Britons in search of a slice of traditional England have a plethora of picture-perfect hamlets to choose from
A lovely cobbled square, thatched roofs, dry stone walls, gardens brimming with rose bushes, a medieval church, the sound of a trickling steam or lapping waves at the harbour, a tea shop serving fresh scones, a friendly pub and bucket loads of community spirit – all make up the recipe for a quintessential English village.
Britons in search of a slice of traditional England, in all its glory, have a plethora of picture-perfect hamlets to choose from – whether it’s a Cornish fishing village, a Yorkshire bolthole nestled in a tiny cove or a pint-sized parish in Hampshire
To help you on your way, our experts have unearthed 30 bucolic delights to discover.
England’s most beautiful villages to visit in 2021
Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Tom Ough explains: “This village in the Cotswolds is two streets’ worth of ludicrously cute stone cottages plus a pair of ludicrously cute pubs and a ludicrously cute church. Lush hillsides overlook the village. There’s a low bridge over a shallow, glass-clear river. A market cross. (No castle, really, just the remains of a very old motte and bailey). Flowers caress the terraced cottages that line the narrow main road, creating the effect of a very fragrant wind tunnel.
“Castle Combe is therefore proclaimed England’s prettiest village, in much the same way that the US army is proclaimed the world’s most powerful military. Nobody wants to actually test them because they know they’d be obliterated.”
Castleton, Peak District
Britain’s first national park is full of beautiful villages such as Castleton, found in Hope Valley at the heart of the protected area. Surrounded by hills and overlooked by Mam Tor and Peveril Castle this historic village, packed with characterful pubs, is the starting point of several of the area’s finest walks.
St Mawes, Cornwall
This Cornish fishing village surrounded by sea and subtle hills is the ideal place for a break from the crowds, with no high street chains on its waterfront and only a handful of pubs. Further afield is the beautiful Roseland Peninsula.
Alfriston, East Sussex
If you’re in the South Downs National Park or exploring the Cuckmere Valley, be sure to call in at Alfriston, says Teresa Machan. “There’s a bristle of Cotswolds posh about it these days but don’t be put off. The thatch-and-timber Clergy House – the first building to be acquired by the National Trust, in 1896, for a purported £10 – dates back to the 14th century, there’s a lovely church and village green (the Tye), the obligatory Old English Inn, a Manor Garden and flower-filled patios in which to sip a loose-leaf tea. For the best scones in all of Sussex, head to The Singing Kettle.”
Saltaire, West Yorkshire
This beautiful Victorian model village, built by the philanthropist Sir Titus Salt for his mill workers, is a designated Unesco World Heritage Site. Small terraced cottages cluster around the hulking Salts Mill (saltsmill.org.uk) which houses one of the world’s largest collections of Hockney artwork. The Saltaire United Reformed Church is one of Britain’s great Victorian architectural gems. There are also plenty of fabulous walks to take nearby in West Yorkshire, before finishing the day with a pint of bitter from the Saltaire Brewery.
Higher Bockhampton, Dorset
Dorset has hundreds of tiny hamlets like Higher Bockhampton. Found deep in rural England, this pretty hamlet is full of tiny lanes and high hedges, and is surrounded by rolling hills. The village is where Thomas Hardy was born and where he penned his first five books, including Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd, which are all set in the surrounding area. Keep an eye out for his cottage, now a National Trust property (nationaltrust.org.uk/hardys-cottage).
The wooden bridge leading from the picturesque village of Walberswick to the beach is always crammed with children clutching crabbing lines and plastic buckets. Clamber over the ridge of dunes into the magical light of the Suffolk coast and you’ll understand why so many artists are drawn to paint this long, empty stretch of sandy beach.
