Travel in Britain is certainly a unique experience. Popping into the station shop at 9AM for crisps and wine, standing in the pouring rain for half an hour, searching in vain for an unreserved seat with a power socket. It may sound arduous to the uninitiated, but to those who know what myriad treasures litter our small island, a soggy morning at Southampton Central is a source of great excitement. It’s easy to think of trips away in Britain and jump straight to big names like London, Edinburgh and Liverpool, but there is so much more to see. Here are three of my favourite smaller destinations and why they are worth visiting.
Hidden away in the North-Western corner of England, Carlisle probably doesn’t make many bucket-lists as a destination. I must admit that before visiting, I had only heard of it from the Royal Navy advert and news coverage of the 2015 floods, however as soon as I disembarked the train it became abundantly clear that this is no Northern Backwater. The Grade II listed Railway Station is a stunning example of early Victorian Neo-Gothic majesty, and leaving the station, it was as if I was still in the Victorian Age. With old coaching inns to the right and the imposing gateway known as the citadel to the left, there isn’t a concrete office block to be seen in Carlisle’s station quarter. Turning left into the medieval city, it was tempting to spend the day window-shopping in the cobbled streets.
With limited time I pushed myself to the Cathedral at the other end of town. Carlisle Cathedral is very small but nonetheless worth a quick visit, if only to get a sense of the small town feel of this place. Moving on from the Cathedral, a dual carriageway was a rather annoying modern addition separating me from the Medieval Castle, but worth crossing for what is the main attraction of the city. The castle is extensive, well preserved and includes the regimental museum of the now-defunct King’s Own Royal Border Regiment. Carlisle isn’t just about medieval history though. Football tourists won’t be disappointed with the traditional feel of Brunton Park, and railway enthusiasts will want to take a trip down the famous Settle to Carlisle railway. Visit Carlisle for a memorable weekend away in a picturesque city with an intimate atmosphere.
Multum in parvo is the Latin motto of the county of Rutland, and this sums it up perfectly. True as it is to say that there is much in little, it is better to start with what Rutland does not have. It is the only county with no McDonalds. It has no motorways. It doesn’t even have any cities. Most visitors arrive in the Oakham, the county town whose main attraction is Oakham Castle. The fortifications are just mounds of earth now, but the 12th century Great Hall stands and is a must-see. Still in mint condition, it was until recently one of the UK’s oldest continually used law courts. Curiously, it houses a large collection of ornamental horseshoes, including one presented to the Lord of the Manor by King Edward IV in 1470. It should be explained that the symbol of Rutland is a horseshoe, hung with points down, and it is a longstanding tradition to this day that passing nobility should gift a horseshoe to the collection.
As its motto implies, Rutland is far more than just Oakham. There are so many curious little places that it would be impossible to list them all, but it is a fairly safe bet whichever direction you travel in, you will find something that you didn’t expect. The quaint little villages will delight romantics and historians alike, but Rutland’s newest addition caters for the more adventurous. Rutland Water is a vast (horseshoe shaped) reservoir created in 1976, and is widely regarded as one of the best sailing lakes in the country. To date, it has a 23 mile bicycle trail around its perimeter, a climbing wall, two watersports centres, and in the summer it plays host to Aqua Park Rutland, a massive inflatable playground on water. In fact there is so much going on in the water, with a ferry service and a beach as well, that it is amazing that the water is still potable. With so much to see and do, everyone should consider visiting this small yet great county. Just remember to bring a horseshoe for the Lord of the Manor!
World-famous for celebrities such as Ed Sheeran, Bobby Robson and Richard Ayoade, most would be surprised to see that visitbritain.org estimate just 11,000 holidaymakers visited Ipswich from overseas last year. As yet undiscovered by mass tourists then, the neat brickwork of Ipswich Station is nonetheless always a pleasant welcome to what can best be described as a large county town with the feel of a medium-sized city. Leaving the station, the skyline is fairly daunting with high rise offices and blocks of flats, but the eye is quickly drawn to the impressive football stadium around which this town seems to revolve, Portman Road. For those not inclined to take in a football match, the selection of shops, pubs and restaurants is outstanding. With the development of a university, visitors will also find decent nightlife, but fun as it to stay in the town centre, to do so is to ignore the best feature of this place. The range of day-trip options from the town centre is outstanding. My personal favourite is the short train ride to the sleepy village of Woodbridge on the River Deben, home to the Sutton Hoo Saxon burial ground. Fans of Ed Sheeran will however want to catch the bus to Framlingham for the famous Castle on a Hill. This list is far from exhaustive, and it can only be a matter of time before more people discover this exciting area and another digit is added to those unglamourous tourist numbers.