English Sights for a Young Girl
June 13, 2010 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Where would you go and what would you do if you're a young museum- and nature-loving teen on her first trip to England?

My daughter is taking her first trip overseas next month. She's looking for things a girl of 14 can do with her grandparents while on a two-week holiday. Specifically the East and East Midlands regions of England, though I'm sure they'll hit London at some point. And given the raves about Bath and the Cotswolds in previous threads, I'll be encouraging them to try and get to those.

But aside from that, what are some can't-miss spots for a young girl looking to have her horizons expanded and her camera filled? Bonus: Anything with a link to Nordic or Icelandic culture; e.g. the Viking graffiti I've heard of in some Northern castles (but closer to the middle of England).
posted by Hardcore Poser to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There's a Viking museum in York, so that sounds like a great place to go. How will your daughter and her grandparents be travelling around the UK? Will they have a car or be restricted to public transport?
posted by Joh at 10:26 PM on June 13, 2010

Best answer: She's hitting the British Museum, right? RIGHT?

And what part of the East Midlands? I'm in Nottingham, so here are some of the museums around here that she might get a kick out of:

Nottingham Castle (not really a castle anymore, but it does have some awesome stuff)
Galleries of Justice (old prisons! bad acting!)
Newark Castle (a proper real castle ruin, with lots of British Civil War history)
Lincoln Castle (with the Magna Carta)
Lincoln Cathedral (epic medieval cathedral)

Does she like space as well as nature? Because the National Space Centre in Leicester is pretty neat.

The Jorvik viking centre is pretty darn awesome, and there's also so much history to see around York. If she has a chance, she should definitely go up there.
posted by Katemonkey at 12:35 AM on June 14, 2010

Seconding the medieval bits of Lincoln. And the Yorkshire Dales are probably unlike anything she's seen (although they can get a bit full in summer). Oh, and the Peak District, of course.
posted by cromagnon at 1:15 AM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: In the West Midlands, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has the most extensive collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world, as well as a good selection of other kinds of art. She should definitely try and go there.

The Cotswolds are close by, and so is Wenlock Edge. Nearby there's also Offa's Dyke - a great earthwork constructed by a Mercian king - so she might like that.
posted by plep at 1:24 AM on June 14, 2010

As I'm assuming you're asking about East and West Midlands - there are good train connections into mid-Wales from Birmingham. The train ride to Aberystwyth is picturesque, and Machynlleth is a historic town that's on the way. You can go do a return trip from Birmingham to Machynlleth is one day if you want to.
posted by plep at 1:28 AM on June 14, 2010

Also - Warwick Castle. Warwick itself is a nice little town too.
posted by plep at 1:30 AM on June 14, 2010

(If you mean the East - as in East Anglia - and East Midlands, then you're in luck as East Anglia has Norse heritage -
Norwich Cathedral
Colchester Castle
Manningtree is a pretty town and the area has connections to John Constable).
posted by plep at 1:42 AM on June 14, 2010

For London, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are both AWESOME.
posted by teraspawn at 1:53 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Museum of London is a great hidden gem. My London friend that I went to see had never even heard of it, but we had a great time there. The museum covers the history of London from pre-history to modern times, and has a lot of great exhibits.
posted by Caravantea at 3:05 AM on June 14, 2010

I can't recommend the Pitt Rivers Museum highly enough, if they happen to be passing near Oxford; it's my favourite museum in this country and utterly fascinating. (Though personally I find Oxford itself too busily touristy to go out of one's way for.) Also would second Lincoln, which is easterly, steeped in history and an attractively loveable little city.
posted by thoughtless at 3:25 AM on June 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you're going to come out west to Bath, a day trip to Avebury is a must, in my opinion. In an incredible stone circle monument that beats Stonehenge hands down. It's far more open and accessible than it's more famous cousin, especially since Stonehenge's impact has been wrecked by it's being stuck in a small triangle of land between three motorways and a badly designed and conceived interpretation centre. Avebury, on the other hand, remains an integral and living landscape that's been occupied since its inception and continues to be to this day. There are plenty of other fascinating landscape features nearby, including long barrows, Silbury Hill and Windmill Hill.

If your daughter really likes things like this, she might also consider visiting Stanton Drew, although I'd only recommend that for serious fans of neolithic monuments. It's advantage is that she'd likely have it all to herself during her visit, or only have a couple of other visitors on site at the same time.

