The UK’s Best Ice Cream Parlours

Three ice cream cones

Maybe you’d prefer Cotton Candy and Bubblegum flavours…

We’d eat ice cream every day of the year if we could, but July gives us the best excuse to – it’s National Ice Cream Month! The tradition was started in 1984 in the United States by the President at the time, Ronald Reagan. With temperatures soaring across the UK, what better time to take advantage of some of the incredible ice cream on offer? The UK is home to some of the world’s best ice cream, and here are five places to sample the best…

The Pudding House, Lancashire.

Wallings Farm is located in Cockerham, just outside Lancaster. The ice cream parlour is extremely popular with the locals, so be prepared to queue – especially if it’s a nice day. It’s positioned in beautiful countryside, with alpacas grazing in the adjoining fields. The perfect location for enjoying your ice cream! The parlour is situated at the front of the Pudding House café, and stocks a huge range of around 40 flavours. Traditional flavours are available, but what really sets Pudding House apart as one of the best is their incredible range of unique, innovative ice creams. The Lemon Meringue Pie flavour is a popular choice, with real meringue pieces nestled between delicious lemon ice cream and ripples of lemon curd. Alternatively, if you’re feeling festive, why not try their Christmas pudding flavour? With delicious ice cream, generous serving sizes and an idyllic setting, you won’t be left disappointed after a visit to Lancashire’s most loved ice cream parlour and farm.

Billy Bob’s Parlour, North Yorkshire.

Finding an ice cream parlour in the Yorkshire Dales can be a difficult task, as there are so many to choose from. Billy Bob’s parlour, situated just outside the beautiful town of Skipton, is a popular choice with locals and tourists alike. The parlour boasts a fantastic 30 flavours, with something on offer for everybody. Traditional flavours, such as Vanilla and Strawberry, compete against some more extravagant choices, like the Cotton Candy and Bubblegum flavours. As well as the tasty ice cream, Billy Bob also serves a full range of delicious fast food, from burgers and hot dogs, to pancakes and waffles. An excellent choice if you’re travelling with children, the parlour also boasts an outdoor play area as well as an indoor play barn. No matter what the weather, Billy Bob’s ice cream parlour is a fun day out for the entire family. Plus, when you’re finished, you can continue your adventures in the Yorkshire Dales.

Aplin’s Farm, Devon.

Otter Valley Dairy in Devon have won numerous awards, and it’s not hard to see why. The small, family-run business has been around for four generations, refining their range of ice cream to create new, mouthwatering flavours. There are 21 flavours to choose from, including Rhubarb and Ginger, Cream Tea, and Devon Rice Pudding with Raspberry Jam, as well as four varieties of sorbet for those looking for something a little different. The ice creams are made in house, using milk from their own herd of cows, and the recipe is based upon Italian Gelato. Off the beaten track, Otter Valley Dairy can be difficult to find but a visit is worth the trip. Tucked into the breath-taking valley, the summerhouse offers fantastic views of the Devon countryside. If the weather permits, you can enjoy your ice cream outdoors in the designated picnic area, beside the very same cows that helped to create the wonderful ice cream.

Broughty Ferry, Scotland

Visocchi’s Café, in Broughty Ferry, has recently been awarded the title of the best ice cream in Scotland. Located just outside Dundee, the café specialises in two Italian delights: pizza and ice cream. All handmade at the premises, their ice creams attract huge crowds during the summer. Exceptionally creamy, and with inventive flavours, you get luxury ice cream at affordable prices. Broughty Ferry itself is located on the Firth of Tay. It’s a historic river town, with plenty to see and do, including Sandy Beach and its Esplanade, Barnhill Rock Gardens, and Broughty Ferry Castle.

Blaze Farm, Peak District.

Blaze Farm boasts the best ice cream in the Peak District. The ice cream is well known, having won several awards, and is all made on site using milk from its own herd of dairy cows. With an impressive range of flavours, you can choose from traditional varieties or the more inventive, such as the Turkish Delight with White Chocolate Chip. In addition to the amazing ice cream on offer, Blaze Farm has nature trails that can be enjoyed by the whole family. With plenty of wildlife and incredible countryside views, it’s not to be missed! If you visit in the springtime, you may even get to watch the lambing take place on the farm. There’s lots of interactive fun for the children, too, with cows milked daily in the parlour. There’s no admission fee for the farm, so it’s the perfect family day out for those on a tight budget.

