Episode 1: In the Footsteps of Jane Austen
Jane Austen. Every year, thousands of people follow in her footsteps and set out to discover the people and places that inspired England’s literary legend. Jane spend most of her life in the South of the country. In this feature we explored the beautiful scenery, with its romantic stately homes, historic cities and castles that provided the backdrop for many of her stories.
Trip Tips: Visit the Jane Austen County website and Jane Austen Centre website for information; The cities of Bath and Winchester are good bases for exploration; We stayed at the delightful Charlton House and Lainston House hotels; A Britrail Pass combined with car rentals is an economical way to explore; For more information go to the Visit Britain website.
Note: Jane Austen illustrations in our feature were from Hugh Thomson’s Illustrations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – published by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust (and Jarrold Publishing) in 1999 and available at the Jane Austen House Museum gift shop.
The art of warfare and the history of castle building is revealed in this episode.Owing to its proximity to the English Channel and the European continent, the county of Kent in southeastern England had to defend itself through the ages from Roman, Norman and French invasion. There are castles galore in the region and many have evolved into heritage properties set in beautiful grounds.The Great British Heritage Pass (www.HeritagePassBritain.com) is only available to non-UK residents and allows unlimited admission to nearly 500 historic houses, castles and gardens in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A Britrail pass also provides huge savings with good train service throughout the south east and some excellent centres from which to base your travels such as Canterbury and Dover. For more information: www.visitkent.co.uk; www.visitbritain.com; andwww.southeastengland.uk.com;
In 2012 we celebrate the 200thanniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, born just as England was coming to the end of the Napoleonic wars; a time when the country was bursting with energy and enthusiasm for the future — and the beginning of terrible poverty. This episode highlights Dickens’ time in Broadstairs www.visitbroadstairs.co.uk and Rochester www.cometorochester.co.uk In Broadstairs you can stay at The Royal Albion hotel where he wrote some of his books http://www.albionbroadstairs.co.uk For more information on the great author his life and plans for his bi-centenial you can visit the Dickens Society www.dickensfellowship.org and the Charles Dickens Museum in Camden Town, London www.dickensmuseum.com and Dickens World www.dickensworld.co.uk in Chatham, Kent.
From the magical world of Camelot to the modern phenomena of Harry Potter, we investigate some of the locations used in the stories and films and get a few lessons on British history at the same time. We travel from King’s Cross railway station to London Zoo , explore the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral – used as Hogwarts School – then up to Edinburgh in Scotland. We return to England and head down to Devon to Tintagel , the Big Sheep and finally Glastonbury Abbey for more of the Arthurian legend.
London can be an overwhelming City to visit with so much to offer. In this feature we venture off the tourist trail to cruise one of the City’s canals from Maida Vale to Camden Market. It’s hard to believe you are so close to Piccadilly Circus. En route you can sometimes arrange to visit the London Zoo with a hop on, hop off tour. Ships laden with coal sailed up the River Thames and the coal was then loaded on to barges and pulled by horses through the canal system to the underground bunkers of London’s power houses. See history . You can travel all the way up to Scotland and there are over 2,000 miles of canals in Britain . After our outing to Camden market we enjoyed dinner at the Dorchester Hotel where many of the world’s celebrities have stayed. Check out the London Pass for savings on canal tours and other attractions.
For links and in-depth tips on travelling in Wales please see Episode #18 below.
Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, museums and markets, nightlife and shopping — if you don’t have a lot of time or if the crowds and traffic are getting you down, there’s a more leisurely way to travel through the heart of the old port city of London – a sightseeing cruise Daily boat cruises operate from 10:30am to 6:30pm from Embankment and Waterloo piers.
Built in 1515 for Henry the VIII, it is one of England’s largest Tudor buildings and makes a great day trip from London. South West trains to Hampton Court Palace leave from London’s Waterloo Station every half hour. From April to October, ferries depart from Westminster Pier and dock at the Palace’s doorstep See Visit Britainfor more information
On this trip, we stayed at the elegant Milestone Hotel and Apartments in Kensington and 41 Hotel 41 Buckingham Palace Road. Contact Visit Britainand Visit London for more information on historic and boutique hotels in London.
