Win with Big Kid Bingo!

big kid bingo

Eyes down, everyone, because we’re asking you to join us for a fun game of Big Kid Bingo.

Big Kid Bingo is a fun way to inspire you to get out and do things as a family this year. Not only are we giving you some ideas for incredible, fun family activities but taking part will also enter you into our monthly prize draws where you could win a host of prizes – including a £1,000 cottages4you voucher!

Simply click on the image above to reveal your ‘Big Kid Bingo’ card and start playing.

Cottage of the Week – Garden House nr. Petersfield

Garden House is the ideal holiday property for National Gardening Week, not to mention the ideal retreat for couples looking to explore this superb part of Hampshire! Approached within beautiful, peaceful gardens, it is set 30 metres from the owners’ home (a garden designer) and situated on the edge of the South Downs National Park, within a 2-minute walk of a large footpath network leading to the breathtaking views of Butser Hill, Queen Elizabeth Country Park and Windmill Hill.

Find more info and make a booking on our website.

Britain’s Greatest and Greenest Gardens

There’s no denying that Britain is home to some truly spectacular gardens. All over the country there are a number of both old and new open gardens which are open to visitors and are the perfect excuse to take a holiday or a mini break to visit. Next week is National Gardening Week and so to celebrate, we’re bringing you our selection of Britain’s greatest and greenest gardens, which are a must see when holidaying in the UK.

Kew Gardens (London, England)

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, are located in the Richmond, London, providing over 121 hectares of space which features open spaces and greenhouses and is home to the largest collections in the world. The gardens originally opened in 1759 and are also home to a number of historic buildings. Some of Kew Gardens’ main attractions include Alpine House, featuring a striking apex roof, Chokushi-Mon which was designed to look like a traditional Japanese Garden and located near to the Pagoda, as well as Kew Palace and others. Kew Gardens offers the perfect opportunity to get out of the busy city and enjoy some spectacular greenery.

The Eden Project (Cornwall, England)

The Eden Project in Cornwall is a uniquely designed attraction featuring striking domes which are home to plant collections made up of specimens from all over the world. An ideal option for rainy British days, the Eden Project gives you the chance to stay dry whilst exploring the exhibitions as well as get a taste of both tropical and Mediterranean environments. The Eden Project opened in 2001 and is one of the most popular visitor attractions in the UK. Some of the must-see attractions include the Biomes, The Core and The Seed. Visitors can also take the opportunity to find out about the charitable and environmental projects undertaken by the Eden Project, whilst there are also plenty of fun activities for children.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales (Carmarthen, Wales)

Wales National Botanic Gardens

National Botanic Garden

Located near Llanarthney, the National Botanic Garden of Wales is one of the most popular attractions in the area, and within easy distance of popular holiday destinations such as Tenby and Saundersfoot. As well as being open for visitors, the gardens are also an important area for botanical research, and visitors will be able to take the opportunity to discover the work that takes place within the gardens. Whilst the gardens only opened in 2000, their history dates back to the 17th century and the Middleton family of Oswestry who resided there. Explore the gardens or enjoy attractions such as the meerkats, the Gallery, the Ghost Forest and many others, providing a fantastic day out for all of the family to enjoy.

Drummond Gardens (Perthshire, Scotland)

Located in Drummond Castle, Perthshire the gardens and the grounds have existed since the days of James VI and Charles I. Since then the gardens have seen renovations to maintain the original features, most notably in the 19th and 20th centuries. The grounds are truly beautiful, designed in traditional Italian style as well as featuring French influences. Whilst visitors are not able to access the castle itself, the gardens have plenty to offer and are a fine example of historic formal gardens, with plenty of events taking place throughout the year. One of the finest gardens in Scotland, Drummond Castle Gardens are a must-see.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan (Cornwall, England)

One of the most popular botanical gardens in the UK, the Lost Gardens of Heligan have plenty to offer for those who enjoy these types of attractions, as well as providing a great family day out. Built in the 18th century through to the 20th century by the Tremayne family, they are a larger part of the family’s estate. Whilst the gardens were neglected following the First World War, they underwent restoration in the 1990s and now feature a number of plants from all over the world, including aged plants. Some of the most popular attractions within the gardens include The Jungle, the pineapple pit (the last in Europe), the Mud Maid and the Giant’s Head. If you’re in the Cornwall area or are looking for somewhere interesting to visit, the Lost Gardens of Heligan is ideal.

With plenty of sights to see, you’ll be amazed at the range and beauty of Britain’s best gardens featuring plants and flowers from all over the world and a number of conservation projects aimed at helping the environment. Pay a visit to any of the gardens listed above or any other in the UK and enjoy celebrating National Gardening Week. For more information about National Gardening Week activities taking place near you, visit the website.

