Weekends shouldn’t be lost to ironing and housework. They should be fat with fun and new experiences, right?
So in the spirit of making 2017 the year your weekends flush with wild adventure, here’s a list of the very finest short breaks Britain has to offer.
All of them neatly arranged by season throughout the year so you should have zero trouble finding a weekend break to suit you.
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TOP WINTER WEEKENDS
Dec – March
“Blissfully deserted beaches and beautifully historic English cities – hello cold days, we’re ready for you.”
WINTER WEEKEND 1
Discover the quiet side of Devon
Do this: Walk the powdery sands of Bigbury-on-Sea and head for Burgh Island – using the sea tractor to cross the tidal strip if necessary. Feast on sweeping cliff views and marvel at long-time haunt of Agatha Christie, The Burgh Island Hotel.
See this: Head to Salcombe for ice-cream coloured houses and a swirl of pretty streets. Browse the traditional shops, stop in at the oldest sweet shop in Devon – Cranch’s – and then take the ferry to East Portlemouth. Follow the National Trust Coast Path around the rocky terrain to Gara Rock Hotel for a well-earned glass of bubbly.
Eat at: Soar Mill Cove is the ultimate in clifftop dining chic. This out-of-the-way stylish retreat is known for its secluded location and famous visitors, including Audrey Hepburn. The 2 Rosette prix fixe menu is only £39. Make sure you order the Hepburn pavlova to finish the evening with an A-list twist.
Stay here: Fuscia Cottage (sleeps 4), just 10 minutes from Kingsbridge and 5 minutes from Salcombe. Ideal for couples or small families.
Discover more: A Winter Weekend in South Devon
WINTER WEEKEND 2
Run away to Poldark’s Cornwall
Do this: Discover Cornwall’s mining past by following the Mineral Tramways – an off-road cycling network that follows the tramway and railway trails once used to transport supplies to and from the mines to the ports. Hire bikes from Elm Farm (£8 for half a day; £15 for a full day), then take on the might of the 11-mile Coast-to-Coast route.
See this: Head to Porthgwarra, a relatively unknown slip of beach about 3 miles southeast of Land’s End on the Penwith peninsular. It was here, in series 1 of Poldark, that Ross swam naked watched on by Demelza.
Go here: Cornwall is bereft of working mines, so Poldark’s producers turned the many surviving ruins into digitally-generated working alternatives. Amongst the mines used in the series that you can visit, is Levant Mine and Beam Engine at Trewellard near St. Just. It was used in the TV show as Tressiders Rolling Mill and has been exceptionally well-preserved by the National Trust.
Eat at: take a bench outside Porthgwarra Cove Café, where the pasties come plump and warm, and the scones are fat and freshly-baked. This cosy café is the place where the Poldark cast and crew refuelled during an all-night filming session, staying open into the wee hours to serve hot food and drink to the show’s stars.
Stay here: Check into Dreamcatcher in Sancreed, a former Methodist Chapel and Sunday School that’s been renovated to an immaculate standard. Includes 4 dream-like bedrooms, a huge mezzanine lounge, a library and enormous kitchen.
Discover more: A Poldark Weekend in Cornwall
WINTER WEEKEND 3
Uncover York’s Ghostly Secrets
Do this: York’s medieval streets are encircled by 13th-century walls. Follow the ancient circuit – 3.4 kilometres – and see the city’s most enduring treasures from a new angle. The entire route takes around 2 hours to walk, and on the way you’ll pass five main bars or gateways, one Victorian gateway, one postern (a small gateway) and 45 towers.
See this: Make your way to The Treasurer’s House – one of York’s most haunted spots. Join the free cellar tour and sink into the underbelly of the building, the setting for one of the most famous ghost sightings of all time: Roman soldiers who were seen in the cellar by plumber, Harry Martindale, in 1953. Expect your spine to tingle as your guide leads you through a narrow tunnel into the cellar where the soldiers appeared to Harry.
Eat at: The York Cocoa House is an unexpected and enchanting pit stop. Order from the extensive chocolate menu, both savoury and sweet dishes and drinks are on offer. Try the ‘Fire and Ice’ hot chocolate (chilly chocolate flushed with peppermint). Believe me, you’ll descend into a Wonka-style bliss that you thought only existed in fiction.
