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.

The Best Games to Bring on your Cottage Break

Games have changed in recent years. While one time a deck of cards would have been enough to pass the time on your break, now there are a host of options that allow you to be codebreakers, international heroes, investigating detectives – or just enjoy a spot of fun with your friends and family. And the market is booming; game purchases are up by 40% and the top games are shifting millions of copies. So read on for our tips on the best games to bring on your cottage holiday…

Best for…parties: Codenames

codenames

In Codenames, two teams act as spies and compete to see who can make contact with all of their ‘agents’ first – using only a bunch of cards with words printed on.  

One player gives a one-word clue to try and help their teammate point to multiple words on the board.  The teammate tries to guess words of the right colour while avoiding those that belong to the opposing team. And to make it even tenser, there’s a rogue assassin card that everyone wants to avoid!

Codenames is a fiendishly clever and fiendishly fun party game that’s easy to pick up and explain but hard to stop playing. Games typically last between 10 and 20 minutes and the cards are reversible, so you can just flip them over to start again at the end of a round.

Best for…rainy days: Ticket to Ride

ticket to ride

Monopoly may be regarded as the classic go-to game for all the family, but with Dad acting like Lord Sugar, the banker using ‘creative’ accounting techniques and the improbable odds of you landing on those fiendish purple spaces every time, the average game of Monopoly is perfect for causing family arguments. And the games go on forever too!

Ticket to Ride puts you in the shoes of a railway magnate and offers accessible mechanics with a bit more skill and strategy. Players compete in building railways  to secret destinations over a map of American (regional variations are available). The player who gets the most points wins, based on length of network and how close they are to their destination.  

With other additions offering a variety of different  play styles, Ticket to Ride is the definition of an ‘easy to play, hard to master’ game. And it’s really caught on; since its release in 2004 it has sold a whopping  3 million copies.

Best for…wordplay: Bananagrams

bananagrams

Bananagrams offers variations on the word-building fun of Scrabble. Players can all play at once and there are many gameplay variations possible.

What’s more, unlike Scrabble, there’s no board to pack, the whole game fits in  a handy banana-shaped pouch and it can be played in really short rounds, so it’s perfect for packing up and taking on a break.

One of the best features of Bananagrams is its educational value. Children (and grown-ups) can learn new words and practice their spelling whilst enjoying themselves on holiday – what could be better!      

Best for…bringing a group together: Pandemic

p

Board games don’t have to pit player against player. There’s a growing trend for co-operative experiences where teams work together to beat the game, and the modern classic Pandemic is perhaps one of the most notable of this new breed.   

Pandemic involves players teaming up to travel the world to stop a global outbreak of infectious diseases. Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing to put a smile on your face, but once the clock starts ticking, and you charter a flight to use your character’s skills to prevent an outbreak in Tokyo, you will be hooked on the high-stakes fun.

Games typically take an hour and involve players formulating a strategy and harnessing their characters’ skills to work together and save the world (no pressure!). Teamwork is the name of the game, so it’s great for bringing people together.

Best for…pick up and play fun: Love Letter

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A simple and elegant game played with 16 cards and a few tokens. Love Letter is a game of deduction using a ‘rock paper scissors’ system.

Using a hand of just two cards, players must outwit each other until they have the highest scoring card at the end of the round. The cards represent characters from the royal court and the player who wins each round has managed to sneak their titular Love Letter to a princess. The first player to collect a set amount of tokens from each round is the winner.

With so few components, and such easy to explain mechanics, Love Letter is perfect ‘pick up and play’ game. Being suitable for between 2-4 players it’s ideal for playing when you’re in the pub, parked in the car or out and about on holiday. And if royal courts aren’t your thing, there are plenty of themed variants, including Batman, The Hobbit and more!

Best for…all the family: Dobble

dobble

Dobble is a fast, fun and really easy to play game testing players’ reactions and recognition skills.

Comprising over 50 circular cards, each featuring 8 coloured symbols (with over 50 in total), Dobble offers 5 different types of games that involve players identifying the symbols before their opponents.

Because it uses pictures, Dobble is really easy to explain and suitable for all ages. Games only last a few minutes and it’s portable, so perfect for taking out and about to picnics, on walks and more.     

