23rd December 2018
Staycations in the UK: City Breaks
Planning your holidays for next year? The UK has some remarkable places including fascinating towns and cities shaped by an interesting history and featuring some beautiful architecture. Here are six of my favourite city breaks.
Bury St Edmunds
Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk”:https://www.visitsuffolk.com was originally built on the Medieval pattern with two distinct squares, God’s Square and the People’s Square. Geographically the division is still there but the town is no longer under the thumb of its bishop. However, the abbey grounds now known as the Abbey Gardens remain intact and offer some beautiful gardens the ruins of the Abbey of St Edmundsbury. The body of Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia and first patron saint of England was brought to Bury St Edmunds in 903 after he was murdered in Denmark. Following the collapse of the Abbey the Parish church of St James became its cathedral cathedral. The cathedral and the more interesting Church of St Mary are situated on the perimeter of the Abbey Gardens. Of the two I found the church of St Mary more interesting as it’s medieval architecture is more authentic and Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk is buried here.
Remains of the Abbot’s Palace in Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
In 2007 the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds built in 1819 was restored to its original splendour – at least, as far as possible given today’s health and safety restrictions. It is a lovely little theatre staging prestigious productions and also offering tours of the theatre. Bury St Edmunds also features a Guildhall which is known to date back to at least 1279 possibly earlier. The Guildhall has recently re-opened to the public following extensive refurbishment. The Royal Observer Corps used part of this building as a Control Centre and today this is the only surviving room of its kind in England. Another highlight is Moyse’s Hall Museum. Moyse’s Hall, a twelfth century building that has served as a prison, workhouse and police station before it opened as a museum in 1899. For those interested in the history of brewing the local brewery, Greene King Brewery an informative and entertaining tour followed by a tasting session.
Inside Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Blandford Forum in Dorset
Blandford Forum a market town in Dorset was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1731. The town was re-built very quickly and today it is the best example of a small Georgian town in Britain. Its spacious Market Place is ringed by attractive Georgian buildings, dominated by the Town Hall and Cornmarket. The parish church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul occupying one corner of the Market Square. Is one of the few Georgian churches outside London today. I found the Fashion Museum particularly interesting and the Blandford Town Museum relates the history of the town. On the outskirts of the town the Water Meadows of the River Stour are ideal for an aimless wander. More energetic walkers can get onto the North Dorset Trailway here.
The Church of St Peter and St Paul in Blandford Forum, Dorset UK
The City of Wells in Somerset
Wells in Somerset, England is actually named after some wells. They bubble up from an underground river and the main wells, the wells of Saint Andrew, are inside the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace. The Bishop’s Palace is an impressive building surrounded by beautiful grounds. I thought the two tours available, the outside and the inside were well worth doing as they describe the life of the all-powerful bishops in days gone by. I was fascinated by the ruins of the vast Great Hall that was originally built to entertain Edward 1 although he never set foot in it.
Inside the Ruins of the Great Hall in the Bishops Palace in Wells, Somerset
The Cathedral Green in front of Wells Cathedral originally the graveyard of the cathedral. Today it is a public space used for recreation and festivals. From the green we had an excellent view of the west front of the cathedral, the last part of the building to be completed in the thirteenth century. Originally the west front was decorated with five hundred statues and painted in bright colours. A picture of how the west front used to look is on display in the Wells and Mendip Museum opposite the cathedral. Nearby is the unusual Vicars Close where members of the Vicars Choral used to live. They were housed close to the cathedral so they could get there quickly whenever their services were required. Wells is also a market town and as well as the weekly markets since it was granted a Charter granted by King John in 1201 it is permitted to hold five Charter Fairs every year. These used to last for several days and involved feasting and entertainment in the evenings and trading in the market during the day. Today only two Charter Fairs are held. The local Town Crier is usually in attendance at the weekly market with merry quips about the business of the day.
Scissor Arches inside Wells Cathedral
Winchester in Hampshire
The historic town of Winchester in Hampshire was once the capital of England. When Wessex was the most powerful region and Alfred the Great was its king he chose Winchester as his capital. It was thanks to the prosperity Winchester experienced as a capital city that it developed into the town we know today with its magnificent cathedral and extraordinary ruins of Wolvesey Castle the old bishop’s palace. Its Castle. was captured and destroyed during the English Civil War but its Great Hall survived. Now open to the public, this fine example of a medieval aisled hall is home to the iconic Round Table linked to the ancient legends of King Arthur and his Knights.
Statue of Alfred the Great in Winchester, Hampshire, UK
Winchester stands on the River Itchen which has been a vital part of its development over the centuries and one of its old corn mills, the City Mill is still operational. Today the town boasts a network of charming walks from its leas of lush grass and thickets of trees in the water meadows to pathways alongside its old canal.
The River Itchen Flowing through Winchester
Woodbridge in Suffolk
What a thrill it was to get up early one morning, walk and walk through the still sleeping town of Woodbridge in Suffolk to its Tide Mill on the River Deben. That day the mill was grinding flour, an operation that is reliant on the tide filling the mill pond. When the sluice gates are opened the water rushes out creating enough energy to grind flour between its huge mill stones. This working mill is a living museum telling the story of the mill that has been working for over eight hundred years. I took the scenic route via the River Path back to the main square, Market Hill. This square is home to the Old Shire Hall and Corn Exchange and the church of Saint Mary considered to be one of the best examples of a medieval church. Visitors can learn more about the history of Woodbridge in the Woodbridge Town Museum.
The Tide Mill at Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK
Christchurch in Dorset
Somehow the name of Christchurch does not reflect the vibrancy of this little town in in Dorset. I was delighted when I arrived there to find one of the prettiest and liveliest towns I have visited. The attractions here include a Ducking Stool and the pride of Christchurch, its huge Priory. It was the importance of this Priory church that gave the town its name. There was once a castle castle here as well but today only the ruins remain alongside the pretty path that follows an old mill stream through the Priory Gardens and down to a huge estuary. In these gardens is the Perkins’ Mausoleum also known as the buried alive mausoleum. There are also some lovely gardens behind the very interesting Red House Museum that occupies and old workhouse. The real heart of Christchurch is a large, grassed area known as the Quomps by Christchurch Quay. This popular picnic area, on the confluence of the Rivers Stour and Avon is the site of the Place Mill built during the eleventh century and operational until 1908 it is now used as an art gallery and artist workshop.
The Estuary in Christchurch, Hampshire, UK
More staycation ideas in my next article, Staycations by the Seaside.