A Guide to England, Naturally
If you don’t know where you live (!), here is a quick guide to our green and pleasant land. It gives a good short overview of the regions and counties, and why it’s important to protect our nature and wildlife. Read these books:
- Who Owns England? is an inspiring manifesto on how to open up our countryside for all. Most land in England is owned by the few. But digital mapping and Freedom of Information Act, means it’s not so easy to bury surveys and build walls to shield. Guy Shrubsole trespasses through tightly-guarded country estates and empty Mayfair mansions, to create a public map of land ownership, covering the housing crisis to climate change.
- Real England is by writer Paul Kingsnorth. A few years back, he travelled around England to meet all those whose livelihoods were in danger from the big supermarkets. Each chapter focuses on one issue: pubs, orchards, canals etc. It’s a really interesting read, and will make you depressed enough to want to boycott Tesco.
- The Decline of an English Village was first published in 1974 to great critical acclaim. Robin was a young writer born into declining village life, and of course, things have got a lot worse since then. In this book, he exposes the greed, political ineptitude and social/environmental indifference that is tearing small communities apart. He also addresses sensitive topics like farming, overpopulation and environmental degradation, along with alarming loss of wildlife.
A Guide to North East England, Naturally
The Ring Ouzel likes migrating to Yorkshire
North East England is no doubt the coldest place, only a few hundred miles from Scandinavia (Newcastle is only 800 miles from the Arctic Circle). Here you can find low-populated sandy beaches overlooked by castles and some of our most stunning wildlife including puffins, seals, red squirrels (due to them having the right trees, grey squirrels are not to blame) and even red deer and the occasional whale.
County Durham. Just like Rome, the city of Durham is built on seven hills. It also has an esteemed university and cathedral, and a pretty studious and artistic population. If you like roaming the wild moors, Durham is for you. Some would call it ‘bleak’, many of us think this is walking heaven! Home to the darkest skies (no light pollution) and a beautiful coastline nearby, most of the walking territory is taken up by the North Pennines, an area of outstanding natural beauty that goes on for miles, home to fascinating flora and fauna. The Pennines are the backbone of England, stretching from east to west, and up to the Scottish border.
Northumberland. This is England’s most northerly county, and also its least populated. There are a few towns, but most of the county is made up of rich pine forests that are home to red squirrels (Scandinavian by nature – it’s the lack of pine trees that has caused numbers to fail, rather than grey squirrels) and the coasts are among the most beautiful we have. Miles of sandy beaches are overlooked by castles in the air. The Farne Islands are home to puffins and seals (the favourite wildlife-watching place for Sir David Attenborough). And nearby Holy Island was where St Cuthbert and his other Catholic friends would meditate for years in isolation. Today it’s more of a tourist destination, known for scatty motorists who don’t look at the tide tables, and get swept away on the drive over (so take great care, and look for visiting).
Tyne & Wear covers the major cities of Newcastle and Gateshead, both overseen by the huge Angel of the North statue that you can even see from the motorways. If the hustle is too much, it’s just a short hop to Northumbria’s beaches and forests, but this is a bustling city for those who like it. It’s also high in culture, with top universities and galleries. It’s also very political. Until the last general election, the city had never voted in a Tory MP since 1922!
Yorkshire is one of England’s largest counties. It spans both east and west and goes up to the northern border with Scotland, too. It features many major cities (York has been described as one of the most beautiful in England), along with national parks and a beautiful coastline. You can also walk across Yorkshire as part of Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast Walk, starting at St Bee’s in Cheshire, and ending the walk when you paddle your toes in Robin’s Hood Bay, on the East Yorkshire coast.
A Guide to North West England, Naturally
North West England only covers a few counties. But it’s a large area due to housing most of the beautiful Lake District. Overlooking the Irish sea, it contains the popular cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool, but also many countryside areas and lots of nice walking areas in Cheshire. Due to the landscape, this is where you’ll find all of England’s highest mountains – and most of its rain!
