As much as I love London, I love the little towns in England even more. Many of them seem frozen in time, entire buildings and streets just as they were centuries before. London is full of history as well, of course, but the skyscrapers and tourism takes a little bit of the magic away. This is my list of the ten most quintessentially English towns, and is by no means exhaustive. They are everywhere, waiting to be explored. Waiting to be appreciated.
1. Rye, Sussex
Rye is a town of less than 5000, but has been an important town in England since medieval times. It was once one of England’s greatest smuggling ports, and even provided ships to the King. Although Rye is no longer on the coast of the English Channel, the history and charm of this town still draws the tourists in hoards. Cobblestone streets, 14th century pubs, great British fare, and a terrific museum highlighting the past and present of Rye; a visit is definitely worthwhile.
2. Sandwich, Kent
Sandwich is one of my personal favorites, and not only because I am a sucker for a sandwich. This little town on the River Stour has a preserved historic centre, the largest stretch of preserved timber-framed houses in England, beautiful secret gardens, and wonderful walking paths along the River Stour. You can also take boat rides and see fresh water seals!
3. Painswick, The Cotswolds
If there is any area people outside of England know about, it is the Cotswolds. Known the world over for their charm and historic buildings, the area actually covers dozens and dozens of cute quintessentially English towns. Cotswolds actually means ‘sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides’ , a meaning that can easily be spotted still today.
Painswick is often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’. The historic wool town is surrounded by green, rolling countryside and is dotted with 13-17th century buildings along it’s main road and quaint side streets. The 17th century spectacle stocks are a highlight, and still feature the original donkey doors.
4. Cavendish, Suffolk
Cavendish is a village in Suffolk, England known for it’s pink cottages and thatched roof buildings. It often graces the cover of English countryside calenders, boasting a number of historic buildings. St. Mary the Virgin’s Church is a 14th century, Grade I listed property, and a popular attraction itself.
5. Blanchland, Northumberland
To be entirely fair, Blanchland is a model village, but it obviously is doing it right. The majority of the buildings were constructed from remains of the 12th century medieval abbey. It is commonly used as a film set, and with only around 200 residents it will feel like you have the past all to yourself. If you fancy staying longer than a day, book a room at the Lord Crewe Arms Hotel. This medieval hotel is almost 850 years old, was once a popular hiding place for monks, and is said to be haunted by the ghost of a Miss. Dorothy Foster.
6. Polperro, Cornwall
Polperro is a fishing village on the coast of Cornwall. Known for it’s tightly packed fishing houses and charming harbour. Cars are no longer allowed in the village due to large influx of tourists in the summer months, but you can take a horse and cart ride or a trip on old milk float to get around in style.
7. Lacock, Wiltshire
Lacock is a village in Wiltshire, and is almost entirely owned by the National Trust. Most of the surviving houses in Lacock are older than the 18th Century, including a 14th century tithe barn , 13th century abbey, and 15th century inn. The unspoilt nature of Lacock has made it popular as a film set backdrop, including multiple Harry Potter films and the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice.
8. Hawkshead, Cumbria
Hawkshead Village is nestled in the very heart of the picturesque Lake District. The town is known for both it’s beautiful location as well as the literary connections of it’s past. William Wordsworth went to school here, and even met his future wife with whom he had five children. Beatrix Potter lived here as well, and her stories are a wonderful reflection of her love for the beautiful English countryside.
9. Kettlewell, North Yorkshire
Kettlewell Village grew from a 13th century market to an important textile centre in the 18th-19th century. The appearance of the village has been largely unchanged in over 200 years, and you can still visit the remains of a 16th century smelting mill or walk along the homes that date back centuries, some of which now serve as bed and breakfasts.
10. Edale, Derbyshire
Edale is a village in Derbyshire that is both the start and finish of the Pennine Way, England’s longest and most famous walking path. There is a famous cotton mill which dates back to 1795, that was used up until the 1940’s. (Now it used as apartments.) The Old Nag’s Head pub is worth a pint or two, dating back to 1577 and listed in the top 100 pubs of England.
What English town would you add to the list?