Cottage of the Week – Stonehouse Farm Cottage, Crowborough

This attractive holiday cottage resides within 60 acres of woodland and fields with abundant wildlife – making it perfect for nature lovers! Single-storeyed and detached, it makes an ideal base for fishing (with access to carp ponds) and walking within the High Weald, an AONB. Royal Tunbridge Wells is 7 miles, Groombridge Place Gardens and the Enchanted Forest 5 miles and the Bluebell Railway 7 miles. Easy access to London by train (about an hour)

Sleeps 2 and 2 pets. Find more info on Stonehouse Farm Cottage’s listing on cottages4you.

Britain’s Best Castles

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Caerphilly Castle: spot the ‘leaning tower’!

Unless you’ve been on a desert island for the last couple of weeks, you’ll know that the much loved, critically acclaimed and epic series Game of Thrones has returned to our TV screens. Filmed in a number of locations, including both Scotland and Northern Ireland, there’s no denying that there is some fantastic scenery used, not least of all the many glorious castles featured.

To celebrate the return of this fantastic series, we give you a brief look at some of Britain’s best castles. Plan your next holiday at home and take advantage of some of the most fascinating sights right on your doorstep.

Doune Castle (Stirling, Scotland)

Let’s begin with one of the castles in which the series is filmed. The castle as it stands now was built sometime in the 1400s, although history shows that the castle was originally built at some point in the 13th century, but was most likely damaged during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Designed with a number of features including a courtyard, a 100ft gatehouse and a tower house, it was intended to represent the elegance and status of the royalty who lived there. Visitors can enjoy the grounds following the nature trail that runs through Doune, enjoy an audio tour guided by actor Terry Jones from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, which was also filmed at the castle.

Caerphilly Castle (Caerphilly, South Wales)

Caerphilly Castle is the largest uninhabited castle in Britain (and the second largest castle after Windsor), which features a spectacular moat which is known for being one of the most impressive in the UK. The castle was designed using concentric defences by Gilbert de Clare in 1268. Situated in the heart of the town centre, the castle’s most famous feature is without a doubt its ‘leaning tower’, forming an important part of the town’s landscape. Visitors can also enjoy sights such as the Great Hall and follow the story of the Green Lady who haunts the castle grounds. Caerphilly Castle is often used as a filming location, and most recently has been used to film BBC shows Merlin and Dr Who.

Warwick Castle (Warwick, England)

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Warwick Castle

Built in 1068 by William the Conqueror, Warwick Castle is an important historical castle which was used as a stronghold for centuries and served as a key location throughout many wars. Today, Warwick Castle is one of the most popular castles with tourists in the UK, and offers plenty of activities and festivals throughout the year. Visitor’s won’t want to miss sights such as the Dragon Tower, the Gatehouse and Barbican and of course, the Gaol. This year celebrates 1000 years since the castle was built, and there will be a number of celebrations at the castle to mark this landmark occasion.

Dunluce Castle (County Antrim, Northern Ireland)

If it’s spectacular scenery you’re looking for, you’ll find it all with Dunluce Castle. Located right on the Antrim Coast, the castle sits overlooking the sea, offering some fantastic views both day and night. Visitors can explore the castle on foot, as well as enjoy an audio tour, detailing the history of the castle, which was once the home of the MacDougall clan and was built in the 13th century. Recent archaeological studies have shown that the location was also a former merchant town, possibly destroyed by a fire. The castle is also thought to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel in the Chronicles of Narnia series by CS Lewis. A truly stunning castle, Dunluce is a must see for those travelling to Northern Ireland.

Alnwick Castle (Northumberland, England)

If you’re a fan of the fantasy genre, you will no doubt recognise Alnwick Castle as one of the filming locations for the Harry Potter series, serving as the location for a number of interior and exterior shots of Hogwarts. A large castle which is still partly inhabited by the Duke of Northumberland, it is open to visitors throughout the summer, offering the chance to explore areas such as the Postern Tower, the Knight School and the Sanctuary. The castle is also located next to The Alnwick Gardens, which are also worth a visit if you’re in the area, featuring many different kinds of plants and flowers and an amazing fountain feature.

Visiting some of Britain’s best castles gives you the chance to enjoy beautiful grounds and gardens as well as step back in time and absorb Britain’s rich history. Take a trip to any of the castles mentioned above or any of the other fantastic castles located across the UK to get your own taste of Westeros and Essos.

