CITY ES­CAPES

Coun­try­side walks, oysters and vil­lage pubs with roar­ing fires… Sarah Riches dis­cov­ers the most charm­ing day trips from London, what­ever the weather. Pre­pare to swoon

Where London - - Contents -

Take a ro­man­tic break and head to one of the coun­try’s great es­capes, from the univer­sity city of Cam­bridge to the beau­ti­ful beaches of Whit­stable.

NORTH A UNIVER­SITY CITY CAM­BRIDGE

What with its 13th-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture, tea­rooms and River Cam, Cam­bridge ticks all the boxes for a ro­man­tic day trip. The city was used as the back­drop in TheThe­o­ryof Ev­ery­thing, star­ring Ed­die Red­mayne and Felic­ity Jones, as they re­told how Stephen Hawk­ing and Jane Wilder fell in love.

Once you’ve seen the big guns – King’s and Queens’ Col­leges and the Bridge of Sighs at St John’s Col­lege – visit Cam­bridgeshire Wine School, and get steamy in the Cam­bridge Univer­sity Botanic Gar­den’s glasshouse.

What­ever you do, make time for a river trip for two. On a crisp day, cud­dle up close to your lover on a pri­vate day­time tour with The Cam­bridge Punt­ing Com­pany. Opt for a dusk or can­dlelit tour and you’ll have the river to your­self – and the stars. Cham­pagne, straw­ber­ries and bal­loons are op­tional if you re­ally want to push the boat out.

For lunch, you can’t beat a tra­di­tional plough­man’s at The Or­chard Tea Gar­den, which was es­tab­lished in 1897. Later on, en­joy din­ner at The Var­sity, a Bri­tish restau­rant in a listed build­ing in the heart of the city.

The city daz­zles all year round but visit dur­ing e-Lu­mi­nate (10-15 Feb) to see iconic build­ings il­lu­mi­nated at night with rain­bow-coloured lights and film pro­jec­tions. Cud­dle up to keep warm! Folk mu­sic fans can lis­ten to bal­lads at Ci­tyRoots (3-11 Feb), a new fes­ti­val at var­i­ous venues. How to get there: Re­turn trains di­rect from London King’s Cross to Cam­bridge take around 45 mins and cost from £24.20.

EAST A SEA­SIDE BREAK WHIT­STABLE

With its cob­bled al­ley­ways, art gal­leries and blus­tery beach, no doubt you’ll find the coastal town of Whit­stable en­chant­ing. If the weather’s fine, visit the har­bour be­fore strolling along Tanker­ton Beach.

If the clouds roll in and the sky threat­ens rain, there’s no need to de­spair – just make a bee­line for Whit­stable Cas­tle & Gar­dens. Built as a fam­ily home in the 1790s, it is now open to the pub­lic and hosts reg­u­lar an­tique fairs.

Al­ter­na­tively, learn about the town’s mar­itime his­tory and an­nual sum­mer oys­ter fes­ti­val at Whit­stable Mu­seum and Gallery at the end of the High Street – af­ter all, oysters are re­put­edly an aphro­disiac.

Spend a few hours in Tree Tops Re­treat Spa just south of the town. You can hire its re­lax­ation lounge, sauna, Jacuzzi and pool just for the two of you.

Lunch is easy: pop into Tea & Times on the High Street for a sand­wich and toasted tea­cake, or share a bag of fish and chips from VC Jones, which has been serv­ing fried suppers since 1962. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to seafood restau­rants, but if you want to dine some­where special in the evening then Sam­phire on the High Street fits the bill. Decked out with chalk­boards, this smart yet cosy bistro serves pots of mus­sels and the catch of the day along­side lo­cal,

sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents. How to get there: Re­turn trains di­rect from London King’s Cross to Whit­stable take from around an hour and 22 mins and cost from £9.90.

