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10 of the best small UK towns for winter breaks

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.


The Peak District in winter: Bakewell, Derbyshire. Photograph: Alamy

Bakewell, Derbyshire

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.
Joanne O’Connor

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, Shropshire

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.

Corbridge, Northumberland

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.
Robin McKelvie

Totnes, Devon

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).
Chris Moss

Holt, Norfolk

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.

Wells, Somerset

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

Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

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.
Rob Penn

Article Source: , , , and Robin McKelvie The Guardian Online

The Small Group Touring Company operate unique mini coach day tours and extended U.K sightseeing tours throughout Britain.

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A London Guide for the Uninitiated

Best Value U.K Sightseeing Tours

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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10 of the best Christmas light festivals in the UK

Best Value U.K Sightseeing Tours

From dancing lasers to magical gardens, imaginative light shows are being switched on throughout the land. We previews 10 Christmas spectaculars.


Christmas light trail, Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

The Capability Brown-sculpted parkland at Blenheim features a new one-mile multisensory path, including a scented fire garden, fibre-optic lawns and twinkling hedges. The lake is illuminated with lit-up boats, the fountains cascade in time to Christmas music, the waterfall is bathed in colour and the arbour sparkles with fairy lights. Santa Claus and his elves have set up their workshop in the boathouse, and there are festive sideshows and a Victorian carousel in the courtyard. Warm up with spiced cider, mulled wine and hot chocolate, roasted chestnuts and toasted marshmallows.
From £16 adult/£10 child/£48 family/under-fives free; until 2 January;blenheimpalace.com

Festival of Light and Sound, Eden Project, Cornwall

The Eden Project has a spectacular new light and sound show this Christmas. Visitors…

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Big news for all London lovers! Recently, the US Dollar hit a 31 year high against the British Pound. That makes a jump across the pond irresistible! Think great shows, wonderful sightseeing, world-class restaurants, the best holiday shopping and much, much more. Plus, on top of already great prices on our British sightseeing tours, you can save even more right now with our special offers!

With Brexit, the UK just became a great travel bargain!

It’s time to seize the moment and take advantage of the strong dollar! Americans are in a windsorcposition to afford infinite buying power overseas. While a strong dollar may not mean a cheaper plane ticket, the strong dollar converts to more money while overseas. According to a recent study performed by travel guru TripAdvisor, “international hotel rates are down seven percent” while “European rates decline non percent year-over-year.” With the “average European hotel rate at $121, which is less than current U.S. average of $127 per night,” it is actually cheaper to vacation in Europe than it is in The United States.

Make 2017 the year to visit England!

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7 weird British customs and traditions

We Brits are a bit of an odd bunch – we like to roll cheese down hills and dance around with bells, sticks and handkerchiefs. In fact, a lot of our modern culture is awash with a myriad of myths, legends and bizarre traditions that date back hundreds of years. But where did they all originate and why do we still celebrate them?

Cheese-rolling in Gloucester

Cheese rolling festival, Gloucestershire, England

With records of cheese-rolling in Gloucestershire, South West England, dating back hundreds of years, the annual tradition is still a world-famous event. Why the locals first decided to roll a cheese down an extremely steep hill all those years ago is highly debated. Some believe it was a requirement to maintain grazing rights on the common, whereas others suggest it stems from a pagan ritual of rolling objects down hills to encourage a successful harvest.

Jack in the Green, Hastings

The Jack in Green festival, Hastings, England

If you visit any May Day procession in Britain, don’t be alarmed if you see someone covered head to toe in foliage – that’s Jack in the Green. The custom began in the 16th century, when procession-goers became more and more competitive with making garlands for the parade – so much so that they started to cover an entire man in greenery. Hastings, on England’s south coast, has an entire annual festival dedicated to Jack in the Green.

Pancake races, Buckinghamshire

Pancake races, England
On Shrove Tuesday, people across the UK tuck into pancakes, and the residents of Olney in Buckinghamshire gear up for their annual pancake race. The race-goers run through the town whilst also flipping a cooked pancake in a frying pan as they go. The story goes that this started in 1445 after a wife who was cooking pancakes heard the church bells shriving (indicating parishioners were expected in church) and rushed out with the frying pan still in her hand.

