Now You’re Tolkien – The best Middle-Earth locations in the UK

wander

While John Ronald Reuel Tolkien’s legacy has left an indelible impression on film and literature, places to celebrate and learn more about the English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor are relatively scarce.

Yet throughout his life Tolkien lived, and was a frequent visitor to, some of the UK’s most splendidly scenic settings. And it is in these bucolic landscapes that he found inspiration for the land and locations of his beloved Middle-Earth.

In honour of Tolkien Reading Day (25 March), we have journeyed into Middle-Earth to find you the finest real-life locations and inspirations that helped bring J.R.R Tolkien bring the rich tapestry of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings to life.

Cheddar Gorge Caverns, Gloucestershire aka Helm’s Deep

If the subterranean beauty of the caves at Cheddar Gorge were not enough to sway you to visit then perhaps their oft-rumoured influence for the ethereal Glittering Caves in The Lord of the Rings might. Both Gough’s Cave and the smaller Cox’s Cave are open to the public and offer a stunning array of chambers and rock formations with a myriad of beautiful crystalline stalagmites and stalagtites.

So while you may be in the Somerset countryside, you will instantly feel transported to another world. It’s no wonder Tolkien chose to enjoy part of his honeymoon there.

Sarehole and Edgbaston, Birmingham aka The Two Towers & Hobbiton

Tolkien’s childhood in the village of Sarehole were described as the happiest years of his life, despite being chased around the village’s mill by the Miller’s son, whom he referred to as ‘the White Ogre’. Sarehole Mill directly inspired the irritable Ted Sandyman and his mill in Hobbiton. The two towers of Tolkien’s youth: Perrott’s Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks’ tower also provided inspiration for the towers of Barad-dûr and Orthanc in The Lord of the Rings.

The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire aka Fangorn Forest

Forest of Dean

A similar strange exoticness can be found at Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean – though this location is anything but typical. Puzzlewood’s unique ambience is immediate once you take a walk among the ominous ‘scowles’ and withered trees. Tolkien was a keen visitor to the region. In fact, at the time of writing The Hobbit, he advised on an archaeological dig at the aptly named Dwarf’s Hill in Lydney Park – a location rumoured to have been inhabited by goblins and small folk after the Roman exodus.

It is also here that Tolkien was alleged to have been told the tale of a cursed Roman ring with an inscription on the inside. Sound familiar? He started work on The Hobbit a year later.

Stonyhurst College, Ribble Valley, Lancashire

The centrepiece of the Ribble Valley’s ‘Tolkien Trail’, it was here that JRR would spend weekends striving away on The Lord of the Rings whilst his son John was studying at the college in Lancashire. The region’s influences on his work are fairly clear: Stonyhurst was built by the Shireburn family, who named the Shirebourn River in the saga. There was also a ferry over the River Hodder that bore a striking resemblance to the description of the Buckleberry Ferry in The Fellowship of the Ring, a Shire Lane and a grey stone New Lodge, eerily similar to the description of Tom Bombadil’s home, views of the Misty Mountains and all!

Leeds, Yorkshire: The other Two Towers & The Royal Armouries

Leeds University

Tolkien spent 5 years at Leeds University in the 1920s before leaving for Oxford. It is thought that his time here – and the Anglo Saxon remnants dotted throughout the Yorkshire landscape – inspired the remnants of past civilisations throughout The Lord of the Rings. Of note is a theory that the stark white tower of the university’s Parkinson Building and the dark spire of a local church were the true inspiration for the Two Towers.

Whilst in the city, visit The Royal Armouries museum to see copies of Andúril, Strider’s Sword, Glamdring, and Sting from Peter Jackson’s film trilogy too.

The Eagle and Child Pub, Oxford

Tolkien honed his own craft whilst working as a professor at Oxford, forming a writing group known as the Inklings with his peers, including CS Lewis of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe fame. The Inklings got together in The Rabbit Room at The Eagle and Child pub to recount tales of goblins, elves and witches. The ‘Bird and Baby’ is still open today if you fancy honing your literary talents, your Tolkien knowledge or just enjoying a nice drink in historic surroundings.