Le Tour Yorkshire

Photos from an incredible weekend! If you’ve caught the Yorkshire bug and can’t wait to visit ‘God’s Own County’ then take a look at our website for featured properties in Yorkshire with availability starting from this weekend, cycling friendly cottages and more.

Best spots for enjoying the Tour de Yorkshire

unnamedWith the start of the Tour de France now just days away, the excitement, anticipation and support of the people of Yorkshire is palpable.

From stringing up bunting to writing humorous notes in the local dialect along the route, locals have well and truly got into the spirit of the event and are set to make it one of the most memorable tours ever.

Taking in some of the most beautiful towns, villages and cities in the country, as well as the stunning Yorkshire Dales, both competitors and spectators will be treated to some spectacular views long the way.

So if you’re heading to God’s own county to watch Le Tour, here are the best spots from which to enjoy the sights and sounds of one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

Addingham

As the tour passes through this pretty Yorkshire village during both stage one and stage two, it’s the perfect place to head to if you want to make a weekend out of the event.

Located just outside Ilkley, the Addingham bypass will be closed and used as a public car park over the weekend, so best get there early to avoid travel delays.

Buttertubs Pass

Stretching for 4.4km and reaching gradients of up to 20%, Buttertubs Pass is one of the most revered climbs in northern England. With fantastic views over the local countryside, this steep spot is guaranteed to see some classic Tour de France action with riders powering to the top of the slope.

If watching all that hard work and exercise makes you tired, head to the nearby village of Reeth where you’ll find some nice pubs and cafés to relax in. As this is likely to be a popular spot, the atmosphere should be pulsating, though you’ll want to get your place early to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.

Harrogate

Like Addingham, Harrogate is lucky enough to see the Peloton come through twice. Firstly, as the riders are sprinting to the finish on day one, and then again the following morning as the Peloton makes its way from York to Sheffield.

The beautiful town of Harrogate will make a great backdrop for the event, and once you’ve watched all those elite athletes pedal by, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, cafés and attractions to keep you entertained.

Haworth

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Located in the heart of Bronte country, this picturesque village, with its steep cobbled high street and charming shops, is well worth a visit at any time of year. However, with the addition of excitement generated by the Tour de France Haworth is a must see on your tour de Yorkshire.

Settle into one of the cafés on the famous main street to watch the riders power their way up the hill, before enjoying some delicious local food and drink once the excitement is over.

Hebdon Bridge, Calder Holmes Park

In addition to roadside spots, this year also sees the addition of spectator hubs, designed to allow visitors to enjoy the great atmosphere and competition of the day.

Free to access, the spectator hub in quirky Hebdon Bridge is located in Calder Holmes Park and boasts big screens, spectator entertainment and locally produced food and drink.

Holme Moss, Holmfirth

One of the most iconic climbs in Britain, Holme Moss is guaranteed to be one of the most popular spots from which to watch the Peloton on race day. The 4.7km, relentlessly steep climb will be tough even for these elite athletes, causing the riders to slow down and allowing for great views of the race.

Though it may be crowded on the day, it’s easy to find your own vantage point by climbing up the steep sides of the hill, and your efforts should be well rewarded by the electric atmosphere and fantastic competition.

Jenkin Road, Sheffield

If you’re more interested in the stamina, tactics and determination of the riders than the spectacular views afforded by the Yorkshire countryside, then this brutal climb, 5km before the finish line on day two, could be the perfect spot to head for.

Reaching gradients of up to 33%, Jenkin Road is one of the steepest climbs the tour must overcome. Though it’s just 800m long, the stretch is so late in the day the riders will be looking to make last ditch attacks in order to win the stage.

Guaranteed to be a weekend like no other, the Tour de Yorkshire is set to be an event that the county will remember for years. If you want to be part of the action, now is the time to book your accommodation, grab that camera and get involved. Check out the Tour de France website for the exact times and locations of each part of the race to ensure that you don’t miss a thing.

‘Women in Waves’ takes to the sea in Sussex

We had a great time at Surf Life Saving Great Britain’s  ‘Women in Waves’ event last Saturday (14 June). Approximately 50 people turned out to take to the water off Brighton Beach and learn some valuable lessons in surf safety – in fact the only person who appeared to be missing was the sun!

Undeterred, the participants joined in, had fun and learned some valuable lessons about being safe in the sea in the process. Thanks to Surf Life Saving Great Britain and everyone who came down!

Surf Life Saving Great Britain is a charity of over 6,000 volunteers who aim to make beaches safer and more enjoyable. You can find more info on their website and also register for the following events:  Saturday 28th June 2014 at Blyth Dave Stephenson Centre, South Beach Blyth from 10 – 4pm and Saturday 12th July 2014 at Perranporth Beach from 10-3.30pm.

Hope to see you there!

11 Unmissable European Music Festivals for Summer 2014

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If live music is on your wish-list of activities this year, there are some exceptional festivals to choose from. A dazzling array of global superstars awaits you, but you’ll first need to decide which of the many events taking place throughout Europe are for you. So, come with us as we take you on a European tour of music festivals that will help you to decide where to spend your precious leisure time this summer.

Isle of Wight Festival

With a line-up of previous performers that includes Bob Dylan, The Who, Hendrix, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and more,  the Isle of Wight’s musical heritage takes some beating. Taking place over the weekend of 12th-15th June, 2014’s roster includes a number of contemporary musical heavyweights such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kings of Leon and more alongside a mix of equally enticing acts on the second stage.

Why not stay at… 

Palmers Brook House

Palmers Brook House

Why stay in a tent when you and up to 9 of your friends can enjoy the comfort of Palmers Brook House. This period Victorian house is set in a semi-rural location close to Newport, Ryde and East Cowes and offers a garden, farmhouse-style kitchen with gas/electric range, shower room, Wi-Fi and more!  Palmers House still has weekend availability for the festival. View more info and make a booking now.   

Sonar, Spain

This year is a very special one for Barcelona’s Sonar festival, as it’s the year the event celebrates its 21st Birthday. You will find an intriguing blend of music and arts at this sun-kissed festival, as well as the likes of Four Tet, Caribou and chart-topping band Rudimental. Take plenty of sun cream though, as the festivities take place between the 12th and 14th of June when the Spanish sun is at its hottest.

Main Square, France

If you’re looking for a laid-back festival where you can meet people, enjoy stunning architecture and find room to breathe, Main Square in the French city of Arras is ideal. There are only two stages at this event, but they will host around 40 acts this summer, including Disclosure, Depeche Mode and the Chemical Brothers. There is a personal and very friendly vibe to be found at this event, which makes it ideal if you’re not into mosh pits and drunken debauchery. As this event takes place in the city, you can swap your mud-soaked tent for a quaint cottage with lots of typically Gallic charm. The Main Square festival takes place between the 3rd and 6th of July this year.

Benicassim, Spain

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The beautiful port town of Benicassim is a sleepy Spanish settlement for most of the year, but it comes to life every July when music lovers arrive for four straight days of quality live music.

The event is probably best known for its alternative rock and electronic acts, but it has been known to host the odd rave or two in the past. The Benicassim festival takes place between the 17th and 20th of July this year, and the likes of Kasabian, Lily Allen and Paul Weller will be gracing the various stages.

Green Man Festival, Wales

Set against the majestic backdrop of the Brecon Beacons, the Green Man Festival is perhaps one of the most picturesque British music festivals. Folk music is the star of the show, but you will also get the chance to enjoy comedians, poetry recitals and book readings. The event takes place between the 14th and 17th of August this year, and amongst the line-up of bands already confirmed for the Green Man Festival are Beirut and The Violators.

