2019 is the year to seek out darkness. Our lives are forever getting brighter, thanks to our devotion to screens, and spots where you can see the dark sky and stars above us are dwindling. In London, streetlamps, floodlights and illuminated office blocks mean real astral gazing is a no-go. It never gets truly dark at all. Thankfully, that’s not true of some other parts of the UK. Exmoor has the darkest skies in the country, according to the International Dark-Sky Association. Classed as a Dark Sky Reserve, the landscape is made up of moorland with nature reserves, ancient burial grounds, wild valleys and rugged sea cliffs. It’s a lush place to explore by daylight, but at night head to Holdstone Hill, County Gate, Brendon Two Gates, Webbers Post, Anstey Gate, Haddon Hill or Wimbleball Lake for impressive astral views.
Move over, Bath. Surrounded by the picturesque Peak District, the spa town of Buxton is the setting of the UK’s other geothermal spring. It’s been around since the Roman era, too, and, just like its southern sister, it was a hugely popular spot for spa-seekers to ‘take the waters’ during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dilapidated Buxton Crescent, modelled on Bath's Royal Crescent, has been vacant for decades. But now the Crescent, plus the Natural Mineral Baths, built on the (probable) site of the original Roman baths, and the Pump Room are being restored. Set to open in 2019, Buxton Crescent & Thermal Spa will allow visitors to wallow in Buxton’s warm waters once more, with a thermal pool fed by St Ann’s Well, an outdoor pool, sauna, steam and ice rooms. Next door there’ll be a five-star hotel, complete with a renovated eighteenth-century ballroom, plus a new visitor experience and an event series based in the Pump Room. Time to dig out your one-piece.
Forget North America’s awe-inspiring National Parks and Asia’s otherworldly coastlines, we have incredible landscapes much closer to home. For an escape that couldn’t feel further from London (but isn’t actually that far), jump on the Caledonian Sleeper after work on a Friday and wake up early the next morning in the middle of the Highlands. A new fleet of plush trains, with double beds and en suites, are arriving in spring 2019, to make the overnighter to Scotland more comfortable. Disembark in Inverness and you’ll find yourself within driving or day-tripping distance from hikes in the Cairngorms, dolphin spotting at Chanonry Point and monster hunting at Loch Ness. Venture further afield to see the fang-like stacks at Duncansby Head, the deserted beaches of the north coast, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by ‘Harry Potter’, and the dizzying heights of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.
June 6 2019 will mark the start of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, and for those looking to pay their respects, the south Devon beach of Slapton Sands provides space to reflect with its ‘Exercise Tiger’ memorial. The tribute – a recovered tank which was sunk in action – was set up in memory of the nearly 800 American servicemen who died there in April 1944 during a tragic practice run for the D-Day landings. The beach is a 30-minute drive from Dartmouth – a charming riverside town which serves as a base for visitors to uncover more coves, castles and the historic Britannia Royal Naval College.
‘It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot’, wrote Queen Victoria of her private home on the Isle of Wight, and we’re inclined to agree. Osborne House was the royal family’s seaside retreat, and a visit to the ornate palace and sculpted gardens is made all the more poignant in 2019 with the 200-year anniversary of the Queen’s birth on May 24. Outside of the palatial holiday home, the Isle of Wight is peppered with romantic beaches, quaint shopping towns and coastal paths to suit everyone – from the tenacious explorer to the dabbling day-tripper.
Thanks to the V&A, Dundee is now a place of cultural pilgrimage. The new V&A outpost, set in a strikingly modern waterfront building, opened in this Scottish city in late 2018. The focus is on the brilliance of Scottish design, with the Scottish Design Galleries containing everything from a fifteenth-century ‘Book of Hours’ to Christopher Kane’s dresses, free to browse all year round. Also don’t miss Architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Oak Room, a hidden treasure whipped wholesale from its original tearoom setting in Glasgow and reinstated here. And in terms of the regeneration of Dundee’s waterfront, the V&A is just the beginning, with bars, restaurants and boat tours creating an increasingly buzzy scene.
Cornwall is a county of contradictions. There’s myth and mystery, misty clifftops and sharp, rugged rocks rising out of restless waves, as well as peaceful coves, sleepy towns and vitamin D-soaked beaches packed out with surfers. Go in search of King Arthur at Tintagel’s romantic, clifftop ruin, before travelling along the coast to Boscastle and the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic – it’s the world’s oldest and largest collection of items relating to magic, home to creepy mirrors, mummified cats, lucky charms and spell-casting stones. Watch a play with the Atlantic as the backdrop at the Minack Theatre, see great works of art at Tate St Ives and have a freshly cooked feast under the stars at The Hidden Hut. Then wander the causeway out to St Michael’s Mount at low tide, lose yourself in The Lost Gardens of Heligan and explore Cornwall’s answer to Kew Gardens: the Eden Project, with its enormous indoor forests. This otherworldly part of the country makes a compelling case to stay in the UK this year.
A groundbreaking new arts trail sees four leading galleries plus outdoor exhibitions put Yorkshire on the map as a leading sculpture destination. The Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park are the key attractions of the first Yorkshire Sculpture International, taking place between June 22 and September 29 2019. Nearby, the perfectly preserved Victorian village of Saltaire is well worth a trip. Visitors can find the arts centre and independent shopping centre Salts Mill and the newly opened Salt Beer Factory – an impressive £1.7m brewtap, music venue and food hub launched by local beer heroes Ossett Brewery.
There’s never a bad time to visit Bristol, and 2019 is no exception. The city’s first shipping container park can be found in the new neighbourhood development Wapping Wharf. Here, some of the city’s best bars and restaurants are found in an idyllic waterside setting; try the seasonal, succinct cooking at Box-E and creative modern beers from Wild Beer Co. While you’re here, stay at Bristol’s coolest new hotel Artist Residence – a boutique chain born in Brighton with a plan to renovate a Grade I-listed former boot factory, open from March.
England’s largest national park and the inspiration for countless artists and poets, the Lake District is the latest UK location to be named a Unesco World Heritage Site. There’s plenty of bucket-list natural wonders to visit, including England’s largest lake (Windermere at 14.8 square kilometres) and highest mountain (Scafell Pike at 978m). Top restaurants include L’Enclume, The Forest Side and The Samling, while contemporary lodgings are bolstered by the arrival of the award-winning Another Place – a chic new hotel on the shores of Lake Ullswater.