Ottery Tar Barrels, Devon

Ottery Tar Barrels festival, Devon, England
Every 5 November the people of Ottery in Devon set barrels of tar alight and carry them on their shoulders through the packed streets of the town. The reasons behind this daring tradition, which has been taking place for hundreds of years, are disputed. It’s most likely to be connected to the gunpowder plot of 1605 but may have been a way to warn against the Spanish Armada.

Lady Godiva, Midlands

Lady Godiva legend, Coventry, England
According to legend, Lady Godiva rode naked through the city of Coventry on horseback, with only her long hair to cover her modesty, as a way to convince her husband to lower the taxes for the people of the town. Although, as with most legends, her story has had its historical accuracy questioned, the love for the tale of Lady Godiva’s generosity has remained.

King Arthur and Excalibur

King Arthur's Excalibur legend, England
The legend of King Arthur is one of the most famous in Britain, with many stories of bravery and romance featuring in his character. Although his existence is debated, his tales live on in British folklore. Probably the most famous is the tale of the sword and the stone, which sees Arthur pull the sword of Excalibur from a stone and, in doing so, reveals himself as the rightful King of England. Some believe the London Stone is in fact, the stone that Arthur drew his sword from, and you can see it for yourself at the Museum of London(link is external).

Morris dancing

Morris dancing, England
With their bells, sticks, swords and all-important handkerchiefs, there’s something distinctly English about Morris dancing. The traditional folk dance is thought to have originated in the early 15th century and derived from a Druidic fertility dance. The dance remains popular, with many believing that it has magical powers to ward off evil and bring good luck. Throughout the years, different regions of the UK have developed their own styles and nuances of Morris dancing – whether that’s the wearing of clogs in the North West or the use of short sticks and feathers in the Borders.

This article was contributed by Premier Inn(link is external), with 700 hotels all over the UK.
All images courtesy of alamy.com

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St George’s Day: What does it mean and why do we celebrate the patron Saint of England?

St. George’s Day takes place on April 23rd every year, recognising the patron saint of England apparently made famous for slaying a dragon and saving a distressed maiden


It’s the one day of the year, apart from major football tournaments, when you are guaranteed to see English flags being waved proudly across the country.

April 23 is a national day of celebration about all things English.

But St George’s Day isn’t honoured as widely as those of other patron saints – St Patrick being a notable example.

Very little is known about St George, his annual feast, or why we celebrate him.

Here are all the facts you need to know about England’s national day.

St George’s Day is celebrated on April 23 every year.

It is honoured by various Christian churches and by the several nations, kingdoms, countries, and cities of which St George is the patron saint.

St George’s Day was named as early as 1222 – but only one in five people in England actually know what day it’s on.

In 1415 St George’s Day became a national feast day and holiday in England. But after the union with Scotland in the 18th century it ceased to become a national holiday.

Now most people only mark the day with a flag.

Historically people would wear a rose on their chests. Roses became a symbol of the patron saint because a beautiful bloom is thought to have grown on his grave. This also came from a tradition in Catalonia in Spain – of which St George is also a patron saint – where women would give men a book and receive a rose in return on the feast day.

William Shakespeare is thought to have been born and died on the same date as St George, so you can celebrate with games and acting workshops at the Globe Theatre as well as traditional hog roasts and medieval-themed frolicking.

Who was St George?

The patron saint of England has become famous from stories that he slayed a dragon and saved a distressed maiden.

But actually very little is known about his life that is not myth and legend.

He is believed to have been born in Palestine in the 3rd Century AD to Christian parents and is also the patron saint of many other places around the world.

St George is thought to have first lived in Lydda, near modern day Tel Aviv.

He was a soldier in the Roman Army like his father and quickly rose up the ranks. He was later tortured and a number of medieval tales detail the awful punishments he was said to have endured – including being boiled and crushed between spiked wheels – because he refused to give up his Christian faith.

He was executed on the 23rd April 303 AD for refusing to stop being a Christian when asked by Emperor Diocletian – who had begun a campaign against Christians.