Becket’s murder in the 12th century sparked pilgrimages to his shrine in Canterbury from all over Europe. Life in the 14th century was dangerous and a thriving travel business developed offering safe pilgrimage tours. Pilgrims, such as Chaucer’s colourful characters, travelled in large numbers and would have passed over the oldest river crossing in England, where the strategic placement of a ducking stool kept traders honest and flushed out witches Little did Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, know that his beheading in 1170 would create a legend to stand the test of time. Take an animated ride through the Canterbury Tales with waxworks telling five of Chaucer’s stories. Canterbury Cathedral is well worth a visit. We stayed at a 16th century Pilgrim’s Inn during our visit. Contact the British Tourist Authority www.visitbritain.com or Visit Kent for more information.
Before the Norman conquest of 1066, Sandwich was one of five towns that provided the King with ships and men in exchange for special trading privileges. Although Sandwich became the chief harbor for the export of wool it didn’t stop the town from participating in smuggling. Many caves along the south coast led to the cellars of taverns and homes of local politicians. In Deal the whole community was involved in tax evasion. Smugglers engaged in two-way espionage delivering their knowledge to both the French and British. When Napoleon declared his intention to invade England, the Royal Military Canal was dug, Martello Towers erected along the coast, and tunnels were dug into the cliffs at Dover The tunnels and the little coastal port of Newhaven were to play a major role during WW2. Visit Kent for general information on the County.
England has 47 counties, each one laden with history ancient and modern. In this round-up of major features and attractions we include Hadrian’s wall in Northumberland, Bamburgh & Warwick Castles, the Yorkshire Dales, Manchester’s Old Trafford stadium, Liverpool, the inland canals, the Lake District, Wordsworth country, the Cotswolds, the Whitbread Hop Farm, the British spa town of Tunbridge Wells and the Sussex Downs. We also find time to learn about Devonshire teas and Cornish pasties and visit a vineyard at Penshurst which is also a wildlife sanctuary for rare breed sheep, exotic waterfowl and a mob of wallabies. See an interactive map of the Counties
Scotney Castle Gardens is situated in the Weald of Kent in South East England and is a National Trust property . The ruins of Bayham Abbey were built on the River Teise in 1208. Many abbeys were located in remote regions where monks could find privacy and seclusion but over time some became corrupt and you could buy your way into heaven. Bayham Abbey was destroyed during the Reformation
We toured with Iron Donkey Bicycle Touring Cycle holidays run from three to seven days. Green glens, stunning cliffs, challenging golf courses and cosy villages all abound in Ulster. Londonderry is one of the country’s most liveable cities, and ‘hip’ Belfast is one of the world’s safer cities. Best buys include fine Irish linen, smoked salmon and malt whiskey. Northern Ireland is a year-round destination offering walking, golfing, boating, cycling and fishing tours. Pack rain gear and sturdy shoes. Information contact the Northern Ireland Tourist Board
We toured the Shannon-Erne waterway with a luxury boat provided by Carrick Craft For more general information on Northern Ireland see Episode 14 for links.
On a loop of the River Severn between Wales and England we travel the Hidden Highway starting in Shrewsbury at the Benedictine Monastery, home of the fictional medieval monk detective, Cadfael, where we learn about archaeological gardening before exploring Quarry Park gardens. I stayed at The Prince Rupert Hotel in Shrewsbury which reputedly has a ghost – but no visitation that night!! We continued on to the 14th century Powys Castle and then the village of Clun. Ludlow was the seat of government for the Council of Marches and the castle is fascinating to explore. It also has some excellent restaurants including Mr. Underhill’s at Dinham Weir. In Ludlow I stayed at The Feathers Hotel – beautiful Jacobean architecture. Hampton Court Gardens in Leominister and the Bulmer’s Cider museum at King Offa’s distillery are both worth a visit. The Cathedral City of Hereford on the River Wye and the Church of All Saints (a good stop for lunch) is a must if only to see and learn about a rather naughty sculpture found during renovations. (Hint: It’s up the stairs hidden under the rafters.)