Cheshire. This is very close to North Wales, and has some of the most beautiful walking paths in England. Not just home to footballer’s wives, most of the county (apart from the city of Chester with its black-and-white Tudor buildings) is rural. It’s here that Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast walk begins at St Bees Head, taking you right across to East Yorkshire, where you paddle your toes in Robin Hood’s Bay. The trip takes at least a couple of weeks, stopping off at bed-and-breakfasts along the way.
Cumbria. This county is home to The Lake District, and also home to stunning countryside and wildlife outside it too. The main city of Carlisle has one of our oldest and most beautiful railway stations, iconic too due to being featured in the old classic film Brief Encounter. It’s not far from the Scottish border.
Lancashire is a mostly rural county located on the northwest of England. It’s however mostly known for its two major towns: Blackpool by the sea with its ballroom tower and famous lights, and inland – Manchester, one of our largest cities. But most of Lancashire looks a bit like Yorkshire (don’t tell each other – they have a long-rivalry!) and is full of hills and rural pastures. It also houses part of the Pennines, a series of hills (small mountains) that are like ‘the backbone of England’ and stretch all across from east to west.
Merseyside. Home to Liverpool (officially Warrington is in Cheshire), these areas are mostly urban, but have lots of green space. The council recently tried to ban dog walking in many areas, and there was such an uproar, they had to change it back. Never upset a Scouse! You can sail to Ireland from Liverpool, but it’s a longer journey than taking the Holyhead ferry from North Wales. But the trip from there is notoriously choppy with ‘waves flying past the windows’.
A Guide to South East England, Naturally
South East England is a large area that stretches from the seaside resorts in West Sussex, inland to pretty Wealden villages and right through to the seaside resorts of East Sussex and Kent. It’s home to the South Downs National Park, plenty of chalk cliffs, and some of the prettiest inland countryside, and marsh coasts.
Berkshire. One of England’s most affluent counties. The two main towns are Windsor (home to the Royal Mile and beautiful buildings) and the more urban Slough, made famous in the cult comedy The Office. This is one of the most wooded areas of England, with lots of pretty villages.
Buckinghamshire. One of England’s most affluent counties, and many London commuters live here. Often used as the settings for Midsomer Murders and similar dramas, this is all thatched cottages and village ponds. The Chiltern Hills can also be found here. However, a good chunk of the county has already been destroyed, due to the disastrous HS2 project, which will kill 22,000 wildlife a year once built (and many more before) and won’t even stop climate change, according to environmental experts. The project recently chopped down England’s second-oldest pear tree. This county is also home to Tiggywinkles, the world’s busiest wildlife hospital.
East Sussex. This large county starts at the Kent border with towns like Rye (on the marshes) and Battle (where the real Battle of Hastings took place) and stretches through Edwardian resorts like Bexhill-on-Sea up to Brighton (the ‘San Francisco of England’, with a high vegan, gay and creative population). Inland Weald villages nestle within South Downs National Park.
Hampshire. This is a pretty county that faces the Isle of Wight from the maritime city of Portsmouth, with the popular seaside resort of Southsea next door. It’s the largest county in southeast England with beautiful countryside and coastline. Just over the water by hovercraft is Isle of Wight. Winchelsea is more inland, and used to be the capital of England. This is also the home of England’s best watercress!
Hertfordshire. This is real ‘England chocolate box’ county. If you’ve ever seen a Miss Marple film, this is what it looks like. All thatched cottages, garden ponds, church spires and afternoon tea. It It also contains the ‘purposely designed’ town of Welwyn Garden City. Although the Guardian reports that the well-designed roads and tree-lined streets, means it looks like ‘your mum designed it’.
Tipsy Wight makes vodka from foraged hedgerow fruits
Isle of Wight. This is England’s largest island and smallest county (depending apparently, whether the tide is in or out – if it’s out, then the smallest island switches to Rutland, in the East Midlands). Just a few miles by hovercraft from the mainland, it’s home to one of the world’s largest sailing festivals. There are miles of coastline, and the Needles (a true natural wonder of natural chalk rocks – one’s missing as it fell to the ocean during a storm), view a famous lighthouse, or just sit back and relax as you enjoy a slower pace of life.
