11 Signs that Spring is Springing

Despite being surprised with more snow recently, and still having to occasionally scrape the ice off the windscreen, spring is definitely on its way. (Honest!) There are lots of tiny clues that spring is just around the corner, so dust off those winter blues and look out for these 11 signs of spring…

1. Beautiful birdsong

A reason to love spring!

You’ll start to hear more early morning birdsong at this time of year, as our migrating birds have come home and male birds begin to sing in order to attract a mate. Look out for indigenous birds such as robins and great tits or migrant birds such as chiff chaffs and blackcaps. Book a cottage with a well-established garden and you can look out for birds carrying twigs and moss for nest building at this time of year.

If birdwatching is your thing, why not head to the Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Burscough? This family-friendly venue celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and you’ll find more species than ever before. Make sure you don’t miss the spectacle of the afternoon swan feeding, when thousands of these impressive birds gather. During the Easter holidays, there’s even a giant rubber duck hunt!

For a more ‘natural’ birdwatching experience that still helps you avoid the rain, you could plan a walk that incorporates one of the many bird hides that dot the countryside. We can recommend exploring the rugged landscape around Malham, in Yorkshire – which even appeared in the Harry Potter films – and taking your flask into the hide that looks over Malham Tarn. From here, you’re likely to see great crested grebes, little grebes, tufted ducks, pochard, widgeon, teal and goosander.

2. Flower power

Take a woodland walk

Take a woodland walk

Bluebells and snowdrops are the first to poke their delicate heads through the cold soil. Take a stroll around National Trust property Dunham Massey in Cheshire to see more than 10,000 plants in the cyclamen grove, bluebell meadow and yellow meadow. Any visit is sure to brighten your week.

In spring, wild garlic also grows in abundance around woodland areas, filling the air with its characteristic smell. With pretty white flowers, this plant looks lovely – but can also make a delicious foraged meal. Do a quick internet search and you’ll find a host of tasty suggestions from Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater and the River Cottage Team.

You’ll easily be able to sniff out wild garlic on a woodland walk in Hurst Green, Lancashire. There are a number of varied walks that skirt around the famous Stonyhurst College. Film buffs might recognise this stunning building as the boarding school from Three Men and a Little Lady. The lush landscape nearby is said to have inspired JRR Tolkien when writing about ‘The Shire’.

3. A new season of fresh food

Lovely food and views to drink in

Drink in the view at Dorset (the food’s not bad either!)

There are a host of food fairs and farmers markets across the country in spring. River Cottage’s Spring Food Fair grows in popularity each year. If you’re likely to find yourselves in the beautiful Dorset countryside on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th May, book a ticket to join Hugh and the team. This is a full weekend of growing, cooking and eating!

Saturday 23rd to Monday 25th May will see Blenheim Palace host its first ever Food Festival. The magnificent grounds will be home to cookery demos, children’s workshops, foraging fun and stalls selling mouth-watering treats.

You can also celebrate the season of growing with The Royal Welsh Spring Festival, held on 16th and 17th May. With over 1,300 livestock, poultry and horses, hundreds of tradestands, the only Premier Open Dog Show to be held in Wales, children’s activities, a food and drink quarter, vintage machinery, auction, country leisure and much more, this event has something for everyone

4. Meltwater

River Spey: perfect for rafting

River Spey: perfect for rafting

Visit the Cairngorms National Park in spring and you’ll have a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a wild adventure. White water rafting is at its best at this time of year, as the snow melts from the Cairngorm mountains. There are many companies offering this activity throughout the area. You can white water raft on sections of the River Spey as well as the River Findhorn which some say is one of the best for rafting in Scotland.

5. Woolly Jumpers

One of our favourite signs of spring!

One of our favourite signs of spring!

While all farms stick to a different lambing schedule, there are undoubtedly more lambs frolicking around the fields now than at any other time of year. The warmer weather means you’re more likely to see them outside, playing with their friends and then dashing back to their mums! Take the family to Home Farm in Cambridgeshire and you’ll see a host of rare breed sheep and lambs, as well as goats, cattle, pigs and horses. Families can even take part in farm activities like grooming the donkeys and feeding the pigs.

