From quirky hotels and haunted manor houses to secluded beaches and glorious gardens, we bring you a rundown of the UK’s top travel secrets.
This Grade II listed Georgian pile in London’s Spitalfields might look like just another townhouse from the outside – but inside it’s a breathtaking cross between a museum and a still-life painting. Dennis Severs, the owner of the house between 1979 and 1999, set out to recreate his city pad as a living time capsule. The artist wanted to refurbish each of the 10 rooms of the house in a different style, arranging them as though the occupants had only just left. Most pay tribute to the 18th century, with each perfectly-designed tableau lit only by candles and firelight. A smoking room is complete with an overturned bottle and spilled wine; there are plates of half-eaten food (with smells included!), and faint sounds that filter through the house.
For a fascinating insight into medieval life, head to this National Trust-owned property in Kent. Constructed in 1290, the surviving wing of Old Soar Manor once housed the private quarters of its original owners, the Culpeppers. The timber hall that would have been the centre of domestic life has sadly been replaced by a farmhouse, but there is still plenty to explore in the remaining building. Three rooms were built above a vaulted cellar: the solar, where the lord of the house and his family would have withdrawn to when they wanted to be private; a latrine, which discharged into a pit outside; and a chapel. Many of the original fittings can still be seen, including a window seat and fireplace.
Scotland’s most majestic glen is a scenic symphony of towering mountains and lowering skies, bisected by the lazy curves of the A82. Its beauty and accessibility makes it a magnet for coach parties and tours, but few visitors are aware of Glencoe’s hidden secret. Tucked away behind one of the glen’s loftiest mountains is a concealed valley where the MacDonalds used to hide the cattle they’d rustled from neighbouring clans. To reach the valley, you’ll need to leave your car behind and complete a steep four-kilometre walk that crosses a river gorge and then continues up a rocky path with one or two sections of mild scrambling. It’s a tough ascent, but the views over Glen Coe and subsequently over the lost valley of Coire Gabhail more than repay the effort.
Make sure you’re back at your car before dark, though, as Glen Coe is wreathed in ghostly legend. Its name is said to mean ‘Glen of Weeping’, rooted in the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe and legend has it that the ghosts of the massacred clansmen can still be heard crying in the surrounding mountains at night.
Would you walk 16 miles for a pint? That’s the challenge that faces visitors to the Old Forge, the most remote pub on the British mainland, on the wild shores of Scotland’s Knoydart Peninsula with no road connections to civilisation. Thirsty travellers either have to trek for miles across some of the hilliest and most remote terrain in the UK or (slightly more manageably) catch a boat from the seaside village of Mallaig.
The spectacular Knoydart Peninsula is officially Britain’s last remaining wilderness and its one tiny settlement, Inverie, is the ultimate retreat with fragrant pine woods that run down to an endless sandy beach. The main street consists of a few fisherman’s cottages, a village shop and, of course, the pub. The Old Forge, despite its remote location, is renowned for its upbeat atmosphere. Expect regular live folk music – and the famous seafood platter, which is sourced from within seven miles of Knoydart, and is divinely delicious.
Scattered off the windswept Northumbrian coast, these rocky islets are the breeding home of tens of thousands of puffins – not to mention thousands of kittiwake, arctic tern, eider duck, guillemot and grey seals. Bird conservation here dates back to medieval times when St Cuthbert, the prior at Lindisfarne Priory on nearby Holy Island, retired to isolated Inner Farne and reputedly allowed eider ducks to nest on his altar. Longstone Island is also well worth a visit, thanks to its open lighthouse. In 1838, the lighthouse’s custodians Grace and William Darling won temporary renown for the Farnes by rescuing nine survivors from a stranded steam ship. A small museum is dedicated to their story and visitors can see the tiny bedroom from which Grace first saw the shipwrecked sailors.
On the moorland above Littleborough, on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border, an ancient cobbled road runs across the landscape for two miles – and some scholars believe this dates all the way back to the Roman occupation of Britain. It’s a matter of hot debate, with some theorists suggesting that the road is actually an early turnpike dating to around 1735. The conclusion of a survey undertaken in 2012, though, was that the route predates the first Turnpike Acts and could indeed trace its origins back to the Romans.
Walking along the worn stones of this ancient road is an amazing experience. Try combining it with a hike from the Hollingworth Lake Visitor Centre, taking in views of the Pennine watershed en-route.
Looking for a secluded sandy spot to lay your towel? Forget the seaside – Britain’s most intriguing secret beach is actually located 780 feet above sea level in the heart of the wild Pennine mountain range. It takes 40 minutes of uphill walking from the little village of Todmorden in West Yorkshire to reach this secluded sandy cove, but once there it’s the perfect place to relax and soak up the rays. The cove is a triangular strip of sand on the banks of the and is thought to be naturally occurring, thanks to the sandstone that dominates the local geology. The calm waters of the dam are perfect for paddling and are generally far warmer than seawater.
Despite its seclusion, this idyllic spot is popular with local families at weekends – so visit on a sultry weekday if you want to enjoy your swimming and sunbathing session without interruption.
Unless you’re a mountaineer, it’s unlikely that you will have heard of Pen-y-Gwryrd – a historic hotel in Snowdonia National Park where Hillary and Tenzing based themselves while training for the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. Staying here is a unique experience. The hotel prides itself on being a “haven safe from the relentless grind of modernity”, with creaky floorboards, no TVs or telephones and no room keys. A gong announces breakfast at 8.50am sharp and guests have to descend to the dining room immediately or risk missing out on the porridge and kippers.
With many of Wales’ highest mountains accessible straight from the door, guests are free to follow in the footsteps of the mountaineering greats.
But for those who prefer to relax on holiday, there are comfortable rooms, a pretty swimming lake and an outdoor sauna to enjoy.
Deep in the heart of the wooded Cotswolds is one of the most mysterious houses in Britain, a 19th-century Victorian Gothic mansion that was abandoned in 1873, partway through its construction. Today the mansion is preserved with the original workman’s tools still lying in a few of the uncompleted rooms. It might look finished from the outside, but inside this neo-Gothic masterpiece is missing floors, plaster and entire rooms. Fireplaces are suspended in mid-air, the ground floor undulates with the curves of the cellar roof below, and there are hundreds of bats living on site. It’s no surprise that rumours of headless horsemen and ghostly apparitions abound.
The surrounding Woodchester Park contains five lakes as well as an old boat house and a play trail.
Deep in the heart of the Wiltshire Downs, miles from the nearest town, lie the first private gardens ever to be opened for public enjoyment. In their Victorian heyday these spectacular grounds attracted over 44,000 visitors a year, wowing the public with their outdoor theatre, neoclassical temple and thatched picnic areas. In 1991, work began to restore the gardens to their 19th-century magnificence and they have been open again to the public since 1995.
Today, they offer a fascinating insight into Victorian life, with their colourful woodlands, wildflower areas, ornate buildings and beautifully-painted outside stage. Peacocks roam the grounds and a cute little café serves up traditional cream teas. The present owners of the gardens have continued their Victorian legacy by hosting regular events, including open air film nights, music festivals and theatrical performances.