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

A Walk for Anne

 

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In April this year our good friend and work colleague Anne Dalby passed away after her 5 year battle with ovarian cancer. Pendleside Hospice is where Anne was cared for in her final weeks and it gave her and her family all the help and support they needed.

Anne worked at the cottages4you site for over 20 years until her retirement in December 2010 after her original diagnosis at the beginning of that year. She was the Payroll manager for the business for all that time working in payroll and also HR. Most people will remember Anne as an outgoing and bubbly person with a great sense of humour and definitely once met never forgotten.

As a business we support Pendleside as our nominated charity but we wanted to do something above this. So when the ‘Girls night out’ was advertised as a sponsored 10K walk I thought it would be a good event to get a team of ladies together to walk in Anne’s memory. We called ourselves ‘Anne’s Angels’, consisting of myself (Nikki Caygill), Gill Carter, Lindsay Pennington, Emma Riley, Gill McAdam, Siobhan James and Shirley Brooks and we donned pink halos, tutus and wings to walk the route around Burnley.

We set up sponsorship forms and just giving pages to get people to support our cause along with advertising through Facebook messages to all our friends. At the moment our total money raised is £950.

Find out more about the great work Pendleside Hospice do on their website.

Cottage of the Week – The Old Cart House, Gloucestershire

This stunning and beautifully presented detached barn conversion (ref. NRF) is approached along a private drive and overlooks the picturesque village of Naunton. A short walk leads to the heart of the village and the local pub. It’s also perfect for exploring the adjacent footpaths and bridleways with their spectacular views. Sleeps 2. Find more info and make a booking on the cottages4you website.

11 Signs that Spring is Springing

Despite being surprised with more snow recently, and still having to occasionally scrape the ice off the windscreen, spring is definitely on its way. (Honest!) There are lots of tiny clues that spring is just around the corner, so dust off those winter blues and look out for these 11 signs of spring…

1. Beautiful birdsong

A reason to love spring!

You’ll start to hear more early morning birdsong at this time of year, as our migrating birds have come home and male birds begin to sing in order to attract a mate. Look out for indigenous birds such as robins and great tits or migrant birds such as chiff chaffs and blackcaps. Book a cottage with a well-established garden and you can look out for birds carrying twigs and moss for nest building at this time of year.

If birdwatching is your thing, why not head to the Martin Mere Wetland Centre in Burscough? This family-friendly venue celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and you’ll find more species than ever before. Make sure you don’t miss the spectacle of the afternoon swan feeding, when thousands of these impressive birds gather. During the Easter holidays, there’s even a giant rubber duck hunt!

For a more ‘natural’ birdwatching experience that still helps you avoid the rain, you could plan a walk that incorporates one of the many bird hides that dot the countryside. We can recommend exploring the rugged landscape around Malham, in Yorkshire – which even appeared in the Harry Potter films – and taking your flask into the hide that looks over Malham Tarn. From here, you’re likely to see great crested grebes, little grebes, tufted ducks, pochard, widgeon, teal and goosander.

2. Flower power

Take a woodland walk

Take a woodland walk

Bluebells and snowdrops are the first to poke their delicate heads through the cold soil. Take a stroll around National Trust property Dunham Massey in Cheshire to see more than 10,000 plants in the cyclamen grove, bluebell meadow and yellow meadow. Any visit is sure to brighten your week.

In spring, wild garlic also grows in abundance around woodland areas, filling the air with its characteristic smell. With pretty white flowers, this plant looks lovely – but can also make a delicious foraged meal. Do a quick internet search and you’ll find a host of tasty suggestions from Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater and the River Cottage Team.

You’ll easily be able to sniff out wild garlic on a woodland walk in Hurst Green, Lancashire. There are a number of varied walks that skirt around the famous Stonyhurst College. Film buffs might recognise this stunning building as the boarding school from Three Men and a Little Lady. The lush landscape nearby is said to have inspired JRR Tolkien when writing about ‘The Shire’.

3. A new season of fresh food

Lovely food and views to drink in

Drink in the view at Dorset (the food’s not bad either!)

There are a host of food fairs and farmers markets across the country in spring. River Cottage’s Spring Food Fair grows in popularity each year. If you’re likely to find yourselves in the beautiful Dorset countryside on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th May, book a ticket to join Hugh and the team. This is a full weekend of growing, cooking and eating!

Saturday 23rd to Monday 25th May will see Blenheim Palace host its first ever Food Festival. The magnificent grounds will be home to cookery demos, children’s workshops, foraging fun and stalls selling mouth-watering treats.

You can also celebrate the season of growing with The Royal Welsh Spring Festival, held on 16th and 17th May. With over 1,300 livestock, poultry and horses, hundreds of tradestands, the only Premier Open Dog Show to be held in Wales, children’s activities, a food and drink quarter, vintage machinery, auction, country leisure and much more, this event has something for everyone

4. Meltwater

River Spey: perfect for rafting

River Spey: perfect for rafting

Visit the Cairngorms National Park in spring and you’ll have a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a wild adventure. White water rafting is at its best at this time of year, as the snow melts from the Cairngorm mountains. There are many companies offering this activity throughout the area. You can white water raft on sections of the River Spey as well as the River Findhorn which some say is one of the best for rafting in Scotland.