For wonderful nature sites in England, check out the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They've got the Cotswolds covered, but you can check out plenty of other areas. I'm most familiar with the Mendips, myself, just south and west of the Cotswolds, and I'm quite fond of them. Plenty of caving there, if she has any interest in that and also plenty of history and pre-history. One of the AONB sites on the Mendips covers an old lead mining area that was mined from in the Iron Age, by the Romans, possibly medievally and definitely post-medievally.

I'm sure that there's just as rich a tapestry of landscape to be found at any of the other AONBs.

Here's some other potentially useful links:


Natural England's Information for Countryside Visitors

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Canals and Rivers


Oh, and if one must visit Stonehenge, I strongly recommend doing so from afar. Despite the awfulness of the motorways crisscrossing the area, the Salisbury Plain is a wonderful landscape. One needs to be aware that much of it is also occupied by the British military, though. You are quite likely to hear plenty of firing range explosions during a visit to the area.

Yeah, I could probably go on and on. Feel free to memail me if you have any questions, especially concerning the landscape of SW England.
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:36 AM on June 14, 2010

York is a fabulous suggestion; it's very historic and really beautiful. I would just point out that the big advantage to York is that it isn't London - she can walk around it by herself. (Spending all day with my grandparents at 14 got old.) So in York, she can leave them having a cup of coffee and come back in an hour while she wanders down to the shop / building / whatever down the street.

I think the Viking Musuem is a bit rubbish, fwiw.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:47 AM on June 14, 2010

In London: St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

Also in London: The Tower of London, but I found it overpriced and not worth it.

Yes to both the Viking Museum and Warwick Castle.
posted by cranberrymonger at 5:58 AM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, I wasn't expecting this much activity overnight (Meta never sleeps!) Thanks for the replies so far - I'll mark some best answers when we can review these properly. To answer Joh's question they will likely hire a car for most of the holiday. And yes, Oxford is on the wish list.

DarlingBri has a refining point that really should be added to the question - what activities are there that can be done on her own?
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:10 AM on June 14, 2010

+1 Pitt Rivers Museum. My favorite museum in the world (so far). Also in Oxford, the Ashmoleon has great archeology collections as well, but the Pitt Rivers can't be beat for sheer charming weirdness.
posted by CheeseLouise at 6:35 AM on June 14, 2010

Best answer: The Museum of London is better than the British Museum for history buffs.

The Tower of London is not overpriced -- I'm a super-Scrooge, and I don't like "touristy" things and I thought it was worth every pence. You must go on the Yeoman's tour -- the Yeoman of the Guard are awesome (not surprising, as it's very competitive).

In the east of England -- Lincoln Cathedral and Ely Cathedral are both stunning. Ely is actually my favorite cathedral in the whole world -- and the town is pretty cool too, in that tiny, winding olde worlde European way that we rarely see in North America.

Lincoln also has a castle, a medieval marketplace, and the best fish and chips I've had (take-out -- from the "Sign of the Fish"). Oh, and the only surviving medieval stone townhouse in England -- the Jew's House (with an authentically medieval anti-semetic name).

My husband reccomends South Well (pronounced "Suttle") Cathedral outside of Nottingham as his favourite cathedral.

If they do end up in the West Country -- Glastonbury Abbey is one of the best curated historical sites I have ever been to -- their audio tours are a model of catering to all levels, from child to full-on academic level material. And the view from the top of the Tor is something I will remember my whole life.
posted by jb at 7:02 AM on June 14, 2010

Oh! Just remembered -- right outside Peterborough is Flag Fen, a Bronze Age archeological site with reconstructed Bronze and Iron Age Houses. It's not an all day thing, but it's pretty damn awesome if they are in the area. And there is great nature all around -- fens and marshes.
posted by jb at 7:06 AM on June 14, 2010

Lincoln would be perfectly safe for wandering on her own -- so would Ely.

Cambridge is also a great place -- more overrun with tourists than either Lincoln or Ely, but small and safe with interesting crannies and a fun market-place. If you end up there, the best sight in town is the world-famous (rightly so) King's Chapel. But the best little-known sight is the Anglo-Saxon church of St Ben'ets (short for St Benedicts). Burned by Vikings in 9-something, the tower survived -- it's still a living church and it just feels so holy whenever I am there.
posted by jb at 7:12 AM on June 14, 2010

Wow, why do questions like this always attract innapropriate replies from people desperate to plug their own favourites? York is in the north and Wales is in the west.

