5 Fang-tastic Dracula Locations in the UK and Ireland

Dracula was originally published in 1897. While this may make him a bit long in tooth (we’re here all week), when you consider all the TV and film adaptations, books, toys and costumes celebrating Bram Stoker’s creation over the years, you can definitely say he has become immortal.

To mark Dracula’s enduring legacy, here are 5 locations in the UK and Ireland to celebrate the count and his creator.

1. Dublin, Ireland

Dublin castle, Bedford tower

Bram Stoker was born in Clontarf, a coastal suburb on Dublin’s north side. He later worked as a civil servant at Dublin Castle, which inspired the occupation of lead character Jonathan Harker in the novel.

While working as a theatre reviewer for the Dublin evening Mail, Stoker wrote a positive review of Henry Irving’s Hamlet at the Theatre Royal. He became friends with the actor and later went on to work as his manager. The well-dressed but brooding Irving was also said to be the main inspiration for Count Dracula!

2. Whitby, Yorkshire

Whitbys 199 Steps

While researching his novel, Stoker visited Whitby upon a recommendation by Irving. The dramatic bat-infested arches of the ruined Abbey and the wild waves crashing against the headland all struck a chord with Stoker and Dracula began to take shape.

Whitby was featured in the novel as the site of Dracula’s entry to the UK (as a large hound running up the 199 steps no less). Interestingly, the wreck he fled from was based on a true life Russian ship that ran aground on the shore a few years earlier.

3. London

Dirt path leading through Hyde Park

Stoker moved to London to manage Irving’s Lyceum Theatre between 1878 and 1898. This was the location of the first stage performance of Dracula; it attracted two customers and was described as ‘dreadful’!

Stoker also lived at 18 St Leonard’s Terrace in Chelsea during his time in the Capital. A blue plaque now hangs on the property.

A large part of Dracula was set in London, too. Jonathan Harker researched Transylvania in the British Museum before setting off to meet the Count, and, later in the book, he visits Hyde Park and walks towards Piccadilly where he sees Dracula in the street.

4. Slains Castle, Aberdeenshire

Slains Castle Scotland

Stoker never visited Romania – instead spending years researching the country through books. It is thought that New Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire was the inspiration for Castle Dracula. Look at its imposing location on the North Sea Cliffs and you can certainly see why!

Stoker stayed in the area two years before Dracula was published, and it is thought that he may have stayed at the castle. Now in ruin since the roof was removed, the location is even spookier today!

5. Exeter, Devon

Exeter

Jonathan Harker sets off from Cathedral Close in Exeter towards Transylvania. Following a visit with the count, he and his wife Mina return to stay with Jonathan’s employer in the city.

It is thought by some that Exeter’s inclusion in the novel was to thank local writer Sabine Baring-Gould, whose work was a great influence on Stoker. While this fact is often disputed, with more hours of annual sunshine than many other places on the list, it is perhaps one of the most unlikely places for Dracula to visit and a delightful location to boot!

National Walking Month – 10 spring walks to enjoy in the UK

With winter over and warmer, sunnier weather on the way, spring is a fantastic time of year to blow away the winter cobwebs and get out into the countryside for a spring walk.

From woodland to open countryside, coastal walks to picturesque villages, the UK is home to a number of fantastic walks that will allow you to enjoy the region’s abundant flora and fauna while getting a healthy dose of fresh air.

1. Walk the Cotswolds Way

Head west and enjoy all that Gloucestershire’s Cotswold Way has to offer. The route is 100 miles in total, running all the way from Bath to Chipping Campden. Depending on which part of the route you choose to walk, you will be able to visit Snowshill Manor, the iconic Broadway Tower, Sudeley Castle and Hailes, which is home to the ruins of a stunning abbey.

2. Daffodils in the Dales

Lovers of spring flowers will enjoy the Daffodil Walk in Farndale, North Yorkshire. This one and a half mile walk sees around 40,000 daff lovers each year see the carpet of bright flowers (reputedly planted by medieval monks of Rievaulx Abbey).

3. The South Downs Way

Those looking for lowland walking may enjoy a trip to the South Downs in Sussex, and the popular South Downs Way. One of the most popular South Downs Way routes is the ascent up to Chanctonbury Ring: the remains of a hill fort from the Iron Age which is circled with a ring of beech trees.

4. The Three Shires

For a longer walk through the countryside of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, the Three Shires Way is a 49 mile walk passing through beautiful rural areas and takes in picturesque historic villages including Shelton, Knotting and Lavendon.

