Britain’s best offbeat attractions

A gnome from home

A gnome from home

Unlike other countries in Europe and around the world, we in Britain have always been proud of our eccentricities; those unusual and unique quirks that make the UK just that little bit different.

As a result, Britain is home to some of the most offbeat, entertaining and surprising tourist attractions anywhere in the world, many of which are located in the beautiful towns, villages and countryside that make up this rather unconventional island.

The Gnome Reserve, Devon

What could be more British than a garden full of gallivanting gnomes? Well, not much really as this four-acre, gnome-tastic site in North Devon shows only too well.

There are over 1000 gnomes and pixies that live in this woodland reserve, all happily fishing, sunbathing, gardening or simply wiling the time away in their natural habitat. On arrival, visitors are issued with a fishing rod and gnome hat to help them fit in with the locals, a great touch that kids especially will really love.

Once you’ve had your fill of gnomes and pixies, you can enjoy the beautiful surrounding countryside or drive to one of the nearby beaches on the North Devon coast.

Teapot Island, Kent

The vast collection of unique, quirky and downright strange teapots that now makes up the impressive display at Teapot Island in Kent began as the personal collection of owner Susie Blayze when her grandmother gave her her first teapot back in 1983. The museum once held the record for the largest collection of teapots in the world, and today visitors can see teapots shaped as Daleks, Darth Vader and even toilets.

Once you’ve finished exploring the world of teapots, you can retire to the on site café for what hopefully is a very well made cup of tea.

Quay House, North Wales

Smallest-House

Not far from Colwyn Bay on the beautiful North Wales coast, you’ll find the old Quay House, a tiny one up, one down semi that is officially the smallest home in Britain. Built during the reign of Elizabeth I, the house is just 6 feet wide and 10 feet high, the upstairs is only just big enough for a single bed and bedside table.

It won’t take long to tour the property’s nooks and crannies, leaving you plenty of time to explore the traditional harbour and neighbouring Conwy Castle.

The Phone Box Museum, Wales

If you head to the Phone Box Museum in South Wales with the aim of learning all about the history and design of these iconic telecommunications boxes, you may be a little disappointed when you arrive and discover just a single red phone box at the side of a lane near the village of Cilgerran. In fact, the innocuous red phone box is home to Wale’s smallest museum, a collection of photographs taken by local resident Tom Mathias.

The photos show the inhabitants and history of the nearby village and surrounding countryside, and provide an intriguing glimpse into times gone by. For those who still really want to learn about phone boxes, it’s just a short three-hour drive to the National Telephone Kiosk Collection at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

The Forbidden Corner, North Yorkshire

forbiddencornerOriginally conceived as a private pleasure garden in the 1980s, The Forbidden Corner in Tupgill Park Estate, North Yorkshire, bills itself as ‘The Strangest Place in the World’. In typical British tradition, the attraction began as a folly and has now grown to include grottoes, tunnels, walled gardens, statues, art installations and woodland.

Visitors are not given a map but instead encouraged to explore the park until they have ticked off all of the boxes on their checklist of sights.

The attraction has been awarded the title of Best European Folly of the 20th Century by the Folly Fellowship and been voted the best children’s attraction in Yorkshire. Admission is by pre-booked ticket only.

Cuckooland, Cheshire

If you thought that cuckoo clocks were all the same, Cuckooland in Cheshire is guaranteed to make you think again. Home to one of the most important collection of its type in the world, Cuckooland is currently home to around 600 cuckoo clocks, all made in the Black Forest region of central Europe.

Many of the clocks in this vast collection have been specially restored by brothers Roman and Maz Piekarski who began their apprenticeships in clock restoration in Manchester at the age of 15.

Visitors to the museum can learn pretty much everything that they need to know about the making and restoration of the clocks, and if they haven’t been driven cuckoo by all the excitement they can even pick up their very own replica piece from the gift shop on the way out.

Dennis Savers’ House, London

At 18 Folgate Street in London’s Spitalfields, you’ll find Dennis Savers’ House, a unique and eccentric museum created by an artist who wanted to bring the past to life by transforming a private home into a time capsule. From 1979 to 1999 Dennis Savers gradually turned the house into a sort of still life, a snapshot of life in the property in times gone by. The rooms are set up as if the occupants have only just left, giving visitors a real sense of what life would have been like in the past.

From north to south and east to west, Britain is dotted with some of the most eccentric, bizarre and endearing offbeat attractions you’ll find anywhere in the world. Visiting just a few will give you a unique taste of British life and make any holiday in the UK even more entertaining and eye-opening.

