In the wake of the current Covid-19 pandemic public transport and big coach tours has become less of a safe prospect and unsurprisingly less appealing. Social distancing is now essential for the wellbeing of the general populace as well as essential in blunting the spike in new Coronavirus cases. It can be hard maintaining proper social distancing measures on large coach group tours, so for the good U.K tourism, we are offering our private guided tour services as an alternative and crucially safe option.
Ultimately, Travel in the UK can be as safe and enjoyable as it always has been. The UK has an abundance of rural tourist destinations which are as beautiful and historically laden as any in the cities. If you follow the critical advice from health experts and book privately, it is easy to stay totally safe and have a fascinating vacation simultaneously. So why not take the private tour option this year or next and keep your family safe, whilst still showing them the time of their lives!
Why risk it? Due to COVID-19 private hire transport is much safer than using crowed coach tours, especially with the fastidiously precautions we have put in place; going above and beyond the necessary precautions recommended by the government, whilst also providing a high quality of service and an extremely comfortable journey.
Our private guided tours allow for collection right from your hotel door, reducing the risk of exposure from low to near non-existent.
Our private tours and transfers allow for collection right from your hotel door, reducing the risk of exposure from low to near non-existent.
Advice from medical experts has recommended avoiding crowded public places. One of the best ways to do this and still enjoy the rich delights of British tourism is to book yourself a private tour experience as opposed to crowded coach trips or making your own way on public transport. Here I hope to relay 5 key benefits of a private tour, especially in the face of the worlds current Coronavirus fears.
Avoid busy coaches and crucially reduce exposure to the Corona virus. A fact to which I have already alluded, but it is a crucial one to remember. Coaches buy nature thrust one into close proximity with a large group of strangers. It is entirely possible to get coach tours refunded and switch to a private tour – a lot of 3rd party online companies will offer refunds as close to 48 hours before departure.
No need for public transport or busy coach stations – with collection straight from your hotel door. The coach station’s themselves, as well as train stations and underground stations, pose a similar risk to the public. Private tours allow for collection right from your door, reducing the risk of exposure from low to near non-existent.
Coach trips cause large crowds at various monuments. Numerous coaches arrive at the same time to create ‘peak times’, which again pose a risk in the current climate. A private tour has the luxury of choice. Avoiding these peak times will not only lower risk of exposure but also make for a more relaxed atmosphere at any given monument, leaving you in peace to admire our cultural history.
Safety for the whole family. Private tours are ideal for keeping your children out of harm’s way. Private tours are perfectly suited to families, keeping everyone together with no one else to interrupt the family quality time, apart from an experienced and knowledgeable guide, whilst minimising the potential exposure of your children.
The flexibility of our private tours allows for a more sequestered experience at every turn. Private tours are ideal for finding delightful rural places to enjoy lunch, in quiet village locations. Once again, you can avoid the often-hectic services on UKs motorways and cafés/restaurants near to monuments.
We have implemented the following actions to help prevent the spread of the Covid-19 Virus:
Our Licensed Driver / Guide… are fully briefed on the symptoms associated with Covid-19 and what is required of them to act with the utmost propriety. Before your vehicle even arrives, the vehicle will be sanitised internally and door handles will be cleaned. All drivers will have washed their hands thoroughly and will be wearing a face mask, at all times. Hand sanitiser will be provided, ready and waiting for all customers.
Our Insured Vehicles… have been specially adapted for your safety, with purpose-built Perspex divides installed between driver and passengers eliminating the risk of any contamination.
Picking you up… Your driver will not shake your hand – you will be asked if you would like your driver to load the luggage or if you would prefer to do this yourself. Unless all seats are required, you will be asked to sit in the rear of the vehicle, to maximise social distancing at all times. Our 9 seat minvans will be reduced to 7 seats for your safety.
Even After you have arrived at each of your tourist destinations your driver / guide will be busy meticulously repeating this process to the letter, while you can carry on your day with your peace of mind intact.
In these strange times, the safety of both our staff and our clients is of paramount importance, and, as always, the comfort of our clients remains at the heart of our business. These special safety measures have been brought in in addition to the abundance of premium tour services we offer.
Getting around safely is essential, so in this scary time don’t take unnecessary risks and travel in safety and luxury with us – professional, comfortable and most importantly safe. See you soon.
Due to this pandemic, the demand for private guided tours is increasing rapidly throughout this summer. BOOK A PRIVATE TOUR / TRANSFER NOW – CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS
Soaked in history and beauty – the British Isles should be considered a priority for any self-respecting traveller. If you have never visited ‘this sceptred isle’ before then there are a thousand reasons to tempt you over – I hope to show you just a portion, in the hopes you may discover the rest.
England is a fascinating tapestry of history, threads from all our many disparate periods interweave to create the stunningly complex picture you see today. Great Britain became an island around 5600 BC, when it completed its gradual break off from the European sub-continent. And since then the island has been a hub of human history, much of which is still visible, especially as we hurtle through the millennia.
