The best British weekend breaks less than two hours from London | London Evening Standard

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re you looking to get out of the big smoke this weekend but don’t want to drive to Penzance? Never fear, some of the UK’s prettiest towns and villages are conveniently located within two hours of the capital, just enough time to scoff a packet of Percy Pigs and finally finish that lockdown box set of The Sopranos.

We’ve narrowed down some of the most bucolic places to visit for a long weekend as the weather warms up.

Shere

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By train: 1 hour 15 minutes from Waterloo

The little village of Shere is a skip, hop and a jump from the capital, and located conveniently between Dorking and Guildford. You may well recognise the picturesque village from several iconic rom-coms, including The Holiday, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Shere is the perfect spot to rent a cottage, pack a food hamper and play out your own Richard Curtis fantasy, with or without Hugh Grant.

Where to stay:

There are several quintessential Elizabethan pubs to rest your head in the village centre, including the deliciously named Rookery Nook. Or for something a little fancier, scout out your Jude Law at the country pile-turned-hotel Wotton House. Just down the road, the red brick estate has enough cornices to tie you over until Netflix’s upcoming Persuasion adaptation. Thirsty? Nestled a few minutes drive from the undulating slopes of Box Hill is the Denbies Wine Estate, go for the day to sample their award winning sparkling wines. They also have rooms to stay overnight if you accidentally swallow rather than spit out one too many full-bodied reds.

Monmouth

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Time to drive: 2 hours 15 minutes

Rumour has it Monmouth is the home of the best cream tea in the UK and it’s not difficult to believe when you count the sheer volume of tea houses punctuating the air with the smell of freshly baked scones. In Wales, but just two miles from the English border, this Norman town was the birthplace of Shakespeare’s most celebrated monarch, Henry V, and is home to Wales’ oldest working theatre, the Savoy. Monmouth is a glutton’s paradise. Try the homemade ice cream from the village shop Green & Jenks or head to Chris Harrod’s Michelin star Whitebrook restaurant for the tasting menu inspired by Wye Valley delicacies, including mugwort beets and white suckling pig.

Where to stay

There’s plenty of places to stay in the Wye Valley, with surrounding villages of Brockweir, Whitchurch, Trellech, Llandogo and Penallt all bucolic options. In the shadow of imposing Raglan Castle, lies the Court Robert Art House B&B owned by a local artist, the airy rooms are decked in art and the B&B even has its own art gallery to get your creative juices flowing. Or for a spot of period charm head to the Inn at Penallt, just 12 miles away from the Forest of Dean, the 17th century inn has views across wildflower meadows and guests are treated to fresh Welsh Cakes every morning.

Bury St Edmunds

St Edmundsbury Cathedral

/ Shutterstock/Jonathan Hoseana

Time on Train: 1 hour 45 minutes from Kings Cross Station

This historic town is known colloquially as the jewel in the crown of Suffolk and for good reason. The cathedral town is positively bursting with olde worlde architecture, including the St Edmundsbury Cathedral, thought to be the meeting spot for the English barons who eventually forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. There’s lots to do in Bury, from guided ghost walks to the famous bi-weekly markets selling everything from jewellery to gooseberry jam.

Where to stay

Stay at Charles Dickens’ favourite haunt the Angel Hotel. The newly refurbished boutique hotel made such an impression on Dickens that it features in his 1837 novel the Pickwick Papers. Ask to stay in room 215 and you can sleep in the exact same four poster bed as Dickens did over 150 years ago. For dinner head over to Pea Porridge, the unassuming Michelin star restaurant on Cannon street, serving ‘nose-to-tail’ dishes using local East Anglian produce.

Margate

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Time on train: 1 hour and 27 minutes from St Pancras International.

One of England’s first seaside resorts, Margate mixes classic British seaside vibes (think rock candy and seagulls) with picturesque Georgian architecture. With a pebble beach to rival Brighton’s, Margate has become the go-to retreat for London hipsters fleeing the big smoke in search of some sea air and craft beer. Aside from the usual gentrification, the influx of East Londoners has brought a wave of pioneering restaurateurs who have reinvented the classic fish and chips fare, highlights include seafood restuarant Angela’s and Sargasso’s from the team behind Brawn.

Where to stay

The Reading Rooms is a perfect mixture of period Georgian luxury and modern white washed tranquility. Conveniently located a stone’s throw from the beach and five minute walk from the Turner Contemporary gallery, the real selling point here is the breakfast in bed, which includes a spread of Kentish sausages and saffron eggs.

