When you think of England, what do you imagine? The pageant and ceremony of London? The rolling countryside and the honeyed stone villages of the Costwolds? Cathedral cities and historic sites? The urban buzz of Birmingham, Manchester and beyond? I’ve got great news for you. If you’ve already experienced all these fabulous places, I’m opening up my book of the best lesser known spots to encourage you to see more of England. Here you’ll find wild moors, fascinating small towns with lots to do, cities with an unexpected past and some of the most beautiful villages in England. Let me show you my favourite undiscovered places in England.
- 1 Settle: Nestling In The Yorkshire Dales
- 2 Tintagel: Legends Of King Arthur In Cornwall
- 3 Coventry: Medieval City Of Peace And Reconciliation
- 4 Vale Of White Horse: A Quieter Version Of The Cotswolds
- 5 Devon’s Hartland Peninsula – Small Villages and Wild Smugglers’ Coast
- 6 The Forest Of Bowland: From idyllic Valleys To Wild Moors In Lancashire
- 7 Hack Green: The Secret Nuclear Bunker
- 8 Crosby Beach: Art Shaped By The Tides
- 9 Whitby: Bram Stoker’s Inspiration For Dracula
- 10 Appledore: Maritime History, Art and Literature in A Small Devon Village
- 11 Shaftesbury: Hilltops and Snowdrops
- 12 Bakewell: Legendary Tarts And The Peak District
- 13 Kingswood Junction: Heritage Waterways
- 14 Lundy Island: In Pursuit Of Puffins And Seals
- 16 Ludlow And The Welsh Marches
- 17 Undiscovered Places In England
Planning to see more of England? Why not pin this for later!
Settle: Nestling In The Yorkshire Dales
The official website of the Yorkshire Dales National Park states that the Dales “has many moods”. That’s entirely true, and there’s a savage beauty in the often isolated communities and countryside of the Dales. The market town of Settle, lying on the edge of that savage beauty, is a serene introduction. The very isolation of the Dales means that Settle was originally served by pack horse trails. It grew in importance because of the wool trade and the creation of mills nearby.
In the Square here, you’ll find lots of family-owned businesses. There’s a Folly, hosting a museum, and the Gallery On The Green, thought to be the smallest art gallery in the world. Nearby you’ll find caves where prehistoric finds were discovered. You can explore Malham and Castlebergh limestone crag.
Settle is also the start of one of the great railway journeys. The line running from Settle to Carlisle passes through spectacular countryside, and includes the highest station in England. Take the train to access all kinds of walks in the Dales and also to appreciate the beauty of Ribblehead Viaduct, a spectacular construction that crosses the valley not long after you leave Settle.
Find out more: Settle Carlisle Railway
Tintagel: Legends Of King Arthur In Cornwall
Tintagel, the village on a mountain, is set on Cornwall’s Atlantic coast. If the name seems familiar, that’s because this is the place linked with legends of King Arthur, Excalibur and Merlin. What I can also tell you is that Tintagel is wild, raw and ready to inspire all kinds of legendary dreams.
Arthurian legend recounts that Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, left his wife Igraine in Tintagel while he went to war. Merlin disguised Luther Pendragon as Gorlois, enabling him to impregnate Igraine with the young King Arthur. Today you’ll find plenty to explore including the castle, and the headland which is also the site of an early Celtic monastery. This was a wealthy place with plenty of examples of high value goods traded.
You can visit King Arthur’s Hall at Trevena, with its 73 stained glass windows telling the tales of Arthurian legend. There’s also the Camelot Castle Hotel, complete with a central entrance tower and a Great Hall designed as a replica of the Winchester Round Table. The coastline has a unique turquoise hue resulting from deposits of copper in the water. Don’t forget to check out the beaches at Trebarwith Strand and Bossiney Haven.
Find out more: 11 Things To Do In Cornwall: Land of Myths And Legends
Coventry: Medieval City Of Peace And Reconciliation
On the route between Birmingham and London, Coventry’s a modestly sized city with a surprisingly deep history. Once home to Lady Godiva, one of the first social campaigners and said to have ridden naked through the streets to protest at rent rises, Coventry has a medieval heart that is both beautiful and unexpected.