Kent is one of England’s largest counties, situated on the south east tip of England, just 20 miles or so from France, which you can see over the water, on a clear day. You can take a boat (or these days the Channel Tunnel, ugh). Inland you’ll find orchards with apples and old oast houses (mostly now for holiday cottages, rather than brewing beer). And on the coast are some charming places like Whitstable (least-cloned place in England) and more ‘bucket-and-spade’ resorts like Margate. Just like Herefordshire, this is all about the apples, so look out for juice, cider, chutney etc. This Garden of England is also home to many good wines, as it’s perfect vineyard soil and sunshine! You can also find local Coldblow Coffee from the tropics – of a remote Kent workshop!
Oxfordshire is a mostly rural county, outside the main city, known for its famed university and many buildings built before the 12 century. However, don’t expect Oxford to be a quiet idyll with people pedalling in gowns on bikes, like Inspector Morse. Today, it’s a very busy city with lots of traffic, better to go to a country pub nearby, and have a real ale sitting on the Thames. Oxford University is renowned as being one of the best in the world, but it still has controversies, namely the animal experiments done there. VERO is a society of local intellectual boffins, who use their bigger brains to try to bring humane research to an esteemed learning institute.
Surrey is located very near London. Together they form the two most affluent counties in England, with property prices to match. There are a few towns like Redhill and Dorking and Guildford. But mostly this a land of beautiful villages nestled in green belt land and box woods. Lots of wildlife abound here too, especially red deer. Richmond-upon-Thames is kind of in Surrey, even though officially it’s London. One lake even has a ‘beach’ with sandy soil (it’s not really dog-friendly as they are not allowed in the water, and must be kept on short leads near ground-nesting birds between March and August).
West Sussex is a large county situated in south east England. It spans from the inbound land of Crawley and Horsham (and Gatwick Airport) right out to pretty villages and onto the south coast, where you can find old-fashioned seaside towns like Bognor Regis, Worthing and Littlehampton (home to England’s longest bench, apparently). Also here is the pretty town of Chichester, known for its harbour and sailing community. The sunniest county in England has coastal sands to enjoy at West Wittering and the beautiful inland town of Arundel, with a castle, cathedral and resident Catholic monks who have been featured on a TV series.
A Guide to South West England, Naturally
South West England is a large area of England, which stretches from the southern coast opposite the Isle of Wight right up to Land’s End in Cornwall, the most southerly tip of England. Just 20 miles or so across the coast are the beautiful Isles of Scilly, which resemble more the Caribbean than England.
Inland there are more counties, this time deep into ancient countryside. Somerset is known for its cider and Wiltshire for its white horses, carved into the cliffs. The county also has 2 national parks (Dartmoor and Exmoor, both known for their wild ponies), lots of sandy beach resorts and the alternative town of Totnes, the world’s first Transition Town.
Bristol is a major maritime city, one of the greenest in England, with a strong vegan and indie culture. It’s known for Clifton Bridge (often with hot air balloons above) but sadly also a well-known suicide spot. It had until recently the most successful local currency, which is now transitioning over into Bristol Pay, which aims to keep money within the community.
Bath is a beautiful city (some say the most beautiful in the world) that is just 13 miles away from Bristol (you can go between the two via an old railway path). Here is a city of parks, Georgian squares, art galleries and museums. Royal Crescent is often featured on BBC period dramas. The city is historically linked to Jane Austen, who lived here for a while. It’s also known for its Roman spa baths, where people years ago would travel to ‘take the waters’.
Cornwall. This is a fairly small county, stretching from the Devon border down to Land’s End. The Atlantic coast is popular with surfers, and St Ives popular with artists for its ”painter’s light’. Seals bask the coasts here, so keep well away as they can be vicious people or dogs, if protecting pups. The general law is that if the seal is looking at you – you are too close. A way to help (apart from not littering beaches) is not to play beach frisbee – one seal was recently severely injured, when one ended up getting stuck around a basking seal’s neck.
