How’s that tough? As it leaves forty five cities I can’t mention; and once you get under the skin of all fifty and experience the unique story each has to tell, I think you’d be happy to call any of them home.
So in the interests of geographical fairness I’ve plumped for one from each of the four corners, and one in the middle…
I defy any Englishman not to stand on the Hoe and look out over the stunning vista that is Plymouth Sound – one of the most impressive natural harbours in the World – and not feel a surge of patriotism, for this is where Drake set sail from to establish the British Empire, the Pilgrim Fathers to establish the USA, Darwin to formulate the Origin of Species in the Galapagos, and Scott of the Antarctic, a local lad, on his expedition to the South Pole. A truly trailblazing city, throw in the atmospheric Barbican with its tales of daring and courage all around and this is a place to inspire adventure.
Next, after all that nautical history, let’s go to the place Alfred the Great, the ‘father of the English Navy’, made his capital, the beautiful and captivating city of Winchester. Here you’ll find some of the greatest mediaeval buildings in Europe, including the Great Hall – with the famous Round Table hanging on the wall – and one of the oldest continuously used city streets in the country. The cathedral is a star attraction, the longest Gothic cathedral in the world, and some of the oldest royal bones in England. Why not visit at the start of July for the Winchester Hat Fair? Britain’s longest running street theatre festival; three days of pure outdoors spectacle.
Now if Plymouth makes you puff your chest out with pride, Coventry is a city with spirit in abundance. Yes, it can claim to be the ‘home of the car’ (it’s got five museums in the area devoted to speed; possessing the World’s largest collection of British road transport, historic British cars and motorbikes), but it’s not just a city for petrolheads. This is a city full of legends that can make you feel pride, resilience, even energised. From the city’s very own Lady Godiva, who rode naked through the town to free the people from a tax burden; to the legend that St George was returning to his birthplace city and slayed the dragon to protect the people of Coventry, to the wartime pulverisation the city took during the Blitz. Coventry’s response? To be the first city to twin with another, Stalingrad, to show its moral fibre, and then to twin with a massive 27 others, including Hiroshima in Japan. This city quite simply has heart in abundance; while here visit the Garden of International Friendship and the new cathedral, recently voted the country’s favourite 20th century building.
Head to the North West and drop in on one of the six best cities in the country for artists. Lancaster is idyllically placed. Nestling on the verge of Morecambe Bay – one of the most fascinating and beautiful stretches of coastline in the country – it is surrounded by natural beauty. To the north east is the picturesque Lune Valley; to the north west Arnside and Silverdale; and to the south is the stunning Forest of Bowland- all three official Areas of Outstanding Beauty. So for a city break in the country, and a real blend of different vistas- river views, seaside scenery, mountain scapes- this place is ideal. Check out Lancaster Castle too – one of the best preserved castles in the land.
And finally, maybe a little rest is needed. How about the most relaxing city in the country, the delightful gem that is Durham? The city that started life just over a thousand years ago as the ultimate resting place for Britain’s most famous saint of the time, with its’ history as a place of refuge, together with the achingly beautiful cobbled streets, abundance of greenery and the finest Norman cathedral in the country, all perched atop a peninsula with the River Wear winding beneath; it’s like a spa break for the soul. Try a Prince Bishop river cruise for some of the best views of the cathedral, castle and bridges.
So there you go. Five cities that can inspire, energise, make you reflect and even relax you.