Open doors in Britain - discover Britain's stately homes, houses and archives

The doors of Britain’s historic monuments and buildings, including many that are normally closed to the public, are set to be flung open in September. Heritage Open Days, established in 1994, has become England’s biggest heritage festival, with thousands of stately homes, historic properties and archives opening their doors between 13-22 September.

To celebrate the event’s 25th anniversary this year, a special programme of themed events will focus on ‘People Power’ – looking into both modern and historic communities, groups and individuals that have been drivers of positive change. More than 5,000 free events are expected to take place, giving visitors a unique glimpse into the buildings and the people that run them.

Open House London

The ten day event coincides with Open House London, taking place on 21-22 September, an architecture festival which seeks to showcase the benefits of great design by giving free access to many of London’s best buildings.

Last year more than 800 buildings, walks, talks and tours were part of Open House London, with those events visited by more than a quarter of a million people. Among the buildings to open their doors were historic houses and monuments, places of worship, private clubs, train stations, government buildings, town halls and even tunnels!

The programme for this year will be unveiled on 20 August, although UK Parliament has already confirmed that it is taking part on 21 September by granting admission to Portcullis House – the newest building on the parliamentary estate.

Events to look out for

Heritage Open Days has already confirmed several highlights for 2019, including a community harvest at the National Trust’s Brockhampton orchard and a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the Prince Philip Maritime Collection housed at Royal Museums Greenwich. Here are just some of the thousands of events to look out for.

New for 2019

Prince Philip Maritime Collection, Greenwich

Visitors can catch a rare glimpse of the Prince Philip Maritime Collection as part of an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Museum Greenwich’s storage collection. The items will be accompanied by interpretations by local residences that take into account the heritage stories behind them.

When? Friday 20 September and Saturday 21 September at 10:30am, 12pm, 1:30pm and 3pm, with an additional show at 4pm on Friday.

The Way We Were film screening, Sunderland

The Way We Were film screening will combine film, music and photographs that explore Sunderland throughout history, taking visitors on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

When? Tuesday 17 September at 7pm

Medieval Origins of Today's Remedies, John Innes Centre, Norwich

Learn about the importance of plants and gardens in medieval medicine as part of an exploration of how the past has influenced the present at the John Innes Centre, a hub for plant science research and training. Alongside illustrated talks from Dr Joy Hawkins, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and Anne Edwards, a plant scientist at the centre, the open house event will look at the Medieval Origins of Today’s Remedies, including a display of rare books.

When? Thursday 19 September and Friday 20 September at 10am.

People Power events

Collections Showcase, Newcastle University Library Archives, Newcastle

Delve into Newcastle’s rich history as part of a thought-provoking look at the Newcastle University Library Archives. Learn how the city’s first female doctor and suffragist Ethal William’s fought for women’s rights and discover how student marches and human rights speeches helped to shape Newcastle’s past, as revealed by the Special Collections and Archives Team.

When? Thursday 19 September, 1pm-4pm.

Scott House at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Gloucester

Once the home of environmental conservation campaigner Sir Peter Scott, visitors to Scott House at WWT Slimbridge can find out about his life and work, while embracing the ‘people power’ he harnessed when creating both the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the World Wildlife Fund.

When? Saturday 14 September, 10am-4pm.

Moor Pool Heritage Festival, Moor Pool Heritage Trust, Birmingham

The delightful Arts and Crafts Garden Suburb in Birmingham was saved following a community campaign in 2014, and it remains one of the last remaining intact Garden Suburbs in the UK. To celebrate the ‘people power’ of the community, the gardens will be opened for families to enjoy sports games, musical performances and an exciting array of children’s activities.

When? Sunday 15 September, 11am-3pm.

Family Activities

Heritage Steam Railway, Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight’s Heritage Steam Railway is offering several weekends of fun for all the family at the Train Story Discovery Centre. Interactive displays will showcase the historic locomotives, carriages and wagons, while guided tours will provide exclusive access to workshops, giving visitors a rare glimpse of ongoing restoration work. There’ll also be a birds of prey flying display to keep youngsters entertained.

When? Saturday 14 September and Sunday 15 December, 11am-3.30pm, and Thursday 19 September to Sunday 22 September, 9.30am to 5pm.

Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent

Visitors can explore the renowned Gladstone Pottery Museum and even get hands-on with an array of interactive demonstrations and activities. The site provides a fascinating insight into the history of Stoke-on-Trent while numerous throwing, casting and painting demonstrations will highlight the skills that helped put the Pottery on the map. The on-site Flushed with Pride exhibition takes a fun look at the history of sewerage too, embracing giant toilet rolls and rude sound effects in the process!

When? Saturday 21 September, 10am-5pm.

Magpie Mine, Derbyshire

Britain’s best surviving example of an 18th and 19th-century lead mine, Magpie Mine was the last working mine in the Peak District. Since closing in 1958, the site is has been designated a Scheduled Monument and is preserved by the Peak District Mines Historical Society. Although the mining tunnels will remain closed for Heritage Open Days, a comprehensive guided tour will provide insight into life at the mine by exploring the former buildings, delving into a piece of mining heritage in the process.

When? Sunday 15 September, 11am-4pm

Welwyn Roman Baths, Welwyn

Travel back in history at the Welwyn Roman Baths to experience what life was like 1,700 years ago for the Romans of Britain. Alongside dressing up in period costumes, children can embrace traditional Roman games and learn more about foods of the past, before exploring several thrilling trails around the ancient site.

When? Saturday 14 September, 2pm-5pm.

Cragside, Northumberland

Enter into the world of Victorian inventor Lord Armstrong, an innovator and landscaping genius, at Cragside. As the world’s first house to be lit using hydroelectricity, the extraordinary property remains full of gadgets, while its garden spaces are equally as impressive. One of Europe’s largest rock gardens leads the way to the Iron Bridge, while the Rhododendron forest tunnels of Nelly’s Labyrinth offer an outdoor escape for all the family.

When? Thursday 19 September, 10am-5pm.

Watts Artist Village, Surrey

Packed with paintings and sculptures from Victorian artist G F Watts, the historic galleries at the Watts Artist Village can be explored via guided tours, talks and workshops. Bask in the glorious surroundings of the site’s Grade I listed chapel, see the studios where Watts created his masterpieces and get behind-the-scenes access to Limnerslease, a property designed by the great Arts & Crafts architect Sir Ernest George.

When? Sunday 15 September

Brockhampton’s Damson Harvest Helpers, Worcester

Visitors to Brockhampton’s orchards can pick fruit to assist with fundraising for the medieval manor’s replanting project as part of the community damson harvest. The trees at the National Trust site are laden with fruit in the autumn months, giving people the chance to relax and refresh their senses while surrounded by the best of what nature has to offer.

When? Saturday 14 September, 11am-5pm.

Historic Openings

Queen Anne’s Summerhouse, Bedfordshire

This spectacular 18th century summerhouse has beautifully crafted brickwork and dates back to around 1712. Lovingly restored by the Landmark Trust in the years since the Second World War to include an elegant bedsit with kitchen, dining, sitting and sleeping space, Queen Anne’s Summerhouse on the Shuttleworth Estate promises beautiful architecture and exceptional views.

When? Friday 13 September to Sunday 15 September, 10am-4pm, and Monday 16 September, 10am-1pm.

Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Staffordshire

Discover a spectacular array of former mining buildings at the Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, the most comprehensive surviving deep mine complex in England. Although there is no underground access now, visitors can access and explore the many different structures as part of a guided tour by Chatterley Whitfield Friends. The site closed and became a museum in 1973, and although the museum closed its doors in 1993, a new heritage centre explains the site’s rich history.

When? Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 September, and Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 September, 10am-4pm.

Arlington Court, Devon

A jewel in the National Trust’s crown, Arlington Court houses an impressive set of horse-drawn vehicles in addition to an intriguing Regency property. The National Trust Carriage Museum includes vehicles for every occasion, and the collection currently includes the Speaker’s State Coach – a glorious carriage with more than 300 years of history. Visitors can explore the family estate, including 20 miles of walking paths and a two-mile loop around the man-made lake.

When? Saturday 14 September, 11am-5pm.

Wilmington Priory, East Sussex

Dating back to 1215, Wilmington Priory was once the priory of a Benedictine Abbey and features architectural additions from nearly every century since. Although the abbey is now a romantic ruin, visitors can get a glimpse of the Landmark Trust’s restoration of the neighbouring farmhouse, now a holiday let.

