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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
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
The hotly anticipated fifth series of Downton Abbey continues with the focus still firmly set on affairs of the heart.
Meanwhile, the season sees happier news for widower Branson and his sister-in-law Lady Mary who finally find love again.
In the previous series, Lady Edith became separated from the father of her child Michael Gregson, with whom she was happy until he failed to return from Germany.
Edith entrusted Drewe, who is a local tenant on the grounds, with the care of her baby, but whenever the aristocrat is allowed to visit her child, she finds it hard to be separated again, putting a strain on the arrangement.
The Crawley family still aren’t aware of Edith’s secret heartbreak, which in turn leaves widow Lady Mary with no sympathy for her miserable sister.
BEST TOUR FOR DOWNTON ABBEY
‘See top filming locations from the award-winning ‘Downton Abbey’ television series and several Harry Potter films on a full-day tour from London. This tour leaves London and heads to Highclere Castle in Hampshire – the real life Downton Abbey. Here you’ll get a real taste of Edwardian England, learning about popular characters from the much-loved period drama, as well as the real-life family who have owned the castle since the 17th century
Visit the filming locations of the successful British TV show
Discover the real Downton Abbey at Highclere Castle in Hampshire and explore its gorgeous grounds
Visit the picturesque Oxfordshire village of Bampton
Vist Oxford and Christchurch
Our ‘Downton Abbey Tour’ is a best seller and must be booked well in advance!
Welcome 2 Britain
The Small Group Touring Experts
Britain may not be the most obvious choice for a winter break, yet it has a great deal to offer the more adventurous visitor. Of course our weather is ‘challenging’ but as long as you come prepared for rain, drizzle, wind, hail, sleet, snow and even the occasional burst of sunshine, you’ll be fine. So, assuming you have the right gear, what are the positives of visiting our green and pleasant land?
- There are far fewer visitors so you can easily get into places that have big queues in the summer months. This is especially relevant in London, which has so many fascinating museums, art galleries, historic houses, theatres and major attractions like the London Eye. Imagine being able to visit Madame Tussaud’s without waiting in line half way down Marylebone Road or getting a spectacular view from London Eye within minutes of arriving. However, this also applies to places all over Britain. Edinburgh and Belfast, York and Cardiff are all much quieter and more pleasant to get around in the winter.
- Accommodation is much cheaper. You can get some excellent deals at this time of year and lots of hotels, B&B, holiday homes, caravans and camp sites are open to a bit of negotiating if you call and ask what their best price is. (Although make sure to check school holidays such as half-term and Easter.) Rates can often be up to 50% less than in July or August.
- Many attractions have ‘out-of-season’ reduced rates and often lay on special events to encourage people to come along and see what they have on offer. Why not take a train ride through the stunning Yorkshire Dales, over the Ribblehead Viaduct and into the Cumbria countryside on the famous Settle-Carlisle Railway – if you’re lucky you may even get a seat on one of the iconic steam trains.
- Nature provides a beautiful plus to observing her glorious scenery by stripping many of our trees of leaves, enabling you to see through impressively skeletal trees to views that you can’t usually see once those branches are bedecked with green leaves, blossom or fruit. Check out our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty for a selection of stunning outdoor destinations throughout the UK.
- Outdoor light is very different from other seasons of the year. You can get incredibly clear skies which give an amazing clarity to your photos of those mountains in the Lake District. A misty fog swirls evocatively across a Scottish river. The low-lying sun filters through bleached-out clouds above a deserted moor. Rosy dawn breaks over a the pier in a tranquil seaside town …
- Of course some days you just don’t want to venture far due to heavy rain or strong winds, or one of our infrequent but curiously immobilising snow storms. But then you’ve got a great excuse to duck into one of our welcoming country pubs or cosy tea shops. Britain is made for ‘changeable’ weather and some of our most traditional attractions come in the form of an oak-beamed inn or a quaint cottage art gallery. Or maybe you feel really brave and will just wrap up warm and go for a bracing walk along a Cornish beach or a Midland canal towpath.
- People have more time to chat, to help and show you around. Travel and tourism businesses that are open in the winter rely on visitors like you and really appreciate that you have taken the time to visit their establishment. The important thing to remember is that you need to plan a bit in advance. For example, many National Trust properties are closed in the winter months but their gardens are open, so do check websites or contact the regional Tourist Office for latest information.
As one of our most famous walkers, Alfred Wainwright, said, “There’s not such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” Now, pack a waterproof, umbrella, sturdy shoes and some warm jumpers and make the most of your visit to Britain this winter.
Article source at Visit Britain Super Blog – click here
We operate a wide range of small group sightseeing tours departing from London. These include Day tours, half day tours, overnight tours and extended tours of England. Private bespoke tours for families and small groups can also be arranged.
