Celebrate National Picnic Week! 

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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!

Top 5 Traffic Free Cycle Routes in the UK

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This year promises to be a momentous year for cycling, not only can we look forward to the Tour de France starting in Britain,  but also the Commonwealth Games promises to be a memorable celebration for many of our cycling superstars. Here at cottages4you we love cycling. A quiet bridleway, the sun beating on your back with the birds and the insects playing the soundtrack, you can’t beat it. There are many great routes across Britain that you can enjoy without having to weave in and out of the traffic; here is a selection of some of our favourites.

1.       The Camel Trail, Cornwall

Arguably the most famous cycle trails in the country, the Camel Trail meanders along the southern edge of the Camel Estuary from Padstow  towards Wadebridge, and for the more adventurous, then on towards Bodmin and Wenfordbridge. The trail follows the line of a disused railway surrounded by the delightful rolling greenery of the beautiful Cornish countryside.  The Camel Estuary itself is absorbing, a huge expanse of sand that disappears daily with the return of the tide. The changing landscape adds to the magic, as the view will in all likelihood have changed dramatically by the time you return. Bicycles are available for hire so if you don’t want to worry about taking your bicycles away on holiday, you can pick out your ideal ride in Padstow and then you can travel as far as you choose along one of the most popular cycle routes in Europe.

2.       The New Forest, Hampshire

Cycling and forests go hand in hand and the sights and sounds of one of Britain’s most famous forests provides the backdrop to some fantastic cycle trails for all of the family. Explore over a 100 miles of forest trails away from the Hampshire roads, starting as short as 3 miles and going up to 21 miles there is plenty of choice to match everyone’s ability. Children will be delighted by the local wildlife, look out for ponies, deer and the unforgettable bright flash of a kingfisher!  Following the gently sloping routes through woodland and surrounding moorland, you will find a landscape is full colour throughout the year. Whether your visit coincides with the bluebells in spring or the golden tones of autumn, cycling is the best way to get to know and fall in love with the New Forest.

3.       The Strawberry Line, Somerset

This traffic free route from Yatton through to the Somerset village of Cheddar, takes its name from the cargo that was carried along this former railway line, taking fruit from the heart of Somerset to the city of Bristol. Today you will still pass the fruit in the fields but at a much more leisurely pace, passing secluded wooded valleys through tunnels and into the Mendips!  This ten mile route is idea for families and you be rewarded at journeys end by the awe inspiring Cheddar Gorge.  One of the most spectacular natural wonders in England, this is the most popular tourist attraction in Somerset.  This limestone gorge is also home to a fascinating network of caves and underground rivers, complete with stalactites and stalagmites!  A visit to Cheddar Gorge is a day out in itself

4.       Dolgellau to Barmouth, North Wales

Otherwise known as the Mawddach Trail, the ten mile riverside route from the delightful  Dolgellau to Barmouth lies at the foothills of the western flank of Snowdonia. The route itself is not encumbered by any steep inclines, but enjoys one for the most spectacular settings for any cycle pathway in the country.  Like so many of our treasured traffic free routes, this trail follows the line of a former railway on its journey beside the river Mawddach towards the estuary beyond. The views are truly breath taking; with mountains on one side and on the other side sea, it is easy to understand why this route is so highly regarded by cyclists and walkers alike. With such close proximity to the estuary remember to take your binoculars to view the multiplicity of wading birds that make this beautiful spot their temporary home, and who could blame them!

5.       Tissington Trail, Derbyshire

Open for the past 43 years, the Tissington Trail is a 13 mile route that links Ashbourne  with Parsley Hay in the Peak District National Park. It has quickly established itself as one of the premier cycle paths in the country, enjoying special views across the haunting Derbyshire landscape. Like many on our ‘favourites list’ the Tissington Trail is ideal because by in large there are no steep hills to worry about. Renowned for its moorland, the Peak District makes a lasting impression and the Tissington Trail offers visitors great views of the rolling hills and dales that draw people back year after year. To enjoy the trail at its best, perhaps plan a visit during the summer months when the hillsides are at their greenest and the butterflies provide the company along a bridleway that is suitable for cyclists of all ages.

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Christmas Destinations 2013

WinterWonder

As many of you will be aware, the way the Christmas dates fall this year mean that a week’s break straddles the bank holiday, giving a great balance of days leading up to Christmas and still allowing for a couple of days afterwards. As a result lots of people are taking the full week off and looking at holiday destinations that are a little further afield.  Many are doubtless looking for that illusive ‘Christmas card’ idyll, the perennial desire for a white Christmas right here in Britain. With convenient festive booking dates and the season fast approaching, let’s take a look at some of those ‘picture perfect’ destinations for a Christmas to remember in 2013!

Christmas in the Cairngorms

In recent years the winters have been cold, and practically anywhere in Britain have a good chance of seeing snow, but if you really want to increase your chances then a break in and amongst some of Scotland’s most rugged and beautiful scenery might be perfect for you this year.  With the colder temperatures the Cairngorms has continued to thrive as a centre for winter sports in Britain. With plenty of powder snow across the Highlands, skiers and snowboarders have been making the most of what has turned into an extended season over the past few winters. This is ‘Monarch of the Glen’ territory where countryside really meets wilderness, a scenic backdrop that exemplifies the very best of Scottish natural beauty.