When? Saturday 14 September and Sunday 15 September, 10am-4pm, and Monday 16 September, 10am-1pm.

Williamson Tunnels, Liverpool

Hidden deep below Liverpool are the Williamson Tunnels, a 200-year-old labyrinth developed by 19th-century philanthropist Joseph Williamson. Lost and forgotten for a long period, the tunnels can be explored as part of a guided tour that reveals what was behind his mysterious burrowing.

When? Friday 13 to Sunday 15 September, and Friday 20 September to Sunday 22 September, all tours at 10.30am.

Gawthorpe Hall, Lancashire

With exclusive access to parts of Gawthorpe Hall that are not usually open to the public, Heritage Open Day will allow people to see a different side to the National Trust property. Browse textiles from the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection and see portraits from the National Portrait Gallery before experiencing the surroundings of the Victorian kitchen and servant’s quarters.

When? Saturday 14 September, 12pm-5pm.

 

Heritage Open Days is coordinated and promoted nationally by the National Trust with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

7 of the most Instagrammable winter walks near London

Crisp, clean air, winter sun shining, frost crunching underfoot – it’s the perfect time of year to take an invigorating walk across one of these picture-perfect routes, all within a couple of hours reach of the capital.

Thames Path National Trail

Embarking on this long-distance walking route (184 miles/294km) is an excellent way to discover the gorgeous scenery alongside the River Thames but even dipping in and out of it delivers a raft of Instagrammable sights that look beautiful bathed in winter sunshine and silvery frost. Rural tranquillity welcomes you as the Thames Path National Trail starts at the very source of the river in the Cotswolds, before meandering through several of south-east England’s rural counties and lovely villages. The trail also passes by towns and cities such as Oxford, Windsor and Henley, bringing further photo opportunities (university colleges, ‘dreaming spires’ and a castle or two to name just a few!) before heading through the charming leafy boroughs of Richmond and Kew, with the trail culminating at London’s historic Docklands. This is a perfect winter walking route as there are plenty of places to stop off to warm up en route; in fact, the trail has teamed up with the Hop Kettle Brewery to produce the Trail Ale Liquid Highway, a bespoke ale sold along the trail with a donation made to its upkeep with every one sold.

Time from central London: 2 hours to the start of the trail

Constable Country, Essex

The area of Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley has been attracting visitors keen to portray its beauty for centuries. One of Britain’s most famous painters, John Constable, depicted the stunning scenery here in several of his renowned works – it’s an area of pretty villages, picturesque meadows, ancient woodlands and a labyrinth of cute lanes. The Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Stour Valley area boasts many walking routes and, if you head to the National Trust at Flatford, you’ll see those very views, villages and hamlets that inspired Constable’s famous works, The Hay Wain and Flatford Mill, meaning you can capture the contemporary version.

Time from central London: 2 hours

Hampstead Heath Circular, north London

London and its suburbs are famous for their green spaces, so you can experience a stunning winter walk without travelling out too far from the capital’s centre. Hampstead Heath to the north of the capital is a popular place to stroll, with several trails available. If you’re on the circular route, you’ll have the chance to snap pictures of Victorian architecture dotted along Hampstead High Street, the famous Hampstead Ponds and the magnificent panoramic views across central London once you’ve climbed Parliament Hill. Heading back down from the Heath you can also take in the genteel Kenwood House, which houses important works of art, and the elegant Hampstead Grove.

Time from central London: 30 minutes

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

The grounds of the National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor are ideal for exploring at this time of year – the even come with their very own Winter Garden. The route around the Winter Gardens emphasises the country manor estate’s finest points, with views back to Flint House – a unique-looking building in the grounds that is used to accommodate academics and artists working with Waddesdon’s educational and artistic programme and which also won the RIBA House of the Year Award in 2015 – and highlights the remarkable bronze and black colours of the Winter Garden’s features. Take time to walk to the Aviary Glade and visit its exotic species of birds, stop for a picture with the amazing 3D plant sculptures or the awesome contemporary sculpture dotted throughout the gardens, before warming up again with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in its Stables Café.