Wales is barely 170 miles long and 60 miles wide and surrounded on three sides by the Irish Sea. Hiking and climbing attract many to Snowdonia, the second largest national park in Britain and there are excellent walks along the Pembrokeshire National Coast Path, 186 kilometres around some of the most spectacular scenery in the British Isles. The year round Coastal Bus Services are specially designed for walkers. Travel by bus a few miles down the coast and walk back at our own pace. We stayed at a b&b, Giltar Grove Country House, in Penally and had an amazing Welsh breakfast in the morning which set us right for the day. Cardiff is a modern seaport and an interesting city to explore on foot. The centre of the Capital city is dominated by the Norman castle, its walls supported by the stone foundations of an earlier Roman fort. Cardiff Bay has been revitalized in the last few years with pedestrian walkways, food and wine festivals and restaurants that spill outdoors onto patios alive with buskers and local musicians. We stayed at Jolyon’s Boutique Hotel a restored Georgian town house with a fun atmosphere and a pub next door. East of Cardiff in the Wye Valley are the remains of the 12th century Tintern Abbey. See also episode #6 for our exploration of Pembrokeshire where we visited many castles and landscaped properties as we travelled the coastal path.
In Episode #6: Pembrokeshire, Wales — Castles on the Coast, our exploration of the region (also known as the Landsker Borderlands) included Carew Castle, Picton Castle and Woodland Gardens, Amroth Castle & Gardens, Upton Castle Gardens and Pembroke Castle. All have fascinating history that gives insight to the struggles of the peoples as they faced Roman, Norman, British and Irish invasions. Many of these castles also had beautiful landscaped properties. After a hectic day of filming we stopped by Stammers Gardens set high above the village of Saundersfoot for a welcome pot of tea!
I like to stay at Bed & Breakfast establishments and recommend these as a great way to get to know the local people and also learn about interesting places to visit that may not be on the traditional tourist path. There are good railway services that connect with the Britrail system and local buses but you may need to rent a car to access some of the attractions. For more information check out VisitWales and VisitBritain. Cardiff has an airport with railway connections to the City and other parts of Wales.
Our search for the Royal Warrant takes us from London to Cadbury World in Birmingham. The first Royal chocolate customer was Queen Victoria. At Cheddar Gorge we took a tour through the mile long gorge and enjoyed the local cheese that has been popular since medieval times and was the choice of Henry 2nd and Charles 1st. – so popular in fact that it was only available at court. During our stay at Calcot Manor, in the Cotswold region, we learned the hotel was popular with guests of Prince Charles and then discovered his shirts were made nearby in Tetbury. And during our tour of Scotland we explored the cobbled streets of Edinburgh and discovered Kinloch Anderson who have been making the Royal kilts for many years. Fascinating to see how much material was needed to make a kilt and to learn how you went about getting, and keeping, the royal seal of approval. For more information on all things Royal check out the official website of the British Monarchy.
SCOTLAND: Episodes 20 – 24 feature our travels in Scotland.
I have included an information section for each one but in the interests of space and repetition following are some of the generic links that might help you if you require more details on accommodation, travel, history, etc. Our Blue Badge guide throughout Scotland was Ken Hanley of Small World Tours and I can’t speak more “high”ly of him. (Highland pun intended.) His knowledge of Scotland was exceptional but he made our days a joy with his infectious sense of humour. Filming can be time-consuming and a challenge with people who don’t always make life easy. Ken knew everyone but perhaps more importantly everyone knew him, a fact that not only kept us on time with our itinerary but ensured we found the right people to interview. Ken kept our spirits up (even when the weather threatened to dampen them). After one exhaustive day, I have a mental image of us walking in the rain at night past Edinburgh castle and singing something vaguely resembling ‘Scotland Forever’. Here are the generic links: Visit Britain; Visit Scotland; Edinburgh; Glasgow; British Rail; Ferries; Ken Hanley, Small World Tours; the official website of the British Monarchy and the Royal Residences.
You’ll need at least 3 days to explore the world heritage site of Edinburgh, capital of Scotland. We stayed at The Scotsman Hotel converted from the famous newspaper building and sampled some excellent brands of whisky from their cellars. We used our Britrail passes to travel up to Edinburgh and our poor feet to walk around the cobbled streets – good comfortable shoes definitely recommended and carry an extra pair of socks in case it rains. There are excellent sign posts to help guide you through the old part of the City. The feature includes: Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse, Witchery Murder & Mystery Tour, Last Drop pub; Witchery restaurant, Deep Sea World.
The Trossachs, Scotland’s first national park, lies halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The region is an outdoor playground and has everything: water, rivers and lochs, canoeing, cycling, fishing, hiking trails. It’s 30- 40 minutes drive from Glasgow, 30 minutes from Stirling and an hour from Edinburgh. You can stay and play at the historic golf course at Glen Eagles Hotel which is also home to the British School of Falconry. Cruise Loch Katrine on the Sir Walter Scott Steamship named for the writer who made the area famous. You can rent bicycles at the Trossachs pier where you board the boat and either cycle the side roads or take them on the boat and cycle back 14 miles. We stayed at the Roman Camp Country House Hotel a boutique hotel with its own history – excellent cuisine and grounds worth exploring. In our search for history we visited Loch Lomond the birthplace of Rob Roy McGregor and Balquidder where he is buried. We spent time exploring Stirling Castle on the Firth of Forth, gateway to the highlands; photographed the monument to William Wallace, whose courage inspired the movie Braveheart; and visited Bannockburn where Robert the Bruce fought the famous battle against the English. (Note the new interpretive centre will open in 2014 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the battle.) Dorothy Breckenridge of C-N-Do Scotland introduced us to the Trossachs.
You can drive the Whiskey Trail for 100km through a dozen distilleries and a cooperage from Inverness to Aberdeen. It’s well sign-posted with lots of places to stay along the way and you can take your time and enjoy the scenery as you travel. On the trail we visit the following Distilleries: StrathIsla, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie. Each of the distilleries brings their own unique contribution to the process of making whisky. You’ll learn from experts about whiskies whose companies had their origins in illicit stills, how to ‘nose’ a whisky, the blending and aging processes, and how some have modernized their buildings still using earthen floors and stone walls to ensure the distinctive flavours of the Highlands. Balvenie still has its own malting floor. We learn about the “angel’s share” and the difference between malt and grain whisky. Our tour ends at the Whisky Heritage Centre in Edinburgh.
Take a Britrail pass right up into the Scottish Highlands via Glasgow and board the Kyle of Lochalsh steam* train journey from Fort William to Mallaig over the great viaduct featured in a Harry Potter movie. *Note: trains run regularly on the Mallaig route but you should check the schedules ahead of time if you especially want to ride the steam train. Britrail passes include trains, some heritage railways and most ferries. Our b&b, just outside of Mallaig, was Lesmar House in Malar and we spent the next day hiking the Morvern peninsula. From Mallaig or Inverness you can board the CalMac (Caledonian MacBrayne of the Hebridean & Clyde) ferries to the islands – Island Hopping tickets also offer a great saving. The Isle of Skye, often known as the misty island, is one of the most popular islands. Along with superb scenery Skye also has the history of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald. On the island you can visit a series of cottages at the Museum of Life that recreate the crofting experience and, amidst the romantic ruins of Armadale Castle, you can learn about the MacDonald Clan. On another occasion I travelled around Mull on the less-populated shoulder season and stayed at a b&b (Kirk Cottage on Albert Street) in Tobermory – a lovely town right on the harbor with great restaurants. We then moved to Craigrowan b&b in Pennyghael and took a small ferry from Fionnphort to Iona, the spiritual home of Saint Columba. Give yourself a full day for exploring the island and visiting the monastic ruins and stone circles. Nearby on Mull we found an amazing restaurant in the middle of nowhere, Red Bay at Kintra. Our walks (treks more like) were sometimes wet and muddy and I had to find my way through a forest of ferns on one trail. Finally we returned by ferry to Oban and back on the train to return south to England. Although Oban would appear to have thousands of small hotels, b&bs, etc., it is a busy port. We made the mistake of not booking a reservation ahead of time and paid a premium for a very inadequate room. Also it was strictly cash. In general we stayed at small b&bs, took picnics on our walks, and enjoyed the fresh fish and angus beef at local restaurants in the evenings. Although severely depleted, due to cut-backs, post buses still operate in some of the more remote areas. Going off the beaten track is what makes Scotland exciting. I discovered standing stones in two isolated locations in Mull (one near Gilgorm) and, in travelling around the island, came across Calgary and learned this nugget of information: Calgary in Canada takes its name from Calgary on Mull. This was a favourite summer home of Colonel James Macleod, of the Canadian North West Mounted Police. In 1876, after he returned from staying in Calgary Castle (the imposing house overlooking the bay), he suggested its name for Fort Calgary which in turn gave its name to the city of Calgary, Alberta.
