What we learnt about the UK in 2017 – Part 1

We spent less time travelling around the UK than originally expected, and didn’t get anywhere near as far around the country as we thought we would.

We set off at the beginning of April and the weather finally beat us at the end of October.  We arrived home on 23rd October, a few weeks before we were hoping.

Instead of making our way around the whole of the UK and spending a couple of months in Scotland, we explored the east coast fully, and just made it into Scotland (the furthest north we got was Dunbar, just east of Edinburgh) before we started making our way home via the Lake District and Blackpool.  In this time we also had a week in Ibiza for a family wedding (and what a wonderful week it was too!),  and a couple of weeks, in total, staying near home to catch up with family and friends.  Meaning that our actual time on the road in the UK was 25 weeks (including a diversion to Cornwall).

Obviously we already knew rather more about the UK than about France, Spain or Portugal, but we did learn new things on our way around the country 🙂

So here goes!

  • You probably need at least 2 years to explore the UK properly
  • We spent over 4 weeks in East Sussex and Kent alone, and still feel that we missed out.
    • For instance we didn’t make it to Ramsgate (where there are wartime tunnels to be explored), or Broadstairs with it’s beautiful sandy beaches (these are rare in this part of the world!) and Margate, which boasts both sandy beaches and also Dreamland Theme Park, considered to be the oldest surviving in the country, having been restored lovingly and re-opened in 2015.
  • The reason for being in East Sussex and Kent for so long was the wealth of history in the area.  We visited some amazing attractions, castles and sites, including (but not limited to!):- (Seriously I could go on and on – if you visit my East Sussex and Kent page you’ll find a list of every relevant post from the area – in addition to those shown below)
    • Dover    
      • Not just a busy ferry port, but a rather special castle, wartime hospital built into the cliff, WWII tunnels and listening ears on the cliffside, lighthouses and a memorial to Bleriot commemorating where he landed on the first flight across the channel in 1909.
    • Old Hastings
      • Not to be confused with the new town centre!  Old Hastings has much to commend it, including free museums,  2 cliff railways, a country park atop the cliff, a miniature steam railway, huts where you can buy fish just off the boats, fish and chip shops galore and a castle (although we didn’t visit as we thought it was perhaps a little expensive) and more!
    • Sandwich
      • Sandwich is an absolute delight that we very nearly missed.  Follow the town trail to make the most of your visit 🙂
    • Brightling Follies
      • We stumbled on these by following a walk I found.  The walk starts in the churchyard where the first folly is sited – a pyramid no less!
      • 20170418_154955
        One of ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller’s follies – this one situated in Brightling Churchyard
    • KESR (steak railway)
      • This was the 1st of many steam railways we encountered and the only one that we spent the money riding on.  Better than many in that once you have your ticket you can hop on and off, backwards and forwards all day 🙂
      • 20170422_150542
    • Winchelsea & Rye
      • A tiny town with a huge church (where Spike Milligan is buried).  In Winchelsea we also went on a tour of the many cellars found under the town’s houses.  Rye is quite simply charming 🙂  Both used to be far nearer to the sea itself, now both being further inland nowadays
    • Chatham Docks
      • Expensive but quite interesting visit.  I would have liked to take the ‘Call the Midwife’ tour!
    • Dungeness and Romney Marshes
      • Dungeness is known as the only desert in Britain.  It is the end/beginning of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway – a 1/3 size steam train (which Calv credits for his tintinitus suffered since he stood outside to listen to the whistle – without covering his ears…)
    • Battle Abbey 
      • One of our first visits and we very much enjoyed it.  The Abbey was built on the site of the battle, perhaps to atone in some way?


  • The vast majority of the campsites we stayed on were lovely, particularly the smaller ones.
    • In total we stayed at 31 sites in the UK and were only disappointed with 3 of them.  For more details visit my Campsite Reviews page – here.
  • If embarking on a trip like ours membership of both English Heritage and the National Trust is almost compulsory!!
    • We used our memberships extensively, visiting some truly amazing places including (but again not limited to):-
    • Again, I could go on and on!  The upshot of having both these memberships though is that we spent lots of time at English Heritage and National Trust property and saved ourselves getting on for £1000 in entrance fees…
  • There are not just 600ish churches in the UK (as I had in my head for some reason!)  Every town/city/village has at least 1 church and they are all highly individual 🙂  This means there are actually something like 50,000 churches in the UK (according to Dr Peter Brierley anyway!)  I haven’t visited them all, although I made a good stab at it!  Below are pictures of some of my favourites.

