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Rachel Truman



Eight of the UK’s most charming small towns

Whether it’s for a romantic break or an escape with the whole family, here are travel journalist Rachel Truman’s suggestions for the best understated places to go for a UK weekend break

Tenterden, Kent

Tenterden, Kent

1hour 10minutes from Gatwick
Kent in the springtime is glorious, its idyllic countryside awash with apple blossom and villages in bloom. Make market town Tenterden, with its half-timbered houses and medieval church, your base for exploring the bucolic county. Learn about its history at the little museum and take a tasting tour of Chapel Down winery, finishing with lunch and a glass of fizz in the restaurant. Or hop aboard a steam train on the Kent & East Sussex Railway to Bodiam. Stay at the welcoming refurbished old pub with rooms, The White Lion (doubles from £110).

North Berwick, Scotland

North Berwick, Scotland

45-minute drive from Edinburgh
When it comes to wind-whipped coastal walks, bracing sea swims and superb seafood, North Berwick delivers by the bucketful. Other highlights of a stay in this seaside town are golf at world-famous Muirfield and a boat trip to see the gannets on volcanic Bass Rock – keeping watch for seals and puffins, too. The high street has a decent scattering of restaurants, including The Herringbone, or Edinburgh is just a short train ride away. Stay at the grand Greywalls (doubles from £280).

Beaulieu, Hampshire

Beaulieu, Hampshire

1hour 45minute drive from Heathrow
Watch out for ponies and donkeys as you approach Beaulieu: the free-roaming animals rule the roads in these parts. It’s a picturesque base in the depths of the ancient forest with everything you need from a weekend retreat – lovely little high street with cute shops and cafés, charming hotel and cosy pub. For fine dining, book into The Montagu Arms’ Terrace restaurant or plump for pub food at Monty’s Inn. Stroll along the banks of the Beaulieu River to Palace House, the old abbey and the National Motor Museum. The nearby Pig hotel (pictured above) (doubles from £155) is low-key, super-friendly and serves an excellent Sunday lunch, with many ingredients sourced from its own spectacular walled garden – book ahead.

Narbeth, Wales

Narberth, Wales

4-hour drive from Heathrow
A handsome Georgian town in a pretty pocket of Pembrokeshire, Narbeth is scattered with antique shops, galleries and food stores. It’s also a stone’s throw from magnificent beaches: Barafundle Bay, Manorbier and those around Tenby are just a few. This is prime castle country too, or you can spy puffins on a boat trip to Skomer Island. After all that activity, reward yourself with afternoon tea at Grove (doubles from £160), a gorgeous small hotel in an 18th-century country house. Be sure to dine here too – the food is top-notch. 

Dartmouth, Devon

Dartmouth, Devon

3hour 30minute drive from Heathrow
Clinging to the banks of the River Dart estuary, Dartmouth has a stunning location and fascinating history. Follow its narrow medieval streets down to the bustling harbour. Watch the boats come and go then visit the naval college, museum and castle. Hop on a boat ride along the river, looking at impossibly pretty villages, or strike a route along the coastal paths. Feast on freshly caught local seafood at The Seahorse and stay at Nonsuch House, a luxury B&B (doubles from £135) within an old ship merchant’s house.

Beverley, East Yorkshire

Beverley, East Yorkshire

1hour 30minutes from Leeds Bradford airport
There’s much to recommend a weekend jaunt to this charmer of a market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds. Wander around its graceful Georgian quarter, marvel at the imposing medieval gothic minster and try to spot the March Hare on the intricately carved 12th-century St Mary’s church, said to have inspired Lewis Carol. Café Velo is a great pitstop before a ride into the Wolds, or simply to fuel an afternoon of shopping. Stay and dine in the Pipe and Glass (doubles from £190), a fabulous Michelin-starred pub with rooms on the beautiful Dalton Estate.

Lavenham, Suffolk

Lavenham, Suffolk

2-hour drive from Heathrow
Crooked half-timbered houses, thatched cottages and soaring spires; when it comes to enchanting towns, Lavenham has it covered. The well-preserved medieval houses (it has more than 300 listed buildings) may feel familiar and they probably are – Lavenham has starred in countless films, including Harry Potter. A hugely prosperous wool town in medieval times, it still has an affluent feel with enticing shops, galleries and restaurants. For a suitably characterful stay, book into The Swan at Lavenham (doubles from £190), all wonky floors, exposed beams and crackling log fires with modern comforts. 

Wareham, Dorset

Wareham, Dorset

2hour 15minute drive from Heathrow
Follow the circuit walk around the grassy mounds that surround Wareham for wonderful views and a glimpse into the pretty town’s past. Set on the banks of the River Frome, it was once a strategic stronghold for King Alfred, and the Saxon walls still encircle the town. Now there are pretty little Georgian cottages, enchanting independent stores galore and a beautiful riverside quay. Stop for a drink in a waterside pub or hop on a paddle steamer. Stay at lovely hotel The Priory by the river (doubles from £220).

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This article has been tagged Destination, Travel Tips