United Kingdom

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Viva Victoriana – London

London’s Victorian landmarks are among the capital’s most iconic sights

Trafalgar Square (above). Although its name and most famous historic figure – Admiral Horatio Nelson who sits atop the 43.5m column – recall a pre-Victorian battle, Trafalgar Square was developed during Victoria’s reign. The Regency architect John Nash got the ball rolling in 1812 with his vision for a cultural space, “a new street from Charing Cross to Portland Place”, and the baton was taken up in 1838 by Sir Charles Barry, also responsible for the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster, who presented a plan including the statue of Nelson and two fountains. The beating heart of the capital, where Londoners gather to celebrate everything from football victories to new year, Trafalgar Square is enveloped by beautiful buildings – most famously the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery to the north, and the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields to the east. It’s also a mere hop, skip and a jump down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Do pass through Admiralty Arch built in honour of Queen Victoria in 1910 by her son, King Edward VII.

Tower Bridge. A symbol of Victorian ingenuity, Tower Bridge has overtaken London Bridge as the capital’s most famous river crossing. In the 1870s, a new bridge east of London Bridge was considered crucial for the city and the public competition to find the right design proceeded in 1876. The winner, Sir Horace Jones – also one of the competition’s judges – took his inspiration from designs he had seen on the Continent and his scheme for a “bascule” (French for seesaw) bridge comprised a roadway formed of two segments, which could be pulled up like a drawbridge, allowing ships to pass. The high-level walkway, meanwhile, would allow pedestrians to cross when the road was raised. Initially run by steam hydraulics, Tower Bridge is today powered by oil and electricity. It has witnessed much drama over the decades, surviving the Blitz, rogue aeroplanes swooping between its Gothic towers in 1912 and 1968, and a bus making a daring leap over a three-foot gap as the bridge opened after a negligent watchman failed to ring the warning bell in 1952.

From the Gothic grandeur of Big Ben to the ingenuity of Tower Bridge, London’s Victorian monuments feature on postcards and calendars, are lit up on special occasions and revered as timeless symbols of the capital today, as well as representing its rich history.tower-bridge

Victorian architecture looked backwards as well as forwards. The sumptuous detail of the Gothic Revival of the mid-1800s, as developed by architects such as Augustus Pugin, for example, was retrospective, evolving as a reaction against the simplicity and symmetry of the Palladianism favoured in the earlier decades of the century, which looked back even further in time to ancient Greece and Rome.

Later in Victoria’s reign, as a result of new technology, iron and steel began to be incorporated as building components. One of the most famous examples was Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the iron and glass structure that originally stood in Hyde Park and was later relocated to south London.

Encapsulating the sense of looking both to the future and the past, Tower Bridge, with its iron-and-steel structure so cutting edge at the time, was also designed to complement the historic fortress nearby and clad in Portland stone – a fitting mix of something old, something new.

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A Schoolroom for Everyone – London

The Victoria and Albert Museum has just triumphed as the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year

With over 4.5 million objects and seven miles of galleries, the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the biggest museums of decorative arts in the world. It is also one of the most beautiful. Take the Medieval and Renaissance sculpture gallery, just to start with, on your right as you enter from Cromwell Road – however many times you’ve been to the V&A, it’s hard to resist wandering in to that beautiful light-drenched space and marvelling at the figures beneath the glass roof, each with its own rich story.

Like many buildings on the site in South Kensington known as Albertopolis – the Science and Natural History museums, Imperial College, the Royal Colleges of Art and Music, and Royal Albert Hall – the seeds of the V&A were sown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, a pivotal event right in the middle of the 19th century which was the brainchild of Prince Albert.