Throughout the country there is still evidence of prehistoric human life, the arcane roots of British history. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Southwest, England’s Neolithic heartland. Here you can see Stonehenge, the most striking of England’s ancient monuments. This 5,000-year-old site is as ancient as the Great Pyramid at Giza and just as mysterious and is complemented by a landscape littered with similarly ancient monuments – like Avebury Stone circle.
Leaping forward, our island couldn’t avoid European history for long as the Romans first invaded in 55BC, before becoming our masters in 87 BC. During there dominion they erected thousands of buildings across the country in their bold classical style. You are never far from Roman history in England, but the best sites include: the roman baths in Bath (I wonder where the town got its name?), which are stunningly well preserved or Fishbourne Palace in Chichester. Or, for the traveller who wants to stray all the way to the Anglo-Scottish border, Hadrian’s wall is a true wonder of this isle.
Despite plummeting into the dark ages after the Roman’s departure, we soon recovered and a whole procession of Kings and Queens sculpted this county into its current shape with varying degrees of grandeur. Now our country is beset with castles – over 1500 in total (in various states of repair!). Some of the best to see today include, Warwick Castle or Dover Castle. Or why not visit Hampton Court, built by Thomas Wolsey before he was executed, and the property was seized by Henry VIII.
Or if you would prefer the relatively modern castles, the royal family currently have 26 royal residences, some of which you can visit such as Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. Or, some of the UK’s most historic and breath-taking homes are open to the public. The National Trust alone owns of 200 stately homes, and there are more still, each one a cornucopia of history and its own miniature tapestry of famous names and events: try Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth House or Highclere Castle.
Although the surface of England is strewn with sites of historical significance, (many of which are beautiful in their own rights), the landscape of England is also as various and beautiful as any country in the world. And this natural beauty is evident all over! There are 13 national parks in England and Wales, all of which are uniquely stunning. Try the austere attraction of the new Forest, or the Tranquil majesty of the Lake District, or perhaps the mysterious Dartmoor and Exmoor, or the heady Peak District.
We have hardly scratched the surface of the burgeoning history this island represents and could hardly illustrate the wondrous sumptuousness of the place. The marriage of these two cornerstones of tourism is what makes England so special to visit and it really has to be seen to be believed – so visit glorious England!
The Small Group Touring Company
Concerns over the new Coronavirus are sweeping the globe – with cases reaching European shores people are beginning to wonder if it is still safe to travel across Europe, particularly the UK. The answer is a yes. Although the UK count is rising, the number remains relatively low (319 at the time of writing).
There are many reasons not to be too concerned about the coronavirus, as long as you are considerate of the symptoms and the badly effected areas. Currently, the most deeply effected countries are China (which has the vast majority of the cases), South Korea and Iran. Italy, especially northern Italy, has the most cases in Europe. So firstly, one way to ensure safe travel to the UK for everyone is to be considerate if you have travelled to any badly effected area. If you have been to these places and are experiencing flu like symptoms, quarantine yourself and even if not, it is probably best not to travel until you are certain. This is sensible practice when dealing with infectious diseases globally and will help continue to keep places like the UK safe to travel for others. Some flights from northern Italy have been cancelled which is sure to ease the spread of the virus.
If you have not been anywhere near badly effected areas, then you are good to go! If you are still concerned however, there are a few things that could ease your mind. Less than 1% of those tested so far in the UK have tested positive for the virus (and these are people coming back from badly effected areas). The government have released statements saying the risk to individuals is low and that they are ‘well prepared’ to deal with the virus. They have been given special powers to quarantine anyone suspected of having the virus so the risk if spread is still low. Some statistics might ease your mind further. The disease has currently affected 0.0005% of the UK population (most of which have been to a dangerous area. The four deaths the UK has seen as a result of the virus affected the elderly with underlying health issues. The mortality rate of the virus is immensely low and so is the rate of infection. You are far more likely to be hit by a car then ever getting Corona virus, one hundred times more likely in fact!
There are further precautions you can take as a tourist if coronavirus fears are still troubling you. Why not avoid the crowds by booking a private guided tour? Away from crowded coaches and try travelling more rurally, away from the cities. There are hundreds of sequestered yet historically significant sites around the UK, with many an expert willing to take small groups around – avoiding the masses! (With Brexit weakening the pound and coronavirus fears thinning crowds, it’s probably the best time to visit anyway)
As things stand there is very little reason to be concerned about Coronavirus – pack a facemask if it gives you peace of mind but at the moment there is no need. Just wash your hands regularly and dispose of your used tissues…. and enjoy your trip to the UK!
The Small Group Touring Company
Concerns over the new Coronavirus are sweeping the globe – with cases reaching European shores people are beginning to wonder if it is still safe to travel across Europe, particularly the UK. The answer is an unequivocal yes. Of all the globes 81,229 cases, 13 are in the UK, 0.016% of the global cases.
