Britain's Most Unspoilt Villages

Posted on: 21 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Think you have to go abroad to find villages free of chain stores and tourist tat? Not so. We uncover rustic corners of the UK that not only celebrate the best that lies within these shores but will save your sterling into the bargain.

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So, whether you’re looking for fish and chips, country walks or the purest examples of that great British staple, the pub, read on for our guide to the most authentic villages in the UK.

Anstruther, Fife

Simple pleasures often make for the most vivid holiday memories. And what could be more satisfying than sitting outdoors by the sea, eating the most perfect fish and chips from yesterday’s newspaper, with the sound of gulls overhead?

Locals for miles around will tell you to visit this old-fashioned fishing village in the East Neuk of Fife for the fish and chips. A visit to the award-winning Anstruther Fish Bar has to be on your To Do list.

Bamburgh, Northumberland

Bamburgh castle dominates the landscape for miles around, with the Northumberland coastline providing a dramatic backdrop. Don’t forget your camera!

The village is a great base from which to explore nearby Holy Island, Alnwick and the pretty village of Seahouses. Tides mean that crossings to Holy Island are only possible at certain times of day.

Burnsall, Yorkshire

The riverside village of Burnsall, on the Dales Way, is an ideal resting place for tired legs. You can sip a pint in the Red Lion pub, formerly a 16th century Ferryman’s Inn (good value for bed and breakfast), visit nearby historic Bolton Abbey, or simply relax on the grassy banks beside the River Wharfe.

Nearby Skipton is worth a visit. Its high street won the Great British Street of the Year award in 2009.

Clovelly, Devon

Life here revolves around the twinkling harbour. Taking the perfect picture of it may be tricky with other tourists in the way, but the village of Clovelly in Devon is still worth a trip.

Dawdle up the steep cobbled high street (where traffic is banned) and wonder at the whitewashed cottages. Life here revolves around the harbour. Take sensible shoes!

Edale, Derbyshire

The village of Edale is located at the start of the Pennine Way, the 270-mile walk along "the backbone of England". It is a pretty place to rest before you lace up your boots, or if you do the walk in reverse, is the perfect final stopping point.

The village is easily accessible by train from Sheffield and Manchester and, if 270 miles sounds a little too far, it makes a perfect base for a day’s horseriding in the Peak District. The visitors’ centre provides maps. For something a bit different, an evening Folk Train – a train ride with accompanying music – runs to Edale on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

Hay-on-Wye, Powys (Wales)

Hay is a small town, rather than a village, but has a quaint, traditional vibe. If you like books, then go. Bookshops occupy practically every other building on the main street, with the remainder given over to cafes or pubs, where you can while away the hours reading.

During the town's increasingly popular festival (May 21st - 23rd) beds are hard to come by and the literary scene is very much in full flow. Visit outside festival time and there's a better chance you'll have a bookshop all to yourself to browse.

Lacock and Castle Combe, Wiltshire

These villages are proof that you don’t need to go abroad for a taste of life before chain stores. Most buildings in pretty Lacock date from before 1800, with streets unspoilt by modern development. The village is so quaint that it was used as a set for the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Continuing a theme, the Jane Austen Centre in nearby Bath is perfect for a day trip, as is Stonehenge. In the same area, Castle Combe is another idyllic find: it claims to be the prettiest village in England. There are other contenders for that title, but so many flower-filled cottage windows are certainly good for the soul.

Mousehole, Cornwall

The only problem with Mousehole is that too many people want to see for themselves whether the poet Dylan Thomas was right to call it "the loveliest village in England". He was surely pretty close.

Avoid high summer and Christmas and you'll still find bucketloads to enjoy in this gorgeous area, not least the coastline and a trip to Land’s End.

Much Wenlock, Shropshire

Get into the spirit of the build-up to the London 2012 games with the Much Wenlock Olympics, a slightly more modest competition (think seven-mile road race rather than marathon) to be held from July 10th to 13th. Dr William Penny Brookes is said to be the founding father of the modern Olympics, with the first games held in Much Wenlock in 1850.

The links between this little town and the international sporting event as we know it today can be explored in a walk through the winding streets, lined with Tudor and Georgian buildings.

Seathwaite, Cumbria

What could be more British than a rainy day? The farming village of Seathwaite, at the south end of the Borrowdale Valley in the Lake District, makes the unusual boast of being the wettest inhabited place in Britain.

Not so perfect for a holiday, you could argue. But Seathwaite makes a great base in summer for a hearty week of walking among some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It is the ideal starting point from which to climb Scafell Pike. Perhaps pack your raincoat and overtrousers, just in case.

Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon

Widecombe-in-the-Moor boasts not only teashops and a village green but also its very own folk song, Widecombe Fair, rivalling Greensleeves in the recognition stakes.

The fair is still held on the second Tuesday of September. When you’ve had enough of drinking tea, visit the town's cathedral or go on an (incongruously modern) llama trek on Dartmoor.

Wilmcote, Warwickshire

There is one overarching reason to visit Wilmcote: William Shakespeare. The village was home to Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, and today provides a base just three miles away from tourist-inundated Stratford-upon-Avon.

Holiday cottages are available, cashing in on the great demand for pilgrimages to the home of the Bard.

Are there any villages that we have missed? What's your favourite village in the UK? Do you agree with our list?

Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.

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