In the wake of the First Industrial Revolution, the world was invited to display its achievements at the Great Exhibition – an event recorded at the original entrance to the museum, on the north side of what is now the John Madejski Garden. (A stretch of grass was all that used to lie between this entrance and Cromwell Road.) On the pediment of this building Queen Victoria, styled as Greek goddess, hands out wreaths to the countries that took part in the Great Exhibition. In a move away from the fashion for Gothic Revival at the time, that original building, in warm red-brick and terracotta with mosaic decoration, recalls the elegance of northern Italian Renaissance architecture; its partner in style is the Royal Albert Hall, which is perhaps no surprise. Henry Cole, the museum’s first director, was deeply involved with both projects.victoria-and-albert-museum-1

The eternally grieving queen wanted it to be called the Albert Museum, but the government put its foot down: there were enough memorials to Albert, she was told. The Victorian and Albert was, in fact, the museum’s third name. Opening as the Museum of Manufactures in Marlborough House in 1852, it was later renamed the South Kensington Museum when it was established in what was then Brompton in 1857 (South Kensington was thought to sound more upmarket), with its final christening taking place in 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of new buildings along Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road.

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Discover London

 “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson

Double Trouble

Shakespeare’s romantic comedies Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, first paired as a double bill at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2014 to critical acclaim, are to make a brief comeback in the West End.

With Much Ado masquerading as Love’s Labour’s Won – a title that might refer to a lost work or is possibly an alternate name for the play – an ensemble cast performs both involving productions, which conjure an air of Downton Abbey glamour.

Love’s Labour’s Lost brings to life the carefree elegance of a pre-war Edwardian summer, while in Much Ado About Nothing, set after the First World War, life has changed forever. It’s a combination that sheds new light on these ever-popular plays.

The double bill runs from early December to 18 March 2017 at Theatre Royal Haymarket.double-trouble

Let Them Entertain You

The tagline for the British Library’s Victorian Entertainments exhibition, There Will Be Fun, sounds like a promise. Based on the library’s Evanion collection, the archive of 19th-century conjuror Henry Evans, known as Evanion, the exhibition features a vivid array of richly decorative posters, handbills, advertisements and tickets. Such ephemeral material, relatively new at the time, wasn’t considered to be of lasting value back then, making the collection something special. Victorian Entertainment focuses on five entertainers including Evanion himself, whose performance for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert led to the self-appointed title of Royal Conjuror. A programme of live events will accompany the exhibition, including a special Late at the Library recapturing the heyday of Victorian entertainment.

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Castle on a Cloud – West Sussex

High on a hill overlooking the South Downs, Arundel Castle is one of Britain’s most spectacular

The chalk downs that roll through the county of West Sussex to the south coast of England are softly, gently stunning: the foundation for some of the most beautiful natural landscape in Britain, ending in brilliant white cliffs around Eastbourne.

Commanding this vista from its spot on the hillside just a few miles from the sea is Arundel Castle: a vast, fortified stately home which has for centuries been the seat of England’s premier aristocratic family. They are the Fitzalan-Howards: earls of Arundel and dukes of Norfolk. The castle is still their family home and a monument to some of British history’s most turbulent and iconic periods.

Like most of England’s great castles, Arundel was founded after the Norman Conquest of 1066, when William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel to claim victory at the Battle of Hastings and set about subjugating England, parcelling it up into giant fiefdoms for his allies.

The lush countryside surrounding Arundel was given to William’s friend and counsellor Roger de Montgomery, becoming part of a vast network of estates which made Montgomery one of the richest men in the realm. By today’s standards he would have been a multi-billionaire, and to protect his newfound riches he built castles, including the first one to exist in Arundel.

Castles were the hubs of Norman power and, whenever war broke out in England, they became the focus of political and military attention. Arundel’s first great moment in history came during a 12th-century civil war known as the Anarchy, when two cousins – Matilda and Stephen – fought over the English Crown for nearly two decades. In 1139, Matilda stayed at Arundel Castle, narrowly escaping capture by the enemy army camped outside. As you explore the oldest part of the castle, you can look around the room in which Matilda (may have) slept, transporting yourself back to those bleak, war-torn days of which medieval writers lamented: “It was as if Christ and his saints were asleep.”