Time from central London: 1 ¾ hours

Saxon Shore Way, Kent and East Sussex

It may well be a long-distance pathway – stretching from Gravesend in Kent, hugging the south-east England coastline and ending in Hastings, East Sussex 163 miles (262km) away, but joining any part of the Saxon Shore Way will have you reaching for your camera phone. It traverses through two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a number of Nature Reserves where you’ll spot a multitude of birds, butterflies and mammals. Must-see panoramic views to capture digitally include the route along the cliffs from Folkestone to Rye as well as the vista you’re rewarded with as you walk along the sandstone cliffs of the High Weald at Hastings.

Time from central London: 2 hours

Leith Hill, Surrey

Close to the charming market town of Dorking is Leith Hill, looked after by the National Trust – endeavour to climb this hill and you’ll be rewarded with astounding views over the county of Surrey and the Surrey Hills. Come on a clear day and you may well be able to see London to the north and the coastline to the south too. With plenty of walking trails through open heathland or woodland you’ll get to experience different terrains but the pièce de résistance of views you’ll want to capture on camera is from the top of Leith Hill Tower – this is the highest point of south-east England and you’ll discover why this part of the landscape is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Time from central London: 1.5 hours

Coombe Hill & Chequers, Chiltern Hills

Ever wondered what the British Prime Minister’s grand country residence looked like? Embark on this 8.5-mile walk through countryside landscapes looked after by the National Trust, and you can find out! The route also includes the chance to climb to the Boer War Memorial at the top of Coombe Hill in the county of Buckinghamshire and, from here, you’ll experience the spectacular views across to the Cotswold and Aylesbury Vale and even catch a glimpse of distant landmarks via the toposcope located on top of the hill. That’s before you’ve walked through stunning woodlands, the pretty village of Ellesborough and the footpath that then leads you past the driveway entrance of Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat.

Time from central London: 1.5 hours

Back with a bang! Where to celebrate Bonfire Night in Britain

If you’re travelling in Britain on or around 5 November, you’ll have the chance to experience something uniquely British – Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, where fireworks light up the skies and huge bonfires are lit. It’s a tradition stretching back centuries, celebrating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Many British towns and cities host their own events; here’s where you can expect to find some of the most spectacular fireworks displays in 2018.

Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival, London

There’ll be guaranteed ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ at one of the biggest and most impressive fireworks displays in the UK, held at north London’s Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) between 2 – 3 November. There’ll also be plenty more to enjoy than the fireworks and the bonfire; ice-skating sessions at its rink – plus a special Ice Disco for after the main fireworks’ display – a laser show prior to the fireworks, a huge German Bier Keller taking over Ally Pally’s Great Hall, live music, circus performances of high-wire walking, plus tasty treats at the Street Food and Craft Beer village. All of this with the added bonus of incredible panoramic views over the London skyline.

Battle Bonfire and Fireworks Display, East Sussex, south England

Said to be the town where Guy Fawkes sourced his gunpowder, Battle in East Sussex (around two hours from London) understandably puts on a fabulous free, non-ticketed event. Hosted by the Battle Bonfire Boyes, the day (3 November in 2018) begins with the ringing of the church bells and a children’s procession, that leads to a competition for the best fancy dress and the best Guy (the effigy created to put on the bonfire). By 6pm the Guy is taken up the High Street to kickstart another procession that ends at the bonfire and a fabulous fireworks display commences.

Fireworks at the Fort, Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend, north-east England

The night sky over north-east England’s River Tyne will be lit up with multi-coloured fireworks on 2 November when the event kicks off at Segedunum, a major site on Hadrian’s Wall. The beauty of celebrating Bonfire Night at this location is the chance to explore the museum exhibits at the Fort first, the most excavated fort along World Heritage Site Hadrian’s Wall. It has a fantastic interactive museum (free entry after 4pm on the day), plus a full-scale reconstruction of a bath house and a section of the Wall. Catch fabulous views of Hadrian’s Wall from its 35-metre high viewing tower, which, for the first time this year, will be the offering exclusive, limited number, VIP seats for the fireworks display.