Hambleden is the southern gateway to 60 miles of gently rolling Chiltern Hills and is the most quintessential English village you’re ever likely to find. A Hovis sign still hangs on the old bakery, where a brook flows freely down to Hambleden Lock, past crooked cottages of thatch, brick and flint, while a magnificent 14th-century church is the centrepiece. Other options in the Chilterns include the picture box village of Turville, the setting for the Vicar of Dibley and overlooked by Cobstone Mill, made famous by the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Staithes, North Yorkshire
This tiny village in North Yorkshire is the county’s greatest hidden gem, according to the Telegraph’s Joe Shute. “The beautiful village – once the home of Captain James Cook – is nestled in a steep tiny cove rich with fishing and artistic history. It is small but infinite. Eat freshly caught fish at Cleveland Corner or take a boat trip to catch your own with local captain Sean (sea-angling-staithes.co.uk).”
Burnham Market, Norfolk
Burnham Market (burnhammarket.co.uk) is one of Norfolk’s classic brick-and-flint villages, with Georgian houses clustered around a broad, central green. It has a good selection of clothing and crafts shops. Best for food is Humble Pie and, for fresh local fish, go to Gurneys (gurneysfishshop.co.uk).
A hidden gem, this dreamy village snuggles into a lush valley beside the Blockley brook in Gloucestershire. Many of the buildings testify to Blockley’s past as a centre for silk-weaving (in the 1880s six mills provided work for 600 or so people). Stock up on picnic food from the village shop and follow one of the many walking trails. Batsford Arboretum (batsarb.co.uk), just a couple of miles to the south-east, is a private and scenic haven of rare plants and trees.
A real “picture-postcard treasure between Fowey and Looe”, says Gill Charlton, our Cornwall expert. Locals have sorted the traffic issue by making all visitors use a park-and-ride. Like nearby Port Isaac, Polperro has a fishermen’s choir, which usually sings most Wednesday evenings.
“You’ll recognise half-timbered, honey-coloured Lacock as something of an old friend,” says Harriet O’Brien, our Cotswolds expert. “That’s because it has featured atmospherically in numerous films and screenplays, from a variety of Harry Potter films to Cranford and Pride and Prejudice. Revel in the charm and visit Lacock Abbey (nationaltrust.org.uk), a medieval foundation turned country house.”
According to Sophie Butler, our Norfolk and Suffolk expert, Blakeney is one of Norfolk’s prettiest coastal villages, with its small flint cottages in the back lanes and a narrow, winding high street. The quayside is a prime spot for crabbing (or “gillying”) where children cast lines and dangle legs. Blakeney Point (nationaltrust.org.uk/blakeney) is a bird sanctuary that is also home to common and grey seals which sprawl lazily by the water’s edge.
Lower and Upper Slaughter, Gloucestershire
If you only take one walk in the Cotswolds, make it the easy, mile-long stroll between the timeless twin villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter (the latter part of the name has nothing to do with butchery but derives from the Anglo Saxon word for mud). The lovely path runs beside the River Eye past rose-clad cottages and skirts an old flour mill. The tea shop and museum (oldmill-lowerslaughter.com) is a must-visit.
Castle Hedingham, Essex
Tucked away in the Colne Valley in Essex, not far from Constable Country – only quieter with far fewer tourists – Castle Hedingham has a trinity of delights. There is a quaint High Street complete with timbered medieval inns, a late Norman church and a stout Norman castle (hedinghamcastle.co.uk). It is also home to the Colne Valley Railway (colnevalleyrailway.co.uk), which opened in 1860, and has steam trains puffing through green fields on a half-mile track.
Ditchling, East Sussex
This picturesque village within the South Downs National Park is filled with Tudor houses, Georgian homes and medieval churches. It sits at the foot of Ditchling Beacon (nationaltrust.org.uk/ditchling-beacon), the highest point in East Sussex, which offers far-reaching views across the Downs.
Orford in Suffolk is dominated by a 90-foot keep (english-heritage.org.uk/orford-castle), which is all that remains of a 12th-century castle built by Henry II. This sleepy old port, with its 14th-century church of St Bartholomew, is protected by the long land-spit of Orford Ness, owned by the National Trust. Head out on a boat trip (orfordrivertrips.co.uk), buy freshly baked bread from the Pump Street bakery (pumpstreetbakery.com) or pick up some smoked fish from Pinney’s (pinneysoforford.co.uk).