You may have heard of Spon Street and its Tudor timbered buildings. But there is way more to explore. Go wandering around by the cathedral and you’ll find the ruins of St Mary’s Benedictine Priory, plus the lovely jutted Tudor houses of Lychgate Cottages which date back to 1414. Then there’s St Mary’s Guildhall, a building so splendid you half expect to encounter a medieval resident paying some taxes in the Council Room, or music emerging from the Mistrels’ Gallery. Don’t forget to look up at the beautiful ceiling and stained glass.
Then there’s Coventry Cathedral. This is a building with a poignant history, and with beauty that grew from devastation. After the city was bombed in the war, architect Sir Basil Spence drew up plans for a building that incorporated a beautiful new space while incorporating the ruins of the bombed cathedral. Open to the sky, the older part of the cathedral holds art works focused on the message of peace and reconciliation that the city promotes. You can climb the 180 steps of the old tower to see the city from on high.
Coventry’s not all about its distant past. FarGo Village, on Far Gosford Street, is a collection of small and arty businesses, plus vibrant cafes and bars. Stop off here for everything from a new selection of reads to scooters, a brewery visit and a vegan brownie. You should also call in at the 2 Tone Village, which pays homage to Coventry’s contribution to the music scene. As a tribute to the city’s fine contribution to travel, don’t miss the Transport Museum. Covering the city’s role as a bicycle and car manufacturer par excellence, you can see Thrust 2, some mighty Triumphs such as the Spitfire and contemplate the correct attire for lady cyclists: knickerbockers, of course.
Find out more: 13 Compelling Things To Do In Coventry
Vale Of White Horse: A Quieter Version Of The Cotswolds
If you’ve been seduced by the honeyed stone villages of the Cotswolds, you may have noticed that it can get a little busy there. Step up to the Oxfordshire border, and take some time to explore the Vale of White Horse instead. Named after the Uffington White Horse, a stylised chalk figure carved into the hills, the Vale offers you a collection of small towns and villages. They are absolutely charming, although different in character to the Cotswolds, and offer you a quintessentially English experience.
There’s a beautiful walk that takes in the Uffington White Horse. Nearby you’ll find Dragon Hill, a mound without vegetation. It’s said to be where St George slayed the dragon, the beast’s blood making the mound barren forever. You can also take in Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chieftain burial tomb. The invisible smith is said to have shod horses for payment. Up here you’re on the Ridgeway, said to be the oldest road in Europe, and possibly 5,000 years old.
The towns are equally fascinating. We loved Faringdon, a Fairtrade Town. There’s a small visitor centre full of locally produced crafts, and a lovely collection of independent shops. You can find public artworks of hares here, part of the Costwolds AONB Hare Trail.
Then there are the stories of Faringdon’s eccentrics. Spot a diver’s helmet as part of a bench? That’s to mark a bet extended to Salvador Dali; the penalty for losing was to walk into the town in a full diving suit. You can find out more about Lord Berners, who extended the bet, at Faringdon Folly. If you’ve never seen an English folly, this one’s a treat. Follow the tree lined path uphill, and you’ll come into an open space surrounding the tall folly itself, complete with a sign pleading that you not feed the giraffes. We didn’t spot any long-necked beasts, but there was a hare at the edge of the woods.
Head on to Abingdon-on-Thames and you’ll find the mighty river itself. You can hire a boat, walk the Thames Path or simply enjoy lunch or dinner overlooking the river. If you visit on high days or holidays, be careful to dodge a bun or two. They are thrown from the County Hall on celebratory occasions, and you can see a fine collection of previously thrown buns there. A coffee shop known as the Throwing Buns is just opposite, so you might be able to buy one if there are none being thrown when you visit.
Find out more: 15 Hidden Treasures in the Vale of White Horse
Devon’s Hartland Peninsula – Small Villages and Wild Smugglers’ Coast
Beyond the towns of Barnstaple and Bideford, North Devon is a collection of small villages and hamlets at the coast. One of the least traveled and wildest spots I’ve found is the Hartland Peninsula. Here you’re talking small lanes with big hedgerows and occasional passing places. Hartland itself is a small and pretty village with a few shops and a cafe (with an outside small table for small guests and their small bears). Drive on a little further and you’ll reach the lighthouse, where you can stop off to walk a while and admire the views.
