Exploring and walking the UK
My last post of 2020 but my first one in a long time. Like everyone, this year I was unable to jet off on most of the holidays I'd booked (never had being so organised backfired so badly). Instead, I decided to focus on exploring and walking the UK before and in-between the wonderful tier system. Until 2020 I'd always disregarded the idea of holidaying in the UK. I can now say that I’d been missing out on its natural beauty. I won’t pretend every trip was sunny but every season in the UK offers something different and in between muddy walks I ate lots of delicious food and drank lots of local tipples. Here’s a quick summary of each trip.
*Unfortunately the North bore the brunt of the local COVID-19 restrictions for a long time, so my trips were pretty south-centric.
The Seven Sisters and Brighton, East Sussex
No, not the neighbourhood in north London but the white chalk cliffs that form part of the South Downs in East Sussex. You can spend a full day exploring and walking the coastline but I would make a weekend out of your trip and stay in Brighton to enjoy the city's buzz. You can take the bus to Seaford from Brighton Station (you can also take a direct train) and begin your walk towards the cliffs. This will take you past some beautiful stacks (Geography GCSE lingo) and through Seaford Nature Reserve and onto the cliffs. Lots of people start at Eastbourne and walk west but I think you get the best views the other way around. It was a pretty windy but warm day in September, which made for some stunning scenic shots. We caught the bus back from Cuckmere because of my leg injury but you could go all out and walk the full length to Eastbourne, as I know many friends did this summer. Back in time for one of Brighton’s lovely independent restaurants for dinner (not one for dinner but if you love pancakes, check out Nowhere Man).
St Ives, Cornwall
We spent five days in Cornwall, staying in St Ives and exploring and walking around the surrounding beaches and towns. If you like active holidays (and food) then this is a great place to go. St Ives is touristy but it’s so quaint and full of delicious restaurants; it has a real buzz about it. I researched the restaurants so extensively, I could still tell you the TripAdvisor ratings now. The Mermaid Seafood Restaurant (on Fish Street!), had the best food and ambience of the whole trip. We visited the most southerly (Lizard Point) and westerly (Land's End) points on the British mainland. Both provided stunning cliff walks and the mixture of rain, mist, fog and sunshine provided some dramatic views. There's definitely a microclimate in Cornwall like no other I've seen. We also headed to Padstow (Pad-Stein), which is almost more postcard-worthy than St Ives. Rick Stein's Café was not as fantastic as I'd hoped but fun to try (his fish restaurants are highly rated). The main downside with Cornwall is that if you don’t have a car, you’ll spend less time exploring and more time walking and working out public transport routes. It’s certainly possible but one to be mindful of.
The Broads, Norfolk
Norfolk encompasses a pretty wide area (unsurprising given it's a county, but still), which includes the infamous Broads (a National Park). You can spend half a day in Norwich to see the city’s highlights, in particular the stunning cathedral. I would then say get straight out to the countryside. We stayed near Surlingham and had a great time walking around local hamlets and villages nearby. I couldn’t believe that the nearest farm shop (Yare Valley Farm Shop) had no shopkeeper. Instead, they trusted you to calculate your own bill as pay by card or in cash accordingly. Clearly I’ve been living in London too long! One of my favourite walks was at Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden; we went on a sunny cold morning and the muddy trail was stunning. The best bit is, there’s a café at the end to warm you up. You'll need to book your ticket the day before due to COVID-19. There’s also a boardwalk nearby in Ramworth that takes you to a floating observatory. You can fuel up with some tasty food at The Maltsters (both chefs are veggie, which explains the delicious menu). The trip highlight though was the boggy walk from Horsey Windpump to Horsey Gap Beach. November to January is seal pupping season, so seals were chilling all over the beach. We spoke to the loveliest seal warden who shared all his seal knowledge. They even guided a lost seal back onto the beach from behind a steep bank of sand dunes so it would survive. The east of England is beautiful and we could have spent over a week here easily!
The Cotswolds, Gloucestershire et al.
My Thai trip took a different turn but nonetheless a very picturesque one! We spent a week in the Cotswolds in an amazing Airbnb In Cheltenham. There isn’t loads to do in this town but there were some fab restaurants and bars here, including The Fire Station and Holee Cow (yes, it is a burger bar). This was very much a road trip as you can drive from cute village to cute village with easy and cheap parking. We did lots of great walks, a highlight being the walk to Broadway Tower. Sunshine all the way up and open heavens on the way down. It was pretty atmospheric to say the least! I also loved Bourton-on-the-Water; you can do a lovely muddy walk to the Slaughters (Upper and Lower) that takes around an hour. There’s always a pub to be found somewhere in the Cotswolds for hearty grub. My other favourite villages include Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden.
We spent the day here and I found its reputation as a truly charming city to be more than accurate. The rows of Tudor houses really do spark your imagination and throw you back to the 1500s. It’s obvious but don’t miss visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace and make sure you book your tickets online in advance to see this historic site. There are strict social distancing rules, which is decent as you don’t have to stand on your tiptoes behind scores of other tourists to see everything (maybe that’s just me..). You can then wander along the River Avon with a coffee and enjoy a spot of shopping on the olde high street. Unfortunately the other four Shakespeare family homes were closed due to the pandemic, which included Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, but it’s a reason to go back!
I can't believe it took me until 2020 to visit Bath considering the years I spent living in neighbouring Devon. It was great to spend two nights and properly explore this historic and lively city. In the spirit of walking, I really enjoyed the vertical 'climb' to the Bath Skyline. This really is a walk to get your heart racing! There’s a longer trail but I was keen to check out the different independent cafes and restaurants. My favourite was the Good Day Café because the range of cookies, brownies, blondies and cakes was something else. If you want a well-earned rest, then you can check in to the Thermae Bath Spa (Britain’s only natural thermal spa). Arguably over priced but equally relaxing; the best bit is the hot rooftop pool. I didn’t have time what with all my walking and eating but the Roman Baths come highly recommended. For a fun outdoor drinks (cocktail) venue, head to Sub 13. Bath makes a great weekend break if you’re short on annual leave. In fact, you could even do enough exploring and walking in a day (it’s only a 1.5 hour train ride from London and no car is required).
Don't overlook exploring and walking the UK with its amazing natural habitat. However, if you're interested in taking advantage of a travel corridor at some point, check out my post on travelling abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.