WORDS BY MARK GALE
With the summer holidays a deem and distant memory, the mind starts to work overtime on perhaps heading abroad for a quick getaway over every October half term? However, there are plenty of hidden gems right here in Britain that are definitely worth a visit when you want to explore somewhere exciting and new.
Whether you’re after seaside escapes, wildlife retreats or historic monuments that offer the unusual or unique, Britain has an abundance of hidden treasures. And what’s more; you don’t even have to travel too far or spend a fortune to enjoy them.
To find out which of Britain’s hidden gems are the best. With one hidden gem per region to choose from and a selection that were somewhat off the beaten track.
1. Minack Theatre, Porthcurno
Appearing in a listing of the world’s most spectacular theatres, there’s no doubt that the Minack Theatre is a gem in Porthcurno, close to Land’s End in Cornwall. The outdoor theatre itself welcomes more than 80,000 people a year to watch a variety of performances from musicals, concerts, plays and storytelling. It also attracts nearly double that figure each year, for those who just want to take a glimpse at its beautiful coastline and architecture.
Due to the success of its production The Tempest back in the 1930’s, Minack Theatre began to grow in popularity. Today, it is used from Easter to September for a full summer season of 20 plays, and it is open for visitors throughout the year.
2. The Shell Grotto, Kent
Margate, Kent, is probably best known for being a popular seaside destination, drawing people to its beaches for years. However, if you look a little closer and avoid the usual tourist areas, you might stumble across the Shell Grotto.
The Shell Grotto is a concealed ornate passageway that sits below the streets of Margate. Its rooms and hallways are covered almost entirely in mosaics of seashells; mussels, cockles, whelks, limpets, scallops, oysters and more. It’s a place for a perfect photo opportunity and it’s a magical spot for kids to explore.
3. Blakeney Point, Norfolk
A National Nature Reserve on the north Norfolk coast, Blakeney Point is home to remarkable wildlife and offers magnificent views of beautiful coastline. A four-mile-long shingle spit protects both Blakeney Harbour and the surrounding saltmarshes, creating the perfect environment for many species.
In particular, the reserve is internationally renowned for its stunning displays of terns in the summer and grey seals in the winter. Hop on a ferry at Morston Quay to experience Blakeney Point and its wildlife at their best.
4. Rievaulx Terrace, North Yorkshire
Located in the North York Moors National Park, these 18th-century landscaped gardens offer a beautiful spot for a summertime stroll. Weave through the woodlands and out onto the terrace where you’ll be greeted by stunning views overlooking the ruin of Rievaulx Abbey.
The gardens are also bookended by two classical temples: at one end the Tuscan Temple and at the other the Ionic Temple. Adorned with paintings and rich plasterwork, step inside the temples to marvel at their craftsmanship. The Rievaulx Terrace also, on occasion, holds outdoor art exhibitions.
5. Bodnant Gardens, Wales
Bondant Gardens is a National Trust property in Wales. More specifically, it can be found near Tal-y-Cafn, in the county borough of Conwy overlooking the Carneddau range of mountains. Wales has a plethora of hidden gems, most of which show the regions incredible beauty, but this garden spanning 80 acres of hillside is a definite winner.
The gardens themselves are known for their great conifers, cedars, Laburnum arch, the Pinetum in the Dell and much more. It’s open 362 days a year, has two on-site restaurants, welcomes dogs and picnics and is generally, a fantastic day out for those that appreciate foliage and fauna!
6. Cragside House, Northumberland
This fascinating house near Rothbury was the family home of Lord Armstrong; a Victorian inventor. The first building in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity, it is teeming with wonderful gadgetry, including a passenger lift, telephones and fire alarm buttons – most of which are still working!
And, as well as being an inventor, Armstrong was also a landscaping genius. Take a stroll through the estate’s incredible gardens, which feature one of the largest rock gardens in Europe, five lakes and more than 30 miles of footpaths.
7. Kyoto Gardens, London
London is awash with hidden gems, but we think a horticultural treasure in the capital city is one worth mentioning. The Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park, London were donated by the Chamber of Commerce of Kyoto in recognition of the Japan Festival held in London in 1992.
When you’re there, you’ll find a tranquil Japanese-style garden with tiered waterfalls and serene ponds full of Koi Carp. You’ll wander past Japanese maple trees, lanterns and even some wildlife. It’s the perfect spot if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
8. Heights of Abraham, Derbyshire
This unique hilltop park in Matlock is Derbyshire’s oldest attraction, having been open since the 1780s. Although originally accessible only on foot, you can now take a spectacular cable car journey over the Derwent Valley to reach the hill’s summit.
At the top, take a tour of the myriad underground caverns and mines that remain after the area’s lead mining. This reached its peak in the 17th century and allegedly began in Roman times. And, of course, you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views of the surrounding Peak District from the park’s spectacular viewing platform.
9. Kilchurn Castle, Scotland
Perched dramatically at the head of Loch Awe with Ben Cruachan’s peak as its backdrop, Kilchurn Castle in Dalmeny, Argyll, is one of Scotland’s most photographed castles.
Built by Sir Colin Campbell in the mid-1400s, this castle remained Clan Campbell’s power base for 150 years, only being abandoned in the 1700s. Still largely standing today, you can enjoy magnificent views across Loch Awe atop the castle’s original five-storey tower house.
10. The Rock Houses, Stourbridge
The Rock Houses are found on a high heath named Kinver Edge and are well known for being the last troglodyte dwellings occupied in England. There is much history surrounding the complete cave-houses which are now owned by the National Trust.
If you’re looking for an outdoor activity with the family, a visit to the rock houses will not only present great views but a bit of history too. You’ll be able to walk around one of the houses that has been restored to its original appearance, as well as other caves showing what life in the 1930’s really would have been like.
11. Cathedral Cavern, Cumbria
Hewn out of the rock in search of slate, the Cathedral Cavern is the main chamber of a small network of connected quarries above Little Langdale. Standing forty feet high, it is dappled with soft light by two windows high in the cavern’s walls, and a magnificent sloping pillar holds the roof in place.
For those feeling adventurous, the cavern can be explored from the entrance of the quarries. Proceed down narrow tunnels to emerge out into this truly awe-inspiring, man-made wonder.