Enjoy the Republic of Ireland in 2014

Ireland Landscape

Views of County Clare

There’s plenty to see and do in the Republic of Ireland, from exploring the area’s history and natural wonders, to shopping and dining in style. The Republic of Ireland is also home to some fantastic events and festivals each year, with something for everyone. Whether it’s food and drink festivals, sporting events, heritage events or any other activities, we’ve pulled together our pick of the bunch for 2014.

Between January 16th and 20th, head to Bunratty in Clare for the Shannonside Winter Music Weekend. The festival will consist of around 80 different shows, sessions, pub gigs and concerts, with various styles and genres of music on offer. With Irish music, blues, jazz, gospel, classical and more, it’s an event that will see Bunratty and Sixmilebridge buzzing with a hive of musical activity.

Additional music events include the Music for Galway Midwinter Festival between January 17th and 19th, and the Bray Jazz Festival in May. The Cork International Choral Festival takes place between April 30th and May 4th, with 2014 representing the festival’s 60th anniversary. Soul fans may also enjoy the 8th Dublin City Soul Festival from May 24th – 25th.

The start of 2014 also heralds the Chinese New Year, and the biggest celebrations by far are in Dublin. The Dublin Chinese New Year Festival is hugely successful and is now in its 7th year. Taking place in locations across the city, the 2014 festival will be welcoming the year of the horse – an animal that is much-loved across Ireland. Expect arts and music, martial arts, sports, photography exhibitions, the spring carnival, a Taste Of China event and much more, with the fortnight between January 30th and February 14th hosting events for the whole family that aim to enrich the connections between the two nations.

The Republic of Ireland also plays host to a number of sporting events in the first half of 2014. The Glen of Aherlow Winter Walking Festival is the perfect event for keen walkers, taking place in County Tipperary between January 31st and February 2nd. On May 12th, head to Dublin for the start of the Giro D’Italia: one of the greatest cycling events in the world that was first organised in 1909. The “Grande Partenza”, or Big Start, will be celebrated with a range of special events, with the race on May 12th culminating in a huge free-to-watch finish in Dublin’s city centre.

February and March are the months to spend in Ireland if you are a rugby fan, with the Aviva Stadium in Dublin hosting the country’s home fixtures in the RBS 6 Nations tournament. The Irish host Scotland on February 2nd, Wales on February 8th and Italy on March 8th, with tickets now on sale for all three games.

Food lovers may enjoy the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival in late April, as well as Taste of Dublin in mid-June, which sees top restaurants and food producers coming together for a veritable feast of flavour. The Galway Food Festival takes place from April 17th to April 21st, and the third year of the festival will celebrate Galway’s reputation as a top Irish foodie destination. The programme will include talks, tours, food trails, tastings, demonstrations, open air food markets and more. The last festival played host to over 50 food and drink businesses and over 70 different events, making the festival a must for all food lovers.

Alternatively, head to Dungarvan between April 10th and 13th for the West Waterford Festival of Food, with the coastal town hosting both free and ticketed events with the aim of supporting and promoting the local food and drink industry.

Finally, an obvious cause for celebration in the Republic of Ireland is always St Patrick’s Day. Monday, March 17th will see a whole host of celebrations all over the country, with the largest being the St Patrick’s Festival in Dublin. Taking place from March 14th to 17th, the St Patrick’s Festival is the largest arts festival in Ireland, with four days of entertainment, music, culture, food and drink. The highlights will include the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade and the St Patrick’s Festival 5K Road Race, alongside the city’s Irish Craft Beer Village and the requisite funfairs. You will also be able to see The Greening Of The City, at which buildings such as Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin Castle and Trinity College are all lit up in green to mark the occasion.

The first half of 2014 promises to be a busy year across the Republic of Ireland – and the second half will be no different! Whatever your interests, there’s a reason for everyone to visit the Republic of Ireland. With a huge number of events taking place and a wealth of other things to see and do, it’s the perfect holiday destination for 2014.

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Top 5 Halloween and Firework Events 2013

Fireworks cluster

After a memorable summer we head into the Autumn months and build up the anticipation in the lead up to Christmas. This is a magical time, especially for children, which is punctuated with the time old traditions of Halloween and Bonfire Night. The character of Halloween has changed in recent decades and has been influenced in large part by the celebration in the United States and the infiltration (welcome or otherwise) of ‘trick or treat’ into the nation’s psyche. However, these days there are an increasing number of organised Halloween events that are developing in popularity across the country.  Similarly the emphasis on Bonfire Night is changing too; many are turning to large organised events to enjoy fantastic firework displays in controlled environments as opposed to back garden DIY events and the inevitably disappointing Catherine wheel and stick rockets! We are going to take a look at a selection of great events coming up throughout Britain.

