THE WEST COUNTRY
Britain’s ‘West Country’; the South West of England, has been a hugely popular rural escape for city folk for decades now, with a great range of quality B&B farmstays and self catering farmhouses to choose from. Some will contest that this tourism boom has diluted some of the region’s authenticity though, and along with it its reputation as one of the most traditional and deeply rural parts of England. But in our opinion it has managed, for the most part, to hold on to much natural charm, a charm you’ll find abundant in its welcoming farmstays.
A few days spent travelling from the famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire to the East, on through the wildly beautiful moorlands of Dartmoor and Exmoor and eventually down to where the proud Celtic province of Cornwall tumbles into the sea will be days well spent.
The West Country ends at Lands End, Cornwall, also England’s most Westerly point. Where it begins though is somewhat a grey area but for most it means the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. Though you can get a bit of that West Country feel in neighboring counties Hampshire and Gloucestershire too, and what that means apart from the mainly rural nature of the region, is the distinctive local accent, an abundance of good cider, homely traditional pubs and the overall warmth and friendliness of the people.
As mentioned previously farm stay holidays are very popular in this part of the world. It was, and is, farming country after all and it became a nice example of how, unlike in many parts of the world, tourism doesn’t have to devour up traditional industries, given the right environment and the right type of tourist it can fit in fairly seamlessly to what is already there. So despite the tourism boom, they seem to get it right, and accordingly standards on a West Country farmstay are very high. Quality and comfort in some really authentic, peaceful rural settings.
Our Recommended Farmstays in the West Country: Farmstays/The-West-Country
SOUTH EAST ENGLAND
A farmstay among the rolling hills and tidy little villages of South and South East England are such an antidote to the stresses of Britain’s premier city, London that it can be hard to imagine they inhabit the same country, never mind the same region.
London, as big cities do, tries its best to creep out into the countryside, outgrowing its traditional cage; the M25 motorway which rings the outer suburbs. Once beyond that though, for the most part you will be in a different world.
Apart from a few spots of urban averageness, in the countryside the land is mainly flat and green, everything is tidy and clean, and well tended farm hedgerows and narrow, flower filled laneways surround some of the prettiest little villages in the entire country.
From the garden county of Kent, Chaucer’s country, down to Sussex and across as far as Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, this region is steeped in England’s medieval history. It has many points of interest to the tourist, Canterbury, Cambridge, Oxford, Royal Tunbridge Wells to name but a few, but those that hop off and on trains from London in these cities are missing out on the joy of a drive across the South Downs or the Surrey Hills or the Chilterns, a trek through the New Forest or a stroll along the East Sussex coast. To the west of Oxfordshire, as it blends into neighbouring Gloucestershire, you’ll find the famous Cotswolds: A beautifully peaceful area of gentle hills and green fields that attracts a somewhat well-heeled clientele. Farmstays in the Cotswolds are generally somewhat upmarket affairs, and you can expect excellent service and hotel comforts but at something of a premium.
Rural South East England, as you would expect, gets most of its visitors from London, and many well-off Londoners have chosen to move here, either buying a second home or living there permanently and choosing to commute back to the city for work. Despite this, or maybe in some ways because of this, the peace and tranquility of village life is proudly preserved.
Most people here adopt the stance that London can go its way but we will still go ours, and our way is better. Farmstays in the South East of England are of a high quality, and you can be sure the owners know the value of what they have, and the value of the beautiful, natural environment in which they live.
Our Recommended Farmstays in South East England: Farmstays/South-East-England
Being so close to a low lying coastline, much of East England, the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk mainly, was for centuries covered in untenable marshland, or fens. These fens as they were known were slowly reclaimed into fertile farmland though and today the East of England is a hard working farming heartland with crops being the mainstay; potatoes, wheat and barley as well as carrots and sugar beet.
