Culture Travel

    Britain’s little capitals of culture

    15 January 2019

    Tired of craning your neck over heads in the National Gallery and jostling among the crowds in the Tate? Escape the London bustle and discover these quaint English towns quickly making a name for themselves among the country’s most vibrant cultural hubs.

    Bruton, Somerset

    Bruton might just be the most bijou town in the West of England. Despite being one of the UK’s smallest towns, it boasts of a world-renowned art gallery, a Scandi design shop (which doubles up as a boutique B&B) and a restaurant with one of the best wine cellars this side of Bath.

    There’s plenty to see nearby including Kilver Court Secret Gardens and the stunning country estate of Stourhead. Foodies should make a pilgrimage to the award-winning Westcombe Dairy for a tasting in their ageing room of homemade artisan cheeses paired with local craft beers and ciders.

    Bruton manages a perfect balancing act between chic and rustic – the kind of place where you’ll spot up-and-coming film stars at the town’s annual Pumpkin festival hosted by the Hauser & Wirth arts centre. There is a twice daily train service direct from London.

    Where to stay: Hauser & Wirth

    Ever fancied staying the night in your own private art gallery? This chic salon run by the town’s art centre also has locations in New York, Los Angeles, London and Zurich. In Hauser & Wirth’s Bruton space you can stay in Hauser’s Grade-II listed farmhouse with 100 acres of woodlands to explore and cutting edge modern art hanging beside you as you sleep.  At the arts centre, their award-winning restaurant Roth Bar and Grill will keep you fed and watered in style.

    Where to shop: Caro

    Pale wood and lush pot plants alongside practical yet beautiful objects arranged in the most Instagrammable of formations: Caro is a homeware shop with a difference. Taking its inspiration from Scandinavian design its collection is lovingly curated by the shop’s founder, former London fashion leader, Natalie Jones. Caro serves homemade cakes, tea and coffee but also has a one-bed B&B showcasing the furniture on sale in the shop.

    Where to eat: At The Chapel

    A beautifully restored medieval sanctuary, At The Chapel now houses a restaurant, sprawling wine cellar and local bakery alongside luxury accommodation.

    The former church is a dream escape for any foodie: start your day with an artisan croissant while enjoying the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the bakery. Follow with a lunch of seasonal Somerset produce out on the sun terrace then dinner paired with one of the organic, biodynamic wines from the Chapel’s wine store.

    Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland

    England’s most northerly town, Berwick is a long way away from London’s glitzy West End or historic galleries; but this small, historic settlement less than three miles from the Scottish border is quickly setting itself up as a rival hub of art and culture.

    Within its medieval town walls are three cutting edge galleries: the Granary, Gymnasium and Watchtower. Aside from modern art installations the grey stone Granary, a building more crooked than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, also houses a youth hostel and bistro. The Maltings Theatre and Cinema inside Berwick’s former malthouse is the place to go to discover the up-and-coming stars of comedy and the latest art house films.

    The painter T.M. Lowry loved to visit Berwick Upon Tweed

    If 20th century art is more your style take a stroll in the footsteps of artist L.S. Lowry, a regular and fond visitor of Berwick, on The Lowry Trail. Apart from his matchstick men and factory scenes Lowry loved to paint the cobbled streets and seaside views of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The town also hosts annual film, literary, music, food and beer festivals.

    Where to stay: The Old Church, Horncliffe

    This 19th century sandstone church just a 10 minute drive from Berwick has been converted into a charming B&B. The ensuite guest rooms have all the modern luxuries you could wish for (such as Blu-ray television) but the building itself has retained its period charm including its timber beams and magnificent arched windows. A double room costs around £115 a night.

    Where to shop:

    Almost every kooky kitchen appliance imaginable under one roof: Cook + Live + Dream is homeware heaven. Browse the many handcrafted gadgets (but absolutely no gimmicks) on sale amid upcycled furniture. The friendly staff are eager to help with everything from utensil advice to their best Lemon Drizzle recipe.

    Where to eat:

    Handily located just by the Maltings Theatre, Foxtons is a wine bar and restaurant aiming to give visitors a taste of the best Berwick has to offer. Expect traditional English fare with a twist. The pheasant and chorizo sausages and mash or posh fish n’ chips are must-trys. The meat is sourced from Northumberland butchers and the fish fresh from the North Sea. 

    Stroud, Gloucestershire

    Holidaying in Stroud is similar to playing an extended game of Who’s Who. Keep your eyes peeled and you might just find yourself bumping into Turner Prize winners while doing your grocery shop and BRIT award holders down the local pub.

    This market town, described by Jasper Conran as “the Covent Garden of the Cotswolds”, has in recent years become a flocking point for designers, sculptors and fashion icons. Damien Hirst and Lily Allen live locally and with Pangolin Editions, Europe’s largest sculpture foundry, just down the road. Antony Gormley is another regular visitor.

    Former textile mills are framed by the dramatic Five Valleys behind, making Stroud’s skyline almost as artistic as its population. Don’t miss Stroud’s month-long art festival, Site, in May where you can wander in and out of studios throughout the town or the free street music during the Stroud Fringe in August.

    Where to stay: The Amberley Inn

    For visitors seeking old-world luxury the Amberley Inn is an ideal choice. Pitched roofs and wooden four-poster beds match the grand exterior of this golden Cotswold stone building. The hotel is perched on top of the National Trust-owned Minchinhampton Common in the village of Amberley (located between Stroud and Nailsworth) and provides spectacular views across the Cotswold hills. Prices start from £65 a night for a double room.

    Where to shop: Made in Stroud

    Just browsing the colourful window displays of Stroud’s artisan craft stores and pottery shops is a wonderful way to while away a weekend. But if you do want to take a souvenir home with you, make a beeline for Made in Stroud. The shop sells greetings cards by local artists, craft beers from Gloucestershire’s microbreweries and delicately hand-crafted ceramics among other items.

    Where to eat: Wild Garlic

    Credit: Will Wilder

    A ten-minute drive from the centre of Stroud is the chocolate-box village of Nailsworth. Hidden behind the sash windows of a period townhouse just off the High Street is Wild Garlic, Nailsworth’s star restaurant where every item on the menu from the bread to the pasta is hand-prepared. Make sure to leave room for dessert to try Wild’s melt-in-your-mouth treacle tart and clotted cream ice cream.