5. Wales Millennium Coastal Path

If you would prefer a bracing coastal walk, head to Wales and the Millennium Coastal Path in Llanelli. This 22 mile stretch of pathway is completely traffic free, open to pedestrians and cyclists only, and takes in both coastline and stunning woodland.

6.The Wyre Forest

One of the largest ancient woodlands in England, spring in the Wyre Forest, on the border of Worcestershire and Shropshire, sees the forest come to life with seas of celandines, daffodils and bluebells – there’s also a Go Ape adventure course if you fancy an aerial view!

7. The Sizergh Castle Estate

Bird watchers should head to Cumbria where, at the Sizergh Castle estate, they may be able to catch a glimpse of the haw finch. The Sizergh Wildlife Walk also gives walkers a chance to see the estate’s hornbeam trees, various woodland flowers and great views.

8. Hiking in the Highlands

Use spring as a time to enjoy the Knoydart Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands, separated from the rest of Scotland by an imposing ring of mountains. Visitors must make the sea crossing from Mallaig, with guided walks and tours for those unfamiliar with this beautiful, wild location.

9. A Yorkshire Ramble

Enjoy the Hardcastle Crags woodland wildlife walk just west of Halifax in Yorkshire. With beautiful birds returning from warmer shores, animals coming out of hibernation and trees and flowers coming back to life, you can enjoy a gentle ramble and stunning views.

10. The Norfolk Coast Path

The Norfolk Coast Path is the perfect place to dust off the winter cobwebs, with bracing sea air, sand dunes and salt marshes. The Coasthopper bus service can take you from location to location, and bird watchers can enjoy guided bird walks arranged by the RSPB.

Star Wars Day – 9 filming locations you can visit

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

1. Thirlmere in the Lake District – The Force Awakens

Thirlmere

The Lake District appeared as the planet of Takodana in The Force Awakens, and the amazing sequence of X-Wing fighters swooping low over the water was filmed in the lovely Lake District setting of the Thirlmere reservoir.

2. Canary Wharf Tube Station, London – Rogue One

Canary Wharf

A small part of the action-packed climax on Scarif was captured at the futuristic Jubilee Line tube station in London. The crew descended at night and left as early-morning commuters arrived!

3. 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 epic duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.

4. Lake Como, Italy – Attack of the Clones

Lake Como

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

5. Puzzlewood, Gloucestershire – The Force Awakens

Puzzlewood

The evil Kylo Ren chased new hero Rey through the tangled woods of Takodana in Episode VII – actually the unusual Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

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

Caserta

The grandiose Baroque palace in Naples was the setting for Queen Amidala’s royal abode in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

7. Grindelwald, the Swiss Alps – Revenge of the Sith

Panorama view of Eiger and otehr peaks

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

8. Skellig Michael, Ireland – The Force Awakens

Skellig Michael

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

9. Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – The Last Jedi

Malin Head in County Donegal, the northernmost point of Ireland

The Jedi’s Irish adventure now includes the most northerly point of the Wild Atlantic Way. The crew built a replica of the Millennium Falcon on a cliff edge, and Luke Skywalker, Rey and Kylo Ren all appeared in scenes – with the veteran Jedi stopping by the local pub. Maybe that’s why he disappeared for so long?

Celebrate National Walking Month

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Rhossili Bay: “Breathtakingly wonderful” seems like an understatement!

If you want to really feel alive and refresh those senses this summer, it’s time to get outside and start walking. This month is National Walking Month, and here in the UK we are extremely lucky; the terrain makes it the perfect place to walk. Whether you want a gentle, family stroll, or you are an experienced walker looking for your next challenge, our list of favourite scenic walks has something for everyone.

Easy or family walks

Rhossili Bay
Distance: 5 miles circular route
Starting point: Rhossili National Trust visitor centre
Suitable for walkers with little experience and families
Map

Rhossili Bay is such a stunning area it has earned itself the number 1 place to visit in Swansea on the independent review website, Trip advisor. Visitors to the area have left reviews on the website describing the area as “Paradise” and “Breathtakingly wonderful”.

But don’t worry. Despite the fact that 750,000 people visit Rhossilli every year, this beautiful walk never seems too busy and it’s the perfect walk for all the family. It covers moorland and one of the most glorious sandy beaches in the UK. It even has its very own shipwreck visible at low tide, the ill fated Helvetia that has been there since 1887.

From the highest point of this walk, you can see an uninterrupted 360 degree of the entire tip of the Gower Peninsula including Worms Head and Burry Holmes. On a clear day, you can even see as far as Devon.

Getting there: Catch the bus to this beautiful bay from Swansea, or you can drive and park in the National Trust visitor centre.

Wye Downs (using part of the popular North Downs Way)
Distance: 4.5 miles
Starting point: Church in Wye
Map 

Get to know the beautiful Wye Downs by following paths and tracks through open fields and luscious woodland. On this walk you will get the chance to see the fantastic Wye Crown, a massive crest that students cut into the chalk hillside in 1902 to honour the coronation of King Edward VII.

You will also pass through the Wye National Nature Reserve with its beautiful landscape of chalk, woodland and scrub. Moths, insects and orchids that are essential to conservation efforts have made their home here. From the nature reserve you will get the chance to take in enthralling views of the Devil’s Kneading Trough, a 260 feet deep steep dry valley.

On the way back, make sure you take time to look around the historic village of Wye and stop off at one of the pubs for a rewarding, refreshing drink

Ben A’an
Distance: 2.5 miles
Height: 1,491 feet
Start: 200 yards west of Tigh Mhor near Loch Achray
Map

The extraordinary views over the Trossachs and Loch Katrine from the summit of Ben A’an are what makes this walk unbeatable. Although relatively short, this walk involves steep climbs through woodland and steep steps on loose rock, so it’s more suited to those with a good level of fitness. Don’t worry though, it also covers easier terrain you can meander through and enjoy the stunning views while catching your breath.

Along the path there are large rock areas often used by picnickers. You will also find steep, rocky trails that offshoot from the main path, ignore these and stick to the main path. Typically, it takes about an hour to reach the summit, though if you’re really fit you can do it in much less.

The path ends at 1,491 feet at two rocky peaks, both of which give enthralling views across two vast landscapes of Scotland, west over Loch Katrine towards the ‘Arrochar Alps’ and and south east over Loch Achray towards the Campsies. If you’re lucky, you may even see the Sir Walter Scott steamer as she travels across Loch Katrine. One thing to remember is that this walk does get busy at times, but its popularity is just testimony to how beautiful it is.

Getting there: There is a car park A821 near Tigh Mor opposite the track.

For the more experienced walker

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Dunskey Castle at Portpatrick

Southern Upland Way
Distance: 214 mile (340 km) coast to coast
Starting point: Portpatrick
Map 

Often overlooked for other Scottish walks such as the West Highland Way, The Southern Upland Way is a stunning, if rather tough, walk. It begins in Portpatrick, a small fishing village on the Scottish west coast and finishes in Cockburnspath on the east coast.

At 214 miles, this walk isn’t the longest in the UK, but is known as one of the toughest. Overwhelming mountains, thick forests and beautiful moors make up this enchanting walk. There is accommodation en route, however this walk is rather isolated and you won’t stumble across many day trippers or holiday makers on your way. The walk visits stunning spots such as Castle Kennedy, St John’s Town of Dalry, St Mary’s Loch, Galashiels, Lauder and Longformacus en route.

It’s worth remembering that on the Southern Upland Way the path can be challenging with a loose, steep, rocky and muddy surface. Hill walking boots are a must!

A Beginner’s Guide to Stargazing – 5 Tips for Seeing Stars

Whether you’re a stargazing novice or a seasoned watcher of the stars, there are a number of handy tips to make sure you get the best view of the constellations.

1. Lights out

Aside from adverse weather conditions, light pollution can be one of the biggest obstacles preventing your enjoyment of stargazing. Rural areas are the best locations to get away from the lights and if you can head for a hill, you’ll get an even better view of the horizon. The UK has over a third of the world’s dark sky reserves; take a look for the clearest view of the heavens.

2. Get comfy

You may be gazing at the stars for a while, so make sure you are doing so in comfort. Bring comfortable chairs to sit on and make sure you wrap up warm. A torch is also essential – especially if you’re stargazing in a rural location. A red filter on your torch will allow you to see without affecting your ability to gaze at the stars.

3. Maps to the stars

Bring a star chart for identifying the constellations. There are many star charts available to download free from the web, and there are few better ways to help you recognise and remember the placement of the stars.

4.  Seeing clearly

You may think you need an expensive telescope but binoculars are not only cheaper on the whole, they can also be better suited to the task – especially if light pollution is an issue. A decent pair of binoculars are relatively inexpensive and far easier to maneouver than a telescope.

5. Get smart

chart

There are plenty of smartphone apps that can turn anyone into an expert astronomer. Star Chart, Sky Map and Night Sky are all great apps for smartphones  All you have to do is download the app, point your smartphone or tablet at the night sky and let them identify the stars, planets and constellations for you.

