Into the Wild – Celebrating Britain’s National Parks

We are blessed in Britain with 15 national parks, our country’s ‘breathing spaces,’ and every summer we celebrate them during National Parks Week.

Whatever the weather, or season take time out in our beautiful, protected wild places and enjoy the very best of our countryside, heritage and wildlife…

Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire Dales

The Vikings called them ‘dalr’, meaning valleys and today we worship these same rolling dales. The glorious mosaic of green, criss-crossed with dry-stone walls of the Yorkshire Dales is home to the Tour de Yorkshire and punctuated with picture-perfect villages. Feast on famous Wensleydale cheese, delight in the purple haze of August heather, bike along routes trail-blazed by the world’s greatest cyclists and recharge your batteries with, according to locals, the best cup of tea in England. Don’t miss the limestone majesty of Malham Cove and the drama of Hardraw Force waterfall. Children will love jumping the cracks in limestone pavement, or crossing the stepping stones at Bolton Abbey, before screaming for ice-cream from nearby Billy-Bob’s Parlour.

Cairngorms                     

Cairngorms        

For a true sense of space, lose yourself in the largest national park in the UK, in the heart of the Scottish highlands. Home to our highest mountain range and most extensive native Caledonian forest, dominated by striking Scots pines, the Cairngorms is a place to challenge yourself. This might be through hiking, climbing or simply searching for true wilderness and perhaps an elusive pine martin or reindeer. Yes, really. The only place in the UK place guaranteed for skiing, the Cairngorms transform into a snowy arctic expanse in winter. And don’t forget the Scottish hospitality – a wee dram of whisky goes down rather well after a day in the mountains. Cheers!

Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons

The singular geology of the Brecon Beacons makes this place stand out. Part of the park is an internationally recognised Global Geopark, and its flat-topped escarpments plunge into glacial valleys and lakes. Red sandstone peaks near Brecon in mid Wales give way to the Black Mountains, and the park boasts the highest peak in south Wales, Pen Y Fan. It’s also a Dark Sky Reserve, making it as beautiful by night as by day. Wild Welsh mountain ponies can be spotted in upland areas and you can also wander or horse ride over countless miles of accessible tracks and paths. Red kites are beloved as Wales’ unofficial national bird and you can view these magnificent raptors jostling for food at the Red Kite Feeding Centre.

Northumberland

Northumberland

In the far north east stretching towards the Scottish border is Northumberland National Park; the largest Dark Sky Park in Europe and one of the best places in Britain to gaze upon our solar system. Hadrian’s Wall meanders east to west across the country and in Northumberland, the last outpost of the Roman Empire’s northern frontier; it snakes along the national park’s southern boundary. Take a walk with a knowledgeable volunteer guide and learn about both natural and human history.  If your kids would rather be at a farm park than a National Park, delight them with the Hethpool Wild Goat Walk, taking in an exciting waterfall and affording the best chance to spot the comic, shaggy Cheviot goats.

Loch Lomond & the Trossachs

 Loch Lomond

A city-dweller’s escape providing fantastic opportunities for fishing, boating and(if you’re brave or mad!) swimming. Within striking distance of Stirling, Edinburgh and especially Glasgow – it’s less than an hour from the city – Loch Lomond & the Trossachs is one of Scotland’s most accessible playgrounds.  You can mountain bike, walk part of the 96 mile West Highland Way or simply paddle along the bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond itself – Britain’s largest inland stretch of water. Summer brings Highland Games and the melodic sounds of traditional pipe bands. For those in search of serenity, try the calming ponds and towering trees at Benmore Botanic Garden.

Norfolk Broads

Norfolk Broads

A watery wonderland in one of Britain’s driest places, the Broads are our largest protected wetland. 60 broads (wide, shallow lakes created by flooded medieval peat pits) and seven rivers are visited by eight million people every year.  Despite this, the combination of fen, woodland and grazing marshes feel like a tranquil getaway and the unique habitat allows our rarest wildlife to thrive. The swallowtail butterfly lives only here, bitterns and marsh harriers are on the increase and water shrews may be glimpsed. Boating is the Broads’ other major draw, with a choice of glamorous cruisers and waterside eateries. Choose a canoe or paddle-board and you can explore all but its very smallest streams.

Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire is our only truly coastal nature reserve. And what a coastline! It’s well loved for sandy, safe beaches, abundant wildlife and impossibly pretty shores. If you’re visiting between April and October, beat a different path to Pembrokeshire’s islands. Mostly uninhabited, these remote places support populations of puffins, manx shearwaters and gannets. Take a sea safari, particularly if you have a soft-spot for seabirds. Back on dry land, walk parts of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and drink in ancient heritage with its castles and Iron Age forts. Look skywards for choughs and skylarks and out to sea for basking sharks and unbelievably orcas, who return annually to this wonderful bit of Wales.

Exmoor

Exmoor

Exmoor’s diversity is special, with a sense of wilderness so hard to find in densely populated southern England. The name is synonymous with moorland yet one of the park’s most celebrated features are its dramatic sea cliffs, sweeping into the Bristol Channel and the highest in England. Exmoor is edged by a spectacular coastline to kayak, walk or windsail and is also home to orchards, cider farms and swathes of ancient woodland, splashed bright in spring with bluebells.  Though the landscape has been shaped by farming over millennia, this quiet park is a wonderful place to feel alone. Apart from the ponies, of course: you’ll always be pleased to see them.

National Trust Cottages

National Trust cottages offer some of the quirkiest and most characterful holidays available in the UK. Whether you want to be lord and lady of the manor and surround yourself in period finery and acres of green gardens; stay in an expansive Mediterranean villa with eye-watering coastal views or reside in the holiday home of one of the world’s greatest novelists, a National Trust cottage allows you to walk in someone else’s shoes for a while before you kick back and relax in complete comfort.

There are dozens of National Trust Cottages currently featured on cottages.com, but to make finding your perfect property a little easier, we’ve picked a handful to showcase below.

1 Strode House, Barrington, nr. Ilminster (ref. NT003026)

Strode House NT

Strode House offers a rich history that perfectly complements the period finery that surrounds you (even the name sounds like something you might settle round the TV to watch on a Sunday evening!). Built in 1674 by William Strode II, as a grand stable to the old manor house (next door), by the 1890s it was in decline, until Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a founder member of the National Trust, recommended that it be acquired and preserved for the future. In 1920 Colonel Arthur Lyle (of Tate and Lyle), took a 99 year lease and took steps to create a model estate. In 1991 it returned to the National Trust and it can now be enjoyed as a holiday property. Sleeps 6.

Dyffryn Mymbyr Farm House, Capel Curig, nr. Betws-y-Coed (ref. NT008021)

dyffryn

The Dyffryn Mymbyr Farm House sits under the shadow of Snowdonia with incredible views of the Snowdon Horseshoe and Moel Siabod. So stunning is its setting that it featured as a key character in Thomas Firbank’s classic non-fiction novel I Bought a Mountain. First published in 1940, the book recounts the hardship and joy Firbank experiences after purchasing 5,000 acres of Snowdonia.  The farm was donated to the National Trust by Esme Kirby in 1999, an environmental campaigner and Firbank’s former wife, who lived at the farmhouse after they separated.

Greenway Apartment, Galmpton, Devon (ref. NT012044)

greenway

If literary connections are your thing, you will love our next National Trust property. The summer residence of Agatha Christie, Greenway Apartment is a two level holiday property with many of the writer’s items still featured, including furniture and the typewriter she used to write many of her books.  Christie set Five Little Pigs, Dead Man’s Folly and Ordeal by Innocence at the property – perfect light reading if you’re visiting, though you may favour something a little sunnier! Glorious views of the River Dart and a large garden are the perfect antidote.