Then head on down to Hartland Quay. From the road, you’ll take a steep lane full of hairpin bends. Then suddenly the view of the sea opens out before you. This is the wild coast, full of tales of shipwrecks and smugglers. There’s a small hotel here, with accommodation, a pub, information about the Quay and a shop selling ice creams, momentos and snacks. Then you’re on the Quay itself. The cliff formations here are stunning, and quite frankly vertigious. You can well imagine how ships wrecked here. Take a walk on the beach among the rocks and rockpools. Bring your binoculars to see the shipping and distant views of Lundy Island. And don’t forget to visit out of season too; wrap up for a wild adventure.
Find out more: Surf’s Up In North Devon
The Forest Of Bowland: From idyllic Valleys To Wild Moors In Lancashire
If you head south from the city of Lancaster, past the university campus and the village of Galgate, you’ll spot a turning to the left to enter the Forest of Bowland. If you’ve never been here before, you’re in for a treat. This is a place of big open spaces and massive contrasts, with a few scattered hamlets. You start off in the river valley. Here you’ll meet sheep safely grazing. There are woods and places to stop to investigate the river, and to appreciate the beauty of the countryside.
Then you start to climb. There’s a reservoir, shining and still, and waterfalls full of thundering power. At times the road is so narrow, you’ll feel that you are clinging to the hillside. Climb further and the scenery turns to stark moorland with heather and gorse. Pull over, and you might well be the only person within miles, save for the inhabitants of the one farm you can see on the horizon. Be prepared to meet stray sheep on the road, scampering and curious. Or, as we also did, a collection of cows, escaped from their field and looking for adventure.
This is one of the places where there is so little light, you can see the stars and planets beautifully at night. So wrap up warm and consider making this a stargazing spot. On this small crowded island, it’s good to find beautiful places where you can be truly alone.
Find out more: England’s Hidden Travel Treasures
Hack Green: The Secret Nuclear Bunker
England is renowned for its eccentricity, and this list needs to contain at least one oddity in its suggestions of secret spots to visit. And this is a secret – as in not well known – and secret – as in hidden – spot, so you get double your secrets here.
Deep in rural Cheshire, you’ll find signs pointing to Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker. Despite my jollity above, this can be a saddening visit, as it comprises one of the spots designed to provide a safe place for government to operate during the outbreak of nuclear war. Formerly a military listening post, Hack Green was converted to a bunker in order to help the UK’s security during the cold war.
Arrive at Hack Green, and you’ll find a building largely built into a grassy mound. You enter through the facility’s canteen, and then a self-guided tour will take you through all the parts of the bunker, from decontamination rooms to a hospital, and the place where government would have broadcast to the nation in the event of nuclear war.
Hack Green is a mass of contradictions. It has a trail for younger visitors to spot secret spy mice. You’ll also find some lovely unexpected moments, like the chance to spot Goulash the (real) bunker cat, and you’re reminded not to feed him. The canteen and refreshment area tells you what to do – as in get under your table – in case of attack. But the threat it served to counter is visceral and real, and presented to you unsanitised. It’s a sobering visit, and a fascinating insight into what life could have been for those serving their country in its operational lifetime.
Find out more: Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker
Crosby Beach: Art Shaped By The Tides
A mere twenty minutes or so by train from Liverpool, itself well worth your time, you’ll find Crosby. Originally a Viking settlement, the town is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It’s made up of a string of settlements along the Irish Sea, including Great Crosby, Little Crosby, Waterloo and Blundellsands.
In the nineteenth century, the first Lord Of The Admiralty described the sea views as being second only to those in the Bay of Naples. In fact, you can see a lot of sea captain’s houses scattered along the beachfront at Crosby, those mariners having been seduced by the beauty of the coast. Today there are some industrial elements to that beauty – from passing cargo ships to wind turbines – but the romance of the sea lingers.
That may be why the beach is the setting for an art installation. If you’ve ever heard of Antony Gormley’s Iron Men, they’re here, in an installation called Another Place. Each of the 100 men is cast, life size from the artist’s body. And there are many of them, some almost submerged, others paddling, and some untouched by the waves. Get up close, and you’ll see that sea life has taken over, with barnacles and seaweed and some erosion. Sometimes you’ll find them dressed up; we’ve spotted one in a bikini and sarong.
Don’t forget to travel further up the coast to Formby, where you’ll find sand dunes backed by pine woods, ponds and lakes. Here too you’ll find one of the few red squirrel colonies in England.
