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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United Kingdom.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United Kingdom.
Brunel’s railway bridge, its brick arches reflected in the river, was doing its best to blend in with the water meadows just south of Goring-on-Thames. Coots were nesting on it as I passed under it one early- summer morning. Saplings sprouted from its piers. Bushes peeped over its parapet. But the camouflage couldn’t conceal the railway that Isambard Kingdom Brunel built it for, back in 1838.
I emerged into sunshine to see a train hurtle across the top, intruding on my parallel universe. As suited passengers prepared for meetings in the Big Smoke just 45 minutes away, here I was beginning another day in a drowsy backwater, immersed in fields of sage-scented purple knapweed. My approach to the capital was a grassy tow path, passing banks of blue forget-me- nots, and my meetings would be with moorhens. Trains on the Great Western Railway might run two or three times faster than when Brunel built his bridges, yet the Thames still flows below at the same pensive pace. I’d lived near its banks for years but never found time, among modern pressures and mundane drudgery, to see its forgotten corners. But, reading aloud a chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows to a young relative one evening, I realised that much of the idyll in his 1908 publication lay virtually on my doorstep. If I took off, how easily might I find his timeless wilderness?
Walk the Thames Path from Oxford to London, and the frantic contemporary world recedes behind a leafy veil. Clocks and schedules fade to changing skies and the slow shift of seasons. Time flows backwards. The river, as it heads for the North Sea, is a water-world of nostalgia: wisteria-hung public houses, with tables among riverside apple trees; unhurried tow paths, where the only sounds are rasping mallards, rain on the reed-framed water, or cuckoos calling over sun-warmed fields. Poets, from Shelley to T S Eliot, were inspired by it; so were painters, among them the mystical Stanley Spencer, as well as novelists such as H G Wells and Jerome K Jerome, whose Three Men in a Boat is a comic masterpiece.
On a scudding-cloud morning in early June I set off from Oxford’s Folly Bridge to follow the meandering Thames by boat, on foot and aboard the odd steam train. From this bridge, on mid-Victorian afternoons, maths prof Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) would row Alice Liddell and her sisters, entertaining them with surreal adventure stories that began with a now-famous girl following a white rabbit down a hole. As I stood by a traffic-choked street, 151 years after Alice in Wonderland was published, it was easy to believe London was only an hour away by train. But boarding the Edwardian Lady Ethel, an open-topped, royal-blue craft, I was soon gliding into the past, spotting the long-horned cattle and lacy cow parsley of meadows, Oxford’s ochre spires sliding behind dappled oaks.
Salter’s Steamers was founded by two brothers back when Lewis Carroll was rowing Alice. The same family runs the riverboat company today. I was almost alone on the two-hour trip to the market town of Abingdon, with Tim doing the rope-work, Mark at the helm.
As we drifted by flowering chestnuts and carpets of buttercups, they talked about the boat-lovers who escape to the sanctuary of the water every weekend; about the ‘rich and shameless’ living in the riverside properties; and about the Thames itself, which lashes out now and again at those who try to build too near.
After 18 years working on this stretch of water, Mark, it seemed, had absorbed its calm. ‘When it comes to the Thames,’ he said, gnomically, as we parted by Abingdon Bridge, ‘you either get it, or you don’t’. I recalled his words some hours later, as I rested among blooming hawthorns and stately poplars, looking back down the river’s mazy curves from the grassy ramparts of an Iron Age hill fort. I ate my last pain au raisin (from Abingdon’s Patisserie Pascal), gazing across at Dorchester, a mossy-roofed village with a square-towered abbey church.
I’d seen almost nobody on the 14km walk, just weeping willows dipping their long, green tresses in the meditative Thames. Now fork-tailed red kites wheeled over the beech-crowned chalk, dragonflies darted among ox-eye daisies, and I felt myself relax. ‘Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it,’ says Grahame’s Water Rat in his hymn to ‘messing about on the river’.
I was, I felt, ’getting’ the Thames.
But I couldn’t linger, not if I wanted to get a bed before nightfall. The medieval arches and flagstone floors of 12th-century Fyfield Manor lay a good walk east, near Wallingford and the old-fashioned bathtub was just what my sore feet needed. Waking in a building fundamentally unchanged for hundreds of years, with a kingfisher-haunted brook burbling through the garden, I wouldn’t have blinked to see Jerome and friends strolling past in striped blazers, or hear Ratty on the riverbank, singing to the ducks.