More gloriously medieval are those parts of the castle that showcase its link to a later conflict: the Hundred Years War, which raged between England and France in the 14th and 15th centuries. There are whole rooms filled with suits of armour and weapons typical of the medieval battlefield. In a sense, the castle itself is a testament to the war booty that was accumulated by the 10th Earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan, who fought alongside his comrade and friend King Edward HI and was richly rewarded for his efforts: when the earl died in 1376, he left £30,000 in coin (worth many millions of pounds today) in one of the castle’s towers.

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Arundel’s Elegant Drawing Room

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In Focus – Exeter

With indie shops, trendy restaurants and plenty of sites to see – not to mention close proximity to beautiful Dartmoor – it’s time to visit Exeter

Drink

Berlin, Detroit, Exeter – ok, we’re kidding, the Devon city isn’t exactly famous for its nightlife, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of places where you can wet your whistle and stick your knees up.

Start your evening with a tipple on the waterfront at, er, On The Waterfront – a converted 19th-century warehouse on the quayside that’s full to the gunwales with real ale and craft gin.

For something a little more curious, try The Hourglass, a dimly-lit backstreet pub up the hill at the opposite end of the quay – its walls are lined with plants, prints and experiments in taxidermy. It also stocks more than two dozen wines in a cupboard under the stairs and celebrate regional beers by selling four-pint jugs at mates’ rates. They also sell lager, reluctantly.

On the other side of town – wedged between the castle and John Lewis – you’ll find the upmarket Oddfellows, a speakeasy cocktail bar with a gastro edge. Expect carefully thought-out concoctions, not just standard coladas and caipirinhas.

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The Old Firehouse

Just opposite on New North Road is The Old Firehouse, a scene stalwart for music lovers. Head down late and you can soak up all that booze with a healthy slice of pizza, which they serve until 2.30am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

If the demon drink’s not your vice (or you’re just a wee bit hungover), make the pilgrimage to the east of town to micro roastery-cum-café Exe Coffee Roasters and meet Steve and Lewis – they’ll churn out unique blends of the hot black stuff and pop it in a cup before you can say “Wake me up now!”

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8 Bizzare Sleeps

Ludicrous lodgings, from a giant Scottish pineapple and a floating coconut, to a Trojan horse and ghost-filled garrison.

In a pineapple in Falkirk

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The Dunmore Pineapple – Scotland

Surely Scotland’s fruitiest weekend away, The Pineapple is an elaborate architectural joke. The 4th Earl of Dunmore got the idea during his tenure as Governor of Virginia, where sailors would indicate they were safely back from a sea voyage by spiking pineapples on their gateposts. Dunmore marked his own return to home in 1777 with a commission for 37 feet of intricately carved masonry, its stone leaves apt decoration for a hothouse growing pineapples.

Internal accommodation is mercifully unprickly, with two cosy bedrooms, a country-style kitchen and a living room with log fire. The Pineapple presides over a huge walled garden open to the public, but guests also enjoy a private back garden, and there are some lovely nearby walks with views of the River Forth and Ochil Hills.

Arrive: Dunmore is on the A905, the closest motorway is the M9. Regular buses run from Stirling to Dunmore. Alternatively, the nearest railway station is six miles away in Larbert, which has services to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In a haunted northumbrian castle

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Chillingham Castle – United Kingdom

Claiming the dubious honour of being the ‘most haunted castle in Britain’, Chillingham has acquired its ghosts over the course of eight centuries. A medieval pile complete with crenellated parapets, this 12th-century garrison castle is home to several spiritual residents, including a frail white figure found in the pantry, and the mysterious `blue boy’.

The Torture Chamber displays arcane instruments of punishment, and in the dungeon visitors can see the crude graffiti etched into the wall by former inmates. Ghost tours take place at night and you can stay in one of several self-catering apartments. Our favourite is the Grey apartment, furnished with a four-poster bed, antiques and wall-mounted horns.