Many of the ancient fens are still left though and are protected as havens for wildlife. Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire together are commonly known as East Anglia, named after the ancient kingdom of the East Angles, a Germanic tribe that came with the Anglo Saxon invasions. Of those three Cambridgeshire is the most visited and touristic, mainly due to Cambridge city itself but the rural areas around are gorgeous and well regarded too. In next door Norfolk the Queen herself has her own farm holiday home; Sandringham Estate.
Non East Anglian Essex to the south has a unique character, and in popular culture is probably the most famous county in England. Having once been a traditional rural culture in common with its neighbors to the north, in the last fifty or sixty years it became the go-to destination for working class East Londoners, first as a cheap and cheerful holiday destination then as a place of long term migration; a retirement destination, a place to raise children, a place to relocate and reboot working class East London communities in the face of big city population squeeze.
The results of this are in equal measures cherished and lampooned in broader British culture, with the people of modern Essex being stereotyped as somewhat shallow and flashy but always friendly and fun. Much of Essex has thus been urbanised in not so nice ways but despite that there are many wonderful rural areas, with classically beautiful English villages, farmhouses and rolling green farmland as charming as anywhere in the country.
Our Recommended Farmstays in East England: Farmstays/East-England
Most of the West Midlands is associated with the urban sprawl of Britain’s second city Birmingham in the same way the South East is tied to London. Being the birthplace of the industrial revolution doesn’t help its progress as a farm holiday destination either. But really, this unassuming heart of Britain is gorgeously rural too.
Hertfordshire is a solid farming county, with its low fertile plains drifting off towards the mountains of Wales, there are many farmstays here set amongst the finest of open countryside and great parklands to explore like Lee Valley and Aldenham Country Park. The Malvern hills of Worcestershire are a West Midlands secret, with plenty of hiking and cycling trails amongst the rolling hills and woodlands, and miles of canals and waterways to walk along.
Shropshire too, the birthplace of Charles Darwin, is classic English countryside, from the green hills of the South to the open meadows that roll on through the county, on into Cheshire to the North. Staffordshire to the East has The Roaches, its own Peak District, that links up with the more famous Derbyshire peak District. There is history here too, a visit to Tamworth Castle or the house in Lichfield where one of the English language’s greatest writers, Samuel Johnson was born to name but a few, will satisfy history lovers. As will Warwickshire, home of the famous, medieval Warwick Castle and also containing many historic country houses and beautiful country parks as well as the lovely Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home town.
Down below we have Gloucestershire, down where the West Midlands meets the West Country and long on the agritourism/farmstay scene. It is a nice transition between the West Midlands and the West Country, itself never quite knowing which it belongs too, with much of its character of its countryside and its people owing to both. It has some lovely small villages to explore and acres of beautifully kept farm and woodlands. A farmstay in the Cotswolds, a beautifully serene area of rolling hills and meadowland which runs through Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, is a particularly long standing holiday tradition for UK urbanites.
Our Recommended Farmstays in the West Midlands: Farmstays/West-Midlands
The East Midlands rural tourism scene is dominated by the Derbyshire Peak District. Even without the writings of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters to inspire, the Peak District, which spreads over North Derbyshire and up into South Yorkshire, is a wonderfully atmospheric place. With its rugged scenery and quaint stone villages the Peak District is a firm farmstay favourite, and a place of refuge and peace away from the urban grimness of post-industrial Northern England.
As you might expect it gets lots of tourists, many of whom come to pay homage to some of the most iconic literary figures in English language, others to wander on foot its wild landscapes. Whichever way, being surrounded by urban conurbations with a combined population of around 20 million, it struggles gracefully to keep its charm and poise in the face of the huge number of visitors. There are many accommodation options throughout the Peak District with farmstays and cottages being possibly the most popular choice, you’ll find that hosts here have a long and well deserved reputation for looking after tourists and you’re very unlikely to be disappointed.
