The best country villages in the UK have each been shaped by their unique histories but share majestic rural landscapes, outdoor adventures, and an air of peace and tranquillity. We have scoured the British Isles for towns and villages that feel a million miles from the madding crowds of our major cities, from the southern coast of Dorset to the far reaches of the Scottish Highlands.

    You don’t need any hiking boots to take this virtual tour of Britain’s best country escapes, but you’ll need them if you do choose to visit on your next weekend away.

    1

    Polperro, Cornwall

    Charming Cornish fishing village surrounded by beaches

    Polperro is a village on the south coast of Cornwall, built around a quaint fishing port. To this day, fishermen can be seen pulling in their catch every morning as you walk along Quay Road towards Polperro Beach. This town is a popular choice for beachgoers in the UK as you’ll find dozens of sandy coves within walking distance of the village, all linked by the South West Coastal Path that cuts through Polperro.

    For a taste of what Polperro used to be like, head along the narrow, flower-filled streets to the Harbour Heritage Museum, then stop for lunch at a traditional Cornish pub overlooking the harbour, such as The Three Pilchards or the Blue Peter Inn.

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    2

    Dunkeld, Scotland

    A town rich with historical monuments along the River Tay

    Dunkeld is a riverside town in Perth and Kinross that’s dominated by the looming structure of Dunkeld Cathedral on the north shore of the River Tay. The pretty, whitewashed houses and rolling meadows are beautiful to visit in any season, with the 5-arched Dunkeld Bridge a particularly photogenic sight. There are also plenty of historical attractions that tell the fascinating story of the Jacobite uprising in the 1700s, in which this town played a central role.

    Families will enjoy exploring the Beatrix Potter Garden with its statues and manicured hedges. For something more adventurous, consider kayaking along the River Tay or attend the world-famous Highland Games – an ancient competition of strength and endurance that takes place in the town every year, usually in the last weekend in August.

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    3

    Castle Combe, Wiltshire

    Explore this medieval village in the Cotswolds

    Castle Combe is a postcard-pretty town in the Cotswolds that has changed little in generations. The sight of thatched-roof cottages and half-timber houses decorated with creeping ivy give visitors a glimpse into how ancient Britons used to live – it’s incredibly romantic for couples looking for a short break away from the modern world.

    As it’s such a small village, you can explore Castle Combe completely on foot. Start your day at the Market Cross before visiting St Andrew's Church on your way to the Bybrooke River – if you’re lucky, you’ll pass some market stalls outside the village hall. Linger at the many tourist shops and stop for refreshments at any of the traditional pubs in the town.

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    4

    Pembrokeshire, Wales

    Hike the rugged coastline of southwest Wales and visit the Norman castles

    Pembrokeshire is a Welsh county that’s blessed with a rugged coastline of cliff tops and hidden bays. Hikers, dog walkers and lovers of the Great Outdoors will find solace along this isolated stretch of coast, from the charming town of Tenby in the south to the more remote Marloes Sands further east.

    Pembrokeshire is also famous for its castles and fortresses. Of all the castles found in this region, Pembroke Castle is especially noteworthy as it was the birthplace of Henry VII, who went on to become King of England and started the Tudor dynasty. Use the town of Pembroke as a base to see this magnificent fortress and visit the many coastal towns found nearby.

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    5

    Ashbourne, Derbyshire

    A picturesque Georgian town in the Derbyshire Dales

    As the gateway to the Peak District National Park, Ashbourne is popular with ramblers and adventure lovers. The best way to see the town and the fantastic limestone formations nearby is to hire a bicycle for the day. There’s a 13-mile cycle route called the Tissington Trail, which is achievable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.

    Head for Dovedale, a few miles from town, to explore a section of the national park known locally as Little Switzerland – Thorpe Cloud is particularly stunning on a sunny day. Back in town, the twice-weekly Ashbourne Market brings local artisans to town to sell their produce. With over 200 listed buildings in Ashbourne, there are plenty of sights to enjoy, including St Oswald’s Church that has been called the finest single-spire church in England.

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    6

    Evershot, Dorset

    Walk in the footsteps of Thomas Hardy

    Evershot is an idyllic town surrounded by gently undulating Dorset pastures. The village is bordered by the River Frome and is made up of just a few streets. There’s an old coaching inn here, which was referenced by legendary author Thomas Hardy in his classic novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the whole village retains a 19th-century vibe. Days spent in Evershot revolve around country walks and visits to palatial country manors. Head to Summer Lodge Country House Hotel & Restaurant for a genteel afternoon tea set with Dorset cream tea.

    In neighbouring Cerne Abbas, you can visit the carving of the Cerne Giant – a club-wielding figure cut into the chalk hillside. For family adventures, head to The Dinosaur Museum a few miles out of town to learn about the megalithic fossils found in the surrounding hills.

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    7

    Bourton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds

    Swagger your way around the Miniature Village like Liam Gallagher

    Bourton-on-the-Water, often referred to as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ (every region needs one!), is a quaint tourist town with plenty of souvenir shops, country pubs and green spaces. The village is only 4 miles from the more famous Stow-on-the-Wold, the site of the final battle during England’s 16th-century civil war.

    Check out the Miniature Village, a 1/9 scale model replica made famous in the 2008 music video for Oasis’ I’m Outta Time, then head to the Dragonfly Maze, that challenges your wits to collect clues then solve a riddle once you reach the centre of the maze. Families will love spotting the flamingos, cranes, and pelicans flapping around Birdland.

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    8

    Cartmel, Lake District

    A culinary hot spot favoured by foodies

    Since the 12th century, Cartmel has drawn in everyone from pilgrims seeking sacred refuge to modern-day visitors gazing in awe at the majestic Cartmel Priory. Find charming boutique shops and pubs around its main square and narrow streets, or stop by Holker Hall to explore its elegant interior and gardens.

    Devout foodies also make pilgrimages to Cartmel to try its famous sticky toffee pudding, artisanal cheeses and craft beers. If you’re feeling fancy, there’s even a 2-star Michelin fine-dining restaurant, L’Enclume. For outdoors lovers, horseback riding through the fells and beaches is a popular option. For a slower pace, wander along the nearby promenade at Morecambe Bay.

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    photo by Strider52 (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    9

    Plockton, Scotland

    A highland escape on the shores of Loch Carron

    Head to Plockton in far northern Scotland if you’re looking for a highland adventure. There’s plenty for adventurous types here, including kayaking and sailing, boat trips to visit seal colonies and even dolphins if you’re lucky. Hiking, cycling and birdwatching include activities you can enjoy on land.

    Plockton has developed into a centre for the arts and you'll find several galleries in town displaying paintings from local artists. The rich waters of the North Atlantic produce some of Britain’s finest seafood, which you can enjoy at several fantastic restaurants in the centre of town. A meal at Plockton Hotel combines fantastic cuisine with waterfront views.

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    10

    Kettlewell, Yorkshire

    A little slice of nostalgia in the Yorkshire Dales

    Kettlewell is a hiking hotspot in the Yorkshire Dales and a charming village that retains a spirit of yesteryear. With a handful of pubs and cafés, you'll find plenty of local favourites to fill your belly after long walks on the Yorkshire Dales. Angling and fly fishing are also popular, thanks to Kettlewell’s location on the tributary of the River Wharfe.

    Every August, Kettlewell hosts its annual Scarecrow Festival, which is a quirky festival for local farmers and their families.

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    photo by Chris Wood (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller

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