There are many reasons not to be too concerned about the coronavirus, as long as you are considerate of the symptoms and the badly effected areas. Currently, the most deeply effected countries are China (which has the vast majority of the cases), South Korea and Iran. Italy, especially northern Italy, has the most cases in Europe. So firstly, one way to ensure safe travel to the UK for everyone is to be considerate if you have travelled to any badly effected area. If you have been to these places and are experiencing flu like symptoms, quarantine yourself and even if not, it is probably best not to travel until you are certain. This is sensible practice when dealing with infectious diseases globally and will help continue to keep places like the UK safe to travel for others.
If you have not been anywhere near badly effected areas, then you are good to go! If you are still concerned however, there are a few things that could ease your mind. Less than 1% of those tested so far in the UK have tested positive for the virus (and these are people coming back from badly effected areas). The government have released statements saying the risk to individuals is low and that they are ‘well prepared’ to deal with the virus. They have been given special powers to quarantine anyone suspected of having the virus so the risk if spread is still low. Furthermore, even the worst effected country in Europe (Italy with 165 cases) has yet to close its borders with neighbouring countries. If you are still in need of some more peace of mind, then perhaps some statistics might help you, you are roughly five times more likely to win the lottery* than contract coronavirus, you are 4,483 time more likely to be hit by a car. You have roughly the same chances of being struck by lightning – probably not something that deters tourists often!
There are further precautions you can take as a tourist if coronavirus fears are still troubling you. Why not avoid the crowds by booking a private tour? Away from crowded coaches and try travelling more rurally, away from the cities. There are hundreds of sequestered yet historically significant sites around the UK, with many an expert willing to take small groups around – avoiding the masses! (With Brexit weakening the pound and coronavirus fears thinning crowds, it’s probably the best time to visit anyway)
As things stand there is very little reason to be concerned about Coronavirus – pack a facemask if it gives you peace of mind but at the moment there is no need. Just wash your hands regularly and dispose of your used tissues…. and enjoy your trip to the UK!
*Chance of matching 5 numbers.
The Small Group Touring Company
Having received a mention in the Doomsday book in 1086- Lacock village has seen the coming and going of at least a thousand years of English history- nestled by the river Avon in the north of Wiltshire. However, it is for its most recent history that the village is receiving its far-flung fame, as it has become a go-to location for the British film industry, hosting pride and prejudice (1995), Downton Abbey (2010-2015) and most importantly, the juggernaut of British culture, Harry Potter. I want to explore why the village is such a perfect film location for the Harry Potter Franchise and why it’s such a wonderful place to visit. Click here for Downton Abbey and Harry Potter Tours
Lacock Village and Harry Potter
First, let’s take a look at where in the franchises eight instalments you can spot Lacock’s characteristic charm.
You will see the village of Lacock predominantly in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the half-blood prince (2009). In the first instalment of Harry Potter film, Lacock is used to represent Godrick’s Hollow and one of Lacock’s many traditional stone houses is where Lilly and James Potter are murdered by lord Voldemort. And in sixth instalment- Lacock represents ‘Budleigh Babberton’ where Harry and Dumbledore find Horace Slughorn– and convince him to take on the post of potions master. The whole episode was filmed in Lacock and you can see a number of Lacocks famous buildings- the distinctive timber framed houses of Church street and later a large brick mansion on Cantax hill.
However, the real Jewell in Lacock’s crown- especially for its burgeoning film career- is Lacock Abbey. Built in 1232 and having undergone many architectural renovations, the building is a prime spot for various films and has subsequently been chosen to represent both Hogwarts and Downton Abbey! Harry Potter fans will instantly notice the medieval archways of the cloisters, which have represented the corridors of Hogwarts
on several occasions. Furthermore, the beautiful gothic stonework of various crypt-like rooms made them perfect locations for both Snape’s potions classes and Quirell’s defence against the dark arts in the first Harry Potter Film.
Why is Lacock Village so perfect for film?
What makes Lacock village so perfect for the film industry is the fact that it seems frozen in time- untainted by modern developments and perfect for the antiquarian sets of the Harry Potter films. The fact is that Lacock has been unchanged for centuries and there are historic reasons for its antique appearance. Lacock was formerly one of the very few places at which you could cross the Avon river, twinned with its ideal location between bath and London, it developed a reasonably successful wool and cloth trade. A couple of centuries of prosperity would have given rise to the majority of the finer buildings visible today Lacock. The dominate family of 17th century wool trade in Lacock, the Colbornes, lived at the very same house depicted as Horace Slughorns, on Cantax hill. However, due to a new road between bath and London which bypassed Lacock as well as a failure to modernise, the industry declined. A lack of development in its key industry lead to a lack of development in its infrastructure and Lacock became frozen in time. With the help of the national trust, the village largely looks the same as it did when the last cloth worker, Richard Perkins, lived there in 1851.
Lacock Village is the platonic idea of a quintessential English village- so not only can you enjoy the more modern pleasure of visiting a top film location but you can simultaneously throw yourself back to a simpler time of English elegance and savour this quaint village’s aesthetic charms. Although it appears frozen in time, Lacock continues to be a living history.