Egryn, Talybont, nr. Barmouth (ref. NT008019)

Egryn NT

National Trust Cottages specialise in unique, one of a kind properties that you won’t find elsewhere. So we come to a magnificent, historic, Grade ll listed, Welsh medieval hall dating from 1510. The wonderful medieval hall at Egryn is undoubtedly one of the architectural highlights and has been sympathetically restored using traditional building techniques. Don’t worry, the property offers a contemporary level of comfort, and there’s even a Victorian lounge with piano for a little sing-song!

Portland House, Weymouth (NT003042)

Portland

This Mediterranean villa has been built in the Art Deco style with stunning exteriors and interiors and 2 acres of enclosed gardens. Dating from 1935, it boasts a wealth of original features and makes great use of its surroundings to offer a truly unique holiday experience. It’s this fine preservation of heritage and surrounds that makes Portland House a definitive National Trust holiday cottage – though it’s far from a typical holiday home! Guests can enjoy south-facing views and two broad terraces (one above the other) with most rooms enjoying French windows on to them.

Introducing Cottage Concierge…

Cottage Concierge

We’ve just launched a brand new service on cottages.com. By calling our Cottage Concierge team you can book more than one property on the same dates and at the same location and only pay 1 booking fee (saving a minimum of £37 per additional cottage).

The Cottage Concierge service is perfect for friends and family getaways where everyone can celebrate together yet enjoy their own freedom and space.

Call 0345 268 9742 to use our Cottage Concierge service; our dedicated team will help you find your perfect property.

Find more info on cottages.com.

8 excellent days out with ROALD DAHL

roald dahl day

2016 marks 100 years since the birth of one of Britain’s most beloved and eccentric authors. His dark humour, disgusting characters, made up words and heart-warming heroes have made Roald Dahl’s books a hit with kiddles the world over.

But it was Dahl’s home country that inspired stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, so get your gogglers around these gloriumptious places to visit…

Cardiff, Wales        

Cardiff                                                                                                      

Roald Dahl was born in September 1916 in Llandaff, Cardiff to Norwegian parents. He spent his boyhood in the city and displayed a penchant for macabre humour early on. He famously tricked miserable sweet shop owner, Mrs Pratchett, by placing a mouse in her jar of gobstoppers! Today the Llandaff shop is commemorated with a blue plaque. Dahl is also remembered in Cardiff Bay’s modern plaza which has been renamed Roald Dahl Plass (place or square in Norwegian.) The nearby pretty clapboard church where the Dahl family worshipped is now an arts centre and cafe. If you’re feeling fit, cycle or walk The Cardiff Bay 10k Trail over the barrage and past the peaceful wetlands. Alternatively, browse independent boutiques in the Victorian arcades or visit the National Museum and Art Gallery.

Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

The_Roald_Dahl_Museum_and_Story_Centre_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1264147

Gypsy House in the village of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire was Roald Dahl’s home for 36 years until his death in 1990. The writing hut at the bottom of his garden, where all his famous children’s stories were imagined, was created by builder Wally Saunders, Dahl’s large-eared model for his Big Friendly Giant. The Great Missenden Trail leads you past petrol pumps from Danny, the Champion of the World, the house that inspired Sophie’s orphanage in The BFG and Dahl’s grave. Explore further into his cherished Chiltern countryside to Angling Spring Wood, keeping your gogglers peeled for Fantastic Mr Fox! The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre has an impressive collection of memorabilia and photos.  Dine on delumptious Bogtrotter chocolate cake at Cafe Twit, but steer clear of the Twits’ Wormy Spaghetti!

Cadbury World, Bourneville, Birmingham

cadbury world

Imagine the thrill of finding a shiny gold ticket like Charlie did in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The 1964 rags-to-riches classic was inspired by Roald’s own experience at Repton School in Derbyshire, where Cadbury would send new types of chocolates to be tested. The young Roald dreamt of inventing a chocolate bar for Mr Cadbury himself! For kids today Cadbury World must feel akin to visiting Willy Wonka’s fantastical factory.  Embark on a 4D chocolate adventure or dip your choice of sweet treat into a pot of warm, gooey chocolate in the chocolate making area. Not to mention losing yourself in the world’s largest Cadbury’s shop…just remember the fate of poor, gluttonous Augustus Gloop.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Loch Cleat and the Trotternish Ridge