Find out more: Holding Mr Gormley’s Hand On Crosby Beach
Whitby: Bram Stoker’s Inspiration For Dracula
Tucked in at the edge of the North York Moors National Park, Whitby’s a place that rewards the journey to one of the more remote undiscovered places in England. Still a working port, shipping to Europe and Scandinavia, this seaside town has a fine tradition of seafaring. Captain Cook learned his trade here.
Whitby has many good reasons to attract visitors. You’ve got the heritage coastline, the aforementioned moors and also the town’s mining of jet which was started by the Romans. Up on the East Cliff, dramatically ruined Whitby Abbey casts shadows and stark shapes against the skyline. It was home to Caedmon, the earliest recognised English poet. The Anglo-Saxon Abbey was a double monastery, accommodating both men and women.
Then there’s Dracula. Whitby is the setting, and many local folklore events appear in the novel, including the sinking of the Russian ship Dmitri. Even the name Dracula was found by Bram Stoker in the old town library. In fact if you’re looking for literary inspiration here you’ll find it via Charles Dickens who was a visitor, and Wilkie Collins who stayed here with the woman who became The Woman In White. Add Mary Linskill, G.P. Taylor’s Shadowmancer and A.S. Byatt’s Possession and you can see you might need a trusty pen and notepad when you visit.
Find Out More: Visit Whitby
Appledore: Maritime History, Art and Literature in A Small Devon Village
Take the coast road to North Devon from the M5, and you’ll arrive at the coastal town of Barnstaple. Appledore is just a short drive further, and here you’ll find a small and perfectly formed village that has attractions way beyond anything you could imagine of such a small spot.
Originally a shipbuilding port situated on the estuary, Appledore made ships to send to the New World. Beside its docks, you can find lists of the original vessels, the first recording the names of local places before branching out into more obscure influences. Opposite is the Maritime Museum, filled with tales of smuggling, wrecks, bravery and even a little haunting.
Wander on down to the Quay, and you’ll encounter more of Appledore’s charms. There’s a fine deli, plenty of restaurants and unique shops and galleries lining the narrow lanes, laced with brightly coloured houses and even more brightly coloured door knockers. You’ll find plenty of fresh seafood newly landed daily, and space for crabbing on the harbour steps. Visit in September, and you’ll be able to enjoy the internationally renowned Book Festival, but remember to book early.
Shaftesbury: Hilltops and Snowdrops
Deep in Dorset, Thomas Hardy’s country, you’ll find the pretty small town of Shaftesbury. I once had the pleasure of spending a summer housesitting here, and it remains a great memory of life spent at a slower and beautiful pace.
Overlooking Blackmore Vale, you can see as far as Glastonbury Tor from the top of the town. Dorset’s only hilltop town is legendary for the steepness of its roads. Play the adagio from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Brits of a certain age will remember an advert showing a small boy talking about bread delivery (one of Ridley Scott’s early works). The setting for the advert was Gold Hill, still every bit as charming with its cobbles and thatched cottages, although not somewhere you really want to climb with two full bags of heavy groceries.
The now ruined abbey was once the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. Indeed, there were two mints in the town, making its own currency. The Abbey Museum on the site has a herb garden and a medieval orchard. Shaftesbury was a major centre of pilgrimage, and King Canute died here. Its wealth continued to build through cloth, button making and brewing. Nearby Duncliffe Hill has a nature reserve on a conical mound that can be seen for miles. And the snowdrops? Shaftesbury has a carefully curated collection of many different varieties. Visit in February to see the delicate while flowers at their best.
Find out more: Shaftesbury and the Blackmore Hills
Bakewell: Legendary Tarts And The Peak District
Wander through the aisles of any British supermarket, and you’re likely to find a box of Bakewell Tarts. Rich with almond frangipane and cherry jam, the tarts were created in Bakewell as a result of a fortunate culinary mishap. You can still find plenty of lovely examples to try. There’s also its counterpart, the original Bakewell Pudding, made with a puffy crust and a sweet cousin of the Yorkshire Pudding. You can fill your (walking) boots at three bakers in the town which are stuffed with varieties of both delicacies.
