Autumn Nature Highlights – spotlight on the hen harrier

The hen harrier is one of the North West’s very special residents and can be spotted flying high over the wild untamed moors of the Forest of Bowland.

This is one of Britain’s rarest birds; it spends the summer months breeding in upland areas before heading for the southern shores of England in autumn, so now is a great time to spot them!

Hen harrier

Our native Hen Harriers are very often joined by harriers from continental Europe who fly here in the hope of enjoying a mild winter. Their survival in England and Scotland is mostly threatened because of their effect on the number of grouse available to shoot on the moors.

Moorland

Hen harriers are part of the hawk and eagle raptor bird family and like to eat small birds, including grouse chicks and small animals. The males are a pale grey colour and the females and their young are brown with a distinctive white rump and a long barred tail. They are easily identified by their wings which are a shallow ‘V’ shape when gliding silently in search of food.

During the breeding season (March to August), they can be found in the upland heather moorlands of Northern West England, the Isle of Man, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In winter they prefer lowland farmland, heathland, coastal marshes, fenland and the river valleys in the milder south.

skydance

It is estimated that there are fewer than 700 pairs in the UK, so the hen harrier is a protected bird on the very brink of survival. If you do see one it’s a sight rarely forgotten, their famous ‘skydance’ is one of the most amazing natural aerobatic spectacles you will ever see!

The males and females swoop, roll and glide in graceful patterns around each other, an impressive courtship display forming a bond at the beginning of the breeding season in March.

Take a look at our Nature Infographic to see what other wildlife can be seen at this time of the year in the UK. You can click on the links to search for holiday cottages nearby.

9 of Britain’s Best Bonfires, November 2017

1. Battel Bonfire Boyes, Battle, East Sussex: 4 November

Battel

www.battelbonfire.co.uk/2017/Bonfire/Bonfire.php

Legend has it that Guy Fawkes sourced his gunpowder from the Battle powder mills, something the Battel Bonfire Boyes has been commemorating for over 350 years.

The evening celebrations begin with a torch-lit procession through the town at 7.30pm, featuring a wide range of local bonfire societies in fancy dress.

The bonfire is lit at 9pm and fireworks follow soon after. It’s free entry but charitable donations are encouraged.

2. Mary St. Ottery Tar Barrels and Fireworks Display, Devon: 4 November

ottery

http://www.tarbarrels.co.uk/

The townspeople of Mary St. Ottery spend the evening lugging flaming barrels of tar on their backs in one of the most strange and dramatic bonfire festivals you’ll find in the UK.

It is thought the fiery barrels stem from a pagan ceremony to banish evil spirits. We’re not sure about that, but it certainly works to attract visitors!

More traditional Bonfire Night activities in Devon can be found at a huge fire on St. Saviours Meadow and a nearby fairground.

3. Penrhos Beach Fireworks, Anglesey: 5 November

Penrhos

http://www.capitalfm.com/cymru/events/holyhead-bonfire-fireworks/

Reaching the Welsh island of Anglesey in is an adventure in itself, but worth it, as the fireworks on Penrhos Beach in Holyhead offer a backdrop of sheer natural beauty.

With an enormous bonfire, music from Capital FM plus stalls and rides for the kids, it’s a great family event. Plus all proceeds go to local good causes. Just remember to wrap up warm!

4. Tutbury Castle Vikings Fireworks, Staffordshire: 4 & 5 November

Tutbury

http://tutburycastle.com/events/tutbury-castle-vikings-and-firework-spectacular-saturday/

Tutbury Castle’s unique annual fireworks display is preceded by an amazingly dramatic Viking show in one of the UK’s most animated Bonfire Night celebrations.

The castle traditionally hosts historical re-enactments, archaeological tours and ghost hunts, but early November sees the ‘Tutbury Vikings’ engage in combat under the moonlight, followed by a Viking ‘funeral’.

It’s an unforgettable fireworks event for the family with a fun historic twist.

5. Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival, Alexandra Palace, North London: 3 & 4 November

Ally pally

http://fireworks.london/

Alexandra Park is situated high above North London, promising a sparkling panoramic view of the city.

Billed as ‘the coolest fireworks display in London’, the pyrotechnics are pretty spectacular. But ‘Ally Pally’s’ annual event isn’t all about the rockets and screamers; there’s a parade, funfair, live music, a German beer festival and loads more.

6. Fireworks at the Fort, Segedunum, North Tyneside: 2 November

Segedunum

https://segedunumromanfort.org.uk/whats-on/fireworks-at-the-fort

One of the biggest fireworks displays in North East England at the Roman fort remains on the banks of the river Tyne in Wallsend.

The perfect place to celebrate a Bonfire Night with a difference, this iconic spot was built to guard the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall.

Entry to the museum is free from 4pm. Learn about Roman life before the big bangs begin at 6.30pm.