There was welcome respite for my feet that morning: a nostalgic jaunt on the Cholsey and Wallingford steam railway. The 4km-long branch line didn’t make much downstream progress, but the noisy red and green steam engine was a delight, drawing waving spectators on its cross¬country puff to Cholsey, where Agatha Christie is buried in the churchyard.
Feet reinvigorated, I could feel the river’s reedy calm calling as I hurried along Cholsey’s sycamore-fringed Ferry Lane, back towards the Thames. The tow path soon led to the hamlet of Moulsford and a drink outside the Beetle & Wedge Boathouse, where I watched geese and swans glide on their rippling highway, enjoying the smell of the Beetle’s charcoal barbecue. The Beetle & Wedge is the ‘little riverside inn’ in Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat where George and J stop off on a walk and where the trout on the wall in the bar, which all the locals claim to have caught, turns out to be made of plaster. It’s also H G Wells’s Potwell Inn, where Mr Polly takes a job. Just as Wells described it, the rose-trellised garden runs down to a broad bend in the Thames; and, as the light faded, the river started to resemble Jerome’s imagined watery idyll near the start of the novel, full of sighing rushes and rustling trees.
Head to King’s Cross St. Pancras between Muggle platforms 9 and 10 and onto platform 9 3/4 where you can test your trolley-pushing skills. Walkthrough the doors of St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London and you’ll step straight into a scene from the film, as the entrance to the station was shot in this very spot.
The first trip any budding wizard must make is to the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley, aka London’s Leaden hall market. Head straight to Ollivanders to collect your essential wizarding accessory – a wand. Don’t miss the secret entrance through The Leaky Cauldron, which is actually an opticians in Bull’s Head Passage.
Each year, Harry and his chums make their way to Hogwarts and the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland is the famous bridge and train line that the Hogwarts Express travels along. The surrounding countryside makes for some wonderful hiking, take a ride on the Jacobite – the real steam train that Potter travelled on.
Standing over 150 metres above sea level, this imposing tower, dedicated to the real-life Braveheart, is a fitting tribute to a legendary Scottish hero
On a September day in 1297, Scottish national hero William Wallace stood atop the Abbey Craig hill, closely observing the English army in the moments before what would become his greatest success. Almost six centuries later, this dramatic peak would become the site of a spectacular monument to his legacy Born into a minor landowning family, little else is known about Wallace’s upbringing and path to heroism. A patriot at heart, the young warrior made a name for himself attacking Lanark in May 1297, a town held by the English. His assassination of the town’s English sheriff won him fame and notoriety, and he was soon able to gather together a band of commoners and gentry, united by a common enemy. And so began the first truly organised resistance against the growing English influence in Scotland.
The imposing monument overlooks the site of Wallace’s most notable victory over the English – the Battle of Stirling Bridge. As King Edward I’s men began to cross the narrow Stirling Bridge, hoping to encroach further on Scottish lands, Wallace picked his moment. He waited until half of the English army had made it to the other side, before launching his attack from Abbey Craig. The battle is revered in history as one of Scotland’s finest moments, and the 27-year-old Wallace became one of the nation’s greatest heroes. As a prize for his victory, Wallace was awarded a knighthood by the Scottish royal court. He fought once again at Falkirk, although defeat marked the start of his downfall and, just a few years later, he was captured by the English and hanged, drawn and quartered in London in 1305.
A revival of interest in Celtic nationality and culture in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the construction of a monument in his honour. Literary figures such as Robert Burns and Walter Scott began to romanticise the nation’s dialect, capturing the imagination of Scots that had lost their connection to the land and its unique history. William Wallace provided an ideal figurehead for this cultural renaissance.
It was decided that a bold, statement-making structure would be built to commemorate his remarkable impact on Scottish history. Once Stirling had been chosen as the location – resolving the fight between Glasgow and Edinburgh for the prestigious selection – a competition to design the tower was held. After 106 plans were sent in, including some that were disqualified for being too ‘anti- English’, a Gothic Revival design submitted by Glasgow architect JT Rochead won. The plan featured many subtle homages to Wallace, including stained glass windows, which portrayed a glowing likeness of the man himself.
