You can’t get passionate about saving our green and pleasant land, if you don’t know much about where you live! Here is a quick guide to all the counties of England, so you can get to know a little about them. Ideal for where you live or where you visit!
We love the blog At Home in England, by a Cambridge graduate and photographer. He has a super post on the site where you click your favourites (beach or country, style of buildings, kind of people you like etc). Then it tells you the best place in England you would likely love to live! If you can’t live there, it’s good fodder on where to visit first!
North East England
- County Durham is a very small county, built (just like Rome) on seven hills. The main university is one of our best, and so the city is home to hundreds if not thousands of boffin students! This is a wild rugged land, bring an extra jumper!
- Lincolnshire is a beautiful county situated mostly on the coast. Here is the home of the grey seals, which bask and play on the sands, so keep dogs away during breeding season. Inland you’ll find the city of Lincoln. But this is mostly coastal Heaven, including the popular seaside resort of Skegness.
- Northumberland is a stunning and (very cold!) county that is where you would set sail for Sweden. With the lowest population, it has stunning wildlife (due to preserving pine forests – the reason red squirrels are declining) and also wide sandy beaches overlooked by castles. Bordering Scotland, the town of Berwick even has its own tartan. The night skies here are the best in the land.
- Tyne and Wear is home to the cities of Newcastle and Gateshead, overlooked by the famed Angel of the North statue. Bring an extra jumper here, as it’s on the same latitude as Sweden – very chilly indeed! A cultured lot, there is an excellent university and these political folks like to follow current affairs. Quite left-wing too, they have hardly ever voted in a Tory MP until the famed ‘red wall’ MPs were elected in 2019.
- Yorkshire spans both north and south, from the major cities of Sheffield, York, Leeds and Harrogate to the seaside resort of Scarborough on the east coast and the tiny village of Robin Hood’s Bay (where you paddle your feet to end Wainwright’s coast-to-coast walk that begins in St Bees on the west coast). The little town of Hebden Bridge is home to many poets and artists. Full of wild moors and soaring eagles, don’t come here for the sunshine!
North West England
Sue Fenlon for Whistlefish
- Cheshire is an affluent county where the footballer’s wives all apparently live! But outside the main city of Chester (with its beautiful black-and-white Tudor buildings) this is real rural paradise, with some of the best walking terrain nationwide, including the Sandstone Trail.
- Cumbria is mostly known for being home to the Lake District National Park, which houses all of England’s highest mountains, along with gorgeous waterfalls and England’s largest lake. If you’re a film buff, the town of Carnforth is known as the setting for the film Brief Encounter (the train station is still there, set up to be an old-fashioned tea room for tourists to remember the scenes).
- Lancashire is a large county situated on Morecambe Bay (nice to look at, but often has sinking mud so take care to avoid these parts if not safe). It’s home to many cities including of course, Manchester. But outside these areas are lots of nice villages and green spaces.
- Merseyside sits on the River Mersey, and just along the way is The Wirral and the large town of Warrington. Despite the urban image and one of the highest populations in England, again this is mostly green space, when you get outside the city. Obviously there is a huge musical tradition here, being the home of The Beatles.
East of England
Hannah Cole for Whistlefish
- Bedfordshire is a small rural county near London. Home to to the Chiltern Hills, the main town of Bedford has more Italians than anywhere else, due to a recruitment drive a few decades back. But elsewhere it’s mostly villages and ponds, lovely flat walking country!
- Cambridgeshire is a beautiful county situated on The Fens (marshland) of eastern England. Not just a university, there are other cities (Ely and Peterborough) and very fertile land. Much of England’s organic veggies are grown here.
- Essex is a large mostly rural county, despite the ‘cheeky boy’ image. It also boasts England’s longest coastline (around 350 miles) and lots of pretty windmills and country pubs. Southend was recently made into a city (in memory of the murdered MP David Amess) and is home to the world’s longest pier.
- Norfolk is a lovely quiet and flat county, with one of the lowest populations in England. Home to some of the most stunning wide sandy beaches, it also houses windmills and marshes and the Norfolk Broads (manmade but home to lots of lovely wildlife that have made it their home). The city of Norwich is one of the most beautiful in the land.