Sparks in the Park, Cardiff, south Wales

This annual event is attended by around 20,000 people making it one of Wales’ biggest and best firework displays. At Cardiff’s Bute Park on 3 November, a huge bonfire will be lit, with an earlier fireworks’ show taking place for young children before the main event later in the evening. There’s plenty to occupy visitors before then, with food stalls, fairground attractions and live entertainment.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, central England

This fireworks’ extravaganza takes place in its gardens of one of England’s most beautiful stately homes over the course of two nights, on 2 and 3 November. The lighting of the bonfire kicks off proceedings, followed by a children’s fireworks display and culminates with the grand finale fireworks display. Wrap up warm and explore the grounds for live music, circus performances, dancing and feasts of hog roasts and mulled cider. This year guests can also buy tickets to a two-course dinner in Chatsworth’s Cavendish restaurant before entry to the bonfire and fireworks event.

Lewes Bonfire Night, East Sussex, south-east England

Probably one of the quirkiest celebrations of Bonfire Night, the 5 November will see the return of this remarkable festival in the tranquil town of Lewes on England’s south coast. Six separate Lewes Bonfire Societies, including visiting bonfire societies from all over Sussex, celebrate Guy Fawkes Night across various parts of the town, each with their own fireworks, traditions and up to 30 processions, which then all come together through the streets of Lewes. It’s quite the spectacle.

The Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary, Devon, south England

You can’t get a better example of the charm of English eccentricity than this…the Tar Barrel tradition, which is centuries older and began after the Gunpowder Plot. The event started with the townspeople of Devon town Ottery St Mary rolling burning barrels down the streets on 5 November, which then progressed to the current tradition of people carrying full-sized, lit tar barrels through the streets instead! This year the event takes place on 4 November (as 5 November falls on a Sunday) and this pyrotechnic wonder is accompanied by a fireworks’ display and bonfire.

Tartantastic Fireworks Extravaganza Show, Edinburgh, Scotland

Charity Scottish Love in Action is hosting three Tartantastic Fireworks Extravaganza Shows, huge family-friendly fundraising events, the first on 2 November, the next two on 4 November. Not only are visitors treated to a large-scale fireworks display, there will also be traditional Scottish music from pipe bands as well as a performance by the Fire Circus theatre and enough food stalls to satisfy all hungry stomachs. This year there are a limited number of VIP tickets available, which includes access to the VIP lounge and refreshments.

 

Six of the best non-hotel accommodation in South England

Sometimes, on vacation, you just want to stay somewhere a little less traditional than a hotel. Fortunately, Britain comes with a raft of alternative, creative and unique types of accommodation that will ensure a memorable stay. Here we take a look at just a few of these amazing places in the south of England.

 

Stay in… a treehouse, double-decker bus or helicopter

Blackberry Wood in the stunning Sussex countryside is a pretty place for camping thanks to its cute woodland glades…and you’ll also find some extraordinary glamping options thanks to its unique transformations of public transport! A converted 1965 search and rescue helicopter sleeps up to four and comes equipped with an outside kitchen area, while its 1964 Routemaster London double-decker bus has transformed the upstairs into a cosy sleeping and lounge area – complete with soft play area if you’re coming with children – and downstairs an area to cook and dine. And, for something really special, its Higgledy Tree House looks like it’s appeared from a fairy tale. High up in the trees there’s room for up to four and is fully contained with a shower room in its turret and enchanting window seats for observing the wildlife. A truly magical experience.

Getting there: Blackberry Wood is around 30 minutes’ drive from Brighton, or two hours from London.

 

Stay in… a windmill

In the heart of Rye near Hastings, and on the banks of the river Tillingham, Rye Windmill B&B offers ten ensuite rooms, with two actually in the white smock, Grade II-listed windmill itself, making it a luxurious and unusual place to stay. It occupies a historic site in Gibbet's Marsh where a windmill has stood, in one form or another, since at least the 16th century. Book into its Windmill Suite, which is situated over two floors in the Mill, offering fantastic panoramic views of the town and the surrounding countryside. Enjoy drinks in its cosy lounge with its guest honesty bar, plus outdoor terrace for the summer and fireplace to cosy up to in the winter.

Getting there: Rye Windmill is around two hours’ drive from London.

 

Stay in… a zoo

For a sleepover safari, book into one of the nine lodges at Whipsnade Zoo and experience something other visitors to the zoo wouldn’t get. At Whipsnade, people view the animal closures by their own cars or the zoo’s bus services, so after you’ve completed a sunset tour of Asia and Africa, you’ll enjoy dinner followed by a torchlit walk to see what animals are still awake. After breakfast you’ll tour the European area and help feed some of the animals. Each of the lodges has twin or double beds, as well as a private veranda. Open between late March and October, there are adult-only nights as well as family nights to include children aged five years and above.

