Beverley, East Yorkshire
When approached across parkland from the west, Beverley pulls off this neat trick of making you think you’re in a Jane Austen novel. It causes a tremor of disorientation. Is this right? And then come the cobbled streets, the gracious Georgian residences, the top-notch church in the middle that has yet to be converted into a pub or a nightclub – that’s Beverley Minster, a gothic masterpiece. Look out for the 14th-century Percy tomb. Are we in the 21st century? No, of course not. Mind you, the good old days have their drawbacks. Once, searching for food at midday, I came across a fish and chip shop with a “Closed for lunch” sign on the door. Fortunately, not all establishments are so old-fashioned. Saturday sees a good market and there are some tremendous festivals: the folk music and literature festivals are consistently worth attending. But it’s the town’s gentle Georgian ambience that delights: break out the walking canes and crinoline, and stroll. Even Austen’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh would be impressed.
Eat and drink
Star local eaterie is James and Kate Mackenzie’s Michelin-starred Pipe and Glass, where you can grab a posh sandwich or indulge in top-notch modern British cuisine. That’s a few miles out of town, but if you’re looking for lunch closer to the centre, try Vanessa, a cafe and deli, or the cycling-themed Café Velo.
The best accommodation is in those gracious Georgian homes, now B&Bs. Both The 5 Eastgate (doubles from £60 B&B) and Newbegin House (doubles from £85 B&B) get great reviews.
Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria
For many years Kirkby Lonsdale was a town that visitors could not quite place: it was in Cumbria but not the Lake District, it looked like Yorkshire but was not the Dales. Now, with recent additions to both of those national parks, the town finds itself in the centre of a massive swathe of protected land that stretches right across the north. This new-found status is well-deserved. It’s a pretty stone-built place on the River Lune with some excellent walks – stroll over to Ruskin’s view, for example, or take a day to explore up Barbondale. It also makes a great base for cycling and touring, with the Three Peaks, Dentdale and Ingleton within easy reach.
Eat and drink
On that walk, don’t miss the Barbon Inn for a decent pit stop. Back in town the Lunesdale Bakery is an old favourite with cyclists who love its hearty soups and homemade bread and cakes, while Crossing Point Cafe does good breakfasts and majors on local ingredients like Lune Valley smoked salmon. In the evening Avanti is a stylish Italian bar and restaurant.
There are some good hotels, including the Sun Inn (doubles from £99 B&B) and the Royal Hotel (doubles from £95 B&B).
Pickering, North Yorkshire
Those who saw the recent Dad’s Army film and marvelled at the charms of Walmington-on-Sea … should know that it was actually filmed in Pickering, which was neither on Hitler’s hitlist nor on the coast. You can see why the location scouts got excited: there’s acres of stone and cobble, a real steam locomotive railway station (catch the puffer to Whitby on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway), some delightful pubs and plenty to do in the hinterland – the North York Moors national park, including the mountain biking centre of Dalby Forest. They even have a second world war weekend, an event that allows parents to dress in period costume and wave their children off as evacuees. What’s not to like?
Eat and drink
Middleton Tea Parlour is a little out of town, but worth the detour for its classic afternoon teas: all china and doilies. If you’re close to the centre, Pickering is well-blessed with cafes: try Mr Wilf’s or Botham’s. For dinner head to Willowgate Bistro for hearty steaks, Yorkshire puddings and lighter fare too.
The White Swan (doubles from £159 B&B) is reliably excellent. For B&B try Bramwood (doubles/twins from £79B&B), handy for the centre of town.
It’s incredibly quaint, sits on a riverside and is one of England’s few remaining Saxon-walled towns. Wareham also makes a fantastic base for exploring the stunning surrounding area. “On a windy winter’s day, the nearby Dorset countryside might make you feel far from the madding crowds,” says reader vonZeppelin– a nod to local legend Thomas Hardy. This includes the villages of Wool, West Lulworth and Moreton, as well as the Dorset countryside around it, from Wareham Forest – great for cycling – to the Jurassic coast – perfect for beachcombing with the family – as well as the mysterious Blue Pool, famous for its ever changing colours.
Wareham has plenty of pubs and tea rooms to choose from. For a sizzling breakfast or hearty lunch, both made from local Dorset produce, head to the Salt Pig cafe . The Old Granary restaurant has pride of place on the quayside.
The Quay Inn (from £45pp B&B) is an obvious choice if you want to be right in the centre, while Bradle Farmhouse (doubles from £85 B&B), in a picturesque valley five miles south of Wareham, is a B&B in a beautiful 19th century stone farmhouse.
Aberystwyth, west Wales
The mid-Wales town was very popular among our readers. JulesBywaterLees described it as “stunning”, while MarilynLewis praised its many small eateries, the amazing National Library, the Aber Arts Centre and a coastline “to die for”. Being a university town, Aber remains busy and lively throughout winter. To make the most of the landscape, which is popular with cyclists and mountain bikers, visitors should take a walk along the Ceredigion Coast Path, which runs through Aber.
Eat and drink
The same views can also be enjoyed from inside modern bar and pizza joint Baravin, while other foodie spots include deli restaurant Ultra Comida and harbour front seafood cafe Pysgoty.
The contemporary Gwesty Cymru hotel (doubles from £90 B&B) is a cosy eight room bolthole, with an award-winning restaurant.