See top filming locations from the award-winning ‘Downton Abbey’ television series and several Harry Potter films on a full-day tour from London.
The Small Group Touring Company
HIGHCLERE CASTLE, BAMPTON & OXFORD: 2019 –
- Visit Highclere Castle where the Downton Abbey TV series was filmed.
- Visit to Bampton Village setting many of the outdoor scenes from the TV series.
- Signed copy of Lady Carnarvon’s autobiography
- Upgrade to include an additional book “At Home at Highclere: Entertaining at The Real Downtown Abbey” written and signed by Lady Carnarvon (Upgrade option must be selected at the time of booking – Tour 03DX)
- Walking tour of Oxford and independent time for Lunch.
Leaving London we head for the University town of Oxford.
Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, boasts one of the world’s greatest – and oldest – universities, as well as some of the finest architecture in Europe. The colleges themselves, which make up the university, are amongst the architectural highlights, their ivy-clad stone walls protecting beautiful chapels, halls and libraries.
A walking tour of Oxford with our guide is included before some free time to grab a bite to eat.
Why not try out a pub lunch at one of the many famous inns of Oxford.
Next we head to Bampton the setting of various village scenes from the Downton Abbey series. Visit the Church, Mathew Crawley’s mother’s house, the hospital and more. The village itself is quintessentially British and one of Britain’s hidden treasures.
Leaving Bampton we now head for Highclere Castle made famous by the Downton Abbey TV series.
Built by Sir Charles Berry who also built the houses of Parliament, this is the countryseat of the Earls of Carnarvon. The tour of the Castle’s public rooms includes the magnificent public main hall, the library and sitting rooms in addition to other rooms featured in Downton Abbey.
Why not spend some time enjoying the enjoying the parklands created by Lancelot “Capability” Brown who also designed the grounds of Blenheim Palace or indulge yourself with tea and cake at one of the tea rooms once you have finished touring the Castle. A signed copy of Lady Carnarvon autobiography will also be given to every customer on the tour. It makes for fascinating reading and is a unique souvenir to remember the day!!
Departing Highclere Castle we head back to London and arrive back at approximately 7pm.
Dates available are as follows for 2019
Apr: 7, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23
May: 5, 6, 7, 28
Jul: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23, 24, 28, 30, 31
Aug: 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 20, 21, 25, 27, 28.
Sep: 1, 2, 3
DOWNTON ABBEY PRIVATE TOURS are also available on other dates (Apr, May, Jul, Aug and Sep 2019). In addition tours are available to Downton Country locations on other dates
The Small Group Touring Company
2018 Royal Wedding – time, schedule, venue and route in Windsor for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day.
THE Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle takes place TOMORROW on May 19th, with a global audience of millions expected to tune in.
On Saturday, Harry and Meghan will say “I do” at St George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle. Here’s the lowdown on the big day…
When are Prince Harry and Meghan Markle getting married?
Shortly after their engagement was revealed, it was confirmed the wedding between Harry and Meghan will be held on Saturday, May 19.
In a statement, Kensington Palace said: “Her Majesty The Queen has granted permission for the wedding to take place at the Chapel. The Royal Family will pay for the wedding.”
Visit the Sun website for full details
Join us on a small group Windsor Castle Tour this summer and hear all about the history of the Royal family.
The Small Group Touring Experts
In Britain 2017 is the Year of Literary Heroes, in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and 20 years since the first Harry Potter book!
One of the most widely read authors in English literature, Jane Austen died on 18 July 1817 in Winchester, south England.
To mark the 200th anniversary of her death, fans can visit Jane Austen’s house, Chawton, near Alton in Hampshire, south England, around an hour by train from London. It was here that she wrote Emma, as well as Mansfield Park and Persuasion.
20th anniversary of the Harry Potter book series
Since the release of JK Rowling’s first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on 30 June 1997, the books have gained immense popularity, critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide, and inspired a popular film series.
All eight movies were filmed in Britain, with locations spanning England, Scotland and Wales. While in London, Potter fans shouldn’t miss a priceless photo opportunity at the enchanted Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station. Would-be sorcerers can try their hand at pushing a trolley through the brick wall between platforms 9 and 10, otherwise known as the portal to the wizarding world.
And a must-visit for any discerning Harry Potter fan is the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter(link is external), a dream come true for anyone – young or old – who watched and loved the movies and the books.
The Small Group Touring Experts
The historic buildings, modern restaurants, cosy pubs and independent shops of these towns banish any notions of a backwater. And they sparkle in the Christmas season – perfect for a weekend break or day trip.