7. Fireworks Night, Aberdeen: 5 November

aberdeen

http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/CommunicationsandPromotion/CityEvents/WhatsOn/txt_Fireworks_2017.asp

Wrap up warm for one of Scotland’s best-loved Bonfire Night events.

The evening begins with a fire walk, where several brave souls walk across hot coals to raise money for charity.

The heat continues with fire juggling before an energetic 20 minute fireworks performance with live music. Stand on the Beach Boulevard and along the Beach Esplanade for the best views.

8. Blackheath Fireworks Display, Greenwich, London: Saturday 4 November

Photo by Lewisham Council

https://www.lewisham.gov.uk/inmyarea/events/fireworks/Pages/default.aspx

One of the biggest free Bonfire Night celebrations in the capital, each year around 100,000 people visit the leafy suburb to watch a spectacular firework display and enjoy a great day out.

This is a free event with the display starting around 8pm. With a funfair from 12 noon bar, food stalls and bars from 5pm, there’s plenty to keep you going until the big bangs begin.

9. Lewes Bonfire Night, Sussex: Saturday 4 November

Lewes Bonfire night

http://www.lewesbonfirecelebrations.com/

No less than 7 bonfire societies combine and compete to put on firework displays for upwards of 30,000 spectators.

There really is a carnival atmosphere with thousands of lit-up torches adding spectacle to a series of processions leading up to the firework display.

Known locally as ‘The Fifth’, this electric and colourful evening is rich in tradition and big in spectacle! Find ticket info and timings on the event website.

Autumn Adventures – a Spotify playlist

We’ve asked for your suggestions for the ultimate autumn adventures playlist – and have received some amazing suggestions!

We’ve compiled a Spotify playlist, so lace up your boots, put on your scarves and coats and enjoy your autumn adventure.

Click on the picture below to listen.

Autumn Adventures Spotify

Bonfire Night Tips for Pet Owners

Firework

5 November is even easier to remember if you’re a pet owner.

Some animals cope very well with all the bangs and flashes around this time of the year, but lots don’t, and it can be a very stressful time for both you and your furry-friend.

Approximately 45% of dogs in the UK show signs of fear or anxiety when they hear or see fireworks, but there are many ways to keep peace and harmony in your home – as long as you don’t ignore the problem!

If you’re considering a few nights away from home, and are concerned about fireworks near your cottage, then it might be a good idea to look into times and locations of local displays.

dog walk

Here are a few other extras tips to keep your canine happy:

  • Take your dog for an extra long walk during the day on Bonfire Night to try and tire them out and before darkness falls.
  • Close all windows and curtains in the evening. If you have a dog or cat flap make sure it is locked with the pets safely inside.
  • Put the TV or radio on to distract from any outside noise.
  • Make a den in the quietest area of the house, cover it over with a blanket, put their bed, and a few of their favourite toys,  inside to encourage relaxation.

dog blanket

One other thing to consider is a Thundershirt, also known as an anxiety wrap, and sold at many large pet stores or on the internet. Recent statistics show it has a dramatic calming effect on over 80% of dogs who become anxious or over excited. The jacket applies a constant pressure on the animal’s torso and can also help with fear of thunder plus many other problems that cause anxiety.

Sometimes dogs will just jump on your lap or hideaway in their favourite corner. If this is the case just be there for them with lots of reassuring words and lots of cuddles!

Some pets will still get very distressed no matter how much you try to help. Visit your vet to discuss the best ways to help them; they can prescribe calming supplements or sedatives for very stressed pets.

The main thing is to plan ahead for Bonfire Night, stay indoors with them, and make sure you have done everything you can to keep your pets safe and happy this firework season!

October Events Guide, UK 2017

October events

  • Ghost Fest, 21-30 October, Oxford Castle. The season of fright begins with events all through October at Oxford Castle. Enjoy ghost tours and talks, paranormal events, pumpkin carving, trick or treat and more from 21 October. https://www.oxfordcastleunlocked.co.uk/events/ghost-fest/
  • Horse of the Year Show, Birmingham 4-8 October. Britain’s largest, and one of the longest-running, indoor equestrian events, ‘HOYS’ is the grand finale to the showing year. Enjoy hundreds of equine events taking place inside Birmingham’s NEC. http://hoys.co.uk/
  • Dylan Thomas Festival, Swansea 27 October – 09 November. This two-week celebration of the Welsh poet begins on his birthday and ends two weeks later on the date of his death. Expect a big birthday bash, workshops, readings, tours and more. http://www.dylanthomas.com/events/
  • Halloween at Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean 23-29 October. The perfect place to entertain your terrors during Halloween half-term. If the withered trees and imposing ‘scowles’ weren’t enough to terrify you then perhaps hunting for witches and bats around them might! http://www.puzzlewood.net/index.php/puzzlewood-news-and-events

