Whatever your passion; art, wildlife, sculpture, family history, architecture, walking, rock climbing, searching out the most perfect cream tea or even just finding somewhere quiet to sit and read a book. These are all things you can do in church buildings around the UK.

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Cornwall’s churches are rarely simple buildings nestling into the landcape. Instead they are assertive structures with heaven thrusting spires or towers, commonly three times the height of the church. This gives Cornish churches a squat appearance externally, though often they are found to be tall inside. By the 1500s granite was the material of choice and many were enlarged, but often left with much earlier fabric. Quaint villages are rare here, generally churches are found in towns, hamlets or trading ports. Methodist and Nonconformist chapels partly filled the gaps left after the Reformation. Here is a sample of special churches.

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Nicholas Hawksmoor

Nicholas Hawksmoor (probably 1661 – 25 March 1736) was an English architect and a leading figure of the English Baroque style. Hawksmoor was responsible for six new churches in London, each different, each unique. They are his best known independent works of architecture. It has been argued that there are hidden symbols amongst the obelisks, pyramids and imitation altars on his churches. His churches are unusual, and well worth visiting!

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Greater Manchester

It comes as little surprise that the oldest buildings in Greater Manchester are all churches; St Mary the Virgin in Eccles has parts built in the 13th century, the tower of St Chad, Rochdale, dates to the 1200s; and, St Leonard in Middleton has fragments of a Norman billet frieze. But Greater Manchester also has an amazing collection of Victorian and modern churches to explore. Here are a few to show off what the region has to offer.

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King Arthur

The core myths of the Celtic peoples centre on the great cycle of stories based on the life and exploits of King Arthur. They link Arthur to a poetic idea of Britain as a kind of paradise. The historic figure of Arthur as a victorious 5th century warrior, leading Britons into battle against Saxon invaders, has so far proved impossible to confirm. So where does the legend come from? Why has Arthur remained so important to us, and why are there so many places associated with him?

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Tour de Yorkshire 2017

In July 2014, three million people thronged the roadsides of Yorkshire to welcome Le Tour de France to God’s Own County. The sun shone, bands played and church bells rang. Yorkshire was globally endorsed as the new home of world cycling and its churches took centre stage as landmarks in the TV commentary. The story continues with the annual Tour de Yorkshire and the upcoming 2019 UCI Cycling World Championships. Here, Rod Ismay, author of Bells & Bikes, picks 16 churches from the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire for you to visit and enjoy; all looking great from the saddle. Plenty of other churches on the route are listed on ExploreChurches, why not explore the map.

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Ancient yew trees

Many reasons have been given as to why yews are to be found in old churchyards. One is that it is ‘as an emblem of Resurrection’. This may be the reason why it was customary during Tudor times and earlier to tie sprigs of yew to coffins. Churches are the present custodians of trees planted and cared for over many centuries, from 500 year old trees planted in the Middle Ages, the 800 year old trees planted by the Normans, even older specimens planted by Saxons and early Welsh saints, with the possibility that some might even pre date Christianity.

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Bill Bryson

Everybody loves Bill Bryson. His best selling travel books extol the glories of our country, and here he chooses 14 of his favourite churches, including Durham Cathedral, The Italian Chapel in Orkney and London’s St Martin’s in the Fields. In his own inimitable words ‘It is impossible to overstate the importance of churches to this country. Nothing else in the built environment has the emotional and spiritual resonance, the architectural distinction, the ancient, reassuring solidity of a parish church. To me, they are the physical embodiment of all that is best and most enduring in Britain.’

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Snowdrops are one of the first signs of life in gardens after the long winter months, flowering between January and March. Head out on a crisp day to explore frosty landscapes and enjoy beautiful displays of snowdrops, a sure sign that spring is on its way. Lots of churchyards have snowdrops, but some churches also welcome intrepid snowdrop seekers with open days, tours, hot cups of steaming tea and coffee and yummy cake.

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Love churches

Valentine’s Day is renowned for being the most romantic day of the year. But, St Valentine is not the only link between love and lovely churches. There are other saints of love; St Raphael and St Dwynwen. Churches are host to weddings, and all the traditions and rites associated with them. And then there are the romantic poets, who dreamily wrote about churches, and are buried beneath their floors and grassy churchyards.

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Tidal island churches

When is an island not an island? When, for a few hours each day, the low tide reveals a strip of land joining it to the mainland. The UK has just over 40 tidal islands, some large some very small. The best feature unique churches and chapels, often with monastic beginnings and built in these places for peace and tranquillity. They are often beautiful and fascinating places to visit. But, always check the tide times in advance - or be ready to swim back...

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