The Crocky Trail, Waverton,  Cheshire – ‘Crocky Horror Show’

Running from mid-October through until the 2nd of November, the ‘Crocky Horror Show’ is a family orientated Halloween event near Waverton in Cheshire.  This is a permanent adventure trail that for Halloween puts on a special Haunted Trail with monsters and surprises around every corner, dungeon and even a motorcycle display. The tone of each attraction is targeted so that they do not scare younger children but for the rest of us, watch out! This is a ticketed event but running over the course of a couple of weeks including during half term, this is a fantastic Halloween event accessible to much of the North West.

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Blackheath Fireworks Display – Saturday 2nd November

Blackheath in South East London is the venue for probably one of the biggest Bonfire Night celebrations in the capital. Each year around 100,000 people are attracted to expansive parkland to watch a spectacular firework display and enjoy a great night out. This is a free event with proceedings beginning at around 4pm and the display itself circa 8pm. This is a much anticipated annual fixture which has grown in popularity in recent years. With a funfair, bar and stalls with food there is plenty to keep the whole family entertained throughout a dazzling and memorable evening.

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The Haunted Castle, Warwick Castle

The medieval surroundings at Warwick Castle take on the flavour of Halloween hosting a series of half term spooky events from the 24th of October through to the 2nd of November. Castles are of course magnet’s for children but with the added spice of Halloween , The Haunted Castle experience promises great excitement for young and old.  Events run throughout the day with the castle opening time extended until 9pm. Highlights include haunted castle tours which take in dungeons and gaol, and for those intent on a scary evening, there is an evening séance!  For budding witches there is the Witches Tower where inquisitive ‘students’ can learn about how to dress and cast spells like a witch. If this doesn’t sound scary enough then keep your wits about you at the Skeleton Ball, a family friendly trail through spider’s lair and a scary swamp!

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Glasgow Green Fireworks – 5th November

The former European city of culture and the venue for next year’s Commonwealth Games, Glasgow puts on one of the largest and most spectacular Firework displays in the country. Glasgow Green, the oldest park in the city, plays hosts to this year’s event on the traditional 5th which this year falls on a Tuesday. Again this is a free display and opens from 4.30pm through until and 9.30pm, with a dazzling twenty minute firework display set to music and accompanied by lasers. With the backdrop of the Winter Gardens, thousands will be entertained by live music and funfair as the Glasgow skies are lit up by over 3000 fireworks.  Make sure you get there early!

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Lewis Bonfire Night, Sussex – 5th of November

Bonfire Night in Lewis in Sussex is taken very seriously indeed with no less than six Bonfire societies combining to put on a firework display with a friendly competitive edge to put on a great show for upwards of 30,000 spectators. There really is a carnival atmosphere with thousands of torches lit up adding to spectacle in and amongst a series of processions that lead up to the firework display.  This year marks the 408th anniversary of the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot but interestingly the Lewis event also commemorates Protestant Martyrs, seventeen of which were burnt at the stake for the sake of their religion. The prominence of this celebration has garnered a reputation for Lewis as the ‘Bonfire capital of the world’. Known locally as simply ‘The Fifth’, this electric and colourful evening is rich in tradition and one of the premier events in Sussex.

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101 places to go – Kayaking on the River Fowey, Cornwall

kayaking in fowey

If you are looking for an activity based holiday for your next cottage break, then kayaking should be near the top of your list. As one of our more established water sports, there are now many kayaking adventure centres across the country offering basic tutoring and guided tours across the length and breadth of our beautiful rivers and coastline. Kayaking is a great activity for the whole family as it is particularly easy for beginners to pick up quickly. Under the careful supervision of a local guide, you will soon be taking in the natural beauty of Britain at a suitably tranquil pace in keeping with your surroundings.

There can be few better kayaking locations in Britain than on the Cornish peninsula where the longest coastline in Britain offers a multitude of kayaking backdrops. Whether it be azure bays, quaint harbours or meandering estuaries, this is a great opportunity to become totally absorbed by the essential beauty of Cornwall. This is a county of contrasts, typified by the exquisitely timeless River Fowey which is an ideal base for kayaking, offering excursions extending along the coast itself but you can also enjoy delightful routes heading north into the rolling greenery of the southern Cornish countryside.

For decades artists have been attracted to this stunning part of Cornwall. Author Daphne Du Maurier famously made Fowey her home whilst children’s writer Kenneth Grahame was entranced by the region and his many holidays to the River Fowey doubtless helped inspire and shape the all time classic ‘Wind in the Willows’. The river has a kind of ‘other worldly’ secluded feel to it; the sense of freedom is all encapsulating and it is this quality that also inspired some of the world’s top music artists to record at the famous Sawmills studio. The creative energy at this idyllic setting helped Oasis create their classic album Definitely Maybe; The Stone Roses recorded the epic Fool’s Gold whilst other artists such a Robert Plant, The Verve and latterly Muse have all recorded famous tracks at this Cornish riverside haven.