Historic Lincolnshire is known for its miles of canals, its valleys and beaches and its numerous medieval manor houses. The southern fenland links on to the more well known East Anglia fens and it too is a haven for wildlife, birdlife in particular. The Wolds to the North and The Vales to the West contain some beautiful open countryside with lots of good hill walking. Lincolnshire has an interesting, non-conformist history. It was a centre of much anti Church Of England religious independence movements, sometimes known as puritans or separatists. The 17th Century Pilgrim Fathers, known to almost every American to this day, for example had their origins around the towns of Boston and Gainsborough, and would eventually set sail to America aboard the Mayflower, via a stint in Leiden, Holland and then Plymouth in the South West of England. Lincolnshire is also recognised as the birthplace of Methodism and such historical figures as Rev. John Cotton, who, having also fled England because of his anti-establishment views, made a name for himself as one of the founder fathers of the U.S. state of Massachusetts.
Our Recommended Farmstays in the East Midlands: Farmstays/East-Midlands
Wildly beautiful Yorkshire has some of the country’s most stunning and dramatic landscapes. Hauntingly beautiful moors and mountains, windswept rocky plains, and atmospheric hillside stone cottages. Its countryside has a character and atmosphere all of its own, to sum up; it is truly a rural heaven. It can heave with tourists sometimes though, especially in the summer, but don’t let that put you off going to ‘God’s own country’.
Among Emily Bronte country; the South Yorkshire Dales, and in particular The Calder Valley, evidence of the industrial past abound. Victorian era steel mills and pit heads dot the landscape adding a grey, ghostly beauty to the hills and valleys. Some are open to the public as museums and are an interesting diversion. East Yorkshire, the land that inspired painter David Hockney, has the rolling Yorkshire wolds and some fine coastline to be enjoyed. The Yorkshire Wolds Way is an eighty mile trail that runs from the towns of Filey on to Hessle and is one of England’s great country walks. And farther up in the North, the famously inspiring open landscapes of The Moors run wild towards the coast.
Yorkshire is full of outdoor sporting activities, rock climbing, hill walking, cycling and sailing. And it has a wealth of pretty villages. The likes of Saltaire and Slaithes get most of the attention but there are many, many more, and many visitors have found their own favourite, secret Yorkshire village. And though it has a reputation for earthy, raw country folk, there is some fine dining to be had; outside of London it has more Michelin starred restaurants than any other region of Britain. And as you might expect, it is an excellent farm-stay holiday destination, with standards very high.
Our Recommended Farmstays in Yorkshire: Farmstays/Yorkshire
NORTH WEST ENGLAND
Rural tourism in the North West of England is dominated by the famous Lake District. Which, despite its name, is more about mountains than lakes. It contains England‘s highest peak Scaffell Pike as well as many other heights and the area’s stunning beauty made it a place of pilgrimage for romantic poets in the 19th Century and then for painters, hill walkers and nature lovers generally. There aren’t many large scale farms here, due to the ruggedness of the terrain it’s not a major farming centre, but it has a number of working small holdings and much quaint, homely accommodation that ranges from farm-stays to traditional hillside cottages.
To the far South, around Liverpool, Cheshire has its own, less well known, Peak District, 100 square miles of it, stretching from Buxton to Biddulph, and offering some beautiful hikes across the moorlands and rocky hills. Besides that Cheshire also has some lovely rolling meadows, woodland and large working farms with plenty of accommodation options.
Rural Lancashire would be less touristic than those other two but with the beautiful Pennines to its East and the likes of wildlife rich Morecambe Bay to the Western sea-board, it too is well worth exploring. The Forest of Bowland, for example which is more moorland than forest, and used to serve the crown as a royal hunting ground in medieval times, is great for meandering country walks and you’ll mostly have it to yourself.
Our Recommended Farmstays in North West England: Farmstays/North-West-England
NORTH EAST ENGLAND
The area around Newcastle, North East England, the edge of the country is where England ends and Scotland begins and is very much another unsung corner of Britain with warm, friendly, welcoming people. Durham and Northumberland have history and inescapable ties to the past. The fifth century monastery of Holy Island, Lindisfarne, the 800 year old Durham Cathedral, Alnwick Castle, one of the largest castles in the country and recently used in the Harry Potter films, and of course Hadrians Wall, the ancient divide between England and Scotland, are all here.