Latitude, England

The gorgeous East Anglian countryside becomes an outdoor arena for four days in July when the Latitude festival sets up camp. This music festival has a very relaxed ambience, and it delivers far more than fantastic live acts. DJs perform in the depths of local woods, opera singers perform against the backdrop of a stunning natural lake, films play in an on-site cinema and actors recite Shakespeare and Wilde on various stages scattered around the Suffolk countryside. Latitude takes place between the 17th and 20th of July this year, and Blur’s Damon Albarn has been confirmed as the headline act.

Sonisphere, Italy

If you’re into heavy metal, the Sonisphere festival in Rome will definitely interest you. This hugely popular event takes place on 1st June, and more than 40,000 leather-clad hard rock fans are expected this year. Located at the home of the Italian Grand Prix in Imola, the festival will reach a deafening crescendo with a performance from legendary heavy metal band Metallica.

Festival Beauregard, France

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Set against the stunning natural landscapes of Normandy, the Festival Beauregard near Caen has to be one of the most impressive celebrations of live music in the world. This is a garden party for pop and rock fans on a huge scale, and it is taking place between the 3rd and 6th of July this year.

Don’t expect a quiet affair, however, as 55,000 fans showed up last year. A beautiful castle, rolling hills, landscaped gardens and some of the biggest artists on the planet make the Festival Beauregard one of the most prestigious live events in France. Among the confirmed artists for 2014 are Blondie, Portishead and Madness.

Hellfest, France

Located in the charming town of Champ Louet in France, Hellfest is a heavy metal fan’s paradise. Four stages host some of the biggest metal bands in the world, and 70,000 fans bang their heads in unison. This is a particularly rowdy event, however, so don’t be surprised if you see empty bottles and fruit being thrown at the stage, it’s all part of the fun. Headlining this year’s event between the 20th and 22nd of June are Iron Maiden, Aerosmith and Black Sabbath.

Midi, France

Midi is very popular with up and coming bands, and many of Europe’s finest found fame and fortune after appearing at this event in the stunning French Riviera. The location of this festival is probably its greatest asset, as it looks down over the French town of Hyeres and stunning stretches of coastline. With Chateau Vallombrossa as an eye-catching backdrop, there can’t be many European music festivals as picturesque as this one. Midi will take place on the 25th and 26th of July this year, and Europe’s freshest pop talent will be gracing the stage.

Global Gathering, England

Located in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside, Global Gathering is one of the fastest growing music festivals in Europe. A combination of enormous stages, booming sound systems and the biggest names in music has given this festival a reputation to rival the likes of Reading and Glastonbury. Hard house, dance and drum ‘n’ bass take centre stage, but unlike many other festivals in the UK, Global Gathering features an element of luxury in the form of private ‘Suitehuts’ – complete with TV, DVD player, fridge and a bed. The event takes place on the 26th and 27th of July this year, and head-liners include Plan B, Steve Aoki and Disclosure.

Wherever you decide to go this year, you don’t need to resign yourself to sleeping in a cold, muddy and damp tent. Rent a cottage or local holiday home instead, and enjoy live music with clean clothes and a clear head.

Celebrate National Walking Month

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Rhossili Bay: “Breathtakingly wonderful” seems like an understatement!

If you want to really feel alive and refresh those senses this summer, it’s time to get outside and start walking. This month is National Walking Month, and here in the UK we are extremely lucky; the terrain makes it the perfect place to walk. Whether you want a gentle, family stroll, or you are an experienced walker looking for your next challenge, our list of favourite scenic walks has something for everyone.

Easy or family walks

Rhossili Bay
Distance: 5 miles circular route
Starting point: Rhossili National Trust visitor centre
Suitable for walkers with little experience and families
Map

Rhossili Bay is such a stunning area it has earned itself the number 1 place to visit in Swansea on the independent review website, Trip advisor. Visitors to the area have left reviews on the website describing the area as “Paradise” and “Breathtakingly wonderful”.

But don’t worry. Despite the fact that 750,000 people visit Rhossilli every year, this beautiful walk never seems too busy and it’s the perfect walk for all the family. It covers moorland and one of the most glorious sandy beaches in the UK. It even has its very own shipwreck visible at low tide, the ill fated Helvetia that has been there since 1887.