You’d expect the home of the Bakewell pudding to know a thing or two about keeping its visitors cosy and well-fed, and in this attractive market town, you’re never more than a few steps away from a tea room or pub. And to walk off all the cake and ale, the spectacular Peak District is on the doorstep. In the run-up to Christmas, the town will be hosting a traditional Christmas market to coincide with its lights switch-on (26 & 27 Nov) and, new for 2016, a Winter Wonderland event (18-20 Nov and 9-11 Dec, advance tickets £5, under-fives free, bakewellshow.org), at the Bakewell Showground, with Christmas grotto, craft marquee, reindeer, market stalls, ice rink, funfair and fireworks. For something more sedate, check out the candlelit tours of Haddon Hall (selected dates 7–13 Dec, £22pp), a romantic medieval manor house which has starred in countless films. The nearby Chatsworth Estate (chatsworth.org) always puts on a good display for Christmas, with beautiful Nutcracker-themed decorations in the house, special evening openings and, until 30 Nov, a Christmas market.
Eat/drink The Manners is a traditional stone-built pub a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, serving well-executed pub fare such as local venison with root veg and red wine sauce, and apple and plum crumble. Wyes Waters (Unit 8, Granby Road)is a charming little cafe with gingham table cloths and a great-value menu of homemade pies, sandwiches and cakes.
Shopping Bakewell’s thriving Monday market is always popular and its attractive cobbled courtyards and market square are home to independent shops and galleries. And of course, no visit to Bakewell is complete without a visit to the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop which will gift-wrap and post sweet treats to anywhere in the world. Out of town, the excellent Chatsworth Estate farm shop is the place to stock up on Derbyshire specialities such as oatcakes, handmade chocolates from family-run business Holdsworth, and bottled ales brewed on the estate.
Stay On the river in the centre of Bakewell, One Castle Street (doubles from £90 B&B), is a quaint B&B in a Grade II listed building, where substantial breakfasts will set you up for a day exploring. Alternatively, three miles out of town, Haddon Grove Farm has 11 attractive holiday cottages in converted farm buildings (from £490 for a four night December break in a cottage for four). There’s a communal games room and indoor heated pool, making it a perfect winter escape for families. Cottages sleep between two and 10.
Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
This pint-size town deserves more attention than it gets. Its pretty Georgian houses and former textile mills frame streets lined with small independent shops and cafes. An ancient bridge straddles the Avon at its heart and, just beyond the town’s striking Tithe Barn, a towpath follows one of the prettiest stretches of canal in the country. It’s a half-hour walk to Avoncliff, with its 18th-century aqueduct or a longer nine-mile hike to Bath, but there are trains back to Bradford from both. The first weekend in December sees a Christmas Floating Market (on Facebook) along the Bradford stretch of the canal (expect local crafts, carols, mulled wine and roast chestnuts). For evening entertainment the Wiltshire Music Centre puts on quality classical, jazz and folk concerts: December’s performers include Swedish-Brazilian-Slovenian trio Elda.
Eat/drink Dining pubs are the order of the day in Bradford, with several cosy firesides to choose from. The best is the chic Bunch of Grapes, whose owners have brought the concept of village bar bistros from south-west France to south-west England. Smoked and brined poussin cooked in a beer can is a speciality, but there’s also a feast of small plates: cheese beignets, homemade Charentais sausage, rabbit rillettes, and mixed leaves with preserved lemon, mint, toasted hazelnuts and feta. For a more Spanish accent, Pablo’s Tapas has good jamón, manchego and gambas. For a pint of Rusty Lane ale (from the Kennet & Avon Brewery) in eccentric but cosy surroundings, head to the Lock Inn and sup by the fire surrounded by a squall of vintage advertising signs.#
Shrewsbury offers a good idea of what London might have looked like without the ravages of the Great Fire. Almost looped by the river Severn, Shropshire’s county town (and birthplace of Charles Darwin) is home to more than 650 listed buildings, many of them half-timbered Tudor or Jacobean marvels, some of them – including its castle – medieval. Its higgledy-piggledy streets and elegant riverside parks aren’t stuck in the past, however. A vibrant music and arts scene makes this compact town a dynamic weekend destination. On the second weekend of December, Shrewsbury Winterfest will involve festive crafts and carols in the Quarry park, a gingerbread-spiced food trail around the market and a ring of Christmas trees at the circular St Chads church.
Eat/drink Shrewsbury’s culinary influences are surprisingly diverse. Ramen bar Momo No Ki does a peppy line in noodles, from a Japanese-inspired miso-crusted salmon version to a Korean BBQ rice noodle salad. Also good is House of Yum, a Thai streetfood cafe in the covered market that vies with neighbour The Bird’s Nest to be the town’s best lunch spot. For veggie comfort food (parsnip and butterbean soup, beetroot and chocolate cake) there’s The Good Life in Barracks Passage, off Wyle Cop. The Bakehouse does spiced plum danishes and other seasonal pastries, while Avatar serves refined Indian and Nepalese food courtesy of a chef formerly from the Oberoi and Taj Hotels. Chicken momos come with tomato and sesame dipping sauce, and Gurkha lamb is spiked with red chilli, shallots, ginger and coriander. For more local flavours, head just out of town for a steak and oxtail pie or trio of pork with black kale at the Haughmond Hotel in Upton Magna, which also has a small farm shop and cafe. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s a pop-up supper at coffee shop Ginger & Co (message for bookings) in the town centre. Or hunker by the open fire at the Golden Cross. With its mullioned windows, damson walls, theatrical table settings and soft lighting, this “oldest pub in Shrewsbury” is magical in winter and the cooking is adept. Classic dishes include confit duck and venison fillet. For a pint The Three Fishes is a good bet: stop in at neighbouring Pengwern Books (1 Fish Street) then enjoy your purchases over a guest ale from the Salopian Brewery or the Three Tuns.