  • There are bowling greens in most English villages – very possibly more greens than cricket pitches.
  • The beaches of North Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland are absolutely beautiful.  My favourites were Wells next the Sea, Holkham Bay and Bamburgh.
  • There are some seriously good fish and chip shops around the country!  And a lot of them 🙂
  • There are some independent supermarkets dotted around the country.  The one I particularly remember was Jempsons of Rye.
  • We felt welcome everywhere we visited in England.
  • There are even more castles in England than I expected!
  • Every town has something of interest to explore (well, nearly every town….) and more and more have excellent town trails for you to follow – not leaflets either, these are numbered signs giving interesting history and facts about the area.
  • The UK road network is excellent – generally better (or at least as good) and certainly cheaper than those on the continent.
  • It is usually possible to park the van in the car parks of the larger supermarkets (even whilst towing the car)
  • Everywhere you look there is public footpath.  We wanted to explore every 1 that we saw – pretty impossible really as there are 140,000 miles of footpaths in England and Wales….  We did do a number of walks though, but we probably only covered a couple of hundred miles – we have a way to go then!
  • Greyhound racing isn’t as exciting as horse racing
  • There are also far more cycle paths than we expected.  Many towns and cities having extensive paths.  These include cities such as Cambridge and York.  The number of places that we were able to cycle easily was a great surprise to us.
  • Most museums have free entrance.  Smaller local museums usually have a token charge to enable them to stay open
  • Many cathedrals do not have free entry unfortunately – although Norwich has no charges and is well worth a visit.
  • Many, many towns and villages feature at least 1 set of almshouses (built to offer sanctuary to the poor and infirm in their twilight years usually).  Sandwich has 3 sets (plus a further 1 which was actually for the sick – almshouses were originally known as hospitals (in that they provided hospitality for pilgrims and paupers))
    • Most almshouses are still being lived in today
  • In East Sussex, Kent and East Anglia (in particular) most towns and villages boast charming signs welcoming you (some, it has to be said, are better than others!)  This appears to be a fairly new initiative and I do wish more places in the UK would follow their lead.  See my post for pictures 🙂
  • On the East Coast there are so many wind farms and individual wind turbines.  They weren’t as noisy as I expected (although Calv didn’t agree…) and I actually find them rather majestic up close.
    • In Yorkshire, near Flamborough, there is a windfarm conceived in honour or a group of airman from the 2nd world war.  See more details here.
  • Still in Yorkshire they fly their county flag everywhere (a blue rose) – this is a very proud county.
    • They’re also proud of their links to the Tour de France and, more recently, the Tour de Yorkshire, with blue and yellow painted cycles (both big and little) displayed everywhere – as you enter towns and villages; above the lintels of doorways and outside shops 🙂
    • Other counties that fly their flag, of course, are Northumberland and Cornwall
  • There are numerous villages on the east coast that are, quite literally, disappearing into the sea.  You can see plumbing and pipework sticking out of the cliff and whole sections of buildings slipping down the cliff on their way to the sea.
  • There is a distinct difference between England and Scotland.
    • We particularly noticed the difference in the aesthetics, shall we say, of the housing…. (pebbledash and concrete are not particularly pretty!)  This isn’t to say that there aren’t attractive buildings in Scotland, but they’re nowhere near as plentiful as in England!
    • The 1st beaches that we came across in Scotland didn’t compare to those we had just left in England (Northumberland, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire).  I must note here though that we saw very few beaches and I have little doubt that there are stunning beaches to be seen in Scotland.
    • We very much enjoyed Dunbar and Jedburgh, 2 of the towns we visited.
    • We also came across a tower by the side of the road (Greenknowe Tower) that was easily accessible to the public.
  • We discovered our new favourite place in the UK (mine anyway) – Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire
  • We realised that, however much we loved the area, we could never live in the Yorkshire Dales after all as it is just so isolated!  One night it took us 1 hour and 32 miles to find emergency supplies as we had decided not to go out looking until after 7pm!!
  • Speaking of the Yorkshire Dales the hillsides are dotted with hundreds of stone barns, many abandoned, some converted and some still in use.  We would stand in one spot and turn a full circle counting how many we could see – I think the record was about 24 🙂
  • There are some impressive waterfalls, particularly in the Yorkshire Dales
  • I discovered that as much as I loved everywhere we visited (particularly the Yorkshire Dales – in case you hadn’t guessed…) my favourite place in the UK is still Cornwall 🙂
  • And finally we learned that we want to keep exploring this wonderful country – next time we need to go West to Somerset, Wales, the Cotswolds etc and I will finally make it to Port Sunlight, Liverpool and Crosby (we were meant to visit in April, but accidentally sold the van….)

Look out for future posts on our favourite fish & chip shops and tearooms; beaches; English Heritage and National Trust sites; walks and cycle rides etc.

I also still have to write about our final stop in Blackpool as well.

See you soon 🙂





Author: MandoraTheExplorer

Having given up full-time work we currently work a year to travel for 4-5 months, and we're hoping to continue this until we can retire properly! Currently living, and loving, life to the full :)


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