A magnet for artists, druids, therapists and hippies, this bohemian little market town at the head of the Dart Estuary was declared the ‘capital of New Age chic’ by Time magazine. It was the first town in the UK to launch its own currency, the Totnes pound, to boost local trade. Rickshaws fuelled by recycled cooking oil carry passengers up the steep hill from the river to the High Street.
Aberfeldy, Perth & Kinross
Scotland’s first ‘Fairtrade Town’ has no shortage of retailers committed to promoting Fairtrade, organic and environmentally friendly products. Don’t miss the chance to browse at the Watermill, an award-winning bookshop combined with art gallery, music and coffee shop, and keep an eye out for this highland community’s most famous resident, author J.K. Rowling who has a grand house on the outskirts of the town.
Nowhere combines seaside brash and Gothic melancholy quite like Whitby. Bucket and spade emporiums rub shoulders with shops dedicated to the occult in the shadow of the brooding ruined abbey and clifftop graveyard. The town’s Dracula connections (the vampire comes ashore on a stormy night in Whitby in Bram Stoker’s novel) and the bi-annual Gothic Weekends attract a loyal following from people who dress in black and wear too much eyeliner.
You’ve got to love a town that counts a 25-foot pencil, the Batmobile and a 664-year-old stuffed cat amongst its tourist attractions. On the shores of Derwent Water and in the shadows of Skiddaw, Keswick is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, but when the rain comes (as it frequently does) take shelter in the weird and wonderful Cumberland Pencil Museum, the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum or the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery with its quirky collection of artefacts.
Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys
Britain’s smallest town had its heyday in the 18th Century when it became a popular spa retreat, but it has cannily reinvented itself – and revived its fortunes – by playing host to some of the country’s quirkiest events. Highlights of the calendar are the Bog Snorkelling World Championships, the Man versus Horse Marathon and the Real Ale Wobble, which combines mountain biking and beer-drinking in the Cambrian mountains. Genius!
With its excellent independent cinema and world-class concert hall, the Snape Maltings, this genteel seaside town punches well above its weight culturally. On the shingle beach is The Scallop, Maggi Hambling’s controversial sculpture dedicated to Benjamin Britten, who launched the acclaimed Aldeburgh Music Festival in 1948. And it serves a mean fish and chips. The Fish and Chip Shop on the high street is regularly rated one of the best in the country.
Lancashire’s official ‘food capital’ is proud of its sausages – so proud that is has designated January 5th ‘Sausage Day’. The local butchers, Cowmans Famous Sausage Shop, stocks more than 60 varieties, but there’s more to the town than bangers. Look up and you’ll see the brooding outline Pendle Hill, notorious for the witch trials of 1612 and a popular haunt (excuse the pun) for ghost-writers who gather on Hallowe’en.
Barnard Castle, County Durham
This historic town takes its name from the ruined Norman Castle that watches over it from its cliff-top above the River Tees. The cobbled lanes are lined with antique shops and stores selling local produce but the town’s real trump card lies on the outskirts in the Bowes Museum, a French-style chateau with one of the best collections of fine and decorative arts in Britain.
This Georgian market town in the Lincolnshire Wolds has become something of a foodie mecca. Spirited resistance to incursions from supermarkets and retail chains, spearheaded by the Keep Louth Special campaign, has ensured a diverse and thriving town centre with specialist grocers, poulterers, a fishmonger, cheese shop, no less than butchers and three food markets selling local specialities such as haslet and plum bread.
Arundel, West Sussex
This hilltop town with its picture-postcard setting is dominated by the soaring towers and battlements of its magnificent castle. In the summer, the steep streets are flooded with tourists but the town retains a sense of its own character. Once a year the townsfolk take leave of their senses, don fancy dress and race up the River Arun in customised bathtubs.