Image of Clevedon Pier, which was described by the poet Sir John Betjeman as "the most beautiful pier in England"
Clevedon Pier, which was described by the poet Sir John Betjeman as "the most beautiful pier in England" © Historic England Archive DP081826
Clevedon Pier, which was described by the poet Sir John Betjeman as "the most beautiful pier in England" © Historic England Archive DP081826

Bettany Hughes announces her top 10 Travel & Tourism places

  • Historian and Author Bettany Hughes judges the Travel & Tourism category in our campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical
  • 10 places chosen from a long list of public nominations include a Roman road, the bridge that witnessed the dawn of the railway age and the pier hailed by John Betjeman as the most beautiful in England
  • New podcast episodes hosted by TV and radio presenter Emma Barnett explore the 10 selected places and their importance to England’s identity

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A railway bridge in Darlington that witnessed the dawn of the railway age, a Roman road stretching hundreds of miles, and the Victorian forerunner to Butlins holiday camp are among the 10 places chosen today by historian and author Bettany Hughes for our campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical.

Bettany Hughes, who has judged the Travel & Tourism category, is one of a panel of expert judges, including Mary Beard, George Clarke and David Olusoga, who will choose 10 places in 10 different categories from a long list of public nominations.

The campaign aims to find the 100 places which bring England’s extraordinary history to life and best demonstrate our collective identity.

All 10 places picked by Bettany will be explored in new episodes of the recently launched podcast series, hosted by Emma Barnett.

The 10 places in the Travel & Tourism category are:

Skerne Bridge, Darlington

Spanning the River Skerne in the centre of Darlington, this bridge still carries daily railway traffic, making it the oldest railway bridge in the world in continuous use. In 1825 when the Stockton & Darlington Railway opened, Locomotion No.1, built by George Stephenson, passed over the bridge and began the railway age which was to change Britain and the world.

For a time the bridge was on the back of the £5 note. The railways changed England forever, connecting distant towns and counties to each other and bringing the population closer together.

Fosse Way, stretching from Lincoln to Exeter

After the Roman invasion of Britain around 43AD, the Romans quickly built a road network of paved and gravel roads in a land where unpaved tracks were previously the norm. The network was around 15,000km in length, linking key military and administrative locations.

Fosse Way was one of the most important Roman roads in the country and one of the longest, running from Exeter to Lincoln. The A46 follows the old road almost exactly from Leicester to Lincoln and some of the route survives as road or path south of Leicester and through the Cotswolds.

Clevedon Pier, Clevedon, Somerset

Opened in 1869, Clevedon Pier was built to receive paddle steamer passengers from Devon and Wales. A spectacular vestige of a Victorian seaside resort, it was constructed using Barlow rail tracks and is approaching its 150th anniversary.

It is the only accessible Grade I listed pier in the country and was described by the poet John Betjemen as “the most beautiful pier in England”.

Dreamland, Margate, Kent

One of Britain's oldest surviving amusement parks and home of the UK's oldest operating roller coaster, the Grade II* listed Scenic Railway. The site of Dreamland (as it was re-named in 1920) dates back to the British railway boom and the early 1870s when, in its original form, the ‘Hall by the Sea’ was operated by a circus tycoon, the self-proclaimed “Lord” George Sanger.

Site of the medieval Scrooby Manor House, Scrooby, Nottinghamshire

This was the home to William Brewster, one of the Pilgrim Fathers who journeyed on the Mayflower to New England in 1620. Brewster was among a group who, in 1606, broke away from the established church after becoming dissatisfied with the corruption in the Church of England. Called Separatists, they wanted to live a simpler life based on the Bible teachings. Brewster opened up his home, Scrooby Manor House, as a meeting place for the new congregation.

The separatists were severely censured and a small group of them, led by Brewster, left for the New World in 1620. The influence of the small, idealistic colony they set up when they landed in Provincetown can still be seen in the beliefs of America today and has had a lasting impact on the world.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn, Nottingham

This claims to be the oldest inn in England, with its establishment stated as 1189. The word trip formerly meant stopping point on a journey, suggesting the inn was originally used by travellers, pilgrims and crusaders on the epic journey to Jerusalem. The inn is built beside and into the sandstone rock upon which Nottingham Castle stands.

Among the curiosities inside the inn are a wooden chair which is said to increase the sitting woman’s chances of becoming pregnant and a model galleon in a glass case, which is cursed so that anyone who has dusted it has met a mysterious death.

The Grand Hotel, Scarborough, Yorkshire

When completed in 1867, The Grand Hotel was one of the largest hotels in the world, as well as one of the first giant purpose-built hotels in Europe, and now at over 150 years old it still welcomes visitors.

The building is designed around the theme of time: four towers to represent the seasons, 12 floors for the months of the year, 52 chimneys symbolise the weeks, and originally there were 365 bedrooms, one for each day of the year. The hotel itself is in the shape of a 'V' in honour of Queen Victoria.

Caister Camp, Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk

Although Butlins, Pontins and Warners became popular, well known holiday camps in the mid twentieth century, they were certainly not the first of their kind. Caister Camp, close to the old Roman fort in the town near Norfolk, was one of the earliest holiday camps to use hut or chalet based accommodation that holiday camps became famous for.

Caister’s camp was established on the Norfolk coast by John Fletcher Dodd in 1906, 30 years before Billy Butlin founded his inaugural camp in Skegness in 1936. Dodd was a tee-totalling grocer who fell in love with the area when he visited. He bought a small house there, put up some tents and the park was born. Dodd was a socialist and founding member of the Independent Labour Party and so initially this was a socialist holiday camp.

Influential characters from the Labour party would come there, including George Bernard Shaw, and all guests were expected to help out with the chores.

Helvellyn, The Lake District, Cumbria

Although only the third highest peak in England, to many Helvellyn is the most enigmatic and evocative of the Lake District fells. With a commanding position between Ullswater to the east and Thirlmere to the west, Helvellyn has attracted hikers since it became a popular pastime in the area in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

The Lake District, as well as being a place where people live and work, is also one of the most beautiful areas in England and has long been a destination for travellers and tourists alike.

Pump rooms and Roman baths, Bath, Wiltshire

The geothermal springs were the reason Bath developed as a city and this site has been a destination for tourists and travellers for thousands of years. The first shrine here was built by the Celts and the Romans worshipped the deity Sulis Minerva here. The great Roman buildings fell into disrepair and were built over after the Roman withdrawal, only to be rediscovered in the late 19th century.

Bath was rejuvenated as a spa town in Georgian England and the Pump Rooms, were built around the springs. Fashionable society visited the city to bathe in the reputably healing hot springs and drink the supposedly curative spa water. Notable visitors to Bath and its spa include Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Thomas Gainsborough, William Pitt the Younger and Lord Nelson.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “The desire to travel is in our bones, so charting how and where people have travelled around England through these 10 places is fascinating. From a natural spring around which a major city grew, to a Lake District fell which has inspired some of our greatest writers, England is full of places which have drawn travellers and tourists for thousands of years and will continue to play a central role in our national life.”

Faith Parish, who heads up Ecclesiastical’s heritage business, said: “From ancient landscapes to havens of fun and amusement, these 10 places paint a diverse picture of how travel and tourism have helped shaped England. Bettany Hughes has selected some truly extraordinary places that reflect our nation’s passion for discovery and adventure and continue to inspire and excite people today, just as they did our ancestors. As a specialist insurer, we play our part in protecting some of the most important visitor attractions in the UK, from world heritage sites to castles, museums, art galleries and stately homes. We’re proud to protect the irreplaceable.”