Travel bucket lists are funny things. For some of us they act as a goal to visit a far-off paradise; for others they offer an opportunity to see and do the few things that really matter while there’s still time; and for the rest, they sit there gathering dust on our list of long-forgotten dreams.
Perhaps then, we could look to create a bucket list of experiences that are easier for us to cross off, less costly than a night spent in an underwater hotel in the Maldives, and just as worthy of a visit. Perhaps, some of the world’s most compelling and epic places to explore can even be found that little bit closer to home.
So, grab a pen and a piece of paper, here’s five magical UK heritage sites to add to your Great British travel bucket list.
The Tower of London
What period of history would you like to visit at this Great British time machine of a landmark? In the Tower you will find artefacts from every historic era going back to the Roman occupation of Britain in the first few centuries BC.
It’s hard not to gaze at Traitors’ Gate, the waterside entrance where the condemned bade farewell to life and liberty, and not remember the fate of those such as Sir Thomas More who were imprisoned here. Then, there’s the site of the executioner’s block, where tragic figures such as Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey met their end. But there’s more to history than blood and guts, this is also the home of the Crown Jewels: if you think stars glisten, you’ve obviously never seen the monarchy’s collection of top-end bling. You’ll find weird and wonderful costumes from the long-lost past; wire sculptures of the lions, leopards, elephants and even a polar bear that once occupied the Tower’s menagerie; and what of those famous ravens too?
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
Stroll the quarterdeck of HMS Victory and find yourself on the exact spot where Lord Nelson was mortally wounded by a sniper’s bullet at 1:15pm on 21 October 1805. As you stroll below decks and see the cramped living quarters of the men who sailed the ship and fought through the era-defining Battle of Trafalgar, you may begin to imagine the smoke and noise, and the shouts and screams of war.
You will also see the very spot where Nelson died attended by the Victory’s surgeon, William Beatty. Day-to-day living on a battleship is also brought vividly to life in the adjacent Mary Rose Museum, a Tudor time capsule in its own state-of-the-art exhibition space.
Are we on a Tuscan hillside or an estuary in Wales? If you are an iconoclast or an architecture buff with a taste for the eclectic – Baroque, Classical, Italianate, Jacobean, Gothic, Regency, Palladian, anything in fact that is aesthetically pleasing – then look no further.
Portmeirion was built over a period of 50 years between 1925 and 1975 by the mostly self-taught architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who wanted to demonstrate how architecture could be both beautiful and fun without insulting the surrounding landscape. There are dynamic, imaginative structures everywhere you look but all are different. The village is built around a natural amphitheatre overlooking the estuary. At its heart is the central piazza with its palm trees, fountains, blue-tiled pond, densely planted flower beds and columns supporting gilded Burmese dancers.
After the First World War Nancy Astor, the first ever female MP, turned Cliveden into the epicentre of a social whirlwind on an international scale. As well as being home to her five children, the house was visited by royalty, politicians, literary giants and stars of the silver screen, including Charlie Chaplin, many of whom were photographed on the famous South Terrace looking out over the six-acre parterre, which is still one of the garden’s most spectacular features.
Then, in 1961, a scandal involving the rich and powerful arrived at Cliveden – cooling off in the now infamous outdoor pool was Christine Keeler, the 19-year-old mistress of a suspected Russian spy. Also in attendance was John Profumo, the Secretary of State of War. The affair that followed was instrumental in bringing down the Conservative government three years later. Since 1985, Cliveden has been a five-star hotel ushering visitors into an environment of pure historical theatre surrounded by 375 acres of formal gardens and woodlands owned by the National Trust and open year-round.
Islands all have unique character. There are warm and welcoming islands and there are cold and hostile islands, party islands and Robinson-Crusoe islands, islands lapped by azure seas with palm-fringed beaches. And then there are holy islands. Few in number but spiritually charged, something about them has attracted holy men and ascetics throughout their history.
One such is Lindisfarne. Tethered only by sand, mudflats and a causeway to the coast of Northumberland, its tenuous umbilical cord disappears twice daily under the ebb and flow of the sea. Perhaps this is the reason why it has been the home of so many saints over the centuries? Visiting the island today is to make an imaginative journey back into this medieval monastic world. Many follow the poles that mark the Pilgrim’s Path over the sands from the mainland, some have walked the 62-mile route of St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose in the Scottish Borders.
Discover more utterly unmissable landmarks, sites and attractions to add to your UK travel bucket list in The Great British Bucket List which is available to buy online now and from all good bookshops.