Best bit of basking

The salt-marshes, dunes and shingle spits of the north Norfolk coast are a paradise for birdwatchers, or "twitchers" as they're commonly known. But if you're in search of something a bit larger to feast your eyes on, you could do worse than take a boat trip out along the tidal channels to Blakeney Point where, every day throughout the summer, crowds of seals bask in the sunshine. They're so used to the boat trips, they virtually pose for shutter-snapping visitors.

Biggest mistake

One of the biggest mistakes of my life was to enter one of the Portaloos at Glastonbury, one hot midsummer's day during the festival. I was sitting down doing my business when the whole cubicle suddenly toppled over, covering me in the heady cocktail beneath me. Some kind soul fished me out, and another person took pity on me and washed me down with a hose.

Best bit of theatre

One of England's most unique theatrical experiences can be had aboard the Puppet Theatre Barge, an old Thames lighter that has been converted into a magical, miniature, 50-seater auditorium. The barge winters in Little Venice in London, but from June to October it tours the Thames as far upstream as Abingdon, stopping off on its return at Henley, Marlow, Cliveden and Richmond. Kids' shows make up the bulk of the repertoire, but they also put on spectacular adult shows on Saturday evenings. It's also the only puppet theatre in the country dedicated solely to marionettes.

Best hotel

England may be good on overpriced country-house hotels and poky seaside B&Bs, but finding a funky hotel for a reasonable price can be tricky. Step forward Twenty-One, a wonderfully ornate early-Victorian townhouse just off the seafront in Brighton. Not only are all the rooms individually (and fashionably) decked out, but there's a cool bar and restaurant on the ground floor serving Californian-style food.

Best railway journey

The country's rural railway system has never really recovered from the closure of nearly a third of the network in the 1960s. Many of England's most picturesque railway journeys bit the dust, but there is one which has (so far) survived: the 72-mile Settle to Carlisle run. Opened in 1872, and dubbed - with no hint of hype - by the current operators as "England's most scenic railway", the journey takes you through some of the most sublime scenery in the Yorkshire Dales, stops off at Dent, England's highest (and bleakest) station, and across the famous 24-arched Ribblehead viaduct.

Biggest let-down

Leeds, city of my youth, was a sooty hole when I knew it in the 1970s. It has since undergone a personality change, hitting the headlines when Harvey Nichols chose to locate its first regional branch there. Now, its wonderful Victorian arcades, home to everything-for-a-pound shops in my day, have been restored to their former glory, as has Kirkgate Market, where Marks & Spencer began as a stall with the slogan "Don't ask the price, it's a penny". But Harvey Nicks is a big disappointment. There's nothing grand about it (except the prices), and the view over the roof- tops of central Leeds is not worth the outrageous price of a coffee in the Fourth Floor Cafe.

Best cover-up

I've always thought the National Trust a snooty bunch, but I couldn't believe their prudishness when I visited Cliveden, the Astors'old home. Knowing that this was where Profumo first met Christine Keeler skinny-dipping in the open-air pool, and where they subsequently conducted their affair in the mock-Tudor boathouse, I bought the official NT guide hoping for at least a mention of the scandal, if not gory details. But no. The casual visitor will come away ignorant of the most infamous incident ever to take place there.

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Places to visit

Boat trips from Blakeney (or Morston depending on the tide) take place daily from Easter to October and cost around pounds 4 per person. The main operators are Temple's (01263 740791) and Bean's (01263 740505).

The Puppet Theatre Barge floating box-office is on 0836 202745.

The journey on the Settle to Carlisle railway takes just under an hour and 40 minutes, and costs just over pounds 15 return.

The grounds at Cliveden are open from March to October daily, 11am-6pm, and in November and December until 4pm. The west wing of the house itself is open on Thursdays and Sundays only from 3-6pm.


Twenty-One is at 21 Charlotte Street, Brighton (01273 686450). A double room will cost you between pounds 50 and pounds 60.

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