The route heading north towards the shallows of the river and the village of Lerryn is ideal for beginners. Tours tend to follow the flow of the tide and at a leisurely pace you can keep a close eye on the local wildlife. Your mind can easily wander and you can just imagine Mr Toad and Mr Badger loitering by the leafy shore. Today the river is home to egrets, otters, heron, cormorants and much more. Cornwall is famed for the crystalline quality of its water and this holds true for the river Fowey. From your stealthy vantage point you can easily spot shoals of fish swimming close by, grey mullet and trout are particularly numerous in a river that is teaming with wildlife.

After a leisurely paddle you will soon find yourself in the pretty Cornish village  Lerryn, which is a great spot to take a break on your river adventure. This unspoilt village is picture perfect and a fantastic setting for a picnic or perhaps a sedate pub lunch. With the turn of the tide you will head back south alongside the river bank where you can spot the wildlife that you missed on the way upstream! If you are lucky you will spot the signature luminous flash of a kingfisher darting above the river or maybe even a migratory osprey on its fleeting visit to Cornish shores. Invigorated by the days exploits you can retreat to your cottage enriched by the memories of a great day kayaking in Cornwall.

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Great British Music Festivals

music festivals image

With the advent of spring and the prospect of summer many of us will be anticipating  a season of music festivals across Britain, in what is after all the quintessential home of the music festival. The daddy of them all, Glastonbury, is a few short weeks away and this year boasts ‘Glasto’ first timers The Rolling Stones!  Whilst it may be time to sort out that yurt and pack those wellies it is not necessarily all tents and portaloos. There are lots of great music festivals where you do not need to ‘go native’ to enjoy British music at its best. With specialist and quirky events to enjoy across the country, there are festivals to suit all tastes whilst you stay in rather more salubrious surroundings on your next cottage holiday. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s great British music festivals…

The Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival, Cornwall

The haunting melodies of the sea shanty evoke the history of a time shaped by the ravages of the ocean. In recent years the sea shanty has enjoyed an increase in popularity helped by the success of groups such as Port Isaac based Fisherman’s Friends. The Falmouth International Sea Shanty Festival is making sure that the tradition of maritime song continues for many years to come. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the festival and groups from all over the world with gather to perform between the 14th and 16th of June across many pubs and venues in the historic Cornish port of Falmouth.  Falmouth has perhaps one of the richest maritime heritages in the country, and there can be few better venues for a sea shanty festival. Henry VIII fortified the nation’s naval defences building Pendennis Castle here following his epic voyage of discovery, Darwin returned to England landing at Falmouth on the Beagle in 1836. The festival evokes the spirit of a proud seafaring nation and the spectacle of old sea dogs and pirates alike helps create a warm atmosphere that has established it as one of the most popular music festivals in Cornwall.

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The Great British  Rhythm and Blues Festival, Colne Lancashire

Rhythm and blues fans will flock this year to east Lancashire over the August bank holiday weekend to see some of the biggest blues artists in the world. This year boasts a strong line up including Dr Feelgood, The Rhythm Kings, Paul Lamb and Bill Wyman. Now in its 24th year, the festival has established itself as one of the premier events in the rhythm and blues calendar. Venues are spread across this former mill town which lies close to the border with North Yorkshire.  The dark mills are now long gone and have given way to a greener and more pleasant area famous for its witches and the imposing Pendle Hill. The rolling countryside is popular with cyclists and the region is home to some of the finest ales in the country. With the local beer flowing over the four day festival and some of the biggest names in rhythm and blues, this is a winning combination and a great bank holiday musical treat.

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Latitude Festival, Southwold, Suffolk

The Latitude Festival at Henham Park, Southwold is rapidly becoming one of the most popular music festivals in the country. Taking place from 18th to the 21st of July, the festival offers a great line up (including Kraftwork, Bobby Womack and Bloc Party) but also has a strong arts feel to it with comedians such as Eddie Izzard in attendance. Since the first festival in 2006, Latitude has established a family friendly reputation balancing great music but also incorporating theatre, poetry and politics. The result is an eclectic but well run festival that has the feel of Glastonbury without perhaps some of the physical demands – a kind of ‘Glastonbury for the intellectually discerning’. Southwold itself is a throwback to a by-gone age; a typically English seaside town lying on Suffolk’s Heritage coast. This part of the country enjoys particularly favourable climate with rainfall below the national average perhaps promising a greater chance of a ‘wellie free’ festival.