6. Something Fishy

One for avid anglers

One for avid anglers

Spring is the most action-packed fishing season. From March to May, high water levels disperse large fish to spawn upriver and you’re likely to see those iconic images of salmon leaping against the current. Avid anglers should head to Wales where the beats and tributaries of the River Usk teem with brown trout and substantial salmon bite in the Wye.
The stunning scenery will be at its finest in the spring too.

7. Seeing clearly

Watching the spring skies

Watching the spring skies

At this time of year, we tend to find that the days become crisper and clearer and the nights do too! Clear, cloudless skies are perfect for star gazing in one of the UK’s night sky parks. The Brecon Beacons National Park is one of only five International Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Residents and visitors are encouraged to prevent light pollution and take an interest in the night sky. The beauty of a cottage break – over a hotel stay – means you can stay up late to explore the night sky and simply have a lie in the following day, without missing breakfast!

8. A blossoming treat

Blackthorn in bloom

Blackthorn in bloom

The hedgerows of the UK come alive in spring and the stunning damson blossom throughout the Lake District is a beautiful sign that better weather is on its way. In early April you can even visit the Westmorland Damson Day Festival, and enjoy all things related to this delicious treat. (Make sure to try the damson ice cream!) Blackthorn is one of the first trees to flower in early to mid spring, when it produces a mass of white blossom. This is the tree to also keep an eye on in autumn, when it bears sloes. The cup-shaped white flowers of the wild cherry are a sure sign of spring, these appear in April even before its leaves.

9. Time travel!

Take a trip back in time at Haworth

An odd thing to look out for in spring, but trust us – if you’re in the right place, you might see military men and more from the 1940s! Haworth is a beautiful Airedale village, which was home to the famous Brontë sisters. With its historic cobbled Main Street, iconic parsonage and rolling moors, it’s well worth a visit at any time of year but if you choose to go between the 15th and 17th May, you’ll be able to enjoy the region’s famous 1940s weekend!

10. Taking the tiddlers to find tadpoles

Rutland: perfect for budding biologists

Rutland Water: perfect for budding biologists

Frogs start mating from January onwards, so look out for frogspawn in ponds, ditches and slow-moving streams. Frogspawn tends to be in large clumps, while toadspawn will be in ‘strings’. Why not take the kids pond dipping? This can be an exciting and valuable learning experience for little ones. You might set out with your own bug bucket, net, magnifying glass and observation sheet (you can even download top tips from the Woodland Trust) or you might choose a more structured, organised event. Rutland Water, for example, holds a host of family activity days for budding biologists and conservationists throughout the year.

11. Mad March hares

Mad as March hares

March hares in action

In early spring, look out for the famous ‘Mad March Hare’. These long-eared leapers can be seen ‘boxing’ during mating season. You might think these are the boys brawling, but it’s actually more likely to be the females fending off unwanted attention. The moors of Yorkshire and Derbyshire are top spots for hare spotting.

A few more…

For your own mad activities, you could take inspiration from the many rural fairs and local shows occurring at this time of year where you’ll often see eccentric challenges like egg throwing or welly hurling – both of which you could try in the garden!

For egg throwing, stand facing each other and play ‘catch’ with an egg. Each time you successfully catch it, take a step apart – the game gradually becomes more and more difficult until the egg eventually cracks and breaks on the grass, or on you!

Welly hurling is exactly what it sounds like. All you need is some open space, well away from the road, and a welly boot. Set out a throwing line and mark where each person’s throw lands with a twig. The aim of the game is to throw the welly the furthest.

For a slightly calmer garden activity, you could set up a chocolate egg hunt for the kids (and big kids) during the Easter holidays.

Take a look at the latest spring availability and offers on cottages4you.

Welcome to Wolf Hall…

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Mantel’s novel

Have you been watching the BBC’s latest historical drama? Overshadowing the King, the Queens, the costumes and corsetry, the stars of the show are undeniably the stunning filming locations. Luckily, many of these castles, courts and manor houses are open to the public – so you can get your own little piece of the action!

These venues are already increasing in popularity thanks to the series, so don’t miss out. Harvey Edgington, Head of Film and Locations at the National Trust, told The Times he expects a significant increase in the number of visitors to the houses and castles features in the series. He added: “they are all within a short distance and you could feasibly do the whole trail in a weekend.”