Britain’s Best Microbreweries

Celebrate the British beer renaissance

The Great British holiday can be thirsty work. Whether you’ve been hiking over hillsides, braving the briny or simply sitting in the sun and watching the world go by, chances are you’ve earned a pint of something cool and refreshing – and, as you’re on a break, why not give the usual fizzy lager or boring best a miss and try something different?

British beer has undergone something of a renaissance recently, after decades of neglect that saw a shift to mass-produced industrial brews. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, is celebrating over 40 years of battling this trend, and it’s paying off: there are now more than 750 breweries in the UK, four times as many as there were 30 years ago. Many of these new arrivals are microbreweries – which, as the name suggests, focus on quality rather than quantity.

Some are literally nothing more than the back room of a pub or a glorified garden shed; others are comparatively slick operations with a wide and ever-changing product range. For instance, several breweries marked the royal wedding by producing commemorative beers, with names such as I Will and Kiss Me Kate (and, for the party poopers, Republic Revolution Red!). Then there are speciality brews flavoured with honey, heather or spices, organic ales, and beers that support local charities.

All of which is good news for real ale fans, of course, but you don’t need a beard and an encyclopaedic knowledge of murky concoctions to appreciate a decent pint. And where better to sample it than right at the source? Many small breweries offer tours that let you see the brewing process and – more importantly – taste the merchandise before buying. What’s more, many of them are in beautiful surroundings with plenty to keep non-drinkers happy. Here are six to visit.

Great for families

black sheep

Black Sheep Brewery: Hearty food and brilliant brews

Black Sheep Brewery

Wellgarth, Masham, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 4EN (01765 689227,)

Open daily; tours £6.95 adults, £4.95 children (under-5s free)

Founded in 1992 by Paul Theakston (of the Yorkshire brewing dynasty – the Black Sheep name is a sly reference to his decision to go it alone when Theakston’s was sold off), this brewery is  now something of a Dales institution. Occupying a solid Victorian building at the entrance to Wensleydale, it has a top-notch visitor centre including a bar (sorry, “Baa…r”) and bistro serving hearty English food: sausage and mash, fish and chips. Children are welcome – older ones will appreciate the bubbling brews and gleaming vats (and might even learn some science!), while youngsters will be drawn to the sheepish memorabilia and groan-worthy puns in the gift shop. Bring your sense of ewe-mour…

Drink this: Riggwelter – described as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, it’s a dark beer with heaps of chocolate malt flavours.

Also in the area: the Wensleydale Creamery – these days, it’s also something of a shrine to Wallace and Gromit.

Great for walkers

Hawkshead Brewery

Mill Yard, Staveley, Cumbria LA8 9LR (01539 822644 )

Open daily; tours Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 2pm or groups by arrangement; £6.50

So successful has this Lake District brewery been that it has outgrown the pretty village where it was christened nine years ago (where Wordsworth spent his schooldays), and moved to a new home on the other side of Lake Windermere. That’s good news for visitors, though, because instead of a ramshackle barn, it now has a glass-walled beer hall that lets you gaze into the brewhouse, cellar and fermentation room while you sup. It serves a range of “beer tapas”, too, ranging from bite-size pickles to a whopping 2lb pork pie. The menu says it serves 4-8, but if you’ve just tramped up a fell or two (High Street, at 2,717ft, is the loftiest nearby) you might see that as a challenge. There’s also regular live music and a summer beer festival.

Drink this: Hawkshead Bitter – named CAMRA’s champion bitter of the northwest, this pale hoppy brew is just the job for thirsty hikers.

Also in the area: four miles to the west lies the town of Windermere. Orrest Head is a modest climb from the centre but rewards you with spectacular views – it’s the walk that got Alfred Wainwright hooked.

Beartown Brewery

Bromley House, Spindle Street, Congleton, Cheshire CW12 1QN (01260 299964, )

Open daily; tours (must be booked ahead); £8.75 per person

“Congleton rare, Congleton rare, sold the Bible to buy a bear.” So says a 17th-century rhyme commemorating an early example of council cutbacks: bear-baiting was big business here, so when a new animal was needed, officials raided funds set aside for a new bible rather than risk disappointing the locals. The tag has stuck, and since 1994 the Beartown brewery has produced a grizzly line-up including Bruins Ruin, Bearly Literate and Pandamonium – two are included in the cost of the tour. It’s close to the centre of this pretty market town, and an ideal refreshment stop after walking to the top of The Cloud, a rocky outcrop at the edge of the Peak District that offers spectacular views across the Cheshire Plain as far as the Welsh mountains.

Drink this: Ginger Bear – brewed in honour of the town’s gingerbread-making tradition, this blond beer is given an added kick by root ginger.

