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Isles of Scilly

The balmy Scilly Isles, 28 miles south-west of Land's End, comprise 140 rocky islands slap in the middle of the warm Gulf Stream. The mild climate enables plants and trees that grow nowhere else in Britain to flourish, and growing flowers for the mainland is an important industry. The pace of life on the five inhabited islands is slow and gentle, and there's no need for a car because the largest island (St Mary's) only measures around three by two miles. Most of the islands have white, sandy beaches, gin-clear waters and a swag of shipwrecks, making it attractive territory for divers. The major tourist attraction is the subtropical gardens at Tresco Abbey on Tresco. The best beaches are on St Martin's, but the most powerful sight is Bryher's Hell Bay in the middle of an Atlantic gale. Visitors can fly to St Mary's from Land's End, Exeter, Newquay, Plymouth and Bristol, or catch a boat from Penzance.

 
New Forest

Wedged between Southampton and Bournemouth on the holiday South Coast, this 145-sq-mile patch of woodland is the largest area of natural vegetation left in England. It has been that way since William the Conqueror gave the area its name in 1079. Befittingly, a number of ancient traditions survive in the forest, including commoners' rights to graze their stock. There are some 5000 wild ponies and cattle grazing in the forest, and plenty of deer, badgers and foxes residing among the fine stands of oak, beech and holly. It's a pretty area to drive through, but even better if you get off the roads and onto the walking and cycling tracks.

 
Northumberland

This is one of the wildest and least-spoilt counties in England. There are probably more castles and battlefield sites here than anywhere else in the country, testifying to the long and bloody struggle with the Scots. The most interesting and well-known relic is Hadrian's Wall. The Northumberland National Park has a windswept grandeur that is distinctly un-English in character. The grassy Cheviot Hills, part of the park, are a lonely, beautiful and challenging hiking area. The main town in the area is Berwick-upon-Tweed, the northernmost town in England; the prettiest villages are Corbridge and Brampton in neighboring Cumbria.

 
Shropshire

The 'blue remembered hills' of Shropshire form one of the most beautiful, peaceful and underrated areas of Britain. The gentle terrain and the low population density make it perfect cycling or open walking country. The county's capital, Shrewsbury, is probably the finest Tudor town in England, famous for its half-timbered buildings and winding medieval streets. Nearby Wroxeter boasts the ruins of Viroconium, the fourth-largest city in Roman Britain. Ironbridge, south of Telford, was the Silicon Valley of the Industrial Revolution, and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum is Britain's finest museum of industrial archaeology.


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