Southern England may be densely populated, but it is always possible to find unexpected oases of tranquility. For those who seek it out, the England of rose-covered cottages, country pubs and quiet churchyards is still alive and well. One of the glories of England is its network of long-distance footpaths, ancient tracks that have served the inhabitants since the Celtic, pre-Christian era. Hiking here is not an escape from culture but an immersion in it. Paths in southern England include the famous 119-mile Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury, immortalized by Chaucer. The South Downs Way also begins in Winchester but runs 99 miles southeast to the iconic white chalk cliffs overlooking the Channel in East Sussex.
World War II Museums
I found it very moving to make a short pilgrimage to Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, landscaped by the Olmsted Brothers and the only permanent American World War II cemetery in Britain. Eleven miles to the south of the cemetery is the airfield of Duxford, which in April 1943 became Base 357 of the U.S. 8th Air Force. Today Duxford’s American Air Museum contains the largest collection of historic American aircraft outside the United States.
Oxford's Classic Pubs
No visit to the lovely city of Oxford is complete without a trip to one of its classic pubs. The Eagle and Child (49 St. Giles) is perhaps the most renowned of all, as for 20 years it was the watering hole of choice for writers including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The Old Tom (101 St. Aldate’s) sits across from Christ Church, one of the university’s most prestigious colleges, and has a scholarly atmosphere. The Bear Inn (6 Alfred Street) dates to 1242 and is distinguished by the thousands of snipped and labeled club ties framed on its walls. The Kings Arms (40 Holywell Street), a local institution, is probably the best spot to enjoy the company of Oxonians in their element. The Turf Tavern (4-5 Bath Place) is a very old, well-hidden pub that rests on remnants of the old city walls, wedged in a narrow alleyway that runs between Holywell Street and New College Lane.
England is a land of gardens. One of the most famous is at Sissinghurst Castle, near Cranbrook in Kent. (Visit during the week to avoid crowds.) The current layout is the work of Vita Sackville-West, who inherited the estate in 1930. Today it is maintained by the National Trust. On any visit to England, be sure to download the invaluable National Trust app.
Southeast England is separated from northern France by less than 30 miles of sea, so it has always been the most likely route for an invader intent on seizing London. (Both Julius Caesar and William of Normandy came this way.) It is therefore no surprise that the region contains many of England’s most spectacular castles. My two personal favorites are the moated Bodiam Castle and the magnificent Arundel Castle, which is still the home of the Duke of Norfolk.
England is crisscrossed by long-distance footpaths. In southern England my favorite is the South Downs Way, which runs from Winchester to the iconic white chalk cliffs overlooking the Channel.