Sandy coves and heather-tinged fields. Cobbled streets, jagged rocks, clotted cream and stacks of flattened Welsh cakes, served hot with butter and the crunch of scattered sugar.
The West, as the motorway signs describe it, lays out a carnival of ideas when it comes to ideas for short breaks from London that will make you ooh and ah.
But first of all, a confession.
You don’t have to visit these places as part of a short break from London.
Or even a short break.
Or even London.
You could in fact just go there.
Or live there.
Or wander around there, rolling around in the sunsets and the hay, the cheers of the rugby fixtures and the squawk of cartoonish puffins as they swoop-stagger in to land.
Which is what I – and millions more do in fact do.
Inside Aberglasney – history and botany in the west
So why am I harping on about London?
Because it’s an anchor point for so many people, those who might otherwise think that the fishing villages of Cornwall or the cliff tops of Pembrokeshire lie tauntingly out of reach.
And, of course, London does happen to be one of the best cities in the world (Biased? Me? Born there? Get oudda here!)
But while I am London-born, I am now south Wales based and feel it’s about time I wrote more about my surroundings here.
Win Tickets to Explore the West with GWR
But life being what it is, it took a nudge from the guys at GWR to make me realise how little I’ve covered this cool part of the world.
To those not in the know, GWR is a train company that runs from, well, London, out to the west.
They’re running a photo competition at the moment all about the West with prizes up for grabs.
To enter, all you need to do is upload your photo taken from anywhere across the GWR network to either Instagram or Twitter and tag it #GWRAdventures with its location by Sunday 16th July. See all the terms and conditions and all that jazz below.
But in the meantime, I thought I’d provide some inspiration by highlighting seven great places to visit when you decide to head out west.
Or, as another way of putting it: seven short breaks from London.
Beautiful Penarth as the sun slips from the sky in Cardiff
Go West: 7 Short Breaks from London
1 – See puffins swoop on Skomer Island
Travel west as far as you can from London into Wales and you’ll reach Pembrokeshire, a land of sweet sandy beaches, walking paths and Britain’s smallest city at St David’s. Take a short boat trip to catch the Manx shearwaters, Atlantic grey seals and harbour porposes on Skomer Island and watch out for my favourite: the curiously coloured puffins.
2 – Pretend to be a Pirate in Penzance
Travel west as far as you can from London down into the tip-toe of England and you’ll reach Cornwall, home of swashbuckling tales, fishing coves and a fierce-ish desire for independence. Read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and feel all literary, not to mention dizzy, as you tip-toe towards the edges of those salty, steep-stoned cliffs.
3 – Admire engineering in Bristol
Sure, Bristol is a hub for the arts as well but it’s the construction works from Isambard Kingdom Brunel that make the city stand out to me.
Take the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a beautiful landmark that hangs 101 metres above the River Avon and that carries 8800 vehicles per day even though it was designed before automobiles had been invented.
And for a neat spot of travel trivia symmetry, look up at the stars in the ceiling at Paddington Station, London’s gateway to the west. Yep, that was Brunel as well.
4 – Catch some surf in Devon
Or just sit back and eat clotted cream fudge. No, seriously Devon offers up coastal adventures on two fronts: the English channel to the south and Irish Sea and Bristol channel to the north. It also has two National Parks, Dartmoor and Exmoor, where heather-clad moors form wide-open landscapes perfect for brewing mysterious olde legends.
5 – Revel in Cardiff, Europe’s Youngest Capital
While it calls itself Europe’s youngest capital, the best things about Cardiff involve the past. Brimming with tradition, from rugby to eisteddfods (cultural celebrations,) its modern achievements like the Millennium (now Principality) Stadium and the Armadillo (the Millennium Centre) don’t make sense without the centuries of song that precede them.
6 – Sleep in the past in Carmarthenshire
Just before Pembrokeshire, you’ll pass through it’s overlooked sister: Carmarthenshire. She’s the Mary to Anne Boleyn, the Dannii to Kylie Minogue. Except she’s far less trouble and she serves up some popcorn cockles and tropical gardens in a castle-slash-old stately home. And I’m not sure the Minogues do that. But I could be wrong.
You can also sleep in The Welsh House – a lovingly renovated cottage surrounded by daffodils.
7 – Bath
Ah, sweet Bath, home to my first job as a junior doctor and venue for my wedding not all that long after.
Not that those bits of personal trivia make a journey there worthwhile!
No, you need to go for the swerving sandy architecture of the Royal Circus and Crescent, the link to Jane Austen, the authentic Roman baths and the more modern additions that now function as a spa.
Seeing wild puffins on Skomer Island Pembrokeshire
How to enter the #GWRAdventures Competition to Win a Pair of First Class Tickets to the West
Train Tickets Summer Sale
Disclosure – Publicising the GWR photo competition is a commercial partnership, travel to the west, all my own idea. As ever, as always, I keep the right to write what I like and go where I like. Life is just too short to do otherwise…