Alan Cumming, Kelly Holmes and Clare Balding share their favourite British days out

Stuck for somewhere new to visit this year? Here's 10 great UK destinations for you to try...

Comments
Alan Cumming, Kelly Holmes and Clare Balding share their favourite British days out
Written By
Interviews by Suzanne King and Gareth McLean
Osborne House

Paul Martin on… Osborne House, Isle of Wight

Co-designed by Prince Albert, Osborne House is unique among royal residences because it wasn’t lived in by the family before Queen Victoria and her husband bought the property in 1845, or after her death in 1901, so what you see when you visit today is very much their home as they would have known it.

It’s the personal elements that make a visit so fascinating. In the house, you’re surrounded by statues of their children, etchings done by family members, photographs and portraits. In the garden, each of the little princes and princesses had their own patch where they learnt to grow their own vegetables and fruit.

And not only do you get wonderful architectural and social historical content, you also get a bit of beach thrown in! English Heritage, who manage the house today, recently opened the queen’s private beach to the public for the first time, and you can now see the restored royal bathing machine (the first in the country with a loo in it!) and the alcove where Victoria would sit with her watercolours and paint the scene while the children played and swam.

Visitor information for Osbourne House


Dalquharran Castle

Charlie Luxton on… Dalquharran Castle, South Ayrshire

Here’s an interesting illustration of how history can be kind to some buildings and unkind to others. It’s only about half an hour from the very famous Culzean Castle, and both were designed in the late 18th century by Robert Adam, arguably Scotland’s most celebrated architect. But while Culzean is one of Scotland’s top heritage attractions (it’s even on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £5 note), Dalquharran has been gradually falling into ruins since the late 1960s when the last resident, unable to afford the upkeep of the castle, took the decision to remove the roof which made the building uninhabitable and meant they were no longer liable to pay rates on it. What’s left is fascinating. There’s something incredibly romantic and evocative about a ruin, and it allows the imagination to fill in the gaps and fantasise.

There’s talk of turning the castle into a hotel and golf course, but for the moment it’s fenced off to the public. Within the same grounds, though, you can visit the ruins of the even earlier Old Castle, abandoned when the Kennedy family moved into its more modern replacement. Take a walk along the footpaths down by the river there, look up the valley, and you’ll see Dalquharran elegantly crumbling in the distance.

Visitor information for Dalquharran Castle


Eltham Palace

Clare Balding on… Eltham Palace, London

Eltham Palace is a rare gem, a medieval palace and an adjoining 1930s house built by the wealthy Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, with the most stunning interiors. Coming here is like stepping into their world: an era of Hollywood glamour, high society and Art Deco.

Visitor information for Eltham Palace


Berkeley Castle

Paul Martin on… Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire

Over the course of nine centuries, Berkeley Castle has witnessed major events that have shaped the history of this country. Kings and queens have stayed here, barons gathered here before the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, and Edward II was imprisoned and rumoured to have been killed with a red-hot poker here in 1327.

Dating back to the 12th century, the castle was a reward to Robert Fitzharding from Henry II for assisting him in battle, and the Berkeley family have been living here ever since. The house is full of treasure, with many fine arts and antiques vying for attention: marvellous family portraits painted by Sir Peter Lely; tent hangings from the Field of Cloth of Gold, when Henry VIII met Francis I of France in 1520; Francis Drake’s cabin chest from the Golden Hind; glorious displays of furniture and upholstery… Your life’s enriched by a trip there – it’s an incredible place.

Visitor information for Berkeley Castle


Stott Park Bobbin Mill

Charlie Luxton on… Stott Park Bobbin Mill, Cumbria

Stott Park is tucked away in a lovely little wooded valley just below Windermere, and the buildings are beautifully designed, with a very simple kind of utilitarian architecture. Inside, the guide explains the processes and demonstrates each one to you – all the machinery is still working. You can just imagine what it was like in its late-1880s heyday, with people working here surrounded by piles of sawdust waist-deep: it kept them warm (they had to keep the windows open because it was so dusty) and it kept them safe. Wherever they walked, it left paths in the wood shavings, and as long as they stayed on these paths between the machines, they wouldn’t walk into one of the drive belts.