‘Wolf Hall’ Producer Mark Pybus was quick to praise the many National Trust properties used during filming: “the advantages of filming in a historic location are massive,” he said. “It also helps the actors, if they’re stepping into the buildings that Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell walked around in it helps bring a realness to the project.”
You too can immerse yourself in the history and heritage of these properties and soak up the atmosphere. Whether you choose to make it a romantic retreat, or explore with friends and family – there’s something to keep everyone interested.

Why not take a trip to Montacute House in Somerset?

Montacute House: Greenwich Palace in 'Wolf Hall'

Montacute House: Greenwich Palace in ‘Wolf Hall’

As well as representing Greenwich Palace in the ‘Wolf Hall’ adaptation, this Elizabethan manor has also appeared in major films such as ‘The Libertine’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’. You’ll recognise it from the ‘Wolf Hall’ series as Henry VIII’s main London seat and the site of Anne Boleyn’s arrest.

You can literally come face to face with the past here, with more than 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits in the Long Gallery. The ever-changing gardens around Montacute are worth a walk in any weather.

Take a look at Barrington Court, Somerset

This Tudor house was restored by the Lyle family in the 1920s and represented York Place, the home of Cardinal Wolsey, in the BBC adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’.

It was specially dressed for filming, but is usually free from collections and furniture – allowing you and your imagination free reign. Outside, you’ll find breathtaking gardens and working orchards.

Feel the magic of Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Lacock Abbey: Wolf Hall's exterior

Lacock Abbey: Wolf Hall’s exterior

Lacock Abbey is open to the public all year round and visitors of all ages are likely to be familiar with this building from TV and film. As well as representing the exterior of Wolf Hall, the Abbey has also appeared in ‘Cranford’, the ‘Harry Potter’ films and ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’.

The Abbey does not only share this television link with the king. The real Henry VIII actually sold the Abbey, following the dissolution of the monasteries, to one of his couriers who converted it into a house.

Chastleton House, Oxfordshire, is well worth a visit

Chastleton House was built between 1607 and 1612 by a wealthy wool merchant as a demonstration of his status and power. His descendants couldn’t afford to update the building and so it remains a stunning ‘time capsule’ in its original form. You may have to book in advance as tickets are ‘timed’ to restrict visitor numbers, giving you an authentic feel for the history of the place.

In ‘Wolf Hall’, Chastleton’s small stone courtyard provided the backdrop for the dramatic scenes of Cromwell’s childhood, while interiors represent Wolf Hall, the Seymour family seat and the place where Jane Seymour first catches Henry’s eye.

Great Chalfield Manor and Garden, Wiltshire

Great Chalfield Manor is a moated manor built between 1465 and 1480. Another popular filming location, it has been seen in ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.

For ‘Wolf Hall’ its interiors stood in for Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell’s home.

The gardens are the jewel in the Manor’s crown, with terraces, topiary houses, a gazebo, lily pond, roses and views across the spring-fed fishpond.

For history buffs with an interest in all things Henry VIII…

– Blickling Hall in Norfolk is a Jacobean house that stands on the site of a former medieval manor thought to have been the birthplace of Anne Boleyn. The manor was bought by Anne’s great-grandfather and Anne’s ghost is said to haunt Blickling on May 19th, the anniversary of her death.

– The current Nunnington Hall, in Yorkshire, evolved from Tudor beginnings. William Parr, brother of Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife Catherine Parr, inherited Nunnington Hall but his involvement in the scheme to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne led to his estates being forfeit to the Crown.

Holy Island Priory

Holy Island Priory

– If you’re heading to the Scottish Borders, Holy Island is a scenic spot to visit – but you’ll have to wait for low tide in order to drive across the access road. Henry VIII took over Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. Located close to the Scottish border south of Berwick upon Tweed, Holy Island was strategically important as a deep water harbour.

– Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire was once one of the richest religious houses in Europe. Its ruins are now the most complete Cistercian abbey remains in the country. The ruins can be viewed at a distance from ‘Anne Boleyn’s Seat’ in Studley Royal Water Garden, so named because of the headless statue which stands there facing them.

To complete your authentic historic holiday experience, why not choose one of the traditional Tudor properties in the hand-picked cottages4you collection?