Northmoor Road in North Oxford is also well worth spotting. Tolkien lived at number 22 before moving to number 20, where he wrote The Hobbit and most of The Lord of the Rings. Finally, the University’s Botanic Garden is where he would rest against his favourite tree – a huge gnarled Austrian pine, similar in form to the fabled Ents from The Lord of the Rings. Incidentally, the location also inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy too!

St Mary Immaculate Church, Warwick

St Marys

More concrete connections to Tolkien can be found at St Mary Immaculate church in Warwick. It was here that Tolkien married Edith Bratt on 22 March 1916. This beautiful Grade II listed building boasts a wonderfully elaborate design in keeping with its traditional Decorated Style. Of course, Warwickshire is no stranger to stunning historic buildings – or esteemed English writers. It was among the county’s rolling hills and historic buildings that Shakespeare honed his craft. Perhaps there’s something in the water?

Britain’s Most Poetic Places – World Poetry Day

The rich landscape and diverse history of Britain has fuelled the imaginations of the world’s greatest poets for centuries. Whether it’s the Romantics and their pastoral celebrations of nature and the countryside, Chaucer’s ribald celebration of the road to Canterbury or Robert Burns, whose verses have become forever entwined with the cultural identity of Scotland – the importance of poetry to the nation is certainly something to champion.

This is why World Poetry Day is such an important celebration – not only of poets and poetry, but of the very landscape that has played such an important part in inspiring countless classic verses. We’re going to take a look at some of our favourite poets, poems and the locations that inspired them.

William Wordsworth: The Lake District, Cumbria

Dove Cottage

Daffodils is perhaps the quintessential English poem, and undoubtedly one of the most popular. It was inspired by a walk Wordsworth took alongside the banks of Ullswater on a stormy day with his sister. Despite the famous opening line, it’s not too easy to wander lonely as a cloud in the Lake District today.

Thanks to the heritage of Wordsworth and the Romantic poets – not to mention the wonderful lakes and landforms, the Lake District is something of a holiday hotspot. Though, if you take yourself away from the tourists, it is entirely possible to find your own corner of this Cumbrian paradise to contemplate the beauty of nature and find your own inspiration.

Robert Burns: Dumfries and Ayrshire, Scotland

Burns Cottage

My Heart’s in the Highlands is a beautifully vivid celebration of the iconic landscape and native wildlife of Scotland. With this, and many other works, often set to music, Burn’s is equally celebrated as a songwriter as he is a poet. Ayrshire is the place to visit to begin your appreciation of the ‘Scottish Bard’. The village of Alloway hosts the Burns Cottage Museum, the home Robert’s father built and where the poet lived until he was seven years of age.

The Robert Burns House in Dumfries is where he spent his later years, creating some of his most beloved works in the study. It is a key pilgrimage site for many Burns admirers, with Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats among others visiting to pay their respects over the years.

Dylan Thomas: Laugharne, Wales

Laugharne

As Robert Burns is to Scotland so too is Dylan Thomas to Wales: a national treasure and cultural icon whose work captures a wonderful sense of place. Thomas’s life in the Carmarthenshire town of Laugharne was a constant inspiration to the writer with his famous radio play Under Milk Wood capturing several of the characters he encountered there (though the setting more closely resembled New Quay).

Poem In October is a more fitting example that displays the region’s beauty. Written after a birthday walk from his home The Boathouse up to the shoulder of Sir John’s hill, the poem provides a perfect accompaniment whilst you enjoy the ‘Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk’ around the area.

The Brontës: Haworth, Yorkshire

Haworth

Charlotte, Emily, Anne and their brother Patrick (aka Branwell) were home schooled in the delightful Yorkshire Dales village of Haworth. The siblings’ father was parson at the church and it was in the Haworth Parsonage where they developed their literary talents, developing stories of increasing complexity. After receiving lukewarm feedback from one of her poetry idols, Charlotte and her sisters eventually decided to try to get published together – using the more masculine pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.

Their first book of poetry only sold three copies, but the sisters continued to produce work in secret and their literary legacy was secured in the following years. The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth is undoubtedly the best place to visit for an appreciation of the Brontës and the surroundings that inspired them. Alongside a packed calendar of events you will find much to admire in the surrounding area.

Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury, Kent.

