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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
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, 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
The Small Group Tour Company
THE UK has some of the best tourist attractions in the world, from stunning castles, to Europe’s most famous prehistoric monument, to an indoor rainforest
Holidaying at home? Here’s your chance to start ticking off some of the top 10 must-see attractions, according to a poll organised by Travel site CheapHolidayLand.com Some of the attractions got the same number of votes so, in no particular order…
- Walk up the Mall to see Buckingham Palace – one of the four London attractions to make it into the top 10. Each summer the Palace also opens its doors to public tours until September 28. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace/plan-your-visit
- See the world’s largest indoor rainforests, created in the giant domes of the Eden Project at St Austell, Cornwall. There special summer dinosaur exhibition runs until September 16. edenproject.com
- Ancient Stonehenge is Europe’s best-known prehistoric monument. Don’t miss it! You’ll find it close to Salisbury in Wiltshire and a short drive from Bath. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/directions?lang=en
- Go monster-hunting on a trip to Scotland’s must-see, Loch Ness. This 37 kilometre-long lake is south of Inverness and best-known for sightings of the mystery ‘Nessie’. visitlochness.com/
- Contemplate thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean on a visit to Cornwall’s legendary Land’s End. It’s the most south-westerly part of mainland Britain and stunning scenery have helped make it a top spot. landsend-landmark.co.uk/
- See the inspired vision of one of the most recognisable landmarks in Britain, the Angel of the North, created by artist Anthony Gormley and standing watch over the A1 near Gateshead. http://www.angelofthenorth.org.uk
- Hear Big Ben, the world’s most famous clock, striking the hour at the Houses of Parliament, on the banks of the Thames. It’s even possible to arrange a tour of inside through your local MP. parliament.uk/
- Step back in time at London’s Westminster Abbey. A church was first created at this spot over 1,000 years ago. It’s also the site from where the world watched the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge get married in 2011 westminster-abbey.org/home
- See stunning Edinburgh Castle, a real highlight of a trip to Scotland’s capital city. Listen out for Edinburgh’s ‘big bang’ every day at 1pm when the traditional canon there is fired. edinburghcastle.gov.uk/
Sightseeing Tours of England
The Small Group UK Tour Experts