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Christmas in Snowdonia

You really can’t beat that feeling of invigoration and sense of freshness produced by a crisp winter’s morning in North Wales. Waking up to breath taking scenery, maybe walking from your doorstep into probably the most dramatic countryside in Wales and then returning to a warm hearth and a little more of that Christmas ‘spirit’, it is hard not to see the attraction.  If you are in search of a winter wonderland this Christmas, Snowdonia maybe the perfect choice to enjoy the total freedom of a rural holiday this winter. Whether you want to cocoon yourself in a snug cottage or immerse yourself in the surrounding beauty (or perhaps both) North Wales is a great option to enjoy a traditional Christmas this December.

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Christmas in the Lake District

With the snow lying across the Cumbrian fells, there surely cannot be many more enigmatic settings this Christmas than in the Lake District National Park. With idyllic country villages decorated in tinsel and lights set against the towering hillsides, you are quickly transported to the magical essence of Christmas’ past. Atmospheric throughout the year, the Lake District has the power to immerse the senses but at Christmas there just that something extra special being in a timeless crystalline winter landscape.  With some of the finest and most scenic walking in the country, you will soon burn off that Christmas ‘excess’ without really noticing! Where will you be spending Christmas 2013?

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Cottage of the Week – Crogan Coach House, Corwen

There’s so much to recommend at Crogan Coach House that we feel we can’t really do it justice in a single blog post. However, since most holiday cottages offer different activities to match the seasons – and following Andy Murray’s heroic performance last weekend – we reasoned that an on-site all-weather tennis court is probably a fairly large draw for holidaymakers.

Since Crogan Coach House sleeps 16 holidaymakers it’s entirely possible that you can stage your own mini-Wimbledon in the beautiful summer sun we’re currently enjoying. If tennis isn’t your cup of tea you can also access 4 miles of river with salmon, trout and grayling fishing by arrangement. Or if you prefer there’s also 2,500 acres of gorgeous walking country on your doorstep – and if you fancy something to quicken the pulse there’s also a high ropes course and paintballing set in stunning forest is within ½ mile.

Whether you return to Crogan Coach House a tennis champion, having conquered your fear of heights or with the catch of the day you’re sure to find a tranquil oasis where relaxation is the order of business. Enjoy a spacious living room and dining room – both with open fires. A large well-equipped kitchen/breakfast room offers an Aga, cooker, sitting area and a wood-burning stove. There’s a TV, DVD player and stereo with Wi-Fi available at £10 per stay. If you’d like every member of the family to enjoy a break then you can also take up to two pets.

With its Welsh Borders location, the area surrounding Crogan Coach House offers a wealth of activities to suit all ages and interests. The quaint market town of Corwen lies just 8 miles from the typical Welsh town of Llangollen which hosts the International Music Eisteddfod each July. This famous folk festival provides an array of music, dance, poetry and entertainment.

Llangollen is also popular throughout the rest of the year, with white water rafting available and numerous historical sites and attractions to visit. Snowdonia National Park is easily accessible and well worth a visit with its breathtaking mountains offering beautiful views and scenery.

Bala Lake (5 miles), the largest natural lake in Wales, is a major centre for many watersports including sailing, windsurfing and white water rafting. For lovers of good food, there are two gastronomic hotels of note just 1½ miles away. Shop 13/4 miles, two pubs 1½ miles.

There’s plenty more to enjoy and discover in and around Crogan Coach House, but like all good things, the real joy lies in discovering it for yourselves. So if you fancy a break in one of the UK’s most undiscovered holiday regions we highly recommend a break at Crogan Coach House.

Cottage of the Week – Felin Hedd nr. Aberystwyth

Sitting peacefully in a rural location, this superb example of a detached threshing barn conversion bursts with original features including cast-iron driving wheels, stone walls and exposed beams. It has ground source underfloor heating throughout and nestles within 17 acres, including 5 acres of woodland to enjoy, bordered by the River Teifi with panoramic views towards the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains. Let us know what you think of the property and the video. More info.

Exploring Wales…Some of the most stunning scenery in the world

Much of the countryside of Wales is breathtakingly beautiful, from the north, where you’ll find some of the most stunning scenery in the world, to the long sandy beaches of Pembrokeshire.

Mount Snowden - WalesSnowdonia, the historic heart of Wales, is unique. The mountains have a scale and grandeur which belies their actual size and the region is blessed with rivers, lakes, forests, moorlands and a lovely coastline.

The island of Anglesey ~ backed in the east by the dramatic backcloth of Snowdonia, ever changing in the shifting light ~ is separated from the mainland by the Menai Straits, a lovely sinuous arm of the sea which seems more like a tidal river in its wooded middle reaches. The island’s coastline is immensely varied and beautiful, and the little town of Beaumaris has a relaxed charm all of its own, with its urbane terraces and sea-side air. Continue reading