The Isle of Skye, the largest island in the Inner Hebrides abounds with the loveliest and most unusual landscapes. It’s no wonder that legendary film director Steven Spielberg chose this location to film scenes for his new movie of The BFG. Look out for the cone-shaped, undulating magic of the Fairy Glen, the other-worldly landslip landscape of The Quiraing and the incredible, toothy drama of The Storr rocky ridge. There’s a relatively short but exceptionally striking walk up to the Old Man of Storr through one of the world’s most photographed landscapes. After all that exercise, find peace on an isolated beach or sample a golden drop at the Talisker whisky distillery with dramatic views of the Cuillins.

Stonor Park, Oxfordshire

Stonor

The red brick splendour of the house at Stoner Park in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire will be recognisable to film fans as the home of wealthy snob Victor Hazell (played by Robbie Coltrane) in the 1989 film version of Danny, the Champion of the World. Set in 1950s England, the young Danny and his dad (Jeremy Irons) plan a deliciously wicked revenge on Victor which involves a wood full of sleepy pheasants. There are a plethora of walking and cycle routes in the stunning Stoner Valley to explore, or simply stroll through the arboretum and Italianate gardens of the house. Summertime sees outdoor cinema and in autumn, there’s mushroom foraging.

Newquay, Cornwall

Fistral beach Newquay

Those wicked witches! The sight of the grand old hotel perched above Newquay’s surfing paradise still gives kids the shivers after its famous incantation in the darkly comic, 1990 film The Witches, starring Angelica Huston. The action centred around the Headland Hotel; a Grade II listed Victorian building dominating the cliff above golden sands. It feels incongruous with the laid-back surf groove here on Cornwall’s blustery North coast. Only five minutes from the centre of the resort, Fistral is regarded as one of the best surfing beaches in Europe. If surfing’s not your thing, take a coastal horse ride from nearby Trenance, feast on Rick Stein’s celebrity fish and chips or sip a Cornish cider surveying the North Atlantic swell.

Tenby, Wales

Tenby Harbour

In a sunny south east corner of Pembrokeshire sits the pastel-pretty harbour of Tenby. The ancient walled town has been a popular seaside resort for generations. Roald Dahl stayed here at a place called The Cabin, overlooking the harbour every Easter holiday between 1920 and 1936 and later took his own family there. “We had donkey rides on the beach and long walks with the dogs along the top of the cliffs opposite Caldy Island, and there were primroses everywhere,” he reminisced. Tenby continues to delight visitors with sailing, a fort, fishing trips, award-winning beaches and super-fresh mackerel.

Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

Dahl Museum

A trip to the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery is sure to receive a whoopsey-splunkers reaction from any child with the slightest interest in his books! The interactive museum space inside Bucks County museum has won two major awards for education and kids can immerse themselves in the weird and wonderful worlds of Dahl’s words and Quentin Blake’s illustrations. They can magnify mini-beasts in James’ Giant Peach, crawl along Fantastic Mr Fox’s tunnel and feel around for disgusting things in the Twits’ feely holes. Nearby, less eccentric enjoyment can be found in beautiful Wendover Woods and the working steam museum of Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.

Photographer of the Year: Spring Edition – The Winners

Spring-Photo-comp-3

Overall winner by public vote: ‘Is it Spring Yet?’ by Lisa Whelan

Is it Spring Yet?

And the runners-up

Britain’s Most Beautiful Wedding Destinations

cley windmill

Once upon a time, the typical wedding involved a religious service, some confetti, and a carvery dinner at a nearby hotel.

Not anymore.

As the average cost of a British wedding reaches £21,000, brides (and grooms) are starting to think outside the box to make their day as unique and memorable as possible: think fairy-tale forest weddings, beach ceremonies and dramatic Scottish castles.