Getting there: Whipsnade Zoo is around one hour 15 minutes’ drive from both London and Oxford.

 

Stay in… a folly

For a truly romantic experience, The Hadlow Tower in Kent is a picturesque, Grade I-listed Gothic folly (a highly decorative or ornamental building often built for aesthetics rather than practicality). This 19th-century tower – the tallest Gothic folly in the world – is now home to four luxury bedrooms spread over five floors, connected by pretty spiral staircases and offers gorgeous panoramic views of the Kent countryside. Inside is particularly lavish, with stained-glass period window and stylish furniture and antiques. Guests have exclusive use of the property during their stay and can even hire in a chef to cook meals. There is also an exhibition centre detailing the history and renovation of the tower on the ground floor.

Getting there: Hadlow Tower is in the village of Hadlow, just over an hour’s drive from London.

 

Stay in… a railway carriage

Nestled within Northiam Steam Railway Station, on the border between the counties of Kent and East Sussex, Railway Retreats has converted former carriages that sit within a working station – you can even see the steam trains pull up just 20 feet/six metres away. The transformed MK1 railway carriage sleeps up to six and an additional two goods wagons each sleep up to four – all come with en-suite facilities. The former also boasts an elevated glass balcony giving fabulous views of the station and the surrounding countryside.

Getting there: Northiam is around two hours’ drive from London.

 

Stay in… an Art Deco barge

A unique way to explore the Thames is by staying with the owners on their Art Deco barge, built by British craftsman, as they take you through the beautiful scenery and stopping at charming riverside pubs between Kingston in Surrey to Oxford – that’s 90 miles and 32 locks. The barge offers complete comfort – guest accommodation and facilities are private from that of the crew’s, so you can enjoy total privacy when you want. Enjoy the pretty villages and towns along the way, such as Henley, Sonning (where George and Amal Clooney have a home), Hampton Court, Marlow and Windsor.

Getting there: If boarding in Kingston, Kingston is 30 minutes’ train journey from London Waterloo.

Day trips from London – must-do experiences in Hastings, Battle & Rye

Jump on a train heading south-east from London and in under 1.5 hours you’re in what is known as ‘1066 Country’ (due to its connections with the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066), in the towns of Hastings, Battle and Rye. Visit for a day of unique heritage, seaside experiences, festivals and much more!

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – HASTINGS

Not only is the Jerwood Gallery set in a stunning glass building on the Old Town’s fishing beach it’s also at forefront of contemporary art with changing exhibitions and home to a fabulous collection of 20th- and 21st-century British art.

Head down to St Clements Caves and embark on a Smugglers’ Adventure. You’ll join notorious smuggler ‘Hairy Jack’ through underground tunnels and caverns on this interactive experience that tells the tales of smugglers through the ages. You can also enter the attraction via the original West Hill funicular railway, which retains its original Victorian wooden carriages.

Stroll around the picturesque Old Town, a bustling haven of cobbled streets, ‘twittens’ (narrow passageways) and a flourishing arts community, which you can explore through its myriad of antique stores and independent art shops. Alternatively, explore off-the-beaten track at the America Ground and White Rock area of Hastings. This cool, creative neighbourhood has a fascinating history and is now home to independent restaurants, cafés and shops, funky clubs and bars, as well as Source BMX Park, the biggest underground BMX park in Europe, which runs its own ‘Battle of Hastings’ in September.

 

Where can I eat?

Fresh fish lands on Hastings’ beaches every day, serving the town’s restaurants and cafés. Head down to The Stade area, the town’s fishing and cultural quarter, and dine at Rock-a-Nore Kitchen, which follows a 'boat-to-plate' philosophy and where you can enjoy locally caught fish dishes, or admire the views of the seafront while munching oysters and other delicacies from the sea at the Old Custom House Restaurant. Round off your lunch with a luscious homemade ice cream from Di Polas ice cream parlour, where flavours range from sea salt caramel to apple and ginger.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Hastings has some genuinely charming B&Bs to choose from. Among them is The Laindons, a pretty guesthouse with five rooms located in the Old Town within a Georgian Grade II-listed building. It’s kept so much of its original character and comes with fabulous views of Hastings Old Town. The Old Rectory boutique B&B is also housed in a historic building and is beautifully designed within, showcasing work by local artists and designers. For hotel choices, check out The White Rock Hotel, a stylish seafront property with contemporary, comfortable rooms and a terrace café/bar, perfect for a meal or drinks while overlooking the coastal view. 

