The UK’s Best Christmas Events

A selection of the Britain’s finest festive attractions to get you in the Christmas spirit. Enjoy Edinburgh’s mix of stunning seasonal events, take a walk on the wild side in Chester, marvel at gorgeous garlands in Cornwall and get fit and raise money for charity…

A pre-Christmas treat

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Thursford: putting the spectacle in spectacular

If you’d like a break to get yourself ready for the festivities, then Norfolk can be a great choice. There’s the chance for head-clearing walks on stunning beaches, cosy lunches in country pubs and much more. This would also give you the chance to enjoy the legendary Christmas Spectacular at Thursford. It’s the biggest Christmas show across the country, with 130 singers, dancers and musicians, offering three hours of stunning entertainment. It’s set in an amazingly created atmosphere full of fairground carousels and mechanical organs, and folk travel from all across the UK to enjoy a happy and memorable festive experience.

A night with the animals

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Monkey business by The Lantern Company

Many folk have been recently charmed by the BBC drama series Our Zoo – telling the story of Chester Zoo. This Christmas, there’s a chance to visit the place itself and enjoy one of their festive season lantern workshops. Youngsters can design their own lantern, and then everyone sets off on a night-time journey, listening to sounds of animals as they prowl the darkness. There’s an illuminated trail created by The Lantern Company, leading to a display of stunning animal themed lanterns. Hang your Christmas wishes on the Giant Wishing Tree before you visit Fruit Bat Forest and the Elephant House. There are 14 pre-Christmas dates, but many are selling out fast so do check now.

A day at the races

There has been a long tradition of festive season race meetings across the country gathering large holiday crowds. If you’ve never been, it could be a great time to pay a fist visit. Among the many meetings, there will be plenty of atmosphere on Saturday 27th December at Chepstow for the famous Welsh National. On Boxing Day itself, you’ll be able to choose from eight locations, including Huntingdon and Kempton Park, Wetherby or Towcester.

The power of flowers

Photo by Adrian Platt

Photo by Adrian Platt

At Cotehele, a magical National Trust Tudor property in gorgeous Cornwall, the garden staff spend most of November creating a truly amazing sixty-foot long Christmas garland. It contains more than forty thousand flowers, and right through December, you have the chance to visit the hall and admire its unique beauty. If you’re on a pre-Christmas break, you’ll also find musical events under it most days.

A walk in the park

Unless you have small children and buggies, then there’s a great way to clear the head on Boxing Day morning if you are enjoying a break in the wilds of Kent. You could join a group of like-minded souls at Ightham Mote to tuck into a full English breakfast to prepare you for a bracing and informal guided walk around this magnificent estate, just a few miles south of Sevenoaks. After your trek, you might choose to look round this romantic moated manor house itself. Noted historian Dr David Starkey has described it as “one of the most beautiful and interesting of English country houses”.

Your capital choice

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Edinburgh has Christmas covered

Staying in many beautiful countryside locations in central Scotland would give you the chance of a visit or two to Edinburgh, where there’s a huge choice of festive things to do. You and the family might visit the superb Santa Land in East Princes Street Gardens. There’s a grotto and train, tree maze, and terrific rides such as the North Pole Slide, Swan Lake and Race-a-Rama. There’s also a roller coaster! You might also book sixty minutes of circus acts and mischief makers in a youngsters’ treat at the Brat Kids Carnival in St Andrew Square. There’s also an ice rink there, and another in Princes Street Gardens – if you are brave enough!

An adventurous time

A Yorkshire break would give the whole family an excuse to enjoy great fun times at Stockeld Park, located between Harrogate and Leeds. Their packed Christmas Adventure can include either a stroll, or you could try Nordic Skiing, through the amazing Illuminated Enchanted Forest; a mix of theatre, fantasy and great lighting effects. Who knows who you might meet? Then you can lose yourself in the amazing Snowflake Maze. If you have a youngster who wants to try ice skating, but is a bit unsteady, they can even gain the support of their very own supportive penguin!

Lights at the borderlands

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Alnwick Garden’s stunning Sparkle show

As the festive season draws to a close, the magnificent Alnwick Garden in Northumberland is lit up with a truly stunning Sparkle lighting display. The whole family can celebrate the New Year in a traditional way with street entertainment, giggle-inducing party games, much music and a traditional Hog Roast Carvery, plus a DJ party or a quieter and more relaxing option in the Pavilion. There’s also an awesome landscape of windswept coastlines and castles, sweeping moorlands and charming towns to investigate as you make your way into another great year!

Run, Santa, Run

Ted tried it last year

Even Ted’s tried it

If you tend to over-indulge in the festivities over the Christmas period then our next choice is the perfect preparation for a New Year Resolution to get fit – and raise money for charity in the process! The annual Santa Fun Run, in aid of Bosom Friends, takes place in Barnoldswick every year. This year’s event takes place on December 7th near to our office and the emphasis is on the fun, so whether you try to beat your ‘PB’ or are happier completing the 5k as a strolling Santa, we’re sure you’ll have a good time whilst raising funds for a very worthy cause.

Find fantastic festive accommodation with cottages4you

Mr. Turner’s Britain: 5 Destinations that Shaped the Artist

Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner

With Mr. Turner currently earning great notices and a retrospective of his late work exhibiting at The Tate, the life and work of artist Joseph Mallord William Turner has never been more talked about. But with a career spanning over 60 years involving the creation of countless sketches and paintings in several different countries, understanding where to begin an appreciation of Turner’s life and work can be a daunting prospect.

With Turner’s current prominence in mind, we’re decided to look at a few key works from his life and suggest where might be the best place to appreciate some of his works: the locations where they were painstakingly created.  As a renowned “painter of light”, Turner is regarded as the master of capturing the beauty, majesty and drama of history and the natural world so you can expect unparalleled beauty, stunning scenes and a few surprises as you embark on the Turner trail.