Arrive: Chillingham is off the A1 between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Alnwick.The castle is around an hour by car north of Newcastle, and 1.3/4 hours southeast of Edinburgh. Public transport to the castle is limited.

In a Kentish fisherman’s cottage

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The Seaview Cottage – Dungeness, United Kingdom

Sat on the pebbly beach of Dungeness, Seaview is a peaceful spot to watch the waves roll in as small craft bob gently across the English Channel. Once home to working fishermen, this two-storey cottage has had its net store converted into a second bedroom, and its interior given a nautical-style makeover — with blue-striped linens, log burner and decorations made from shells and driftwood.

Round the back, sheltered from sea breezes, there’s a large wild garden that’s ideal for summer barbecues — load your grill with seafood caught that day by local fishermen. Extend your sea view by braving the climb to the top of nearby Old Lighthouse, a mighty 46 metres tall. Also close by is an RSPB bird sanctuary, a great place to stroll mile after mile of shingle while spotting bitterns, little-ringed plovers, Slavonian greebs, smews and wheatears, depending on the season.

Arrive: The nearest train station is a half-hour cab ride away in Rye, East Sussex, with connections to Ashford International, and on to London.

In a floating cabin in France

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Cabanes des Grands Lacs

If aiming for a full fruit bowl of accommodation experiences, these coconut-shaped floating cabins should be next on your list. Eight are to be found bobbing gently on the Domaine des Grands Lacs, a vast wetland in the little-visited region of Franche-Comté. Most are accessible only by boat, giving a sense of romantic isolation only enhanced by the absence of electricity — light being provided by solar-powered lamps, or good old-fashioned candles.

A breakfast of croissants with local jams and honey appears daily on your landing deck, but guests can also arrange for the delivery of champagne or a platter of regional meats and cheeses. The point is to do not very much at all except enjoy the natural surroundings, but on a fine day it’s fun to hire a kayak or a bike to explore the lakes and surrounding trails.

Arrive: The nearest airport is Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg, about a 1.1/2 hours’ drive away. Fly there from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow, Luton, Manchester or Stansted, with BA, easy Jet or Ryanair. Car hire starts at around £40 per day.

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6 Road Trip Weekends in United Kingdom

Drive the UK’s most spectacular routes, taking in castle-strewn dales, desolate moors and England’s steepest road.

Discover the mountainous Lake District

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Wrynose Pass – United Kingdom

Wrynose and Hardknott are not only some of the most splendidly named points on Lake District maps, they’re also home to some of the UK’s most challenging mountain roads — single-track lanes that slalom and climb like old-fashioned rollercoasters over the Cumbrian countryside.

To try them out yourself, set out from Kendal for the shores of Lake Windermere, continuing past Ambleside to Coniston. The next morning, strike northwest to the foot of the Wrynose Pass. Soon the road turns skyward — climbing up among craggy fells and grassy slopes where Herdwick sheep graze, occasionally looking up from their chewing to watch the passing traffic. If all this seems challenging enough, wait until you descend along the Hardknott Pass —England’s steepest strip of tarmac, with a gradient of 1 in 3, it is often closed by ice and snow in winter months. On the plus side, take your eyes off the road for a second and you might be rewarded with sweeping vistas of green hills, the Irish Sea and the Isle of Man just visible in the distance.

Arrive: Follow the A591 northwest from Kendal to Ambleside and on southwest to Coniston. From the A593 north of Coniston, take the turnoff marked ‘Wrynose’. After Hardknott, follow signs from Eskdale south to Broughton-in-Furness, returning to Coniston via the A593.

Stay: Lodge at the Waterhead Hotel —a century-old institution with tidy lawns running down to the shores of Coniston Water.