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – BATTLE

Re-live the atmosphere and tension of more than 600 soldiers clashing at the annual battle re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings. Held every October (13-14 in 2018), visitors can expect a day being immersed in medieval life and discovering what it was like on this famous date that changed history.

The market town of Battle grew up around Battle Abbey, built by William the Conqueror following the Battle of Hastings as a penance ordered by the Pope. Now looked after by English Heritage, along with the battle site, you can explore the abbey ruins and even stand on the spot where King Harold was said to have perished.

The town of Battle that subsequently spread beyond the Abbey walls is now a charming town to explore and offers cultural gems during the year. Throughout October is the Battle Arts & Music Festival, featuring events ranging from classical recitals, contemporary dance, author events and a range of artistic masterclasses and demonstrations.

 

Where can I eat?

For a light meal of sandwiches, cream teas and homemade cakes, Lavender Abbey Tea Rooms – with its cosy log burner to warm up against during the cooler months – is a popular choice and runs an interesting programme of evening events. A picturesque option is The Orangery at Ashburnham Place, where you can have lunch and afternoon tea in a Lancelot Capability Brown-designed building, which is home to many delicate plants including the oldest camellia in the country. Or stop by The Bull Inn Pub & Restaurant – a 17th-century coaching inn – for English pub classics such as pies, fish and chips, and steaks.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Once a gunpowder owner’s residence, on the site of an 18th-century gunpowder works, the PowderMills is now a gorgeous country hotel in Battle, set in 150 acres of parkland and lakes. Just outside of Battle, overlooking the tranquil village green of Sedlescombe, is the family run Brickwall Hotel, which was built at the end of 16th century for the local ironmaster. And, for a luxury B&B stay, try Boreham House, around a ten-minute drive from Battle and situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This Grade II-listed Georgian house, originally the home of the local apothecary, also offers a converted self-catering cottage in what was the house’s original stables and coach house.

 

3 MUST-DO EXPERIENCES – RYE

Made up of attractive cobbled streets and a gamut of narrow passageways, the medieval town of Rye is made for exploring. It’s like stepping back in time as you discover buildings dating back to the medieval, Tudor and Georgian eras. It’s quaint and quirky – Mermaid Street, for example, is home to ancient buildings with unique names such as ‘The House Opposite’ or ‘The House with the Seat’.

Close to town is Great Dixter, the birthplace and home of renowned gardener and writer, the late Christopher Lloyd, and is well worth a visit for its glorious gardens – incorporating a walled garden, the sunk garden and the peacock garden – and for its horticultural events that run throughout the year.

For a true taste of Rye’s countryside, head to the award-winning, 850-acre Oxney Organic Estate, around six miles from the town, for a guided tour of its vineyard, and enjoy a tasting of its organic still and sparking wines, which only use the vineyard’s grapes and follow a natural winemaking ethos. It also has holiday cottages on site and recently introduced renovated vintage shepherds’ huts to stay in.

 

Where can I eat?

A pretty little clapperboard pub on the outskirts of Rye where the Military Canal meets the River Rother, The Globe Inn Marsh has a fantastic menu of locally sourced fish and other local ingredients, plus a bar that stocks more than 40 gins.

Another great fish restaurant is Webbe’s at the Fish Café, located in a listed building near the Landgate Arch in Rye, and was the first completely fire-proof building of its kind in the UK when it was built in 1907. It’s all about fresh local fish here, brought in from the ports of Rye and Hastings,  

Ten minutes from Rye is restaurant with rooms, The Gallivant Hotel, with a superb bistro that overlooks the beautiful sandy dunes at Camber Sands. It’s passionate about using local produce across its menu, with a daily changing menu highlighting the season’s best, and boasts a large list of English wines.