1. Otley and the Wharfe Valley, Yorkshire

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The beautiful Wharfe Valley

Turner’s dramatic portrayal of Hannibal crossing the Alps has its origins in the unlikely setting of a snowstorm rolling in over the Chevin, a rocky bluff that crests over the pretty Yorkshire market town of Otley. The artist spent a lot of time painting at nearby Farnely Hall and was a good friend of the Ramsden Fawkes family who live there to this day. Visits to the hall are by invitation only so we would recommend a walk up the Chevin ridge to marvel at the stunning views of the Wharfe Valley that inspired Turner and prompted him to return and paint throughout his life.

2. The Needles, the Isle of Wight

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Yachts off the Isle of Wight

Turner’s first exhibited oil painting at the prestigious Royal Academy was Fishermen at Sea, a moonlit portrait of men working tirelessly against crashing waves whilst the Isle’s dramatic Needles rise up out of the murk in the distance. Visitors to the west coast of the Isle who have marvelled at the craggy Needles rising from Alum Bay won’t be surprised that Turner was so inspired by them. In fact, the artists found a lot more inspiration in and around the Isle with fantastic portraits of Cowes, yachts at the Regatta, Freshwater Bay, Carisbrooke Castle and more still exhibited to this day.

3. Margate and Kent

White cliffs of Dover

The Kent coast was another location Turner would return to throughout his life. The artist would hone his skills as a young boy capturing local landmarks in pen, ink and watercolour. In fact, it was here that Turner first saw the sea, a subject that, like Margate itself, would recur throughout his life. Margate’s Regency flourishes were irreparably damaged during World War II, so filmmakers had to recreate Turner’s time in Kent elsewhere. Today his life and times in Margate are celebrated at the Turner Contemporary Gallery, and you may still find a few of his subjects still standing and awaiting your admiration!

4. Wales

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Caernarfon Castle: one of Turner’s Welsh subjects

Turner seemed to have a particular affinity for Wales and the Welsh landscape. Growing up in London in the late 18th and early 19th century, he was immersed in the creative atmosphere of the Piazza at Coven Garden – a hub of artists’ studios. The work of one particular painter would have a formative effect on Turner, Welshman Richard Wilson. Turner set out on a pilgrimage to the artist’s homeland and there would fall in love with the history and large array of stunning topographical features set within a relatively close space. During Turner’s five visits to Wales he would capture castles, lakes, mountains, cliffs and coasts all with an unerring focus on the rich majesty and natural drama they contained – a feature still evidenced in the delightful Welsh landscape today.

5. Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames

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The Thames from Richmond Hill

Turner received formal training in architectural drawing in his early years, and allegedly wished to train as an architect if he had the chance to have his time again. The artist’s structural paintings are a good indicator of his affinity for architectural design, but perhaps his greatest achievement in the field is Sandycombe Lodge, the Turner House in Twickenham. The home was built to Turner’s specifications and would allow himself, and his father ‘Old William’ a refuge from the pressures of London. Sketchbooks at the Tate in London show Turner’s design extend to the plot surrounding the home, which his father would later spend his days tending to. Turner himself was keen on exploring the surrounding area taking boat rides on the Thames, walking the towpaths admiring the views and taking guests on picnics.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

We teamed up with our friends at Hoseasons and Canvas Holidays to tackle Yorkshire’s Three Peaks this weekend, raising much-needed funds for the Three Peaks Project in the process. Great (dry!) weather made for ideal walking conditions and a really fun (though exhausting!) day. Find more info on the Three Peaks Project on their website.

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.

Cottage of the Week – Red House, Scarborough

Our new featured property sleeps 10, accepts pets, has Wi-Fi, TV, a pool table, sea views, a lovely interior, is in Yorkshire – which is proving VERY popular at the moment (no prizes for guessing why) and has a turret! It’s pretty much the perfect property – as customer reviews will attest. Find out more and make a booking on our website.

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!

Cottages in the Dales

We’re getting lots of requests for holiday cottages in the Dales at the moment, so we thought we’d showcase a few properties that offer the best of Yorkshire: quaint cottages in lovely locations close to the 2014 Tour de France route for the Yorkshire Grand Départ.

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Holly Cottage, Bellerby, Wensleydale. Ref: B5776. Set just under 4 miles from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, this 300-year-old stone Yorkshire Dales cottage is situated on the edge of a village green, with stream and real ale inn. In the ’best kept village’ of Bellerby, it has beamed ceilings, stone features and is comfortably furnished and very well-equipped.

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Cherry Tree Cottage, Bellerby, Wensleydale. Ref: IHD. Set 4 miles from the Yorkshire Dales National Park on the edge of a pretty village green – complete with stream and wandering ducks – this 300-year-old stone Yorkshire Dales cottage makes a spacious holiday home. With a carefully co-ordinated interior, it retains much character with exposed beams and window seats.

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Clematis Cottage, Redmire, Wensleydale. Ref: 23131. This comfortable 200 year old stone cottage full of charm and character overlooks the peaceful village green. Set in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park it is an ideal holiday base for touring, walking (guided walks available) or cycling. Visit Hawes, home to Wallace and Gromit’s favourite Wensleydale cheese or nearby Forbidden Corner at Leyburn.

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Castle View, Richmond, Swaledale. Ref: IWP. Set 2 miles from the Yorkshire Dales National Park and commanding extensive views over historic Richmond to its castle, the River Swale and old jousting fields, this detached holiday home combines modern convenience with designer style and paintings by a local artist. In an elevated position, its peaceful gardens invite guests to admire the view.