OK, I've stretched the history concept right off the bat here as North Cornwall's Tintagel Castle is more about myth and legend than hard facts. But who can resist a turn around these majestic 13th century castle ruins, perched high on the cliff face at the top of a hundred or so steps. King Arthur is said to have been conceived within these magical walls while legend dictates that mysterious Merlin lived in the cave at the foot of the cliff. Spectacular views across to Lundy Island from the ancient walls make the climb to the top well worth it – I suggest you take some tales of the knights and dragons of Arthurian legend and regale the kids with them as the Cornish breeze cools your aching feet.
Once upon a time Glastonbury Abbey was the richest in England, its walls a hive of religious industry and worship. These days you'll find stunning ruins in a truly idyllic Somerset setting, enlivened by a team of living history guides who will regale you with tales of life in the monastery. You'll learn about its early Saxon beginnings, elaborate Norman extension building and how monks there are said to have exhumed the bodies of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in order to raise money from visiting pilgrims so that they could rebuild the abbey after a catastrophic fire in 1184. These bones were later reburied in the Abbey Church in a black marble tomb. There are loads of events at the abbey too, including wonderful medieval food fairs.
We do gore and history pretty well here in the UK, a combination that's usually going to keep adults and kids alike happy. And there aren't many places in the country more historically gruesome than the 11th century Tower of London, where 22 executions have taken place, the last being the demise of German spy Josef Jacobs, who was shot by firing squad in 1941. Many a prisoner was left to languish within its walls, awaiting trial at the nearby courts in Westminster, and you'll find some rueful graffiti dating back centuries etched into them. The history of the surrounding Tower Hill is just as bloody – scaffolding erected there to host executions of ne'er-do-wells would regularly collapse under the weight of onlookers (and once killed 20 in one go).
Come on, who isn't fascinated by Winston Churchill? The larger than life hero of our times lived a rural life in his country home Chartwell near Edenbridge in Kent and, thanks to the National Trust, you can walk through the wonderfully preserved rooms (period décor circa 1920s and 1930s) and have a nose at the photographs, books and pictures that have been left just as the great man had them – there is even a box of cigars on the table. Memorabilia and recordings of the former prime minister in full pomp send a chill down your spine and afterwards you get to see the softer side of the man, when you pop into his studio where he used to paint. Make sure you tag onto a guided tour as the staff are excellent and very knowledgeable.
The much-loved Royal Pavilion sits in the heart of Brighton for all the world looking like a mini Taj Mahal. The flighty, fun-loving and deeply Bacchanalian playboy the Prince Regent, later King George IV, instructed John Nash to construct this seaside palace of fun so he could escape the formality of court back in London and party hard with his friends, which kicked off the city's reputation as slightly licentious. Inside you'll discover what life was like for the royal, with the giant kitchens busy preparing for a huge dinner, the Chinoiserie-themed banqueting hall table laid out in all its splendour and the prince's bedroom tidily on display complete with oversized bed to accommodate his continually expanding girth.
Down by the river in the little rural New Forest hamlet of Buckler's Hard sits a maritime museum that details how this unassuming little spot was once a hive of shipbuilding industry, churning out three vessels that fought at Trafalgar with Lord Nelson. This outdoor living history exhibition shows how life would have been for those involved in the shipbuilding industry – the shipwright's cottage highlights the difference between the well-to-do life of the shipwright and the rather more frugal existence of an unskilled labourer. You can also take a boat trip down the Beaulieu River and stop off for lunch in the Captain's Cabin Tea Room.
Sign up to our email to receive our most splendid special offers each month!