 

And if you do want to stay overnight…

Sloping ceilings, creaky floorboards and a diverting history encompassing 18th-century smugglers make the Mermaid Inn a special place to stay in Rye. History oozes out of every corner – its cellars date back to 1156 and the building itself was rebuilt in 1420 – although you’ll find a very contemporary welcome.

Another fine example of a historic inn is The George on Rye’s High Street, which dates back to 1575. A luxury hotel, each room is designed with its own bespoke furniture and colour theme. Dine at its in-house restaurant and enjoy a drink in its own pub, The George Tap.

Looking for more of a glamping experience? A ten-minute drive from Rye and you’ll find yourself in the village of Beckley, and at Swallowtail Hill, a farm, meadow and woodland where you can stay in either of its charming cottages – the Woodcutter’s Cottage or the Meadow Keeper’s Cottage – or its two cosy wood cabins. It’s a great place for a full digital detox.

 

Getting there: Hastings, Battle and Rye are located in the county of East Sussex on England’s south coast. Trains leave from either London St Pancras or London Charing Cross (depending on your destination) and take around 1.5 hours.

British wines and vines

Forget France… yes really, because Britain is where you’ll find the most unique wine experiences this year. From the charming countryside of the South East to cosmopolitan London, there’s a winery to suit everyone’s taste — and fizz to rival Champagne!

 

A Vinicultural Renaissance

Over the last five years, Britain’s wine industry has been rapidly growing and receiving universal acclaim as wine buffs move their allegiances to the vines of South East England. Gone are the days of worrying about trying ‘old’ versus ‘new’ world - now it’s all about uncovering the unexpected and quaffing the best wine in the most surprising settings.

 

The Beautiful South

It’s the chalky soil and cool climate of the South East, which includes Kent known as ‘the Garden of England’, that makes it perfect for creating bubbles too. With this favourable setting, it’s no surprise that it’s now home to several wineries that are producing English sparkling wine that’s set to rival the famed Champagne region.

 

West Fisher Winery

One of the smallest wineries in Great Britain, West Fisher in Chelsham, Kent, produces fewer than 10,000 bottles annually from grapes grown around southern England. Its founder Simon Fisher is a former architect and has been passionate about wine production ever since his mother made wines at home. So, you could say that wine is in his blood…

 

Nyetimber

Probably the most famous of the lot, Nyetimber in West Sussex was the royal wine of choice served by the Queen at both her Silver and Golden Jubilees. Quintessentially ‘British’, the Nyetimber estate goes back centuries - the first recording of it was in the 1086 Doomsday Book.

When you sip a Nyetimber wine, you’re sipping grapes steeped in history. They also host open days throughout the year (which sell out quickly) so you can see - and taste - for yourself why their wine is so popular.

 

Rathfinny Wines

Pop a cork and enjoy a glass of delicious fizz in the stunning South Downs, with beautiful views across the East Sussex countryside. This 600-acre estate is just a hop, skip and walk from the sea too - so you can enjoy your wine with a side of fish and chips, a British classic.

Along with tours of the estate and wine trails, you can also enjoy a glass of their brand-new wine for 2018, the first vintage of their Sussex Sparkling in their Tasting Room, or book an overnight stay at the cosy Flint Barns in the estate’s pretty ‘Cradle Valley’.

 

London Cru

Hidden in the little lanes of Fulham, south west London, 90 oak barrels work their magic producing quality wines in small batches from grapes that have been specially selected from European vineyards.

You can jump on the tube and book yourself on a tour at London’s first winery through their sister company Roberson Wines.

 

Chapel Down Winery

Another award-winning winery, Chapel Down, has its 22 acres of vineyards in Kent. This particular area, the Kent Downs, is so picturesque, it’s been recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

You can enjoy a guided tour of the vineyards and winery which includes a tasting, or even book a three-course lunch or afternoon tea, accompanied, of course, by the winery’s award-winning wines — they also produce beers and spirits.

 

Biddenden Vineyards

Established in 1969, the country’s oldest commercial vineyard was started by the Barnes family and matriarch Mrs Barnes’ passion for viticulture - and is still thriving today, run by the second and third generation.

As well as the vineyard’s 11 different grape varieties, which produce red, rosé, white and sparkling wines, you can also add traditional cider to your tasting notes. They also make a delicious apple juice from renowned Kentish apples. Open for self-guided tours and complimentary tastings, they also offer guided tours on selected days.