Devon. One of England’s largest counties, which begins in the pretty towns of East Devon (Sidmouth was a favourite of Sir John Betjeman) to the southern sailing resorts, right up to Plymouth near the Cornish border. Inland are two national parks (Dartmoor and Exmoor) known for their ponies, and the cathedral city of Exeter. The quirky little town of Totnes was the world’s first transition town. Secrets of a Devon Wood is a beautifully illustrated journal by a local artist, who inspires you to also note local finds.
Dorset. This county is home to the beautiful Jurassic Park coastline, with dinosaur fossils. In Weymouth there is a fossil in a museum of a huge dinosaur found, who could have eaten you in two bites! Although the millionaire resorts like Sandbanks get the attention, just down the road Bournemouth has a high homeless population. Inland are many pretty towns and villages.
Gloucestershire. This has the urban town of Gloucester and the floral town of Cheltenham nearby (a spa town with beautiful Georgian buildings). Also here is the Forest of Dean, and is where a main part of the Cotswolds (beautiful countryside set amid honey-coloured buildings).
Somerset. This large county includes the ‘hippy town’ of Glastonbury that is also known for its music festival. It also is the home of the popular coastal resort of Weston-Super-Mare, that has the longest tidal beach in England. It goes out for a mile at low tide, but take great care with people and dogs, as it’s prone to sinking mud. Inland you’ll find many pretty villages, and Taunton is known as the home of good cider.
Wiltshire is home to Salisbury Plain and a cathedral that American writer Bill Bryson called ‘the most beautiful building in England’. In the countryside, you’ll find England’s largest collection of white horses, carved into the hills in chalk (there is also a chalk carving of a kiwi bird, a real mystery there). Wiltshire is also the home of Stonehenge, an ancient burial site that is often celebrated on the Summer Solstice (many visitors have been banned, due to dropping litter). No-one is quite sure how the stones got there, some think they must have arrived by water.
Isles of Scilly. This group of islands sits just 20 miles or so across the sea from Cornwall, full of beautiful white sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and lots of visiting birds that stop off on migration routes. The warmer weather means many flowers grow here longer (don’t order daffodils if you live with pets, as all bulbs and many other flowers are toxic to pets). Don’t be fooled by the beautiful scenery: all divers will tell you of the many shipwrecks that lie below the surface. One sailor was recently shipwrecked for a few days in the waters of the Scilly Isles, and was heartbroken to be surrounded by dead marine wildlife, that had ingested some of the plastic pollution all around him.
A Guide to West Midlands, Naturally
West Midlands is not that much of an urban area, outside the three major cities of Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry. Most of the rest of the county is full of landlocked countryside and lakes, with lots of canals, due to the history of its past with the Industrial Revolution, when goods were ferried to London on boats. A lot of the major cities are also near lots of green space, apart from Spaghetti Junction!
Raspberry & Lime Gin is also made with local fruits.
Herefordshire. This is one of England’s least populated and quietest counties. Bordering Wales, this is apple country, with a good portion of all our apples coming from here. It’s also home to some nice places, including the beautiful yet still quiet city of Hereford. The population swells each year, when visitors flock to the nearby annual Hay-on-Wye book festival.
Shropshire is a beautiful county, just bordering Wales in the West Midlands. The main town of Shrewsbury is very demure for a county town and the nearby town of Ludlow is known as a hub for local foodies. Elsewhere, most of the county is rural including the Blue Remembered Hills. Here (like next-door Herefordshire) you’ll find lots of orchards, and a culture of cider-making and lots of local food. It’s also very quiet, one of the least populated areas of England. Completely landlocked, so don’t visit here if you miss the sea. Shropshire Petals Lavender is handpicked (delphiniums and other blooms they sell are toxic to pets, so don’t use near pets at weddings etc).
Staffordshire is situated in the West Midlands, with hilly moorlands and parts of the Peak District to the north and Cannock Chase in the south. Sitting on the river Trent, this is not the most fertile of land (clay) but was home to industry, and known for its pottery. It’s here that the staffie hails from, which was a ‘nanny dog’ back in Victorian times, due to their love of children. Home to Flash (the highest village in England).