Also in the area: Little Moreton Hall, a grand yet charmingly wonky Tudor manor, as seen on TV in Moll Flanders.

Great for history buffs

St Peter’s Brewery

St Peter’s Hall, St Peter South Elmham, Bungay, Suffolk NR35 1NQ (01986 782322)

Open daily; tours Saturdays & Sundays every hour and a half between 11.00am – 3.30pm; £7.50

In a remote corner of Suffolk, this brewery is housed in a cluster of pretty listed farm buildings beside the 13th-century St Peter’s Hall – now a bar and restaurant with a panelled Tudor dining room and its own moat. In keeping with the historic setting, St Peter’s brews old-fashioned ales such as honey porter and seasonal fruit beers, as well as traditional bitter and mild, using water from its own borehole. In terms of volume, it’s at the top end of the microbrewery spectrum – it produces 83,000 pints a week and exports them around the world – but the ethos is authentically micro. The beer looks the part, too, sold in distinctive oval bottles modelled on a 1770 design.

Drink this: Golden Ale – a pale brew that’s a great British alternative to pilsner.

Also in the area: wander the Norman ruins of Bungay Castle, still impressive after almost 850 years.

Great for nature lovers

Woodforde’s

Broadland Brewery, Woodbastwick, Norwich, Norfolk NR13 6SW (01603 722218)

Open daily; tours generally every second Wednesday in high season; booking essential; £10

Bird-watchers will appreciate Once Bittern beer – named after the secretive birds, more often heard than seen, that inhabit the reedbeds of the Norfolk Broads – especially when they learn that for every pint sold, Woodforde’s will donate a penny to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The breeding population of bitterns in the region is booming (in more ways than one) thanks to the NWT’s efforts, so be sure to stop off at this pretty thatched brewery, tucked away down a quiet lane on the edge of the Broads National Park, and lend your support. Once you’ve bought the beer – made with Norfolk barley and the brewery’s own spring water – you can try to emulate it yourself with the home-brew kits available in the shop. Next door is the brewery tap – the aptly named Fur & Feather Inn, which serves ales straight from the cask and locally sourced food.

Drink this: Once Bittern, of course – a “booming marvellous” copper-coloured brew with a hint of spiciness.

Also in the area: seek out the real thing at NWT’s Hickling Broad reserve, half an hour’s drive away.

Great for purists

Black Isle Brewery

Old Allangrange, Munlochy, Ross-shire IV8 8NZ (01463 811871)

Open daily; tours free

In 1998, David Gladwin set out on a mission “to make top quality beers that could stand among the best in the country – and to do it using organically produced barley and hops”. Since then, his brewery, tucked away amid the lush farmland of the Black Isle, has gone from strength to strength, brewing award-winning beers totally in-house. You can follow the process – from malting and mashing the barley right through to conditioning and bottling on a free tour. A speciality is the bottle-conditioned beers, which undergo extra fermentation in the bottle rather like champagne. The yeasty sediment is good for you, says Gladwin – “it’s full of vitamin B!”

Drink this: Heather Honey Beer – made with honey gathered from the moors, it’s bottle-conditioned and has lively citrus notes.

Also in the area: Inverness, seven miles away, has plenty more drinking dens, including Hootananny, a live music venue with Black Isle beers on tap.

Just a taster

Lots of microbreweries are just too small (or too busy) to cater for visitors, but it’s worth tracking down their beers. Often you can buy on site even if you can’t take a tour; otherwise check out local pubs for these local specialities:

Williams Bros, AlloaClackmannanshire – Fraoch Heather Ale is based on a Pictish recipe that goes back at least 4,000 years. Said to be the oldest style of beer still produced anywhere in the world.

Fox Brewery, Heacham, Norfolk (01485 570345 – “official” tours are only available to groups, but anyone can sample their unusual beers on site at the Fox & Hounds pub. Look out for Samphire Stout (brewed with salty marsh samphire to offset the sweetness of the beer), Grizzly (a honey brew made to a secret recipe from Oregon), and, “subject to the crop”, seasonal plum and cherry beers made with fruit grown by friends of the owners.

Roosters, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire  – look for their floral brews such as Orange Blossom Ale and Elderflower Ale. Perfect summer sipping.

And finally…

BrewDog, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire – one glance at the punkish labels, with names like Trashy Blonde and Hardcore IPA, will tell you that this is no ordinary microbrewery. Until recently, it proudly announced that its Tactical Nuclear Penguin (triple frozen to take it to 32% abv) was the strongest beer in the world. Then some Germans came up with a 40% ale. BrewDog’s response? Sink the Bismarck, weighing in at 41% alcohol. Proceed with caution.