When most people lie back and dream of England, they picture winding cobbled streets, thatched cottages, stone and timbered buildings, little fishing boats and green rolling hills. Whilst there is so much more to England than this, it can be fun to indulge this whimsy of the imagination and visit those places that most live up to the stereotype. Luckily, small towns abound in England and many have unusual stories, interesting sights and historical buildings to explore.
Here’s a list of some of the most picturesque small towns that you’ll find in the land of Albion.
The small town of Alnwick is located in the true north of England, above Newcastle-upon-Tyne and along the same coastline that hosts the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It is something of a paradise for book lovers and for history buffs too, as it boasts a truly unique book shop as well as the 11th century Alnwick Castle and Gardens. A trip here is one back in time to the days of a storybook England; you wouldn’t be too surprised to see a dragon flying low over the battlements, or a knight traversing the suspended walkways of the castle’s tree house restaurant. In fact, it is so evocative of the stereotypical England that some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed here.
The aforementioned bookshop, Barter Books, is located in the old train station and is regularly included in lists of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. It sells everything from vintage classics to modern poetry, and even has a toy train running along the tracks suspended above shoppers’ heads. The neon lighting sculptures and ancient poetry that decorate the shelves add an extra layer of mystery to the place, balanced nicely by the busy but well-stocked café and ice cream parlour. Although there is plenty to explore in this lovely Northern town, you are also close enough to the coast and to the vast landscapes of Northumbria to explore there too. It’s the ideal holiday destination, come rain or shine (or even snow!)
Grasmere, Lake District
The tiny town of Grasmere is famous for being the home of the British Romantic poet, William Wordsworth. He liked to wax lyrical about his adopted home as he wandered across the nearby fells and dales, and it’s not hard to see why. Filled with pretty stone buildings, cute bridges, and friendly folk, this town welcomes visitors in their millions every year. It is located just next to one of the National Park’s best known lakes, from which it takes its name; the lake is 0.6 km² and is open to row boats, both private and hired. It even has a secret island in the middle of it. This is a truly magical place to visit and should go straight to the top of your list when visiting the Lake District. Activities here naturally run to the outdoors variety, but there are plenty of local shops and pubs too.
Of course, when you’re in England you can’t always rely on the weather; even if you’re visiting during the summer months and the forecast promises blue skies and sunshine, you still might wake up to find a day of constant rain. In these circumstances it’s a good idea to have a back-up plan. The well-known joke in the Lake District is that you can always visit the Pencil Museum! However, if this doesn’t suit, then you can always turn to the internet for entertainment. Portable devices such as smartphones and tablets are portals to a whole world of rainy day activities such as binging TV series, playing classic games, or even learning a new language. So make sure that you remember to pack them!
Journeying all the way down to the south of England, we find the adorable fishing town of Mousehole. Pronounced “mau zel”, it is nonetheless named for its similarity to a mouse’s home, evoked by the curving harbour walls and its small size. Here you’ll find quaint, colourful fishing boats, shells for sale, tasty traditional fish and chips, and plenty of independent art galleries. As with most of the Cornish coast, it is a hub for artists, makers and craftspeople, as well as the more traditional trade of fishing. It does become very busy with tourists and holidaymakers during the peak summer season, but is just as charming during the off-season. However, be prepared for reduced opening hours and, as always, the potential for rain and strong winds.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing seaside holiday or really want to get stuck in to the artistic side of things here, there is plenty to keep you occupied. Mousehole is also close enough to other great Cornish artistic communities such as Newlyn, Penzance and St. Ives that you can easily visit all of them within one trip. If you’re keen to research local history, there is no place more interesting than the nearby island of St. Michael’s Mount, with its tiny colourful village at the base of the hill and impressive castle up at the top. See if you can find the Giant’s Heart and climb all the way up to the topmost viewpoint, where you can gaze upon the land or the sea – you might even spot a basking shark!