Cottage of the Week – Phil’s House, Lairg

Perfect for pets and people, Phil’s House (ref SUUR) is an architect designed, eco-friendly, single-storey house on an elevated position with panoramic views over the village of Lairg in the Highlands, waters of the Loch Shin and towards the hills beyond. Sleeps 6 and 3 pets. Check out customer comments and find more info on the property listing.

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.

Celebrate National Picnic Week! 

iStock_000012304156MediumPICNIC

In a world where we live our lives increasingly indoors, and where families eat together far less often than they used to, picnics offer the perfect chance to come together and enjoy some al fresco food and drink as well as each other’s company.

It’s also a great bonding opportunity away from the distractions of home and work. Even if the weather isn’t at its best, it can still be a hugely enjoyable and beneficial experience. Equally, if you have a large extended family and not that much space indoors, or if you don’t have a big garden, a picnic can be one of the best ways of relishing being outside spaces.

Taking place this year from June 16-22, National Picnic Week aims to give families the ideal chance to come together over an outdoor meal, with tips, advice, recipes and other information, so that you enjoy the perfect picnic. It encourages people to get outside and find great local al fresco dining sites, and the event has grown hugely over the decade it’s been around.

That’s because, while it may be a hoary old cliché, food really does taste better outdoors! There aren’t many better ways of making the most of the summer.

In the rush to get overseas for holidays and the like, it can be easy to forget how lucky we are in the UK to have a huge range of open areas for picnics, from forests and woodland to Britain’s dramatic coastline, hillsides, fields and meadows. Or how about having a picnic on an island, the grounds of a stately home or in a lovely country park? Your perfect family picnic spot may be closer than you realised.

Of course, like most things, a little preparation is required. As well as planning and making your food with care, you will need to choose your family picnic spot in advance, and give some thought to the decision.

Here are just some ideas. Even if they aren’t close to where you live, they could provide inspiration for the sort of spot you’d like to take your family to.

Country Parks 

In the UK, we are very lucky to have a good number of these. In Wiltshire, for example, the Avon Valley Country Park covers some fifty acres of gorgeous land right by the River Avon, and there’s stacks for grown-ups and children to do. Kids, for instance, will love the youngsters’ assault course and there are some great riverside rambles to do while you work up an appetite and decide where to unfurl your picnic rug.

Another good place is Wellington Country Park, with its 350 stunning acres of Hampshire countryside, not to mention a miniature railway, crazy golf, oversized snakes and ladders game, nature trails and more.

North of the border, Beecraigs Country Park in the Bathgate Hills near Linlithgow makes another idyllic location for a family day out. There are activities from kayaking to archery, a fishery and deer farm as well as a campsite, so you could stay a few days and enjoy not just one but several wonderful al fresco meals.

Still in Scotland, the Glenkiln Sculpture Park in Dumfries and Galloway has six sculptures in its eight miles of land.

Historic Sites 

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey

Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire makes an unusual picnic spot, at Europe’s biggest stone circle, thought to be four thousand years old.

Alternatively, in North Yorkshire the ruined Rievaulx Abbey, surrounded by woodland, dates from medieval times and will give your picnic a unique atmosphere. Or what about picnicking in the grounds of Dorset’s Corfe Castle?

Open spaces

The heather and bracken of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall offer a dramatic backdrop to any outdoor meal, as do the North Pennines, from Northumberland’s Hadrian’s Wall into Cumbria. In Wales, the Clywedog Valley and Trail has seven miles of great walking and you could visit the local lead mines. Or take in the hills, woodland and Iron Age fort of Devil’s Dyke, East Sussex.

Beaches and Islands

Still in Wales, Barafundle Beach in Pembrokeshire is a little known spot, but discover it and you won’t want to leave. For island settings, think about beautiful St Herbert’s, Cumbria, or Dorset’s Brownsea Island, dotted with idyllic picnicking locations.

Stately homes

Ragley Hall in Warwickshire provides a superb family day out, with 400 acres to play in, an adventure playground incorporating a maze, climbing frames and a trampoline. You may want to spread out your picnic rug by the lake, where its’ nice and peaceful, and you may see the odd peacock strutting around!

London 

Finally, if you thought the city was no place for a picnic, think again. Somerset House lets you escape the chaotic capital with a massive courtyard complete with fountains, in front of this glorious eighteenth century palace. Another idea is the gardens next to the Horniman Museum, which have sixteen acres and where there’s always something going on.