But aside from tarts and puddings, Bakewell is well worth your time. It nestles up to the River Wye, giving a beautiful backdrop and access to plenty of Peak District walks. Visit on a Monday to enjoy the market. The five arched bridge over the River Wye is deservedly one of the Peak District’s most famous landmarks. The end of July is a great time to visit to see the well dressing in the town. Chatsworth House, Haddon Hall and Crich Tramway Village are nearby as is Arkwright’s Mill for shopping. If you’ve a head for heights, don’t forget the cable car up Masson Hill to the Heights of Abraham.
Find out more: Bakewell Visitor Centre, Peak District National Park
Kingswood Junction: Heritage Waterways
If you like some heritage mixed in with beautiful countryside, then you should take time to explore England’s canal system. Everything here is seen in detail at a slower pace: four miles an hour for you and the narrowboat traffic on the waterways.
Kingswood Junction puts you in the heart of Shakespeare country where the Stratford-upon-Avon and Grand Union Canals meet. The canal towpaths here offer you all sorts of tantalising directions to explore. Or you could just loiter at the convenient picnic tables and watch the canal world pass by.
This is a splendid place to watch the seasons change: hoar frost giving way to the first crocuses, then daffodils and the trees regaining their leaves. The swans begin to build their nests, the herons stand watchfully, and if you are very lucky, you might spot a flash of turquoise from the kingfisher upstream. Then the canals ripen, their margins pregnant with blackberries, hips and elderflowers, and even the odd wild raspberry or two. Hire a boat and see England’s beauty in all its details. It’s a fabulous way to enjoy time with family and friends, and if you have dogs, they’ll love you forever for all those walks.
Find out more: Narrowboat holidays in the UK
Lundy Island: In Pursuit Of Puffins And Seals
There are harbours at Bideford and Ilfracombe in Devon, and from either harbour, depending on the day of the week, you can launch yourself into a truly splendid adventure. Lundy Island, named from the Norse word for puffin, is less than 20 miles away. But in many senses, it’s part of another world: one of seafarers, cliffs, wild moors and harsh living.
You’ll need walking boots and good outdoor clothing for the Lundy trip. Beyond the pub and houses, it’s a steep walk, and although the island is small, there are times when you can be entirely alone. There’s a single pub and shop, holiday accommodation for people staying over (you can order your provisions to sail out with you if needed), and be aware that the lights go out early here, save for in the pub.
In return you get proper wild spaces. Check out puffins, sheerwaters, seals. Watch the inquisitive sheep, and take care with your footing on the way to the lighthouse. If your mind is noisy, this is the place to allow it to return to quiet. Island life is something truly exceptional and this is definitely one of the most undiscovered places in England.
Find out more: Lundy Island
Ludlow And The Welsh Marches
Where England meets Wales along the line of Offa’s Dyke, you’ll find the castles and historic towns and villages of the Welsh Marches. This is a land laced with history, tales of battles, allegiances and power changing hands. Take Ludlow, described by poet John Betjeman as the finest town in England. The Princes in the Tower spent their early years at Ludlow Castle. Now it hosts events, including the magnificent annual food fair. In the town you’ll find all kinds of foodie delights, including produce to make every chef swoon. The town itself is magnificent, full of Georgian and timbered buildings, and packed with independent shops. You won’t be short of things to do either, as Ludlow has a packed social calendar.
Take yourself up to the Shropshire Hills, where there’s a path less traveled for you to choose. There’s gliding, hang-gliding and walking out of Church Stretton, known as Little Switzerland. Don’t forget the fascinating and frankly odd museum called The Land Of Lost Content. And the walks: the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones and Clee Hill with its stark quarries and sheep safely grazing. If you’re looking for inspiration, you’ll find it here.
Find out more: Ludlow and the Welsh Marches
Undiscovered Places In England
These are my favourites. What about yours? And the exciting thing is that my list is ever-changing. There is always something new to discover on this magnificent island. Whether it’s the heavy hitters with big charms, or places where the spectacular is found in the details, I hope I’ve found somewhere new for you to explore. Don’t forget to check out our cool and unusual essentially English experiences too, where fellow travel writers have brought out their treasures, from places to experiences.
Ready for more hidden gems? Check out our new collection of places in Secret England: 12 More Hidden Gems To Enjoy.
Planning a trip to England and beyond? We’ve got a selection of magnificent 10 Day UK Itineraries for you, many of which can be achieved without a car. Or try some alternative day trips from London by rail.
Ready to discover more of England? Why not pin this for later!