Canterbury

Chaucer is regarded as ‘the Father of English Literature’ due to his work helping to popularise Middle English over the more frequently used Latin, Italian and French. The collected Canterbury Tales was his magnum opus, a work that many claim he never completed but still comprises 24 stories over 17,000 lines of text. The Canterbury Tales themselves are often bawdy stories told by a large cast of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral in Kent.

While the tales themselves offer a fine sense of place, they also offer a wonderful window into a time of great change in Britain, with references to social upheaval, the invention of paper, the written word and political clashes. The cathedral today offers a wonderfully preserved experience to visitors.  One of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England, there’s much to admire and, if you’re feeling inspired, write home about.

Rudyard Kipling: Burwash, Sussex

kipling

Kipling is also known for his short stories and novels alongside poems such as IF-, a beloved ode to stoicism and often voted the UK’s most popular poem. Whilst he dwelt in some of the UK’s most scenic and vibrant locations, it was his time in Burwash, Sussex that proved the most creatively fruitful. Here, amongst many other works, he was inspired to create Puck of Pook’s Hill, a collection of short stories and poetry narrated to two children living near Burwash. The work itself is considered a seminal work of fantasy that incorporates classic English literature and history.                       

Burwash is the perfect place to celebrate and explore Kipling’s life. The author spent over 30 years there at Batemans, a stunning Jacobean mansion that is now open to the public through National Trust stewardship. Inside you will find it as Kipling left it when he passed away in 1936, with a book-lined study and many South Asian artefacts.

Celebrating Shakespeare: Must-See Settings for his Greatest Works

On 23rd April 1616 our greatest dramatist William Shakespeare died. To celebrate Shakespeare Week, and over 400 years of his immeasurable legacy, we’ve put together a list of the loveliest real-life locations that inspired his world-famous plays…

Verona, Italy

Verona

Verona, the enchanting city in northern Italy’s Veneto region is the setting for Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet. It has earned World Heritage status and gives its neighbouring romantic rival Venice a run for its money, especially during the Valentine’s’ Verona in Love’ festival. It’s perfect for an afternoon stroll, a gelato stop in a sunny square or a visit to the market at Piazza delle Erbe and the imposing Arena di Verona. The latter is one of the largest and best preserved Roman arenas and still presents a summer season of opera. Still, the Verona most people come for is the one that inspired the bard.

The legend of the star-crossed lovers was already a popular story in Italy in the 14th century before Shakespeare took the story worldwide. At Casa di Giulietta you can step out on the world-famous balcony and rub the right breast of Juliet’s bronze statue if you’re looking for luck in love or enjoy hushed reflection at her tomb in the dark crypt under the church of San Francesco al Corso.

Rousillon, France

Carcasonne

Shakespeare takes the characters of his dark comedy All’s Well that Ends Well all over France, but the play revolves mainly around the protagonists’ home in Roussillon, in the far south – an area stretching between Provence and the Spanish border. Today the Languedoc/Rousillon region represents to many the ‘real south of France’, where you can enjoy unspoilt landscapes and sample wonderful, traditional wines, such as Vin de Pays d’Oc.

Visit the magical fortress of Carcassonne, stroll around mediaeval Montpellier or explore the Spanish influence of Perpignan in the foothills of the Pyrenees, with its gothic palace and far-reaching views. Plus, it’s not far along the coast to the French Riviera to taste the glamour of sun-drenched Nice and Monaco.

Venice, Italy

Venice

Arguably the world’s most romantic city, Venice is unique, other-worldly, breathtakingly beautiful. Not surprising then to find here the setting for two of Shakespeare’s plays – his great tragedy Othello, whose title character is a Moorish general in the Venetian army and the rather controversial comedy The Merchant of Venice. In Shakespeare’s play the money lender Shylock asks for news from Rialto and for centuries it has been the city’s commercial centre. Now it’s a tourist Mecca; an area boasting fabulous food markets and of course the stunning Rialto Bridge, crossing the Grand Canal.

Wonder at the decadence of Saint Mark’s Basilica, take a trip to the colourful, glass-making island of Murano or soak up a Venetian sunset listening to live music in the Piazza San Marco.