St George is believed to have been dragged through the streets of Lydda in Palestine and then beheaded for refusing to renounce his faith.

His life and suffering also inspired medals for valour and bravery.

The George Cross is the highest such award that a civilian can earn and is awarded for extraordinary bravery and courage in the face of extreme danger. The George Medal is second behind it.

Both medals depict the patron saint slaying the dragon atop his mighty steed, as detailed in myths about the patron saint.

Other things St George is the patron saint of include farmers and other agricultural workers, butchers, horses, horseriders and saddlemakers, and also soldiers.

He was also later made patron saint of Scouting because of his ideals.

And, unfortunately he has also become known as the patron saint of a number of diseases including herpes, leprosy, skin diseases and syphilis. Some legends state this is due to him helping others.

Why is he patron saint of England?

St George represents traditional English chivalry and bravery, but he was not actually English at all.

In fact, he never even set foot on British shores.

The heroic story of St George became popular in 1483, when it was published in a book called The Golden Legend.

The decision to make him patron saint was made by King Edward III when he formed the Order of the Garter in St George’s name in 1350. The badge of the order depicts George slaying a dragon.

April 23, supposedly the date of his death in 303 AD, was adopted in the early 13th Century, as the date of the annual celebration.

The cult of the St George was further advanced by Henry V at the battle of Agincourt.

Before the armies clashed, Shakespeare had the immortal phrase: “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George.”

Many believed they had seen the saint fighting for the English – further cementing his place in history. In 1415 St George became the official patron saint of England.

England’s flag is the emblem that Saint George famously wore on his shield or banner.

Richard the Lionheart adopted it in the 12th century, and soldiers wore the Red Cross to distinguish themselves from the enemy in battle.

St George is also the patron saint of several other countries – including Germany, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Palestine, Ethiopia, Serbia, Slovinia, Lithuania, Portugal, Malta and Montenegro.

Did he really slay a dragon?

In a word, no. It’s easy to forget, but dragons don’t actually exist.

The legend tells of a single well in the village of Silene, guarded by the ferocious beast. Villagers had been giving it sheep to stop it attacking people, and then started sacrificing humans.

St George arrived just as a princess was about to be offered and like a true hero saved her in the nick of time, according to the Golden Legend. The King is then said to have set up a church of Our Lady and St George.

Medieval chronicler Jacobus de Voragine compiled similarly bizarre stories about other saints in his book Golden Legend and is entirely to blame for his association with the story.

The book was something of a bestseller.

Read the full story in The Mirror Online

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Happy birthday Your Majesty! Celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday in Britain

Britain’s longest-serving monarch met Britain’s longest-serving postman today as she shared the start of her 90th birthday celebrations with Royal Mail’s 500th anniversary.

Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the main sorting office in Windsor, after making the short journey from Windsor Castle, to begin the first official engagement of her birthday week.


The Queen arrives at the Royal Mail in Windsor CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH FOR THE TELEGRAPH

The Queen, whose birthday is on Thursday, was greeted by a cheering crowd of hundreds of invited guests who had gathered in the car park to wish her an early Happy Birthday.

One of the biggest events will be The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration, in the private grounds of Windsor Castle (12 – 15 May); the town of Windsor is reached in 30 minutes by train from London. Queen Elizabeth II’s 90 years will be celebrated in 90 minutes of music, dance, song and equestrianism, involving more than 1,500 participants and 900 horses.


Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe will celebrate the Queen’s reign through three exhibitions of more than 150 of her outfits. The exhibitions will be staged at Her Majesty’s official residences, with each collection carefully selected for its particular association with the place. ThePalace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh will highlight the use of tartan in royal dress (21 April – October). London’s Buckingham Palace will cover fashions from the 1920s to the 2010s with outfits representing the Queen’s childhood, wedding, coronation, royal tours and state visits (August – September), while Windsor Castle will contrast the Queen’s magnificent evening gowns with the fancy dress costumes she wore for wartime family pantomimes (September 2016 – January 2017). www.royalcollection.org.uk