Lewes

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Time on train: 1 hour and 2 minutes from London Victoria

This chocolate box East Sussex village is Brighton’s quainter, less raucous neighbour. Famous for many things: the townhouse Anne of Cleves moved into after her divorce from Henry VIII; being a favourite hangout of the louche Bloomsbury Group — which included Virgina Woolf — and home to the World Pea-Throwing Championship. Within hiking distance of the rolling chalk hills of the South Downs and the grand vistas of the Cuckmere valley, Lewes has everything you need for a sunny weekend away. Lewes medieval mercantile roots are still evident on Cliffe High Street, which is brimming with artisan coffee shops like the Bun + Bean, serving homemade kombucha. Chase them down with some freshly baked hobnobs from the Flint Owl Bakery.

Where to stay

You are spoilt for choice with original accomodation in Lewes. Spend a night in an authentic gypsy wagon on the Sheffield Park Estate 20 minutes drive from Lewes town centre. Don’t worry about forgoing life’s little luxuries – the wagons come with Swedish hot tubs and modcons. For something a little less mobile, head to the Grain Store Lewes. The converted granary is an eco-friendly, contemporary lodge that sleeps eight, making it the perfect place to spend Bonfire night, which is a highlight in the Lewes calendar.

Lavenham

Historic Houses

Time by car: 2 hours

This medieval Suffolk village is instantly recognisable for the pastel-coloured tudor houses lining the high street. The village was used to depict Harry Potter’s birthplace, Godric’s Hollow, in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films and it’s easy to see why the idiosyncratic architecture caught the imagination of the director. Grade I listed De Vere house in the village also featured in the film and looks like it could’ve been inhabited by witches once upon a time. Take a guided walking tour through the village to learn about the history of De Vere and spot Lavenham’s famous Crooked House, haunted by the ghost of a crooked cat — or at least local legend has it.

Where to stay

After a long day scoffing cakes at the Crooked House tea room, retreat back to the five star Rectory Manor Hotel. The boutique B&B has won a smorgasbord of awards and features ornate four poster beds, a swimming pool and tennis court, but the highlight is definitely the full Suffolk breakfast taken in the old rectory dining room.

Bristol

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Time on train: 1 hour and 44 minutes from Paddington Station.

Vibrant, buzzing and eco-friendly, Bristol is a millennial’s nirvana. As the UK’s first cycling city, make sure you rent a bike to get around during your weekend (but limber up before because it’s hilly AF). When the saddle sores get too much, stop off for lunch at Rosemarino Italian deli for a mouthwatering panini the size of your head or head to Thali’s Eatery, which originated as a Glastonbury food truck for some of the best Indian in the city. Grab a glass of organic wine in the trendy Montpelier area – voted the UK’s coolest neighbourhood in 2020.

Where to stay

The Bristol Harbour Hotel & Spa blends a historic building with achingly modern interiors – the suites have in-room roll-top baths and some of the best views in the city. Alternatively feel inspired at the Bristol outpost of the Artist’s Residence Hotel, decked out in charmingly eclectic style, it’s an affordable and inspiring place to base yourself.

Shaftesbury

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Time on train: 2 hours and 20 minutes from Waterloo

If someone asked you to close your eyes and imagine a typical English village, perhaps with a tinge of the shire the about it, you would imagine Shaftesbury. Gold Hill is one of the most charming roads you will every set your eyes on. It’s a cobbled hill lined with white thatched cottages and featured in Ridley Scott’s famous Hovis commercial in 1973. The village itself is full of quaint shops and cultural and gastronomic landmarks including the Gold Hill Museum, Shaftesbury Arts Centre and the Melbury Vale Vineyard. The surrounding countryside is unparalleled in its natural beauty, with a chalk plateau Cranborne Chase being named the sixth largest area of outstanding natural beauty in the country.

Where to Stay

The Grove Arms in Ludwell is a period pub, complete with thatched roof, low beams and garden with low cost rooms. Perfect for a budget weekend getaway. For something a little boujier, The Fontmell is a ten-minute drive from the village and features a library themed restuarant and fishing excusions to Todber Manor Fisheries.

Stow-on-the-Wold

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Time in car: 1 hour 33 minutes

We’ve all heard of Chipping Norton, thanks to David Cameron and Burford, thanks to, well, the eggs, but Stow-on-the-wold is the lesser known Cotswolds village to head to this summer. Not only is Stow home of the famous bi-annual gypsy fair and a cricket museum but the town square with its golden brick cottages and cluster of traditional English tea houses — called things like Huffkins and Coach House Coffee — will appeal to anyone with eyes. The town is said to have played a prominent role in the English Civil war and legend has it Digbeth street ran red with blood during one particularly violent battle. Now though, the streets are lined with quaint shops and galleries rather than dismembered Royalists — like the Fosse Gallery and our personal favourite the Cotswold Cheese Company.

Where to stay

You are spoilt for choice for accommodation in this part of the world. Feel like you’re in the Vicar of Dibley and rent a cottage in the village or the surrounding undulating hills. The beautiful Georgian-inspired May Cottage is located just five minutes from the village centre and the famous Yew Tree church or pretend to be Lord of the manor for the day at the grand Victorian Crestow House Hotel which comes complete with a heated pool.