Blackpool lights

  • Blackpool Illuminations, Lancashire 1 October – 5 November. It may have been going for 100 years but Blackpool Illuminations never gets old. There’s an earlier switch on time of 5pm from 29 October making it great for parents with younger children or those desperate to get to the chip shop! http://www.blackpool-illuminations.net/
  • The Canterbury Festival, 14 October – 4 November. One of the UK’s longest-running arts festivals offers a varied schedule of literature, fine and performing arts, pop culture and comedy events. Different prices for performances and many free events, including plenty for the family to enjoy.  http://www.canterburyfestival.co.uk/whats-on.aspx?filter=date
  • Stratford on Avon Music Festival, 14th-22nd October.  Top performers from the world of jazz, classical and world music perform in the stunning setting of Shakespeare’s hometown.  http://www.stratfordmusicfestival.com/

Conwy castle

  • Gwledd Conwy Feast, 27 – 29 October. Food, music, art and more in the gorgeous medieval town of Conwy. This year’s event looks set to be the best yet. http://www.conwyfeast.co.uk/
  • Manchester Food and Drink Festival. 28 September – 9 October. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, this huge urban food and drink festival offers indoor and outdoor events, activities, competitions and plenty of food! http://foodanddrinkfestival.com/
  • Falmouth Oyster Festival, 12-15 October.  The Oyster Festival marks the beginning of the oyster season and celebrates the diversity and quality of Cornish seafood. Enjoy food and wine with music, marquees and children’s activities too.  http://falmouthoysterfestival.co.uk/
  • Cowalfest, Argyll, Scotland 6 – 15 October. This 10 day walking festival takes in some of Scotland’s most stunning scenery. Choose from more than 60 walks led by local experts. http://www.cowalfest.org

Halloween in 8 of the UK’s Most Haunted Places

1. Berry Pomeroy, Devon

Dungeon- Berry Pomeroy Castle

This small village just outside of Totnes in Devon is eerily isolated, and the main focal point for ghost hunters is Berry Pomeroy Castle.

Built during the late 12th century, the King of England later gave the land the castle stands on to Ralph de Pomeroy. But it seemed like the house had a bad omen over it, as it was ravaged during the civil war and badly damaged by a fire in the early 18th century.

The castle is said to host a number of ghosts, including ‘the White Lady’ who haunts the dungeons and rises up to the castle ramparts. Some have identified her as the ghost of Lady Margaret Pomeroy, imprisoned in the dungeons by her sister, Lady Eleanor!

2. Pluckley, Kent

Pluckley in Kent is often described as the most haunted village in Britain.

At least a dozen ghosts are said to be residents, including a screaming man and a highwayman, who haunts an area named ‘Fright Corner’ (where, it is alleged, he was pinned to a tree with a sword!).  The least distressing ghost must be that of an old woman who sits on a bench drinking gin and smoking a pipe. But, still…

So renowned is Pluckley that locals have basically cancelled Halloween as so many ghost hunters descend on this small, sleepy village that they effectively brought it to a standstill.

3. Prestbury, Gloucestershire

A quaint, unique village with a distinctive look, Prestbury offers amazing honey-coloured buildings built from timber frames. It’s a stunning place to visit with Cleve Hill offering fantastic views of Cheltenham.

But that’s not why you’re here!

The most famous ghost to reside here is the Black Abbot Ghost. Folklore suggests that he visits the area three times a year, on Christmas, Easter and Halloween. You can find him with his head bowed in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s, so make sure to pass through here on your travels…if you dare.

4. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh CastleEdinburgh Castle is said to be one of the most haunted destinations in Scotland, whilst Edinburgh itself is said to be the most haunted city in Europe.

The 900-year-old castle, which sits in a stunning location sandwiched between hills and the sea, is said to offer a variety of ghosts, including the phantom piper, a headless drummer and a ghostly dog!

A 2001 survey found that nearly half of 240 visitors experienced ghostly sightings and spooky phenomena within the castle, including a mysterious spirit tugging at their clothes.

5. Dorchester, Dorset

Dorchester offers one of the most haunted residences in England in Athelhampton Hall.

If visiting Dorset, stop by and you may hear stories about Cooper the ghost who lives in the wine cellar and enjoys tapping on the adjoining wall of the Great Hall.

There is also a monk who roams the corridors. But the most famous and unusual spectre is the ape, formerly a pet who was accidentally entombed in a secret passage behind the Great Chamber. No one has ever seen this ghostly ape, but his scratching is said to be heard often as he tries to escape!

6. Angus, Scotland

Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle is reputedly one of the most haunted castles in Britain, and the stories of ghosts and ghouls here are embedded in Scottish folklore.