The obvious place to go is Cambridge (would be good for exploring on her own), and I second Ely, which is nearby. For nature in the east she must have a boat trip on the Norfolk Broads, a national park with marshes and lakes and great birdlife. Who doesn't like a boat ride? If she likes cute little market towns, Stamford and Oakham are nice. Actually, the east is full of old towns because it was less touched by the industrial revolution. Just outside Stamford is a spectacular country mansion called 'Burghley House' if she likes that kind of thing. There are some lovely old castle in Norfolk and Suffolk.

She could go to a traditional British seaside town like Skegness or Great Yarmouth, go on the fun fairs, walk on the beach, play crazy golf. I'm not sure which seaside towns still have piers. Hopefully someone else will have more knowledge of nature/country areas in the east than me. Perhaps Rutland Water and Grafham Water?

In London I've heard good things about BFI Mediatheque. There's HMS Belfast, the warship moored on the Thames. She should take boat trip down the Thames (from the river is the best way to see London) to Greenwhich with its grand architecture and Royal Observatory.
posted by Deor at 8:04 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whut? Nobody mentioned the Tate or the Tate Modern?
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:47 AM on June 14, 2010

Rutland Water has a birdwatching centre and ospreys, or for a day out there are several birdwatching sites on the Norfolk coast - Titchwell and Snettisham (both RSPB), Cley Marsh (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) and the coast between Hunstanton and Cromer is beautiful.

Cities: Cambridge and Ely for sure (I'm guessing that when you say "east and east midlands" she'll be based somewhere around Peterborough maybe?). Ely is the final resting place of the headless corpse of Earl Brithnoth, hero of the Battle of Maldon, so there's a viking link - he is remembered in the chapel on the right hand side of the altar.
posted by nja at 11:32 AM on June 14, 2010

Stamford is awesome -- small, really just a place to stop and have lunch, but when I saw it, I was agog -- it was just like Ankh-Morpork come to life! Or some other medievally fantasy city/town. A friend of mine who lived nearby for a few decades explained its beauty: "It was economically defunct in the '60s, when everyone was tearing down beautiful medieval and early modern buildings to put up modern crap. Stamford escaped."

If she is interested in Vikings, and ends up going to Ely, there is an account of one of the Viking Raids on Ely in the recently translated Liber Eliensis. It's not a pro-Viking account, but there is a uncorrupted saint's body (Ethelreda's).
posted by jb at 2:32 PM on June 14, 2010

If they go to York, do not miss York Minster. Well worth seeing. And especially don't miss the foundations. The current minster was built atop a Norman church, which was built atop a seventh-century Saxon church, and they're all visible down in the basement area. The two pounds (upon reflection, it's probably gone up since I was there) for that section of the tour is well worth it, IMO.
posted by Lexica at 8:13 PM on June 14, 2010

Agree with everyone who suggests York. Go by train or car or bus, but go. The old central part of the city retains much of its medieval flavor: narrow lanes twisting around with the upper floors of buildings hanging out over them. If she and her grandparents go their separate ways, I suggest deciding to meet in front of the Minster. It's easy to to get "lost" in York when you don't know it, but you can see the Minster tower from just about any location. York and Yorkshire were the center of the Danegeld, so it's around there that she will find whatever Viking remnants exist.

If they go to the Cotswolds, they might as well add some time for an Oxford visit, as well.

I'm assuming a daytrip down to London is in the cards. Doesn't need to be too elaborate, especially if the grandparents aren't enthusiastic about lots of walking and Tube riding. But, at a minimum, go down to Westminster to see Parliament and the Abbey, walk across Westminster Bridge and then along the South Bank for a bit. Maybe take a spin on the London Eye (it's just off the bridge).

Almost certainly, the British Musuem has some exhibits that will interest her, but, be warned, it is huge.
posted by justcorbly at 9:02 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: She's back with an armful of boot sale merchandise and her first English pub experience (just visiting). She really enjoyed the Viking Centre and the Tower, as well as walking through some of the nature areas. Thanks again to all who answered.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:57 PM on August 3, 2010

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