The Queen’s official birthday weekend in June will be another highlight. As usual, the Queen will attend a service of Thanksgiving at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral (10 June), and the traditional Trooping the Colour ceremony will be on 11 June. To get your hands on tickets (£30) for Trooping the Colour, apply in writing in February. Alternatively, there are two rehearsal events – The Major General’s Review (free; 28 May) and The Colonel’s Review (£10; 4 June) – or you can join the flag-waving crowds lining the procession’s route from Buckingham Palace along The Mall and Horseguards.www.householddivision.org.uk/trooping-the-colour

The climax of the office birthday weekend will be a host of classic British street parties across the country on 12 June. The biggest one, and the first of its kind, The Patron’s Lunch, will be on The Mall in London. Most of the 10,000 tickets for this have already been allocated, but the remaining tickets will be made available by public ballot in March (£150; www.thepatronslunch.com). Otherwise, pack a picnic and head to one of thelive sites in Green Park and St James’s Park and watch proceedings from big screens. Expect a festival atmosphere!

In Edinburgh, The Royal Yacht Britannia will throw two parties fit for a queen. On 21 April and 12 June there will be complimentary birthday cake, Britannia fizz and music from the Musical Mariners on board the yacht, which was, according to the Queen, “the one place I could truly relax”. www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk

The Queen has attended RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London more than 50 times since 1949 so it’s no surprise that the show is planning something special to mark this occasion (24 -28 May). A photo exhibition will portray the Queen’s many visits to Chelsea, and a floral archway built to commemorate the Queen’s birthday will be one of the first things the Queen sees when she arrives at the show. www.rhs.org.uk

There will be plenty of celebrations in the equestrian world too. As well as jumping, dressage and endurance events, the Royal Windsor Horse Show (11 – 15 May 2016) will be a chance for visitors without tickets for the 90th Celebration to see some of the acts; it will be in the same venue as The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration (from £16; www.rwhs.co.uk). Windsor Racecourse will hold HRH Queen Elizabeth’s 90th Birthday Racenight on 16 May, with music after the racing (from £9). www.windsor-racecourse.co.uk

Articl source: Visit Britain and Daily Telegraph

The Small Group Tour Company

Bill Bryson on Great Britain

Bill Bryson must surely be one of Britain’s biggest fans – and in his latest book From The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, he sings the country’s praises once more. Here are some of his quotes about Britain we can’t help agreeing with:

London is the best city in the whole world.’ (source: Visit Britain Blog)

‘Britain is just about the perfect size for a country – small enough to be cosy and embraceable, but large enough to maintain a lively and independent culture.’

Audience watching a play at Regents Park open-air theatre, London

‘There isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of Great Britain.’

A panorama in the Lake District

‘The makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known.’

Cottage in English countrysideFLPA/imageBROK/REX Shutterstock

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2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare

Death of most performed playwright in the world to be marked in Stratford-on-Avon, London and across the globe.

The world shares him and London claims him, but Stratford-on-Avon intends to spend 2016 celebrating William Shakespeare as their man: the bard of Avon, born in the Warwickshire market town in 1564, and who died there 400 years ago.


Portrait of Shakespeare, 1598. Photograph: Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis

Stratford remained hugely important throughout Shakespeare’s life, argues Paul Edmondson, the head of learning and research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. “People have seen Shakespeare as a Dick Whittington figure, who turns his back on Stratford and his family, goes to London to earn his fortune and only comes back to die,” he said.

“[But Stratford is] where he bought land and property, where he kept his library, where he lived and read and thought. We are going to spend the year re-emphasising the importance of Shakespeare, the man of Stratford.”

The 17th-century diarist, antiquarian and gossip John Aubrey, born 11 years after Shakespeare died, was at pains to point out there was nothing so very special about the bard. Aubrey, university educated unlike Shakespeare, said that he acted “exceedingly well” and that “his Playes took well”.

The world has not agreed with Aubrey. The anniversary of the death of the man from Stratford, the most famous and the most performed playwright in the world, will be marked across Britain and the globe.

