To venture beyond London is to take a step back hundreds of years of time in British history. Beyond the glittering skyscrapers and crowded streets of the capital, some places have remained virtually untouched for hundreds of years. Little has changed in these towns and villages, and many harken back to a much simpler – and relaxing – way of life in Britain.
Some are sleepy market villages, while others are Victorian spa towns that are frozen in time. So, where are Britain’s best-preserved towns and villages? Where are those places where you can almost bottle their essence and charm? We could write a book, but here are our favourites.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a building in this medieval market town that was built later than the 18th century – the oldest building in the town reportedly dates back to the 12th century. Little wonder then that it’s been the backdrop for a whole host of film and television productions, including the Harry Potter film series. Little has changed in the village in the last 200 years and it looks much like it did in the 18th century.
Beyond the beautiful half-timbered houses and quaint cobbled alleys of Rye are a network of tunnels, secret passageways and hidden caves. This small town was a smuggler’s paradise in the 17th & 18th centuries and a haven for all sorts of illicit activity. Today, it’s a relaxed and friendly place full of quintessential English village charm. Enjoy a pint in the Mermaid’s Inn – a former haunt of the infamous Hawkhurst Gang – and try and spot the secret passageway entrance.
Ludlow boasts over 500 listed buildings and a rich history largely shaped by its proximity to Wales and the Norman Conquest, which is when the town’s defensive wall was constructed. Ludlow Castle and St Laurence’s are Ludlow’s most notable buildings, but you’ll be amazed walking through the narrow streets lined with half-timbered Tudor and medieval-style homes.
The houses in Crail, a small fishing village by the ocean in Fife, huddle together along its narrow streets to protect against the harsh sea winds. Behind the grey slate roofs and red sandstone walls is much more ancient history. Settled in the 9th century, it’s full of beautiful buildings that are a canvas favourite for artists.
Back in the 19th century, Strathpeffer was a popular Victorian spa resort and much of the architecture in the town dates back to then. Take a walk around town, however, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were lost in an Alpine mountain resort. Buildings in this remote village look like they have been lifted straight from a European spa town – a strange sight to behold up in the Scottish Highlands.
If you’d like to visit some of the UK’s most beautiful towns, make sure you take a look at our tour of The Cotswolds. Along the way, you’ll pass through some beautiful traditional English market towns and stop off at a stunning medieval castle that once belonged to Henry VIII.