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Top 5 UK countryside breaks

Get away from the crowds and breath fresh air in the UK's best countryside destinations.
Top 5 UK countryside breaks
Hexham

Hexham

What makes it special:
It has been voted "England's best market town" for starters. Plus, it's very close to Hadrian's Wall, an increasingly popular long-distance footpath. The countryside is gorgeous, so no wonder those Roman chaps wanted to keep it for themselves.

Don't miss:
The Farmers Market, which takes place every second and fourth Saturday in the month. If it's been locally reared or baked, it'll be here. Spend too much time and money at the brewery stall and you could be pickled too.

When to go:
Hexham Carnival is the big summer date on 6 July. Expect the usual winning mix - fairground attractions, dodgy dancing, the whiff of bangers and onions, children wearing ice-creams down their summer tops. A very British day out.

Where to stay:

If you're after a historical theme, your best bet is probably Langley Castle. With 7ft thick walls, next door's snoring should not be an issue. It dates back to the 14th century, but the prices are bang up to date, if not a kings' ransom. But if you have a Prince/Princess fantasy, you may just wish to play it out in the Tower Room, albeit for several pieces of gold. There may be a charge to park your white charger though.

Henley-on-Thames

Henley-on-Thames

What makes it special:
Of course there's the famous royal regatta, but it's nice to visit when the boaters and flannel trousers have been put away for another year. There are lots of other water-based events, like the head of the river races and a delightful towpath route for walkers of all ages. And for variety, there's Cliveden, Windsor and Legoland close by.

Don't miss:
The River and Rowing Museum. It's as wacky as the town's MP Boris Johnson. In fact, he's made his own selection of what he loves there. You just can't keep the oarsome blond bombshell down.

When to go:
The festival hits town, or rather the banks of the river, from 9-13 July. There's dance, theatre, outdoor dining and fireworks. Pass the Pimm's darling.

Where to stay:
If you want to stay somewhere plush in Poshville-on-Thames, then slip off your brogues and Manolos in the Hotel du Vin. Depsite its name, it's actually in an old brewery. You want an outdoor bathtub and walk-in showers? No problem Sir/Madam...

Canterbury

Canterbury

What makes it special:
The breathtaking cathedral aside, this partly walled city has countless other wonderful sites, but there's also great walking and cycling country nearby, as well as pretty coastal towns like Whitstable a hop away, not to mention - for variety - a quick day-trip to Calais from Dover, which is just up the road.

Don't miss:
The City Wall Trail. It should only take a couple of hours, but it's a great way to get a sense of perspective and as it goes only half way round the city, there's no chance of getting dizzy or forgetting where to get off. The M25 it ain't.

When to go:
Like Bakewell, Canterbury has year-round charm - it's great for Christmas shopping in its narrow lanes with quirky shops, or how about late spring when there are acres of bluebells in the woods or maybe sample wonderful walks and river boat trips in summer (but be prepared for swarms of tourists too).

Where to stay:
If you want something a bit special try Abode in Canterbury. But like many of these very cool, chic hotels it tends to divide visitors. Call it the Marmite Measure - you'll probably love it or loathe it.
Bakewell

Bakewell

What makes it special:
It has a market dating back to at least the 1300s, it's in the heart of the Peak District, it's mentioned in the Domesday book and then there's the puddings - please don't say tarts - plus, grab your britches and tighten your corsets, Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice here.

Don't miss:
Chatsworth House - it's frightfully splendid and said to be the fictional Pemberley Hall of Mr Darcy fame and then there's Haddon Hall, location for Jane Eyre

When to go:
There's no shortage of things to do all year round. But if you need a reason, try the Bakewell Show in August. Check out Titan the robot and the rare breed animals.

Where to stay:
The Devonshire Arms at Beeley could not be handier for Chatsworth House or if you want to self-cater in style, try Haddon Grove Farm.

Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight

What makes it special:
It's a diamond-shaped gem. The Isle of Wight is often criticised for being a bit of a timewarp. Well, with almost everything in life now designed so you never stop - drive-ins, coffee-to-go, Blackberries - we say, phew, thank goodness for this little lump of lullaby land! Okay, so it's a bit sleepy..what's wrong with that? It's also very beautiful and that half-hour ferry ride remarkably manages to slow your tired ol' bod down to island speed.

Don't miss:
The Baywatch-on-the-Beach café at St Helen's. Despite it's name, Pamela Anderson would feel very out of place here. This beachside restaurant has homespun charm and you can watch the tide ebb and flow as you tuck into a delicious all-day English breakfast or fishy dish, while children play beach cricket a few feet away. Ah, there is some corner of an island that is forever England...

When to go:
If you want things a tad more lively, hop over for Cowes Week in August or for the Bestival rock festival in early September.

Where to stay:
Nowhere is far from the sea, as you'd, er, expect for an island and The George Hotel is right beside it. It must be doing something right - it's been an inn since 1764! Fling back those curtains me hearties and hear those waves crash.

Images courtesy of www.britainonview.com, Rod Edwards, Martin Brent

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