Beat the Crowds – 6 Perfect Pre-Summer Breaks in France

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Fine wine and dining, a rich culture and history and so much more!

If your thoughts are already turning to this year’s summer holidays, planning ahead is a great way of staving off the winter blues! As our nearest continental neighbour, France has so much to offer – and it’s not surprising that more than 17 million Brits head there each year, according to Foreign Office statistics. It’s incredibly easy to get to by plane, train or boat from the UK and travel there is very cost-effective. Indeed, France’s transport links are the envy of the world.

We love it for the sheer variety of its beautiful countryside and natural landscapes, incorporating three different coastlines and a number of mountain ranges – not to mention the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne. Then there’s the fine wine, dining and a rich culture and history – seen in its very well-preserved heritage sites. France is a country that looks after its past very well, from chateaux and castles to ancient villages, Roman sites and more. France also has its rivers, lakes, plains and estuaries – making it essentially one way of seeing all of Europe in a single country!

Pre-summer is the perfect time to soak up the rich culture and spectacular scenery of France: there are fewer crowds, the climate is beautifully inviting and most people are still at work, allowing you all the time and space you need to relax and explore.  There are plenty of festivals and other events to enjoy, with many attractions offering longer opening hours in June. Local markets are full of early summer produce, pavement bars and cafes are doing a roaring trade, and there are gorgeous flowers in full bloom wherever you go.

That just leaves one question – where should you go in France at this most glorious time of year?

Here are a few suggestions…

Loire Valley

Chambord Chateau: one of the Loire

Chambord: one of the Loire’s grandest chateaux

The Loire Valley is essentially a fairy-tale land of Renaissance and medieval chateaux dotted along the path of the sweeping, majestic Loire River, as well as the lesser known Maine, Vienne and Indre waterways. Expect villages and towns that time forgot, and visit places like Chambord and Chenonceau – there’s a bit of magic around every corner! The former is perhaps the Loire’s grandest chateau, with its mass of chimneys, set in thick, extensive woodland.

There are great roads and other travel links in this part of the world, with bus and trains to each of the three main provinces of this region – Orléans (in the east), Anjou (towards the west) and Touraine in the centre.

Aix-en-Provence

The Old Town of Aix-en-Provence

The Old Town of Aix-en-Provence

Aix could be described as France at its most civilised! But despite its elite opera festival and elegant golden stone mansions and grand squares, it’s less haughty and more youthful than you might expect, with a student population of around 40,000, not to mention a buzzing café society.

What’s more, a direct Eurostar now serves the city, making it more accessible than ever. Make time to visit the beautiful urban gardens while you are in town as well – and the Burning Bush triptych by Nicolas Froment from the fifteenth century. This is one of southern France’s finest works of art, and can be seen in the St Sauveur cathedral in Aix.

The Vosges

The heavenly mountains of The Vosges

If hiking is your thing, make for the heavenly mountains of The Vosges in June. Expect pretty villages, lush forests and glacial lakes. Wine buffs will also love the vineyards. You also don’t have to be a super-fit walker to enjoy the superb natural environment of France’s third most wooded département, or its world-renowned thermal springs, lakes, fir forests, rivers and unspoiled flora.

The Normandy Coast

 

Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches

Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches

In the rush to reach other parts of the country, Normandy is all too often overlooked, but it has stunning coastal scenery while, further inland, there’s a beautiful, patchwork rural land. Upper Normandy in particular, just a short hop away, makes a perfect short break destination from the UK. Of course, there are also many historic attractions, including the beaches that saw the D-Day landings and the Bayeux tapestry. Equally, for those who love their cheese and cider, or indeed any other kind of quality food and drink, Normandy is heaven!

With a climate quite similar to that of the south of England, June is a very comfortable month to visit.

The Volcans d’Auvergne

The mountains

A diverse range of landscapes and cultural heritage

Like Scotland? Then you’ll adore this part of France. The Volcans d’Auvergne, the heart of France, is the biggest Parc Naturel Régional in the country, and Europe’s largest regional park as well as being one of the oldest. Full of rare plants and butterflies in the warmer months, it offers the chance to visit volcanoes, experience some incredible regional cuisine, and soak up a very diverse range of landscapes and cultural heritage.

