Get off the beaten path in Great Britain
If you’re like me, then you understand the urge to get off that well-trodden path and discover random little gems to call your own - even in the UK. You see yourself as a modern Christopher Columbus or Robert Drake finding new lands and territories that aren’t already full with other travellers there to ruin your Zen. You will follow local bus routes, meeting friendly characters along the way to attend a county festival or celebration that’s not sponsored by Red Bull. Here are some of my fave spots in Great Britain where the locals will truly notice you!
Within the English Channel separating England from France is Guernsey, which is the second largest island in the Channel Islands group behind Jersey. It’s known for cows, being occupied by the Germans in World War II, and where Victor Hugo famously penned Les Miserables (you can do a tour of his house).
The tiny island protectorate of Britain is where you can hide your cash as it’s a tax haven too. So don’t be surprised to bump into famous business people or celebrities making a sneaky deposit. Legend has it UK actor Oliver Reed famously drank 106 pints of beer in a two-day binge while living there in the '70s. If you like to hang ten, grab a board from the beach hut and catch a few waves - there are a few breaks around the island. Guernsey is a beautiful little island that has fought modernisation, managing only to lose a few battles.
A short ferry from Guernsey brings you to this tiny medieval island tucked away in the English Channel, closer to France’s coastline than England’s. This former pirate hideout of only 550 residents still practices feudal law. Yeah, that stuff you learned in history about dukes, dames, serfs and peasants. It’s not quite a scene out of Robin Hood, but it’s not exactly present-day modern living either! Sark was the first island worldwide to be given 'dark-sky status' by The International Dark Skies Association, which means this area's night sky is protected and lighting controls are in place to prevent light pollution for astro-tourism purposes.
We were lucky enough to show up on the day of the annual Sark Bike Race, so we decided to enter. Now this isn’t your average lycra-clad street race. There’s no cars allowed on the island – tractors only – so the roads aren’t even paved. I’ll cut to the chase now… it’s a pub crawl on two wheels. A pint needs to be sunk at the start line then again at five pub stops around the island before reaching the finish line. I finished roughly two hours after the winner. He did the whole thing in 17 minutes!
Straddling the border of northern Wales and England you will find the ancient Roman township of Chester. It occupies a beautiful stretch of the River Dee, sitting in the county of Cheshire. Here, you can wander the streets filled with old Tudor houses straight out of a Charles Dickens novel mixed in with trendy gastropubs and boutique shops. Cheshire is also where a huge amount of professional football (soccer) players live, so keep a sharp eye out and you might spot your favourite player grabbing a latte.
Hugging the mouth of the Mersey River in England’s northwest you will find the home of the Beatles and the best football team in the world (Liverpool FC). This former working-class port city has turned a page in recent history and is fast becoming England’s new arts hub. It’s taken Scousers (slang for a Liverpool local) decades to rebuild since it was nearly bombed off the earth in WWII and you can still see evidence of these scars around town. The city also has a sad, dark side having built its original wealth from the slave trade. Take in a few museums and wander the new pedestrian city centre talking to friendly locals (you’ll get used to the accent!).
Hidden on the rugged northern coast of Wales you'll find Llandudno (Welsh is not an easy language!). A summer beach retreat for Britons, this quaint little town resembles areas of southern France with colourful terrace houses lined up overlooking the beach. The Welsh are famously friendly, especially over a pint, and they love a chat about rugby. So they are pretty much Australian! You can find really cheap guesthouses here, plus I picked up amazing fish and chips for under AU$10, so it’s a thrifty weekend trip from London.