Best for…something a little different: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

detective

A board game that doesn’t use a board, Consulting Detective features 10 ‘cases’ that players must work together to solve.  Using only written materials and a map, the detectives receive a written introduction to the case from Sherlock Holmes himself. This details the crime and the players and offers clues for them to crack the case.

Players then consult the map and travel to locations, interrogating suspects and gaining clues. When they feel they are ready to make a case, they name the suspect and compare notes against the master himself – gaining points for correctly identifying the guilty party in as few actions as possible.

A completely unique and engaging experience, with no board and 10 cases, it’s perfect for taking away and enjoying into the early hours whilst you try and use powers of deduction to correctly identify the culprit. It’s unlikely you will beat Holmes himself, but trying is half the fun!

We’re offering a cottages.com Surprise Box filled with fun family games. Simply sign-up to be in with a chance of winning.

The Best Events and Activities in France

France offers a wealth of festivals, carnivals and activities to enjoy, all of which take advantage of their glorious surroundings.

From music echoing around the historic city streets of Carcassonne to bright kites on beautiful beaches in the sun-kissed Riviera – the unique cultural identity and scenic beauty of France makes it the perfect holiday destination.

Carcassonne Festival, Languedoc-Roussillon- June to August

Carcassonne

The amazingly preserved medieval city and UNESCO site hosts this culturally diverse festival. One of France’s most popular, it offers over 120 shows, many of which are free and take place in the  stunning historic city of Carcassonne. International stars rub shoulders with emerging talent and local artists including the French favourite Johnny Hallyday. www.festivaldecarcassonne.fr

Nice Carnival, Cote d’Azur – mid Feb

One of the largest carnivals in the world takes over Nice for 2 weeks. The daily parades are a feast for the senses with fantastically decorated floats, huge figurines and over 1000 musicians, dancers and performers throughout the day and night. The famous flower battles see elaborately dressed figures throwing flowers into the crowd. www.nicecarnaval.com

VitiLoire, Tours, Loire Valley – last weekend in May

Celebrate the Loire Valley at this free event comprised of 150 winegrowers from this fantastically diverse wine-producing area. The festival includes a producers’ market, wine bars, cookery demonstrations, dinner parties and of course lots of tasting opportunities! Workshops, walks and cycles through the vineyards are also on offer. www.vitiloire.tours.fr

Dragon Festival, Mondragon, Provence – May

The annual Fête du Drac takes place at night with a huge dragon procession, fireworks, medieval market and a carnival atmosphere. The festival pays homage to an old legend that a dragon appears on the banks of the River Rhone to catch unsuspecting villagers. Thankfully, visitors can just enjoy the spectacle without fear! www.comitedesfetesmondragon.com

Nice Jazz Festival, Cote d’Azur – July

Nice city

One of the best known international jazz gatherings that has showcased the talent of Louis Armstrong, B.B. King and Erykah Badu to name a few. The event dates back to 1948 and is now one of the French Riviera’s most popular events.  www.nicejazzfestival.fr

World Music Day, Nationwide – 21 June

La Fête de la Musique is held annually on the summer solstice and is a celebration of all types of amateur music. Across France musicians gather in the streets, bars and cafes to perform for free so you can enjoy a wonderfully festive atmosphere wherever you choose to holiday  www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr.

Le Tour de France – various – July

The world’s most prestigious bike race occurs over 3 weeks in July, taking in mountains, flats and road race sprints. Over 10 million people cheer on the race, enjoying the carnival atmosphere, the official promotional caravan and the grand spectacle. www.letour.fr

Menton Lemon Festival, Cote d’Azur – mid to end Feb

Lemon festival

Lemonade, lemon vinegar, lemon trees, lemon statues and lemon decorated floats; 145 tons of citrus fruit are worked into models and art in the centre of Menton to celebrate the lovely lemon! This unique event is over 80 years old and has a wonderful carnival atmosphere with parades and street performers. www.fete-du-citron.com

Bastille Day, Nationwide – 13 and 14 July

This national holiday is celebrated across France with fireworks, singing, dancing and a heartfelt party atmosphere. The storming of the Bastille was the start of the French revolution and many towns and cities, including Paris, also host a military parade. www.parisinfo.com