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Wychwood Music Festival, Cheltenham

Cheltenham racecourse is the venue for the Wychwood Music Festival running from the 31st of May to the 2nd of June 2013. Wychwood also enjoys a reputation as a family friendly festival, mixing rock and indie music with performing arts. With the beautiful Cotswolds as the backdrop and on the doorstep of one of England’s most distinctive Regency spa towns, Wychwood is recognised as one of the best ‘boutique festivals’ in the country. This year Soul II Soul, Toploader and electro-synth eighties legends, Human League will headline the festival which must have one of the more unusual settings being at the heart of one of the most famous racecourses in the British Isles. Alongside the live entertainment there is a lot to keep the whole family occupied with film presentations alongside craft workshops from clay to canopy making or even circus themed sessions to keep children happy. Cheltenham lies just a short distance from the racecourse and offers some of the finest shops and eateries the Cotswolds has to offer. It’s not surprising then that the Wychwood festival ranks highly amongst Britain’s great summer music festivals. See you there!

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Focus on Ireland – Giant’s Causeway

giants causeway

The lure of the Irish Isle is strong, an intoxicating mix of stunning natural beauty, ancient folklore and conviviality make Ireland one of the top holiday destinations in Europe. Holidaymakers are attracted from throughout the world to sample the warmth of a people proud of their rich heritage. Indeed many are drawn to Ireland to chart their own family history and take in the surroundings of their forefathers perhaps none more famous that President John Kennedy who (staggeringly) famously visited 50 years ago. The passing years merely serve to enhance the enigma that is Ireland and over the coming weeks we are going to take look at some of our favourite holiday destinations across the Irish island starting with the Giant’s Causeway.

The eternal beauty of the Emerald Isle has been carved by the forces of nature over the millennia. Nowhere perhaps is the more exemplified than at the Giant’s Causeway on the northern tip of  County Antrim. Carefully managed by the National Trust, this stretch of coastline is home to perhaps one of the most fascinating rock formations in the British Isles, if not in Europe. Violent volcanic eruptions millions of years ago have created a mass of inter locking hexagonal rock columns. It is the symmetry in the rock that creates such an unusual vista that makes this the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.

This great volcanic plateau was the source of mystery across the ages. Such a regimented formation surely could not be the work of the elements thus was born the enduring legend of the Irish warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill otherwise known as Finn MacCool. The story goes that Fionn was challenged by Benandoner, a Scottish giant from across the water but on sight of the Irish ‘giant’s baby (Fionn cunningly disguised as an infant) Benandoner fled in fear back across to Scotland destroying the causeway in his wake. Today the location is protected from giants and is a designated world heritage site.

The surrounding coastline is breathtaking and offers a range of walking trails for the experienced and casual rambler alike. These unspoilt surroundings are home to a wide variety of sea birds including petrels, fulmars and razorbills. It is not difficult to see why this combination of stunning scenery and wildlife has helped create the backdrop to an inspirational stretch of coastline that is famous the world over. With a recently improved visitor centre this is a great day out offering holidaymakers an opportunity to be entranced by the myth and legend of one of the world’s most enigmatic natural wonders.

Britain’s Top 5 Gardens

garden

The welcome transition from the dormant winter months into spring heralds the onset of a profusion of colour and tranquility across Britain’s beautiful public gardens. After a particularly long and seemingly never ending winter we are more than ready for warmer days spent relaxing in and amongst some of the finest gardens in Europe. In Britain we have a fascination bordering on the obsessive for all things horticultural and we are blessed with an exquisite variety of flora and fauna in our gardens protected by a unique range of micro-climates across the country. Leisurely spring afternoon’s absorbing the essential beauty of nature is an idyllic accompaniment to any cottage holiday. Let’s take a look at a few of our favourite British public gardens.

5. Trebah Gardens, Helford, Cornwall

The sub tropical climate enjoyed by the Helford estuary in south Cornwall has helped form a stunning hillside garden harbouring a special collection of rare plants, trees and shrubs, many of which are from far flung corners of the planet. The gentle climate in this part of the world provides a unique opportunity to view exotic flora that would struggle to survive elsewhere in Britain. The result is a stunningly vibrant garden, framed by the gorgeous Helford estuary, creating a vista that transfixes the senses. Open all year and extending across 26 acres with 4 miles of footpaths traversing themed gardens, Trebah has a special quality that fascinates throughout the seasons.  Leafy palms, camellias and magnolias await inquisitive guests and with delightful ponds Trebah have echoes of Giverny within a tranquil landscape that offers a haven of peace. With vibrant Falmouth just a short distance to the north, and the Lizard peninsula within easy striking distance to the south, Trebah sits proudly in a treasured corner of Cornwall.