Stay here: What was once the headquarters of the North Eastern Railway Company, is today York’s only 5-star hotel and spa: The Grand Hotel and Spa – excellently placed within York’s city walls, with a view of the Minster on the skyline, and only a five-minute stroll across the river to the city centre.
Discover more: A Long Weekend in North Yorkshire
WINTER WEEKEND 4
Explore Bath, a la Jane Austen
Do this: Take Afternoon Tea like Jane would have at the Francis Hotel in Bath, a series of fashionable townhouses joined together and dating from the 1730s. Tea is served in the hotel’s achingly-pretty ‘Emily’s Tea Room’ – think bright velvet sofas, candy-coloured floral walls, and dripping chandeliers.
See this: Head along to the Assembly Rooms, also home to the Fashion Museum. Back in Jane Austen’s time this hall, with its sparkling chandeliers, would have been where the city’s finest would come to attend balls. You can even stay in Jane’s old home in Sydney Place, and walk through the Sydney Gardens opposite, one of Jane’s favourite Bath haunts.
Eat at: Visit Bath’s oldest house, Sally Lunn’s, which was built in 1482. This café and museum is home to the famous Sally Lunn bun, a large scone-light sweet bread, which is still made to Sally’s original secret recipe.
Stay here: The Queensberry Hotel – run by Laurence & Helen Beere – is set in the centre of Georgian Bath and, with its beautiful design, slightly eccentric layout and air of stylish calm. Four poster B&B from £300 per night.
Discover more: Elegant weekend in Bath
WINTER WEEKEND 5
Make Merry in Festive London
Do this: You can’t beat ice-skating at London’s Somerset House. Built in 1551 as the Duke of Somerset’s palatial home, it’s a glamorous location for getting on the ice. The rink is small, but don’t let that put you off – the atmosphere is perfect for stirring the Christmas spirit. (Tickets from £7.50 pp.) Afterwards settle in Fortnum’s Lodge and warm up with a mulled wine or hot chocolate.
See this: Covent Garden is just a couple of minutes’ walk from Somerset House. Head there after you’ve slipped off your skates for a great atmosphere and a splash of Christmas shopping. If it’s too crowded, skip across the river for Gabriel’s Wharf instead (coinstreet.org) where artsy boutiques await.
Eat at: Borough Market is London’s premier address for foodies. Home to dozens of stallholders selling everything from fruit and veg to specialist cheeses, meats and breads. Ready-to-eat and grab-and-go treats are plentiful too, so tuck in and soak up the hustle and bustle as you do.
Stay here: The Mandeville Hotel is tucked neatly behind the throb of London’s Oxford Street, amongst a peaceful strip of grand Victorian buildings. The hotel has 142 rooms, ranging from singles to suites starting from £207.
Discover more: The Mandeville Hotel: A Review
COLOURFUL SPRING WEEKENDS
March – June
“No matter how long the winter, spring will follow – and with it bright, new weekends to savour and enjoy.”
SPRING WEEKEND 1
Follow the Banksy Trail in Bristol
Do this: Zip straight to Bristol’s gritty graffiti core with a Where the Wall Banksy Street Art Tour. Led by street art legend – and Banksy mentor – John Nation, it’s 2 hours of brilliance serving up works by Banksy, Inky, Stik and Nick Walker.
See this: Cruise around Stokes Croft for a while longer – the tour ends here – lapping up the eclectic vibe before heading to Bristol’s historic waterfront. Bristol Harbourside today is almost Parisian in its cosmopolitan style. Trendy bars, shops and galleries flag the dock where the city once traded with new colonies. Cross to the M-Shed where Bristol’s past and people are innovatively celebrated in 3 exhibit-filled floors. Don’t forget to check out the famous Banksy The Grim Reaper on the First Floor just outside the Bristol People Gallery.
Eat here: Fill your belly with a distinctly modern crust in Pieminister, Stokes Croft. Industrial in décor, inventive in design, it’s got enough hipster pies to satisfy the most fussy pie-lover.
