picturesque there. York is one of the most glorious cities in the country if you like history, beer and stunning architecture, but Fountains Abbey turned out to be the biggest treat during my trip ‘up north.’ The monastery is one of the best preserved in the country and its history reaches back to the 12th century. It’s so impressive it makes you wonder how beautiful it must have been before it was closed down and left to deteriorate.
Cornwall and Devon are what dreams are made of and I could not pick one above the other, but Ilfracombe was my first stop when visiting the western extremity of England for the first time. In April, it’s magical. Dramatic landscapes, moody seaside and green hills surrounding this quiet, sleepy town are a great break from reality. As if that wasn’t enough, there are lots of lovely cafes serving delicious cream teas. To avoid a serious county faux-pas, remember the Devon way to eat them is clotted cream first and jam on top as opposed to the Cornish method – jam first, cream second.
If I had to pick another city to move to in Britain, it would be Edinburgh, because, well, it’s got everything and more. Sure, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations, but there’s a reason for it. The beautiful surroundings, great comedy and drama scene, heaps of bars and restaurants, friendly people, cute accent… What else could you wish for?
Monika is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. She moves about as often as the seasons change and loves the feeling of waking up in a new place. In her spare time, she pets every dog she that crosses her path, reads until it hurts and updates her list of places to visit.
She runs a travel blog documenting her trips across Britain: muddywelliesuk.wordpress.com