As we’ve seen recently with holidays to Spain, France, Croatia and other European destinations, little at the moment is guaranteed where international travel is concerned.
The upside to this peculiar summer is that many British holidaymakers are discovering how much there is to see, experience and admire on our green isle. Cities are quieter, trains half empty, hotels spruced and the countryside wide open if you make the effort to explore.
So instead of a weekend in Palma or Puglia, pick Yorkshire, the Highlands or London. It’s time to reconnect with Britain.
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Coastal gem: Rye, East Sussex
Tucked away on the East Sussex coast between Hastings and Camber, historical Rye has enough to fill a day or two but not enough to have you overdoing it. This is a place of three parts: the harbour, which gives onto a nature reserve; the sea-level antiques shops, where there are genuine bargains to be had; and a cluster of half-timbered houses up top. Head up cobblestoned Mermaid Street and climb the bell tower of St Mary’s church for startling views across to Dungeness, the North Downs and Camber Castle. The ringing chamber contains one of the oldest working turret clocks, dating back to the 1560s.
Be sure to call at Knoops for an artisan hot chocolate and perhaps sink a pint of Mermaid Ale in the Giant’s Fireplace Bar at the wood-beamed Mermaid Inn, which has stood here for six centuries. Book ahead for a bird tour of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, or to explore that castle you saw from St Mary’s (restricted opening times). The yawning sands of Camber are a 30-minute drive east along the coast.
Natural immersion: Midhurst, West Sussex
With many of us convening with nature like never before, the Japanese art of forest bathing is beginning to sound less potty than it once did.
Helena Skoog, who grew up in a forest in Sweden, offers forest immersion experiences for guests staying at the dog-friendly Spread Eagle hotel in Midhurst. The inn-style hotel has sun-facing terraces, inglenook fireplaces and a courtyard gin bar. Social distancing? It goes with the territory, according to Helena. “I positively encourage people to keep a distance so that they can have a more intimate experience.”
Not for you? There are bicycle tours into the South Downs and the cathedral city of Chichester is a short drive away. Two child-friendly attractions, The Weald and Downs Living Museum and the South Downs Planetarium are open again.
Doubles at the Spread Eagle from £99, B&B.
Town and country: Yorkshire Dales
Think the Yorkshire Dales is off limits for weekend breaks? A new scenic rail service between Skipton in North Yorkshire and Appleby in Cumbria has opened up a splendid pocket of countryside to walkers, cyclists and those who simply want to drink in the views from the rails. Highlights include a ride over the magnificent Ribblehead Viaduct and the Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough peaks.
For lunch, alight at Settle where the Talbot Arms serves a selection of Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancaster beers in a spacious garden. Potter about canal-side in Skipton or extend your stay and cycle to nearby Bolton Abbey. Alternatively, take a local train to the spa town of Harrogate, the home of Bettys Tea Rooms.
The Skipton-Appleby timetable dovetails with local and national rail services, making it possible to overnight in Leeds on Friday and Skipton on Saturday, or stay two nights in Leeds. Book ahead to reserve a bike spot on the train.
Luxury bolthole The Bells offers stunning rooms and serviced apartments in the leafy grounds of Leeds Minster. Doubles from £200 and apartments with balcony jacuzzis from £360.
Canal cruising: Warwickshire
Pick up a stylish narrowboat in Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire, and you’ll find a web of canals at which to point your tiller. For an unhurried introduction to narrow-boating though, head south to Stratford-upon-Avon, where you can moor up for free within walking distance of Shakespeare’s birthplace (this journey takes 11 hours return). The RSC remains closed for now but there is plenty more to see in Stratford before returning to your floating home, the 60ft cruiser Blue Otter, for alfresco sundowners.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, challenge yourself with a cruise north to Hatton. This is a 34-lock route, so be sure to pay attention to the instructions given at the beginning of your boating holiday. And fear not: you’ll be guided through your first locks.
A long weekend package with Blue Otter Boats (pick up Friday drop off Monday) in October costs £795.
Woodland feasts: Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire
Disappearing into a magical woodland setting sounds appealing enough. Throw in a four-course feast in a restaurant without walls, and you’ve got the ideal post-lockdown evening out. “Our ancient woodland changes colour from autumnal shades of gold, and amber, to a sea of lilac in the spring when bluebells carpet our woods,” says Noah Ellis, the brains behind Nomadic Dinners.
Seasonality determines both the cocktail list and menu and diners are invited to go foraging before sitting down to a meal cooked over an open fire. Situated in a 90-acre woodland near Chalfont St Giles, the forest restaurant is accessible by car or train, with Chalfont St Giles and Amersham (on the Metropolitan Line) stations nearby. Combine with some exploring in the Chess Valley, which features a linear 10-mile walk in the Chilterns, and you’ve got the perfect post-lockdown weekend break.