“A bold, statement-making structure was required”
In order to finance this ambitious project, funds were sourced both from public subscriptions and foreign donors. One such benefactor was the Italian reunification leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, a sympathiser of the growing affection for Scottish heritage and nationalism in the Victorian era. At a cost of £18,000 (over £1 million in today’s money), construction began on Bannockburn Day in 1861, and it was opened on the 572nd anniversary of Wallace’s historic victory at the site.
TOP OF THE TOWER
Be warned that there is a mammoth 246-step clamber to the top. However, there’s a space on each level to catch your breath and absorb more of Wallace’s fascinating story. The climb is worth it as it ends at the crown of the monument, a regal tribute to Wallace that can be seen from miles around. Take a moment to reflect on the stunning view of the Ochil Hills, just as the ‘Guardian of Scotland’ did more than 700 years ago.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR…
CALL TO ARMS
The first floor of the tower narrates the story of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and features original weapons, armour and equipment used by each side.
THE HALL OF HEROES
Climb 64 steps to the next level and visit Scotland’s unofficial ‘hall of fame’, featuring busts of other great Scots such as Gladstone, Robert the Bruce and Rabbie Burns.
The Wallace Sword, Scotland’s very own Excalibur, is the centrepiece here. Whether Wallace actually used it is debatable, but its 5’4” length has to be seen to be believed.
BUILD YOUR OWN
The final floor is home to an interactive exhibit of the monument’s construction, where youngsters can try their hand at building their own tower.
The monument’s Gothic peak is an architectural wonder, featuring intricate battlements and ornate decorations that would not look out of place on a fairytale castle.
VIEW TO A THRILL
Spot the Scottish Highlands in the distance, with the Firth of Forth, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle adding to this magical view, which is worth climbing up 246 steps for.
Some more Scottish gems for you to discover:
On the way into Stirling town centre, visitors can see the site of Wallace’s greatest victory, and cross over the 15th-century bridge that now stands there.
Visible from the Wallace Monument, Stirling is one of Scotland’s finest castles, featuring banqueting halls and a royal palace within its hilltop grounds.
Four miles south of the Wallace Monument, watch a 3D demonstration of this other famous battle, then re-enact it.
No trip to northern England is complete without a wander around a few of the truly splendid Georgian stately homes
Famed for its numerous appearances in film and TV, Lyme Park has something for everyone. Whether you want to play an Edwardian piano, admire the artwork or just stroll through the deer park and let younger visitors loose on the adventure playground, Lyme is sure to be a great day out.
One of the most magnificent stately homes in Great Britain, Castle Howard has long been a favourite of many filmmakers. With its evocative interiors, breathtaking architecture, hectares of parkland and a packed schedule of events for everyone in the family, this is not a place to miss.
Harewood House just oozes Georgian grandeur from every stone and every inch, from its Capability Brown gardens to its era-spanning collection of art and artefacts. There’s also a richly-stocked bird garden and, for the younger visitors, a farm, which features everything from pigs to penguins.
Although Dunham Massey was built in the 18th century, the site also contains Elizabethan features and Victorian structures too. In the house are exhibitions telling the remarkable story of the family who made this their home, while outside red deer roam the serene parkland s.
Once home to one of the most notorious families in England, Seaton Delaval Hall gives visitors a chance to travel back through time and meet the infamous Delaval family. Catch your breath in the rolling grounds and enjoy a choice of many different family- friendly activities.
The picturesque landscape of Dumfries and Galloway is home to some truly inspiring historic churches. Here are five of the best
Although ruins are all that remain of the church built here in 1389, it is still possible to get an impression of the building that was once a centre of worship. The ornate tomb of 15th-century Princess Margaret can be viewed here, and it’s well worth a stop.
Three of the eight stones here date back to the 5th century, providing evidence of early Christian worship in Dumfries and Galloway. Considered to be one of the earliest Christian sites across all of Scotland, Kirkmadrine played a vital part in the religious development of the nation.
Cruggleton Church dates back to the 1100s, when it was built by Fergus, who was the first Laird of Galloway. Once derelict, this near-perfect example of a former Romanesque church was fully restored in the Victorian era. The church is a gorgeous, tranquil place that is perfect for a wander along its nearby coastal path.