SOUTH AN AL­TER­NA­TIVE DAY OUT RYE

Fans of EF Ben­son’s Map­pandLu­cia nov­els and their BBC TV adap­ta­tion will recog­nise Rye in East Sus­sex as the lo­ca­tion of the fic­tional town of Till­ing. But whether you’re a fan or not, it’s a great des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors who want to ex­pe­ri­ence a pretty me­dieval town. Small but per­fectly formed, it’s easy to get around on foot.

Rye Cas­tle Mu­seum is a real-life fairytale. Also known as Ypres Tower, it was built as a fortress in the 13th cen­tury and has since been a home, pri­son and mor­tu­ary – not the most ro­man­tic of places, ad­mit­tedly, but it does win pas­sion points for its balcony views of the glo­ri­ous sur­round­ing coun­try­side and the quaint me­dieval herb gar­den.

His­tory buffs will also en­joy vis­it­ing Ben­son’s Ge­or­gian home, Lamb House, which is now a Na­tional Trust prop­erty with a pond and walled gar­den. And from 1897 to 1916, it was also the home of the writer Henry James. King Henry VIII’s fortress, Cam­ber Cas­tle, is south of the town. Guided tours in­clude Rye Har­bour Na­ture Re­serve, a wild, low-ly­ing space near Cam­ber Sands beach that feels straight out of

ro­man­tic novel. Back in town, have lunch at The Cob­bles Tea Room, a cot­tage built in 1826, then get sticky over choco­late fon­due at Edith’s House. For din­ner, share a bowl of spaghetti à la Lady andtheTramp at Tus­can Rye, or cosy up in front of a log fire at The Globe Inn Marsh. This month, Rye Bay Scal­lop Week (18-26 Feb) hosts tast­ings, cook­ery demon­stra­tions and live mu­sic events. How to get there: Re­turn trains from London King’s Cross to Rye (via Ash­ford In­ter­na­tional) take an hour and 17 mins and cost from £14.40.

WEST A ROYAL CAS­TLE WIND­SOR

A royal cas­tle, river­side spa and horse-drawn car­riages – Wind­sor has all the right in­gre­di­ents for a ro­man­tic day out. While Wind­sor Cas­tle gets all the glory, its grounds are also home to the 14th-cen­tury St Ge­orge’s Chapel. You can cruise past both aboard a French Brothers’ Ed­war­dian steam­boat – opt for a Vin­tage Tea Cruise or an evening din­ner dance. Want to go one bet­ter? Then treat your part­ner to a Wind­sor Car­riages’ horse-drawn car­riage ride in Wind­sor Great Park. Cud­dle up un­der blan­kets as you trot to the park’s high­est point, Snow Hill, for panoramic cas­tle views. If you’re think­ing of propos­ing, then visit As­cot Race­course nearby, as the tra­di­tion of pop­ping the ques­tion on one of its pink benches dates back to the Re­gency pe­riod. You can watch a race on 18 Feb.

Pre­fer to hi­ber­nate dur­ing win­ter? Then try mak­ing fudge at Fudge Kitchen in­stead, or splash out on a mas­sage at the river­side Sir Christo­pher Wren Ho­tel and Spa.

You can eat at the ho­tel, but if you’re look­ing for a cosy pub then The Car­pen­ter’s Arms fits the bill. Dat­ing from 1844, it’s about as tra­di­tional as pubs get; look out for etch­ings of car­pen­ters in the win­dows.

For a more up­mar­ket op­tion, dine at The Water­side Inn, which has three Miche­lin stars and in­cred­i­ble views over the River Thames.

If mu­sic is the food of love, then watch the mu­si­cal Blood Brothers, about two twins who were sep­a­rated at birth, at Theatre Royal Wind­sor (from 27 Feb) be­fore head­ing back to London. How to get there: Re­turn di­rect trains from London Water­loo to Wind­sor & Eton River­side take 54 mins and cost from £11.80. Re­turn train fares are based on the cheap­est prices, which are booked in ad­vance, with Na­tion­alRail.www.na­tion­alrail.co.uk

“TREAT YOUR PART­NER TO A TRIP IN A HORSEDRAWN CAR­RIAGE”

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The Globe Inn Marsh

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