“Pitlochry is stunning at this time of year,” says reader littleyellowsiskin, listing the “train station, theatre, beautiful walks and lovely river” as reasons to visit. This far north you’ll need to wrap up warm in winter when exploring Allean Forest, with views of Loch Tummel – one of the most famous views in Scotland – as well as Faskally Woods and the Pass of Killiecrankie, a riverside walk through a steep gorge, which, during winter, offers an atmosphere of silence and solitude, with the snow dotted with deer, squirrel and otter tracks.
Eat and drink
There’s lots of cosy places to eat in Pitlochry, from Hettie’s Tearooms for cakes and scones to the Logierait Inn (weekends only) for a hearty meal.
There’s an abundance of B&Bs in Pitlochry (and a hotel in a castle, if you want to treat yourself). We recommend taking a look at the Craigatin House and Courtyard (doubles from £102 B&B), a large, award-winning B&B, or Derrybeg (doubles from £80 B&B), a modern eight-room B&B with views of the Tummel Valley.
Described as “the finest stone town in England” by poet John Betjeman, Stamford, was the first area in England and Wales granted conservation status (in 1967) and there are over 600 listed buildings. No surprise the idyllic Georgian market town has been used as the set for several period dramas, including the BBC’S Middlemarch in 1993 and the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice. It may be perfectly preserved, but this is no sleepy backwater. The thriving town centre has a weekly street market selling everything from fresh produce to home made preserves, linen and lingerie, and a number of quirky independent retailers: fashionistas will want to head straight to Attic, while Chez Soi sells an eclectic range of furniture and household goods. The town has over 30 pubs and some great restaurants. Perhaps no surprise then that one of Stamford’s more famous visitors was Daniel Lambert, at over 52 stone the fattest man in England. He is immortalised by a portrait in the George Hotel, and his remains lie in the neighbouring St Martin’s churchyard. To avoid a waistline as vast as Lambert’s, take a stroll through the bucolic Water Meadows, or up to Burghley House, a magnificent Elizabethan stately home.
Eat and drink
The George Hotel, an ancient coaching inn, is the perfect place for a traditional roast. The Tobie Norris is a great spot for a pint of real ale, while No 3 The Yard has a modern British-inspired menu. And make sure you pick up some Lincolnshire sausages and pork pies from award-winning butchers Nelsons.
The Bull and Swan and the William Cecil both offer doubles from around £100 B&B.
It may be best known for its race course, but Chepstow has plenty more to commend it for a short break. Its position on the England-Wales border has ensured a turbulent history, embodied in the impressive remains of Chepstow Castle, which sits on a lofty crag overlooking the River Wye. The castle’s Great Tower keep was commissioned by William the Conqueror and the wooden castle doors are the oldest in Europe, dating back 800 years. The town centre has no shortage of attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings, many of which have been converted into restaurants and independent shops. Don’t forget to bring your walking boots: several long-distance walking routes pass by the town, including Offa’s Dyke Path and the Wye Valley Walk, which will take you through the wooded Wye Gorge to the ethereal ruins of Tintern Abbey, six miles away.
Eat and drink
The Lime Tree Cafe is a popular spot with locals – it serves everything from burgers to tapas via Indian street food.
The Three Tuns (doubles from £85 B&B) is an atmospheric old inn dating back to the 1600s, with great views of Chepstow Castle. Rooms have wooden floors, original fireplaces and there are real ales and live music in the bar at weekends.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
“I come to bury St Edmunds not to praise it!” quipped reader BluTone, but there is much to praise in this Suffolk market town. It may be small but it packs plenty in: from the elegant cathedral of St Edmundsbury to the beautiful Abbey Gardens in the grounds of what was once one of the most powerful monasteries in the land. There’s the last example of a working Regency playhouse in the country, the Theatre Royal, and a much-loved independent cinema, the Abbeygate, complete with reclining seats, sofas and a cool cafe/bar. There’s also a thriving twice-weekly street market (Wednesdays and Saturdays) and a great selection of independent shops tucked away in the medieval lanes and Georgian squares. The town has been brewing beer for almost a thousand years: the popular Greene King Tour (£12pp) takes visitors around the town’s 1930s brewhouse, ending with a tasting session.
Eat and drink
The low-key location on a quiet residential street and rustic decor of Pea Porridge belie the ambitious nature of the menu, which puts a firm emphasis on nose-to-tail eating: expect creative dishes like slow-cooked rabbit, pig’s cheeks braised in sherry and veal belly.
The Angel Hotel (doubles from £130 B&B) was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers but today it’s been reinvented as a contemporary boutique hotel with smart rooms and a good brasserie which makes the most of Suffolk produce such as smoked salmon from Orford and venison from the Elveden estate.
Barnard Castle, County Durham
Barnard Castle received an enthusiastic endorsement from reader ID6912820: “Absolutely lovely town on the River Tees with excellent food places and independent shops”. The town is dominated by the ruined Norman castle which gave it its name, but culturally the jewel in the crown has to be the Bowes Museum , a French-style chateau which houses an extraordinary collection of fine and decorative art, including works by El Greco, Goya and Canaletto. When you’ve finished exploring its many treasures, (don’t miss the 18th century silver swan automaton which preens itself at regular intervals), take a walk along the Tees and out into the beautiful Teesdale countryside, which inspired Walter Scott’s epic poem Rokeby.
Eat and drink
Il Palazzo is attractive Italian restaurant with an extensive menu of pizza, pasta and seafood dishes that’s popular with locals.
Homelands Guesthouse (doubles from £90 B&B) is a welcoming and well-run B&B in a terraced stone house in the centre of town.
This article was amended on 13 December 2016: Beverley’s impressive gothic masterpiece is a minster, not a cathedral.