Best Villages in the South of England

01 of 05

Ightham - Murder and Mystery Behind Pretty Kentish Facades

© Ferne Arfin

Such a pretty little town and so many dark deeds!

A traitor involved in the plot to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne (and manoeuvre Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I out of the succession) was imprisoned here before being beheaded. Conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, including Guy Fawkes himself, may have met in secret here. Two 20th century murders, one unsolved, took place in the village and an 18th century murderer was hanged near the Iron Age fort above the village.

And all this took place in half timbered medieval houses so pretty they should be decorating a box of sweeties. Miss Marple would have been in heaven with so many mysteries to solve.

Besides being incredibly photogenic - and only about an hour from Central London - Ightham (pronounced like "item") has an excellent pub for lunch, the George and the Dragon, and it's just a few miles up the road from Ightham Mote, a fortified moated medieval manor house restored by the National Trust.

Find out more about visiting Ightham, the village with a heart of darkness and one of our Terrific Day Trips from London.

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02 of 05

Minster Lovell - Pretty as a Picture in the Cotswolds

Cottage Garden
© Ferne Arfin

About four miles west of the Oxfordshire town of Witney, Minster Lovell is more of a hamlet than a village - so tiny that only the presence of a parish church, St. Kenelm's, qualifies it as a place on the map at all.

Just behind the church, Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote is a haunted ruin associated with mysterious, tragic stories. It's maintained by English Heritage and is free to visit. The setting, by an ancient fish pond near the dark green waters of the River Windrush, is magical and is the start of several riverside walks.

The rest of the village is little more than a single street, School Hill, but that street is lined with stone cottages - some of them thatched - wrapped in the kind of traditional English cottage gardens that were made to pose for calendars and the covers of gardening books.

There are no shops, but there is a traditional 15th century pub, The Old Swan. It's part of a luxury hotel The Old Swan and Minster Mill and is probably a bit more prettified than a typical Medieval country pub, but it does offer decent pub fare, as well as more elaborate menus, and is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Minster Lovell is the sort of place you dream of finding, by chance, on a country walk. To get there, take the B4047 (Burford Road) west of Witney, turning right onto School Hill (look for signs for the Old Swan & Minster Mill). Turn right at the Old Swan and head up the hill about half a mile until you see a turning on the right with places for parking. Park there and walk through the parking area toward the Church. The ruins of Minster Lovell Hall are visible just beyond.

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03 of 05

Bosham - A Village With Its Feet in the Sea

Bosham from the harbour
© Martin Heskith

On a map, Chichester Harbour looks like an ancient tree with branches reaching inland from its main channels until they finally disappear into creeks and runnels. Bosham (pronounced Buzzum for reasons lost in history) sits near the top of the middle channel and it's a village that dips its toes in the sea - literally. When the tide rises across the wide, marshy foreshore, Shore Road, one of the village's main streets, is completely submerged. At the local pub, The Anchor Bleu, where you can find a good pub lunch, the landlord closes heavy sea gates across the back of his property to keep the terrace open to patrons.

The West Sussex village, now little known outside of the pleasure boating crowd, has a long and illustrious history. It was probably a Roman settlement. King Canute had a palace there and it's reputed to be the place where he ordered the tides to turn back to make the point that mortal man could not be all powerful. Important in Anglo Saxon times, Bosham has connections to Edward the Confessor and King Harold (the last Anglo Saxon king of England, killed in the Battle of Hastings in 1066). The parish church predates the Norman Conquest and is pictured in the Bayeux Tapestry.

If You visit

Make sure not to park on Shore Road - it floods twice a day at high tide. To make a good half day of your visit, stop in at the ancient Holy Trinity Church, linger over a meal at the pub and take lots of pictures of the village and the boats in the harbor. If you can't hold the need for retail therapy at bay, visit the Bosham Walk Art and Craft Centre on Bosham Lane, for 20 little shops arranged on two floors.

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04 of 05

Old Amersham Village

Old Amersham Village
© Ferne Arfin

Amersham is so close to London that you might be tempted to write off this town as just part of the city's suburban sprawl. But if you do, you'll be missing a place with considerable history and charm, right at the end of the London Underground.

The village, under a variety of ancient names, has existed since Anglo Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Its annual market fair (still held every year on September 19 and 20) was chartered by King John in 1200 and the wide high street, which looks like it was created for modern traffic, was actually planned to accommodate the market as early as the 1300s.

The village today with its 17th century market hall, picturesque coaching inn/public houses and plethora of 16th to 18th century houses, owes its existence to the stubborness and power of local 19th century landowners. When the Metropolitan Line (the world's oldest subway) reached the town in the 1890s, the Lord of the Manor refused permission for the railway line to cross his land and spoil his view. So Amersham-on-the-Hill developed around the Underground station and Old Amersham, (a walk of about a mile down Station Road) was left virtually untouched.

While You're There

  • Stop in for a drink at The Crown Hotel. It stood in for The Boat Inn, where Hugh Grant and Andy MacDowell had their first romantic encounter in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
  • Consider the bar and restaurant at the King's Arms, just up the high street, for lunch. Its Tudor facade played the exterior of the Boat Inn in that same famous movie. It has also hosted Miss Marple, the Midsomer Murders and, long before that, the real Oliver Cromwell.
  • Have a look around the churchyard of St Mary's Church to see if you can find the unmarked grave of Ruth Ellis, the last woman ever executed in Britain. Legend has it that she is buried there.
  • Poke into shops and galleries along the high street and School Lane, which runs parallel.
  • Plan ahead and have a spectacular - and expensive - gourmet dinner at Artichoke. Booking weeks in advance for this highly rated eatery is advised.

And on your way back up to the Tube Station, take a brief detour into High Over Park to see the earliest Bauhaus Modernist houses ever built in Britain (privately owned and not open to visitors). Of the three houses, High and Over house is the most famous, built in 1934 by New Zealand architect Amyas Douglas Connell of the firm Connell, Ward & Lucas. Connell single handedly launched the modernist style in Britain.

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05 of 05

Great Tew - A Village of Thatched Cottages Near Blenheim Palace

Great Tew
© Ferne Arfin

Almost every house in Great Tew has a thatched roof - and those that don't will probably have thatch soon enough. It's virtually the raison d'etre for this exquisite Cotswold village about 10 miles from Blenheim Palace. If you're visiting Blenheim - Winston's Churchill's birthplace, home of the Dukes of Marlborough and definitely worth a visit - leave some time to drive up the road for a pub meal at the Falkland Arms in Great Tew. Don't be surprised if you run into Frodo or Bilbo Baggins when you get there - the place has that kind of look about it.

Besides the pub, the leafy village has a historic Norman church, St. Michael's, that dates from the 1100s and was rebuilt in the 13th century, a primary school and a few lanes to explore on foot.

But all is not as bucolic as it seems at first glance. The village is part of the Great Tew Estate, home to all sorts of noisy activities including The Cornbury Festival, a 3-day boutique music festival held every July, with glamping, posh loos and hot air balloon flights as well performances on multiple stages and all the usual music festival fun.

To get there from Blenheim, leave Woodstock on the A44 driving north toward Oxford. Turn right on the A4022 and continue (making a short dogleg right on the A4030 and then immediately left back onto the A4022) until you reach New Road. Follow the signs for Great Tew, bearing left at the Church and on into the village. You'll see signs for Little Tew here and there. Ignore them. Little Tew is a much bigger village but your target destination got its "Great" because it has the parish church.

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