With so much to enjoy, what are you waiting for? Pack up your picnic basket this summer and head off to enjoy the best of what the UK has to offer- and don’t forget to capture the moment for your Big Kid Bingo card!

Britain’s Best Castles

iStock_000005479619Mediumcaerphilly

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)

iStock_000001629964Smallwarwick

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.

Provincial pubs: a guide to the UK’s best

iStock_000014376723Smallpub

If you’re looking for a self-catering holiday in the UK, you’ll no doubt be looking to book somewhere that has all of the local facilities that you need. Good local food shops are crucial, and families will want to stay in a location that has plenty to keep the children occupied. For many, a great local pub is essential, providing you with a taste of local life, good drinks, great food and a welcoming atmosphere.

Great food can be found at pubs all over the UK, but if you want to try a Michelin starred menu, a pub can be a great place to do so without breaking the bank. If you’re visiting Kent, a trip to The Sportsman is a must. The Michelin-starred pub has a true focus on local ingredients, with Whitstable oysters, lamb from across the road and home churned butter all on the menu. At the time of writing, you could enjoy a main course for around £20 or a tasting menu for £65 – and without the pretentiousness of many Michelin-starred restaurants.

Alternatively, head to Somerset’s Chew Valley to The Pony & Trap in Chew Magna: a multiple award-winning country pub owned by brother and sister team Josh and Holly Eggleton. The Pony & Trap has held its Michelin star since 2011, offering everything from pub classics such as ham, egg and chips at lunch times to special six course seasonal menus for £50 a head. The views of the rolling countryside from the back garden are fantastic too.

Real ale lovers should head to the Swan With Two Necks in Pendleton, Lancashire, which was given the title of National Pub Of The Year by the Campaign for Real Ale in February 2014. The tiny pub offers draught beers such as Copper Dragon’s Golden Pippin, in addition to a range of guest ales from microbreweries that include Salamander, Dark Star and Phoenix. The Swan With Two Necks also sells local cider that is produced from apple trees owned by the pub itself.

If you want to visit the best cider pub in the UK (according to CAMRA), you’ll have to head to a railway station in Norfolk. The Railway Arms in Downham Market, Norfolk, describes itself as a “micro-pub and café”, and is located on the platform at Downham Market Station. Stocking cider from local producer Pickled Pig among others, The Railway Arms is also known for its good selection of real ales.

For a remote pub experience, try The Carpenters Arms in Walterstone, Herefordshire, under the Black Mountains’ eastern ridge. Popular with walkers and cyclists, The Carpenters Arms offers good home cooked food and a warming environment thanks to landlady Vera, who has run the pub for 35 years since taking it over from her mother.

Those wanting a truly remote pub visit (as certified by the Guinness Book of Records) should head to The Old Forge in Inverie on Scotland’s north west coast, which has the claim to fame of being the most remote pub in mainland Britain. Accessible only via a 7 mile sea crossing or an 18 mile hike (there are no roads to the pub), those who make it over there will be rewarded with a great atmosphere, honest local food, great local beers and quality live music. There is no mobile phone signal in the pub and The Old Forge switch off their WiFi at 6pm, making it a truly sociable place.

If you’re looking for something a little more quirky, then consider a trip to the Crooked House just outside Himley, near Dudley, Staffordshire. Built in 1765, it used to be a farmhouse – and its quirkiness comes from the fact that the whole building is leaning to one side. One side of the building is four feet lower than the other thanks to subsidence caused by the mining industry back in the 1800s, but structurally, it is perfectly safe. While the floors are level, the walls lean, leading to optical illusions such as glasses sliding across tables, and marbles rolling uphill.

Card players should also head to the Pack o’ Cards in Combe Martin, a seaside town in Devon. Not only was it built to look like a deck of cards, but the plot of land on which it was situated is 52 feet by 52 feet, it has four floors (one to represent each suit), 13 fireplaces and 13 doors on each floor. The reason for this? The building of the pub was funded by winnings from a card game!

From great food and drink to award-winning beers and ciders, from truly remote pub trips to some very quirky venues, the range of rural pubs in the UK is huge, offering something for everyone.

Britain’s Best Winter Walks – part 1

iStock_000019435378Smallpeakdistrict

The Peak District: perfect for dusting off the cobwebs

The advent of the New Year signals the beginning of millions of resolutions across the nation, doubtless many of them to include good intentions for a healthier lifestyle.  There cannot be many more invigorating ways to greet the New Year whilst embarking on a more active 2014 than to enjoy a winter walk in the beautiful British countryside. This is the perfect opportunity maybe to ‘dust away a few cobwebs’ whilst getting away this winter to explore some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe.  Here are some great options for winter walking in 2014.