Warwickshire. This has Rugby and Nuneaton, bust most of the rest is rural. The town of Stratford-upon-Avon is known for its beautiful Tudor buildings and of course, for being the birthplace of Shakespeare. It’s interesting to read up on Shakespeare. Depending on whether you loved (or didn’t love) studying English literature at school, it’s good to study his life. William was a prosperous property developer, but (like Charles Dickens) was a ‘troublemaker for social justice’. Goodness knows what he would make of today’s politics.
West Midlands. This includes the cities of Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry, but also many villages and countryside in between. This was the real heart of things during the Industrial Revolution, which is why it became known as the ‘black country’ (nothing to do with the high multi-cultural population today – you don’t have to go far here to find good reggae music and a good curry!) Outside the cities, there is surprisingly beautiful countryside.
Worcestershire. This is mostly known for the Malvern Hills are, a set of quite steep hills that are so difficult to climb, they are often used for ‘target practice’ for climbers about to try to conquer Mount Everest, in the Himalayas. Also covering Herefordshire and parts of Gloucestershire, apparently from the top you can see the Welsh mountains, 13 counties, the Bristol Channel and three cathedrals (Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford).
A Guide to East Midlands, Naturally
East Midlands is a large collection of land-locked counties, beginning near Cambridgeshire and stretching through the centre of England, into the West Midlands. There may be no coast but there are plenty of lakes amid glorious countryside, with the odd castle or two, as well.
Derbyshire. This is home to much of the beautiful Peak District, one of the best destinations for walking holidays. Within it is the town of Bakewell, many villages and lots of independent shops. It opened England’s first public park (the inspiration for New York’s Central Park) and is also home to Buxton, one of our natural spa towns, where its mineral-rich springs are very near the exact-centre point of England, apparently.
Leicestershire. Over half the population living in the Leicester area, with the rest in mostly rural villages. This is the county of ‘oldest and firsts’. It is home to the oldest fossils, was the birthplace of the peaceful Quaker religion (set up by someone who thought modern religion was full of dogma), the local vicar was the first man to translate the Bible into English, and even was where fingerprinting was discovered. Sir David Attenborough and his family were raised on campus at Leicester University.
Lincolnshire. Sort of in the north east (officially in the East Midlands), this sits just south of Northumberland, on the eastern coast. More lovely sandy beaches, and a high population of seals. They are very scared and can be vicious, especially when breeding or protecting pups, who they often shelter in sand dunes. So keep yourself (and your dogs) away during this time. The general law is that if the seal is looking at you – you are too close. A way to help (apart from not littering beaches) is not to play beach frisbee – one seal was recently severely injured, when one ended up getting stuck around a basking seal’s neck. Read The Sea: A Celebration.
Northamptonshire. This is the most southerly of the East Midlands counties, not far from London. With a strong railway history, part of the Oxford and Grand Union Canal also pass through here. Its ‘pure wholesome air’ due to the lesser rainfall and not being near the sea, gave it lots of positive publicity, back in the early 1800s – presumably before the railways were shut down and the cars arrived!
Nottinghamshire. This is of course, home to Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood (who stole from the rich to give to the poor – very often the opposite in today’s society) would rest with his merry men under the local trees. The smaller brother to Big Ben in London is Nottingham’s Little John clock, which can be heard from 7 miles away.
Rutland is England’s smallest county (apparently depending on whether the tide is in or out on the Isle of Wight). It used to be part of Leicestershire, but now is an independent county. As it’s so small, it has no motorways and no supermarkets and no fast food restaurants. For that reason, this is a haven for local foodies, with weekly markets in all the main towns. The county is also home to Rutland Water. This is a large manmade reservoir that you can walk or cycle around. Endangered ospreys were released here some years ago. And the program has been a resounding success, with many other birds coming here to migrate. A real twitcher’s paradise!