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Waterhead Hotel

Take a spin trough the cotswolds

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Cotswold – United Kingdom

With ivy-clad stone cottages, ye olde tea shoppes and creaking mills, the landscapes of the northern Cotswolds are familiar to many, with towns packed with daytrippers during high summer. Less often visited but every bit as picturesque is the southern part of the Cotswolds. To explore it, head south from the town of Stroud — driving over the windy heights of Selsley, onwards into a landscape of hilltop copses, stone farmhouses, cider-powered pubs and sluggish streams.

Make for the village of North Nibely and the Tyndale Monument — a tower built to commemorate local hero William Tyndale, a translator of the New Testament — whose lofty heights afford divine views of the Severn Estuary and the hills of Glamorgan beyond. Return to Stroud via the picturesque villages of Nailsworth and Slad — the latter home to author Laurie Lee, and the setting for his immortal 1959 portrait of Cotswolds life, Cider with Rosie. After an evening sipping 2 West Country cider in Stroud, bear eastward the next morning for a visit to the ancient town of Cirencester.

Arrive: From Stroud, take the B4066 to Dursley and North Nibley. Head east to Kingscote, making for the A46, which leads north to Nailsworth. Slad is set in a steep valley just north of Stroud . Cirencester is east of Stroud on the A419.

Stay: The Burleigh Court Hotel has 18 rooms in a palatial 19th-century mansion in Stroud.

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The Burleigh Court Hotel

Get lost in the Galloway Hills

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Clatteringshaws’ Loch – Galloway Hills, United Kingdom

They may not have the epic vastness of the Highlands, but Scotland’s Galloway Hills have a subtle drama all of their own with forested slopes above which red kites circle, glittering lochs where anglers congregate, and meadows where stags strut about. Start out a road trip in the region by heading south from Ayr on a single-track road across the park towards Kirkcudbright (pronounced kirr-koo-bree) — a seaside town of 17th-century merchants’ houses. The next day, head westward along the misty shores of Fleet Bay before turning inland into the hills along the Queensway— a scenic stretch of the A712, winding among lowland meadows strewn with thistle and heather.

At the end of the road is Clatteringshaws’ Loch, a reservoir in whose still waters the rolling Galloway Hills are reflected, and a trailhead for paths into the hills beyond.

Arrive: From Ayr follow the A713 towards Kirkcudbright, from which the A75 and A712 lead you into the Galloway Forest Park.

Stay: The Selkirk Arms Hotel is an atmospheric 18th-century hotel in Kirkcudbright where Rabbie Burns once penned his ditties.

Weavethrough Dartmoor National Park

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Dartmoor National Park

The desolate, melancholy beauty of Dartmoor is arguably best appreciated from behind the wheel of a car— with granite-topped tors looming in and out of view, lonely coaching inns and millennia-old standing stones by the roadside. Plot a course from Exeter towards Moretonhampstead through moorland on the B3212, popping north for an afternoon exploring the Jazz-Age country pile Castle Drogo. The next day, drive west to inspect Postbridge’s 13th-century granite bridge and Princetown’s fearsome 19th-century prison, before returning to Moretonhampstead along the northern edge of the park— being cautious of ponies prone to wandering out into the road (and perhaps hungry, wandering big cats too).

Arrive: Follow the B3212 from Moretonhampstead towards Princetown, before following the A386 to Lydford via Tavistock. Return to Moretonhampstead via the A30 and the A382.

Stay:

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Mill End country hotel

Mill End country hotel has 15 individually styled rooms arranged around a medieval mill, three miles northwest of Moretonhampstead (from £90; millendhotel.com).

