John Keats, the English Romantic poet once wrote: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness…” When it comes to travel, the same can be said for the landscapes of Britain. You may find adventure around the globe, sure the lush rainforest of Costa Rica to the stark beauty of Antarctica, the world holds endless surprises. However, as the gateway to Europe with a cultural history that stretches back nearly as far back as records go, Britain is a must for anyone who calls himself or herself a traveler. Though linked by a common past, England, Scotland and Wales offer varied experiences. Sleepy villages where sheep wander the grassy hillsides, lakes set amidst mountains that inspired centuries of literature, and cities with thriving art scenes—these are just some of Britain’s treasures.
“England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” —George Bernard Shaw Despite sharing a common language and history, Britain offers distinct cultures that come together nicely with iconic landmarks such as Big Ben. Let’s begin with London, the cosmopolitan and historic capital of Britain. For centuries it has been a center of culture and commerce. Today the city blends the traditional and modern. The quintessential sights include the Tower of London, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard. These classics should be a part of any trip. Additions like a ride on the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel set on the Thames, and perhaps a London theatre performance can round out any itinerary.
As you set out beyond the city be sure to include Cambridge, home of the famous university. Founded in 1209, it remains one of the most prestigious schools in the world. The beauty of this quaint town is crowned by the peaceful River Cam.
Then it’s on to the medieval city of York. Travelers here enjoy the famous Minster, one of the largest cathedrals of its kind in Northern Europe. But the real highlight is taking a walk down Shambles, an old-world street that appears today almost as it did during the Middle Ages. Here you’ll find great shopping and a pathway that is so narrow in parts that you can almost reach both sides with your outstretched arms. The Lake District, or as the locals call it, The Lakes, is another out of the way region. Popular as a holiday spot, it has attracted those seeking relaxation and reflection for hundreds of years. Be sure to visit the charming village of Grasmere, home of the poet William Wordsworth. Set the stage for your visit by picking up a copy of the famed writer’s “Daffodils” poem, which opens with the line, “I wandered lonely as a cloud.”
A trip across Britain affords you the excuse to see out of the way sites such as Hadrian’s Wall. This ancient fortification, begun in AD 122, once marked the northern border of the Roman Empire. Created to protect Roman Britain from the tribes of Scotland, the UNESCO World Heritage site once covered over 70 miles.
Keeping with the literary theme, continue on to Stratford-upon-Avon, where you can walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare himself. Birth records say he was born the son of a glover, a local leather merchant. He was the third of eight children, three of whom died in childhood. Little is known about the next few stages of his life—we know he was educated, but no one is certain where. We know he was married and had three children, but much of his life remains a mystery. It is believed that during his late twenties he began to write plays—at least 38 of them. Four hundred years later, these plays are classics entitled A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet. In his day his works did not receive critical acclaim but the Bard is undoubtedly one of the greatest creative forces of all time. Tours of his birthplace and the childhood home of his wife are also available. Travel quiet country roads exploring the nearby picturesque villages of the idyllic Cotswolds region. Spend some time in some of its prototypically English rural villages that seem to have stopped in time such as Stow-on-the-Wold or Bourton-on-the-Water. The lovely streets lined with stone houses will captivate you. Before you make a reservation for you trip, remember no trip to Britain would be complete without a visit to Stonehenge. This mysterious rock formation that dates back to the Stone Age remains one of the world’s most famous attractions. Standing in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age England, Stonehenge is perhaps the most important prehistoric monument in Britain. And current updates at Stonehenge will make it more accessible than ever. New galleries and visitor facilities will enhance the overall experience and understanding of Stonehenge for visitors of all ages and interests. Construction has started on three Neolithic houses that will be the focal point of the outdoor gallery at the new visitor center. These houses offer visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of the people who actually built Stonehenge. Seeing this timeless monument will surely be a highlight of your tour.
“O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye…” —The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond Off to Edinburgh, Scotland, the “Athens of the North,” and certainly a must-see. This remarkable city is so steeped in history that both Old Town and New Town are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Get a glimpse of what life is like for the royals during your visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh and once the home of Mary, Queen of Scots. Edinburgh Castle sits prominently overlooking the city like a fortress. Step back in time during your visit and have the opportunity to gaze upon the Scottish crown jewels. While in Scotland, make a stop at Gretna Green, a small village just over the border from England. For generations, countless runaway couples came here from England to be married.
“Caiff dyn dysg o’i grud i’w fedd.” (Translation: “Man learns from the cradle to the grave.”) —Welsh proverb Finally, make a trip to Wales to complete your British adventure. You will discover rolling hills and a rugged landscape that is unsurpassed. Its warm people are happy to share stories of the past and teach you a bit of their unique Welsh language. But be sure to stay at Ruthin Castle to get a taste of aristocratic life of days gone by. While here, partake in a typical Welsh-style dinner followed by traditional entertainment. This is the perfect way to get to know the Welsh culture. And if you didn’t know it, Britain has surprisingly delicious cuisine. That’s right. It is not something you would think would be a highlight, but it is a wonderful discovery. The homemade soups are creative, the pastries are imaginative and decadent, and the pubs are bursting with the aromas of your grandma’s kitchen. Along the way you can enjoy world-renowned fish and chips in London, the best gingerbread imaginable in Grasmere, a fabulous afternoon cream tea in Edinburgh and savory meat pies in the Cotswolds. Britain will charm and delight the most savvy traveler and is a must experience for all. As Keats also wrote, “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.”
by Cassie Stetkiewicz
Cassie Stetkiewicz is a travel writer for Collette Travel.