Birnam, Scotland

Scotland

It is believed that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth between 1604 and 1606, shortly after England’s new King, James I (and 6th of Scotland) had ascended the throne. The Scottish born monarch was reportedly interested in witches and Shakespeare would have gained James’ approval for his Scottish play. Macbeth – a violent story of ambition and murder – seems to be a mix of fact and fiction. There was indeed a Macbeth who ruled in Scotland in the 11th century, although the finer details of the drama have benefited from Shakespeare’s artistic license.

In the centre of the town of Birnam today stands a single stately oak, reputed to be the last of the ancient Birnam Wood made famous in the play. ‘Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill, shall come against him.’ And it was on Dunsinane Hill that the real Macbeth took a defeat in battle.

The Birnam and Dunkeld area is located in the beautiful Big Tree Country of Perthshire, and is so lovely that it has been popular with tourists since the railway brought the first illustrious Victorian holidaymakers such as Beatrix Potter.

Yorkshire, England

yorkshire

The imposing Yorkshire castles of Middleham and Pontefract mingle history and art once again. Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, mentioned in the Domesday Book , was King Richard III’s favoured seat – known as the ‘Windsor of the North’ during his reign.  Today, Middleham is an impressive ruin, located in a superb area for walking and close to the traditional Dales market town of Leyburn. Rather than Middleham , Shakespeare uses Pomfret Castle (now Pontefract) as the historic setting for both Richard II and Richard III.

Pomfret had a fearful contemporary reputation. In Richard III, the character Rivers describes it, ‘O thou bloody prison!’  It lies in ruin now, but offers visitors great views of Pontefract itself and fascinating tours of its underground cellars, which truly were used as a prison during the English Civil War.

Windsor, England

Windsor

Shakespeare and his work, was patronised by both Elizabeth I and James I, so it is perhaps fitting that he should set one of his comedies in royal Windsor. The Merry Wives of Windsor is a farce about lecherous and jealous men and the women who get the better of them. The castle and the royal family also celebrated 400 years of the bard, with ‘Shakespeare in the Royal Library’ throughout 2016.  The exhibition celebrated his connections with the royal seat and included royal collections of Shakespeare’s works and even Shakespeare inspired art created by members of the royal family. It all formed part of the special Shakespeare400 series, commissioned to celebrate the playwright’s legacy.  

The Queen’s residence, Windsor Castle is the oldest castle still occupied in the world and summer tourists may be lucky to visit on one of the few days that the neighbouring Frogmore Estate is open to the public. It’s a tranquil and private royal house and grounds, owned by the crown since it was purchased by Henry VIII. Shakespeare set a scene from The Merry Wives in a ‘field near Frogmore’ – its name derived from the proliferation of frogs flourishing in its marshy Thames bank setting.

Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Stratford

No Shakespeare inspired itinerary would be complete without a trip to his birthplace and home in Stratford-upon-Avon. This beautiful, quintessential English riverside town close to the Cotswolds boasts the house where the great bard was born, his wife Anne Hathaway’s Cottage – fine example of a Tudor farmhouse with beautiful gardens – and the home of his mother, Mary Arden, where you can learn the art of Tudor archery and enjoy falconry displays.

Conclude your day with a trip to the specially restored 15th century Guildhall, or in contemplation of the playwright’s final resting place. The grave’s noteworthy inscription, believed to have been penned by Shakespeare himself, includes the words; ‘Blese be the man that spares thes stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.’ Well, you wouldn’t dare, would you?

And of course, there are few better places to watch contemporary versions of his world-famous masterpieces than at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s incomparable Stratford theatre.

Britain’s Best Easter Events and Activities 2017

Bluebells

Birdsong, bluebells, lambs and lighter evenings – the return of spring is always joyful. From the dawn chorus and Easter bonnet parades to beautiful blossom in Kent and chocolate heaven in York, our country has so much on offer to enjoy and explore.