6 Life Skills

Unleash your hidden talents, from photographing the south of Spain to catching and cooking dinner in Devon

Learn photography in Cádiz

photography-cadiz

Cadiz epitomises fiery Andalucian living: famed for sherry quaffing, flamenco dancing and boisterous carnivals. Participants on the Luzia Epicurus course get their bearings looking over the city (above), before moving on to the Bodegas Pedro Romero, a six-generation sherry house, and Bolonia beach, with tall dunes giving views across the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa (3-day course from £365, inc excursions and meals, not inc accommodation; luzia-photo-courses.com)

Arrive: Jerez is the closest airport to Cadiz— Iberia offers flights from London Heathrow, changing in Madrid. From here, trains reach Cadiz in half an hour.

Stay: Cadiz’s Hotel Argantonio, in an elegant 19th-century townhouse

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Hotel Argantonio – Cadiz, Spain

Learn to shoot a film in Berlin

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Met Film School – Berlin, Germany

From the riotous clubs of the Weimar Republic in Cabaret to the fall of the Iron Curtain in Goodbye Lenin, Berlin’s history has made it a stirring backdrop to movies. Play a part in this cinematic tradition by joining the Met Film School on a two-day course, shooting around the Tempelhof district. Learn the ins-and-outs of making a movie, from script-editing to lighting techniques, directing professional actors and cutting a mini feature.

Arrive: EasyJet flies to Berlin Schonefeld Airport from Edinburgh, Gatwick, Luton and Manchester while British Airways flies to BerlinTegel airport from Heathrow.

Stay: The Circus Hotel has simple, bright rooms in the Mitte district.

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The Circus Hotel – Berlin, Germany

Learn to ride a horse in South of France

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There can be few landscapes better savoured from a saddle than the French countryside south of Carcassonne — a patchwork of tumbledown villages, looming fortresses, thickly wooded valleys and mountain rivers, with the Pyrenees as a backdrop. To see it, join Unicorn Trails’ Pyrenean short break — a three-night horse-riding trip suitable for novices, clippety-clopping atop trusty steeds. Participants are based at the village of Cranes, spending three nights stabled in a rustic b&b and passing the days trotting through the oak forests nearby with an instructor. Among the destinations on the itinerary is Rennes-le-Château, a hilltop town that enjoyed five minutes of fame after being mentioned in The Da Vinci Code.

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Rennes-le-Château – France

Arrive: Ryanair flies to Carcassonne from London Stansted and Liverpool, with seasonal flights from East Midlands and Glasgow.

Salisbury – United Kingdom

In 2015, Salisbury popped the champagne  for the 800th anniversary of its greatest treasure, the Magna Carta

Essential information:

Population: 45,000

Foreign visitors per year: 1 million

Language: English

Unit of currency: Pound sterling (£)

Cost index: pint of local ale £3.60 (US$5.90), double room £85 (US$140), afternoon tea with scones and cream £15 (US$24.70), cathedral tower tour £10 (US$16.50).

Why go ASAP?

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Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary celebration in Salisbury – United Kingdom

For too long travellers have considered Salisbury a short stop on the way to Stonehenge. But in 2015, Salisbury popped the champagne  for the 800th anniversary of its greatest treasure, the Magna Carta.

It would be hard to underestimate the impact of the ‘Great Charter’. Sworn and sealed on the banks of the Thames in 1215, the Magna Carta limited royal power and established the rights of common people. It became a bedrock of English law and inspired movements for justice and freedom worldwide.

The eighth centenary of this iconic parchment is igniting revelry across England – folk opera, calypso tributes and 13th-century ale-brewing have all been mooted as ways to mark the occasion. As home to the best-preserved original copy (the others are in London’s British Library and Lincoln Castle), Salisbury will be leading the charge.

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Salisbury Cathedral – Saqlisbury, United Kingdom

The lightning rod for the celebrations was Salisbury Cathedral, the neck-straining medieval masterpiece whose Chapter House holds the Magna Carta. The cathedral itself boasts a clutch of superlatives, with the tallest spire in Britain, the world’s oldest working clock and Britain’s largest cloister.

Festivals & Events:

Enjoy two smouldering weeks of contemporary sculpture, photography and installations at the Salisbury International Arts Festival, starting 23 May.