With its ancient stone houses, market cross, shops, pubs and banks, this Northumberland village, should surely be reclassified as a town. The fact it has so much infrastructure is thanks to its past as a crossroads on busy north-south and east-west routes, from coaching days to the later half of the 20th century. Though the busiest roads now bypass its heart, Corbridge (see visitcorbridge.co.uk) is very well-connected: half an hour by car (or train) from Newcastle, 50 minutes from Carlisle and two hours from Edinburgh and Leeds. Following serious flooding last winter, much repair work has been done to restore the village’s spirit as well as its bones. There’s good walking along the banks of the Tyne, and trips back in time at Coria, the remains of Corbridge Roman Town just south of Hadrian’s Wall. Medieval Aydon Castle is also worth seeing on summer visits (it closes October-April).
Eat/drink Restaurant Il Piccolo is known for its pizzas and gelato, though you can go the full Italian hog, from pan-fried sardines to spaghetti with homemade meatballs. For coffee and a slice of homemade treacle tart, there’s Watling Coffee House, while the coffee shop up the road at Activ Cycles (both on Facebook) is a great spot for breakfast or lunch (bacon and cheese crumpets, Moroccan lamb wraps, coconut and butternut squash soup). Walkers could pick up a beetroot bread sandwich or Northumbrian pasty from Grants Bakery, or a DIY deli lunch from The Corbridge Larder. For dinner by the fire, head to the Angel of Corbridgefor potted shrimp, wood pigeon or venison ragu. There’s also a fish and chip shop, Angelfish, in the courtyard behind.
Shopping Corbridge punches above its weight when it comes to shopping, with kitchenware, antiques, fashion, shoe and jewellery shops. Two of the best are dynamic independent Forum Books (8 Market Place, children’s books at 20 Watling Street), and the only walk-in branch of the cult mail-order homewares store RE in Bishop’s Yard. From tiny spoons in a rainbow of shades to kitsch pompom Christmas decorations and light shades made from recycled jelly moulds, it’s perfect present-hunting territory. The village shops stay open late on 5 Dec for Corbridge Christmas Late Night Shopping and stalls jostle for space in Market Place alongside carol singers.
Stay A minute’s walk from the railway station (which is over the river half a mile from the village), dog-friendly Dyvels Inn (doubles from £75 B&B) was refurbished after the flooding and now has four comfortable guest rooms. In the evening, order a pint of Pennine Pale (from nearby Allendale Brewery), a trio of Northumberland sausages with mash and onion gravy and dine by the open range. Or, try 22a Hill Street (from £220 for two nights), a two-bedroom self-catering apartment above a shop in the centre of town. RB
Melrose, Scottish Borders
Last year’s rebirth of the Borders Railway has opened up an easy, not to mention scenic, route to Melrose, the pick of the trim Borders market towns. Melrose’s lineage stretches back to the Romans and its romantically ruined Cistercian abbey is home to Robert the Bruce’s heart. It’s a place for hikes in the Eildon Hills, frost-kissed strolls along the salmon-rich Tweed and a visit to Abbotsford the remarkable home Sir Walter Scott built on its banks. Melrose also does a good line in independent shops, cosy pubs and, if you are lucky, the hills that Scott so loved will be sporting a dusting of snow.
Eat/drink Foodie specialities include Borders lamb, smoked Tweed salmon (local producer Teviot is superb) and the sweet, fruity Selkirk bannock. The Henderson family runs Burts, a hotel on the Market Square with a relaxed bistro and a more formal restaurant. Borders lamb is the star in both. The cafe at Scott’s house, Abbotsford, is an ideal lunch option, with braised brisket or smoked salmon on the menu, as well as views down to the writer’s grand mansion.
Shopping The villagers who flock from Melrose’s hinterland to do their shopping are catered for with a brace of butchers, a fishmonger, antique shops and a sprinkling of other small independent businesses. A cosy jumper or cashmere scarf from Abbey Mill makes a good Christmas present. Abbey Wines (17 Market Square) is the place for a special bottle of whisky (Glenkinchie is the local malt), while the Country Kitchen offers great additions to a festive cheeseboard from Kelso’s Brenda Leddy (of Stichill Jerseys, a runner-up in BBC Radio 4’s Food and Farming Awards).
Stay Burts (see above) is also a good stylish bolthole with a roaring fire to sip a wee dram by. It is offering a winter special for £146pp for a two-night break including dinner each night. A fun option for those with a car or bikes is Roulotte Retreat(two-night stay for two is £250). This adults-only glampsite has seven gloriously furnished Gypsy-style caravans dotted around a meadow. All have wood-burning stoves and two also have wood-fired hot tubs, for cosy readings of Scott’s Waverley novels – despite your frosty hair.