Stay here: Retreat to the enchanting Boutique Arthouse B&B five minutes’ drive from Bristol’s city centre. Run by art lecturer Sadie Spikes and her husband, it’s a B&B that’ll leave your soul nourished and your spirits forever lifted. I can’t wait to return.
Discover more: What to do in Bristol in 2 Days
SPRING WEEKEND 2
Dally with Beautiful Dartmouth
Do this: Dartmouth is awash with picturesque galleries and studios dotted along the willowy streets, offering contemporary splashes of art and designs, as well as traditional flashes of sculpture and crafts. Simon Drew, an English illustrator and cartoonist (known for his nonsense verse and pun-tastic humour), has a gallery in Foss Street – which is well worth the detour.
See this: Next, turn heel and hike up to Gallants Bower for sweeping views over the River Dart Estuary and Start Bay. In spring, paths blaze with wild flowers so be sure to pack your camera.
Eat here: Grab rockstar fish and chips at Mitch Tonk’s Rockfish Restaurant facing pretty Kingswear. It’s a fast-paced joint, with plenty of vim and vigour and an inventive chip shop menu. Mains start from around £7.95.
Stay here: Ready your sea-legs to sleep aboard the Faithful (sleeps 2) – a handsomely converted fishing boat moored in Darthaven Marina. Comes with use of the leisure facilities at the neighbouring Dart Marina Spa Hotel. 3 nights from £400.
Discover more: A sea-splashed 12 hours in Dartmouth
SPRING WEEKEND 3
Get Excited for Edinburgh
Do this: Walk the The Royal Mile, said to be the oldest street in the city. It snakes through the old town from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood house flanked with shops selling tartan, whisky and shortbread; restaurants, bars and cafes; and historic monuments. Afterwards, pay a visit to Edinburgh Castle. It costs £16.50 to get in, but is worth the fee for the treasures inside.
See this: Take a tour of Greyfriars Kirkyard – the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk church near Grassmarket. It’s alive with history and character and is particularly famous for Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal police dog that wouldn’t leave his master’s grave for 13 years.
Eat at: Scotland is synonymous with whiskey. So to mark the partnership, eat at the Whiski Rooms restaurant where they serve seasonal Scottish food. And if you want a dram of whiskey on the side, you’re in the right place: tastings are also on offer.
Stay here: Just a 10 minute stroll north of the hustle and bustle of famous Princes Street, you’ll find Nira Caledonia – a boutique, luxury hotel nestled quietly in a high-class, historic neighbourhood. (Romantic Getaway Packages start at £176.)
SPRING WEEKEND 4
Wildlife Watch in Northumberland
Do this: The Farne Islands are a craggy outcrop of 15 – 20 islands off the coast of Northumberland where you’ll find puffins and seals. Climb aboard Billy Sheil’s Grey Seals Cruise in Seahouses (£13 for adults and £9 for children) to get up close and personal with the wildlife.
See this: Bamburgh Castle is an awe-inspiring sight at any time of the year. This ‘castle on the beach’ is worth exploring inside first, then heading outside. Take the path by the base of the castle to reach one of the most magnificent dog-friendly beaches in the UK.
Eat here: The Wynding Inn is an elegantly refurbed offshoot of The Lord Crewe Hotel on Front Street, an 8-minute walk from Bamburgh Castle. Expect traditional North Eastern cuisine with a modern twist, served swiftly and with lashings of Northumberland hospitality.
Stay here: Ebba’s Nook – a luxury apartment that’s more cosy than microwavable socks, sleeping 1 – 2 people. If you’re bringing the dog, however, try the multi-award-winning Battlesteads Hotel on the edge of the Northumberland National Park.
SPRING WEEKEND 5
Hunt for Dinosaurs in Lyme Regis
Go here: Mary Anning is Lyme’s much-lauded 19th-century palaeontologist whose ichthyosaur and plesiosaur finds brought her much acclaim. The Lyme Regis Museum celebrates her life and findings with exceptional exhibits, as well as marking the town’s connection to notable authors, including John Fowles, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter.
Do this: Take a fossil walk with Jurassic Coast experts from Lyme Regis museum. Explore Lyme’s beach, collect your own fossils and learn about the geology of this amazing stretch of England.
