Country life: top 10 villages in the UK

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Have we skipped any little gems? Let us know your favourite UK village in the comments below.

1. Staithes, England

Staithes was once one of the largest fishing ports on the northeast coast: today it’s a far more laid back place, with higgledy piggledy cottages running down to the sea and a small beach perfect for hours of old-fashioned rockpooling fun. Captain Cook spent some of his formative years here, so naturally there’s a museum devoted to him on the high street – and you can also eat in the Captain Cook Inn. Or try the Cleveland Corner Bistro, which endeavours to source its fish from the local fishing fleet.

2. Avebury, England

How many villages are surrounded by their very own prehistoric stone circle? Avebury sits in the centre of one of the UK’s most important ancient sites – and visitors are free to picnic among the ancient stones or take a sunset stroll through the circle. Make sure to visit Silbury Hill, Europe’s largest man-made mound, which is located just outside the village, and after you’ve worked up an appetite, pop into the Red Lion pub for a pint of locally brewed Wadworth’s 6X. Read more about the UK’s most magical places and learn about their mystical pasts here.

3. Port Isaac, England

When the council builds a big car park just outside a village and encourages all visitors to explore on foot, you know it must be a pretty unspoilt place. Port Isaac’s steep narrow lanes were designed for fisherman, not cars, and this quaint Cornish village has long been devoted to all things lobster and crab. To fully understand their dedication and love for the local sea crop, get yourself down to Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, where the fishermen dictate the menu and the small plates are cooked to order. Expect to pay around £10 per dish.

4. Tyneham, England

It’s still 1943 in Tyneham. In that fateful year, the army told everyone to leave because they needed the surrounding hills for training, so the village has been left empty and frozen in time. Tyneham is open to the public during most weekends and throughout the summer school holidays, allowing you to stroll among the abandoned stone cottages and poke your head into the old schoolhouse and church. Look out for the abundant wild flowers, which moved in after the people moved out.

5. Beddgelert, Wales

A stone humpbacked bridge crosses a burbling river, trees dip their branches into the water, hanging baskets bloom – Beddgelert would be scenic even if Mount Snowdon wasn’t lurking in the background. But don’t let the mountain walks tempt you away too quickly: this is a beautiful place to linger, providing hours of leisurely fun as you wander from gallery to woodcraft shop, café to ice creamery. Don’t miss Glaslyn Ices, which everyone here will tell you makes the very best homemade ice cream in Britain.

Credit: Martin de Lusenet, CC BY 2.0

6. Portmeirion, Wales

Architect Clough Williams-Ellis wanted to create a village that enhanced rather than blended into its landscape, and this place certainly stands out from its surroundings. Start in the central Mediterranean piazza, with its loggias and porticoes, before wandering at random into nooks and crannies crammed with cherub statues and painted in pastels. Endangered buildings from across Britain and around the world were brought here piece and piece and reconstructed – look out for the Buddha.

7. Plockton, Scotland

A sheltered position on Loch Carron and the warming effect of the Gulf Stream mean Plockton has sun traps aplenty – it’s rife with idyllic beer gardens and even palm trees. Plockton tends to grab people and never let them go – one visit here is never enough. Take a woodland stroll around the bay, then walk out across the endless flat sands at low tide, before returning in time for a lunch of Plockton prawns (langoustines) at the small and friendly Plockton Shores restaurant.

8. Crail, Scotland

Quaint fishing towns abound along the East Neuk of Fife, but Crail probably wins in the cutest village stakes thanks to its maze of cobbled streets winding down the hill to the miniature harbour. There’s a cracking café there – the Crail Harbour Tearoom has a sheltered sea-facing terrace and offers dressed crab from the village’s fishing fleet. Nearby is the lovely Crail Pottery, ideal for a souvenir of your visit, and when you’re ready to leave you can join the Fife Coastal Path, which links the village to Anstruther.

9. Cushendun, Northern Ireland

We have Baron Cushendun’s wife to thank for this village’s Cornish charm – she was from Penzance, and architect Clough William-Ellis (of Portmeirion fame) wanted to make her feel at home with his 1912 design. Whitewashed cottages are everywhere, and the village square hosts a quaint craft shop and tearoom. The setting is pretty special too, sited as it is on an elevated sandy beach at the outflow of the verdant Glendun and Glencorp valleys. Head to Mary McBride’s Bar come sundown and be prepared for an impromptu singalong – the original bar was once Ireland’s smallest.

10. Ardglass, Northern Ireland

Make time for a meal in Ardglass. This thriving fishing village on an inlet of the Irish Sea is the landing site of some of Ireland’s best seafood and is renowned for the quality of its herring. Look out for the atmospheric ruins around the village – there were once seven castles (fortified tower houses) here. The local golf club uses the remnants of one as their clubhouse – said to be the oldest clubhouse in the world, it dates from 1377.

Credit: Neil Carey, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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