5. Woolly Jumpers

One of our favourite signs of spring!

One of our favourite signs of spring!

While all farms stick to a different lambing schedule, there are undoubtedly more lambs frolicking around the fields now than at any other time of year. The warmer weather means you’re more likely to see them outside, playing with their friends and then dashing back to their mums! Take the family to Home Farm in Cambridgeshire and you’ll see a host of rare breed sheep and lambs, as well as goats, cattle, pigs and horses. Families can even take part in farm activities like grooming the donkeys and feeding the pigs.

6. Something Fishy

One for avid anglers

One for avid anglers

Spring is the most action-packed fishing season. From March to May, high water levels disperse large fish to spawn upriver and you’re likely to see those iconic images of salmon leaping against the current. Avid anglers should head to Wales where the beats and tributaries of the River Usk teem with brown trout and substantial salmon bite in the Wye.
The stunning scenery will be at its finest in the spring too.

7. Seeing clearly

Watching the spring skies

Watching the spring skies

At this time of year, we tend to find that the days become crisper and clearer and the nights do too! Clear, cloudless skies are perfect for star gazing in one of the UK’s night sky parks. The Brecon Beacons National Park is one of only five International Dark Sky Reserves in the world. Residents and visitors are encouraged to prevent light pollution and take an interest in the night sky. The beauty of a cottage break – over a hotel stay – means you can stay up late to explore the night sky and simply have a lie in the following day, without missing breakfast!

8. A blossoming treat

Blackthorn in bloom

Blackthorn in bloom

The hedgerows of the UK come alive in spring and the stunning damson blossom throughout the Lake District is a beautiful sign that better weather is on its way. In early April you can even visit the Westmorland Damson Day Festival, and enjoy all things related to this delicious treat. (Make sure to try the damson ice cream!) Blackthorn is one of the first trees to flower in early to mid spring, when it produces a mass of white blossom. This is the tree to also keep an eye on in autumn, when it bears sloes. The cup-shaped white flowers of the wild cherry are a sure sign of spring, these appear in April even before its leaves.

9. Time travel!

Take a trip back in time at Haworth

An odd thing to look out for in spring, but trust us – if you’re in the right place, you might see military men and more from the 1940s! Haworth is a beautiful Airedale village, which was home to the famous Brontë sisters. With its historic cobbled Main Street, iconic parsonage and rolling moors, it’s well worth a visit at any time of year but if you choose to go between the 15th and 17th May, you’ll be able to enjoy the region’s famous 1940s weekend!

10. Taking the tiddlers to find tadpoles

Rutland: perfect for budding biologists

Rutland Water: perfect for budding biologists

Frogs start mating from January onwards, so look out for frogspawn in ponds, ditches and slow-moving streams. Frogspawn tends to be in large clumps, while toadspawn will be in ‘strings’. Why not take the kids pond dipping? This can be an exciting and valuable learning experience for little ones. You might set out with your own bug bucket, net, magnifying glass and observation sheet (you can even download top tips from the Woodland Trust) or you might choose a more structured, organised event. Rutland Water, for example, holds a host of family activity days for budding biologists and conservationists throughout the year.

11. Mad March hares

Mad as March hares

March hares in action

In early spring, look out for the famous ‘Mad March Hare’. These long-eared leapers can be seen ‘boxing’ during mating season. You might think these are the boys brawling, but it’s actually more likely to be the females fending off unwanted attention. The moors of Yorkshire and Derbyshire are top spots for hare spotting.

A few more…

For your own mad activities, you could take inspiration from the many rural fairs and local shows occurring at this time of year where you’ll often see eccentric challenges like egg throwing or welly hurling – both of which you could try in the garden!

For egg throwing, stand facing each other and play ‘catch’ with an egg. Each time you successfully catch it, take a step apart – the game gradually becomes more and more difficult until the egg eventually cracks and breaks on the grass, or on you!

Welly hurling is exactly what it sounds like. All you need is some open space, well away from the road, and a welly boot. Set out a throwing line and mark where each person’s throw lands with a twig. The aim of the game is to throw the welly the furthest.

For a slightly calmer garden activity, you could set up a chocolate egg hunt for the kids (and big kids) during the Easter holidays.

Take a look at the latest spring availability and offers on cottages4you.

Welcome to Wolf Hall…

cover

Mantel’s novel

Have you been watching the BBC’s latest historical drama? Overshadowing the King, the Queens, the costumes and corsetry, the stars of the show are undeniably the stunning filming locations. Luckily, many of these castles, courts and manor houses are open to the public – so you can get your own little piece of the action!

These venues are already increasing in popularity thanks to the series, so don’t miss out. Harvey Edgington, Head of Film and Locations at the National Trust, told The Times he expects a significant increase in the number of visitors to the houses and castles features in the series. He added: “they are all within a short distance and you could feasibly do the whole trail in a weekend.”

