There seems to be some unwritten rule regarding holidays in the UK that says they’re not really proper holidays unless you’re at the seaside. It simply isn’t
true. Some of Britain’s most historic, entertaining, picturesque and enjoyable counties are miles from the coast and yet still provide a host of ideal destinations and attractions that will ensure a perfectly memorable holiday. If you think that UK a holiday is strictly seaside only, prepare to be persuaded otherwise as we present five fabulous counties that offer more than sand and salt air for your holiday.
In fairness, Hampshire does possess beaches if you’re prepared to seek them out, but there’s so much more to see and do in this traditional English county that you’ll probably decide it’s not worth the effort. Theme parks are always a huge holiday hit and Hampshire has one of the country’s best in Paulton’s Park near Romsey. Open almost all year round, Paulton’s has enough white knuckle rides, family attractions and things to see and do to fill a holiday on its own.
More restful outdoor pursuits are to be found in the New Forest National Park. Although the UK’s newest and smallest national park, the forest itself was designated as the private hunting ground of William the Conqueror in 1079. Today the New Forest is a haven for wildlife and a delight to all who experience its beautiful landscapes, charming villages and extensive opportunities for exploring, whether on foot, bicycle or horseback.
An unmissable blend of England’s naval heritage and modern city-life are among the great things to do in Portsmouth, in whose historic dockyard the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the remains of Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose may be visited.
Hampshire is also home to many fine stately homes and gardens, with the house and National Motor Museum at Beaulieu providing one of Hampshire’s most popular and enjoyable destinations. See my post on handy hints for Hampshire for loads more tips on getting the most out of Hampshire.
Sitting at England’s heart, holiday destinations don’t come any further from the coast, but Derbyshire’s compelling combination of vibrant cities, charming market towns and rural villages attract holidaymakers from around the world.
Stately homes such as Chatsworth House, family home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Haddon Hall and Tissington Hall are surrounded not only by their immaculately tended grounds, but also by the outstanding beauty of the Peak District National Park. Amidst these rolling hills and patchwork fields bordered by ancient dry stone walls, country roads connect market towns such as Bakewell, world famous for its pudding and Chesterfield, where the curiously twisted church spire is said to have been caused by the Devil’s tail. Despite Derbyshire’s remoteness from the sea, the town of Matlock Bath with its illuminations, amusements, novelty shops and cable cars could double as a typical seaside resort, and is a popular holiday destination during the summer.
Elsewhere in the county, agricultural life is to the fore and visitors can enjoy a variety of farmers markets, sheepdog trials, point-to-point races and many other traditional outdoor pastimes. Derby itself, Britain’s youngest city, is a vibrant and exciting destination, packed with culture, entertainment and fine restaurants. In fact, Derby has a great deal to recommend it, much like the county which surrounds it.
Gloucestershire, the Cotswold County, is a year-round attraction for holidaymakers thanks to its diversity of landscapes, endearing stone villages and, in some parts, a traditional way of English life which has remained unchanged for centuries. In the west of the county the Royal Forest of Dean is one of Britain’s last remaining ancient woodlands. Amid the forest’s tranquil and picturesque nature paths and dedicated cycle ways are places where a multitude of outdoor activities such as climbing, caving, archery and white water rafting are offered. Meanwhile, the eastern side of Gloucestershire constitutes the greater proportion of an area of outstanding natural beauty known as the Cotswolds. The wolds themselves are the gently rolling hills that surround the county; an area once exclusively reserved for sheep farming.
Today, charming Gloucestershire Cotswolds towns and villages such as Stow-on-the-Wold, Tewkesbury and Upper- and Lower Slaughter attract holidaymakers who seek the epitome of a traditional and unspoilt English country village.
Gloucestershire’s beauty is further enhanced by a collection of magnificent public gardens such as Cerney House Gardens in Cirencester, the Rococo Garden in Painswick and the historic Westbury Court Garden, the only restored Dutch water-garden in Britain. Gloucestershire’s gentle pastoral beauty, relaxed pace and fascinating attractions provide a holiday that will leave you wondering why you didn’t find an alternative to the seaside sooner.
Few people would admit to placing Staffordshire high on their list of holiday destinations, but to those in the know the county is one of Britain’s best kept secrets. Staffordshire’s sheer diversity of landscapes, activities and places of interest provide enough options to fill several holidays. Affectionately referred to as the potteries, Stoke-on-Trent is a fascinating city indelibly associated with the ceramics industry and the birthplace of world-renowned brands including Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Portmeirion and Spode. Many of the thirty potteries that remain in the city operate tours for visitors.
For lovers of the great outdoors, Cannock Chase is the largest surviving area of lowland heath in the Midlands; a rare and important habitat for wildlife. Within this area of outstanding natural beauty, Cannock Chase Forest is a haven for mountain bikers, whilst Chasewater Country Park provides ample opportunities for fishing, walking, go-karting and sailing.
History and culture are to be found in the magnificent estates and gardens of Trentham, Shugborough Hall and Biddulph Grange. Among Staffordshire’s many interesting towns and cities, Lichfield is notable as the home of the only medieval cathedral in England with three spires. Anyone who enjoys beer should visit Burton-upon-Trent, once the world’s brewing capital thanks to the quality of its water, and the birthplace of India Pale Ale. Finally, it’s worth reminding any kids who aren’t impressed by the thought of a holiday in Staffordshire that Alton Towers is here…
Dispel the notion that the county of Surrey is merely another commuter zone for nearby London. Whilst it is true that Surrey provides easy access to the capital, as a holiday destination Surrey has a surprising amount to offer and its many cities, towns and villages have a charm and individuality that make them a joy to explore.Far from the urban jungle of expectation, Surrey is actually the most wooded county in Great Britain, and its proximity to the rolling chalk hills of the North Downs makes Surrey an excellent choice for a walking holiday.
Surrey is synonymous with sport; the first recorded mention of cricket originates in the county town of Guildford, and the county is also home to the famous golf course at Wentworth and to Kempton Park Racecourse.
Less demanding are Surrey’s famous public gardens, with the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley perhaps the best known although Loseley Park and Claremont are no less worthy of attention. Similarly, Surrey is blessed with a selection of fine historic residences including Hampton Court Palace , renowned for its maze and Guildford Castle which offers panoramic views over the town. Two of the UK’s best loved theme parks are to be found in Surrey; Chessington World of Adventures and Thorpe Park provide enough thrills, spills, family fun and entertainment between them to keep everyone smiling. And that’s just scratching the surface; as a holiday destination the county of Surrey will amaze you with one amazing day out after another.
John is a UK travel blogger who wrote this post on behalf of Tylney Hall - one of the finest hotels in Hampshire and the perfect place to stay to discover the best of Hampshire and Basingstoke.