We all know the famous adage that ‘if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life’—but what if you’re only tired temporarily? Sometimes all we need is a quick break from the city life. Whilst London is an unparalleled place to live, there are just some things you can’t do like sit outside a pub, drink in hand, gazing out over the rolling hills of the countryside. With that image in mind, here are six quintessentially British, chocolate box villages to escape to that are within one hour of London.
The village of Ripley has been around since the Norman times (the period from 1066 until 1216), a history clearly visible in the architecture of its church, St Mary Magdalen, which features characteristics pointing to a period of construction around 1160. There are more than 20 listed public buildings and houses in the village, and some beautiful timber-framed Tudor buildings along the high street. Ripley is home to The Talbot Hotel, which dates from 1453, three pubs, a Michelin star restaurant and some great shops that sell antiques, wine, coffee and flowers.
Situated in an idyllic location on the Thames, Cookham also incorporates three islands alongside the main village and two satellite villages. The site here has been inhabited for thousands of years—there’s a small Bronze Age area, two pre-history megaliths and three ancient barrows to see nearby. It is thought that Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows was inspired by Cookham, the author having lived here as a child and returning to write the book in later life. The painter Stanley Spencer was also born here, with several of his paintings depicting life in the village— the Stanley Spencer Gallery in the village centre is home to some of his works. The quaint high street is filled with historic buildings, including 17th century and Victorian cottages, old inns, several restaurants and little shops. While a walk through the village is a treat in itself, Cookham is also a popular start-off point for several walks down some of the Thames’ most picturesque stretches.
The little town of Yalding was once a favourite place of Edith Nesbit, author of classic children’s fiction, and it’s not hard to see why. She particularly admired the Twyford Bridge, one of three in the village, which is one of the best examples of a Medieval bridge in the UK. After the local iron industry declined in the 1700s, the village returned to its traditional industry of fruit farming in apple and pear orchards, having always been surrounded by bountiful countryside. Yalding is a tiny village and doesn’t offer much in the way of shops, however once a year it hosts a contemporary music festival, named ‘The Vicar’s Picnic’, and there are a number of pubs.
Great Missendem, Buckinghamshire
Located in the heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Great Missendem is surrounded by gorgeous scenery, with rolling hills, paddocks, woods and valleys. The village itself is also picture perfect, with winding streets and pretty shop fronts, and has been used extensively for filming over the years—it has featured in Midsummer Murders, several films by Hammer Horror in the 80s and the new Bridget Jones movie. When it comes to famous artists however, the village is most closely associated with author Roald Dahl, who lived here from 1954 until his death in 1990. Local scenes and characters are featured regularly in his work, and his grave can be visited at St Peter and St Paul’s Church. The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre sits on the high-street, while the Roald Dahl Village Trail takes visitors on a journey around many of his sources of inspiration. There’s also a number of shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs to explore, alongside many beautiful walks in the surrounding countryside.
The pretty village of Bray occupies a three-mile stretch of the Thames, and is therefore often referred to as Bray-on-Thames. The main village is surrounded by a number of smaller villages, hamlets and greens which make up the larger parish of Bray, making for some lovely short walks. In the village itself there are two three-Michelin-starred restaurants (there are only four in the whole of the UK), The Fat Duck—run by Heston Blumenthal and named as the best restaurant in the world in 2005 by Restaurant magazine—and The Waterside Inn, the first restaurant outside of France to keep its three stars for 25 years. Places of interest in the village include the tomb of William Goddard, who built a row of red-brick almshouses in the village in 1609, known as The Jesus Hospital, and nearby Bray Studios, the original home of Hammer Horror.
This tiny Hertfordshire village is close to the remains of an Iron Age forge named Arbury Banks, but there’s plenty of history on offer within the village itself. The architecture spans many centuries, with medieval cottages, Tudor and Georgian town houses or houses with 15th-16th century windows—one of which is now a local museum—with plenty of thatched roofs on display. Icknield Way, an ancient trackway claimed to be the oldest road in Britain, is nearby and is a popular access route to countryside walks.