So, make the most of the sunshine (and showers) with our guide to the most relaxing, adventurous and eccentric events this Easter…

Easter Dog Races, St Agnes, Cornwall

Cornwall beach

Clinging to the wild north Cornwall coast, on Easter Sunday, 16 April, gorgeous St Agnes’ golden beach holds one of the UK’s more eccentric events. The annual Easter Dog Races see a gang of assorted dogs chase a man dressed as a bunny along the sands. Give your own pooch a shot; have a flutter on the winner, or simply enjoy the spectacle. www.stagnessurflifesavingclub.co.uk/annual-dog-racing-on-the-beach-on-easter-sunday

Survival skills at Wray Castle, Cumbria

Most parents feel like they need a survival course to cope with the holidays, but this free event is a dream for your budding Bear Grylls. Under the eye of a ranger, kids learn basic survival skills and build their own shelter, whilst you enjoy the castle’s gothic grandeur. 8, 13, 20 and 22 April. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wray-castle

Chocolate heaven, York

At the centre of our love affair with chocolate, the city of York’s chocolate heritage dates back to the 18th century with the iconic producer Rowntree. Check out York’s Chocolate Story and their new exhibition celebrating local confectioner Terry’s, or gaze at the gorgeous, hand-crafted eggs at Bettys tea room. www.yorkschocolatestory.com

Flowering fruit orchards, Kent and nationwide

Apple Blossom

The pastel prettiness of fruit trees bursting into bloom is a heart-lifting joy of spring, and nowhere does it happen more dramatically than in the orchards the ‘Garden of England’, Kent. Brogdale Farm, near Faversham, is home to our National Fruit Collection and by mid to late April both the cherry and apple trees should be at their beautiful best. www.brogdalecollections.org

Easter ‘Eggs’travaganza, Eden Project, Cornwall

The world-famous biosphere with its indoor/outdoor capabilities is the ideal location for an unpredictable English Easter day out. And Eden has gone all out on the egg theme. From 1-17 April, egg-spect (couldn’t resist) games such as ‘Nest Ball’ plus a huge ‘Egg-scramble’ course and an egg hunt. www.edenproject.com

St Georges Day Charity Festival, Lytham St Annes

On the Lancashire coast, near Blackpool this lively festival offers busking, a tea dance, a choir competition, comedy and a St George’s Day lunch, ball and parade all in aid of local charities. The streets of the seaside resort fill with music and laughter from 19-23 April. www.stgeorgesdayfestival.com

Wildflowers and seabirds, RSPB South Stack Cliffs, Anglesey

Anglesey seabirds

Spring is a wonderful time to visit the stunning South Stack Cliffs, a protected seabird colony, just off Holy Island, Anglesey. Listen out for skylarks, spy on breeding seabirds and experience an explosion of floral colour carpeting the heathland cliff tops. http://www.rspb.org.uk

Sub-tropical colour at Inverewe Garden & Estate, Scottish Highlands

Heading to the highlands, doesn’t usually take you towards warmth but the Gulf Stream around the National Trust for Scotland’s gardens at Inverewe creates a clement micro-climate where you can marvel at mountains whilst walking amongst swathes of sub-tropical colour. www.nts.org.uk/Property/Inverewe-Garden-and-Estate

Dawn chorus, nationwide

The dawn chorus actually begins in the dark with birds singing whilst they wait for the light to help in their search for food. Set the alarm to enjoy it in parks, gardens and woodlands all over Britain. Alternatively, head to the RSPB’s Wood of Cree – the largest ancient wood in southern Scotland – or to its Minsmere reserve in Suffolk for a guided walk. www.rspb.org.uk

Lambing, nationwide

Easter lambs

Nothing says spring quite like a gambolling little lamb. At Tatton Park, Cheshire they’re having a special, open Lambing Week from 8 -17 April. You can feed orphaned lambs on an organic farm in the Brecon Beacons on various April dates and at Doonies Rare Breeds Farm near Aberdeen you can enjoy a bevy of rare breed babies. events.tattonpark.org.uk; www.gooddayout.co.uk/experiences/lambing-organic-farm; www.dooniesfarm.co.uk

‘Where is Peter Rabbit Treasure Trail?’,   Bowness-on-Windermere, Lake District

How very 2017. A digital Easter Egg hunt organised by The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, where families search for ceramic eggs hidden in secret locations in the Lake District to win lovely prizes. You’ll need a car and a Smartphone and probably some excitable children. The Treasure Trail goes live on 12th April.