This riverside town, on the Great Western Railway main line and National Express’s Plymouth coach route, has a glut of independent shops and cafes and more listed (Norman, medieval and Tudor) buildings than any town of comparable size. These make a photogenic backdrop for its Christmas street markets (Tuesdays 6, 13 and 20 Dec, till late). Dining options are not extensive, but a handful of newish openings have raised the bar for beer, coffee and gastronomy.
Eat/drink The best coffee is found at The Curator (2 The Plains), where baristas serve single-estate brews and wholemeal, fruity, not-too-sweet cakes. Upstairs is Curator Kitchen, a “modern osteria” opened in March 2015 and offering excellent Italian fare (set dinner £30). Ten minutes’ walk up Fore Street is family-run Jano, another Italian restaurant, which makes its own pastas, imports fine meats and cheeses, and does set menus from £13. Rumour boasts a family-friendly atmosphere and good burgers. The Totnes Brewing Company, which opened late in 2015 and recently expanded, is the cosiest drinking den in town, with a dozen draught and lots of bottled craft beers. Look out for New Lion ales, a local venture that resuscitated an extinct brand. The Pandit IPA is fruity.
Shopping Totnes is a good place for Christmas food shopping. Riverford Farm, the award-winning organic producer, recently opened a shop at 8 High Street for fruit and veg, plus local salmon, crab, hams and Sharpham wines. Butcher AW Luscombe has been selling quality Devon lamb and beef since 1788; down the road at no 5, CM McCabe is known for its game. For prezzies, the High Street has enough “stuff” shops to service a city. Standouts include Little Blue Budgie for arty crockery and home furnishings, Greenfibres for pricey, but ethical woollens, Drift for cool vinyl and the Devon Harp Centre if you need a new hobby.
Stay Totnes lacks a boutique hotel. The Royal Seven Stars hotel (doubles from £100 B&B) has homely rooms, is dog-friendly and close to everything. A mile away in Dartington, the 14th-century thatched-roofed Cott Inn (doubles from £95 B&B) is known for its pub grub and has three snug bedrooms (weekend availability limited).
In summer, this handsome Georgian town heaves with holidaymakers who use it as a base for exploring the beaches of north Norfolk. But in winter, when the crowds are gone and the attractive high street is lit by thousands of fairy lights, it takes on an entirely different character. Shop for presents in the town’s many independent shops, wrap up warm for walks on the seafront at nearby Sheringham, and see thousands of overwintering birds gather on the saltmarshes at Cley and Blakeney. Families might like a steam trip on the North Norfolk Railway, which runs Santa Specials on selected dates in December, or a boat trip to see the seal pups at Blakeney.
Eat/drink The Folly Tea Room in Hoppers Yard serves delicious sandwiches and cream teas in a cosy, vintage-themed setting. The Kings Head pub on the High Street is the place to go for pub classics, such as sausage and mash, slow-roast pork belly and steak-and-ale stew with dumplings.
Shopping Holt is renowned for its independent shops and galleries, many of which are in yards and alleys off the High Street. Don’t miss the excellent Holt Bookshop (10 Appleyard) and the food hall at Bakers & Larners (8 Market Place, ), a family-run department store which has been trading since 1770. Shop for local crafts, gourmet foods and unusual gifts at the Christmas Fair in Holt Hall (26-27 Nov, booking recommended, £2, ), where there will be more than 50 stalls, a huge Christmas tree and a log fire.
Stay Byfords Posh B&B (doubles from £155 B&B) offers 16 comfy and characterful bedrooms (exposed brick-and-flint walls, wooden floors and ceiling beams) above the town’s popular deli and bakery. For stylish and cosy self-catering, the four Cartshed Cottages in the grounds of Sharrington Hall (from £450 for three nights, sleep 4), a Jacobean manor house two miles from the centre of Holt, are hard to beat, with log-burners, roll-top baths and four-poster beds.
OK, one city has snuck into this list, but compact Wells is the smallest city in England, with a small-town feel. It’s gorgeous at any time of year, but in winter it really turns on the charm, with tasteful twinkling lights, a towering Christmas tree and, for the first time this year, a four-day Christmas market with stalls selling gifts, local produce and mulled wine (Market Place, 21-24 Dec). The candlelit carol service at the medieval cathedral (27 Nov) is one of the highlights of the local calendar. The moated Bishop’s Palace and Gardens, which has been home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for over 800 years, will also be getting into the Christmas spirit, with workshops on creative gift-wrapping and wreath-making. Wander around the medieval streets, including the perfectly preserved Vicar’s Close, or for something more energetic, climb Tor Hill and join the East Mendip Way for a bracing walk across the hills.
Eat/drink The Good Earth offers wholesome lunches as well as gifts such as Neal’s Yard toiletries and St Eval scented candles from Cornwall. Ensemble, the newest addition to Wells’ dining scene, has already proved a big hit with locals for its simple but well-executed menu with its emphasis on local produce . The two/three-course set lunch for £15/£17.50 is particularly good value.
