There’s nothing like a good book to set the mood for your own trip. The choice of books about Britain can be daunting, so here’s a list of our favourites to add an extra dimension to your planning or help you penetrate that famous British reserve a little while you’re on the road.

• Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, although based on travels in the 1970s, is still incisive. This American author really captures the spirit of Britain three-and-a-half decades ago. When he pokes fun he’s spot on, so the locals don’t mind.

• The English: A Portrait of a People by Jeremy Paxman examines the evolution of English national identity in recent years, through the sharp and often cynical eyes of Britain’s favourite blunt Yorkshireman and TV news presenter.

• Coasting by Jonathan Raban records a UK vacation in an old sailing yacht, and is a brilliant and very readable meditation on the people and culture of this island nation.

• London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd is the definitive description of Britain’s biggest city as a living, breathing organism.

• The Thistle and the Rose: Six Centuries of Love and Hate Between the Scots and the English, by Allan Massie, takes a historical perspective on the often stormy relationship between Britain’s two largest countries.

• Adrift in Caledonia by Nick Thorpe is an entertaining and insightful tale of travelling around Scotland by hitching rides on a variety of vessels, from canal barge and rowing boat to steam puffer and square-rigged sailing ship.

• On Borrow’s Trail by Hugh Oliff retraces the journeys through Wales made by 19th-century writer George Borrow, combining a rich synopsis of the original observations with modern photos and colour illustrations.

• Two Degrees West by Nicholas Crane describes a walk in a perfectly straight line (two degrees west of the Greenwich meridian) across Britain, wading rivers, cutting through towns, sleeping in fields and meeting an astounding selection of people along the way.

• Great British Bus Journeys by David McKie is a wry and witty travelogue showing that ‘unknown’ towns and villages can be just as fascinating as tourist hot spots.