www.hop-skip-jump.com/events/event/peter-rabbit-treasure-trail-2017

Vintage festival, Great Central Railway, Loughborough, Leicestershire

A must for vintage vehicle fans of all ages, Great Central Railway’s Easter Vintage festival runs from 14 to 17 April with a traditional country fair at Quorn & Woodhouse station. There’ll be big wheels, vintage cars, traction engines and more, plus real ale and live music to keep the less enthusiastic happy!  www.gcrailway.co.uk/special-events/easter-vintage-festival

Spectacular sunbathing, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales

Three Cliffs Bay on Gower

Located in one of the most magnificent areas along the Gower & Swansea Bay Coast Path, the view over Three Cliffs Bay beach, and, of course, its trio of striking limestone cliffs is often cited as Britain’s best.  Walk amongst wildflowers in crystal clear light or simply recline in spring sunshine and take it all in.  www.visitswanseabay.com/listings/three-cliffs-bay-beach  

Dyfi Osprey Visitor Centre, mid Wales

A lesser known herald of spring, Ospreys return to our shores in March after wintering in Africa and were reintroduced to this part of Wales in 2011 for the first time in 400 years. Only open April to September, the Dyfi Osprey Centre has a 360degree observatory and is accessible to wheelchair users. www.dyfiospreyproject.com

Ducks and Easter Bonnets, Nunney, Somerset

Centred around its commanding castle, the village of Nunney holds its annual Easter Bonnet parade and duck race this Easter Sunday, 16 April. There are prizes for the best decorated bonnets and a sea of yellow duckies ‘race’ down the picturesque Nunney Brook, all in aid of local, community projects. www.visitnunney.com/easter-sunday-bonnet-parade-duck-race

Bluebells, nationwide

From the middle of April, our woodlands, glades and gardens are graced with a striking lilac-blue carpet of bluebells. Of particular note is Hinton Ampner, Hampshire where you can picnic and recline on ‘sofas’ carved from fallen trees amidst the flowers, and the parkland National Nature Reserve of Dinefwr Park and Castle, Carmarthenshire. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hintonampner; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dinefwr

10 Marvellous Experiences for Mother’s Day

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, loving sons and daughters around the country are searching for new and unusual ways to make 26 March extra special for their mums. If you’re still struggling for ideas, here’s our guide to the top 10 experiences in Britain to spoil your mother for Mother’s Day. We hope it gives you some inspiration!

1. Start with a slap-up brunch in Manchester

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Does your mum loves a full English breakfast? How about a sophisticated Eggs Benedict, some healthy porridge and fruit, or perhaps an indulgent short stack of pancakes? Whatever she’s into, brunch is always a great way to get your Mother’s Day off to a good start. Manchester is something of a hub of brunch spots, from traditional greasy spoons to trendy little cafes. Recently refurbished celebrity hangout the Koffee Pot is known for its big breakfasts and mugs of tea, Moose Coffee is the place to head for pancakes, and Home Sweet Home does a mean Eggs Benedict. Albert’s Shed is great for canal-side dining, whilst North Tea Power do a great coffee and some lighter brunch options.

2. Sample a slice of culture in Norwich

Is your mum a culture vulture? Did you know that Norwich is the first (and so far only) English city to be declared a world UNESCO City of Literature? The award recognises this East Anglian city’s literary heritage, along with its ongoing commitment to culture. For anyone who loves culture and the arts, Norwich is a fantastic destination, and boasts a huge range of galleries, museums, theatres and music venues throughout the city. Head a little further out, and you have the glorious Norfolk countryside and coast to enjoy too!

3. Experience a Victorian Highlands spa town

Proving that southern England doesn’t have a monopoly on spa towns, the charming town of Strathpeffer – some 20 miles north of Inverness – is a magical hidden gem. For the Victorians, this Scottish hideaway was the location of invigorating spa baths and even a peat bath. Today it’s a conservation village, and you can take your mum to the historic pump room to learn about the town’s history. Once you’ve had your fill of quaint Victorian charm, you can enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding hills, or discover the nearby Pictish hill fort.