A Guide to East of England, Naturally
East of England only has a few counties, but they are among the most beautiful, with miles of wide almost-empty sandy beaches, beautiful seals basking with their pups and marshy Fenlands with windmills and boaters taking holidays in the Broads. This is one of the most flat and least populated areas of England.
Bedfordshire. A small mostly rural county, near London. The main town of Bedford has England’s highest population of Italians (something to do with immigration during the last world war). The Chiltern Hills form a good part of this county, ideal for genteel walks at dawn or dusk.
Cambridgeshire. Known for its university, but it also contains other major cities like Ely and Peterborough. It’s also part of the Fens, so much of your veg box contents comes from here. Also ideal to go punting on the river!
Essex. This is thought of as mostly an urban county. But outside Dartford and Bluewater Shopping Centre, most of the area is made up of pretty villages and pubs, there are even quite a few windmills here. It also has over 350 miles of coast, the longest in England.
Norfolk. This is England’s 5th largest county, yet so quiet you can walk for miles on the sandy beaches, without seeing anyone. It also has the largest number of medieval churches in the world. Seals bask the coasts here, so keep well away as they can be vicious people or dogs, if protecting pups. The general law is that if the seal is looking at you – you are too close. A way to help (apart from not littering beaches) is not to play beach frisbee – one seal was recently severely injured, when one ended up getting stuck around a basking seal’s neck.
Suffolk. This sits just below Norfolk and again is full of pretty beach huts overlooking sandy dunes. It has its own Suffolk Broads too. And inland you can find many pretty villages and lakes. If you grew up with a copy of Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’ on your wall, that was here!
A Guide to London, Naturally
Local Fox Cider is free, if you donate apples!
London is of course, England’s capital city. Home to around 8 million people, it also has as many trees, making it one of the world’s greenest cities (and officially, a forest city). However, like all main cities, the divides between rich and poor are apparent. While the richest people in the world live in Kensington, also here was Grenfell Tower, which burned to the ground (with many people and pets in it) due to companies not bothering to upgrade faulty gladding. And trees tend to be more in Chelsea, and less in Haringey.
Having said that, there is a strong community movement of non-profit box schemes and community orchards, and many local wildlife charities doing their bit to help preserve stag beetles to red deer. London is divided into 32 boroughs, which all are very different. They are spread out among East London (more urban), West London (more ‘swanky’), North London (for the arty set) and South London. Then there Westminster and Parliament, and the City of London, where the stockbrokers work.
The City of London. This is the financial district. This is where stocks and shares are sold. If you are visiting this site, this probably doesn’t interest you, and you are more interested in supporting ‘locavesting’ instead, where entrepreneurs invest in local food co-ops, community cafes and independent shops.
The City of Westminster. This is its own borough, housing the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the House of Lords (they get around £300 for just turning up apparently). Yet according to Electoral Reform Society, they can only mostly delay Bills – and those they do vote down, Parliament can just reverse anyway.
East London. This is the home of cockney slang. Not far from the border with Essex (cheeky chappy!), here you’ll find some of the friendliest Londoners, despite it not always being the most affluent of areas.
North London. This is the artistic area. Years ago, this is where the Bloomsbury writers (Victoria Woolf et al) were about, and American writer Sylvia Plath (wife to former poet Laureate) lived here until her tragic suicide, in a house once lived in by Yeats. It’s home to Regents Park, and many beautiful buildings, many with indie shops.
South London. This goes more towards Surrey, and is home to Richmond Park and many nice ‘villages’ like Barnes, which would surprise you that it was in London, if nobody told you. Croydon is sort of part of London, although officially it’s in Surrey. It’s also home to Greenwich (where we get our time) and where you ‘do the Lambeth Walk!’
West London. This houses most of the affluent millionaires and billionaires, though there is a strong rich-poor divide (remember Grenfell Tower tragedy happened in Kensington, where some of the world’s richest people live – because nobody could ‘afford’ proper fire protection on cladding of people’s homes). Here is where you also find a lot of the shopping districts and major parks. Chiswick is a leafy district here, which is more like a village than a borough of London.