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4. Chatsworth House Gardens, Chatsworth, Derbyshire

Britain is home to a fine array of stately homes, perhaps none more imposing than  Chatsworth House which is  set against the  backdrop of the English Peak District. This magnificent estate is home to the Duke of Derbyshire and is open year round to visitors and is set in the heart of the Peak District within easy reach of Bakewell, Tideswell and the historic Eyam. The style and elegance of the house is mirrored in the 105 acres of gardens that offer a variety of interesting sculptures, fountains and of course the ubiquitous English garden maze. Perhaps the most striking feature of this impressive stately garden is the cascading trough waterfall situated to the western flank of the house. Built for the 4th Duke of Derbyshire this popular water feature stands 200 feet tall with 24 steps drawing water down in a mesmerising flow that never ceases to fascinate children and adults alike. If you are feeling energetic the view from the top of the waterfall is unforgettable, with the stately home enveloped by the surrounding parkland and the stunning expanse of Derbyshire countryside beyond.

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3. Inverewe Gardens, Inverewe, Scotland

The benevolent Gulf Stream on the unforgettable northwest Scottish coast in Wester Ross helps create one of the most impressive botanical gardens in Britain. This is truly a wonderful place set amidst a carefully managed estate extending across 2000 acres alongside the rugged hills and sweeping Atlantic coastline. The fertile soil and favourable micro climate helps sustain a wide range of exotic plants that would normally be found in more temperate latitudes on the planet. The result is a vivid variety of colour that endures throughout the year. Whether it be Tasmanian eucalypts, blue poppies from the Himalayas or Chinese rhododendrons, Inverewe gardens are home to a delightful collection of flora and fauna from throughout the world. Owned by the Scottish National Trust and overlooking Loch Ewe this stunning botanical garden is one if the most popular attraction in the Scottish Highlands. The distinctive scenery of Wester Ross is some of Scotland’s most stunning countryside with the essence of a wilderness barely touched by the 21st century. Perhaps surprisingly this coastline is home to some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the country, with stunning white sand and crystal blue water bejeweling the ancient sea lochs as they extend north towards Ullapool and Sutherland beyond.

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2. Powis Castle, Welshpool, Wales

With a medieval backdrop in the rolling border countryside, Powis Castle gardens are renowned across the world. Just a short distance from Welshpool, these formal gardens have been nurtured and evolved over the past 400 years. Created in the Baroque style of classical Italian gardens with more than a touch of French spirit, the grand terraces at Powis castle (originally built in the 1680s) are an evocative throwback to continental gardens during the 16th century and enjoy a sweeping view across the immaculate Great Lawn. With a wide selection of carefully selected colourful plants to complement the Mediterranean theme, the terraces are probably the best example of 17th century gardens left in the country. Preserved for the nation by the National Trust, Powis Castle gardens are open all year with the surrounding parkland home to wide variety of wildlife including rare red kites, woodpeckers and a large number of deer. The surrounding woodland offers a number of different walks whilst the castle itself offers a fascinating trail designed for children who will be left captivated by the sense of adventure exploring the medieval fortress surroundings.

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1. Drummond Castle Gardens, Crieff, Perthshire

Drummond Castle is home to one of the most stunning formal gardens in the country, if not in Europe. Situated 2 miles to the south of Crieff in Perthshire, these large and beautifully manicured gardens are open to the public from the beginning of May until the end of October. With a history dating back to 1490, the gardens at Drummond Castle really began to flourish during the 17th century evolving throughout the centuries to produce a striking and enchanting landscape that has been immaculately tended by some of Scotland’s finest gardeners. The careful attention to detail creates a symmetry which is simply breathtaking and with the backdrop of the castle, there is a truly timeless quality which entices visitors into a world gone by. With the haunting cries of peacocks, secret gardens and elegant pathways there is majesty reminiscent of Versailles, indeed the French influence is all pervading in what is the historic heartland of Scotland. The castle itself is swathed in the history of the Jacobite rebellion, strange to think that such beauty should evolve out of violent turmoil but the gardens are testament to a vision that doubtless will be enjoyed for centuries to come.

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New Year’s Resolutions – Activity Holidays in Britain

Lake District cycling

As millions of us are now ‘resolved’ to become healthier in 2013 why not combine good intentions with your next cottage holiday in Britain?  Now is the time to put to one side thoughts of cold dark winter nights and think instead about booking your next adventure holiday for 2013. Britain has a wealth of activity opportunities across the length and breadth of the country. With hundreds of miles of coastline, cycle paths and walking routes to choose from, we are going to focus on some of our favourites to help you decide.

