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Like a Sunday roast, chocolate-box English villages are something that make us proud to be British. Come summer, their cricket grounds ring out with the sound of a bat and ball, while village fetes take us straight back to childhood with tombolas and coconut shies. But there’s something about winter that brings an added magic to the countryside. It’s probably because we’ve seen The Holiday a hundred times, but a visit to these picture-perfect pockets will give you that warm fuzzy feeling – and not just because you’re sitting too close to the pub fire.
The reigning “queen of the Cotswolds” is a historic wool town built from trademark Cotswold stone. A gorgeous church comes with a side serving of superstition; 99 yew trees are planted in the graveyard as legend has it that the devil would destroy the hundredth (they have recently taken the plunge, so watch this space). The village also claims the country’s oldest bowling green. Borrow a pair of wellies from The Painswick Hotel and set out on an afternoon ramble following the footpath through the cottages. Neighbouring Paddock Farm supplies The Village Pub so settle in front of the fire and tuck into some local grub.
The New Forest
Like a bulldog in a bowler hat, Brockenhurst screams best of British. Wisteria-clad homes, babbling brooks and even Brockenhurst “beach” (actually a secret local swimming spot on the Lymington River) make it one of the most desirable places to live in the UK. Check in to The Pig where a pottery shed has been turned into a spa complete with tartan blankets, while an on-site forager supplies a rotating seasonal menu. Out on the village green, the local cricket club tend to needs an extra man, so muck in and stick around for the cricket teas that usually fare better than their bowlers.
Home to Jenson Button, the historic market town of Frome is a delightful place to take some time out of the fast lane. Steep hills and cobbled streets provide the backdrop for an independent market which shuts down the town centre on the first Sunday of every month. Rumoured to have the best scotch eggs around, The Three Swans is a good pit stop, or head to The Talbot Inn for their legendary sausages rolls. Sleep off your food coma at the peaceful Swallow Barn, where a breakfast hamper is delivered to your door in the morning. Take it straight outside to eat in the surrounding meadows.
Three pubs, a butcher, a baker (but sadly no candlestick maker) give this 1100-year-old village something to celebrate. They hosted a string of bunting-festooned street parties to celebrate their mammoth birthday, the highlight being a quilt festival where 50 handmade quilts were displayed. Just a 90-minute drive from London, it’s a wholesome weekend getaway. Look out for the Ashwell County Fair on August Bank Holiday Monday, featuring a sheep grand national, tug of war and Great Ashwell bake off.
You might have a sense of deja vu peering upon this rugged, Cornish charm as it was the fictional Port Wenn for Doc Martin, our guilty Sunday night TV favourite. Leave your car on the hillside, as the narrow streets lined with ramshackle whitewashed fisherman houses are hard to navigate. Freshly caught crab and lobster are sold on the harbour front each morning and can be ready on your plate by lunchtime. Head to The Good Food Guide’s top restaurant for 2018, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, for a seafood tasting menu accompanied by incredible views.
Heavily romanticised by The Holiday and Bridget Jones, this Surrey sweet spot is undeniably swoon-worthy. Wrap yourself up á la Diaz and head to The William Bray pub, where with any luck you’ll bump into your very own Jude Law. Failing that, get acquainted with the wine selection in the Edwardian tavern at the neighbouring Albury Estate. After some soul-nourishing Shere Drops (the local beer) and a plenty of fresh air, you’ll be ready for anything on Monday morning.
With its honey-stone houses, evergreen countryside and abundance of wild flowers, it’s no surprise that Castle Combe is known as the prettiest village in England. A row of gabled houses rub shoulders along the Bybrook River, completed by a Roman bridge and swans slowly sauntering past. Sleep like royalty in a four-poster bed at the vine-clad Castle Inn and you’ll be looking at house prices before you know it – before rapidly recoiling.
This pretty Norfolk parish is just a stone’s throw from the coastline and brings together all the charms of a traditional village. A parade of colourful shops seem to compete for the best dressed windows and are stocked with local produce for the surrounding countryside. Book a room at The Hoste – though be warned, this village’s charms mean it has become rather popular among the Hooray Henry brigade. The Hero in neighbouring Burnham Overy Staithe has won awards for its top-notch food and is just a 10-minute drive from Holkham beach, which features in the closing scene of Shakespeare in Love.
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