TOban Docks on the west coast of Scotland are a functional place. Veteran CalMac ferries to the islands fly in at their moorings, and every now and then there’s a blast of diesel in the air. It is not the first place you might think of visiting for lunch. But there, next to the modern building of the ferry terminal, is the glory that is the Oban’s Seafood Shack. It’s in the kind of pre-fab shed that only its designer would love, and it’s decked out in eye-catching bright green signage that can certainly be seen from a mile of shoreline. But oh, the food. One afternoon, under a bronze sky, I feasted on baby fist-sized scallops in pools of hot garlic butter, shiny black mussels, and crab sandwiches thicker than an airport novel.
I cannot claim that Oban Seafood Hut is a secret, freshly whispered. I’ve written about it in my column, and in any case, part of my job checking restaurants in normal times involves exposing myself to the relatively dark. I have no secrets. But it is proof, if we needed it, that a very good rest is not necessarily found in all the most obvious places; those destinations burdened by labels like “place of beauty” and “national park” and the crowds of visitors who flock to them.
Soon, we will be able to go out again if only, for the most part, all over the UK. Which means it’s time to get creative and find our good times on the roads less traveled. This guide, from some of the Observer’s best writers, sheds light on a glorious selection of the least expected and least familiar destinations. There are the quiet, often hidden pleasures of our city parks, and the uncrowded walks along the Essex side of the Thames estuary, where England seeps out to sea; there are canal boat rides through the Midlands and, while you’re there, things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon that have nothing to do with Shakespeare.
We celebrate the fabulous Dales that deserve to be as well known as the Yorkshire Dales and, for those with the legs for it, plenty of bike rides around various corners of the country. And then, of course, there are our coastal cities and beaches. We usually think of them only as places for when the sun is shining so brightly that Mr. Whippy starts running through his hand. But there is a scowling majesty off the coast of Britain in the off-season. So come with us to the less fashionable parts of Scotland and Lincolnshire, and other places too. And if the sun decides to shine on you, well, all for the best.
A few years ago, an editor sent me to learn about the fish and chips business from that year’s winner of the title of Chips Shop of the Year, 149 in Bridlington. I put on chef’s white clothes and a hairnet and cooked portion after portion of haddock and chips. At the end of my shift I went to the front, my skin smelled of hot grease, I sat on a bench and ate my own fish and chips from their paper wrapper, under clouds the color of an old bruise. Bridlington, I noticed at the time, does not have the feel of a cute, carefully managed fishing village of nearby Whitby or the Regency area of Scarborough. It is very much its own place. And that was what made it the perfect place for my fish dinner. I had happily stumbled off the beaten track. This guide is designed to help you do the same.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism