Poets always seem to know best. And when it comes to our natural instinct to explore, travel and travel to places we’ve never been, TS Eliot knew better than anyone that, in the end, home soil is the most important travel destination of all.
“Earth’s last left to discover / Is that which was the beginning.” These lines from the four quatrains are a crucial insight for all those who love to travel. To put it in more prosaic terms: what’s the point of traveling the world if you’ve never properly explored your own backyard?
Largely due to a haphazard geological heritage, we are blessed with a wider variety of landforms in a relatively small area than almost any other country in the world. This accounts for the legendary beauty of our countryside and beaches, hills and land, forests and rivers, meadows and mitzvahs.
As well as our 10 National Parks, England is very lucky to be home to 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Smaller in area and generally less well-known, between them they are home to some of the most stunning scenery in the country, including large areas of the coasts of Cornwall, Dorset and Norfolk in addition to the Chiltern Hills and the Cotswolds, Yorkshire and Northumberland. Here’s our guide to highlights.
1. Arnside and Silverdale
Nestled between the borders of Lancashire and Cumbria, overlooking the salt marshes of the Kent Estuary and the sands of Morecambe Bay, is the oft-neglected Northern AONB (arnsidesilverdaleaonb.org.uk). Within its borders are the former fishing port of Arnside – once a popular Victorian hideaway – as well as limestone cliffs and pockets of deciduous woodland. It is also home to the Leighton Moss RSPB nature reserve, which not only attracts reed-dwelling birds such as the bittern, but is also teeming with red deer, otters and butterflies.
Hazel Grove House is a Georgian residence with a large garden that enjoys regular visits from stags and deer. Sleeps 12.
2. Blackdown Hills
On the border between Somerset and Devon, the Blackdown Hills (blackdownhillsaonb.org.uk) are the Cinderella of the West Country, and are overlooked by those heading to Exmoor and Dartmoor. Beneath their steep ridges and high plateaus stretch beautiful hedges with postcards, gorse and winding paths. To enjoy this panorama, climb Staple Hill or Narrocha Castle for views of the unique Glastonbury Tower. In the Otter River you can see recently resettled beavers.
Halsbeer Farm has four cottages to choose from, each with its own private space. Sleeps three to seven (halsbeerfarm.co.uk).