BRITAIN meets: Dr Anna Keay

Historian Dr Anna Keay is Director of the Landmark Trust, the historic buildings charity, and one of the country’s foremost curators. She shares some of her favorite aspects of Britain.

Dr Anna Keay

Childhood memories
I was brought up in the West Highlands of Scotland and we go to Argyll every year. The Mull of Kintyre is amazing; you can drink the water from the streams, catch brown trout on a worm and watch the seals basking against epic sunsets. The best place to stay is the 16th-century castle at Saddell. It was nearly James Bond’s home in Skyfall but given how the movie ends, I’m quite glad it wasn’t.

The Grange in Ramsgate © VisitBritain

Gothic masterpiece
My favourite British building is The Grange in Ramsgate – the home and masterpiece of Augustus Pugin, designer of the new Palace of Westminster. It is an exuberant gothic masterpiece where all the splendour and style of the high Middle Ages is deployed in a warm and comfortable family house. I love it that this homage to medieval craftsmanship was built in Britain at the height of the world’s first industrial revolution.

Inspirational figure
I admire Lady Christian Smith who set up the Landmark Trust with her husband in 1965. A real inspiration, they created a charity to rescue collapsing old buildings too small to interest the National Trust. She did so much herself, printing the textiles, driving round Britain in a van installing beautifully chosen furniture. Wonderfully esoteric and British, the organisation now has 200 buildings in which, thanks to her, we can all have amazing holidays.

Magical literature
My favourite British author is John Fowles. What a genius – all the creativity and diffidence of this country rolled into one. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is pure magic. We are trying to raise the funds to restore Belmont House in Lyme Regis where he lived for 40 years, and all along that coast you can recognise the settings of the book.

My favourite day
You can’t beat breezy days on sunny Norfolk beaches camped out behind a stripy windbreak, collecting wild mussels at low tide and taking them home to cook for supper.

A windbreaker on Holkham Beach, Norfolk © VisitBritain

Historical figure
Mary Anne Everett Green, the amazing 19th-century historian and archivist whose digests of historical manuscripts form the basis of almost everything we know about Tudor and Stuart Britain. She published a volume a year for 38 years and she had four children along the way.

Extraordinary landmark
In both senses – an eye catcher and a Landmark Trust building – Clytha Castle in Monmouthshire. A striking gothic folly built by a grieving widower. In the words of his inscription it was ‘undertaken for the purpose of relieving a mind afflicted by the loss of a most excellent wife’. Beautiful and sad and a reminder that buildings are so much more than stone and render.

Beautiful view
The sea and coast from the top of the lighthouse on the island of Lundy. 360 degrees of wild waters, sea birds and emptiness. You can see why medieval hermits sought it out.

Odiham, a historic market town in Hampshire © VisitBritain

Home comforts
If I were away from home for a long time I would miss gnarled oaks planted before the English civil war and Lincolnshire Poacher cheese.

Old London
I was a curator at the Tower of London for seven years and got a real taste for old London eateries. Sweetings fish restaurant just a stone’s throw from St Paul’s is minute and you eat Dickensian fare perched on a stool.

Top tip
Visit one of Britain’s sprawling country flea markets and antique fairs, which offer unbelievable medleys of everything under the sun, where you sometimes hook an amazing bargain (an 1840s gothic toast rack for £7!) and always find a bacon sandwich.

Dr Keay’s most recent book, A History of the Crown Jewels, was published in September 2011. Book to stay in one of the Landmark Trust’s properties at