Eat here: By the Bay is a grown-up, but very warm and welcoming, dog-friendly eatery just along from Lyme’s antiques centre and arcade. Pick a table on the deck overlooking the bay and order the moules frites (£14.95). Portions are Jurassic so come with an empty stomach.
Stay here: Sleep in Belmont, the former home of John Fowles, author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman. This 18th-century maritime villa sleeps 8 people and offers breathtaking views over the Cobb from Fowles’ former writing room (4 nights from £640).
Discover more: A Jurassic Weekend in Lyme Regis
THE HOTTEST SUMMER WEEKENDS
June – Sept
“Tans may fade, but memories of summer weekends last forever”
SUMMER WEEKEND 1
Book Feast at Hay on Wye
Do this: Hay on Wye is a quiet Welsh market town at the edge of the Brecon Beacons which every year plays host to one of the most famous book festivals in the world: The Hay on Wye Festival of Arts and Literature (25th May – 4th June). Spend a day hanging out here, rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s literary elite.
Go here: Afterwards, mooch your way into Hay town where you’ll find two-dozen second-hand bookshops to sex your brain cells, along with a scattering of independently-owned eateries and soul-pleasing boutiques. My favourite bookshop? Murder and Mayhem on lion Street.
Eat here: Head to The Old Electric Shop on Broad Street where antique furniture tangos with thoughtfully-sourced vegetarian food playing out to a funky vibe.
Stay here: Opt for a luxury safari tent as your weekend break base on the Drover’s Rest glamp site, 10 minutes from Hay. Set in 10 beautiful acres, with a communal barn serving drinks and homemade food, as well as your own private bathroom, it’s camping but not as you know it! (£600 for 3/4 nights.)
Discover more: Hay Festival: The Booklover’s Glastonbury
SUMMER WEEKEND 2
Chase Alice in Oxford
Go here: Head to Christ Church College Meadows – easily the city’s grandest college on St Aldate’s Street. It was also Lewis Carroll’s stomping ground, where he met his 6-year-old muse, Alice Liddell. The Deanery Garden is where Alice played and a small wooden door in its protective wall was, it’s claimed, the door to Wonderland.
Do this: Take a picnic cruise along the River Thames from Folly Bridge. Oxford River Cruises and Salter’s Steamers offer a range of sight-seeing options. Salter’s Alice in Wonderland Cruise costs £17.50 for adults and £10.00 for children. Oxford River Cruise’s Experience Cruise costs £12 for adults and £6 for children.
Eat here: The Eagle and Child is one of Oxford’s most famous pubs. Grab a bite to eat in this pint-sized establishment where Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis used to enjoy a pint.
Stay here: Get your bygone kicks at the Malmaison in Oxford’s Castle Quarter. Once a prison housed within a medieval castle, it’s now one of the trendiest places to stay in the city. The cells are now rooms, complete with barred windows and iron doors.
Discover more: A Nerdy Weekend in Oxford
SUMMER WEEKEND 3
Laze by the Lakes
Go here: Instead of Coniston and Windermere, travel instead to Wastwater (the deepest lake in England) and the surrounding area of Wasdale as summer heats up. Relatively free of tourists, this beautiful countryside is home to the peaks of Scafell Pike (the highest mountain in England) and Pillar, should you fancy the climb.
Do this: Leave Wasdale and head to the small town of St. Bees on the Cumbrian coast. There’s a spectacular family-friendly beach as well as a great walk up onto St Bees Head – a dramatic red sandstone bluff that reaches up to 300ft.
Eat here: Wasdale Head Inn, at the foot of Scafell Pike, is the perfect pit-stop for Lakeland walkers and is world-famous as the birthplace of climbing. Eat in the Ritson’s Bar serving wholesome bar food and real ales 365 days of the year.
Stay here: Shepherds Views Holidays offers camping an caravanning pitches and 4-star self-catering cottages set in 210 acres of farmland. It’s run by Julie and Stephen Shepherd and their family.
SUMMER WEEKEND 4
Surf the Waves in Brighton
Do this: Hit the waves early with Pure Spirit Surf School. Run by 2 x English Masters Champion, Cliff Cox, this small, tight-knit surf school offers one-to-one coaching for £65 for adults and £45 for kids. Surf for the entire day, throw in complimentary lunch, and it costs £130.
Go here: Dry off with a mandatory stroll along one of England’s last great beach piers, Brighton Pier. Play the penny arcade, savour foam-topped sea views, then spin your mind with gut-wrenching thrill rides hiding at the end of the pier.
Eat here: Spice up the weekend at RikiTik Beach Bar, a laid-back rum shack on the Brighton seafront. Expect blissed-out guest-DJs, potent rum punches, and Caribbean beach food.
Stay here: Keep it cool at Snooze – Brighton’s funkiest B&B. Located in Brighton’s hip Kemptown District, this uber-funky bolt-hole offers six retro doubles and two 70s’ style suites all for reasonable prices (rooms start at £75, suites £95).
SUMMER WEEKEND 5
Hit Cheltenham’s Hot Spots
Do this: With Regency boutiques and well-manicured gardens you can see why Cheltenham lured the rich of 18th-century England. Start in the chicest part of town: Montpellier. Stroll along Montpellier Walk where caryatids (draped female figures based on those on the Acropolis in Athens) laze as structural supports between the shops. Then take a path through Montpellier Gardens heading for the Gardens Gallery to see work by local artists.
Go here: If you can, catch a play at the Everyman Theatre on Regent Street. It’s open all year round, with a smorgasbord of ballets, operas, comedies and dramas to choose from. Make sure you sup an aperitif beforehand at Lily Gins cocktail joint. Loud, proud and unashamedly awesome.
Eat here: The Daffodil started life as Cheltenham’s first purpose-built picture palace, opening in 1922. Today, it ‘s a fine dining restaurant retaining its original Art Deco charm. Where the stars of the silver screen once flickered, there’s now a huge open kitchen allowing diners to enjoy the buzz of a busy kitchen. (Mains from £13.50).
Stay here: No.38 The Park – a beautiful Georgian Townhouse dripping with modern elegance and luxury. With 13 individually style rooms, an honesty bar, uber-chic breakfast room, sitting room and courtyard garden, it is an elegance end to a chic weekend in Cheltenham. (Rooms from £120).
GLORIOUS AUTUMN WEEKENDS
Sept – Dec
“Autumn, the year’s last loveliest smile.”
AUTUMN WEEKEND 1
Cosy-up in the Cotswolds
Do this: The achingly pretty Cotswold wool town of Stow-on-the-Wold is a bumper-pack of country delights. First off, head to the town’s brilliant flea market and collectors fair, held every month in the impressive upstairs gallery of St. Edwards Hall. Bag your bargains, then settle for coffee in the upstairs café to replenish your energy.
See this: Afterwards, wander the teensy streets of crooked honey-coloured houses, grabbing pictures by the town’s famous stocks and snuffling free samples in the Cotswolds Chocolate Shop. St. Edwards Church has to be next on your list with its ethereal north entrance. Flagged by two yew trees that appear to grow right out from the brick, this is a church that wouldn’t look out of place in Hogsmeade.
Eat here: Circa 947 AD, The Porch House claims the title as the oldest pub in England. As candlelit-cosy as a burrow, with the right blend of contemporary vs history, it’s the perfect spot for a winter’s lunch or warming evening meal. (Mains start from £13.50 on a Sunday. Booking is essential).
Stay here: While The Old Stocks Inn may sound like your typical Cotswold bolthole, it’s not. The 17th-century golden stone façade hides a Scandinavian chic interior with sexy bedrooms and equally seductive bathrooms. (Rooms start at £189.)
Discover more: A Weekend Stay at The Old Stocks Inn
AUTUMN WEEKEND 2
Halloween in Durham
See this: Once home of the Durham Prince Bishops and today a Durham University halls of residence, Durham Castle in Durham City is your first spook spot. Book onto a 45-minute tour and brave the groaning 17th-century Black Staircase. The staircase is apparently haunted by The Grey Lady who, it’s claimed, fell to her death from here.