- Suffolk is a beautiful flat and quiet county, which looks like Norfolk and resembles its over-the-water cousin The Netherlands. All windmills and marshy lands, there is also the lesser-known Suffolk Broads, as beautiful as its northerly cousin. If you ever had a picture on your living room of Constable’s The Hay Wain – well, that was here!
South East England
Hannah Cole for Whistlefish
- Berkshire is an affluent county, often lived in by commuters to the city of London. It houses the town of Windsor with its famed ‘mile walk’ to Windsor Castle, and also more urban towns like Slough, where the TV comedy The Office was filmed.
- Buckinghamshire is a small affluent county just outside London, and home to the town of Buckingham and many pretty villages. The TV series Midsomer Murders is often filmed here, due to the beautiful location. It does alas sit bang in the middle of the dreadful HS2 high-speed rail network, which has already decimated large parts of the county and its wildlife.
- East Sussex is a large county, mostly situated inland (Weald villages) but many famed seaside resorts like Hastings, Bexhill-on-Sea and Brighton. It is one of the sunniest places in England, and known for the cliffs at Beachy Head and the South Downs National Park.
- Hampshire is a large county, mostly along the south coast. This is sailing country – Southampton (remember Howard’s Way?), and towns looking out across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. It’s also home to parts of the South Downs National Park, and known for its lovely beaches and popular holiday resorts like Southsea and Hayling Island.
- Hertfordshire is a beautiful and affluent county just outside London, all market towns, village ponds and country churches. Many people who have ‘made it’ financially retire here, and there are no exciting towns or cities, just a nice retiring place to live and watch the world go by.
- Isle of Wight is England’s smallest county (depending on whether the tide is in or out apparently – when it’s out, the smallest county then becomes Rutland). Known for its annual boating festival, you can find everything here from a donkey sanctuary to a garlic farm. It’s home to the Needles, a set of ancient rocks (though one crashed to the sea in a storm, so now one’s missing!)
- Kent is a large county opposite France (just 20 miles so from the white cliffs of Dover) and known for being ‘the garden of England’, due to its wealth of apple and pear orchards. It also is home to affluent towns like Sevenoaks and Canterbury, and lots of pretty inland villages, with oast houses (now often converted to luxury holiday lets).
- London is of course the capital city, and boasts a huge population of around 8 million. But it has more green space than most cities, with American writer Bill Bryson calling it a forest in a city. It has excellent public transport too, so you can easily live car-free here most of the time. It’s also home to many initiatives like community gardens and orchards, there is always something going on to help local wildlife.
- Oxfordshire is mostly known for its university and being the city where Inspector Morse was filmed. But outside the city it’s mostly rural, with lots of pretty villages sitting on the River Thames.
- Surrey is an affluent county just outside London, and home to some of the most protected forested areas in England (likely because when people have money, they have more political influence). Still it’s all good, and the main towns are well-preserved too. Many people who live in London, relocate here as it’s a bit cheaper (though still expensive).
- West Sussex is officially the sunniest place in England, and you can watch the seaside gulls from the longest bench too! The resort of Bognor Regis is very beautiful, and used to be the favourite holiday jaunt of royalty back in the day. Inland are affluent market towns and villages, and parts of the South Downs National Park.
South West England
- Bath is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with lots of lovely museums and parks, and the famed Royal Crescent, often used for BBC period dramas. It also has healing spa waters, just like the towns of Tunbridge Wells and Leamington Spa. It’s a 13-mile walk to nearby Bristol.
- Bristol is a happening place, a vibrant green and veggie-friendly city, a maritime port that is a mecca of indie shops. It’s most known for Clifton Bridge, where hot air balloons often fly overhead.
- Cornwall is a fairly small county, and its income has been decimated due to the lack of tourism during the pandemic. Local people here are often priced out of the market, due to the influx of second home-owners from London etc. Known for its rugged coastline and excellent surfing, it has its own language, and folk music and art traditions.
- Devon is a very large county, which spans East (Sidmouth) to South (seaside sailing resorts) to North (Ilfracombe). It also has two national parks (Exmoor and Dartmoor) known for their wild ponies. Along with two major cities (Plymouth is a maritime city near Cornwall and Exeter is an elegant cathedral city).
