Go to England and Wales for the cricket, but stay on for the sights at the World Cup’s 10 venues. The entire cricketing world will be there this summer: the Barmy Army, baggy greens, calypso crew and our boys and girls in blue. But amidst the jubilation and vocal despondency that such jamborees bring, there may be moments when you yearn to be far from the madding crowd
Even this glittering, busy venue of 10 matches, including the packed final, has its oases of calm. A mere deuce ball’s flight from The Oval is the London Eye. The queue to board it is orderly and once the 135m-wheel starts turning, you are in the clouds, looking down on a tranquil yet clearly teeming London. If your ride’s at night, it is even more ethereal; twinkling quietly like the Thames below. Back on the ground, and for a change of pace, there are enticing road shows, street-food stalls, and pop-up exhibitions all the way along the embankment, till you arrive, in a matter of minutes, at that other place of profound peace and eternal rest—Westminster Abbey. If its soaring spires and celebrated rose window appeal to the art lover in all of us, our inner bookworm is bound to savour a hushed sit-down in Poets’ Corner, where the bones of English literature’s who’s who are interred.
Once rejuvenated, roll on down to the South Bank for a spot of rambunctious Shakespeare at the lovingly reconstructed Globe Theatre. Or take a stroll through these riverside lanes of galleries (including the Tate Modern), wine bars, restaurants and the Southbank Centre itself, with all the art and culture it has to offer. You could even board the Golden Hinde, Francis Drake’s famous galleon; salvaged, rebuilt and still roguishly manned. A saunter away is the wonderful whirligig of the Borough Market, with every manner of person scoffing all kinds of cuisine—from roast hog to oysters to dosa—under its vaulted Victorian glass and iron roof.
If it’s the hurly-burly at Lord’s Cricket Ground from which you need a breather, then the best place is verdant Regent’s Park. Have a picnic while you watch the swans weaving through the weeping willow. When your little grey cells are refreshed and ready, visit The Sherlock Holmes Museum next door, to mull over mysteries worthy of Sherlock (like, is that really Mrs Hudson you spy in the corner?). With time in hand—during an obdurate century from the opposition, for example—you might want to explore The British Museum, and The British Library too. From Baker Street, these are no more than two-three Tube stops away.
From Trent Bridge, there are trams and buses aplenty but you can also walk to the centre of this merry city, home of Robin Hood. Stop at a fête at Old Market Square, in front of majestic Council House, then hurry on to some of the most interesting pubs in the country. Beside Nottingham Castle is the oldest pub in England, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, where returning Crusaders gathered to gab about their glory days, like cricket fans after a match. Down the hill, opposite the Galleries of Justice, a museum that was the old gaol, is the picturesque Tudor tavern Cock & Hoop. This pub with a difference is always packed, but pleasantly, with its literary events a huge draw in this
Unesco City of Literature. The Pitcher & Piano pub, just up the street, is in an old church; magnificent to look at, and as full of spirits as when it was a very different house of worship.
That many of these pubs are partially housed in thousand-year-old man-made caves, or sit atop them, using them as cellars for their stocks, make them unlike any other in England. And a nocturnal tour that sets out from Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem on the trail of Nottingham’s ghosts takes time out to delve into this netherworld too.
Pubs for Medieval Crusaders to hub for the Caped Crusader, Nottingham has it all; and if Robin Hood doesn’t impress, Batman will! When film director Christopher Nolan chanced upon the grand Gothic pile of Wollaton Hall, he knew it would have to be his Wayne Manor in Batman Returns. Despite exuding the brooding aura of the Dark Knight’s lair, it is miles more inviting in its green, rolling grounds dotted with deer, cream tea at the converted stables, and the occasional fair.
This city’s beautiful, humming harbour is also its cultural heart. A 5-minute ride from the central railway station by bus or cab is the iconic Wales Millennium Centre, home of the opera and other theatrical marvels. Catch a matinee and have dinner at a range of restaurants looking out to the sea. Dip your toes in after, on a boat trip across Cardiff Bay, to the centre, where Cardiff Castle promises music in its gardens all summer long. From The Killers to the Manic Street Preachers, they have all the scarily-named (but musically sound) bands you might want to hear!
Another boat ride away is the Norwegian Church, where author Roald Dahl was baptized; this whitewashed steepled building on a bluff is now an arts base in his honour. But for the landlubbers with children, there’s also Techniquest; a large and engaging science activity centre, a stump’s throw from the harbour, which is guaranteed to keep your inner child occupied too.
The city of the grand old suspension bridge that Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel built has another of those nicely restored docklands that Britain does so well, with vibrant shops, bars, art venues and restaurants. And down a back street, on College Green, the only statue of Indian reformer Rammohun Roy in the UK, standing proud outside the Bristol Cathedral. Sati-abolitionist Roy died in Bristol, and his ornate memorial in Arnos Vale Cemetery remains a place of peace in this booming city.
