The Five Most Underrated Counties in England

There are some counties in England that seem to grab all the limelight. But what about the lesser known ones? The ones with the hidden gems that don’t draw the huge crowds?
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There are some counties in England that seem to grab all the limelight. Cornwall. Cumbria. Northumbria. North Yorkshire and Gloucestershire regularly appear in the ‘must visit’ lists

And it’s true that these places are more than well worth a visit if you want to experience seascapes, moors, mountains, lovely stone houses, the houses of poets and the legacy of empires.

But what about the lesser known counties of England? The ones with the hidden gems that don’t draw the huge crowds at the weekend but offer experiences equally as memorable?

I’ve chosen the most underrated counties to visit in England, and the least written-about. As a Midlander (originally), there’s maybe a bias in favour of those counties folk from the south and north speed through on the motorways. As a Londoner (adopted), I’m always dismayed how little otherwise well-travelled friends know of places just up the road.




Any county that shares its nickname with a French prostitute has be a bit unusual. You could argue that Salop gets a fair bit of attention as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. But not many tourists get beyond Ironbridge to a beautiful riverside county town (Shrewsbury), wonderful hills (The Wrekin, Bredins), and idiosyncratic towns (Ludlow, Much Wenlock). There’s also some literary interest in the sombre, puzzling very English A Shropshire Lad (A E Houseman).

Where to stay: Best Western Valley Hotel, Ironbridge


Some of the UK’s least prepossessing towns are surrounded by some of its most beautiful villages. Northamptonshire is a real crossroads of north and south – Watford Gap is here – as is Watford Locks, a stunningly beautiful stretch of the Grand Union Canal.

The Watford Locks – built to carry narrowboats and opened in 1814 – are formed of two single locks, a staircase of four, and a final single lock. Together they lift the canal 16m up to the Leicester Summit, which is maintained all the way to Foxton Locks.

Where to stay: Best Western Plus Ullesthorpe Court Hotel & Golf Club


Look beyond the stockbroker and footballer mansions to the Chiltern hills – the most beautiful rural area in the southern half of England – until you get to Dartmoor. For a tree hugger, especially if they love wrapping their arms around a rare black beech, the forest and woods at Ashridge and Wendover offer acres of delight. Get there before they put a train line through it.

Nearby is the village of Great Missenden known as home to the late Roald Dahl, the world-famous author, and used extensively as a filming location for TV drama Midsomer Murders.

Where to stay: The Watermill Hotel, Sure Hotel Collection by Best Western, Hemel Hempstead


There is another way to Essex – and another side to it. Find the small villages and big coastal skies as the county blends into much more celebrated Suffolk. “Sweet, uneventful countryside,” wrote John Betjeman and what’s wrong with that?

Explore Thaxted, one of Essex’s jewels, with its historical architecture set in rural countryside. The delightful timber-framed, painted houses with thatched roofs set the picture and make this one of the county’s prettiest towns.

Ingatestone was established in Saxon times and thrived as a coaching town in the 18th century. It has a series of fabulous buildings including Ingatestone Hall, the Tudor house where Queen Elizabeth I stayed.

Discover hidden treasures in the antique shops of Battlesbridge and then while away the time in a traditional country pub.

Where to stay: Best Western Ivy Hill Hotel, Chelmsford


Has Lincolnshire ever quite got over the stigma of being home to the most boring town in Britain? Grantham, birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, was given that accolade in 1982. But before Maggie, this was Tennyson’s county, and inspired some of the finest lyric poetry ever written.

The Wold gives the lie to those who think the county is relentlessly flat. Then there’s Skegness – a seaside resort no other country in the world could ever have produced. Even if they wanted to.

Louth is a market town and the centre for a large rural area of eastern Lincolnshire. Known as the capital of the Lincolnshire Wolds, Louth features many brick buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries together with St James’ Church - the origin of the Lincolnshire Rising.

Where to stay: Best Western Plus Kenwick Park Hotel, Louth

By Mark Jones

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