In my opinion, one of the most beautiful and fascinating regions in all of the U.K. is the “Border Country,” a colloquial term for northern England and southern Scotland. I had the immense privilege of living for almost three years in this rugged, yet picture-postcard region.
I find many foreigners labor under the conviction that London covers approximately 99 percent of the English land mass. Thankfully, this is not the case. I actually prefer the scenic countryside of northern England and Scotland to the hustle and bustle of the city, though London has its own unique charms (more on that in another post).
If you’re planning a trip across the pond and don’t mind going off the beaten track for stunning views and a taste of the real United Kingdom, you’ll want to schedule a few days into your itinerary to explore the Border Country. Here’s a few places you won’t want to miss!
The Lake District
One of the most popular places for backpackers and vacationers alike, the Lake District boasts jaw-dropping scenery of the fells and lakes, a multitude of shops and boutiques for him and her, hiking and walking trails for every ambition, and delicious food for every palette. Quaint inns and houses converted into bed-and-breakfasts house visitors.
Be aware that most locations in the Lake District are only accessible by bus or by car via narrow, winding roads. Be prepared to rent a car and/or do a lot of walking! Bring comfortable shoes, a warm rain jacket (for all seasons) and more money than you think you’ll need. Food and lodging are expensive and often need to be booked in advance.
Jewels in the Lake District are Keswick, a perfect town for the less adventurous who are more interested in shops and scenery than hardcore hiking, and Chesters-by-the-River, a cafe/bakery/gift shop known for its delicious food and unique ingredients.
For you history buffs, Hadrian’s Wall is a not-to-be-missed landmark. Built by the Romans during their occupation of Britain, the wall marked the end of the civilized south and a barrier against the barbarian Celtic tribes in the north.
Though it once was several feet tall, only 3-4 feet remain. Visitors can follow well-marked trails along the wall to Roman-era forts and enjoy epic views of the English and Scottish countryside. There’s also a small but informative museum featuring artifacts and the history of the region during that time period. The best section of the wall to visit is Steel Rigg (pictured above), with its dramatic cliffs and intact wall and fort ruins.
A Country Pub
There is nothing quite so British as the country pub experience, and it must be indulged in at least once. A seamless mix of bar, home-style family restaurant and social gathering place, British pubs offer a chance to get in out of the weather (which will likely live up to its damp, cold reputation) and warm up a bit.
Traditional pub favorites are steak and ale pie (of the savoury variety), bangers (sausages) and mash(ed potatoes), and a curry of the day. Every Sunday noon most pubs will feature all-you-can-eat Sunday roast dinner, with several kinds of meat, roast potatoes and vegetables, and Yorkshire puddings.
You have to finish everything off with the region’s trademark dessert, a generous helping of sticky toffee pudding (the sweet kind) covered in ice cream or custard.
A favourite of the queen’s, who has a residence in the area, Edinburgh is the crown of Scotland’s cities and her jewel is Edinburgh Castle. The castle has tremendous historical significance and houses the Stone of Scone (also known as the Coronation Stone), on which every king has been crowned for hundreds of years, as well as the Scottish crown jewels (including the crown, sceptre and sword of state).
The castle is perhaps most well-known because Scottish legendary hero William Wallace and his revolutionary forces stormed the castle by scaling the supposedly-impregnable wall you see on the right-hand side of the photo.
For non-history buffs, the castle boasts incredible views of the city and the historic Royal Mile road that leads down from the castle features a multitude of stores selling handwoven plaid tartans and other traditional Scottish items.
Border country might lack the excitement of its big-city neighbors to the south, but it carries a rugged, peaceful beauty all its own. If you’re looking for incredible scenery and quaint little towns steeped in old-world charm, your next trip might just have to be to Border Country. Enjoy some sticky toffee pudding for me!