2012 was all about London courtesy of the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee, whereas 2014 saw Yorkshire in the spotlight thanks to the Tour de France, resulting in a tourism boom that lasted long after the cyclists had left. As for 2015, I predict it’ll be South West England’s year. Here’s what you should aim to do when you visit the region.
Step Inside Wolf Hall at Montacute House, Barrington Court and Wells Cathedral, Somerset
The latest BBC period drama is based on Hilary Mantel’s hugely popular novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, which cover life at Henry VIII’s court for Thomas Cromwell and others close to the king. Historic locations across England, particularly in the South West, were used as backdrops to the program. Montacute House (open for the season from 3rd March) stands in for Greenwich Palace, with scenes shot here including jousting sequences and Anne Boleyn’s arrest. The house itself is Elizabethan and contains a series of Tudor and Elizabethan paintings loaned by London’s National Portrait Gallery. A whole generation of my ancestors used to work at Montacute so I’m particularly fond of it!
Close by, Barrington Court (open for the season from 14th February) is a Tudor manor house with its own long gallery. It represents Cardinal Wolsey’s home, York Place, in Wolf Hall. Lastly, Wells Cathedral, which took over 100 years to build, will look incredible on the small screen. Filming took place at the Cathedral and Vicar’s Close, though it’s not yet known which scenes were shot. Nearby you’ll also find most of the shooting locations for the film Hot Fuzz – there’s even a self-guided Hot Fuzz walking tour for fans – including the Swan Hotel.
See the Real Broadchurch at West Bay, Dorset, and Clevedon, Somerset
West Bay is unmistakeably Broadchurch territory – you can’t ignore the cliff view and the harbour setting that’s so ingrained in both series of the drama (look out for familiar sights, like the newsagents). Though the area is very popular with tourists, you won’t be jostling for space as you walk along the vast beach. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Watch House Cafe, which has enviable views of the Jurassic Coast and a delicious menu with plenty of locally sourced ingredients.
Many of the backdrops away from the sea in Broadchurch, such as the high street, the church and the Latimer family’s home, can actually be found in Clevedon. Whilst West Bay has seen a surge of visitors, Clevedon hasn’t been so fortunate, but it deserves its time in the spotlight too. Just watch out for One Direction fans walking along the Grade 1 listed pier, where the 1D boys filmed the video for their song, You & I.
Give a nod to Lonely Planet in Salisbury
Lonely Planet gave Salisbury a place in its Best in Travel round-up for 2015, mainly because it holds one of the copies of the Magna Carta in its cathedral (which rapper Jay Z dropped in to see privately in 2013, fact fans), but also because the city has loads more to shout about. There’s the popular Charter Market, and a historic pub with its very own secret tunnel and mummified hand; Stonehenge, sitting just a couple of miles away, is another huge draw for visitors.
The Magna Carta is a weirdly beautiful thing to see up close. The text is tiny and no scrap of parchment is wasted. Whilst many of the regulations it lists are outdated today, or have been removed since 1215, they give a picture of what life was like at the time, and how remarkable it was that people were able to challenge the king and hold him accountable through the Magna Carta. You can read a full English translation in Salisbury Cathedral or online via the British Library, featuring such gems as: ‘No town or person shall be forced to build bridges over rivers except those with an ancient obligation to do so’ (clause 23).
Go Eco-Friendly in Bristol
Bristol is the European Green Capital 2015 and, unsurprisingly, it offers quite a few green things to do when you visit. You can walk to loads of key sights, such as Cabot Tower, Broad Street, Bristol Museum and the Cathedral, or in summer you might want to try a cycle tour. In between sightseeing, get sampling locally made food and drink, which tastes great and also reduces your carbon footprint.
Famously there are some great examples of graffiti in Bristol by Banksy et al, which can be seen in and around the city centre. Alternatively, you might prefer to mull over local artist and Turner Prize winner Richard Long’s art at the Arnolfini Centre – his exhibition, called Time and Space, runs from 31st July-15th November 2015. For the kind of design hit you can actually take home, I’d recommend browsing for antique souvenirs at Colston Street’s Dig Haüshizzle.
Celebrate Agatha Christie at Greenway, Devon
One of the world’s most popular authors, and the most translated, will be remembered with extra enthusiasm this year, when Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday is marked on 15th September. She’s loved for her books, but also for writing the longest-running play in history, called The Mousetrap, which has been performed over 25,000 times since 1952.
Greenway, near Brixham, was Christie’s holiday retreat, where she entertained family and friends. Today it’s a National Trust property, open to daytime visitors and also guests who want to stay on the estate. You may also recognise it as the scene of the crime in Dead Man’s Folly, one of Christie’s many Poirot novels. Salcombe, Sidmouth and Burgh Island, as well as Greenway, were used as filming locations when every single Poirot story was adapted for ITV. Finish your literary trip in Torquay, where you can complete the Agatha Christie Mile.
Get Coastal in Devon and Cornwall
It’s kind of an unwritten rule that a trip to either Devon or Cornwall should involve the sea in some capacity – you’ll eat fresh fish, head to the beach, take a boat trip or fall in love with a seascape painting. This year you’ve got even more reason to embrace it, as the National Trust acknowledges 50 years of the Neptune Coastline Campaign, which has helped to preserve 300 miles of seaside land for locals and visitors in the two counties. To see their hard work, head to one of the year-long Coastal Festival events.
Over in Devon, you can take a dawn chorus walk at Morthoe for £4, or join volunteers at Branscombe to experience a day in the life of a ranger (no charge, but expect to put some hard work in!). Free Cornish events include a night of stargazing at Carnewas (a.k.a. the cliffs above Bedruthan Steps, near Newquay) on 23rd May, and the Big Beach Picnic at New Polzeath on 4th July.
I’m a firm believer that there’s always more to see in the South West, but this year has made me even more determined to go back there. If you’re just as keen, why not help me spread the word?