- Gloucestershire is a mostly rural county and home to beautiful woodland and the gorgeous floral town of Cheltenham, which has white Georgian buildings and its own healing waters. You’re now in the home of the Cotswolds, lovely honey-coloured buildings and beautiful country walks towards Somerset.
- Isles of Scilly look more like the Caribbean, although the sparkling blue seas now have plastic waste, just like anywhere else (one sailor recently stranded was so shocked, he has set up a zero waste campaign locally). There are many islands for migrating birds, and just 5 are lived on and visited by humans. Often painters, due to the beautiful light.
- Somerset is a large county that borders between seaside resorts like Weston-super-Mare (be careful of sinking sand) and inland villages (often called ‘Tess’ country’). Home to scrumpy cider, this is mostly made in the main town of Taunton.
- Wiltshire is a mostly rural county, outside the town of Swindon and city of Salisbury (American writer Bill Bryson writes that its cathedral is the most beautiful building in England). This is the home of the white horses, carved out in chalk on the Downs. And Stonehenge, where people celebrate the solstice each summer on 21 June (though some ‘hippy’ travellers have since been banned, since leaving too much litter behind. Local people are known as ‘moonrakers’ due to an ancient story where they got away with smuggling contraband goods, by convincing the local police they thought the moon was made of cheese! The law thought they were potty, and left them alone!
Chris Williamson for Green Pebble
- Derbyshire is a mostly rural county, outside the main city of Derby. Home to lots of canals, this county vies with Leicestershire to claim the most central part of England. No matter which, you’re a long way from the sea!
- Leicestershire is a quiet inland county, with lots of canals. It has many boasts, including being the place where the English language was formed, and also was the birthplace of the motor car (good or bad, who knows?) Like Derbyshire, it has villages claiming to be the furthest place from the sea.
- Northamptonshire is a mostly rural county with lots of castles and country homes (Princess Diana grew up here, and is buried on an island on the family estate). It’s home to lots of canals, and bordered by more counties than nearly any other in England.
- Nottinghamshire is the most northerly of the Midland counties, and is of course known as the home of Sherwood Forest, where Robin Hood and his Merry Men would steal from the rich, to give to the poor (the opposite of what happens these days). It’s also home to Little Ben (Big Ben’s little brother!)
- Rutland is England’s smallest county (if the tide is in on Isle of Wight). Formerly part of Leicestershire, there are no supermarkets, no fast food restaurants and the Internet is pretty dodgy too. But if you like to be far from the madding crowd, this is a lovely county that sits on Rutland Water (home to visiting ospreys) which you can walk or cycle around, if you’re feeling energetic.
Chris Williamson for Green Pebble
- Herefordshire is a beautiful county on the border with Wales. Known for its orchards and homemade cider, the population swells when the annual visitors to Hay-on-Wye book festival arrive. Hereford is quite demure and quiet for a city, and well worth a visit, even if you’re not normally a ‘city person’.
- Shropshire was voted England’s most beautiful county by a journalist (it pipped Northumberland, as he didn’t like the rain and cold and wind!) This is home to the blue remembered hills, plenty of canals and lovely foodie towns like Ludlow. It’s also one of the least populated counties, so go here if you prefer sheep to people!
- Staffordshire is a real canal county, where a lot of the industrial revolution was based. It’s also home to its famed pottery, and Flash, England’s highest village. Stoke-on-Trent (the birthplace of Robbie Williams) is the main town.
- Warwickshire is a beautiful county, mostly rural. It lays claim to be the home of Stratford-upon-Avon. So as it’s Shakespeare country, this area has more visitors to England than anywhere, outside London.
- West Midlands is a mostly rural county, but home to the three big cities of Birmingham (home of the Balti Curry), Wolverhampton (friendliest people on earth) and Coventry. Yet just 12 miles away is Shropshire, so you don’t have to go far, to find some peace and quiet!
- Worcestershire is another rural county with the main town of Worcester surrounded by pretty villages and countryside. It was the home to Worcestershire sauce (but the main brand now is owned by a big multi-national and contains fish – so go for local home-grown brands like Biona instead). It’s home to the Severn River, the longest in England. And the Malvern Hills (not easy to climb, these are used as practice for mountaineers about to tackle Mt Everest!)