A Passport to Britain

by Helen Moat

Between the 31 pages of the British passport are beautiful drawings revealing all that’s great about the United Kingdom. The watermarks are there to hinder forgery, but they’re wonderful works of art in themselves. You don’t need to be British to have a passport to these places. They’re there, waiting for you, especially enticing those who have even the slightest desire to work in Britain. So, indulge yourself. Here’s your passport to the UK, all you have to do is open its pages.

Not an uncommon sight in a quaint English village - a donkey on the front porch.
Not an uncommon sight in a quaint English village - a donkey on the front porch. Photo by Helen Moat

Page 6-7 Reedbed: Passport to the Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads are made up of lakes, rivers and marshes rich in wildlife: spiders, insects, birds, butterflies and mammals such as voles and otters. To see the Broads properly, ditch the car and walk alongside the waterways. Better still; hire a motor boat, kayak or canoe - you’ll see this seemingly empty landscape is brimming with life. The Norfolk Broads are also great for cycling, with flat, near-empty country lanes, picturesque villages, occasional windmills and big, big skies. 

Page 8-9 Geological Formations: Passport to the Giant’s Causeway

A place of mythology, shipwrecks and unearthly hexagonal rocks - Welcome to the Giant’s Causeway on Northern Ireland’s north coast. It’s hard to believe that these near-perfect symmetrical rocks were formed from the chaos of volcanic activity. As the lava cooled, the rocks cracked to form the geometrical shapes – that or they were created by local giant, Finn McCool. Either way there are 40,000 honeycombed rocks. No wonder some claim the Giant’s Causeway is the eighth wonder of the world. Go visit - seeing is believing.

… and Durdle Door

Dorset has its very own Jurassic park – or Jurassic coast. The dramatic rocks on England’s south coast were formed when dinosaurs roamed the earth 140,000 million years ago. Indeed the slabs next to the Durdle archway contain donut shapes that are the remains of a fossilised forest. 

Durdle Door itself was formed when the sea eroded the softer layers of limestone. The shingle beach in the curved bay with its carved sea arch is a little bit of English heaven rather than Jurassic hell.

Page 10-11 Coastal Cliff: Passport to the white cliffs of Dover, Kent 

The white cliffs are a great British icon. Vera Lynn boosted the morale of the World War II soldiers when she sang ‘There’ll be bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover … love and laughter and peace ever after, tomorrow when the world is free.’ From the 1066 Battle of Hastings through two world wars, Britain has fiercely defended its island here. Visit Dover Castle and walk the sweeping cliff tops – but be careful, the soft chalk faces are prone to crumble into the sea. Hence the sea defences.

Dover Castle

Dover Castle

Page 12-13 Fishing Village: Passport to Cornwall

Cornwall’s fishing villages are squeezed between small headlands and narrow coves, or cling precariously to cliff-sides that drop straight to the sea. Tiny white-washed, granite and slate fishing cottages crowd narrow lanes and alleyways. Miniature harbours are crammed with boats, lobster pots and children crabbing. Indulge in fish and chips, or local ales in centuries-old inns; check out museums of smuggling (Polperro) or witchcraft (Boscastle); browse local art and craft shops (Mevagissy and Port Isaac); dive to shipwrecks (Cadgwith) or drop into Mousehole (pronounced Mouzel) to do some storm-watching.

Page 14-15 Beach: Passport to the Gower Peninsula, Wales

The Gower peninsula in Wales has a mere 20 miles of coastline - but it packs a lot in. There are dramatic cliffs, ancient burial sites and hill forts, the ruins of Norman castles, long sandy beaches, rock pools and colourful beach huts. Nowhere is the scenery more dramatic than at Rhossili, where you can walk out to a rocky promontory known locally as ‘The Worm’. Make sure you’re not caught out by the tide (as Dylan Thomas was) as Worm’s Head is cut off from the mainland at high tide. 

Page 16-17 Canal: Passport to the Kennet and Avon canal

Perhaps the most impressive canal system in Britain; hire a canal boat and slow down to the speed of your ancestors. The canal stretches for 87 miles from Bristol to Reading and takes about three weeks to complete. The Kennet and Avon passes through Bath, surely the most beautiful Georgian -Roman town in England. Along the canal there are two grand aqueducts and eighty locks, sixteen squeezed together at Caen Hill - an impressive sight. 

Page 18-19 Village Green: Passport to the New Forest, Hampshire

Hampshire: quaint hamlets complete with a village green and duck pond. But if you visit the New Forest, you’ll not only come across the quintessential English village with thatched cottages and ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary’ gardens, you’ll also find wild ponies roaming across the greens, mingling with donkeys, geese and ducks. It’s a world that still exists beyond the pages of a child’s picture book. Start with Beaulieu offering all of above along with a stately home and tidal river. 

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace

Page 20-21 Formal Park: Passport to Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Britain is scattered with stately homes. Blenheim Palace, just eight miles from Oxford, is one of the best. Winston Churchill was born here. With 2,000 acres of beautiful parkland, a grand lake, handsome formal gardens complete with sculpted hedges, sun dial and fountains, these gardens aren’t to be missed. 

Page 22-23 Woodland: Passport to Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Britain’s full of ancient woods, but where better to explore its woodland than in Nottinghamshire, home of Robin Hood. Sherwood Forest is actually a mix of woodland, heath, farms and villages. Among the ancient trees is the ‘Major Oak’, allegedly where Robin Hood and his men hid from their enemies. The tree’s so old - possibly over a thousand years - that the gnarled and wizened oak has to be supported with metal struts. Step back into Robin Hood time with the August festival.

Page 24-25 Lake: Passport to the Lake District, Cumbria

The Lake District lies in the northwest of England. Small but compact, it’s crammed with mountains and lakes alongside charming lakeside and mountain villages. It’s an area that’s inspired poets (William Wordsworth) and writers (Beatrix Potter) alike. The Lake District is the outdoor pursuer’s dream with fishing, hang gliding, rock climbing, rambling, boating and windsurfing on offer. Just be prepared to get wet, one way or another.

Page 26-27 River: Passport to the river Wye

A good part of the river Wye forms the border between Wales and England. This is a great river for fishing, rafting, kayaking or canoeing. Surrounding the river is the Wye Valley, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. With its limestone gorges and some of the best native woodland in the UK, it’s no surprise. 

Page 28-29 Moorland: Passport to the Peak District, Midlands

Deep-cut valleys, sweeping uplands, rocky outcrops and moors covered in heather, the Peak District is a wild and romantic place. It’s no wonder that it’s the film location for English classics such as Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and adaptations of DH Lawrence. 

The moors are criss-crossed with dry stone walls. They are works of art in themselves. All that keeps the wall in place is the craftsmanship of the dry stone waller, who cuts the stones and slots them into place like an elaborate jigsaw.

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

Page 30-31 Mountain: Passport to Ben Nevis in Scotland

The Scottish Highlands aren’t particularly high but they’re rugged and wild. Amongst them is Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak at 4,000 feet. The main route up is a straightforward walk, but a challenging one. And if you’re lucky enough to make it to the top, and the mists shift, you might see beyond the little heaps of stones (cairns) to breath-taking mountain views. If you can’t stomach the four hour slog up, the views are equally good from Fort William, looking up at Ben Nevis and across to Loch Linnhe.

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