Walking in Cornwall – Holywell Bay to Porthtowan

Coastal walking in winter can be dramatic and perhaps nowhere are they more spectacular than in Cornwall. The mesmerising winter swell produces an impressive demonstration of nature’s unrelenting pounding of the Cornish Atlantic coast. Whether it be a crystalline blue winter’s day or a breezy afternoon, walkers (and surfers!) are drawn to one of the most enigmatic stretches of coast in the country. Holywell Bay with its famous Gull Rocks lies just to the south of Newquay on the north Cornwall coast. The walk following the coastal path south to Porthtowan passes delightful coves, expansive beaches and imposing cliffs and takes about 5 hours. The route will take you through Perranporth, St Agnes and the emblematic Wheal Coates, a former tin mine which looks down on this majestic coastline. This historic landmark has come to symbolise ‘Kernow’ and man’s essential link to land and sea. With a plethora of great pubs along the way, there is plenty of opportunity to ‘rest’ on this popular winter walk.

Search for accommodation in Cornwall

Walking in South Wales  –  Rhossili Bay

The Gower peninsula is an area of outstanding natural beauty and like its Cornish cousin the coastline on ‘The Gower’ is unforgettable. This ancient terrain is blessed with natural good looks and is also dotted with Iron Age and Norman monuments to explore in an area that has been treasured for centuries. A great way to take in this fabulous vista is to walk from Worms Head along the coast and then into a circular route around Rhossili Bay. This eight mile route provides some fantastic vantage points that on a clear day will allow you to glimpse the North Devon coast. The rugged countryside is bordered by a large beach at Rhossili Bay providing an opportunity to follow the tideline as part of your journey across some of the most delightful scenery in South Wales.

Search for accommodation in South Wales

Walking in Scotland – Loch Morar

Scotland is synonymous with walking and the famed Munro’s and Corbett’s are of course will trodden. If you are looking for something not quite as strenuous whilst equally picturesque, then Loch Morar is a great option for a memorable winter walk. This part of Scotland is considered a paradise for walkers, with elevated views of some of the most stunning Scottish mountains including Ben Nevis and across the water towards the Hebrides. One of the most scenic and popular routes is the 5 mile route along the loch to Tarbet. With a snow capped backdrop against the still, mirror-like waters and on a crisp winter’s day, the views are simply breathtaking. The wild landscape provides a variety of habits to a fascinating array of wildlife. Look out for otters, roe deer and even sea eagles, which can be seen fishing for salmon!

Search for accommodation in Scotland

Walking in the Peak District – Eastern Moors

The stillness across the frozen Peak District moorland transports the soul into the sense of another world (if not another century). The landscaping is awe-inspiring, whilst haunting at the same time.  The central location of the Peak District National Park makes it eminently accessible and perfect for a walking short break. To get a real sense of wilderness and the essential raw beauty of the Peaks, the Eastern Moors is offers varied range of vistas to immerse yourself during a winter moorland walk.  The circular route from Curbar Gap, through Froggat, White Edges and then back to Curbar Gap, takes in some of the most strikingly rugged parts of the Peak District. Expansive moorland home to timid red deer offers vantage points across Derwent Valley and on to the heartland of the Peak District.

Search for accommodation in the Peak District

Walking in the Cotswolds –  Winchcombe

Perhaps there is nowhere that best exemplifies the essence of England’s green and pleasant land than the rolling Cotswolds. Home to the quintessential English village, during the winter months the landscape takes on a magical, almost ethereal flavour as the morning and early evening mists hang over timeless Cotswold valleys. The attractive gentle inclines offer an extensive variety of footpaths and bridleways across historic sites, rivers and past tempting old Inns!  Winchcombe which lies at the heart of the Cotswolds is a great starting point for a variety of walks around some of the most beautiful and historic landscapes in the area.  Many options encompass parts of the Cotwolds Way and you can choose from leisurely two mile routes around Sudeley Castle to more challenging hikes from Winchombe to Hailes, taking in great views of the Malverns and the Vale of Evesham. With the early winter nights make sure you plan your journey allowing for plenty of daylight to complete your walk. What better way than to round off your winter hike than coming home to light your woodburner in your cosy Cotswolds cottage!

Search for accommodation in the Cotswolds