Saffron Walden, Essex
This medieval market town offers the perfect antidote to the pre-Christmas frenzy. Locals start getting into the spirit on 2 Dec, when the Christmas lights are switched on and Santa takes up residence in his town hall grotto. The beautiful 15th-century parish church, St Mary’s, is the largest in Essex and a suitably atmospheric setting for a carol service (27 Nov). Pack your wellies for walks from the town into the rolling parkland surrounding Audley End, a beautiful Jacobean country house which will be hosting seasonal events, from wreath-making to carol concerts. At Saffron Hall, author Michael Morpurgo will be narrating his Christmas story, The Best of Times, (11 Dec). And if that’s not enough to get you in the mood for Christmas, the Saffron Screen, the town’s indie cinema, will be showing festive classics such as Elf, The Polar Express and It’s a Wonderful Life throughout December
Eat/drink Bicicletta – Coffee con Velo is the town’s first cycling cafe and the perfect pitstop, offering great coffee, wholesome food (poached eggs and avocado on toasted sourdough is a house speciality) and the chance to browse top-brand bikes and cycling gear. The Eight Bells is a cosy pub with log fires, chesterfield sofas, real ales on tap and a dining room in a beautiful 16th-century timber-framed barn.
Shopping Saffron Walden’s twice-weekly market (Tues and Sat) has been held in the town since the 12th century and has stalls selling everything from artisan cheese to vintage tools. Hart’s Books (26 King Street), the town’s much-loved independent bookshop, recently reopened in new premises after an absence of several years.
Stay The Cross Keys restaurant-with-rooms (doubles from £110 B&B) may be housed in a building which dates back some 850 years, but the nine en suite bedrooms are kitted out in a contemporary style, with comfortable beds, iPod docks and freestanding baths or monsoon showers. JO’C
At the junction of the rivers Usk and Gavenny, beneath the mountain peaks of Blorenge and Sugar Loaf, near the border between England and Wales, the market town of Abergavenny is a particularly picturesque spot to hole up for a weekend. It’s easy to get to, too, with good road and rail links – and once you’re there, everywhere’s walkable. Without a massive “to-do” list of attractions to tick off, it’s a perfect place to really get away from it all. Wander around the atmospheric ruins of the castle and small museum and climb one of the neighbouring hills to sharpen the appetite and savour some of the finest views in southern Britain.
Eat/drink The Abergavenny Food Festival hosts a one-day Christmas Fair on 11 Dec, with local producers selling their wares, workshops for kids (from Christmas tree decorations to lantern making) plus a musical procession, carol singing and a light parade after dark. The legacy of the renowned food festival may not be obvious on the town’s high street at first glance, but there are some interesting places to eat. For lunch, try the Art Shop and Chapel; the menu changes, but salmon fishcake, spinach and lovage sauce, and caramelised onion, pea, chorizo and anya potato frittata are favourites. If you’d rather pack a snack and go for a hike, there is an excellent selection of local cheeses (try Gorwydd Caerphilly and Golden Cenarth) and real ales at Marches Delicatessen. For dinner, tuck yourself away in a corner of the Foxhunter’s Bar at the Angel Hotel and watch the locals parade in and out for such delights as glass noodle, pawpaw and peanut salad or Lancashire hot-pot with braised red cabbage. And if you would rather make your food than eat it, spend a day learning to bake with the Abergavenny Baker.
Shopping There’s a decent mix of independent shops dotted between the high-street names, offering some inspired Christmas shopping. Try the Art Shop (8 Cross Street) for everything from drawing accessories to lino-cutting tools, then head next door to the Wool Croft for yarns and fine Welsh wool. The Model Centre(1 Brecon Road) might just have the radio-controlled plane you always wanted. For couture hats, visit Alison Todd’s award-winning millinery shop (13 Cross Street), and for beautiful Italian shoes try Amanda Jayne) up the street at no 16. There is also the excellent Cooks Galley (6 Nevill Street) for stylish kitchen supplies.
Stay The Angel Hotel (doubles from £95 room-only) is a historic coaching inn and now the chic heartbeat of the town, with a range of rooms and several neighbouring cottages.
Article Source: Rhiannon Batten, Rob Penn, Chris Moss, Joanne O’Connor and Robin McKelvie The Guardian Online
The Small Group Touring Company
Every visitor wants something a little different from their stay in the capital. While some will want to follow the tourist trail; others are seeking culture; while yet another group wants to visit the best pubs and restaurants on the map. You might even try to include a little of everything into your visit whether you are coming for a day or a much longer stay.
However, whatever you want from your visit there is something for everyone and this guide will help you find your way around and guide you to the best on offer.
Top Tourist Spots
There are so many tourist attractions to see in London that it is best to plan out what you want to visit ahead of time, so you miss nothing. Then plot your route either on an Underground map, a street map or decide which open-topped bus you will hop on to…
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