This chapel was once a place of sanctuary for Medieval pilgrims who were on their way to Whithorn Priory and Saint Ninian’s chapel does still welcome modern pilgrims to leave stones at its cairn. Set on a dramatic hilltop, this is a truly evocative place that will truly captivate travellers.
The ruins of this 10th-century chapel were first discovered back in the 1950s. It is a simple rectangular chapel aligned east-west in Christian tradition. It is believed that this was another stopping place for Irish pilgrims who were on the road to Whitehorn Priory, but little else is known about the history of this tremendously peaceful site.
Britain has so much to offer the casual historian in terms of days out and excursions that the choice can be a little overwhelming. Whether it’s castles or museums that whet your appetite for learning about the past, we’ve shortlisted five of the best historical destinations that are guaranteed to excite, inform and entertain.
Located between the Sussex towns of Arundel and Storrington, Amberley Museum is dedicated to local industrial heritage. Exhibits include the telecommunications hall, electricity hall, working printshop, road steam engines and more. The museum is home to traditional craftspeople such as the wheelwrights and blacksmith, with a cafe, gift shop, nature trails and picnic areas. The museum hosts more than 50 events ranging from children’s activity days to classic vehicle shows. February half term events include Opening Weekend on 13-14 February, Toddler Tuesday on the 16th and Electric Amberley Activity Day on the 17th.
All events are listed on the museum’s website and Facebook page. After half term the museum is open from March to October, seven days a week during Sussex school holidays and on Bank Holidays, otherwise Wednesday to Sunday.
Experience 700 years of history at the castle once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and also home to Anne of Cleves. Set in the beautiful Kent countryside, the original Medieval castle with its gatehouse and walled bailey was built in 1270, with the Tudor dwelling added by the Boleyn family.
The splendid panelled rooms contain fine furniture, tapestries, antiques and an important collection of Tudor portraits. Two prayer books that belonged to Anne Boleyn are on display – one is believed to be the prayer book she took to her execution at the Tower. Despite its splendour, Hever Castle also houses lots of armour and gruesome torture devices. A permanent exhibition brings the 16th century to life with costumed figures illustrating key events in Anne’s life at the castle.
The bravery and sacrifice of the aircrew who took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940 continues to inspire us more than 75 years after it happened. The story of how fewer than 3,000 men took to the sky to defeat the Luftwaffe and end Hitler’s plans to invade this country is brilliantly told in the new Spitfire-shaped Wing building at the National Memorial to the Few. Situated on Kent’s famous white cliffs at Capel-le-Ferne near Folkestone, the multimedia Scramble Experience gives a sense of what it must have been like to take part in possibly the most important battle this country has ever won.
The memorial itself is an inspirational stone carving of an airman gazing reflectively out over the Channel, while the site is also home to a replica Hurricane and Spitfire and the Christopher Foxley- Norris Memorial Wall, where the names of those who took part are listed.
Exploring the history of a city like York can be an expensive day out or short break. Luckily the JORVIK Group offer the Pastport – allowing access to five of the best city-centre attractions throughout the year for one great, discounted price. Discover a Medieval townhouse, once hidden behind a modern facade and now restored to its former glory at Barley Hall.
Explore the bloody impact of the Wars of the Roses on York at the Richard III & Henry VII Experiences on the famous city walls. Experience hands-on archaeology at DIG – An Archaeological Adventure. Unfortunately following the floods in York over the Christmas period, JORVIK Viking Centre will be closed until further notice but any Pastports purchased during this time will be valid for 24 months, allowing you to re-visit York and re-discover the Viking Age at JORVIK!
Saturday 20 February, 1-4.30pm
Take a boat trip down the Thames and immerse yourself in the myths of the river and dark stories of crime and death from Execution Dock to the Great Stink. Join experts Scott Wood, author of London Urban Legends: The Corpse On The Tube and a regular contributor to Londonist, and Julie Chandler, a Blue Badge Guide and founder of London Town Tours, as they narrate the stories of the river.
The tour goes from Westminster Pier to the 02 and back again, passing by the famous landmarks of the city including London’s iconic bridges, the London Eye, the Tower of London, London’s Docklands and Greenwich. Book now for £38 by calling 020 7001 9844.
