Unloved UK: secret weekend breaks to take this Autumn

5 minutes

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We scoured UK tourism stats to find three hidden gems that could be the setting for a perfect weekend break.

These three towns have seen few tourists visit in the last decade, despite their historical landmarks, idyllic surroundings and lovely local businesses. So why not set a new trend and pay them a visit?
  • Relax with a gin after your Girvan adventure
  • Experience history and a warm welcome in Denbigh
  • Visit Barnard Castle and the stunning Bowes Museum

Unloved UK: secret weekend breaks to take this summer

An English town, a Scottish town and a Welsh town… what do they all have in common? No joke: they could all become your new favourite weekend break destination! And, to help you make the most of your stay, we talked to three local experts about their towns. Don’t forget: even if you’re on holiday in the UK, a travel insurance policy can help you protect your belongings – so make sure you find the right cover.

How to avoid the tourist hotspots

According to Visit Britain’s latest data, London is still, by far, the most popular tourist destination in the UK, hosting over 19 million inbound tourists in 2019.

The cities in the top ten are those you would expect, with Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow making up the top five.

But what about the overlooked towns that are full of charm, but struggling to attract tourists from abroad? We talked to local experts about why small towns deserve to be on anyone’s travel bucket list.

Chris Saunders works for Adventure Carrick (@AdvCarrick), an adventure activities company based in Girvan in the South East of Scotland. Rachael Fletcher is the marketing manager for The Bowes Museum (@TheBowesMuseum) in Barnard Castle, County Durham. Peter H Jones owns family-run electrical business E Jones & Sons in Denbigh and volunteers as a town guide.

The Firth of Clyde

Girvan – feel energised in beautiful Scotland

What does Girvan have that makes it special?

‘Girvan is a coastal town that sits on the coast of the Firth of Clyde, with amazing views over the stunning seascape, the Mull of Kintyre and the Isle of Arran,’ says Chris. ‘It’s surrounded by hills as well, so you look one way over the firth and the over way over Galloway Forest Park.’

Fill in the blanks: ‘come for the … stay for the …’

‘Come for the amazing location, stay for the sunsets. The sunsets over Ailsa Craig are absolutely glorious.’

What do you personally love about Girvan?

‘I would have to say the natural environment and adventure activities, but I am biased!’

What are the local secrets that tourists often miss?

‘South East Scotland is an amazing adventure playground, and much quieter than the Scottish Highlands, which gets more publicity from VisitScotland. There are loads of outdoor activities to do here.’

What’s the local delicacy?

‘Hendrick’s Gin. They’re also opening the Hendrick’s gin experience soon and a new Grant’s whisky distillery, as Grant’s owns Hendrick’s.’

In three words, how would you describe Girvan to a potential visitor?

‘Scotland’s hidden gem.’ 

The Bowes Museum

Barnard Castle – a traditional town with inspiring independent shops

What does Barnard Castle have that makes it special?

‘The Bowes Museum, a stunning French château, is the North’s museum of art, fashion and design,’ explains Rachael. ‘It houses outstanding collections of European fine and decorative art, proudly sitting in wonderful gardens and grounds with imaginative children’s play areas and woodland walks.’

Fill in the blanks: ‘come for the … stay for the …’

‘Come for The Bowes Museum, stay for the Silver Swan: a beautiful musical automaton in the museum’s collection.’

What do you personally love about the town? 

The independent shops. There are delicious foods, clothes, home furnishings, jewellery, accessories and flowers – take a walk through Barnard Castle and enjoy the vibrant and diverse mix of local independent retailers.

‘With an antiques quarter on The Bank and a number of contemporary and traditional art galleries, Barnard Castle offers much for the cultural shopper. On Wednesdays, a lively marketplace opens, with stalls selling a variety of goods from fresh fish, fruit and vegetables to wooden crafts and clothing. On the first Saturday of every month, the Farmers’ Market has a wonderful array of locally produced foods and goods.’

What local secrets do tourists often miss?

‘Firkin Alley: a micro-brewery hidden away down an alley, off the main street, which serves real ales and ciders, wines and craft lagers.’

What’s the local delicacy?

‘McFarlane’s black treacle bacon, Peat’s Game, The Moody Baker’s sourdough and Chocolate Fayres chocolate.’

In three words, how would you describe Barnard Castle to a potential visitor?

‘Picturesque, charming, traditional.’

Denbigh Castle

Denbigh – a welcoming gem in the north Wales countryside

What does Denbigh have that makes it special?

‘A combination of independent shops creates a unique environment when combined with the historic mix of building styles,’ says Peter.

Fill in the blanks: ‘come for the … stay for the …’

‘Come for the past and stay for the people.’

What do you personally love about Denbigh?

‘I feel the town has a unique atmosphere and creates a welcoming feel for visitors – where else can you have the keys to the town walls, so you can explore?’

What are the local secrets that tourists often miss?

‘Most visitors fail to find many of the older historic stories that link Denbigh to Tudor London, but there are free guided tours in the summer!’

Denbigh is also host to a few fascinating buildings, including an abandoned, Grade II-listed ex-Victorian asylum, which has just found a developer to turn it into something new – there are even suggestions that the building could become a hotel themed around its interesting past. 

‘It’s a bit early to estimate the effect that the development will have on the town,’ explained Peter, ‘but if all the housing plans go through it will be an exciting time!’

What’s the local delicacy?

‘Many local breweries produce their own ales and there are award-winning butchers and bakers.

‘The two butchers are J Williams and J H Jones, both on Vale Street; the bakers are Henllan Bread, and there are four breweries: Bragdy Dinbych, Buzzard, Dovecote and Heavy Industry.’

In three words, how would you describe Denbigh to a potential visitor?

‘Gateway to history.’

There’s plenty of time left to book a holiday this year, so why not travel to Barnard Castle, Girvan or Denbigh for a weekend away? Or maybe this article has encouraged you to look closer to home – there may be a small town just down the road that’s your very own local hidden gem.

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