Blue Badge Guides show you their favourite places around the UK
My favourite lake is the Serpentine in Hyde Park. The 40-acre artificial waterway, created in 1730 by damming the River Westbourne, is home to Britain’s oldest swimming club. Every Christmas Day the club stages the Peter Pan Cup race – a trophy donated by writer JM Barrie, who lived next to the park. I took part in the event in 2009. Training took place early every Saturday morning from September to December – no wetsuit allowed – in preparation for the yuletide swim. At 9.00am on Christmas Day, I joined 64 other swimmers as bagpipes played us down to the pontoon. The water was freezing – its coldness took my breath away – but I finished the race, hauling my tingling body out of the water up the ramp to be greeted by my amazed family.
Mary T Taylor, London Blue Badge Guide
My favourite building is Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, a fantasy Gothic castle built near the Thames by Horace Walpole, the youngest son of Robert, our first prime minister. Horace bucked the 18th-century trend for all things classical by creating his ‘little plaything-house’ in the Gothic style. The ‘antiquarian interiors’, illuminated by old stained glass, featured designs copied from various medieval churches – amongst them Westminster Abbey, Old St Paul’s, Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster.
Walpole invented the words serendipity and gloomth – gloom and warmth – which can both be found here. A suitably atmospheric setting for his unique collections – sadly all sold in the ‘Great Sale’ in 1842 – the house quickly became a famous tourist attraction, which it is again today.
Joanne Bramley, London & Cumbria Blue Badge Guide
My favourite museum is Reading Museum. It has a bit of everything, fascinating galleries on Reading’s three Bs – beer, bulbs and biscuits – and the story of Reading Abbey, as well as artefacts from Silchester Roman remains. But the highlight for me is Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry. This near exact copy of the original in Bayeux was stitched by a group of needlewomen in the 1880s. It is so much better displayed and interpreted than the original, and there are usually no crowds. So I can pop in for 15 minutes and study the details of the next few panels in bite-sized chunks. Now, what is Edward the Confessor saying to William?
Graham Horn, South East Blue Badge Guide
My favourite building is Wells Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace. We’re talking Bishop of Bath and Wells here, a prelate senior enough to stand next to the monarch at the coronation. He has an 800-year-old moated palace beside his Gothic cathedral to confirm his status. The first bishops could never decide where to live – the bright lights of Bath or the remote beauty of Wells. They chose Wells.
There are springs here too, but not hot. The bishop’s swans have names and learn to ring a bell beneath a window when they require food. The gardens are beautiful and the croquet lawn is used for international contests. The cathedral is distinctive for its scissor arches and 600-year-old clock. Vicar’s Close, where the choir and organist live, is claimed to be the oldest residential street in Europe.
Richard Jones, London Blue Badge Guide
My favourite gardens are Wentworth Castle Gardens, South Yorkshire. This is one of Yorkshire’s little known secrets, though it’s not that little – 63 acres of formal gardens, 500 acres of parkland and 26 listed buildings and monuments. Once the pleasure gardens of a stately home, after decades of abandonment and ruin the pleasure has returned. My favourite feature is Stainborough Castle – masquerading as a medieval ruin, this mock castle was actually constructed in the 18th century.
You can climb up the tower’s spiral staircase and meet the Strafford griffin at the top. The long barn was repaired as part of the BBC programme Restoration. It now houses a visitor centre and café providing tasty treats.
Rosemary Barnes, Yorkshire Blue Badge Guide
My favourite sculpture is two lions that stand in Nottingham’s Old Market Square. Known locally as Leo and Oscar, this year they celebrated their 90th birthday. Created by local sculptor Joseph Else, they have guarded the steps to the Council House (Nottingham’s town hall) since 1929. They have come to play an important role in the life of the city: they are a well-known place to meet one’s friends; the Left Lion is the name of the local cultural listing magazine; and there is even an urban myth concerning the modesty of Nottingham’s women and the silence of the lions. And they’ve seen a lot in 90 years, from royal visits to fairground attractions, protesting citizens to student revelry and a flash-mob of book readers (you’d expect nothing less in a UNESCO City of Literature!).
Felicity Whittle, Heart of England Guide