‘Wolf Hall’ Producer Mark Pybus was quick to praise the many National Trust properties used during filming: “the advantages of filming in a historic location are massive,” he said. “It also helps the actors, if they’re stepping into the buildings that Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell walked around in it helps bring a realness to the project.”
You too can immerse yourself in the history and heritage of these properties and soak up the atmosphere. Whether you choose to make it a romantic retreat, or explore with friends and family – there’s something to keep everyone interested.

Why not take a trip to Montacute House in Somerset?

Montacute House: Greenwich Palace in 'Wolf Hall'

Montacute House: Greenwich Palace in ‘Wolf Hall’

As well as representing Greenwich Palace in the ‘Wolf Hall’ adaptation, this Elizabethan manor has also appeared in major films such as ‘The Libertine’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’. You’ll recognise it from the ‘Wolf Hall’ series as Henry VIII’s main London seat and the site of Anne Boleyn’s arrest.

You can literally come face to face with the past here, with more than 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits in the Long Gallery. The ever-changing gardens around Montacute are worth a walk in any weather.

Take a look at Barrington Court, Somerset

This Tudor house was restored by the Lyle family in the 1920s and represented York Place, the home of Cardinal Wolsey, in the BBC adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’.

It was specially dressed for filming, but is usually free from collections and furniture – allowing you and your imagination free reign. Outside, you’ll find breathtaking gardens and working orchards.

Feel the magic of Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Lacock Abbey: Wolf Hall's exterior

Lacock Abbey: Wolf Hall’s exterior

Lacock Abbey is open to the public all year round and visitors of all ages are likely to be familiar with this building from TV and film. As well as representing the exterior of Wolf Hall, the Abbey has also appeared in ‘Cranford’, the ‘Harry Potter’ films and ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’.

The Abbey does not only share this television link with the king. The real Henry VIII actually sold the Abbey, following the dissolution of the monasteries, to one of his couriers who converted it into a house.

Chastleton House, Oxfordshire, is well worth a visit

Chastleton House was built between 1607 and 1612 by a wealthy wool merchant as a demonstration of his status and power. His descendants couldn’t afford to update the building and so it remains a stunning ‘time capsule’ in its original form. You may have to book in advance as tickets are ‘timed’ to restrict visitor numbers, giving you an authentic feel for the history of the place.

In ‘Wolf Hall’, Chastleton’s small stone courtyard provided the backdrop for the dramatic scenes of Cromwell’s childhood, while interiors represent Wolf Hall, the Seymour family seat and the place where Jane Seymour first catches Henry’s eye.

Great Chalfield Manor and Garden, Wiltshire

Great Chalfield Manor is a moated manor built between 1465 and 1480. Another popular filming location, it has been seen in ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’.

For ‘Wolf Hall’ its interiors stood in for Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell’s home.

The gardens are the jewel in the Manor’s crown, with terraces, topiary houses, a gazebo, lily pond, roses and views across the spring-fed fishpond.

For history buffs with an interest in all things Henry VIII…

– Blickling Hall in Norfolk is a Jacobean house that stands on the site of a former medieval manor thought to have been the birthplace of Anne Boleyn. The manor was bought by Anne’s great-grandfather and Anne’s ghost is said to haunt Blickling on May 19th, the anniversary of her death.

– The current Nunnington Hall, in Yorkshire, evolved from Tudor beginnings. William Parr, brother of Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife Catherine Parr, inherited Nunnington Hall but his involvement in the scheme to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne led to his estates being forfeit to the Crown.

Holy Island Priory

Holy Island Priory

– If you’re heading to the Scottish Borders, Holy Island is a scenic spot to visit – but you’ll have to wait for low tide in order to drive across the access road. Henry VIII took over Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. Located close to the Scottish border south of Berwick upon Tweed, Holy Island was strategically important as a deep water harbour.

– Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire was once one of the richest religious houses in Europe. Its ruins are now the most complete Cistercian abbey remains in the country. The ruins can be viewed at a distance from ‘Anne Boleyn’s Seat’ in Studley Royal Water Garden, so named because of the headless statue which stands there facing them.

To complete your authentic historic holiday experience, why not choose one of the traditional Tudor properties in the hand-picked cottages4you collection?

Cottage of the Week – Hen Wrych Hall Tower, Conwy

Happy New Year! We hope you had a fantastic Christmas and saw 2014 out in style. We’ve chosen one of our favourite featured properties as the first Cottage of the Week for 2015. Hen Wrych Hall Tower offers truly stunning accommodation where perfectly preserved features dovetail with contemporary comfort. So while you can relax and marvel at the majesty of your historic surroundings while you toast your toes by the open fire, you can also do so whilst watching a DVD and becoming the envy of your friends by sharing your status via Wi-Fi.

If you can drag yourself out of the heavily carved king-size four-poster bed and the additional comfort of your historic hideaway then you’ll find much to enjoy in the surrounding area, including a five minute walk to the beach, local pubs restaurants and shops just a mile away. Hen Wrych Hall Tower sleeps 2 and currently has great availability for 2015. Find out more and make it your next romantic getaway by visiting the property listing on cottages4you.