4. Delight in some fine art in St Ives

st ives

The seaside town of St Ives, Cornwall, has long served as both home and inspiration to some of the world’s leading artists, including Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo and – perhaps best known – Barbara Hepworth. Today, St Ives remains a thriving hub of art and is the perfect mother’s day destination if your mum is a fan of the visual arts. Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum are not to be missed. You’ll also find a host of galleries and buzzing workshops thriving in this delightful town, including the New Millennium Gallery, the Uys Gallery, ArtSpace Gallery and the Porthminster Gallery.

5. Grab a Sunday market bargain in North Yorkshire

Shopping may not be everyone’s favourite pastime, but if your mum loves hunting out a few hidden gems in a Sunday market, why not take her to the largest one in northern England? The racecourse at Catterick, North Yorkshire, is home to a massive Sunday market with a fun, fairground atmosphere. You can buy just about anything here, from fancy cheeses to stylish clothing and electronic gadgets. Then, when you’re done with the market stalls you can choose an indulgent treat from one of the huge range of caterers, from chilli sausages and hog roasts to ice cream and doughnuts!

6. Explore the great outdoors in South Wales

If your mum loves getting outdoors and enjoying some spectacular scenery, she’ll love a mother’s day trip to the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales. Along with landscapes that offer some of the most extraordinary natural beauty in Britain, you can also discover something of the region’s magnificent industrial heritage, ancient ruins and mysterious caves. For a lakeside nostalgia trip, head for the Brecon Mountain Railway. Take your mum to see the amazing waterfalls, explore the Blaenavon World Heritage Site, or experience the magical beauty of Llanthony Valley.

7. Take high tea in style in the Lake District

What more traditional way to spoil your mum that with the elegance of taking afternoon tea? Enjoy delicate, finger cut sandwiches, freshly baked scones with real clotted cream, the finest teas and perhaps even a glass of Champagne. There are lots of city locations for afternoon tea, of course, but the restaurants and cafes of the Lake District offer a special combination of high tea and stunning views. For a choice of beautiful and luxurious lakeside locations head for Coniston, Windermere, Ambleside, Ullswater or Derwent Water.

8. Discover the gardens and parks of the Peak District

Buxton Gardens

For glorious gardens, stately homes and picturesque parkland it’s difficult to beat the gorgeous Peak District. From the magnificent Chatsworth to Lyme Park, Rode Hall, Calke Abbey and the Pavilion Gardens, there are some fantastic places to explore in Derbyshire and the surrounding areas. For a Mother’s Day treat, the Heights of Abraham offers a fabulous cable car journey across the Derwent Valley.

9. Search for sun in Sussex

March is not necessarily the best time of year to head down to the sea, but if your mum is keen on a bit of early seaside fun it makes sense to head to the place that claims it’s the sunniest place in Britain. Eastbourne, in East Sussex, offers dazzlingly white shingle beaches, grand Victorian terraces and some good old fashioned pub grub.

10. Go potty with the National Trust

With heritage locations throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland you won’t have to travel far to treat your mum to a National Trust experience. Whether it’s daffodil potting at Gibside, Tyne and Wear, snowdrop planting in Somerset, afternoon tea or a quiet wander around the grounds, a special, tranquil time for two is guaranteed!

The Best Holiday Reads – as chosen by you!

word-cloud-with-colour-logo

We asked you to recommend your favourite holiday reads for World Book Day and you did not disappoint! There’s a great selection, from old classics to contemporary thrillers; travelogues, biographies and much more. So much good stuff, in fact, that we decided to compile the list into a word cloud to inspire others.  Maybe your next holiday read is in there somewhere?

Congratulations to  Joanne Darnell who won our Book Day prize draw and wins a Waterstones voucher too.

Happy reading!

March Events in the UK

With spring approaching there are plenty of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of Britain in bloom. But even if the weather lets us down, there’s more than enough to enjoy in March.

Take a look at a few of our picks for the best events and activities throughout the month.

Words by the Water, Keswick: 3-12 March

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There are few more scenic settings for a celebration of words and ideas than the shores of Derwentwater in the Lakes. Similarly, there are few better festivals bringing together the brightest and best from the worlds of comedy, journalism, politics and literature. The 2017 festival line-up offers appearances from Melvyn Bragg, Vince Cable, comedian Mark Watson and a host of special events taking full advantage of the stunning scenery. https://www.theatrebythelake.com/words-by-the-water-festival.

