The UK’s worst kept secrets

Thursday, 21 April 2022
Days Out

Uncover some of the UK's hidden gems.

Thanks to staycationing, we’ve fallen back in love with the UK again. Sure, it may not have hundreds of miles of untouched beaches or the weather to match most of the year, but it does have much, much more.

With a rich history that’s difficult to replicate and acres of unspoilt countryside in all four corners of the isle, there’s no wonder the UK is one of the top tourist destinations in the world [1].

Living here, however, we can often take it for granted – even when we’re heading off on a weekend staycation or even a week-long break. We often think we’ll find things to do when we’re there; explore undiscovered nooks or drop on a local hotspot. And although that can be the case, there’s nothing worse than planning a trip, experiencing what you think is everything it has to offer, only to discover if you’d just done a little bit more research, you could’ve experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity or visited a national heritage site.

To help ensure you don’t miss out on anything on your next trip – or to inspire your next vacation location – we’ve found some of the UK’s worst kept secrets. Using the location feature on Instagram to identify 20 hotspots, you already know they’re gloriously Instagrammable.

Lychgate Cottages, Coventry [2]

Surviving the bombing raid in 1940 which destroyed much of Coventry, Lychgate Cottages are a reminder of the history of Coventry. Standing aside from the ruins of St Mary’s Priory, which was founded by Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva, the cottages were originally one home, known as Lychgate House, but have since been divided into three separate homes.

Photography credit: carolmiele (Insta)

What makes these cottages particularly interesting is their construction date; the cottages’ timbers are dated at 1414, however it’s widely thought the cottages themselves were not built until the 17h century – meaning the timbers were likely to have been left over from other building projects by the builder, Rev Bryan.

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Ely Cathedral, Ely [3]

Still a fully functioning Christian church, Ely Cathedral is one of the most impressive structures in the UK. The building itself dates back almost 1,000 years, to 1083, and is built on the site of an old church that was destroyed by Penda, the pagan king of the Mercians.

Photography credit: Emphyrio (Pixabay)

Ely Cathedral

Becoming a cathedral in 1109, restoration began in the 1980s, restoring some of its incredible features, including the jewel of Ely’s Crown, also known as one of the wonders of the medieval world, The Octagon – a stunning carved tower that features intricate designs and colourful stained glass. The Nave Ceiling is another incredible sight. Installed as part of the Victorian restoration, it is the work of two artists – Henry Styleman Le Strange and Thomas Gambier Parry. Traditional in design but with a colour palette to grab attention, it tells the story of the ancestry of Jesus.

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Ouse Valley Viaduct

A structural marvel, located between Haywards Heath and Balcombe, Ouse Valley Viaduct offers a dramatic must-see view. Originally built back in 1838 to carry the London-Brighton line over the River Ouse, the ornate structure has been described as "probably the most elegant viaduct in Britain [4].”

Photography credit: Viktor Forgacs (Unsplash)

Ouse Valley Viaduct

Construction of the viaduct began in 1839, reaching a staggering 96 feet (29 m) in height. The structure is built on 37 semi-circular arches, each of 30 feet (9.1 m), surmounted by balustrades, spanning a total length of 1,480 feet (450 m). Approximately 11 million bricks were used for its construction and were mostly shipped up the River Ouse (via Newhaven and Lewes) from the Netherlands.

On 12 July 1841, the viaduct was officially opened to train services, although the structure was not fully completed until the following year. Making this striking viaduct a must-have for those looking to explore all the glory that the UK has to offer.

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The Old Boat of Corpach, Corpach [5]

Moving up to Scotland and located just a 10-minute drive from Fort William in the shadows of Ben Nevis, is the Old Boat of Caol, aka the Corpach Shipwreck – a 1970s mackerel and herring fishing boat that was on the seas for over 40 years.

In 2011, she was caught in a storm in Fort William which tore her from her mooring, resulting in her being beached. Perhaps due to her stunning settings, she’s rapidly becoming a tourist attraction, with visitors coming to see the old girl in her final resting place.

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Photography credit: Massimiliano Morosinotto (Unsplash)

The Old Boat at Corpach

Clifton Observatory

Zipping southwest near Bristol, Clifton Observatory is an iconic landmark that was originally built as a windmill for corn in 1766. It later became known as “The Snuff Mill” when it was converted into a grinding for snuff. But, on 30th October 1777, the sails were left turning during a gale and the mill caught fire. It then remained derelict for 52 years, until an artist rented it as a studio. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II* listed building [6] and is on the Buildings at Risk Register [7].

Photography credit: Aitoff (Pixabay)

Clifton Observatory

With spectacular views of Bristol, Avon Gorge, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the observatory underwent considerable restoration work in 2015 when it was purchased by a local entrepreneur, Ian Johnson, and now houses a café, museum, a rare Camera Obsura and ‘Giant’s Cave’.

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Needle’s Eye, Wentworth [8]

In Wentworth, Yorkshire, stands Needle’s Eye – a 14-metre grade 2 listed, pyramid-shaped building. Sat inside the Fitzwilliam Wentworth Estate, Needle’s Eye is surrounded by history, as well as incredible greenery and a whole host of wildlife.

needles eye

Not much is known about the construction, but the design has been credited to John Carr, an architect in the mid-late 1700. Local legend says that Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, made a bet that he could drive a coach and horses through the eye of a needle.

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20 of the UK's Worst Kept Secrets

For our full list on some of the UK's worst kept secrets, see below.

Name Location
Lychgate Cottages Coventry
Ely Cathedral Ely
Ouse Valley Viaduct Ouse Valley
The Old Boat of Corpach Corpach
Clifton Observatory Bristol
Needle's Eye Wentworth
Bretton Peak District
Bathgate Hills West Lothian
Hengistbury Head Bournemouth
Quiraing Trotternish
Hardcastle Crags Hebden Bridge
Elmley Nature Reserve Minister on Sea
Hermitage Woodland Park Dunkeld
Hodge Close Quarry Coniston
Padley Gorge Hope Valley
The Trinnacle Oldham
Knowlton Church and Earthworks Knowlton
Ladybower Reservoir Upper Derwent Valley
Fistral Beach Fistral Bay
St Michael's Mount Mount's Bay

References

Methodology

On 21.02.22 and 15.03.22 we took to Instagram and used #ukhiddengems to find the 20 top posts and where they were tagged, removing general locations such as ‘Peak District National Park’ and ‘N Ireland’.