A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the area south of London that includes the counties of Kent, Surrey & Sussex.
Dover is a most historic town on the Kent coast. Since time immemorial, it has been recognised as the country’s front line facing across the English Channel. An invasion attempt by Julius Caesar was thwarted here, and later it became the main Roman fortification in the Saxon shore defences. Centuries on, both Napoleon and Hitler tried unsuccessfully to attack, but Dover remained defiant.
The gleaming chalk walls of the famous white cliffs have been immortalised in poetry and song. Perched above them is the remarkable Dover Castle. Simply packed with history, it is one of the best historical attractions in England. The Normans built the original castle, and current custodians, English Heritage, recently commissioned 150 master craftsmen to restore it to its former glory. It is now recognized as the most authentic medieval castle in the world.
Strangely, Dover became the only castle in England built not to repel foreigners, but to welcome them. In 1179, King Louis VII came to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury. It was the first state visit by a foreign king, but he had nowhere to stay or be entertained. Not to be embarrassed again, King Henry II commissioned a guest castle as a residence for foreign dignitaries. It took 10 years to complete and was the most expensive secular building in Europe. Finally, Henry could demonstrate his hospitality to VIPs from the continent.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, a warren of tunnels was built underneath the castle and packed with defensive mechanisms to repel Napoleon’s forces in the 19th century, and Hitler’s in the 20th. A tour of the tunnels completes a thoroughly fascinating experience.
Dover can be seen as part of an historic analogy: England is the castle, the White Cliffs are the walls, and the channel a moat. From this perspective, Dover is the king.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. More recommendations will appear next week.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)