Avignon Festival, Provence – July

Avignon, the UNESCO world heritage site, is home to one of France’s oldest and most famous festivals. Every year over 40 shows take place around the city, showcasing the very best in theatre, dance, music and visual arts for a native and international audience. www.festival-avignon.com

Chorégies d’Orangees d’Orange, Provence – early July to early Aug

This classical music and operatic spectacular dates back to 1860 and takes place in the magnificently preserved Roman theatre in Orange. The theatre’s original stone stage provides exceptional acoustics and atmosphere for the audience of 9,000, enjoying performances of well known works such as Madam Butterfly and La Traviata. www.choregies.fr

The Festival of Lights, Lyon, Alps – early Dec

Lyon Festival of lights

This beautiful night time spectacle sees Lyon awash with light. Candles are placed outside every window in the city and, buildings, streets and squares are lit by artists and light installations are showcased. The festival has a magical atmosphere, celebrating the creation of light. www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr

Lorient Interceltic Festival, Lorient, Brittany – Aug

This Celtic area of Brittany celebrates its history and brings together the Celtic regions of the UK, France and Spain. The 10 days and nights offer a cultural showcase filled with music, dance, processions, markets and games. www.festival-interceltique.com

Braderie de Lille, Pas de Calais – first weekend in Sept

The Lille Street market is one of the world’s largest flea markets, dating back to medieval times. Lille is transformed into a bustling, pedestrian friendly home to 100km of stalls. Traditionally moules-frites is eaten by visitors, and the local restaurants compete to build the highest pile of empty shells in the street. www.lilletourism.com

Berck-Sur-Mer Kite Festival, Pas de Calais – early to mid April

Kite festival

Put your feet on the sand and your head in the sky at this International Kite Festival! The huge beach at Berck has hosted all kinds of spectacular and colourful kites for over 25 years. Learn to fly and make kites for the first time or watch the biennial (falling on even years) world team championships. www.cerf-volant-berck.com

World Puppet Theatre Festival, Charleville-Mezieres, Champagne – Sept (biennial)

The lead event in the world of puppet arts! Every 2 years (odd numbered years), 250 companies from 5 continents meet to present the latest puppet creations and productions. Visitors can enjoy over 200 puppet shows, from traditional to contemporary. Suitable for adults and children. www.festival-marionnette.com

Carpentras Truffle Market, Provence – Nov – March

In the foothills of Mont Ventoux, Carpentras is famous for its black Truffles. Every Friday morning from November until March, local foragers weigh in and sell their delicious finds at the weekly Truffle Market. www.carpentras-ventoux.com

International Garden Festival, Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire, Loire Valley – Apr to Nov

The chateau estate is transformed into an open air landscape art museum, showcasing the work of 30 landscape artists from around the world. Each year the gardens offer a new theme and transform beautifully throughout the spring, summer and autumn seasons. The gardens are lit at night using candles and beautifully bright LEDs, creating a magical visitor experience. www.domaine-chaumont.fr

The Wonderful World of British Wildlife – World Animal Day

animal-day

October 4th marks World Animal Day –an event raising awareness about animal welfare all over our planet. In recognition we’ve scoured the length and breadth of Britain to find the supreme spots to spy our country’s most captivating creatures. From sea to sky, park to pool and mountain to marshland, there’s a wealth of wildlife on our doorstep, waiting to be discovered…

Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Reindeer

Our largest National Park and wilderness and home to a tremendous 25% of our endangered species, the Cairngorms in the eastern Highlands of Scotland are an exceptional wildlife-watcher’s choice. Its climate is more like the arctic than Scotland, animals turn white in winter to hide from predators and snow can stay on the ground all year round. Primeval Caledonian pine forest, glens, lochs and high mountains are home to pine marten, osprey, wildcat, golden eagle, red squirrel, snow bunting, the secretive capercaillie, endemic Scottish crossbill and Britain’s only wild herd of reindeer. Team with inspiring year-round walking and guaranteed winter skiing, this wildlife hub is a truly special spot.

