1. REDRUTH, CORNWALL
Our perceptions and memories of places can be embarrassingly narrow, set in mental concrete by our very limited experience. Cornwall is a classic case—all coves and cottages, bays and pasties, cliffs and estuaries. I am as guilty as anyone. Those are the photos I had in my brain until recently, when I was side-tracked to Redruth.
Redruth should be taken seriously. It was once the second richest town in Britain, during the heady days of tin and copper mining. But that all ended in the late 19th century with the decline in the mining industry, and the town has never quite been restored to its former glory. The last mine closed in 1998. I am writing about Redruth because my wife’s uncle, who died at 96, taught there all his life—pushing bemused Redruth boys into Cambridge with the Latin he had taught them. He left Em his house and, two years later, and it is transformed. We use it a lot and also rent it out.
Redruth is handsome, solidly built and respectable—even if economically depressed. If its Fore Street were on the coast it would be thronged with visitors, for the government flooded it with money and it awaits, at last, the recognition it deserves. A vast Cultural Centre has just opened, with EU money, and the town has a wonderful old-fashioned cinema—the kind with sofas and a waiter. Only ten minutes away is Portreath, a little harbour village, and just round the corner is Porthtowan, a popular surfing beach with a great café. Falmouth is 15 minutes away, as is Truro. It is at the very centre of everything Cornish, and on the main train line. And at night we can almost hear the cicadas.
Stay at Uncle John’s House from £650 per week (sleeps 8).
I live here, so am biased. But Bristol would be a grand place for a holiday—especially in the rain. One could spend a week gently exploring this fine old city, and if the sun should choose to appear, there are walks galore in the bosom of mother nature and both the coast and the hills of Wales are an easy drive away.
The city itself, once magnificent, prosperous and dynamic, has become seriously “interesting.” We were badly bombed during the war, and urban planners then removed much that was handsome. Still, a vast amount remains. We have more fine Georgian buildings than Bath has, and the widest range of architectural styles of any UK city outside London. The harbour is huge and accessible, snaking right into the heart of the city, full of boats and life. There are theatres both fringe and central, pubs galore and a miscellany of cultural life that continues to astonish me. Last week I had breakfast up a crane (really), saw the Great Bristol Bike Ride at the end of the Big Green Week, went to a pub-theatre, the cinema and the Old Vic. There are fine museums (witness the recently opened M Shed on the harbour), and more coffee bars than is sensible.
But our greatest asset is our countryside, ever present and often visible. In five minutes on a bike I am in a beautiful deer park, or pedaling along the Avon riverside. I can pedal to Bath on an old rail path, sail on the Chew Lake, walk in the Mendips or stroll along the harbour. What more can a holiday need?
Stay at 21 Royal York Crescent in Clifton, a large airy apartment on a Georgian terrace with an impressive garden. Rooms from £75 per night.
3. STOKE ON TRENT, STAFFORDSHIRE
This town is no beauty, and fate hasn’t smiled on it. But don’t let that put you off! While many of its iconic potteries have now relocated, say, to Indonesia or thereabouts—the place has something special, and I can only deduce that it is the people. From my first encounter with a tax driver, to the numerous encounters with pottery workers, I was hooked.
I was there to visit Emma Bridgewater’s famous pottery which she founded in 1985 long after the industry’s heydey in Stoke. But the moment I set foot inside the “works” I was immersed in a new world of extraordinary bonhomie. Working harder than I have ever worked, a large gang of both men and women seemed happy to chat, smile, joke—whatever they were doing. They poured the clay mixture, smoothed, painted and did whatever potters do, but with a spirit that lifted my heart. Back in the reception area, the mood continued—and then into the shop and restaurant.
I didn’t have time to see much more of Stoke, but would love to go back and explore some of the other surviving potteries. And there are the Wedgwood Museum and the Potteries Museum, harking back to the great industrial past that Stoke on Trent is rightly proud of. There are no great places to stay—yet (Emma and I are working on this). But the hills of Staffordshire are closeby and there are fine rural B&Bs to balance the urban excitement of Stoke.
Stay at Manor House in Prestwood, a Jacobean farmhouse on a working rare breeds farm. Rooms from £60 per night.
In 2010 we decided that someone needed to celebrate the more whacky and wonderful places to stay that were “coming on stream”—huts, treehouses, yurts, camps and all manner of shelter. Bagthorpe Hall in Norfolk is one such place and because I am an East Anglian I have made it my duty to promote its many wonders. And Norfolk, being at the end of the line, is much neglected as a holiday area. I defy you not to love it after a few hours in Norwich, a couple of days on the Broads, a stroll along the beach near Holkham, and a few nights at Bagthorpe.
Bagthorpe Hall actually no longer exists, but the name lingers on after the great fire that destroyed the house—but the splendid stables still stand. It is now a handsome B&B, but even more interesting are a brand new treehouse and a couple of neighbourly tents or domes that are delightfully called The Oystercatcher. The treehouse is outrageously comfortable, but so is the Oystercatcher; both equipped in more ways than you need, with long rural views, utter silence, and the coast a short drive away. This is a working organic farm, so you feel right in the thick of rural Norfolk. What could be more gentle and real than that, apart from the luxury?
Stay in the treehouse at Bagthorpe Hall from £215 per night (sleeps 2).
Lovingly restored, and in a tranquil bamboo garden by the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is a showman’s home from the ‘40s – mad and wonderful. Who would not enjoy a touch of authenticity in Yorkshire?
The Mollycroft is as eccentric as the people who once toured in it. A combination of dark wood and bright yellows and greens somehow makes the place lively and homely. There are sofas in the living room and the bunk room, which doubles as the kitchen, so you have plenty of space for loafing about. Next door is a fire pit with cooking gear, and a traditional BBQ. The simplicity is balanced by modern touches: gas hobs, mains power and even wi-fi .?The area around the Mollycroft is a joy to discover. From Greville’s modern art collection in the chapel and bamboo gardens, to the enormous Sunday market and stunning coastal scenery. The private boat-house has a barbecue and a bench looking out over the lake, and is a wonderful place to idle away a summer’s day.
North Yorkshire is not clear enough on our radar-screens. I was up there with the Guardian recently, and was enchanted. And I was reminded, too, how it is encounters with remarkable people that make a holiday. I spent the day with Joe Cornish, a landscape photographer of remarkable devotion to his art –who was happy to sit in the rain and chat all day about landscape and Yorkshire. I had a ball, and never minded the rain.
Stay at The Mollycroft from £70 per night (sleeps 4).