Kayaking on the River Fowey – Cornwall

Home of author and playwright Daphne De Maurier, Fowey stands majestically overlooking the estuary of the River Fowey looking out towards the stunning South Cornish coast. The river is surrounded by wooded undulating hills. A haven for wildlife, this is a great location for kayaking for learner and experienced kayaker alike. Routes extend upstream towards the countryside or follow the estuary along the coast towards the sea. You should be able to spot herons, cormorants and kingfishers as you glide across the water in tune with your beautiful surroundings, there cannot be many better ways to immerse yourself in the essential beauty of Cornwall. Kayaking is great for the whole family and there are various organisations that offer guided tours based on the River Fowey. It is possible to hire kayaks for independent use but this is strictly for over 18 year old experienced kayakers.

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Coasteering in Pembrokershire – South Wales

If you want to enjoy the coast but have a little more of the ‘daredevil’ about you then coasteering in South Wales may be just for you. The Pembrokeshire coastline is spectacular. Much like its Cornish cousin, this stretch coastline has been carved out by the wild Atlantic to create a dramatic seascape. Britain’s only coastal national park, Pembrokeshire boasts a 180 mile long coast path where you will find delightful coves and many golden sandy bays. This really is coasteering country, an adventure sport that brings you face to face with the raw power of the Atlantic and involves rock hopping, wild swimming, climbing and jumping from cliffs!  This is nature at its most exhilarating and is a great opportunity to ‘regress’ and indulge that childlike fun-seeking side of you! It is that unique feeling of exploration that really grabs the imagination. With experienced guides to help you make the most of this adrenaline filled sport whilst toasty warm in your wet suit, this is one holiday activity that the rain cannot spoil!

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Cycling in the Lake District – North West England

The Lake District is basically a cyclist’s paradise offering a range of challenging mountainous paths – as well as many gentle wooded trails – whilst set amongst some of England’s most stunning scenery, there really is something for everyone. Cyclists are drawn to this part of the world not least because of the beautiful views, but also because many parts of the Lake District offer paths that are relatively traffic free. Kids love cycling, and some of the best family trails are to be found at Grizedale Forest, where you will find miles of well-maintained paths amongst ancient oak and conifer trees along with strategically placed cafés for weary parents to recuperate!  Being the Lake District, this is also one of the best places for wild off-road routes that will bring you face to face with a real sense of wilderness. It is perhaps not surprising that the Lake District has been recently voted the number one biking destination in Britain. These bridleways are really a serious challenge for the hardy cyclist but the rewards are rich with unforgettable scenes across some of Britain’s most picturesque countryside.

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Skiing in Aviemore – Scottish Highlands

Whilst recent cold winters in Britain may have been unwelcome for the majority of us, they have in turn signalled a renaissance in British skiing with the resort of Aviemore the destination of choice. The last three winters have seen exceptionally good snowfalls providing excellent conditions with the key season extending from Christmas through to April. With the great snow and unattractive conversion rates for the Euro, many skiers and snowboarders have swapped the Alps for the beautiful Cairngorms to make the most of great skiing opportunities right here in Britain. Needless to say the Caringorms is one of the most dramatic mountain ranges in Britain with beautiful lochs, rivers and world famous Glens. Set against this stunning Highland backdrop there are over 30km of well-maintained ski runs with a variety of options to suit beginner, intermediate and experienced skiers (including off-piste and country routes). If you are completely new to skiing the local ski school runs great courses for children and adults to allow you to get to grips to the sport closer to home.

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Festive top 5s!

We’ve always been fans of Christmas charts at cottages4you. Whether it’s a countdown of the most popular gifts, or waiting to see if Cliff Richard was once again going to rule/ruin Christmas with another festive ballad – there’s something about this time of year that goes well with a numerical rundown.

So we’ve decided to get in on the act and present our own chart, looking at the most popular regions – in terms of volumes of sales – for Christmas and New Year holiday breaks in the UK. Unlike other festive charts there’s plenty of variety, a few surprises and not one mention of Mistletoe and Wine.

We still have some availability for Christmas and New Year breaks so if this article inspires you feel free to search our website or give us a call on 0845 268 0760 to discuss flexible arrival dates.

The Top 5 Christmas Destinations

North Norfolk Coast

The famed Norfolk Broads need little introduction: a stunning network of lakes and rivers that are a pleasure to explore; they are perhaps the region’s biggest draw. But if the Broads is better suited to a summer exploration then the North Norfolk Coast is undoubtedly a lovely place to spend Christmas. Not only does the region offers beautiful beaches, long stretches of wild coastline and eye-watering vistas as far as the eye can see (literally, in most cases), but it also boasts a beautifully preserved heritage, comprised of stunning Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture that really comes to life with festive loveliness at Christmas.

Cotswolds

For many, Christmas in the Cotswolds is the festive idyll, so it’s perhaps not surprising that so many of you are already planning to spend the festive period there. We can just see you now, looking out over gentle patchwork hills from the comfort of your holiday cottage – which will be located in the cutest limestone village, of course. We only have one further thing to add: Could we come too?