See Salisbury in bloom during Magna Flora, the enormous week-long flower festival.

Life-changing experiences:

Recall the days of wimpled maidens and warring kings by exploring the city’s medieval sights, starting with the stone-carved Poultry Cross in the market square.

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Poultry Cross in the market square of Salisbury – United Kingdom

A gilded lion and unicorn still glower down from the coat of arms crowning the North Gate, a stone archway thought to date to 1327. And the dark of heart won’t want to miss the Gothic Church of St Thomas Becket, harbouring apocalyptic murals that still elicit a thrill of fear.

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St Thomas Becket Church – Salisbury, United Kingdom

Who could conceive of bypassing the pubs? Salisbury’s nightlife has Purple Flag status, issued to impeccably polite and welcoming cities – an awfully British award, if ever there was one. Drink in views over the River Avon at the Old Mill, or bask in old-time ambiance at The Cloisters. Sup local ciders and ales (try Three Daggers) but look out for local wines too (a’Beckett’s Vineyard produces some very quaffable drops.

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The Old MIll Hotel – Salisbury, United Kingdom

Current craze :

Old Sarum isn’t simply an ancient fort, it’s also a place where adrenaline junkies can skydive or soar in small aircraft. Propeller-heads can also get their fix from the ground at the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.

Random facts:

  • Wiltshire locals are nicknamed `moonrakers’, dating from when smugglers hid contraband in local ponds, fishing it out by night. If questioned, they’d claim to be raking the moon’s reflection to get cheese.

  • Are Salisbury’s historic properties rousing déjà vu? You may have seen them on screen. Stately Mompesson House was a film location for 1995’s Sense and Sensibility.

  • If you stumble leaving the pub, blame the local ghosts rather than an excess of ale. Several sites in Salisbury are thought to be haunted, from pubs to crossroads to Debenhams department store.

Classic restaurant experience:

You need not fear an empty belly in a region with a constellation of Michelin-starred restaurants and excellent pub food. For something truly special, family-run Charter 1227 restaurant serves up lip-smacking and locally sourced British cuisine. Think suckling pork belly that melts on the tongue, guinea fowl and unapologetically indulgent parfaits and terrines.

Most bizarre sight:

Crop circles appear near Salisbury every summer and the phenomenon is eagerly discussed in the local Crop Circle Information and Co-ordination Centre. Just look out for those little green men.

6 WEEKENDS ON WATER

Don’t limit yourself to terra firma-whether on a kayak outing or in a gently rocking berth at bedtime, H2O is the way to go

1. SLEEP ON A BARGE IN FRANCE

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Bella Mia boat on French Canal du Midi

It may have an Italian name and the British red ensign flying from its stern, but the Bella Mia is moored on the resolutely French Canal du Midi – an epic waterway that links the Mediterranean with the Atlantic near Bordeaux, passing rows of plane trees, ancient chateaux and shaded vineyards en route.
Available to up to four staying guests, the houseboat is every bit as charming as the setting – with dark mahogany interiors and a smart deck on which to sip coffee, scoff croissants and watch other boats sweeping past.
Should these inspire you to set sail on an adventure, the owner of the boat will happily captain her on a short day trip along the canal (£35 per person). Alternatively, you can use land-based transport to reach the nearby town of Béziers – home to a 19th-century aqueduct, where the Canal du Midi passes spectacularly over the Orb River on its way to the sea.
ARRIVE: Béziers’ tiny airport is served by Ryanair flights from Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester and Luton.