Metz

Metz at night

This is the capital city of France’s Lorraine region, in the north east of the country here the Seille and Moselle rivers meet. It’s a real delight, with its stunning architecture and buildings the colour of honey, and lots of beautiful parks to visit – nearly 600 acres of parkland in all – making it one of France’s greenest cities.

All year round, you’ll find an extensive range of shows, concerts, exhibitions and sporting events to enjoy. Top sights not to be missed include the Centre Pompidou-Metz, a superb communal space, and the Saint-Etienne cathedral, one of Europe’s tallest Gothic buildings, boasting 6500 square metres of stained glass windows.

With so many very different places to visit in this superb country, France in June has so much to offer. So what’s stopping you from experiencing the many delights of France in magical early summer? Take a look at our current holiday accommodation in June.

Cottage of the Week – Hen Wrych Hall Tower, Conwy

Happy New Year! We hope you had a fantastic Christmas and saw 2014 out in style. We’ve chosen one of our favourite featured properties as the first Cottage of the Week for 2015. Hen Wrych Hall Tower offers truly stunning accommodation where perfectly preserved features dovetail with contemporary comfort. So while you can relax and marvel at the majesty of your historic surroundings while you toast your toes by the open fire, you can also do so whilst watching a DVD and becoming the envy of your friends by sharing your status via Wi-Fi.

If you can drag yourself out of the heavily carved king-size four-poster bed and the additional comfort of your historic hideaway then you’ll find much to enjoy in the surrounding area, including a five minute walk to the beach, local pubs restaurants and shops just a mile away. Hen Wrych Hall Tower sleeps 2 and currently has great availability for 2015. Find out more and make it your next romantic getaway by visiting the property listing on cottages4you.

Cottage of the Week – Felin Hedd, Tregaron, nr. Aberystwyth

Felin Hedd, ref. 0N3

We now feature over 700 properties in our Green Scheme – including our lovely new Cottage of the Week.

To join our Green Scheme a property must be energy efficient, offer effective water and waste management and provide guests with plenty of information on shopping local and making the most of attractions in the area (so there’s no need to drive!). Felin Hedd ticks all those boxes and more. The fact that it’s also part of our Luxury and Baby and Toddler collection, offers a hot tub, pool table and comes fully decorated for a festive break is just the icing on a very nice cake!

Felin Hedd sleeps 8 and 2 pets. Find more info and make a booking on the property’s listing on cottages4you.

Cottage of the Week – Dovecote Cottage, Downton, nr. Salisbury

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Dovecote: perfect, beautiful and charming

‘Perfect’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘charming’ are just 3 words guests have used to describe this cute cottage in Downton on the River Avon. With a current Reevoo rating of 9.4 out of 10 it’s fair to say that this lovely little property isn’t short of ways to keep holidaymakers happy and contented on their breaks. Along with a stylish and traditional interior with all manner of home comforts you will find a TV, DVD player with a small library of films, roll-top bath and Wi-Fi to help aid your passage into ‘holiday mode’.

Venture outside your door and you will find even more to see and do in the surrounding area. Nearby Salisbury is the only UK city tipped in Lonely Planet’s prestigious ‘Best of Travel 2015′ list – due in no small part to the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the best-preserved copy of which is exhibited at the city’s lovely cathedral. Downton itself is renowned for its fishing and brewery and is beautifully picturesque, surrounded by water meadows and chalk downland.

Winchester, Portsmouth, Poole, Bournemouth and Southampton are equally accessible from the property. If you’re feeling a little more active then the New Forest National Park and Salisbury Plains are both on the doorstep and offer ideal terrain and stunning views for walkers and cyclists. The property sleeps 2 and 1 pet. Find more info and make a booking on our website.

 

Images of Ireland: Best of Travel 2015

‘Ireland is stunningly scenic…It is the real deal.’ Lonely Planet has tipped the Emerald Isle as one of its top 10 holiday destinations for 2015 due to a winning combination of gorgeous landscapes, wonderful tradition and fantastic hospitality. With that in mind we’ve selected a few of our favourite scenic highlights.

If you fancy making Ireland one of your destinations for 2015 then make sure you take a look at our website for early offers on a host of fantastic accommodation.