Glasgow International Comedy Festival: 9-26 March

One of the highlights of the comedy calendar, Glasgow’s Comedy Festival is where you can see upcoming stars alongside a wealth of renowned performers. The 15th festival offers such luminaries as Jimmy Carr, Stewart Lee, Al Murray and Russell Howard with plenty more unique events taking place in venues around the city. Choose from live podcast recordings, music performances, film commentaries and more!  http://www.glasgowcomedyfestival.com/

Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival: 25 March – 2 April

The hometown of Roald Dahl seems like the perfect place for a celebration of children’s literature. And since the recent Dahl-inspired City of the Unexpected is still fresh in the mind, you, and your young readers, can expect quite a time in Cardiff. The 5th festival features a host of readings and workshops, featuring a who’s who of literary talent, including Nick Sharrat, Andy Stanton celebrating the tenth anniversary of his creation Mr Gum, Holly Smale and more. Whether you’re with a budding writer or devoted reader, there’s plenty for the family to enjoy. http://www.cardiff-events.com/cardiff-childrens-literature-festival/

Marmalade Festival 2017, Penrith, Cumbria: 18-19 March

marmaladefestival

Join the town of Penrith in Cumbria as it goes orange for the international celebration of Paddington’s favourite condiment! The Penrith & Dalemain Mansion will be hosting the majority of the demonstrations, with talks, exhibitions, tastings, music and awards. Meanwhile Penrith town centre will be celebrating marmalade with street entertainers, magicians, musicians, dancers, storytelling, stalls and much more. There are free buses between the venues and, such is the prestige of the event, Virgin Trains’ service will be transforming into the West Coast Marmalade Line for competition entries – where they will be met by Paddington himself at Penrith station.  https://www.dalemain.com/marmalade-festival/

Mother’s Day with the National Trust, various locations: 26 March

Treat your mum to a special day out with a host of events and activities taking place in National trust locations throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Whether you fancy high tea and a peaceful stroll, getting green fingers by potting daffodils and planting snowdrops or just taking the time out to appreciate hundreds of gorgeous heritage locations throughout the land, there’s plenty to show your mum how much you appreciate her. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/mothers-day-events

Cheltenham Festival,  Gloucestershire: 14-17 March

One of the UK’s most popular racing events on one of its most popular courses, Cheltenham is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the racing calendar. Four days of equine events open with the most important hurdle race of the season: the Stan James Champion Hurdle. The second day is the ever-popular Ladies Day with a St Patrick’s Day special on the Thursday. Finally, the 17th offers Gold Cup Day, arguably the best day’s racing of the year! http://cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk/events-tickets/whats-on/the-festival

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival: 16-19 March

Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival 2016.

Bristol’s musical heritage is justly celebrated with pioneers Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky creating a whole new musical genre. The city has continued to be one of the key arts and culture hubs of the UK, cultivating a thriving jazz and blues renaissance in the process. Enjoy over 40 workshops, dances and live performances at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival with artists like Macy Gray, Mud Morganfield (son of Muddy Waters) and more gracing the stage. http://www.bristoljazzandbluesfest.com

Borderlines Film Festival 2017,   Herefordshire, Shropshire and the Borders: 1-12 March

Celebrating 15 years of exclusive film screenings and events in lovely rural settings, Borderlines goes from strength to strength. This year’s offerings include screenings of Oscar darlings: Moonlight, La La Land, Jackie, Fences and more alongside one-off screenings of Cuban cinema and a chance to see sneak peeks of a number of films before they go on general release. With a wealth 0f lovely locations on offer, there are few better places to stretch your legs afterwards too! www.borderlinesfilmfestival.co.uk

York Literature Festival: 16-30 March

One of the UK’s most prestigious literary events, the York’s festival of the written word places and emphasis on literature, spoken word and poetry with diversions into music, comedy, film and theatre. In short, it’s a one stop shop for wonderful cultural events. Enjoy events and appearances from Michael Palin, Sue Perkins, Mark Gatiss, Michael Faber and more in a glorious historic setting. There’s much to enjoy for literary lovers and budding writers and novelists. http://www.yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk.