The Best December Events in the UK, 2016

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  • Burning the Clocks Festival, Brighton. 21 December. The shortest day and the end of the year are celebrated with a huge lantern parade through Brighton’s streets, culminating in a huge bonfire on the beach!  http://www.samesky.co.uk/events/burning-the-clocks
  • Grassington Dickensian Festival, Yorkshire Dales. 3-11 December. One of our favourite ways to get in the Christmas spirit, this fantastic festival offers plenty of yuletide cheer on the gorgeous cobbled streets of Grassington with bands, buskers, Victorian street entertainers and Santa! http://grassingtondickensian.co.uk/
  • Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. 30 December – 1 January. A world-famous way to welcome in the New Year, alongside the party to see in 2017, there’s the Torchlight Procession winding through town on 30 December and the Loony Dook river dip for the hardy and hungover on New Year’s Day! https://www.edinburghshogmanay.com/.
  • Christmas in Shakespeare’s England, Warwickshire. Various dates in December. Enjoy the RSC’s production of The Tempest (until 21 January), visit Stratford’s Christmas market and enjoy a guided walk of the Bard’s Stratford between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. http://shakespeares-england.co.uk/christmas-shakespeares-england.
  • Christmas at Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean. 3-25 December. Enjoy the other-worldly ambience of this magical location. Kids get to dress up as Red Riding Hood or the Woodcutter and take a woodland walk to meet a very special visitor! http://www.puzzlewood.net/index.php.
  • Enchanted Christmas, Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire.  Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening to 18 December. See the majestic trees of Westonbirt in a whole new light as the 1,000s of the are bathed in a fantastically festive glow. http://www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-christmas.
  • Illumination Festival of Light, Irvine, North Ayrshire, Scotland 30 November-3 December. Starting on St Andrew’s Day with a firework display, enjoy a weekend of wonder on Irvine’s historic waterfront. Light displays, art, fireworks, workshops, whisky tastings and much more! http://illuminationfestival.co.uk/
  • The Alnwick Garden Christmas Grand Lantern Parade, Northumberland. 18 December. A magical live music, light and movement spectacular winding through the gorgeous gardens of Alnwick Castle. Enjoy Christmas trails, Xmas markets and more to get you into the festive spirit! https://alnwickgarden.com/.

Watch the Skies: How to Spot the Northern Lights in the UK & Ireland

Northumberland

Illuminating our dark skies to the perpetual wonder of mankind, the Aurora Borealis are usually associated with the freezing north. But, armed with the right information and a little bit of luck, the Northern Lights can be observed even over British horizons.

Follow our simple sky-gazing guide for your best chance to catch this natural phenomenon on your doorstep…

The Northern Lights…what are they?

The Aurora Borealis (to give them their scientific name) are the striking streaks of light and colour sometimes seen in the night sky. Electrifying light shows they have long inspired pilgrimages to the northern tip of the planet. Depending on the conditions, the aurora can be seen as smudges, arcs and flashes of colour. They vary in intensity and in shade from blues and purples to greens, yellows and reds. Likened to a celestial lava lamp, this magical spectacle is actually the result of geomagnetic storms caused by the sun. Collisions of particles in the Earth’s atmosphere give off light, particularly towards the polar region, hence…the Northern Lights!

Stuff of myth and legend…

The Northern Lights hold a special importance in many countries and cultures. The ancient Greeks believed they were in fact the goddess Aurora racing across the sky heralding the new dawn; the indigenous people of Alaska saw the lights as the souls of animals they had hunted and the Vikings held that the spears of light led warriors to their final resting place in Valhalla.

So, apart from the North Pole, where’s the best place to spot them?

When conditions are right it is possible to see the Northern Lights all over the UK, even as far south as Kent and Cornwall although these sightings are pretty rare. Here are our top three, dark-sky spots to start searching…

Scotland

Northern Lights Scotland

Because of its northerly location, Scotland frequently offers the best opportunity for aurora gazing. The far north usually enjoys sightings every few months. Our largest National Park, the Cairngorms, encompasses a Dark Sky Discovery site on the Glenlivet Estate and is a superb place to start. Head to the remote area around the old college at Scalan. Here, at the foot of the Ladder Hills you’ll find fantastic views to the north, and to the aurora.

Visit in autumn to witness the red deer rut. You’ll also find woodlands ablaze with colour and trees laden with berries and alive with birdsong. Enjoy cold, crisp walks in the shadow of majestic, snowy peaks.

Northumberland

Northern Lights

The far north of England is also a top choice for a chance at an intense aurora experience. Awarded a Gold tier designation by the International Dark Sky Association in 2013, the skies above Northumberland Dark Sky Park are officially the best place for night sky gazing in England. And they’re the largest protected area of dark sky in Europe. The coast is particularly good for chasing the northern lights.

Visit in winter for almost guaranteed glittering night skies. A myriad of stars, planets and meteor showers can be contemplated with the naked eye, or with a little help at the Kielder Observatory. In early spring, visit the stunning snowdrop festival at Howick Hall, or wait for the annual return of the osprey to the tranquil expanse of Kielder Water.

Donegal, Republic of Ireland

Ireland

Occupying a wild spot in the north western reaches of Ireland is the unspoilt county of Donegal. As well as offering obvious beauty and solitude this coastal county’s location and lack of light pollution make it an ideal spot for sky searching. Malin Head is Ireland’s most northerly point and an excitingly wild place to start. On the same Inishowen peninsula, the village of Clonmany and the colourful coastal town of Moville offer the perfect combination of a decent vantage point with civilised benefits, such as a warm fire and a pint of Guinness.

A trip to Donegal should also include a walk along the wonderful Wild Atlantic Way, and you can begin your exploration of this dramatic, craggy coast from Moville. Stroll deserted sandy beaches and sample Donegal Bay oysters. The Irish coastline can also boast some of the best dolphin and whale watching opportunities in Europe. In springtime minke whales return to these waters, and basking sharks patrol close to shore. Autumn brings fin whales and huge pods of common dolphins.

When is the best time to scan the skies?

• It’s tricky to pinpoint exactly when the lights will make their ethereal appearance – it could be any time of year. In general though, we can expect more geomagnetic storms around the spring and autumn equinoxes. Longer, darker nights also make a sighting more likely, so plan a trip around February and March, or October and November.

• Have patience. The aurora don’t stick to a time pattern, but an educated guess would have you looking north between 10pm and 2am.

• You’ll need to get as far away from any light pollution as possible. The lights also require a clear night without any cloud cover and a view to the northern horizon.

• Fancy getting scientific? You can check online for upcoming periods of strong geomagnetic storm activity. The avid aurora hunter can even sign up to alerts from Aurorawatch or Astronomy Ireland who will let you know as soon as the perfect conditions are detected!

Good luck!

Making the Perfect Stay – Flexible Arrivals and Duration

flexible arrivals cdc

A cottages.com break offers pure freedom to the holidaymaker. Choose from over 19,000 properties in some of the world’s most beautiful and relaxing locations: from ancient castles for grand family gatherings to bijou retreats on the glittering Mediterranean coast.

Alongside our thousands of holiday homes, we’ve also been working to improve the amount of choice in arrival dates and holiday duration too. Previously many 7 day stays would run from Friday and 5 days from Monday. But we wanted to offer more choice and flexibility, so now, alongside a wealth of choice in property size and location, we’ve added flexible duration and any start date to hundreds of holiday homes.

So if you fancy a quick break mid-week, a night’s stay at a lovely holiday cottage or just want that magical weekend away to last a little bit longer then you can make the perfect cottage break with cottages.com.

When combined with all of our other features: accessible properties, pet-friendly accommodation, open-fires, coastal views and much more, you can see how it’s never been easier to find your dream holiday home, choose how long you want to enjoy it for and when you want to go!

Make your perfect break now and take a look at our holiday cottages with flexible arrival dates and duration.

Wonderful Winter Walks – A Guide to the UK & Ireland’s Finest

winter walks

Rhossili Bay, South Wales

This ancient terrain is blessed with natural good looks and is also dotted with Iron Age and Norman monuments to explore in an area that has been treasured for centuries. A great way to take in this fabulous vista is to walk from Worms Head along the coast and then into a circular route around Rhossili Bay. This eight mile route provides some fantastic vantage points that on a clear day will allow you to glimpse the North Devon coast. The rugged countryside is bordered by a large beach at Rhossili Bay providing an opportunity to follow the tide line as part of your journey across some of the most delightful scenery in South Wales.

Loch Morar to Tarbet, Scotland

This part of Scotland is considered a paradise for walkers, with elevated views of some of the most stunning Scottish mountains including Ben Nevis and across the water towards the Hebrides. One of the most scenic and popular routes is the 5 mile route along the loch to Tarbet. With a snow capped backdrop against the still, mirror-like waters and on a crisp winter’s day, the views are simply breathtaking. The wild landscape provides a variety of habits to a fascinating array of wildlife. Look out for otters, roe deer and even sea eagles, which can be seen fishing for salmon!

Holywell Bay to Porthtowan, Cornwall

Holywell Beach

Whether it’s a crystalline blue winter’s day or a breezy afternoon, walkers (and surfers!) are drawn to one of the most enigmatic stretches of coast in the country. Holywell Bay with its famous Gull Rocks lies just to the south of Newquay on the north Cornwall coast. The walk following the coastal path south to Porthtowan passes delightful coves, expansive beaches and imposing cliffs and takes about 5 hours. The route will take you through Perranporth, St Agnes and the emblematic Wheal Coates, a former tin mine which looks down on this majestic coastline. This historic landmark has come to symbolise ‘Kernow’ and man’s essential link to land and sea. With a plethora of great pubs along the way, there is plenty of opportunity to ‘rest’ on this popular winter walk.

Slievenamon mountain walk, Republic of Ireland

This is a walk up the 721 metre mountain of Slievenamon. Although it is a mountain trek, Slievenamon is an easy mountain to climb and even suitable for beginners due to its wide and clearly marked path, which lasts up to the summit. The views from Slievenamon mountain are wonderful, allowing you to take in vistas of the other mountains nearby as well as the ancient burial cains, the highest of which was once believed to be the entrance to the Celtic hell. Slievenamon is itself a mountain steeped in folklore; its name is translatable as “Mountain of the Women”, which ultimately derives from the legend that the most beautiful women across the land once raced to the summit in order to become the bride of a warrior called Fionn mac Cumhail.

Winchcombe walks, the Cotswolds

The attractive gentle inclines of the Cotswolds offer an extensive variety of footpaths and bridleways across historic sites, rivers and past tempting old inns!  Winchcombe which lies at the heart of the Cotswolds is a great starting point for a variety of walks around some of the most beautiful and historic landscapes in the area.  Many options encompass parts of the Cotwolds Way and you can choose from leisurely two mile routes around Sudeley Castle to more challenging hikes from Winchombe to Hailes, taking in great views of the Malverns and the Vale of Evesham. With the early winter nights make sure you plan your journey allowing for plenty of daylight to complete your walk. What better way than to round off your winter hike than coming home to light your woodburner in your cosy Cotswolds cottage!

Sheringham to Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk

Cley Next the Sea

This eight and a half mile walk is for people who like to feel as if they have entered the wilderness. It starts along rugged sandy cliffs, which then merge into wild shingle beach and salt marshes, where you can expect to spot some interesting birds. Further along the trail there are also cley marshes, softly undulating hills and great views of Cley’s windmill and Blakeney’s Church tower. The walk comes to an ideal end at the village Cley-next-the-Sea, where you can enjoy a well-earned cup of tea and slice of cake.

Allen Banks woodland walk, Northumberland

Northumberland is often overlooked as a tourist destination but the options for walkers are impressive. One lesser known but beautiful walk is the Allen Banks woodland walk, which snakes along the River Allen’s valley. This is a three mile, moderate walk. The River Allen is one of the south Tyne’s tributaries. This is a trail with diverse scenery as it also entails trekking through Northumberland’s woodland, which hosts a range of fungi, flora and fauna. This is a great walk for birdwatchers- look out for the dippers and grey wagtails. On summer evenings you can sometimes even spot bats diving for insects on the surface of the river!

Tintagel Church to Trebarwith Strand, Cornwall

Treknow

This three mile, easy-to-moderate walk takes you through one of the quieter areas of Cornwall. It may not be on the radar of most visitors to Cornwall but this is a truly beautiful trail. It starts off at a picturesque church on Glebe Cliff and then takes you along a coastal path, which offers jaw-dropping views of dramatic cliffs and coastal slate quarries as well as sandy beaches. The beach at Trebarwith Strand is also a great place to take a break for lunch or even go surfing. You can then follow a quarryman’s trail into the town of Treknow and round off your day by visiting the local castle.

The Grey Mare’s Tail and Loch Skeen, Scotland

This isolated area of Scotland, east of Ayr and south east of Glasgow, is one of the country’s hidden secrets. At less than three miles, this walk can be completed in two and a half hours. The Grey Mare’s Tail is one of Scotland’s most impressive waterfalls, cascading 60 metres in the Moffat hills. The view even inspired poet Sir Walter Scott to write verse about it. This walk allows you to not only drink in the vistas of the spectacular waterfall but also take in wonderful views of Loch Skeen and the rugged hills that surround the lake. There is some interesting wildlife to experience on this trail too, such as peregrine falcons.

Tonfanau to Tywyn, Wales

Tywyn is not an obvious choice when it comes to walking in Wales but it offers some fascinating routes. This particular one, which is eight miles and takes between three and five hours to complete, follows the Dysynni river and there are some colourful landmarks from the start. Tonfanau has an interesting history as it used to be an army camp and also took in Ugandan refugees during the 1970s. There are some spectacular views once you start this trek- for example at Craig-yr-aderyn (Bird’s Rock) and at the Broadwater lagoon. The wildlife to look out for includes oystercatchers, wallards, wigeons, skylarks, buzzards and red kites. The end of this walk leads you to Tywyn, where you are highly recommended to stop at Halo Foods Factory for its famous honey ice cream!

Curbar Gap circular, the Peak District

Curbar Gap

The central location of the Peak District National Park makes it eminently accessible and perfect for a walking short break. To get a real sense of wilderness and the essential raw beauty of the Peaks, the Eastern Moors is offers varied range of vistas to immerse yourself during a winter moorland walk. The circular route from Curbar Gap, through Froggat, White Edges and then back to Curbar Gap, takes in some of the most strikingly rugged parts of the Peak District. Expansive moorland home to timid red deer offers vantage points across Derwent Valley and on to the heartland of the Peak District.

Ballyconnell walk, Republic of Ireland

Ballyconnell, in County Cavan, is famed for its fishing and golf activities. Less well known is the fact that it is also a starting point for some of the most beautiful walks in the Republic of Ireland, which are dotted with archaeological sites. This includes the site where the Killycluggin stone was found, an artefact which dates back to the Iron Age. Although the real stone is now in the National Museum, there is a replica on site. One walk option is to start from the town’s bridge and then trek along the Woodford River and Annagh Lough Woods, which is home to ash, beech and oak trees as well as a wildlife reserve.

The Best November Events in the UK for 2016

November events

  • World’s Biggest Bonfire, Lewes, Sussex.  5 November. The UK’s biggest celebration of the 5th November features processions, bonfires and displays from 6 different Bonfire Societies. Remember the earplugs!   http://www.lewesbonfirecelebrations.com/
  • Kendal Mountain Festival, Cumbria. 17-20 November.  A celebration of stunning scenery and extreme adventuring to be enjoyed from the comfort of your seat in one of several unique venues. Over 70 films, talks and events on offer.  http://www.mountainfest.co.uk/
  • Oban Winter Festival, Scotland. 18-27 November. Give winter a warm welcome with reindeer parades, food and drink, ice skating and many more fun seasonal events. http://obanwinterfestival.com/
  • The New Forest Food and Drink Festival, Hampshire. 31 October-6 November. This fine food festival offers a celebration of Hampshire’s culinary heritage with 15 key themes across its delectable delights. http://www.thenewforest.co.uk/newforestfoodfest/
  • Under Armour Rugby Series, Cardiff, Wales. 5, 12, 19 and 26 November.  Wales goes head to head with Australia, Argentina, Japan and South Africa at various dates throughout November at the majestic Principality Stadium. http://www.principalitystadium.wales/events
  • Hay Festival Winter Weekend, Hay-on-Wye, Wales. 25-27 November. Christmas lights, a food festival, music, comedy and some retro charm make for a perfect introduction to winter in this lovely literary locale. http://www.hayfestival.com/winterweekend
  • Literary Leicester. 16-19 November. A veritable ‘who’s who’ of literary heavyweights and a host of events celebrating the written word makes Leicester the place to go for book lovers of all ages.   http://www2.le.ac.uk/institution/literary-leicester
  • Santa Express, Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. 26 November onwards. A beautiful rail ride through some of the Lakes’ most prized scenery and an audience with Mr Claus at the end – what could be more festive? http://ravenglass-railway.co.uk/
  • Cornwall Film Festival. 29 October-29 November. Cornwall’s celebration of cinematic culture offers what might be one of the most scenic settings for a film fest. Enjoy shorts, previews, talks and more.http://cornwallfilmfestival.com

The UK’s Most Haunted Locations for Halloween

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 gifted the land the castle stands on to Ralph de Pomeroy. But for years to come it seemed that 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.

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, who is believed to have fallen to his death at the village brick works and a highwayman, who haunts an area named Fright Corner (where, it is alleged, he was pinned to a tree with a sword!).  Perhaps the friendliest ghost is that of an old woman who sits on a bench drinking gin and smoking a pipe.

So renowned is Pluckley that locals effectively cancelled Halloween a few years ago, as so many ghost hunters descended on this small, sleepy village that they effectively brought it to a standstill.

Prestbury, Gloucestershire

Another village argued to be the most haunted in Britain is Prestbury, in Gloucestershire. A quaint, unique village with a distinctive look, Prestbury is coloured with beautiful honey-coloured buildings built from timber frames. It’s a stunning place to visit, with Cleve Hill offering fantastic views of Cheltenham.

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.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh CastleEdinburgh Castle is believed to be one of the most haunted destinations in Scotland, and Edinburgh itself is said to be the most haunted city in Europe. The 900-year-old castle, which sits in a glorious 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…

Dorchester, Dorset

Dorchester, in Dorset, houses one of the most haunted residences in England in Athelhampton Hall. If you’re staying at Athelhampton, you’re likely to 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, who is believed to be the Catholic priest of the Martyn family.

Arguably 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.

Angus, Scotland

Glamis Castle

Angus is home to one of the most haunted castles in Britain at Glamis Castle. The stories of ghosts and ghouls here are particularly rich and 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 tour, 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.

Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Blickling Hall is a tremendous Jacobean building that covers more than 4,000 acres in the rolling Norfolk countryside. The National Trust building is absolutely glorious, but is not without its ghostly tales. One of the most popular stories at Blickling Hall is that of Headless Anne: a ghost that is 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.

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 Pendle Hill peak around Halloween. But there are plenty more reasons to recommend Pendle Hill than just its spooky legacy.

Nearby market town Skipton is highly recommended for its historic architecture, boutique shops, pubs and eateries,  and if you fancy getting away from it all the Trough of Bowland is one of the UK’s best kept secrets for stunning scenery and tranquility.

Star Wars Filming Locations in Europe

Star Wars logo

The galaxy’s most stunning film sets with very few special effects required – take a look at a few incredible filming locations from the Star Wars saga!

Thirlmere in the Lake District – The Force Awakens

Thirlmere

The memorable sequence of X-Wing fighters swooping low over the Lakes was filmed in the lovely Lake District setting of the Thirlmere reservoir.

Canary Wharf Tube Station, London – Rogue One

Canary Wharf

An action-packed chase sequence was captured in the early hours at the futuristic Jubilee Line tube station in London.

Mount Etna, Sicily – Revenge of the Sith 

Mount Etna

Filmmakers travelled to Sicily to capture footage from the erupting volcano, which was then used in the climactic duel.

Lake Como, Italy – Attack of the Clones

Lake Como

The wedding scene was filmed at the stunning Villa Balbianello in Italy. The gardens are open to the public from March until November.

Puzzlewood, Gloucestershire – The Force Awakens

Puzzlewood

Kylo Ren chased Rey through these mysterious woods in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

The Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy – The Phantom Menace

Caserta

The setting for Queen Amidala’s royal palace in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

Grindelwald, the Swiss Alps – Revenge of the Sith

Panorama view of Eiger and otehr peaks

The mountains in the Alps were used as the backdrop of Alderaan in Star Wars Episode III.

Skellig Michael, Ireland – The Force Awakens

Skellig Michael

Luke Skywalker’s hiding place was revealed to be the incredible Skellig Islands off the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry.