Seldom celebrated, internationally underrated and easily overlooked, the countryside of Britain represents a holiday resource that offers families and adventurers alike a treasure trove of typically understated attractions. Spectacular scenery, a rich and living history and a vibrant cultural backdrop make the UK’s remoter regions a compelling holiday alternative. The euphoric scenes that accompanied the 2014 Tour de France, with tens of thousands of delirious cycle fans lining the snaking climbs of the Yorkshire Dales, has undoubtedly raised the profile of what has historically been a modestly marketed holiday destination.
From the ancient and majestic scenery of the Lake District, to the rugged, windswept terrain of the Scottish Islands and Welsh mountains, and even the more gently rounded hills of the English countryside, there is something about rural Britain that is distinctively impressive.
Fireside meals in low-beamed country pubs, the hearty celebration of countryside sports and the gently cossetted hospitality of small independent inns and hotels are all parts of an overall experience that growing numbers of international visitors are turning to.
The UK’s modest size and highly developed transport network mean it offers an ideal destination for those inclined to roam. Indeed, the peculiarity of Britain is its deeply entrenched sense of regional identities and local idiosyncrasies. Journeying between them is the only way to begin to appreciate the heterogeneous, patchwork character of a land that is all too easily seen through the prism of its capital city.
The grand sporting occasions of the spring time simply have to be seen to be believed. In particular, the climax of the steeple chasing season at the Cheltenham Festival, where tens of thousands of equine enthusiasts gather to exchange tall tales, overflowing pints of Guinness and hot Cheltenham tips for the day’s big races, is a way to see the rolling green hills of the English countryside vibrantly brought to life. The British are animal loving sporting enthusiasts like nowhere else.
Increasingly, the economic potential offered by tourism is seeing rural towns and villages making concerted efforts to meet the needs of visitors. It means that good quality accommodation is readily available, even at short notice, and the generous provision of high quality local fare is now a staple of the country pubs for which Britain is so famous. Britain’s one-time reputation as a gastronomic desert is now, happily, well out of date.
Anyone with an eye for history will find castles, fortifications and stately homes in abundance, each with its own distinctive tale to tell. The grand historical narratives of kings and queens are interwoven with countless, more intimate details of less renowned but nonetheless remarkable individuals. English Heritage and the National Trust are increasingly laying open these long treasured buildings up and down the land. It is even possible to stay in some of them.
A rich network of footpaths and bridleways means access to even the most remote locations is only a matter of pulling on a good set of boots and heading out into the countryside. The allure of a pint of English ale and a good lunch as a complement to a good morning’s exercise is invariably hard to resist. And for those of an even more energetic persuasion, adventure sports providers are increasingly doing brisk business – especially in the upland and coastal regions.
As the staging of the Tour de France Grand Depart signalled last year, Britain is now waking up to its potential as a holiday destination. For walkers and riders, climbers and fliers, golfers and sailors, and eaters and drinkers of all persuasions rural Britain offers a richly textured holiday destination.