The family chapel is said to be haunted by an old woman who was accused of witchcraft and burned on a stake on Castle Hill in 1537. Nicknamed the Grey Lady, this ghost is very active and has been spotted many times in recent years: normally above the clock tower!

If you’d prefer a more historic/less frightening tour then it’s worth noting that the Queen Mother was born at this castle and gave birth to the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret here too.

7. Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Blickling Hall is a tremendous Jacobean building that covers more than 4,000 acres in the rolling Norfolk countryside.

This National Trust building is absolutely amazing, but not without its ghostly tales. One of the most popular stories at Blickling Hall is that of Headless Anne, said to visit the building each year on 19th May in a ghostly carriage.

If you’re planning to visit this Halloween and will miss Anne, worry not: the ghosts of former residents Henry Hobert and Sir John Fastolfe are said to roam the corridors as well!

8. Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Storm over Pendle Hill

The Pendle Witch trials of 1612 saw twelve people from the local area accused of witchcraft, so it’s not surprising that visits to the area peak around Halloween.  But there are plenty more reasons to recommend than just its spooky legacy.

Nearby Skipton is highly recommended for its historic architecture, boutique shops, pubs and eateries (the cottages.com office is close-by too!). And, if you fancy getting away from it all, the Trough of Bowland is one of the UK’s best kept secrets for amazing scenery and relaxing days out. Just the ticket after all that terror!

8 Places to See Red Squirrels in the UK / Red Squirrel Week

Red squirrel

Despite being one of the nation’s most beloved native species, red squirrels are still rare in the wild. But conservation efforts are helping to revive their numbers – aided by events like Red Squirrel Week in late September.

Autumn is the best time to spot red squirrels. With fewer leaves on the trees you can see them begin to gather food from the woodland floor for the long winter.

There are plenty of places where you can appreciate ‘sciurus vulgaris’ in the wild, many of which are surrounded by green ‘buffer zones’ to keep grey squirrels at bay.

So if you’re after the perfect autumn walk with some wonderful wildlife, take a look at the best places to spot red squirrels in the UK…

1. Brownsea Island, Dorset

red squirrel feeding

The coastal waters of Dorset provide a great defence against grey squirrels, allowing a large native population of red squirrels to thrive in the wild at this National Trust protected island.

About 250 red squirrels live on Brownsea, making it one of the most populated red squirrel homes in the UK. Its short distance from the Dorset shore in Poole harbour, makes it one of the most scenic and spectacular too!

2. Dalbeattie Forest, Dumfries and Galloway

red squirrel eating

Scotland’s preservation efforts have seen the red squirrel population thrive, with around 75% of the UK’s total native species now living north of the border in Dumfries and Galloway.

There are loads of places to spot red squirrels in Scotland, but the first official trail in southern Scotland at Dalbeattie is one of the most lovely. Here you will find one of the 7stanes mountain biking centres, offering a perfect selection of trails for an active exploration of the red squirrel population.

For a more relaxing time, wander the 90,000 acre Queensberry Estate and grand Victorian Gardens at Drumlanrig Castle and Country Estate.

3. Plas Newydd, Anglesey

squirrel

Views over the Menai Strait and Snowdonia are perfect settings for admiring the local red squirrel population at the beautiful Plas Newydd country house and gardens in Anglesey.

The property and grounds offer plenty of places to walk through the woods and parkland, with benches located throughout.

Originally six squirrels were introduced to Plas Newydd in 2008, but that figure now stands at over 100. They have even crossed the Menai Strait (reds are known to be very good swimmers!).

4. The Isle of Wight

squirrel

The coastal barrier of the Isle of Wight has allowed a beautiful haven for red squirrels to thrive, and a visit to the beautiful Isle allows you to appreciate the reds in stunning natural surroundings.

The Isle’s old railway lines were converted into the Red Squirrel Trail in 2003. The trail runs from Cowes in the north through Newport, Shanklin and Sandown taking in woodlands, wetlands and plenty more in-between.

The Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve is one of the best places to catch sight of red squirrels along the route. Located mid-way down the Isle, it offers a hide so you can appreciate the native red squirrels as they go about their business.

Other Locations:

5. The Snaizeholme Red Squirrel Trail in the Yorkshire Dales offers a viewing area in the Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve.

6. Both Whinlatter Forest Park in Keswick and Aira Force offer lovely places for viewing the resident red squirrels in Cumbria.

7. Kielder Water & Forest Park in Northumberland offers a safe haven for ospreys and salmon as well as red squirrels. The Castle Visitor Centre has a red squirrel room and a red squirrel hide nearby too.

8. Enjoy Formby Red Squirrel Walk where you can explore and spot native red squirrels in beautiful woodland surrounding Formby in Merseyside.

nature infographic

Take a look at our Nature Infographic to see what other wildlife can be seen at this time of the year in the UK, and you can click on the links to search for holiday cottages nearby too!