National treasures: Why holiday abroad?

People put off by expensive foreign travel can find plenty of outstanding attractions at home this Easter.
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The Independent Travel

Dying to stay at the remains of a medieval plague village? Would you kill for an insight into Jack the Ripper's crimes? Hungry for a fish supper under a tankful of sharks?

As Easter marks for many the start of the holiday season, the EnjoyEngland tourism awards have highlighted the diversity – and frequent quirkiness – of entertainment and accommodation available to the discerning tripper.

This year the awards perhaps carry greater weight, for the clouds of recession have a silver lining for the British tourist industry. New research by the VisitEngland tourist board suggests that 90 per cent of people want to cut the cost of their holidays. One in five who went abroad last year is considering saving money this year by taking a trip within the UK, and of them, 60 per cent said they were put off foreign travel by the strength of the euro.

"We are delighted that there is such a range of exciting, unique, high-quality holiday experiences on offer in England, particularly as holidaymakers are looking to take a break closer to home this year," said Amanda Smyth of award scheme organiser VisitEngland, formerly the English Tourist Board. "The 43 shortlisted finalists showcase excellent value-for-money English breaks and some of England's best-kept secrets."

Among those listed is Southwold Pier, Suffolk, which proudly claims to be the only one in the country without a single fruit machine. Craft shops and cafés nestle alongside a traditional amusement arcade and the gloriously bonkers Under the Pier Show, featuring arcade machines built by cartoonist and engineer Tim Hunkin.

In Kendal is the Quaker Tapestry, which recounts 350 years of Quaker history in 77 embroidered panels. It was begun in 1981 by Anne Wynn-Wilson, an accomplished embroiderer.

In Hull is The Deep aquarium, listed in the sustainable tourism category. The aquarium has 3,500 fish, and also offers the chance to dine in a restaurant walled by a glass tank that is home to 40 sharks.

In Northampton is 78 Derngate, a Georgian house remodelled for its owner by the Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1916. The house was bought by Northampton Girls School in 1964 and used as offices and classrooms until the 1990s. The borough council bought the lease and the house was restored to its former glory.

Two nominees in the category for best tourism experience offer variations on the theme of a good ramble. In the capital, London Walks offers guided tours on themes ranging from Gandhi and the Beatles to the Bloomsbury Group and the Blitz. The company was founded in the 1960s by an Australian fed up of dreary talks for tourists, and now has a repertoire of 400 different walks led by accredited guides, some of whom are also actors or experts in their field. Most popular is the Jack the Ripper tour, led by former police sergeant and crime historian Donald Rumbelow, and which regularly attracts 60 people a night.

Huntfun has devised treasure hunts around 200 towns, cities and locations around the country. Participants download or buy from a local stockist a list of clues, answers and a map, and the routes effectively consist of a guided walking tour of the chosen place. Hunts can be tailored to corporate events, stag and hen parties, families and individuals.

Accommodation on the shortlist covers every taste and budget. Seafield Caravan Park, close to Seahouses on the Northumberland coast near Bamburgh Castle, features static caravans with west-facing windows specifically to give guests an uninterrupted view of the superb sunsets.

Brackenborough Hall Coach House in Louth, Lincolnshire, is next to the remains of a medieval village wiped out by the Black Death in the 14th century. Caswell House, near Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, is a 15th-century manor house with orchards, walled gardens and a moat. B&Bs are a cut above, too. Colton House in Rugeley, Staffordshire, is a Grade II-listed Queen Anne residence.

In the university holidays, conference parties can book Durham Castle, adjoining the Norman cathedral and a former residence of its bishops, or stay in St Aidan's College, designed by the architect of Coventry Cathedral, Sir Basil Spence. Loughborough University offers its business guests Olympic-standard sports facilities where Paula Radcliffe, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Sebastian Coe have trained.

The winners of the 2009 EnjoyEngland awards will be announced on 23 April. For details go to www.enjoyengland. com and click on 'Discover'