The age of plastic killed off the Lakeland bobbin industry and this is the only mill left intact. It may now only produce the odd souvenir bobbin, but I love the thought that this tranquil spot was once a powerhouse of production, and these little pieces of shaped timber were fundamental to an industry that led the world.

Visitor information for Stott Park Bobbin Mill 


Lichfield Cathedral

Clare Balding on… Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire

One of the greatest ecclesiastic artworks in Europe, the 16th-century Herkenrode stained-glass windows in the Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral only exist because of the dedication of one man, Brooke Boothby, who discovered them in a dissolved abbey near Brussels in the early 1800s and went to great lengths to bring them here. The windows are currently undergoing a £1 million restoration and won’t be in situ for a few years, but there’s plenty else to see in this great Gothic cathedral, including an Anglo-Saxon gospel and the medieval Lichfield Angel sculpture.

Visitor information for Lichfield Cathedral


Mount Stewart

Paul Martin on… Mount Stewart, County Down

Home to the Marquesses of Londonderry for 250 years, and now run by the National Trust, Mount Stewart was built to impress. For nearly two centuries, the extremely well-connected Londonderry family was at the very heart of political and social life, and the house is full of history. Some of its contents are national treasures – like the chairs used by delegates at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, each embroidered with a name to record who sat where.

But it’s the gardens at Mount Stewart that are particularly inspiring. Originally created by Edith, Lady Londonderry, in the 1920s, they’re now acknowledged as some of the greatest gardens in the world. She used to make little sketches of things she liked that she wanted to copy and adapt here – pagodas and temples, fountains and balustrades – and she came up with some stunning colour schemes.

Visitor information for Mount Stewart


The Tank Museum

Dame Kelly Holmes on… The Tank Museum, Dorset

I went to the Museum to celebrate a machine that changed the course of the Second World War: the Matilda. It’s virtually forgotten today, but in one vital campaign in North Africa, it helped give our forces the upper hand and earned itself the nickname Queen of the Desert.

Visitor information for The Tank Museum


Snowshill Manor

Clare Balding on… Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire

Snowshill Manor is the most extraordinary place. After the First World War it was owned by Charles Paget Wade, a true eccentric, who spent his lifetime collecting beautifully crafted objects. The more time you spend in there, the more it rewards you because there are so many fascinating items and hidden treasures.

Visitor information for Snowshill Manor 


Alan Cumming on… Glasgow

Glasgow was the first city I ever lived in. I went to drama school there and I remember when I arrived, I couldn’t sleep because of the light of streetlamps and the noise of buses – I had only lived in a forest before [Cumming grew up in rural Perthshire]. I love the spirit of the people as well as the city itself. If there’s one thing I would advise visitors to do, it would be to walk from Byres Road, through Kelvingrove Park, and on to Royal Terrace, which is just architecturally beautiful. It’s a side of Glasgow that’s not normally seen but is incredibly special.

Glasgow Necropolis

The Necropolis: Glasgow’s “city of the dead” isn’t a secret in itself – extending over 37 acres, more than 50,000 people are buried here – but it takes insider knowledge to find the hidden spots. I used to think that people who went round graveyards were some sort of crazy but going there and exploring really made me appreciate how revealing graveyards can be.

Britannia music hall

The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall: Visiting Britain’s oldest surviving music hall, opened in 1859, moved me a lot. Scottish theatre is so connected to the variety tradition and I feel like a son of that style of performance. In 1990, Judith Mclay made it her mission to resurrect the Panopticon and, after years of battles with red tape, finally set foot inside to discover an interior untouched since the 1930s. It took a further six years to open it but even now struggles to get an official licence as the building is deemed unsafe.

Grosvenor cafe

The West End: Home to Glasgow University and until recently the BBC in the city, it was always a wee bit of chi-chi. I remember visiting the Grosvenor Café on Ashton Lane and having my first cappuccino – I thought I was a beatnik in Greenwich Village. Of course the area has changed – I was horrified by the number of estate agents – but it still has a special spirit.

Visitor information on Glasgow


Britain's Hidden Heritage begins on BBC1 tonight at 7:00pm

Watch Alan Cummings in Urban Secrets on Thursday at 8:00pm on Sky Atlantic

Add new comment

Ads by Google