Britain has no shortage of romantic locations which will make your big day truly special. Here are a few of our favourite wedding destinations across the country…

Bournemouth Beach

Bournemouth beach

If you’ve always dreamed of a beach wedding, you don’t have to look too far. A few years ago, Bournemouth made history as the first British beach which is licensed to carry out weddings. You can choose your favourite stretch of sand, then set up a marquee, barbecue, and a bespoke, shell-strewn aisle, before exchanging your vows to the tranquil sounds of the sea.

TIP: Check the tidal times before your big day, so you can plan your day accordingly. The tide doesn’t come in too far on Bournemouth Beach, but if you want to have a few photos taken in the surf, you might want to arrange for your photographer to be ready an hour before high tide.

Skibo Castle, Scotland

Ever since Madonna and Guy Ritchie held their (ill-fated) nuptials here, it has become a high-society favourite. This is where billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk married Talulah Riley for the first time, where Ewan MacGregor married his wife Eve and where movie star Ashley Judd married Scottish racing driver Dario Franchitti.

The beautiful castle was founded in 1186, and it is still in near-perfect condition 830 years later. But what really sets it apart from Britain’s other castle venues is its exclusivity.

In order to use the facilities, you have to be a member of the private (and expensive) Carnegie Club. However, non-members are permitted to visit once, and only once. This means that your wedding will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for you as well as your guests – how many people can say that?

TIP: The castle is set amid 2500 acres of land, and the rugged Sutherland countryside stretches out on all sides. Your guests will be bowled over by the location, so arrange a guided hiking trip and longer-term accommodation in the area so they can explore this beautiful part of Britain at their leisure.

The New Forest, Hampshire

New Forest countryside

Several swathes of the New Forest are licensed to hold wedding and civil partnerships, so you can have your ceremony in the middle of the woods, with birds singing in the background.

Start your day with a gentle walk through ancient woodland, before arriving at your own private glade, where flowers and lanterns hang from the branches, and your marriage awaits. Choose a Springtime wedding for daffodils, primroses, and budding trees; or an autumn wedding for a rich tapestry of colour in the background.

Most licensed spaces in the New Forest offer ramshackle barns and tipis as rainy-day reception venues. But if the weather holds up, nothing beats an open-air fire circle, where you can toast marshmallows, catch up with guests, and dance under the stars.

TIP: Make the wedding reception kid-friendly by planning a few outdoor games after the ceremony. Hide and seek, treasure hunts, and nature walks are easy to organise and will be fun for the whole family.

Carnglaze Caverns, Cornwall

Cornwall’s Carnglaze Caverns is a definitely contender for one of the most beautiful wedding venues in Britain. Set on the edges of Bodmin Moor, it features a vineyard, a forest, and a network of ancient caves. Couples can choose from four different sites which are all licensed for civil ceremonies and partnerships: The Rum Store Chamber (where you will walk down an 80ft aisle flanked by old casks of rum); The Vine Conservatory (above ground); The Enchanted Dell (in the middle of Quarry Wood); and The Underground Lake (which can be decorated with candles and twinkling fairy lights).

TIP: In May, the surrounding woodland is carpeted with bluebells, which create a magical ambience as your guests make their way to the cave entrance (and look incredible in wedding photos).

Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland

Edinburgh zoo panda

The ultimate venue for animal lovers – this is probably the only place in Britain where you can invite elephants, lions, and giraffes to your wedding. And just because you are getting married in a zoo, you don’t have to sacrifice elegance on your big day… The 200-year-old Mansion House sits in the middle of the zoo, and it is surrounded by beautiful manicured gardens. The venue is licensed to perform civil ceremonies, and wedding parties can take advantage of various packages which offer preferred access to the facilities. Guests can get up close and personal with some of the more exotic animals, and you can plan your photographs to coincide with feeding time, so your wedding photos will have a unique Attenborough-esque quality.

TIP: The Mansion House is often in use during term time, when it hosts school groups, researchers, and students. Try to book your date during the school holidays – there may be more people visiting the zoo, but you are much more likely to secure the venue.