Rye

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Time on train: 1 hour and 8 minutes from St Pancras International.

Along with nearby Margate, the medieval village of Rye became the other go-to spot for the London it-crowd in recent years. These days you’re likely to see as many scuffed converse and artisan coffee shops as you are cobbled streets and olde worlde, ivy-entangled pubs. Start your day off with a coffee and smell the roses, quite literally, at the cafe/florists Cafe des Fleurs, followed by the signature Globe Fish Platter at the delicious but delightfully low key Globe Inn Marsh restuarant. Spend the rest of the day sifting through first editions at the famous Strand Quay antiques, before a three-mile hike along the beach to Camber Sands, rounded off with a refreshing ale at the 300-year-old Rye Waterworks Micropub.

Where to stay

Dating back to 1156 the Mermaid Inn is reportedly one of the most haunted buildings in the UK – stay if you dare. With creaking floors, spooky winding stairwells and reportedly the best cream teas in town, you will not forget your stay in a hurry. Bunk up in the ‘Elizabethan Bedchamber’ named after Queen Elizabeth I who reportedly stayed there in 1570. Hidden in one of the walls you’ll discover the door to a secret passage leading down to the original kitchen (now the bar).

Bath

Bath

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Time on train: 1 hour and 30 minutes from Paddington Station.

Do what the Romans would do and head to Bath for, well a bath, or perhaps swim and a steam. When you’re not sweating out all of London’s toxins in a spa, do a Wim Hoff and go wild swimming at Warleigh Weir. Once you’ve detoxed and rejuvinated get some fresh air with a view, see the city in all its splendour from a hot air balloon, apparently it was all the rage in Regency times.

Where to stay

The No.15 Great Pulteney is a luxury boutique hotel set in a townhouse on one of the loveliest streets in Bath. With 40 rooms and inviting, thoughtful décor, it’s their spa that makes No. 15 truly stand out. Whether you take a dip in the barrel-shaped sauna, or book in for one of their holistic treatments, you’ll leave Bath feeling relaxed and rested, just as you should.

Lacock

Interior Cloisters of Lacock Abbey

/ Shutterstock/Michael Warwick

Time by train: 1 hour 53 minutes from Paddington

Chances are you haven’t heard fo this tiny village in Wiltshire, located just four kilometres from the town of Chippenham it was mentioned in the Domesday book and made appearances in several Harry Potter films and the most recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But perhaps the village’s biggest claim to fame is the annual scarecrow festival, that occurs every July. This year’s theme is Around the world in 50 Scarecrows. Cute.

Where to stay:

You’ll feel like you’ve walked onto the set of a Jane Austen drama at the Sign of the Angel pub, although with less romantic angst and interfering mothers. The wooden beams, mahogany panelled walls and roaring fireplaces will have you swooning and the inn is a seven-minute walk from majestic Lacock Abbey.

Oxford

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Time on train: 53 minutes from Paddington Station.

A fairytale of spires and cobbled streets, Oxford needs no introduction. You may already feel like you know the iconic university town from countless films, photos and novels, but it’s worth visiting for yourself — no textbooks needed. Ditch the libraries and forego punting, instead rent a river boat to see the city from water and drink in the same views that inspired Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland. Catch an exhibition at the pioneering Modern Art Oxford gallery and head down for a couple of pints at the Lamb and Flag pub, where JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis were regulars.

Where to stay

Eschew student living at the Old Parsonage Hotel. The opulent rooms of this 500-year-old building have been lovingly restored to their former grandeur, and although it feels like a veritable sanctuary away from the busy centre, it’s only a five-minute walk away. For those who would rather be a little closer tot he action, the Randolph Hotel is opposte the famous Ashmolean Museum and its cerebral furnishings, eclectic wallpaper and antiques will make you want to sign up for another degree.

Winchester

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Time on train: 1 hour and 9 minutes from London Waterloo.

A sleepy Hampshire town, voted the best place to live in the UK in 2016 and situated beside the South Downs National Park, Winchester is a cathedral city worth a visit. Once the capital of the Saxon Kings, the city is steeped in history and culture, from Jane Austen’s house in Chawton to the Great Hall in Winchester cathedral which houses King Arthur’s legendary round table. Gear up for the day with a flat white made by Dhan Tamang five-time reigning UK latte art champion — at the Coffee Lab cafe. For dinner head to the Michelin starred Black Rat for some delectable local cuisine — the restaurant even employs its own forager.

Where to stay

In the centre of town, you’ll find the Wykeham Arms, a cosy pub with pretty, period-style rooms just a few minutes’ walk away from the main square. Some of the rooms come with traditional, feature baths and restuarant is well worth eating in, featuring a menu full of hearty, locally-sourced ingredients.

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