Brexit may have been controversial for the Brits, but travelers eager to visit London have reason to celebrate. Politics aside, the aftermath of Brexit brings tourism benefits to Americans because of a favorable exchange rate and more affordable transatlantic airfares.
Anglophiles drawn to the English capital will find that the city is still an eclectic mix of royal, modern, and indie. Even native Londoners would need more than a lifetime to uncover everything that their city offers. Venturing beyond the historic center and popular must-see spots can feel as though you’ve wandered past a series of connected villages that sport football scarves as flags. Sometimes, it can seem like you’ve even, in the tradition of British television treasure Doctor Who, traversed through time and space itself.
In spite of the current legislative upheaval, visitors will discover a welcoming city. Diversity is diffused throughout London’s 60,000 winding streets, from the experimental artist spaces to neighborhood ethnic eateries to the stocked stalls that line Saturday markets. In London, hipsters, global finance leaders, and expats convene as equals with a pint in hand at the local pub.
And that, Brexit or not, is a pretty great deal.
Situate your stay along the Thames, the aquatic artery that threads through the heart of London. Just steps from both the river and Trafalgar Square, the CORINTHIA boasts Victorian architecture, a planet-size crystal chandelier, a florist, and a swanky spa featuring an ice fountain and sleeping pods. Across the street from the Tower of London and a few minutes’ stroll from the river is CITIZENM. The 370-room hotel includes a lobby made to feel like your living room, if your living room were outfitted with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and Union Jack accent pieces.
Plus, there are Instagram-ready workspaces with complimentary espresso, a library saturated with style books, and a selection of iMacs in case you left your laptop at home. For an alternative stay, try the GOOD HOTEL, a floating former detention center for illegal immigrants. This new not-for-profit hotel will spend five years in the Royal Victoria Docks, serving up local craft beers in what was once the mess hall and waterfront views on its rooftop garden. Better yet: All the Good Hotel’s profits go into an education and entrepreneurship program for its staff.
Each year, Glastonbury makes the headlines with images of British celebrities trudging through the mud in gumboots and hot pants. However, despite the cheap tabloid shots, this long-running festival maintains a focus on social activism and environmental issues, as well as a serious emphasis on music and the performing arts.
It has a reputation as the biggest greenfield festival in the world – since the inaugural get-together in 1970, it now runs over five days and attracts more than 175,000 attendees.
Glastonbury brings out the big guns – headline artists over the years have included such rock and pop behemoths as David Bowie, Van Morrison, The Smiths, Radiohead, The White Stripes, Neil Young and U2. In more recent years, the festival has widened its musical appreciation to include rap and R&B artists like Jay Z and Dizzie Rascal, and on some of the smaller stages you’ll be treated to up-and-coming acts before they hit the big time.
Which might explain this festival’s obsession with fire. Sitting at the same latitude as the bottom half of Greenland, the locals know all about the cold, so don’t expect any sympathy if you’re a sensitive mainlander.
It’s easy to see why the whole thing comes across as just a wee bit crazy – rowdy local men dressed as Vikings, tramping shoulder-to-shoulder through the centre of Lerwick carrying flaming torches. It’s a fiery, boozy, boisterous celebration of the island’s Viking heritage and cultural ancestry, which culminates in the burning of a life-sized replica of a longship.
The parade is men-only (must be a Viking thing) but don’t think that women won’t get in on the partying that happens after the bonfire. The whole thing only lasts 24 hours, but it’s non-stop from start to finish.
If your idea of paradise involves more whisky than you could poke a caber at, then yes, this is paradise.
A CABER? WHAT?
You know, the caber toss? Never mind. The point is that you’re in Scotland, and is there anything more Scottish than whisky? And this is where the spirit comes to life, a five-day celebration of the art, craft and business of making and drinking the water of life.
You won’t be disappointed. The festival takes place in the towns, villages and 50 distilleries of Speyside, with some 400 events over its five days. There are distillery tours and tastings, talks, whisky fairs, fine dining dinners, live music…
It’s a truly satisfying festival, blending single malt with the singular beauty of rural Scotland and its convivial hospitality. You’ll go for the whisky but stay for Speyside itself. Ok, and the whisky. But you’ll stay, that much is certain.