2. MIX GIN AND LUXURY IN LONDON

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The Sunborn London Yacht at Royal Victoria dock

Modes of transport and alcohol consumption typically don’t make for sensible bedfellows. One notable exception to this rule is the (stationary) Butler’s Gin barge, moored amid the graffiti-tagged warehouses of Hackney Wick, East London.
Here, on weekends, the company offers tastings of its Victorian-recipe tipple, with drinkers sipping gin cocktails and hearing of London’s long, ruinous love affair with the spirit, while narrow boats putter past outside.
Afterwards, see a different side to the capital’s waterways by bagging a berth on the Sunborn London – an oligarch-grade luxury yacht moored at Royal Victoria Dock. The finest rooms have balconies from which you can admire the Millennium Dome, Canary Wharf and all the comings and goings of river traffic on the Thames.
ARRIVE: Trains to London cost upwards of £39 from Bristol, £55 from Manchester and £70 from Edinburgh.

3. SAIL CROATIA’S DALMATIAN COAST

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Kayaking on Dalmatian Coast – Croatia

The Dalmatian Coast is perhaps the Mediterranean’s most intricate coastline – a wondrous muddle of long limestone peninsulas, juniper-and pine-shaded islets and rolling hills that rise almost sheer from the waves.
It’s also well within reach for a weekend’s nautical odyssey, if you join Huck Finn Croatia’s three-day Weekend Sailing Trip in the region. Participants cast off from a bay near Dubrovnik aboard a modern yacht, whose skipper then plots a course for the nearby Elafiti Islands. Here, days are whiled away snorkeling the shallow seas, while nights see participants staying aboard, drifting off as the currents of the Adriatic beat against the hull. The trip culminates in the village of Ston – home to ramparts that are Croatia’s small-scale answer to the Great Wall of China.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch, Norwegian and Thomson fly to Dubrovnik from major UK airports – most flights run April to October.

4. MAKE LIKE A MERMAID IN COPENHAGEN

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CPH Living Hotel – Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a spiritual home to seafarers from marauding Vikings to the Little Mermaid, so it’s only fitting that the most stirring views of the Danish capital are to be had from the water.
Or, more specifically, from aboard the CPH Living Hotel – a barge moored in the harbour in the Christianshavn neighbourhood. On board, rooms feature all the usual Scandinavian design trimmings – artful lighting, blonde wood surfaces and, best of all, huge windows from which you can watch speedboats and sightseeing cruisers slip past, all while wearing your jimjams.
ARRIVE: BA, easyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair and SAS fly to Copenhagen from nine UK airports, including Aberdeen, Heathrow, Newcastle and Stansted.

5. GO CANOEING DOWN THE WYE

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Canoeing the Wye Valley – England

‘O Sylvan Wye,’ wrote William Wordsworth, watching over the Welsh river from his hilltop perch high above. ‘Thou wanderer thro’ the woods/How often has my spirit turned to thee!’ The Romantic poet never got to travel the Wye in a canoe, however. Take a voyage down its lower reaches, beginning in Monmouth, and continuing along the Wye Valley to admire the soaring arches of Tintern Abbey and the hilltop views from Devil’s Pulpit.
ARRIVE: There are no railways in the Wye Valley, so the region is best reached by car- Monmouth is 1.1/2 hours’ drive from Birmingham and 2.3/4 hours from London.
STAY: Redhill Grange b&b has rooms in a three-century-old barn on the edge of Monmouth.

6. SEA KAYAK IN THE TUSCAN ARCHIPELAGO

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Elba Island – Tuscany, Italy

Robinson Crusoe-type castaway kicks can be hard to come by in Europe, but a helpful place to start is Elba – an island of stony headlands and bright blue bays, a few miles adrift of the Italian mainland. Sea Kayak Italy offers two-day kayaking trips around its shores, accompanied by an experienced tutor, where seafarers steer among the skerries and the starfish-dotted shallows, while savouring the views up to Elba’s wooded interior. Participants camp Crusoe-style for the night on a secluded beach.
ARRIVE: The closest major airport to Elba is at Pisa, with a wide choice of flights from the UK. Silver Air flies onward to Elba.
STAY: Albergo Le Briciole has rooms with fine views over the Elba coast.