Good times in England
There's a perception that England is the ugly, boring cousin to the rest of sexy Europe. But after basking in her inner beauty for the past three weeks, I can tell you she's a real doll once you get to know her. It hasn't been difficult to come up with 10 reasons to visit.
1. The pubs. The Lamb and Flag, Pity Inn, Ring O Bells, the King's Arms: walk out the door in your typical English village and you've the choice of at least three of these fantastically named watering holes. Most sport their centuries-old opening dates above the door, so while you're sampling the local ales you can ponder which raunchy tales the walls would tell if only they could speak.
2. The moors and heaths. The purple heather, the blustering gales (or wuthering winds if you're an Emily Bronte fan) and the winding, intersecting paths that encourage all day dalliance - what's not to love?
3. The tree-lined lanes and stone-fenced paddocks. To drive in the English countryside is to go back at least 200 years - if you pretend you're trotting along in the horse-drawn cart the roads were designed for, that is. Black-faced sheep peer through gaps in the mossy rocks as you negotiate your way along skinny lanes that struggle to accommodate today's heavy traffic. The quaint one-way bridges and bramble-edged roads help take your mind off hairy encounters with other vehicles.
4. The castles. England and I get on well mainly because she is as much a sucker for a good turret as I am. Whatever your castle type, you'll find it here. For a fairytale fortress visit Cormoran the giant's abode at St Michael's Mount, Marazion, Cornwall. Explore the hills above the Mount's distant neighbour Port Quin, to discover a mini-tower fit for a rich Hobbit, and for a well preserved medieval marvel check out Skipton Castle in North Yorkshire. I reckon it's time we started banging up some fortifications on New Zealand's hills to spice things up a bit.
5. The weather. You can't be disappointed by English weather - it's hardly a shock when the rain comes down, more an excuse to loiter at the pub. When the sun comes it's a lovely treat, treasured for its rarity.
6. Literary tourism. If it's what you're into (and I am), the opportunities to visit your favourite book settings or author birthplaces are endless. Whether it's checking out Will Shakespeare's digs in Stratford upon Avon, dodging arrow attacks from Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest or wandering Jane Austen's Bath, there's something here to please every book geek.
7. Small towns. You're never far away from an English village, and like the pubs, their names range from the odd - Upton Snodsbury (an inspiration for Roald Dahl's The BFG perhaps?) and North Piddle - to the plain but elegant - Eskdale and Wadebridge. No matter how small, they all sport an inn and a post office. What more do you need?
8. The dogs. I'm no canine breeding expert but the dogs here seem so, erm, English. The spaniels, collies, terriers, bassethounds and sheepdogs that parade the parks make an art form of curling in front of the fire at their respective castles later on. Dogs here are often more distinguished than their owners, which is why they're welcomed at taverns and allowed to order their own pints too.
9. The food. Pot-pies, chips, yorkshire puddings and bangers and mash may be simple dishes, but they're delicious and oh so comforting after a day spent roaming the moors. Hello four o'clock: would I like a cream tea, you ask. Don't mind if I do.
10. The public walkways. I'm hazy on the details of the law that lets everyone walk through farmland (help me out if you know), but whoever put it in place deserves a pat on the back. What better way to experience all of the above than by wandering around the rolling hills of England?
What are your favourite bits of England? Are there other parts of the world that deserve more attention than they get?
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