France’s Best River and Lake Beaches

With a large landscape bursting with colour and ‘joie de vivre’, it’s no wonder we can’t keep away from France’s gorgeous golden shores. Yet despite its scope, and abundance of lovely locations, you can still find yourself encountering the very things you went on holiday to avoid: overcrowded beaches, long queues and playing the world’s least enjoyable game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ with car parking spaces and sun loungers…

If you want to beat the French crowds and enjoy cleaner, warmer water in complete tranquility then head inland and enjoy the natural beauty of one of France’s best-kept holiday secrets this summer: lake and river beaches.

France’s inland beaches are a thing of beauty with lush, verdant borders, miles of unspoilt, sandy shores and crystal clear waters to enjoy. What’s more they’re often accessible and offer more amenities than their coastal cousins.

Here’s our pick of France’s best lake and river beaches for summer 2017.

Pont d’Arc, the Ardèche

Part of the glorious Gorges de l’Ardèche, and often referred to as the ‘European Grand Canyon’, the Pont d’Arc is a huge natural bridge shaped by the winding river. Needless to say, it’s very popular with climbers and kayakers, but the sandy shores are perfect for basking in the sun and the river is perfect for cooling off in afterwards too.

Aydat Lake, Puy-De-Dome, Auvergne

Located in France’s largest Nature park, Aydat is the largest of Auvergne’s lakes. Edged by woodland, it offers a wealth of activities on its waters, including supervised swimming in July and August, boating and water-sports, fishing and more. The grassy shores offer bars and restaurants, games for children, picnic benches and parking.

Lake Annecy, Haute-Savoie    

One of France’s biggest and best-known lakes, there’s no shortage of activities in and around Annecy should you want to do more than just enjoy its famed clear waters. Nature reserves, decorative gardens and walking trails are in abundance, but if you’d prefer a more vibrant slice of life than visit the stylish lakeshore nightclubs – open into the early hours.

Soustons Lake, Landes

The best of both worlds awaits at this beautiful lake in France’s south west. Here you will find a lovely waterside setting just a short distance from the Atlantic coast between Azur and Soustons. The lake itself is nestled amongst pines and offers a tranquil spot for bathing and water-sports. If you want to really dive-in to local life you can enjoy grilled sardine parties and witness the famous stilt-walkers!

Lac de St Croix in Provence

The calm turquoise waters of Lac de Sainte-Croix are perfect for exploring via pedalo – not to mention for cooling off after a spell in the Provencal sunshine. This artificial lake is fed by the breath-taking Verdon Gorge, a popular spot for climbers and hikers comprised of huge limestone outcrops. With parking available all around the lake, it’s perfect for a picnic stop in Provence too!

Pont du Diable, Occitanie

‘Devil’s Bridge’ may not sound like the kind of place you might stop to relax and cool off, but this scenic stop – originally built to allow pilgrims to cross the gorge – offers a wonderfully tranquil experience, providing you don’t mind the spectacle of people plunging into the water from the rocks.  The shore is a great place for a picnic but make sure bring shoes and blankets to make it comfy.

Pont du Gard, Languedoc Rousillon / Occitanie

A huge three-tiered Roman aqueduct provides a scenic backdrop to your swimming in this scenic, Southern France location. For this reason Pont du Gard is equally popular for its heritage status as its crystal clear, cool waters, but it’s safe to say that the swimming and kayaking opportunities are equally enchanting.

Lac de la Tricherie, Mesnard-la-Barotiere, Vendee

The scenic setting of this natural park in the Vendee might be perfect for lazing on the grass, but you haven’t really visited Lac de la Tricherie if you haven’t climbed through the trees, fired arrows, dodged paintballs and lasers, played golf and navigated through some of France’s most stunning woodland with map and compass. All this is available in the Tépacap adventure world. Oh, and the lake is a bit special too.

World Book Night -The UK’s Best Real Life Literary Locations

 

In honour of World Book Night we have put together the ultimate guide to Britain’s literary landmarks.

Pack your paperback, hit the road and immerse yourself in the best of British literature.

Chesil Beach, Dorset

Chesil beach

Chesil Beach: Star of Ian McEwan’s 2007 Booker-shortlisted novel

Ian McEwan has a real gift for making us feel the most profound misery through his tragic characters and their depressing lives. If you’re into that sort of thing, you absolutely have to visit Chesil Beach in Dorset – the eponymous location for his 2007 Booker-shortlisted novel On Chesil Beach.

The beach is stunningly beautiful in its own right, but after you have read the book you will curse McEwan for ruining your seaside holiday.

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Fancy solving a real life literary mystery? On 3 December 1926, Agatha Christie left her home in Berkshire following a row with her cheating husband and simply disappeared. Her car was found abandoned by a lake in Guildford, Kent a few days later, and a national manhunt attracted the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle (who hired a spirit medium to track her down). After 11 days, she was finally spotted in Harrogate, North Yorkshire – hundreds of miles from home – claiming to have amnesia.

No one has ever figured out where she went or what she did during those ‘lost’ 11 days – can you retrace her steps and solve Christie’s greatest mystery? Maybe try at Christie’s own summer residence – available to rent on cottages.com: www.cottages.com/cottages/greenway-apartment-nt012044

Whitby Abbey, Whitby

Whitby Abbey: Where else would Dracula stay?

Whitby Abbey: Where else would Dracula visit?

For maximum effect, go after dark, alone, and bring plenty of garlic. That’s right – Whitby Abbey is the real life inspiration for the vampire’s castle in Dracula. During a visit to the Yorkshire town of Whitby in 1890, Bram Stoker spent some time walking around the looming ruins of the ancient abbey, and in his mind a story started to take shape… the rest is horror history.

Whitby Abbey is one of those places you’ve probably already had a dozen nightmares about, without ever actually visiting it. The shadowy arches are home to actual bats, while a steep set of the crumbling steps leads right into the sea, perfect for bringing shipwrecked vampires to the shore.

The ruins are still standing today, while Dracula’s ‘grave’ is situated nearby, and the apartment where Stoker stayed when he stayed in Whitby is available to book with cottages.com: www.cottages.com/cottages/brams-view-28336 

Laugharne, Wales

Dylan Thomas loved Wales, and Wales loved him right back. He was born in Swansea and lived all over picturesque West Wales, but it was in the small town of Laugharne where he was truly inspired.

From a boathouse nestled in a tiny glen beside the glassy water of the Taf Estuary, he wrote the iconic Under Milk Wood, and it is not hard to see why. Laugharne is one of the most calming nooks in all of Carmarthenshire – the perfect place to loll among the daffodils and catch up on your Welsh literature.

Winchester, Hampshire

Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire

One of England’s prettiest cities, Winchester has been responsible for inspiring some of the greatest novels every written. From her Winchester home, Jane Austen dreamed up the love story between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, a scheming young character called Emma, and many other iconic characters and stories which would go on to become global classics.

Visit Austen’s home (now a museum) in Chawton, and make some time to indulge in a long walk around the countryside, just as she did.

Incidentally, Colin Firth also hails from Winchester, so if you hang around the lakes long enough you may be lucky enough to recreate a certain scene from the BBC adaptation…

Jamaica Inn, Cornwall

Cornwall is the eternal star of Rebecca Du Maurier’s novels, and Jamaica Inn is no exception. Her famous tale of murder and mayhem is set in the brooding Jamaica Inn on Bodwin Moor – and it is still standing today. Du Maurier stumbled across it one night in 1930 after getting lost in the fog while out on the moor. Captivated by the inn’s intense atmosphere and the innkeeper’s chilling ghost stories, she got to work on her most celebrated novel.

Hike across the moors for yourself (fog machine optional) and reward yourself with a pint and a pasty at the real life Jamaica Inn. Just remember – don’t trust anyone!

Alnwick Castle (AKA: Hogwarts), Northumberland

Alnwick Castle and the River Aln

Alnwick Castle: The wizarding world of Harry Potter

OK, so this is cheating a little – J.K. Rowling wasn’t technically thinking of Alnwick Castle when she wrote about Hogwarts, but thanks to the films, the castle has become synonymous with Harry Potter.

The huge castle is open to the public for most of the year, and even hosts the odd Harry Potter themed day – bring your wand and recreate the magic for yourself.

Kirriemuir, Angus

This unassuming “wee red toonie” in the east of Scotland was where Neverland was born. The hometown of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, it features in many of his novels including Auld Licht Idylls, The Little Minister and A Window in Thrums. It was here that he wrote Peter Pan, and the rugged, lush landscape of Neverland was based on the local Angus scenery.

Kirriemuir has some of the clearest night skies in the UK, so you can map your own route to Neverland. According to Barrie, it is near the “stars of the milky way”, “second to the right, and straight on till morning”, and most easily spotted at sunrise.

Haworth, West Yorkshire

This way to Wuthering Heights

This way to Wuthering Heights

The West Yorkshire village of Haworth was home to the Bronte sisters for many years, and it was in the Haworth Parsonage where they wrote most of their books. You can’t miss the connection when you visit – almost every landmark has a ‘Bronte’ association (the Bronte Waterfall; Bronte Bridge, etc), while the old Parsonage is now a museum.

There is no real-life Wuthering Heights, but it is widely assumed that Emily Bronte was inspired by Top Withins, a desolate and rural farmhouse approximately 3 miles outside of the village.