Inspired by BBC Two’s Springwatch coverage of the seal colony at Blakeney Point, my husband and I drove up there one February afternoon with high hopes of catching the seals in the midst of pupping season (with a record-breaking 2,426 young ones born this year!).
Setting off from the car park in the neighbouring village of Cley-next-the-Sea, little did we know that Norfolk could be so beautiful, with some four-and-a-half miles of silky sand dunes, saltmarsh and vegetated shingle stretching out between us and the isolated spit where the seals had beached themselves.
The pups were heart-meltingly cute and it was difficult not to breathe copious ahhhs on discovering their bulbous bodies amongst the sand dunes. On the hour-long march back, we were rewarded with uninterrupted views of sunset orange sky, the sounds of waves crashing against shingle and the promise of an intimate candle-lit supper inside Cley’s historic windmill.
When it comes to the Romantic poets, it’s always been the pale, ill-fated Keats, wandering across Hampstead Heath whilst dreaming of his ‘Bright Star’ (his fiancé and next-door neighbour Fanny Brawne), that most captures my imagination. With that, a visit to Keats’ House is essential, a pristine-white Georgian villa with clipped green gardens, within striking distance of the poet’s favoured wandering grounds.
Keats lived here from 1818 to 1820 before leaving for Italy to die alone, aged 25. The interiors are furnished much as they would have been during his time there, including the bedroom where he first discovered he had consumption. The windows look upon the plum tree beneath which the young poet composed his heartrendingly fatalistic Ode to a Nightingale and, by way of memorial, the garden’s borders are dedicated to reflecting his poetic tropes – Melancholy, Autumn and Nightingale.
It was Lido’s fresh, soapy aroma that guided us to its secret location, tucked away in a quiet courtyard of Georgian terraced houses. Stepping inside, a state-of-the-art solar-heated pool, mists of vapour wafting up from the water’s surface and into the chilly air, greeted us as we hastily slipped, rather goose-pimpled, into our fluffy bathrobes.
Despite February’s brisk temperatures, Lido is definitely worth the plunge. Its mammoth multi-million pound refurb transformed it from one of the UK’s oldest outdoor pools (it first opened in 1849) into a cool, contemporary oasis complete with sauna, hot tub and aroma steam room.
Couples can unwind with a tailor-made massage using Lido’s bespoke spa products before tucking into a Mediterranean-inspired tapas platter in Freddy Bird’s stylish, award-winning restaurant, with great views of the pool below. And, as you’re in the heart of Bristol’s genteel Clifton Village, you’re then free to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the area’s bijou boutiques and classy cocktail bars.
In a tranquil spot on the River Alde, surrounded by wetland and bird-populated marshes, Snape Maltings in Aldeburgh is a vibrant arts complex, encompassing shops, galleries, restaurants and music venues on one of England’s largest former malting sites.
Shut down after 120 years of production, Snape Malting’s Grade II-listed buildings were gradually converted into stylish arts outlets. It’s my favourite haunt for scenic wetlands walks on a weekend country break (the tearoom’s massive scones are essential fuel for these!) and you can hone in on some gorgeous artisan gifts and home furnishings in the Home & Garden shop.
But the Snape Malting’s hands-down queen is its world-class Concert Hall, a mid-19th century former malthouse whose steep-pitched wooden roof creates the perfect acoustics for operas, chamber concerts and symphonies. Stepping out onto the outside terrace during the half time interval, you’re rewarded with an expanse of open sky and gently swaying reeds as you sip a sparkling Aspall cider.
Perched high up on a headland overlooking Whitby’s bustling coastal town, Whitby Abbey has long inspired couples, artists, writers and dreamers to scale the 199 steps to its majestic ruins. By the time we scaled the clifftop we were met with fantastic views of the North Sea’s grey swirl, along with Whitby’s busy harbour and the wide placid sweep of the River Esk.
Surrounded by the abbey’s grand gothic silhouette, it’s easy to picture how these atmospheric ruins inspired Bram Stoker to feature them in his vamp classic Dracula. The mystique doesn’t stop there, however; the abbey has a long, rich heritage as a site of miracles, saintly enshrinements and royal relics.
Strolling back down to Whitby, we dived straight into its rabbit’s warren of narrow streets and alleys hugged with ‘catch of the day’ restaurants, quaint shops and heritage pubs. Make it down to the pier and the temptation to visit Magpie Café is irresistible, claiming to serve the ‘World’s Best Fish and Chips’ (and delicious they are too).