Exmoor National Park
Cruise along the Thames
Enjoy the finest views of middle England on a cruise along the upper reaches of the Thames. This sedate stretch of river flows through rural Oxfordshire and Berkshire past a succession of picture-postcard villages, and what better way to enjoy the scenery than from aboard a beautiful barge?
The journey is aboard African Queen, a beautiful traditional converted barge. Just large enough to accommodate 12 passengers and a crew of four, you can look forward to enjoying an intimate, informal cruise and tucking into home-cooked meals prepared on board.
Sailing from Mapledurham you will visit Sonning, stop off at Henley-on-Thames for an included excursion to Henley's River and Rowing Museum, then head back via Reading to Mapledurham, where a Blue Badge guide will come on board to give a talk. There is a trip by horse and cart included on one day, followed by a picnic lunch if the weather permits.
African Queen then sets off to Pangbourne for a traditional Sunday lunch at The Miller at Goring before making her way back to her moorings in Mapledurham.
Essential reading: Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K Jerome; Thames: Sacred River, Peter Ackroyd.
Known as the 'Little White Town', the port of Bideford is perfectly located for exploring Exmoor National Park and the beautiful north coast. You can wander through the town's charming narrow streets, around the harbour and along the River Torridge, and venture further afield to the National Trust property of Arlington Court (well known for its collection of horsedrawn carriages) or perhaps to the gardens and woodland of RHS Rosemoor.
There are numerous attractions in this part of Devon, and if you haven't explored the region before you may well want to join the optional excursions to Tiverton Castle and Exmoor where you can take a cruise along the River Exe. You can enjoy all of this from the friendly 3-star Royal Hotel, located opposite Bideford's much-photographed 13th-century bridge.
Essential reading: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle. Tarka the Otter, Henry Williamson.
Few cities have such a rich and fascinating history as the north's spiritual capital, York. Still partly encircled by ancient walls, the city is dominated by the soaring steeple of York Minster.
Five days is just long enough to visit the many museums and galleries the city has to offer, such as the National Railway Museum and Jorvik Viking Centre, as well as explore further afield – perhaps with a visit to the World of James Herriot Museum or Eden Camp, a unique military museum that recreates the sights and sounds of wartime Britain.
The 3-star York Pavilion makes the ideal base for this break, as the Grade II-listed Georgian country house is located just one-and-a-half miles from the city walls.
Essential reading: Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë. All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot.