A Guide to British Small Towns and Villages

Everybody has heard of London and Edinburgh, but there is far more to Britain than the main cities. There are many smaller, less celebrated places in the UK that still contain wonderful tourist attractions.

St. Ives

Although officially part of England, Cornwall has always maintained a sense of independence from the rest of the country. Due to being the southernmost English county it also enjoys milder weather than the rest of the country. Jutting out on a spectacular peninsula, St. Ives is home to four clean, sandy beaches. As well as the working harbour, there are also Porthmeor, Porthminster and Porthgwidden beaches.

As you’d expect from a fishing port, seafood restaurants are easy to find along the cobbled streets. However, perhaps the biggest attractions are the many galleries. The most famous of these is the Tate Gallery, which boasts a wide variety of artwork in many genres. Day outings to the Eden Centre biosphere, and the centuries old St. Michael’s Mount are also easy to arrange.

Overbury

Set in the shadow of the gentle slopes of Bredon Hill in southern Worcestershire, a walk through Overbury is like taking a step back in time. There is a feudal feel to the village, as the local squire owns every building bar the church, school, and Village Hall. Residents can only rent, and many of them work on the large arable estate. Unlike the neighbouring villages, Overbury has stubbornly resisted the tide of housing development.

Even the village phone box is different. Instead of the traditional red booth, Overbury’s public phone is built into a wall. Every house is hewn from Cotswold stone, and there is a quintessentially English cricket green at the heart of the village.

St. David’s

For hundreds of years, this Pembrokeshire coastal town has attracted visitors. The town is famously associated with St. David, the patron saint of Wales. Sightseers can marvel at the twelfth century St. David’s Cathedral, which hosts David’s shrine, a popular place of pilgrimage since the medieval period.

The town also has something to offer the less pious tourist. Nestled amongst the historical buildings, lie literally hundreds of pubs. In fact, St. David’s claims to have more pubs per capita than anywhere else in Britain. The area is also popular amongst walkers, who take advantage of the breathtakingly rugged coastal paths.

Hay-on-Wye

Situated on the Welsh side of the border with England, Hay-on-Wye is a small, attractive town set in glorious countryside. Nevertheless the scenery is not Hay’s biggest draw, as the town rightly claims to be the Book Capital of Britain, and hosts more than fifty book shops. Bibliophiles could spend weeks browsing the many outlets. Even on Sundays there are plenty open. Whatever text you happen to be looking for, you are more than likely to find it somewhere in the town.

Porthmadog

Situated in North West Wales, Portmadog was the brainchild of the nineteenth century landowner William Madocks (Porthmadog is the Welsh for ‘Madock’s Port). Over a hundred acres of land was reclaimed from the estuary, and the resulting embankment, now known as the Cob, is the focal point of the town. Tourists can spend many hours admiring the unique architecture, and hundreds of fans of the cult 1960’s television series The Prisoner still make the pilgrimage to Portmadog, where the programme was set.

There are plenty of independent shops, and the town is an antidote to the ubiquitous chain stores that litter most British towns. The steam train is another popular attraction.

As well as being a destination in its own right, Porthmadog is also a great base for exploring the mountainous scenery of North Wales and the many castles that dot the landscape.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Lying at the mouth of the River Tweed, Berwick encapsulates Anglo-Scottish history. During the Middle Ages, the town changed hands more than a dozen times. Between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries it had the status of a neutral town. Though it officially became part of England in during the reign of Queen Victoria, the locals still consider themselves neither Scots nor English.

The county of Berwickshire lies in Scotland, and the local football team plies its trade in the Scottish football league. The unique history of Berwick is also apparent in the historical buildings, especially the town walls that have witnessed so many invasions.

New Lanark

Situated just south of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, New Lanark has been designated a UNESCO site of World Heritage. The village is a working testament to Britain’s Industrial Revolution, and the benefits and drawbacks that it created. The nineteenth century philanthropic mill owner, Robert Owen, established New Lanark in order to house the men and women who worked his cotton mill. There are many family activities, with historical re-enactments designed to appeal to children.

Kirkwall

Kirkwall, the capital of the northerly Orkney Isles, was founded by the Vikings almost a millennium ago, and there is still much evidence of the Scandinavian legacy. The Orkneys only became part of Scotland in 1466 when they were given as a dowry by the King Christian of Denmark, to James III for marrying the Danish princess Margaret.

Perhaps the most impressive landmark is the twelfth century cathedral of St. Magnus, but the Bishop’s Palace and the Earl’s Palace are also well worth a visit. Kirkwall can be reached by ferry from Scrabster and Aberdeen. It is also possible to sail north to the Shetland Isles.

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Malcolm Oakley
Hello, I’m Malcolm Oakley, a keen walker, leisure photographer and outdoors blogger. I'm lucky to have lived at the edge of the South Downs National Park, in West Sussex.

Living in Devon I am now walking the South West Coast Path and Dartmoor National Park with my Border Collie 'Dave'.

I hope you enjoy reading about my walks, look forward to reading your comments on the blog posts and YouTube videos. Please do get in touch.
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