From marvelling at the wild flowers in the Yorkshire Dales to stargazing in Scotland, author BRIGID BENSON selects some favourite and inspirational breaks from her new book
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
Fields of gold await in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. Come summer, Yorkshire's most northerly valleys are a perfect pastoral vision of hay meadows enclosed by dry stone walls, swaying buttercups and ground-nesting birds such as lapwing and curlew.
Hills, moor and scree, where hardy Swaledale sheep thrive, surround ancient villages and hamlets named by Viking settlers hundreds of years ago.
To see the wildflowers at their peak visit before mid-July but remember to respect the farmers' crop by keeping to public footpaths.
Swaledale Museum (01748 884 118/swaledalemuseum.org) at Reeth is charming. Set in a former Methodist school room, there's an intriguing display on local history.? Stay: Spend the night in the pretty Swaledale Museum Cottage in Reeth. Doubles from £70 per night (two sharing), self-catering.
STANDING ON CEREMONY
Wiltshire is home to the world's largest stone circle near the pretty village of Avebury. Arrive at high noon on a summer's day and you'll join the trudge of coach loads of tourists doing the rounds but wait until dusk or dawn and the Unesco World Heritage Site will be quite a different experience. Unlike Stonehenge, you can touch the stones and walk between them.
Visit the house and grounds of the National Trust's Avebury Manor and Garden (01672 539 250/ nationaltrust.org.uk), which is home to the Alexander Keiller Museum.
It tells the story of Keiller, an archaeologist and heir to a marmalade fortune, who funded scientific research and the restoration of Avebury's stones to their prehistoric appearance.
Stay: Just a short distance from the stone circle and the market town of Marlborough is The Old Forge (01672 861 686/theoldforgeavebury.co.uk). Guests can picnic beside the River Kennet running through the grounds. Doubles from £65 per night (two sharing), B&B.
ONE TREE HILL
Situated in the picturesque Ribble Valley, Clitheroe, the food capital of Lancashire, offers sophisticated independent stores and country markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Beyond the town, ducks dabble in the splashy beck that gurgles through lovely Waddington village, home to communal gardens commemorating the Coronation of 1953. From here the road rises to Waddington Fell in the former royal hunting ground of the Forest of Bowland.
Ironically, there are few trees in a landscape that offers some of the most remote walking in Lancashire, and which is a protected breeding ground for threatened birds including hen harriers, the symbol of the Forest.? Stay: Snuggle down at the historic Inn at Whitewell (01200 448 222/innatwhitewell.com); all 14 cosy rooms have open fires. Doubles from £120 per night (two sharing), B&B.
DYED IN THE WOOL
Amid fields thick with poppies, the medieval market towns of East Anglia offer a dreamy weekend escape. In the Middle Ages the region revelled in wealth created by the cloth industry, and the vast church of St Peter and St Paul in the Suffolk town of Clare is testament to immense local prosperity. When the wool industry declined there was no cash left to update the towns, hence the survival of so many extraordinary medieval buildings.
One of the most exquisite is the Ancient House in Clare. Formerly a priest's residence, it is now the town museum with curios such as tools to test the ripeness of wheat.
Don't miss Lavenham. With more than 300 listed buildings, it is one of the best-preserved medieval villages in England.
Stay: Home to Benedictine monks in the 13th century, Lavenham Priory (01787 247 404/ lavenhampriory.co.uk) is surrounded by three acres of grounds in the centre of the village.
Doubles from £120 per night (two sharing), B&B.
STARSTRUCK IN SCOTLAND
There's magic in the heavens above the Galloway Hills of south-west Scotland. Far from the artificial light pollution of our densely populated cities, a stargazing weekend in the UK's first Dark Sky Park is awe-inspiring. The long dark months from October to March offer maximum opportunity.
Glentrool Visitor Centre, the gateway to the Galloway Hills, has good advice for would-be stargazers, including packing a deckchair so you can gaze upwards without straining your neck, wrapping up warm and taking a torch with a red filter for the dark.
Pick your spot and prepare for the greatest show not on Earth. Experienced hill walkers will relish a jaunt up the Merrick, the highest of 24 named peaks in the Galloway Hills, which offers spectacular views.
Stay: Kirroughtree House Hotel (01671 402 141/mcmillan hotels.co.uk) in Newton Stewart offers two-night stargazer breaks from £199pp (two sharing), half board.
52 Weekends In The Country by Brigid Benson and Craig Easton (Virgin Books), £20. See 52hq.co.uk