Why England’s South Coast is the perfect place for a Great British escape this summer

The resurgence of the staycation continues! With a rich history, culture and wildlife to discover, here’s why UK staycationers should visit England’s South Coast…

Rhodri Andrews
03 August 2021
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Stay Cation Inspiration Dk

1. Stroll The Lanes of Brighton

Brighton’s seafront (Shutterstock)

Brighton’s oldest part was once the beating heart of the old fishing village of Brighthelmstone and even today, you feel like you’re walking through snaking alleyways frozen in time with its 16th and 17th-century houses. One of The Lanes’ oldest buildings is The Cricketers pub, dating back as far as 1547. Jack the Ripper is said to have been one of its punters, while the pub has since been immortalised in Graham Greene’s book Brighton Rock. But this is Brighton and its brick-paved twittens are brought to life by the city’s hedonistic vibes, with a selection box of quirky boutique shops, art galleries and indies championing local talent. It’s a labyrinth where you can just start walking and have fun getting lost. If you want to take in another, similar corner of Brighton, lying to the north of The Lanes are North Laine’s bohemian streets, a free-spirited fusion of antiques, retro stores and cafés.

Learn more about Brighton in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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Bloomsbury’s Gordon Square (Shutterstock)

2. Walk the pages of Bloomsbury’s written history in London

Home to the British Museum and the University of London, Bloomsbury, London has long carried the tag of London’s most academic neighbourhood. Its elegant Georgian squares and streets have seen plenty of talented writers come and go – inspiring generations of creative minds to call it home right up to the present day – and novelists Virginia Woolf and E M Forster lived close to Gordon Square. Poet T S Eliot also called leafy Russell Square home for four decades while he worked for publishers Faber & Faber. Even though he only lived there for two years, Bloomsbury’s most famous writer-in-residence is arguably Charles Dickens and his fame here is owed less to the brief amount of time spent here and more to the inspired works he churned out: both Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelby were written here. A museum in his name is now housed in his former home on Doughty Street, with several rooms faithfully furnished to replicate Dickens’ time.

Rochester Castle and cathedral (Shutterstock)

Learn more about Bloomsbury in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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3. Explore rich naval history along the Medway

Ashdown Forest (Shutterstock)

The towns of Rochester and Chatham are the Medway River’s bankside stars, with the former home to England’s second-oldest cathedral, built in 1088. It stands beside the equally imposing Rochester Castle, whose Norman keep (the country’s oldest) serves up panoramas of the Medway. Rochester’s original city walls can still be spotted from its current high street, too. Just down the river lies Chatham, whose Historic Dockyard once supplied the Royal Navy with over 500 ships. Now a museum lies in its place, dedicated to shipbuilding and the golden Age of Sail. Nearby, Fort Amherst (1756) was built to protect this critical naval supply line and you can take tours of the over 1,800m of tunnels that were cut by Napoleonic prisoners of war.

Learn more about the Medway River in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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The stone circle of Avebury (Shutterstock)

4. Take a road trip through the home of Winnie the Pooh

For many children, the playground of Winnie-the-Pooh, Hundred Acre Wood, seemed almost too dreamy to be true. But it exists in the form of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, a one-time hunting reserve that has been preserved as a wild mix of ancient heathland, thick woodland and clumps of pines protruding from hilltops. The forest served as inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh’s creator A A Milne, who regularly used to walk there with his son. A road trip gives you the chance to see Ashdown Forest through the author’s eyes, beginning in Hartfield, his home when he wrote the books. The tearooms at Pooh Corner are an essential fuel stop before heading to Poohsticks Bridge for a quick game or two in the series’ honour. Motor on to the heaths of Gill’s Lap, where a memorial dedicated to Milne and the series’ illustrator E H Shepard lies, before ending at the Ashdown Forest Centre, the wilderness’ highest point and a hive of information on what else this verdant patch has to offer.

