Open your eyes to Britain’s hidden history.  Here is our selection of places to discover

Open your eyes to Britain’s hidden history. Here is our selection of places to discover

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Hidden Stories. In 2022, that phrase may evoke heated arguments at the National Trust, rows over disputed statues, and genuine efforts by activists and academics to reintegrate diverse groups of people into the common history of these islands. But maybe it has a double meaning. I’ve always thought of Britain as something hidden: a sort of nook and cranny place, the best and most moving parts of which are often difficult to find and all the more exciting.

It dates back to my childhood, I suppose, when we were sometimes taken to climb Rowtor Rocks, a sandstone outcrop that stands on the outskirts of the Derbyshire village of Birchover. The ancient tale about this collection of carvings and caves is that they are druids, a tale that’s easy to believe considering the nearby moors are home to several stone circles. But the truth is different. These eerie altars and thrones were actually carved in the 18th century, supposedly by a vicar named Thomas Eyre, and that may be why I still enjoy climbing them even as an adult.

It’s unfortunate that while the French still think Deauville in Normandy is terribly chic, we don’t think the same of Scarborough in North Yorkshire. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Scarborough, like so many places in Britain, is incredibly interesting, a fact that holds true even when the weather is bad (although I would say Scarborough can be beautiful in good weather). That quality is shared with so many places, and it’s one that makes me feel both possessive of those I like and quite determined to wink at the kind of people who think the country is in The Cotswolds begins and ends and that a city break should only ever be taken abroad, out of your comfort zone. go there! I find. Open your eyes and your mind.

Brantwood, the former home of John Ruskin

Brantwood, the former home of John Ruskin, on the banks of Coniston Water in the Lake District. Photo: Paul Heinrich/Alamy

I want you to see the room at Brantwood, John Ruskin’s home by Coniston Water in the Lake District, where the great critic went mad. In Bamburgh in Northumberland I certainly hope that you will gaze long and hard at the castle overlooking the best beach in the world. But I think you should also visit the churchyard, where there is a Gothic monument to Grace Darling, her pale stone effigy flanked by a row of stone oars. Darling was the lighthouse keeper’s daughter who rowed out to sea with her father in 1838 to rescue the wreck’s passengers Forfarshire, a feat that made her a national hero. I can’t imagine why anyone would go to Margate without first going to that great and mysterious folly, the Shell Grotto. Crab sandwiches can be eaten later.

in this series, observer Writers recommend their own corners of Britain: there are stone circles and big houses, gardens and playgrounds, small museums and even smaller art galleries. Some are relatively obscure, others are simply – in the eyes of their fans – deeply neglected. For my part, I could have written in at least eight different passages, each more beautiful and beguiling than the last; it was hard to choose.

There’s a lot wrong with Britain at the moment, but what it’s not lacking – which it never will be – is fascinating places to visit; so many layers to peel off and discuss later on the way home.

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