January 26, 2018
It might feel like a long way off right now, but it’s not too early to start planning a springtime break in the UK. From warbling songbirds and bleating lambs to dazzling banks of bluebells, here’s our pick of the best places to welcome the new season and see the British countryside at its best.
They’re one of the first signs of the new season, and there’s nothing so uplifting as the sight of prancing lambs in springtime. But while you’ll often spot them in a distant field or from a car window, you’ll need to visit a farm or somewhere the animals graze to see them up close.
During lambing season at the National Trust’s Stowe estate in Buckinghamshire, ewes and their newborn lambs wander freely among the parkland and fields, which are criss-crossed by walking paths offering a great way to gently interact. The tenant farmers who work the land use sheep and cows to control the grass growth, which helps maintain the famous far-reaching views.
About four miles up the road is the Silverstone circuit, the current home of the British Grand Prix. On non-event days you can take a guided tour, or book a driving experience in a classic Aston Martin V8 Vantage or a Ferrari F430 Coupe.
It doesn’t last long, so catch it while you can – the bluebell and cherry blossom seasons are the briefest of springtime displays. For a spectacular flourish of sugary pink and white blooms, head to Batsford Arboretum in the northern Cotswolds, who hold the national collection of Japanese flowering cherries.
Served by rail from London Paddington, the honey-coloured market town of Moreton-in-Marsh sits at the head of the Evenlode Valley. From here you can walk to Batsford Arboretum along the long-distance Monarch’s Way footpath in around 35 minutes, so it’s a good base for a car-free weekend break from London. A few miles away is the classic Cotswolds idyll of Chipping Campden, a former wool trading town best known as the home of the Cotswold Olympicks. The Three Ways House hotel is just up the road in Mickleton, where you can gorge on Eton mess and spotted dick at the famous weekly Pudding Club, featuring seven traditional British puds and lashings of creamy custard.
Occupying 1,400 acres of the South Downs National Park, the Slindon Estate is renowned for the incessant chirping of its spring dawn chorus. First to trill in this mix of chalk downs and woodland are the male blackbirds, thrushes and nuthatches, alerting potential mates to their presence and warning off encroaching rivals. But the diversity of birdlife here is vast, so keep an ear out for chiffchaffs and skylarks and great spotted woodpeckers too. The estate runs ranger-led dawn chorus walks most years, kicking off at 5.30 a.m. Dates are normally announced in February, so keep an eye on the website for details.
Eight miles south is the small market town of Arundel. It’s easily reached by train from London in 80 minutes, and is home to the family-friendly Arundel Wetland Centre – a great alternative birdwatching spot if you’re not keen on early starts – and the restored medieval Arundel Castle, set in glorious flower-filled gardens.
In the depths of the North York Moors National Park is the lovely Farndale valley, where the banks of the River Dove are blanketed with thousands of golden Narcissus pseudonarcissus every spring. A straightforward three-and-a-half mile walk along the river is the best way to experience this sunny display, and leads to fine views over the valley.
Take the public Moorsbus shuttle service from Hutton-le-Hole, or drive the 13 miles from Pickering and park at Low Mill. From here there’s a well-trodden path to High Mill, which passes alongside the Daffy Caffy – for tea and scones – and the traditional Feversham Arms pub for heartier meals. Nearby is Castle Howard – perhaps best known for its role as Brideshead Castle in both the TV series and film remake of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. If you’ve time, head to the coast and the gorgeous fishing village of Robin’s Hood Bay, from where you can hike along a clifftop path to the equally charming town of Whitby.
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