A whirlwind tour of Scotland highlighting traditions and culture back-dropped by the scenic splendour of the country and its celebrated stately manor homes. The feature includes climbing Ben Lomon, Loch Lomond, Celidh music, Highland Games, Culzean Castle and Country Park, the Museum of Scotland, Glasgow, art galleries, the House for an Art Lover, the coastal town of St Andrews home to golf, Scotland’s oldest university and the ruins of St Rule’s Church. After crossing the Bridge of Scottish Invention, you’ll need several hours to wander around The Big Idea in Ayrshire, it’s a centre built to honour Alfred Nobel, his annual laureates and inventors everywhere; terrific for the whole family with lots of fun activities along with serious education. Learn about dynamite, space exploration, the laws of gravity, kinetics, test the Archimedes Screw, and much, much, more. If you like organized tours check out Rabbie’s Trail Burners.
The Isle of Man sits in the middle of the Irish Sea midway between the coasts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are direct links with more than 20 airports across the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands with flights taking approximately 30 mins. Fast and conventional ferry services operate from the north of England, Belfast and Dublin. On the island there is an extensive bus network or you can travel on one of three heritage railways. Travel saver tickets allow you the options of unlimited access to heritage attractions and transportation. The island is only 53 km long and 20 km wide, but still takes time to travel. Nowadays it’s known as a tax haven and there are many banks in the capital city of Douglas. The old steam railway still runs to Port Erin providing a service for locals and tourists and a great attraction for young families who visit for sandy beach holidays. If you are a motor bike enthusiast the island has one of the world’s great TT road races every July on a 60 km mountainous circuit. Cregneash Folk Park is an original 300 year old village occupied by locals who practice some of the old crafts and live for the most part in the old lifestyle. Cat fanatics can visit the Manx Cattery and learn how the cats lost their tails. To learn more about the Manx heritage click here.
The Island has recorded finds dating back to the Stone Age and an independence which goes back more than a thousand years and was bequeathed to them by the Vikings. Legend has it that the Isle of Man is the site of the Castle of the Holy Grail, where King Arthur was crowned and Queen Guinevere buried. Peel Castle has been a monastic retreat, a fortress and home to a Viking king. Neolithic, Bronze Age, Celtic and Viking remains have been excavated in recent years. It is also the site of a circle of stones, placed by an ancient tribe of Picts, considered the first civilized people of the Western World, who came from France and Spain 5,000 years ago. Their burial ground is unusual mainly because they were cremated and their ashes buried in a round barrow. At the House of Manannan we examine the island’s Viking heritage and at the House of Keys learn about the Scandinavian system of government that rules today, the Manx language, and the Open Air Assembly that takes place each year on Tynwald hill. We discover the healthy benefits of smoked herring at Devereau Kippers. Fun to see: the one-fingered clock, Castle Rushen, Lady Isabella, the largest working water wheel in the world and the fairy bridge on the road to Castletown. Note the Legs of Man, the distinctive island flag.