The coastline of the North East facing out towards the North Sea is wild and beautiful with some surprisingly nice sandy beaches along the way. The area is one of rolling hills and farms, and the northern part of the Pennines especially has some great walks and hikes. It gets only a modest amount of tourism, and so, especially off season, a farm cottage stay here will allow you to have all this wild country to yourself. Farther down, the gentle Durham Dales has all its more southern cousins have without the hoards of tourists.
Our Recommended Farmstays in North East England: Farmstays/North East-England
The beauty of Scotland, The Highlands in particular, need no introduction for almost anyone, especially farm-stay holiday enthusiasts. Rural Scotland is beautiful in a wild and wonderful way and is a tourist magnet for visitors from all around the world. Though Edinburgh is, rightfully so, a hugely visited city, the main attraction of Scotland is it amazing landscapes. Its glens and mountains, its islands and lakes. Loch Lomond not far from Glasgow and Loch Ness much farther up in the North near Inverness are known around the world as are the likes of The West Highland Way and The Isle Of Skye.
The Northern Highlands above the Caledonian Canal are sparsely populated and especially off season, you can walk or hike for miles and miles without seeing a single other soul. It’s a tough barren place, with harsh, changeable weather even at the best of times. The more adventurous can move on from here North to the seldom visited and fascinating Orkney Islands or farther North again to the Shetlands, almost more Scandinavian than Scottish.
The first major Island of the Hebrides is the romantic, gorgeous Isle of Skye. It is long been hugely popular with nature lovers and artists with its brooding landscapes holding out against the winds of the great Atlantic Ocean, like it’s the end of the known world. Of course its not though, farther West again is the much less touristy but oddly more urban, Isle of Lewis.
The South of Scotland is routinely ignored by non native tourists, but the likes of Dumfries and Galloway are beautiful in their own right, like mini Highlands without the tourism boom. Overlooked areas like the Galloway Forest Park must sometimes wish they were in another region of Britain so that their own beauty could be showcased free from difficult comparisons with the world beating Highlands to the North.
All over Scotland there are welcoming farmstays, country cottages and B&B’s whose hospitality can be enjoyed in some of the most iconic scenery in Europe.
Our Recommended Farmstays in Scotland: Farmstays/Scotland
The principality of Wales, almost a country, very much a nation, is famous for its native language, rugby, choir singing and mountains, and if we may say so, these days for having some of the best farmstays in Britain.
It has some rich farming land and farming, especially sheep farming, is at the heart of Welsh village life. The landscapes are really gorgeous here; from the Brecon Beacons in the South, through the gentle pastures of mid Wales, to the high mountains of the North there is some glorious countryside. The Snowdonia national park contains Wales’ highest and Britain’s second highest mountain, Mt. Snowden. And its tough terrain is popular with climbers and hikers. The Brecon Beacons too in the South have lots of good climbing and hiking trails and the Pembrokeshire coast, especially around the St. David’s Peninsula, has a great deal of well marked seaside walks overlooking the Irish Sea.
Wales is a Celtic land and though the Welsh don’t promote their ‘Celticness’ to outsiders as much as the bigger tourist centres of Ireland or Scotland, it’s still there, in a quieter, more unassuming, way. The soft, lyrical Welsh language is spoken to this day in a surprising amount of rural areas, in fact it is the first language in many villages. And further traces of Wales’ proud Celtic origins can be found in the numerous ancient and mysterious standing stones scattered around the countryside. Farmstay holidays here are popular with savvy visitors and they give a great insight into otherwise less obvious aspects of Welsh rural life.
Our Recommended Farmstays in Wales: Farmstays/Wales
(Or, for a special review of farm cottages with hot tubs in Wales, go to Farmcottages/Hottubs/Wales)