North Norfolk coast

Juvenile common and grey seal pups

Apart from being a refined holiday destination, the North Norfolk coast is a winter wildlife wonderland. At Blakeney Point, (home to England’s largest colony of grey seals) between November and January, females swim ashore to give birth to their fluffy white pups. Take a boat trip from Blakeney to experience this sweet spectacle. Nearby, Cley Marshes is a fantastic habitat for striking bearded tits and rare bitterns. Further west, RSPB Snettisham offers pre-dawn guided goose walks to see tens of thousands of pink-footed geese moving in a honking hulk from their mudflat roost in The Wash to feed on Norfolk’s famous beet fields.

Lyme Park, Cheshire

A grand facade, mirrored lake (where the BBC’s Miss Bennet happened upon a semi-naked Mr Darcy!) and a pristine deer park doesn’t immediately make you think wildlife. As it turns out, Lyme Park in Cheshire is brown hare heaven. This elegant estate on the edge of the Peak District is a stronghold for this shy, beleaguered animal – in the last 50 years their population has declined by 75%. In early spring, during mating season, males race into the open fields to fight. Standing on their hind legs they bound, chase and ‘box’ giving them the name ‘Mad March hares.’ Make your way up to The Cage hunting lodge for an elevated view. Visit in October to experience the booming red deer rut and winter to hear the waxwings’ distinctive call.

Brownsea Island, Dorset

Red squirrel

Sheltering in Poole Harbour in Dorset Brownsea Island enjoys several claims to fame. Enid Blyton’s inspiration for the Whispering Island in the Famous Five series, Brownsea is also home to our largest single flock of avocet (a rare wading bird), a parade of wild peacocks and the endangered red squirrel. There are no competing grey squirrels on the island and it has become an important southern stronghold for the reds. Shy at best, these russet-coloured rascals are easiest to see during spring or autumn and at sunrise or sunset. Nearby on the mainland, Upton Heath nature reserve offers a chance to see all six of our native reptiles – slow-worm, common lizard, sand lizard, smooth snake, grass snake and adder.

Sizergh Castle and Gardens, Cumbria

Butterfly

In the far north west of England, at the gateway to the Lakes, Sizergh Castle and estate are a surprisingly superb place for butterflies – especially our fluttery, frilly-winged fritillaries. Here in the dappled sun of wooded glades, you’ll find the Pearl-bordered, Small Pearl-bordered, Dark-green and High Brown varieties. Stroll the circular wildlife walk through woodland and wildflower meadows spotting redwings and woodpeckers. The shy and rarely seen hawfinch also lives here, best seen in late winter and early spring and conveniently around the car park!

The Begwns, Powys, Wales

This little known area of Powys, to the north of the famous Brecon Beacons and affording handsome views to Hay Bluff and the Black Mountains, is a beautiful heather, bracken and grass-covered common. The bird life is wonderful including a raft of raptors – red kites, peregrine falcons, and buzzards plus gorgeous golden plover, black and red grouse, and bounding brown hares. A pond on the heath is home to 16 species of dragonfly and damselfly and it’s perhaps the most tranquil of our choices.

Lundy Island, off the Devon coast

Puffin family

The waters around Lundy off Devon make up our only marine nature reserve, and the island is home to the biggest seabird colony in southern England. Milder and sunnier than the mainland, the island also benefits from a complete lack of roads. The name Lundy is derived from the Norse word Lund, meaning puffin, and they nest here on the west coast’s wild Atlantic cliffs. Between April and July this whole coast bursts into life with breeding birds including guillemots, kittiwakes, manx shearwaters and razorbills. Inland, Lundy’s only native mammals are pygmy shrews and pipistrelle bats but Soay sheep, sika deer and more than 100 species of butterfly are also a welcome sight.  The surrounding sea is home to bottlenose dolphins and basking sharks.

Shetland Islands 

The mournful evening calls of grey seals have given these islands the romantic moniker, ‘Islands of the Singing Seals’ but it’s not these majestic mammals we’re getting so excited about. The Shetlands have the densest otter population in Europe and because of their location, between the far north of Scotland and Norway, they enjoy long summer daylight hours making this a superb place to spot them. Usually nocturnal, these playful animals are used to being oot and aboot during the day, plus there is a dedicated guided tour on offer. Whales and dolphins also surround these islands and between May and August, killer whales hunt those poor, singing seals close to shore.