Britain's most beautiful views -- no, not just the postcard shots
Britain may be a teeny country, but what it lacks in size it’s long made up for in imperial ambitions and spectacular views, natural or otherwise.
The imperial ambition has waned a little in recent decades, but the ample beauty remains.
Yet most of the British population, stuck in cities, take the stunning vistas on offer throughout the country for granted.
Tourists, too, often make do with standard fare.
Yes, the views of Buckingham Palace from the Mall, or of Center Court from a seat at Wimbledon, are worth taking in.
But dig around and you’ll find rarer visual jewels.
The only risk of gobbling down the jumble of British views in the gallery above?
You might actually have to go and see more of them in the flesh.
It may be obvious that a list of British views needs a central London vantage point.
But London’s so big, so stuffed with historical monuments, you're spoiled for perspectives.
The newly opened Shard (now Europe's tallest building), with its viewing platform, and the Gherkin (formally known as 30 St. Mary Axe), with its elite top-floor restaurant, have a certain obvious perpendicular appeal, but only the London Eye offers a double whammy.
From it, you can view a Waterloo sunset over the higgledy-piggledy old city and a 360-degree view of London at the same time.
Britain has a myriad of beautiful bays, but there's something about the cove of Mwnt Beach at Cardigan that's so picture perfect you might believe it's merely a Sunday painter's invention.
Stay long enough and you may spot dolphins or seals, but the view from the clifftop as you descend to the sands is reward enough after a country drive or cycle -- and certainly makes up for that tongue-twisting absence of vowels.
More information at VisitCardigan.com.
This ancient monument may be on every tourist's “to-see” list, but, given the site’s tricky positioning and crowded visitor facilities, many will only see it as they slow down on the A303 on their way to Bath or Salisbury.
Do that and you’re missing out.
Stonehenge is such a mysterious artifact you want to get as close as possible to try to guess at how the stones got there and why.
Normally, the closest you’ll get is 10 meters, from behind a low barrier. But plan ahead and you can book a small-group Stone Circle Access visit at the magical hours of dawn or dusk.
Margate's sunsets, Kent
The British artist JMW Turner had a pretty good eye for skyscapes, so his assertion that the “skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe” sounds like one worth testing
Fortunately there's now an appropriately named gallery in Margate, a seaside town within Turner’s recommended locale, from which you can enjoy this view.
Looking west from Turner Contemporary as the sun falls into the sea you're likely to witness a scene every bit as stunning as the great painter's works.
Holkham Bay, Norfolk
Emerging from the wooded paths on your way to the sea at this lonely Norfolk spot, you're greeted with a breathtaking panorama, where sky, beach and sea seem to go on forever.
Looking into the distance you see the sand being blown low across the beach, creating floating apparitions from the dog walkers and beachcombers.
It’s a predictably mystic apparition that makes you understand why poets have gone all mushy about Britain over the centuries.
Hadrian's Wall, northern England
Wide open green spaces you long to run across with a sword, yelling, equally enormous skies and its status, according to the official body English Heritage, as Britain's most outstanding Roman monument make this defensive wall the place to take in historic views that have changed little in 2,000 years.
The view from the Cawfields section of the wall near the Northumberland town of Halfwhistle is one of the most spectacular -- but walk a whole length of the fortification and you’ll find a selection of vantage points that show why the Romans wanted to prevent those rebellious northerners from getting their hands (back) on this green and pleasant land.
OK, it probably wasn’t very pleasant back then, but it must have looked lovely.
More information at Visithadrianswall.co.uk.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Scotland's highlands and islands contain some of Britain's most dramatic geography -- and with it comes remarkable scenery that may prove more memorable than the golf and whisky trail.
The Isle of Skye has particularly good Northern Lights watching and remains one of Britain’s least polluted and least cluttered places that's still easy enough to get to.
More information at Skye.co.uk.
Blackpool's piers, Lancashire
The seaside pier is a great British institution, replete with the clank of penny arcades, the clanging of funfair rides and the Proustian scents of candy floss.
Blackpool has long been a favorite of the British working classes, but it barely gets a look in from overseas visitors.
That’s a shame, especially given the sweeping, one-day-son-all-this-will-be-yours views of its Las Vegas-meets-Coney Island charms available from Britain's own Tour Eiffel, the Blackpool Tower.
More information at Visitblackpool.com.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's prime visitor attraction is such a striking geographical feature it'll virtually fill your camera's memory by itself.
The basalt columns were formed by a giant who wanted to fight a neighboring ogre ... or simply by cooling lava. You decide.
More information at Nationaltrust.org.uk.
Cuckmere Haven, Sussex
Bachelor uncles and other geography fans will be delighted with a day trip to Cuckmere Haven, near the Sussex seaside town of Eastbourne.
The Cuckmere River snakes across the flood plain, where its meandering has formed oxbow lakes shaped like furled ribbons.
Its natural beauty cropped up in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and features in the artwork of the local painter Eric Ravilious.
More information at Nationaltrust.org.uk.
View from the Thames
Being up high in London gives you a superb view of the city and its sprawl, but that aspect is perfectly counter-pointed by the view from the Thames itself.
You won't find a finer view of Parliament.
Ribblehead Viaduct, North Yorkshire
Industrial beauty may be an acquired taste, but this graceful manmade structure certainly adds something to the rural landscape.
The 19th-century bridge, built entirely from limestone bricks, also exemplifies the British engineering genius for which Britain was celebrated around the world -- when the country still made things.
The wonder of the viaduct is that you can enjoy the view of it as well as the view from it, as the Settle-Carlisle train service runs across the structure.
The train route itself offers some of the best views of Britain that you can enjoy on the go.
More information at Visitcumbria.com.
Edinburgh from the castle
Hefting yourself up to an elevated view can make a visual payoff all the stronger, and that certainly applies with the perspective of Edinburgh from the castle sitting above the city.
There’s plenty of local architecture to enjoy on the way up, before the “wow” as you see the city set out below you.
More information at EdinburghCastle.gov.uk.
Buttermere, Lake District
The Lake District is heaven for types who always keep a stout pair of shoes, a raincoat and a flask of tea in the car.
But ramblers -- “hikers” will do for non-Brits -- love it so much partly for its plethora of astounding views.
Buttermere Lake is the finest of many walkers’ visual rewards.
The rain only makes the surrounding hillsides look more painterly and lush.
More information at GoLakes.co.uk.
Chesil Beach, Dorset
Another one for the aspiring geologist or simply the lover of natural beauty.
This endless, faintly curving, 20-kilometer stretch of shingle is like a scimitar slice along the Dorset coast.
It used to be prized smugglers’ territory -- they could tell where they were on the beach by the size of the shingles, apparently -- as well as the setting for "On Chesil Beach," Ian McEwan’s novel of bad sex and doomed love.
More information at ChesilBeach.org.
Iain Aitch is the author of the Britain travel books "We're British, Innit" and "A Fête Worse Than Death."