From the highest point of this walk, you can see an uninterrupted 360 degree of the entire tip of the Gower Peninsula including Worms Head and Burry Holmes. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Devon.

Getting there: Catch the bus to this beautiful bay from Swansea, or you can drive and park in the National Trust visitor centre.

Wye Downs (using part of the popular North Downs Way)
Distance: 4.5 miles
Starting point: Church in Wye
Map 

Get to know the beautiful Wye Downs by following paths and tracks through open fields and luscious woodland. On this walk you will get the chance to see the fantastic Wye Crown, a massive crest that students cut into the chalk hillside in 1902 to honour the coronation of King Edward VII.

You will also pass through the Wye National Nature Reserve with its beautiful landscape of chalk, woodland and scrub. Moths, insects and orchids that are essential to conservation efforts have made their home here. From the nature reserve you will get the chance to take in enthralling views of the Devil’s Kneading Trough, a 260 feet deep steep dry valley.

On the way back, make sure you take time to look around the historic village of Wye and stop off at one of the pubs for a rewarding, refreshing drink

Ben A’an
Distance: 2.5 miles
Height: 1,491 feet
Start: 200 yards west of Tigh Mhor near Loch Achray
Map

The extraordinary views over the Trossachs and Loch Katrine from the summit of Ben A’an are what makes this walk unbeatable. Although relatively short, this walk involves steep climbs through woodland and steep steps on loose rock, so it’s more suited to those with a good level of fitness. Don’t worry though, it also covers easier terrain you can meander through and enjoy the stunning views while catching your breath.

Along the path there are large rock areas often used by picnickers. You will also find steep, rocky trails that offshoot from the main path, ignore these and stick to the main path. Typically, it takes about an hour to reach the summit, though if you’re really fit you can do it in much less.

The path ends at 1,491 feet at two rocky peaks, both of which give enthralling views across two vast landscapes of Scotland, west over Loch Katrine towards the ‘Arrochar Alps’ and and south east over Loch Achray towards the Campsies. If you’re lucky, you may even see the Sir Walter Scott steamer as she travels across Loch Katrine. One thing to remember is that this walk does get busy at times, but its popularity is just testimony to how beautiful it is.

Getting there: There is a car park A821 near Tigh Mor opposite the track.

For the more experienced walker

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Southern Upland Way
Distance: 214 mile (340 km) coast to coast
Starting point: Portpatrick
Map 

Often overlooked for other Scottish walks such as the West Highland Way, The Southern Upland Way is a stunning, if rather tough, walk. It begins in Portpatrick, a small fishing village on the Scottish west coast and finishes in Cockburnspath on the east coast.

At 214 miles, this walk isn’t the longest in the UK, but is known as one of the toughest. Overwhelming mountains, thick forests and beautiful moors make up this enchanting walk. There is accommodation en route, however this walk is rather isolated and you won’t stumble across many day trippers or holiday makers on your way. The walk visits stunning spots such as Castle Kennedy, St John’s Town of Dalry, St Mary’s Loch, Galashiels, Lauder and Longformacus en route.

It’s worth remembering that on the Southern Upland Way the path can be challenging with a loose, steep, rocky and muddy surface. Hill walking boots are a must!

Bank Holiday Weekend Escapes

Fancy getting away this weekend? Here’s a selection of properties with 3 night availability starting from tomorrow. Enjoy coastal cottages, beautiful apartments, historical hideaways and even properties owned by Her Majesty! Find prices and more details on the links accompanying each pic.

Enjoy England on St George’s Day

St George’s Day and the birthday of the Bard (happy 450th Shakespeare!) gave us the perfect reason to share a few of our favourite views of England. What have we missed? Let us know your favourite views.
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Dover’s white cliffs.

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Glastonbury Tor and Somerset Levels

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Bluebell woods in Hertfordshire

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Derwentwater in the Lakes

Banburgh Castle at Sunset

Banburgh Castle, Northumberland at Sunset

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The Yorkshire Dales

Footpath to Durdle Door, Dorset

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Poppyfields in the South Downs

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage just outside Stratford upon Avon.

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

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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.