Another serene little gem in a cobbled Bristol lane is the Red Lodge Museum on Lodge Street, a perfectly preserved historic home where you can spend all the time you need exploring the rooms and their exhibits, or just gazing out of its wide sashed windows at the lush green gardens beneath, without interlopers shaking you out of your Tudor daydream. But for history going back to the dawn of man, and an otherworldly atmosphere like no other, take a tour bus to the Unesco World Heritage site of Stonehenge an hour and a bit away, where the giant standing stones breathe a magic that can still hold you in thrall.
The desi connection truly comes into play at The Rose Bowl, where India kick off their campaign. Southampton is Titanic City; not in its size but in its link to that ill-fated liner, because it was from here that it set sail. To learn more about it, head to the SeaCity Museum with its replica ship and tear-and-seawater-soaked stories from survivors. The maritime theme continues at Buckler’s Hard, an 18th century shipbuilding village, half an hour from SeaCity, where you can wander through fragrant apple orchards, espying old timber yards and shipwrights’ cottages, or take a breezy river cruise up to 800-year-old Beaulieu Abbey and its surroundings. It’s also a motorhead’s paradise, with the National Motor Museum, World of Top Gear, and monorail, all on the same site.
This Somerset town is small and pretty. Elizabethan knot gardens, twee shops and churches, picture-book canals and narrow boats straight out of Jerome K. Jerome, are a sight for cricket-sore eyes, and well worth a ramble on a clear day. If you have been on your feet a tad too long, board the toy train that runs through Vivary Park, to appreciate the award-winning floral displays, Victorian bandstand and bowers. With time at your disposal and an interest in the equine, you could trek through Quantock Hills on sturdy guided ponies, and be back in time for tea. Or hire a car from Taunton to get to Stonehenge in the same time it takes from Bristol, with a possible and very picturesque detour to Salisbury, with its legend-rich cathedral and an ancient Roman fort, Old Sarum, on a hill.
Big, busy and permanently wet, Manchester has plenty of exciting indoor venues for visitors, including some fine art and architecture at the Manchester Art Gallery and the Whitworth at the University of Manchester. The Salford area has a fabulous collection of paintings at The Lowry, and BBC MediaCity tours of beloved TV shows. Best of all, Old Trafford, the Manchester United Football ground is only a long pass away. And Etihad Stadium, the home of Manchester City, is not too far either. Both do entertaining, informative tours for lovers of the game. Plus, with so many football greats based here, you never know who you might run into!
Get away from the hubbub of this bustling city by visiting the vast, state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham, with its 10 floors of books, amphitheatre, wild-flower gardens, and panoramic viewing gallery. Yet, step outside and Brum’s contemporary energy grabs you again. Its city centre is jammed with shops, bars, restaurants and art spaces, from the massive shopping mall that is the Bullring to the electric, as well as eclectic, Birmingham Hippodrome, with shows—Royal Ballet to The Gruffalo to The Colour Purple—to impress everyone.
And if you like your chocolate enough to take a trip to the southern edge of the city, Cadbury’s Chocolate World in Bournville is every chocoholic’s dream; dishing up not just chocolate, but knowledge about it too.
Not dissimilar to Manchester or Birmingham, Leeds is northern and thriving. It has both gracious classical architecture and a young cosmopolitan buzz, which is especially apparent if you catch the 20-minute train from the centre to the Bradford golden mile. Here, curry house upon curry house presents Britain’s modern multicultural face even as you stuff yours with the best of British fusion. An interesting hybrid of Western tastes (tomato soup in chicken tikka) and expat Asian ingenuity, it should set you up for an adventure back in time. From Keighley in Bradford, the Worth Valley steam engine sweeps through the glorious stretches of purple heather that are the Yorkshire moors, to take you to the postcard-pretty village of Haworth. You will find graceful antiquarian bookshops, charming tea rooms, and colourful confectioners in Howarth. As well as the Brontës, of course—all the lore, and the locations in which their lives and stories played out with such intensity.
This beautiful city, with its ancient university and cathedral, is the most northern venue of the tour. The university does an enjoyable guided amble of its grand premises, but you could do your own leisurely jaunt, up cobbled streets and down riverside walks, allowing you to take in more. With as many bijou boutiques and old-world pubs as it has flowering lawns, this compact, elegant city is a delightful stroll on a summer’s day.
For an immersive British experience unlike any other, however, head to Beamish Living Museum, less than half hour on the Waggonway, or Coast & Country, bus service from Chester-le-Street. In this vast park, whole neighbourhoods, main streets, farms and transport systems from the last two centuries have been recreated. Rebuilt brick by authentic brick from settlements reclaimed from the past, you will not only be able to wander (or hitch a vintage ride) through them, but sit in Georgian living rooms, attend Victorian school, drink in their World War I pubs, gobble great quantities of 1950s’ sweets, and even work on an Edwardian railway!
How better to end your whirlwind World Cup cricket tour of Blighty than in this perfect little replica of this small and splendid island?