MANY writers have told us to slow down and take a closer look at our own surroundings. But in our haste to travel abroad, it can be easy to forget how much the UK has to offer us, both in scenery and in activities. So, take a look here to remind yourself what's tucked away. Give the car a break too, and explore nice and slowly, says Roger Crisp Suffolk coast Aldeburgh (visit-aldeburgh.co.uk) is well known for its classical music festival and Benjamin Britten. It is a delightful, small, Victorian seaside town with a long, pebbled beach, a small number of working fishing boats, individual shops and a feeling of being of another time altogether. The town's cinema is one of the oldest independent picture houses in the country. Less well known are the distinctive countryside and long seascapes on either side of it. This is ideal, level walking and cycling country.
Even less well known again is nearby Thorpeness. Stay at the House in the Clouds (houseintheclouds.co.uk) or the Dolphin Pub (thorpenessdolphin.com). Also nearby, go to Saxmundham church to find out what Wodewoses are; to Snape for its Maltings music venue and Anglo-Saxon cemetery; and Leiston for its Long Shop Museum featuring 200 years of local, social and industrial history.
On the A5 to Snowdonia and Anglesey, is a holiday in itself. There is white water kayaking on the River Dee; hiking and climbing in the hills; a working steam railway (llangollen-railway.co.uk) and the soaring Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; castles and the hilltop ruins of Dinas Bran (Crow Castle). It's also home to one of Wales' most important Eisteddfods. In the friendly town there are cafés, good pubs with food and one of the biggest, labyrinthine second-hand bookshops around, on the top floor of the old cinema in Bridge Street. The town straddles the river which is crossed by a lovely old stone bridge, whose origins go back to 1345.
Rural Staffordshire Brewood (pronounced "Brood"), is a small town near the Shropshire Union Canal. It has a rural charm, good pubs in town and outside, countryside walks and cycling paths, bridleways and the towpath. Not far away are the RAF Museum at Cosford, Chillington Hall and Boscobel House. The town began as a settlement on the pre-Roman trackway that became Watling Street (now the A5 in this area), which largely went from Dover to Wroxeter. You can hire a narrowboat, attend the July music festival, and stay at the boutique Lion Hotel (lionhotelbrewood.co.uk) on the market square.
Northern Ireland The Ards Peninsula, meaning "Peninsula of the Ulstermen", is bounded on the east by the sea and on the west by Strangford Lough. This long stretch of lowland has only two roads, each following the watersides. Off the seashore, Scotland is closer than the Isle of Man. Within the Lough's waters are many headlands and picturesque islands. The small towns and settlements have their own character. In the north Bangor's port is the gateway to the Ards, and nearby Donaghagadee has hosted Keats, Wordsworth and Liszt (complete with piano).
Further south, Portavogie is one of N. Ireland's most important fishing ports and at the southern tip Portaferry is exactly what it's name suggests, a ferry link to the mainland. On the Ards Peninsula there is something for everyone. You can sail, ride horses, cycle, walk, play golf and go fishing. There are castles, old towers, country houses to visit. You could watch the Dulse Gatherers collecting edible seaweed. Or you could just indulge in that popular pastime of sipping a pint or a whiskey and watch the world pass you by.
Surrey Hills Strange as it may seem, the Surrey Hills (surreyhills.org) can be remote and bewildering, with forests encompassing your view and tiny lanes that somehow arrive at a village or a few houses. The Hills are a long stretch of wooded uplands from Farnham and Haslemere in the west, to Caterham and Godstone in the east. Parts of it were used in the recent Olympics cycling event.
Near Dorking is one of the more remote and spectacular areas, around Leith Hill, where there is both a tower with views almost to the south coast, and the recently refurbished National Trust property of Leith Hill Place. The house has been owned by the Wedgewoods and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and was visited frequently by Charles Darwin. This is an area for walking, cycling, country pubs and cricket. On top of Leith Hill is the cricket pitch of Coldharbour Village, with the pub, The Plough (ploughinn.com), half a mile below.
Scottish Borders Kirkcudbright, the county town of the shire, has a long maritime history and the River Dee still flows into the sheltered Kirkcudbright Bay. Since 1455, the town (pronounced "Ker-coo-bree") has been a Royal Burgh. Today it also has a long-standing reputation for its artists, potters and painters. There are excellent opportunities for fishing and boating, walking and cycling in the low, rolling hills. Seek out MacLellan's Castles - a 16th century family home, or Broughton House and Garden. You can watch the boats coming and going at the Marina and the Bay. Or just watch the sea at Dhoon Beach.
Being Scotland, of course, no town is complete without a golf course or two. The Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park is set in 27 acres of woodland, with local and foreign birds and animals, including otters and meerkats, as well as Scottish wild cats. Kirkcudbright has many summer activities, including a jazz festival since 1997 (kirkcudbrightjazzfestival.co.uk).
Lake District Full of lovely nooks and crannies, there are many secrets in this otherwise well-known part of Cumbria (visitcumbria.com), with hidden views, villages and places to while away time on a walk or cycle ride, or a boat. The Coast to Coast (C2C) cycle route goes, west of Penrith, through the little village of Greystoke, and past the front door of the Greystoke Cycle Café. Annie Swarbrick's speciality is not just cups of tea and homemade cakes and meals, but also as a quirky venue for all kinds of courses, events and meetings. You might find yourself there for anything from beekeeping to fine art, or blacksmithing.
Accommodation in and around the village ranges from Stafford House, in the grounds of Greystoke Castle, to self-catering on a farm, and B&B at Orchard Cottage in the village. The Cycle Café's website (greystokecyclecafe.co.uk) has lots of such local details.