Dedham, in the Stour valley, is plumb in the heart of Constable Country. The focal point is the High Street, where pretty Georgian façades hide medieval buildings. Constable went to school in the magnificent Grade I-listed Grammar School overlooking the Royal Square. Despite the many visitors, Dedham remains charmingly unspoilt and has a thriving community.
Hutton-le-Hole, North Yorkshire
A babbling stream runs through it, there’s a welcoming pub or three as well as a tea room, not to mention the free-roaming moorland sheep nibbling the village’s swathes of grass. It doesn’t get any more quintessentially English than Hutton-Le-Hole in North Yorkshire. Located in green and undulating Ryedale this is a good lunch spot en-route to Pickering, Helmsley, or Castleton.
Abbotsbury, just 10 miles from Weymouth in Dorset, is a haven of art galleries and wood workshops (abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk). Its main attraction is the subtropical gardens, a Victorian innovation that occupies a Grade I-listed woodland valley, which has its own microclimate and is noted for its magnolias and camellia groves.
Picture-perfect Painswick is steeply set above the Severn Valley, its charming winding streets offering sudden and dramatic vistas. Make for the 14th-century church of St Mary’s and its churchyard with lines of neatly bulbous, clipped yews – legend has it that there are 99 of the trees and that the devil won’t let any more grow. Then head to Painswick Rococo Garden (rococogarden.org.uk) on the northern edge of town. It is a masterpiece of early 18th-century landscape design. Crossed by the Cotswold Way, the village is also an excellent hub for walking trails.
One of the biggest draws for tourists in the southern Lake District, Hawkshead is filled with 17th-century architecture. The Cumbrian village also boasts a handsome church dating back to 1300 and has several good pubs. Other popular villages in the region include Grasmere (for its Wordsworth connections), Near Sawrey (for Beatrix Potter), and Cartmel.
Hidden in a wooded combe, this film-set-perfect village is one of Dartmoor’s most lovingly maintained, according to Telegraph Travel’s Devon expert, Suzy Bennett. Its thatched cottages are grouped around a 13th-century church, with the Primrose Tea Rooms to one side and the village shop to the other. The rural idyll is completed by the cricket pitch, communal apple orchard and a friendly pub serving real ales and great food.
Forming part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, this village to the south of the River Ure is home to one of Britain’s most beautiful waterfalls – Aysgarth Falls. Split into three levels, the falls are best known for their appearance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner, and have been visited by Ruskin, Wordsworth and Turner.
By population, Brockenhurst is the biggest village in Hampshire’s New Forest, yet the centre is still pint-sized. On Brookley Road (Brockenhurst’s high street) you’ll find a butcher, a baker, a grocer and a florist. See the classic cars of the Beaulieu Motor Museum (beaulieu.co.uk) or, if you have kids in tow, try New Forest Activities (newforestactivities.co.uk).
A little Northumbrian coastal village, Bamburgh is the epitome of picturesque. Its main intersection – the only intersection, really – is grandly overlooked by Bamburgh Castle. A colossal Norman-Victorian confection of architectural might, the castle probably contains more stones than the rest of the village combined. It is enormous, imposing, exciting and a landmark few British settlements can match.
Scattered up a hillside and clinging to a 400-foot cliff overlooking Bideford Bay, Clovelly has to be one of Devon’s most famous villages. While donkeys used to be the main mode of transport, now they’re just used for children’s rides, so be prepared for a hike if you want to walk down to the seafront and back. If you fancy trying some of the freshly caught fish, head to the Red Lion Harbour Restaurant (clovelly.co.uk).
According to Telegraph Travel expert Kathryn Liston, Shere is one of Surrey’s prettiest villages with its independent shops, museum, 12th-century church and Dabbling Duck tea rooms, attracting both day trippers and film producers. Bridget Jones and James Bond have both been filmed here.
Berkshire is packed with pretty villages, but Bray has to be one of its finest. Not only is it a looker, all half-timbered houses and tranquil Thames views, but it’s also home to three Michelin-starred restaurants, with seven stars between them: The Fat Duck and The Hind’s Head (both owned by Heston Blumenthal), and Alain Roux’s Waterside Inn. Be warned: you’ll be fighting gourmands from all over the world for a table.