It’s so easy to take for granted the place in which you live. To miss out on the nature and beauty, the food and drink, the quirks, the substance, the style, that make people want to visit your country.
I want to get to know my home a bit better and maybe see it through the eyes of a visitor. I think that’s got to be a pretty good angle; we always tidy up a bit when people are coming to visit.
When I joined the Petite Bijou at the end of last year, Mariam asked what you wanted to know about British life. Travel was the main thing that came up. If you’re planning a trip to the UK, especially for the first time, you won’t want to miss the usual hot spots – Buckingham Palace, Edinburgh Castle, Stonehenge, Canterbury Cathedral and many, many more.
But maybe, like me, you’re looking for something a little bit different. So today I’m sharing my Great British Bucket List: the things I want to check out here at home for the very first time.
1. Tennis at the Queen’s Club
There’s nothing more British than tennis on the grass. For those few weeks every summer, it seems as though everyone is drinking Pimms, eating strawberries and keeping an eye on what’s happening at All England Club. There’s so much more tennis on offer, though. Top of my list is the Fever-Tree Championships, the men’s tournament that leads into Wimbledon each year. Andy Murray won here five times, including in 2013 and 2016, the years in which he went on to win Wimbledon just a few weeks later. To catch the women’s tour, check out the excellent tournaments in Eastbourne and Nottingham, played around the same time.
2. See the dolphins in Cardigan Bay
I love dolphins. Love them. But I did not realise you could see them pretty easily right here in the UK. Cardigan Bay, off the west coast of Wales, is home to all kinds of marine wildlife, including the UK’s largest pod of bottlenose dolphins. The place to start is the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, in the seaside town of New Quay (not to be confused with Newquay in Cornwall). You’re most likely to catch a sighting of the dolphins between June and October.
3. Hay Festival
Hay-on-Wye is a booklover’s paradise with more than 20 bookshops in this picturesque town on the border between England and Wales. The annual Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, described as the Woodstock of words, is the highlight. There’s something for everyone at this internationally-renowned festival.
4. Dark Hedges
Despite living in the UK for the majority of my life, I’ve yet to visit Northern Ireland. So when I do make the trip, I’ll be starting with the usual spots: Giant’s Causeway, Titanic Belfast, and as many Game of Thrones filming locations as I can manage! This will hopefully include the eerie Dark Hedges, a row of beech trees planted in the 18th Century that formed a tunnel as their branches grew and intertwined over the road. They look striking in the day; terrifying at night.
5. Northern Lights in Scotland
Here’s the thing about Scotland. It is north. Freezing north. Norway north. Dark by 3.30pm in December north. North. It’s hard going some days. But that’s a huge advantage when the aurora borealis comes out to play. Ever since I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy as a teenager, I’ve been obsessed with this phenomenon. I had the opportunity to experience it in Iceland a few years ago – but not yet in Scotland.
Obviously, the further north you go, the better your chances, but the Northern Lights have been known to put on a show in Edinburgh. If you’re visiting the capital for the Christmas Markets and the aurora’s expected to be really strong, head up Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat after dark and cross your fingers.
6. Tour an English Vineyard
When I lived in New Zealand, one of my favourite things to do was to visit the country’s many (many, many…) wine regions. Here in the UK, the industry is going from strength to strength, with vineyards throughout the south of England. My first stop will be Chapel Down, whose sparkling Rosé Brut was reportedly served at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.
7. Drive the North Coast 500
500 miles of ruined castles, wild coastline, breathtaking scenery and the open road. How could you not?
8. A British Royal Wedding: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex
Following a similar exhibition at Windsor Castle, the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding dress will go on display at the Palace of Holyroodhouse – the Queen’s official residence in Scotland – from June until October. I’m planning to spend a long time checking out all 53 floral details that represent the Commonwealth on the five-metre-long silk veil.
A few places I’ll be re-visiting:
Chester Rows, Chester, England
These half-timbered galleries, which sit above the street-level shops, are unique to the Roman city of Chester and house many beautiful boutiques.
Grasmere Gingerbread Shop, Lake District, England
Look, I haven’t tried all the gingerbread in the world, but I don’t need to to know Grasmere gingerbread is the best.
The Kelpies, Falkirk, Scotland
The Kelpies is the largest equine sculpture in the world. But that’s just the beginning. I found them moving; they have an aura I can’t really explain. You’ll have to see them for yourself.
Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, England
Two words: Rootop. Pool.
Where would you start? What are your favourite UK experiences?