Ten of England’s oddest sights
The ancient Long Man of Wilmington is a mysterious 70m image carved into the hillside of England’s South Downs. (David Tomlinson/LPI)
England: seat of the royals, replete with cream teas and pastures green? Not quite. When you venture beyond England’s noble heritage and classic sights, there is a motley crew of eccentric, unexpected and even raunchy attractions – if you know where to look. Choosing a mere 10 is a challenge, but here are some delightful eyebrow-raisers of the sceptered isle.
Angel of the North, Tyne and Wear
Is it a bird, is it an angel, is it an eyesore? This steel sculpture by celebrated British artist Antony Gormley has been inspiring drivers to mutter “what the…?” since its completion in 1998. Its majestic 54m wingspan is an edifying landmark for northeast England – although many see lewd potential in its form, which looks similar to a male nude with arms outstretched, dubbing it the “Gateshead Flasher”. Take a peep at the Angel from the A167 road exit towards Gateshead South.
The craggy silhouette of Whitby Abbey, perched precariously above this seaside town, inspired Bram Stoker, the tortured soul behind Dracula. And today, it calls to Brits with dark tastes in music to descend in flocks for the Whitby Goth Weekend. Make sure you book accommodation well in advance if you are timing your visit for the festival – your reward will be sharing fish ‘n’ chips with amiable alternative rockers wearing frills, furbelows and enough black eyeliner to blot out the sun.
The Blowing Stone, Oxfordshire
Amid the green fields of Oxfordshire near the small town of Wantage lies an unassuming rock with a big history. According to legend, King Alfred blew through a hole in this very boulder to summon a Saxon army against the Vikings with a trumpeting call. Re-enact this historic moment yourself, but do not be surprised if you get little more than a low fart: myth says that anyone who succeeds in sounding a pure note is sure to ascend the throne. Console yourself with some other local sights, like the graceful outline of the Uffington White Horse that is carved into the rolling hillsides and a few drinks in local boozer The Plough in Eastbury.
A philosopher’s mummy, London
Jeremy Bentham, one of England’s greatest thinkers, so loved the University College London that he wanted to hang around long after his death. While his voting rights were revoked post mortem, his preserved body remains proudly on display. You can see the stuffed icon (the original head now sadly replaced with a wax model), on a self-guided tour.
Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset and Long Man of Wilmington, East Sussex
These two enormous figures are carved into the chalk bedrock of the English hills. The Giant, just north of the Dorset village Cerne Abbas, has a phallus that can be seen for miles (snap your photos from the viewing point off the A352 road). Not to be outdone by this priapic monument, some cheeky residents of Wilmington in East Sussex, home to the other gargantuan carving, drew some crown jewels on their own chalk figure – amusement (and offence) spread like wildfire. See the (now castrated) Long Man of Wilmington on a short drive northwest from Eastbourne. There is a signposted walk to the best viewing areas.
Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxfordshire
Quaint, eccentric and bursting with intellectual treasures, the Pitt Rivers Museum captures the spirit of Oxford, England’s most famous university city. Make a beeline for the shrunken heads, but take time to dawdle amid anthropological treasures like porcupine-quill shirts and Japanese masks.
Brighton’s West Pier, East Sussex
Sad emblem of dereliction or alternative icon for England’s sauciest seaside town? Locals of Brighton are divided on the ghostly wreck of the West Pier. A rusted metal skeleton of a coastal pavilion, the brooding beauty of the West Pier attracts as many camera flashes as its functioning neighbour, Brighton Pier. Stay in town for the quirky cafe culture, bracing sea air and raucous nightlife.