The Small Group Touring Experts
A tour to tease the palette – 8 days to immerse yourself on the world famous isle of Islay, a whisky connoisseurs dream, before enjoying a four island fest including the rolling mountains of gentle Mull, the spiritual and ever peaceful island of Iona, the extraordinary and inspiring island of Staffa and the dramatics and majesty of the island of Skye
This tour of the Scottish Highlands starts out in Glasgow and then onto Loch Lomond before going west through the mountains to the beautiful little village of Inveraray on the banks of Loch Fyne. (we also offer this tour departing from Edinburgh)
Here you can perhaps sample some of the local seafood for lunch or just explore the historic town itself. After lunch you will then travel through Argyll and into the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada
There are more than 350 prehistoric monuments within a six-mile radius of the village of Kilmartin. You will stop here to see the mysterious stone circles and standing stones and visit the community museum. From here it is a short drive to Kennacraig where you catch the early evening ferry to Islay
The sail is just over 2 hours and you should look out for wildlife such as dolphins, whales and seabirds. On arrival on Islay it is a short drive to Bowmore for your 3-night stay.
A full day exploring Islay. The itinerary today is quite flexible with a mixture of beautiful scenery, white sand beaches, short walks and of course the famous Islay whiskies – renowned for their strong peaty flavours and nurtured by the salty sea air
In the morning you will take the short drive to the west of the island via Saligo Bay for a visit to Kilchoman Distillery (the newest and smallest on the island) with the option of a coastal walk to Machair Bay for any non-whisky lovers
After lunch you will explore the tiny harbour village of Portnahaven (look out for seals) before taking the back roads along the west coast with its lovely sandy bays, on the way back to Bowmore. You will have the chance to visit Bowmore distillery or just relax and explore the village
Another day in paradise! Today you will explore the southern side of the island, home to the smokiest and peatiest of all whiskies – Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. We will visit Ardbeg for a tour, tasting and lunch. The restaurant here is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy local produce as well as some unique whisky
We follow this up with a visit to Laphroaig and if time allows a short stop for a tasting at Lagavulin. It should also be possible to visit to the ruins of Kildalton church with its famous 8th Century Celtic cross
Alternatively we may stop in Bridgend where you could visit the community craft producers at Islay House Square or take a walk through the woods along the nearby River Sorn.
This morning you take the ferry back to the mainland then travel through Argyll along the coast to Oban – the main ferry port for the islands, and known locally as the ‘Charing Cross’ of the north
You will say goodbye to this group here, and will be collected by your new guide and group on the morning of day 5
You will have a free afternoon in Oban to enjoy this bustling and busy highland town. For those who are partial to some retail therapy, there are numerous shopping possibilities, or for those who wish to continue their thirst for Scottish whisky, Oban distillery is nicely situated in the heart of the town
A hike uphill will bring its own rewards with stunning views from the most photographed structure in the west, McCaig’s folly. The folly built on instruction by a local banker in 1897 resembles the coliseum in Rome, and provides magnificent vistas over the distant Firth of Lorne
You will stay in this glorious highland town for 2 nights
Is an early start crossing on the ferry to Mull and enjoying an island adventure exploring her dramatic coastlines and wild beauty, before taking the small ferry to the peace and tranquility of Iona – birthplace of Celtic Christianity and ancient burial ground of Scottish Kings. Here you can visit the historic abbey with its intricate carved crosses in the churchyard or explore the rocky headlands and sandy coves of this island gem
There is also an opportunity to take a small boat out to the island of Staffa (except Saturday departures in September) and view the dramatic basalt columns immortalised by Mendelssohn in his Hebridean Overture “Fingal’s Cave”. You then return on the ferry to Oban for your second night
Takes you north along the west coast around Appin, passing the impregnable Castle Stalker, and Glencoe, scene of the infamous massacre of the Clan Macdonald in 1692. You then pass through Fort William and take the historic road to the Isles to catch the ferry to Skye. You will travel through Glenfinnan, at the head of Loch Shiel, this is where the standard was raised to start the Jacobite rebellion
Glenfinnan is also home to a 100year old viaduct, which was made famous when the Hogwarts Express steamed across it on the way to school in the Harry Potter film
From Glenfinnan the road crosses mountains and glens before reaching Arisaig and on through a spectacularly scenic stretch of coast with fantastic views of the islands of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Skye, This beautiful coastline is formed by a series of white beaches and a turquoise sea, known as the white sands of Morar