Dinner from £90pp, with sittings at midday and 5pm. Pick-ups provided. Doubles at The Grove hotel, Chandler’s Cross, from £373 in August.
All about Rutland: Oakham, East Midlands
The unsung market town of Oakham in the East Midlands is a great base for an active family break. There are two must-dos on the doorstep – Rutland Water Nature Reserve and Rutland Watersports Centre.
With tuition and equipment hire for all ages, the watersports centre at Whitwell is ideal for budding windsurfers, sailors or canoers. Younger children can bounce around the inflatable Aqua Park and keen cyclists will enjoy the largely off-road cycling route (the shorter version is 17 miles).
The county is also home to one of the most important wildfowl sanctuaries in the country, at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. Each year, eight breeding pairs of ospreys return in the spring and summer. Wade in the shallow water lagoons, pop into one of the 30 bird hides or follow a nature trail from one of two visitor centres. Further afield, there are steam train driver experiences at Rocks by Rail and horse-riding and Gruffalo experiences in Fineshade Wood – a great spot for a picnic.
A major refurbishment at the Wisteria Hotel was completed one day before lockdown. Now open, it has family rooms from £125 per night, B&B.
Under canvas: Bircham, Norfolk
Big skies, fields of barley and a picture-perfect working windmill are the backdrop to this no-nonsense meadow campsite in Bircham, Norfolk. There’s a relaxed and welcoming feel to its “campfires and dogs allowed” policy and no shortage of things to do nearby. Comb sandy beaches at Hunstanton, Brancaster or Holkham and keep an eye out for avocets and bearded tits among the reedbeds in Titchwell Nature Reserve.
The impressive Sandringham Estate (open 8 August to 6 October ) and Holkham Hall are on the doorstep, too.
From the site, it’s a one-mile walk to Bircham Windmill, where you can bake your own bread using flour from the mill and climb up to a balcony below the sails.
A six-person pitch at Meadow Camping in August with on-site portaloos, two showers and fresh water taps costs £32 for two nights.
Into the wild: Dartmoor, Devon
With moors and tors, rivers, bogs, wild-swimming spots and ponies, Dartmoor National Park is a safe bet for active family pursuits. In Dartmoor’s favour too, is the choice of places in which to lay your head – be that B&B, Airbnb, canvas, caravan or hotel. This is the only place where you can officially wild camp in Britain, although it is specifically “backpack” camping, so don’t rock up in a group with a big tent.
For something a bit different, try Letterboxing, a charming local pursuit which will have you searching the tors and testing your puzzle-solving and orienteering skills. The first Letterbox was sited at Cranmere Pool in the middle of the North Moor by Dartmoor guide James Perrott in 1854 and now there are hundreds dotted across the moor.
Squeeze an extra day out of your weekend and you could stop en route at Amesbury for Stonehenge, and bolt on an overnight in Exmouth or Topsham. If arriving from the north, swing by the Cotswolds, or Bristol.
City living: London
With our capital still feeling the effects of lockdown, it’s time to take advantage of world-class sights that would normally be choked with visitors. Westminster Abbey now has three weekly slots for visitors, the Tower of London is open Wednesday to Sunday and the Natural History Museum has reopened. ZSL London Zoo is open daily.
London’s parks are in full bloom (be sure to check out the spectacular borders at St James’s) and if you fancy giving cycling a go, the Streetspace for London scheme has brought miles of temporary cycle lanes to the city.
For open-air evening entertainment, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Labyrinth and Grease are among the films being screened at Waterloo’s rooftop Bar Elba (£15pp).
All attractions, whether free or otherwise, must be booked in advance. For general guidance on post-Covid safety measures and restricted opening hours, see individual websites.
The centrally located Park Plaza County Hall has doubles from £175.
Loch down: Highlands, Scotland
If you’re prepared to fly, you could be sipping a boutique Scottish gin or rare dram on a lochside lawn within 90 minutes of landing at Inverness airport. At Shieldaig Lodge, a cosy Victorian hunting Lodge overlooking the shores of Gairloch, you’ll feel as comfortable snoozing by the fire in your socks as you would at home.
Cycle to Badachro or Gairloch, head out on a sea kayaking tour with Shieldaig Adventures, or follow a wiggly road to the Applecross Peninsula. There is year-round pony trekking and guided walks to local beauty spots, including the Fairy Lochs.
Whatever you do in the day, leave room for dinner. Shieldaig’s menu is a smorgasbord of local delights, including rare-breed lamb, crab, lobster, langoustine, scallops and cheese. The bar stocks 11 gins and over 250 whiskies. And leave your wellies behind – there are plenty on site.
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