A fossil on on the beach close to Lyme Regis (Shutterstock)

Learn more about the Ashdown Forest in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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5. Ponder over Wiltshire’s ancient sites

Lundy Island (Shutterstock)

Wiltshire’s proliferation of mystifying stone circles and burial mounds have befuddled historians for centuries (if not millennia). The county is home to more of them than anywhere else in England and Stonehenge is undoubtedly its iconic rock star, a ring of stones whose origins still pose more questions than answers. But this is just the start of Wiltshire’s mysterious sites: lying just 32km south of Stonehenge is the stone circle of Avebury, thought to have been built around 2,500BC and now surrounding the village of the same name. Nearby lies Silbury Hill – Europe’s largest prehistoric earthwork – and West Kennet Long Barrow, a chambered burial site that is as haunting as it is gripping. Don’t miss out on Old Sarum, either, an iron Age hillfort just north of Salisbury where you can wander the ramparts and spy the remains of its 11th-century castle and cathedral.

6. See Bristol through Banksy’s spray can

The Lost Gardens of Heligan (Shutterstock)

Even though his latest work instantly makes headline news and his masterpieces can be seen everywhere from London to Los Angeles and New York City, Banksy’s roots firmly lay in Bristol – even if his identity remains shrouded in mystery. A litany of Banksy’s best works can be found speckled across his home city. Walking tours help you to tick off many of his most well-known (or you can create your own), including Mild, Mild West in Stokes Croft, the centre of Bristol’s cultural quarter. The city centre is home to several others, including Well Hung Lover, The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum and Paint-Pot Angel, the latter housed within the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. Many of the city’s guided graffiti tours also pay tribute to its other street artists, including Nick Walker, Andy Council and Robert Del Naja.

Learn more about Bristol in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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7. Hunt for fossils along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast

Tracing the entire Jurassic Coast through Devon and Dorset makes for an exciting and revealing road trip. It’s the only natural site in England with UNESCO-protected status and with good reason, too: it’s incredibly rich in fossils and holds great geological significance. The Geoneedle at Orcombe Point is a striking taster at the start of your journey – comprising all rock types you’ll find along this coastline – and the seaside spots of Lyme Regis and Charmouth represent two opportunities to hunt for fossils of your own. Plenty of coastal walks also mean there are always opportunities to stretch your legs, from atop the caramel-coloured cliffs of West Bay to earning a panorama over Fleet Lagoon from the former Iron Age fort on Wears Hill. You can lengthen your trip further by pit-stopping at some of the Jurassic Coast’s iconic landmarks, including Old Harry Rocks, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove.

Learn more about the Jurassic Coast in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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8. Spy seabirds on remote Lundy Island 

One of the most remote places in England, Lundy Island is a wildlife haven and get-away-from-it-all escape rolled into one. Accessible by boat from Ilfracombe, Lundy Island is a 5km-long finger of granite that has been transformed from a stone quarry and copper mine to become a crucial sanctuary for seabirds. Visiting between April and July is your best bet for spotting its populations of guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins and razorbills. Lundy ponies and sika deer can be seen roaming its cliffs, while grey seals (year-round) and basking sharks (May to August) can be spotted offshore. Guided walks, rockpool rambles and snorkelling safaris led by the island’s wardens reveal even more about this beguiling outpost. It’s most readily visited as part of a day trip from North Devon but try and bag a holiday home for a longer stay – Lundy Island’s designation as a Dark Sky Discovery Site means the star-filled night skies are a rich reward.

Learn more about Lundy Island in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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9. Discover Cornwall’s Lost Gardens of Heligan

A remarkable story of rebirth, the Lost Gardens of Heligan vanished for over 70 years after 16 of its 22 gardeners were killed during the First World War. It spelled an end to 150 years of intricate cultivation through the vision of the Tremayne family, when brambles and weeds took over for the next few decades. Fast forward to the 1990s and they were rediscovered by Tim Smit, who’s also co-founder of the Eden Project. Many thought the derelict gardens couldn’t be saved but driven on by the story of the gardeners, Tim and his team restored the gardens while staying faithful to the low-impact cultivation methods they utilised. Visitors are in for a treat: it boasts England’s only outdoor jungle, there are grand Italian Gardens, Maori-carved tree ferns from New Zealand and a winding woodland walk littered with sculptures. Beyond its manicured marvels, a sprawling mosaic of ancient pastures and wildflower meadows, all sustainably managed, give you a chance to happily get lost yourself.

Learn more about Cornwall in the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast guide. 

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