England’s gorgeous countryside is waiting for you – south coast beaches to relax on, northern night skies to gaze at, valleys to cycle through, lakes to row across and mountains to stride over. And the great thing is, these pleasures are all easily reachable from any city, so you could be enjoying everything the English countryside has to offer this weekend.
Get inspired: short hop
The beautiful hills that witnessed the Battle of Hastings are full of history, from Bodiam Castle to the 14th-century cottages of Robertsbridge and the cobbled hillside streets of Rye and Winchelsea. That famous 1066 tussle between King Harold and William the Conqueror (as the Norman leader was consequently dubbed) actually took place a few miles from Hastings, near to what is now the charming market town of Battle – great for boutique shopping and galleries. While you’re here, tour the local vineyards making some of the best wines this side of the Channel, then seek out Michelin-starred dining at The Curlew at Bodiam.
Wiltshire’s beauty has rightfully earned it star status – you’ll recognise many of its stunning locations from the movies, such as Lacock (‘Cranford’), Lacock Abbey (Harry Potter), Stourhead (‘Pride and Prejudice’) and Castle Combe (‘Dr Dolittle’ and ‘War Horse’). It’s no surprise that almost half of Wiltshire falls within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Explore by rail, by bike or on foot, or by rented open-topped Jaguar E-Type from Vintage Classics in Melksham; seek out the mystical magic of Stonehenge and Avebury, and track down all eight of the white horses carved into hillsides of the chalk downlands.
Go faster, further, higher and even lower than you can go in the confines of the city. Explore the county’s rugged limestone gorge and cave system at Creswell Crags and find out how the Ice Age inhabitants lived, or make like a monkey and book a session at Go Ape, where you can zipwire among the treetops of Sherwood Pines. Come back down to earth with a cycle ride in the wide open space of Clumber Park, or stroll the gardens of Newstead Abbey and see if its trees inspire you to poetry, as they did for its master, Lord Byron, 200 years ago. Or be a modern Robin Hood and Maid Marian in a forest cabin with hot tub...
The vast rural landscape of Staffordshire offers exhilarating escapes. There’s the natural glory of the Peak District National Park, the ancient heathland of Cannock Chase, and a good chunk of the 200 square miles of England’s National Forest. Hire a bike at Birches Valley Forest Centre and freewheel along the trails of Cannock Chase, or get close to nature on a circular walk along Stafford Brook and the River Trent. The grand old country estates of Staffordshire provide plenty of choice for first-class spa breaks, too – Hoar Cross Hall, for example. Or if you’re with the family at Alton Towers Resort, sneak off for a quick wellbeing retreat at their spa!
All the way up
Stretching 73 miles east to west, coast to coast, the National Trail Hadrian’s Wall Path runs the length of the historic Roman barricade, and the newly completed Hadrian’s Cycleway extends past the wall and along the Cumbrian coastline. Today it’s a far more tranquil experience than it was for Hadrian’s men, crossing two national parks and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with Roman forts and temples, pretty villages and museums along the way. Allow six or seven days for the whole path, stopping off in cosy country inns. You can even get your baggage sent on each day by the excellently named Hadrian’s Haul.