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Beautifully bonkers – the best of weird Britain (Part the First)

'There was a crooked pub...' We’ve covered mad museums and British beasties, and now our wide-eyed and happy chronicling of the more unusual elements of the country continues.

The UK is full of what we can only describe as individuality, which along with castles, Beefeaters and rolling cheese down a hill are most compelling reasons for hanging up one's flip-flops and settling here rather than in the tropics. (You won’t find a haunted smugglers’ pub in Miami.)

Highly enjoyable research has unearthed all sorts of native uniqueness, which we have (with difficulty) narrowed down to a top ten of splendidly strange places to be hurtled towards as soon as possible.

We’ve also included ghosts and spooks – why wait until Hallowe’en to ferret out the spooky and the spectres in Britain, we declaim, especially when long summer nights mean less time cowering in a haunted house in the dark listening to the clanking of chains creeping ever closer? No reason at all, that’s why.

Here be our strange and kooky places to visit in the UK – Part the First:

Jamaica Inn, Cornwall

Tis where the ghosts roam, in this lonely inn on the Cornish mooooors (clank). This old coaching inn and haunt of smugglers is said to be one of the most haunted places in the UK and was the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s novel which was not as good as Rebecca.

Several spectres are said to be floating around here and the team of Most Haunted described Jamaica Inn as one of the spookiest places they had ever been to. Although as the programme was deemed to be ‘not a legitimate investigation into the paranormal , we take that claim with a healthy pinch of Cornish sea salt.

Spooks and smugglers in Cornwall Crooked House, Staffordshire

Last time we left a pub it looked like this. But this establishment looks wonky even the morning after, as mining subsidence in the nineteenth century means that one end of it is four feet lower than the other and any glass set down on the bar slides its way along on a tilt. We’re sure that once happened to us in a pub in Scotland.

One more mad museum

We’ve found another favourite to add to our mad museums list, Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Worcestershire, mainly for its tenacity in bypassing museum collection norms to bring entire buildings to the site rather than a few dusty fossils.

There are 27 historic buildings here, including the National Telephone Kiosk Collection, where we live in hope to one day find the TARDIS.

Unst Bus Shelter, Shetlands

Those of us who have shivered at an open bus stop of a morn as three buses refuse to turn up (the entire population, then) will raise a cheer to Shetland Islands Council and residents responsible for this Unst bus stop.

It was originally due to be demolished but granted a reprieve and a repair by the council after a plea from seven year old Bobby Macaulay who used the shelter to wait for his bus to school. And then, person or persons unknown added a wicker sofa and a table, then a TV, a hot snacks counter, a heater, a carpet and even hamsters (who were ‘kidnapped by buccaneers’ in 2011).

It’s even been used as a cinema– and is now possibly our favourite ‘quirky Britain’ story ever. Warms the cockles of our hearts, this one does. Which doesn’t normally happen in bus shelters.

Carlsberg don't do bus shelters... (Pic courtesy of Mike Pennington) Quirk collection I – festivals and comps

Toe wrestling, gravy wrestling, nettle eating, cheese rolling and the biannual World Alternative Games , covered by us last year as an alternative to the Olympics and which we are also drawing attention to for 2014, by golly (8 – 25 August, since you asked).

It’s all delightfully bonkers and very very British – and again, we don’t reckon you’d get this in Miami. A few to look out for this year include:

World Bog Snorkelling Championships, Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys: August

Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival, Skipton, N Yorkshire: August

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, Staffordshire: September

World Conker Championships, Southwick, Cambridgeshire: October

Tar Barrel Racing, Ottery St Mary, Devon: November

Grantchester Boxing Day Barrel Race, Grantchester, Cambridgeshire

Tenby Boxing Day Swim, Tenby, Pembrokeshire (brr)

Part the Second is now here!And to round off all things weird Part the First, we bring you quizzes assessing one’s own capacity for strangeness , which a) are slightly addictive and b) categorise us as ‘a little bit mad’ (halfway between ‘tinfoil hat’ and ‘a nice cup of tea’). Strangest thing is, we don’t even care.

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