Macbeth is about to open in Singapore, Romeo and Juliet in Brussels. Shakespeare’s Globe is completing the first world tour in the history of theatre, in which it has taken Hamlet to almost every country – North Korea is still holding out. The production will arrive back in London for the anniversary weekend of 23-24 April. They are also creating a 37-screen pop-up cinema, one screen to showcase each of Shakespeare’s plays, along the South Bank.

The National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and virtually every other theatre production company in the country will be marking the anniversary. Interpretations will range from the resolutely traditional to the Brighton-based Spymonkey’s Complete Deaths, a romp through the 74 deaths – 75 including a fly squashed in Titus Andronicus – by stabbing, poisoning, smothering and smashing across the plays. There will also be hundreds of lectures, recitals, international academic conferences, films, concerts, operas and major exhibitions.

For a man famous in his own lifetime there is little documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s life and times. The plays would scarcely have survived if his friends and fellow actors had not gathered together every scrap of every play they could find – drafts, prompt scripts, scribbled actors’ parts, and 17 plays not known in any other version – into the precious First Folio published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death.

The actor Mark Rylance has called it his favourite book in the world, and most of the surviving First Folios will be on display – including those belonging to the British and Bodleian libraries, and a tattered copy recently discovered in France.

Some of the most precious surviving documents will be gathered together in an exhibition at Somerset House in London, opening in February and jointly organised by the National Archives and King’s College London, including four of his six known signatures, which are all slightly different.

By Me, William Shakespeare will include his will, the court papers relating to the audacious move when Shakespeare and his fellow actors dismantled a theatre on the north side of the Thames and rebuilt it as the Globe on the South Bank, and accounts showing payments from the royal treasury for Boxing Day performances of James I and Queen Anne.

The outgoing Globe director, Dominic Dromgoole, recently jokily claimed Shakespeare as a true Londoner – albeit conceding “some spurious claim” by Stratford-on Avon. Stratford, however, will be insisting that the town made and educated Shakespeare His old school room is being restored with a £1.4m Heritage Lottery grant, to open as a permanent visitor attraction.

Shakespeare bought the splendid New Place, the second best house in the town, where he died according to literary legend on St George’s Day, 23 April, the same day as his birth. “You don’t buy a house like New Place and not live there,” Paul Edmondson said. “The general public and many academics have consistently underestimated the importance of Stratford to Shakespeare.”

Shakespeare bought the splendid New Place, the second best house in the town, where he died according to literary legend on St George’s Day, 23 April, the same day as his birth. “You don’t buy a house like New Place and not live there,” Paul Edmondson said. “The general public and many academics have consistently underestimated the importance of Stratford to Shakespeare.”
Article source

2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare; this special anniversary year is a truly unique opportunity to visit his home town Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire to celebrate the lasting legacy of the world’s greatest playwright. Start planning your visit to Shakespeare’s England in 2016 to see one of his plays performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company, tour his Birthplace, pay your respects at his grave at Holy Trinity Church or simply walk in his footsteps and explore the place he called home.

Our popular Bards and Battles Day Tour visiting Stratford upon Avon departs daily from central London and our private customised tours can easily be arranged fro small groups and families.

The  Small Group Tour Co.

Escape London and Explore Britain’s Countryside

London is one of the world’s most exciting destinations, however, the surrounding countryside is brimming with beautiful villages, ancient cathedrals and amazing historical sites. Explore the historic charms and wealth of English culture that lies outside the capital and explore the ‘Real Britain’.

Country Lane Exploration

Country Lane Exploration

Escape the city in style with one of our coach a ‘small group’ mini-coach guided tours. Follow the River Thames as it winds it’s way through Royal Windsor and Britain’s oldest university town, Oxford. These famous destinations are suitably close to London and ideal for day trips.

Go further afield and discover the delights of Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford Upon Avon, set back upon the banks of the weeping River Avon. Head from there to Warwick and see the countryside unfold before you like a fairytale kingdom from the towers of England’s finest medieval fortress. Soothe your aches and pains with a trip to the beautiful spa town of Bath or discover the remarkable monuments of Salisbury and mystical monoliths of Stonehenge. Let us be your guide to the treasures of the English countryside.

The Small Group Tour Experts