Winning tip: John Ruskin’s home, Lake District
Sail from Coniston in the Lake District to arrive at Brantwood by ferry. Zigzagging your way up the hill through the seven deadly sins, arriving at the seven graces, going from Dante’s hell to paradise. John Ruskin’s house and garden mirrors his polymath aptitude to arts, the natural world and philosophy. He wrote, painted and collected minerals. The garden is a tranquil oasis, desperately needed by Ruskin, with great views towards the Old Man of Coniston. You can while away many an hour browsing through the large collection of art and artefacts that represents his life.
Beatles’ childhood homes
If you look at the UK’s contribution to the 20th century, it’s hard to not picture “Four Lads Who Shook the World”, and while it’s now over half a century since Lennon and McCartney left the little suburban houses of Mendips and 20 Forthlin Road respectively, it’s staggering to be able to step back in time there. The time-capsule feel of the three-piece suites, heavy patterned carpets and stocked larders is delightful enough, but to stand in the room where John and Paul wrote I Saw Her Standing There, and see the bedroom John would’ve lay in while dreaming of rock’n’roll stardom … it’s a real treat. The original family snaps by Mike McCartney really seal the deal.
Romans and buns
Built on what was one of Britain’s largest Roman cities (and not far from the birthplace of the hot cross bun), the Verulamium Museum in St Albans has a rich display of historic artefacts. From Mediterranean mosaics to gold coins, the Romans laid the foundations for many aspects of modern day Britain. The museum shows visitors how a diverse community worked and lived together and prove that it’s not wholly dissimilar from our own.
Adults £6, under-16s £3, under fives free, stalbansmuseums.org.uk
The Somerset town of Glastonbury, six miles from the music festival site, is an unforgettable experience in its own right, from its quirky shops – selling incense and candles, crystals and lentils, harem pants and sandals – to its magnificent abbey ruins in large, well-tended grounds, offering peace and solitude just a minute away from the bustling high street. And above it all, Glastonbury Tor, all mist and myth, legend and ley lines, history and hazel sticks, is worth the healthy climb for the tower at the top and the wonderful panoramic view. No festival this year, but don’t write off Glastonbury town!
Calanais Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
Sunbeams and shadows cast their spell over these monumental megaliths that stand in the shape of a Celtic cross. This 5,000-year-old sacred structure is built from the oldest rocks in Britain – Lewissian gneiss – and is thought to be a prehistoric celestial calendar. The vantage point provides views of the alignment between the stones, the moon and the sun over the Harris hills that loom in the distance. These stones have inspired legend and lore. If you are lucky, on midsummer morning, you may get a glimpse of the “Shining One”, heralded by the call of the cuckoo.
Home of the hobbit?
The Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty stands 425 metres above sea level. The hills have huge amounts of history to explore, from iron age settlements to the process behind the famous Malvern water cure. The Hills have also influenced the works of many inspirational cultural figures, including Edward Elgar, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. The Malvern Hills offer something to everyone, from gentle strolls, to the sampling of fresh spring water to hiking and paragliding. A beautiful place to visit all year round.
Julia Husband, Malvern
Stonehenge: ‘a magical, spiritual, ethereal, beautiful place’
Please visit Stonehenge even if only once; it is a magical, spiritual, ethereal, beautiful place. There is an air of mystery: what did our ancestors build it for? What were they like? Did they feel, think, hurt, love like us? I feel so close to those souls, I can feel them; almost hear their voices calling out on the distant breeze over 4,000 years ago. The stones seem to look over you like a watchful parent. Walking around the circle I expect an ancient Briton to appear, look at me quizzically … oh, how they chose such a beautiful vista.
Ship of the Fens
Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire is a marvel of medieval architecture. Nicknamed the Ship of the Fens, it sits on high ground above fenland, dominating the skyline. Its distinctive outline is visible as far as 20 miles away. Built on the site of a previous monastery, construction began in the 11th century. The cathedral’s architecture includes Romanesque, early English gothic and decorated gothic styles and is particularly noted for its magnificent octagonal tower, the Octagon. A pair of peregrine falcons have been using the building for their nest site in recent years.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Henry Moore figures lounge next to grazing sheep. Geese strut past the metal towers of Anthony Caro’s Promenade. I walk uphill to my favourite sculpture, Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree. It develops a deeper colour each year, blending with nature and the bricks of the historic chapel. To the restaurant for brunch, made special by homemade brown sauce. Then on to the airy galleries to see the latest exhibition. Parkland, nature, history, great art and good food – so much in one place.
Entry £6, under-18s free, ysp.org.uk
The wild tin coast, Cornwall
We are fortunate enough to live in Cornwall, where we are surrounded by our mining heritage. At one point the town of Camborne was considered one of the richest in the world, due to the sheer volume of ore and precious metals coming out of the ground. It’s important that Cornwall’s role in Britain’s historic industrial growth is not forgotten, so I can’t recommend a trip to Botallack enough. Not only does it offer engine houses to explore, but the cliff walks along the most western edges of the country are stunning. Nature is slowly reclaiming the old stone mining buildings and the roaring Atlantic can’t help but remind you of what a plucky little island this is.
Hit the wall, Northumberland