Dorset

Not only a component to one of the worst jokes centred on a UK region in existence (if you’ve heard it, you’ll agree, if not, trust us!), Dorset also boasts enough natural and man-made charms to guarantee a place on our festive top 5. One thing Dorset does well is choice: there’s the spectacular Jurassic Coastline to explore, a wealth of beautiful beaches and, further inland, the mature woodland and rolling hills of rural Dorset.

Hereford, Worcester and Wyevly

This one’s a 3 for the price of one, due to the fact we group these locations together. And despite the close proximity to each other they all have something unique to offer – which is great news if you’re lucky enough to have booked a break there! A well-preserved medieval city, Hereford is awash with festive atmosphere at this time of the year. Similarly Worcester’s Tudor buildings and gothic spires help to convey an enjoyable ‘Christmas past’ feeling, but if you fancy something a bit more rural then the Wye Valley looks incredible even without a light frosting of festive snow.

Peak District

Britain’s first National Park also offers variety in spades. There’s an abundance of active pursuits like hiking through the Peak Forest, cycling across the Dark Peak, horse riding down the Longden trail. You could scale the Heights of Abraham and get a commanding view of your surroundings, or you could settle in for the night in one of the local alehouses next to a warm fire with the welcome company of your loved ones. The Peak District is also easily accessible from Manchester and Sheffield along with various other counties so you can be back home in no time at all.

The Top 5 New Year Destinations

Lake District

While plenty of people are still flocking to cities to see in the New Year, we’re seeing a trend of others wanting to get away from it all and enjoy the advent of 2012 in relative seclusion. It’s hardly surprising that people are choosing the Lake District for the latter; after all it has more than enough stunning locations to stretch your legs, fantastic restaurants and lovely little pubs to make a celebration that you’ll never forget – or remember, depending on how much you get into the New Year spirit!

Yorkshire Coast

In many ways the Yorkshire Coast offers the best of both worlds. Like the Lakes it has an almost embarrassing amount of beautiful locations to explore and enjoy, but if you fancy a more vibrant celebration of New Year then you really need look no further than the seaside resorts of Scarborough and Whitby. To use a well worn cliché, it really does have something for everyone.

Norfolk

Still popular well into New Year, it seems many customers just don’t want to leave their holiday cottage in Norfolk and who could blame them?

Cotswolds

The running popularity of the Cotswolds is a strong testament to its many charms. It’s a perennially popular destination so we can’t see it losing its place on the chart in the near future.

Dorset

We may have little to add to our write-up of Dorset but don’t worry, even though it’s approaching Christmas, we won’t be telling any terrible jokes based on its name – we’ll save that for the dinner table!

Christmas in Bath

Quietly, like a beautiful butterfly flying in the wind, the city of Bath has been building, developing and investing in its festive offerings, so much so that when we came across an itinerary of what they have on offer this year, we spluttered in our hot chocolates with marshmallows in them.

To start with, naturally, Bath’s Christmas Market, which is in itself enough to warrant a short break or family holiday in the city.

Kicking off on November 14th, the self-described biggest and most beautiful Christmas market in the south-west, rocks your jingle bells for 18 magical days, against a backdrop that is simply arresting.

With the Bath Abbey and Roman Baths acting as epic feature points, the Christmas market exudes a certain quaint charm, made all the more glorious by the sheer number of wooden chalets – 130 in total!

Plus there’s loads of bustle coming from the plethora of entertainment on offer. From Natural Theatre Company performances to Grenville Jones choir recitals to seasoned busking, you will not be short of some sort of welcome distraction.

Elsewhere, the Jane Austen Centre – she spent six years of her life writing in Bath – flips the script and gets Christmassy with a wonderful insight into how this time of the year was spent in the 1800s.

The Holburne Museum of Art meanwhile, will be adorned with 1,000s of tiny fibre optics, bringing a festive glow to the newly refurbished space that is principally home to the art collection of Sir Thomas William Holburne.

Finally, Longleat House, a stately house that is one of the best examples of high Elizabethan architecture. It is striking in every way. The big thing this year is its fairy tell and Christmas story recreations.

“Sleeping Beauty dreams away 100 years in our exquisite Chinese Bedroom. A hearty feast is set out in the Dining Room ready for when stingy old Scrooge discovers the spirit of Christmas,” Longleat House informs us. “In the Great Hall Cinderella is whirled across the dance floor by her handsome Prince Charming. Discover Marley’s ghost and much much more!”

Indeed, quietly, Bath has built up a wonderland that is up there with other UK cities in terms of fostering the Christmas spirit. Have fun and make sure you have your woollies on when you’re out and about.