Cley Windmill, Norfolk

Perfect for small, quirky weddings, this old-fashioned windmill holds just 22 people (including the happy couple). This 19th century building has served as a flour mill and a holiday home for a local convent, and today it is rented out for private events, including weddings.

The second floor ‘Sitting Room’ of the mill has a wedding license, and an officiant can be provided by the venue if necessary. The circular space is surrounded by a white balcony, where the whole wedding party can gather for photos.

After the ceremony, ascend to the fifth storey gallery, where you can gaze out across the Norfolk countryside and coast with your partner.

TIP: The windmill comes fully equipped with a bar, and traditional afternoon tea can be served upon request. However, if you are looking for something a bit bigger for the reception, there are some lovely traditional inns in the neighbouring villages, and a range of excellent restaurants in nearby Kings Lynn.

Made in Ireland: 5 Stunning Film & TV Locations You Can Visit

Star Wars

Skellig Islands

The climactic scenes of Episode VII: The Force Awakens may have seemed otherworldly but they were actually filmed in the very earthly haven of Skellig Michael in Ireland – with very little computer enhancement needed!

Access to the Skellig Islands was limited before the film’s release in December 2015, and has only become more so now that everyone knows where Luke Skywalker has been hiding out all these years. Thankfully, County Kerry isn’t short of stunning natural landforms and attractions. What’s more filming on Episode VIII resumed in Ireland in early 2016, so if you want to visit a ‘galaxy far far away’ you could visit Malin Head on Ireland’s far northern coast  or Ceann Sibal and Dunmore Head in County Kerry.

Game of Thrones

Dark Hedges

Proving that the wild sweeps of Ireland are as well-versed at hosting tales of fantasy as they are science-fiction and history, much of Westeros in HBO’s insanely popular TV series were filmed in and around Northern Ireland.

Whilst Kings Landing is based in Croatia, the iconic Kingsroad – formed from gnarled beech trees – is actually the appropriately titled Dark Hedges near Armoy in County Armagh.  With locations in Northern Ireland hosting everything from the fortress of Winterfell to the coasts of Dorne and the Dothraki plains across several series, you could explore much of the Seven Kingdoms in one lovely location.

It’s worth noting that Ireland has also hosted filming for The Tudors and The Vikings, so you can explore some of the finest TV series’ most glorious locations in one break!

Saving Private Ryan

Ballinesker Beach

The opening scenes of Steven Spielberg’s World War II classic really showed the impact of war. And despite the real D-Day beach landings taking place in Normandy, for the purposes of filming they were actually captured on the white sands of at the beautiful Ballinesker Beach in Curracloe.

The stunning long stretches of sand in County Wexford hosted the film crew for nearly 2 months. Machine gun nests and ‘hedgehog’ fortifications were built on site and many of the hundreds of extras were from the Irish Army Reserve. After filming finished (at a cost of $12,000,000!) it was restored to its usual beautiful and barren self.

Braveheart

Trim Castle

Whilst Mel Gibson’s Oscar winner of 1995 seemed like a long love letter to the majestic expanses of the Scottish Highlands, in truth, a large part of it was captured in the stunning rurality of the Emerald Isle.

Trim Castle in County Meath stood in for the city of York in the film. The county’s Dunsany Castle also hosted filming for Edward II’s wedding and much of the film was captured in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains National Park. But it’s the bloody battle scenes that stick in the mind and, yes, those too were captured in Ireland.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge – notable for the lack of an actual bridge! – was captured on the expansive plains on the Curragh in County Kildare. Similarly, the fields around Ballymore Eustace in County Kildare were used for the Battle of Falkirk scenes.

The Princess Bride

The Cliffs of Moher

This cult classic from 1987 used Ireland’s fairy-tale beauty to add to a magical fable about romance, adventure and derring-do, with pirates, giants, princesses and more.

The memorable climb up the imposing ‘Cliffs of Insanity’ in the film was captured at the stunning Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Thankfully, an appreciation of the view from the cliffs doesn’t need to follow a slow climb to the top, so you can just walk along and admire incredible views of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, mountain ranges to the north and Loop Head to the south.