Do this: Screams abound at Beamish – The Living Museum of the North – on Halloween. Every brick, every door, every fixture and fitting of Beamish once stood pride of place in areal Victorian or Edwardian community. Throw a cast of zombies, ghouls and skeletons into this historical wonderland and Beamish becomes the North East’s most exhilarating Halloween experience (adults £13, children £9).
Eat here: Steady your nerves with tradition tea and cake at Vennels Tea Room. Located through an ancient Durham vennel (North Eastern term for a narrow alleyway between 2 buildings), Vennels Café is spread across 2 floors of an historic building and the 16th-century courtyard outside. Loved by students and locals.
Stay here: Feeling brave? Head to Lumley Castle for the night. Home to various ghostly residents, this beautiful Grade I listed 14th-century castle is said to be one of the most haunted places in Co. Durham. (Rooms start from approx. £90.)
Discover more: Beamish Museum: The Ultimate Fright Fest
AUTUMN WEEKEND 3
Watch the stag rut in Exmoor
See this: Journey deep into the heart of rural Devon and watch one of nature’s greatest spectacles: the dramatic rutting of Exmoor’s red deer. October and November are the best months to see the deer, not least because this is the mating season when the ‘rutting’ takes place. Partner with the expert guidance of Andrew Turner from Red Stag Safaris who’ll take you in search of the stags (from £30 per person).
Do this: Afterwards, head back to the beautiful village of Dunster – one of the best preserved medieval towns in England – and explore the village before heading into Dunster Castle.
Eat here: Refuel at Chapel House Tearoom, a quirkily decorated tea room and craft shop in a converted Methodist church in Dunster. Chapel House serves a range of homemade breakfasts, light meals and cakes, plus tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
Stay here: The Luttrell Arms in Dunster has all the English country charm you could want. Adorably cosy and snug downstairs, with fresh and modern rooms upstairs. And right in the heart of Dunster making exploring the town easy. (£110 for 1 night in a standard room.)
Discover more: A Red Stag Weekend on Exmoor
AUTUMN WEEKEND 4
Press your own cider in Somerset
Go here: Take yourself to Burrow Hill in the Somerset Levels for a traditional English autumn treat. Home to the Somerset Cider Brandy Company and Burrow Hill Cider, Burrow Hill Farm’s owners have over 50 years’ experience of making cider – so you’re in good hands.
Do this: Head to the farm shop where you can sample the different ciders and cider brandies amongst the cider-making paraphernalia: oak vats, barrels and presses. Don’t forget to call a taxi to get you back to your weekend base.
Eat here: Drive to the nearby village of South Petherton and take a table at The Brewers Arms. This 17th-century coaching inn has a fantastic restaurant, The Old Bakehouse Restaurant – the only Somerset pub or restaurant to be awarded a Taste of the West Gold Award in 2012 a with silver in 2013.
Stay here: Burrow Hill Bed and Breakfast is a 400-year-old Grade II listed cottage situated right next door to Burrow Hill, a well-known Somerset landmark, at the heart of cider-making country. Luxury rooms await from just £75 for 1 night’s B&B.
AUTUMN WEEKEND 5
Feel ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ in Dorchester
Do this: First, visit Thomas Hardy’s birthplace, Hardy’s Cottage at Higher Bockhampton. It’s here, in the small bedroom that he shared with his brother, Henry, Thomas Hardy wrote Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd.
Go here: Next, head to Max Gate, the Victorian home where Hardy lived until his death in 1928. Walk the ‘Alley of the Bending Boughs’, see where Hardy’s beloved dog, Wessex, is buried, and take tea and cake as you enjoy the cosy drawing room and Hardy’s study.
Eat here: Built in 1635, The Old Tea House is the oldest ‘freestanding’ house in Dorchester. Originally a ‘safe house’ for the Abbott, with underground tunnels and a priest hole. It was also a favourite haunt of Hardy’s. Food served daily.
Stay here: The Casterbridge provides a comfortable and relaxed base for your weekend in Hardy’s hometown. Affordable, cosy and only two minute’s walk from Dorchester’s town centre.
Discover More: A Weekend Visit to Thomas Hardy’s Cottage
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Tell me, which of the above mini breaks appeals to you? Have I missed a weekend that the world needs to know about? Drop a comment in the box below – I always reply!