The road ends at Mallaig where you take the short ferry crossing ‘over the sea to Skye’ where you arrive on the Sleat Peninsula, commonly referred to the ‘Garden of Skye’ with great views of the Cuillin mountains. From here you travel north to the picturesque harbour town of Portree. You are then dropped off at your accommodation in the early evening
Is a very flexible day on Skye. There are many possibilities depending on the weather and your driver/guide will use his/her local knowledge to decide on the best day out for the group
For example you might travel north to the stunning Quiraing mountain pass and enjoy a spectacular walk through some of Skye’s extraordinary geological scenery or visit the Kilt Rock, composed of basalt columns (reminiscent of the pleats in a kilt) with its waterfall cascading over the cliffs and down into the sea below
After lunch you may travel to Neist Point for a walk out to the lighthouse at the most westerly point on Skye. Alternatively a visit to Dunvegan Castle, ancient ancestral seat of the Clan McLeod, may be possible. Whatever you do we are sure you will enjoy it. We return you to your accommodation in Portree in the late afternoon for you to enjoy a free evening in the village
You will be collected from your accommodation and travel south through the Cuillin Hills and back over to the mainland
You will stop to visit the famous stronghold Eilean Donan Castle, used in the film “Highlander”, set at the junction of 3 lochs as protection against Viking raiders, before travelling east for stunning views over Loch Duich and the 5 Sisters of Kintail
Onto Loch Ness for lunch and the possibility of spotting “Nessie”. Heading south now through the Grampian mountains along Loch Laggan, made famous now as “Monarch of the Glen Country” before passing Dalwhinnie, home to Scotland’s highest whisky Distillery, and onwards into Perthshire where we stop for refreshments before heading back to Edinburgh past Perth and over the Forth Road Bridge. Arriving at 19.00 approx
This exclusive Scotland mini coach tour can be booked through our travel partners
We also offer a range of Scotland guided day and multi day tours departing from Edinburgh
The Small Group Touring Experts
Scotland’s turbulent history has left a lasting mark on the landscape in shape of the many castles, fortresses and tower houses that pepper the countryside
These imposing structures have the power to fire the imagination and with your guide’s expert storytelling this tour will bring the past to life on a wonderful and unique journey around Scotland
From Edinburgh to the east coast, along the castle trail of the Royal Deeside and into the Highlands. From here you will visit Scotland’s highest Whisky Distillery and back into the Kingdom of Fife finishing the tour with a boat trip on Loch Leven, following the footsteps of Mary Queen of Scots Stay like a lord or lady in Ardoe House Hotel near Aberdeen for 2 nights and 1 night at Knockomie House Hotel near Forres, where a farewell banquet dinner is included in the package. View current prices and departures here
You depart from the World Heritage City of Edinburgh and travel north, crossing the Forth Road Bridge into the ancient Kingdom of Fife. Your first visit of the day will be Falkland Palace, where during a private, guided tour you will be able to discover more of this pretty Royal Palace
Built between 1502 and 1541, it is set in the heart of the unique medieval village of Falkland and has been residence and hunting lodge of eight Stuart monarchs. Highlight of the visit will be to see the Real Tennis court, built in 1539! You continue to St Andrews and during a town walk your guide will tell you more about its past and more recent history
Its connection to the patron Saint of Scotland, birthplace of Golf, ancient University town and matchmaker to a Royal couple – there is a lot to see!
Your afternoon visit will be at the House of Dun near Montrose. This beautiful Georgian house, overlooking Montrose Basin, was built in 1730. It features superb plasterwork and now houses the Hutchison collection of Scottish colourists and the Stirling collection of furniture, ranging from the 18th century to the 1960s
On route to Aberdeen you will make a photo stop at Dunnottar Castle, a dramatic and evocative ruined cliff top fortress in a truly stunning setting. Dunnottar is where they filmed Hamlet’s Macbeth and provided inspiration for Disney Pixar’s movie “Brave”. From here you continue to Ardoe House Hotel, a lovely 19th century mansion house, where you will stay for 2 nights
Today will be spent in the Royal Deeside area, famous for its many castles.
Your first visit will be Castle Fraser, one of the grandest of the Scottish baronial tower houses. Begun in 1575, the present castle contains an evocative Great Hall, fine furniture and many Fraser family portraits. You can round the visit off with a walk through the beautiful 18th century walled garden
The tour continues to Banchory where you might be able to see salmon jumping at the Falls of Feugh. Maybe take short nature walk in Glen Tanar or the Burn o’ Vat
Lunch stop is at Ballater before continuing with your afternoon programme. Crathes Castle provides the highlight for the afternoon. Turrets, gargoyles and the ancient Horn of Leys given in 1323 by Robert the Bruce are just a few of the features of this historic castle. You will be free to explore the house and the stunning gardens at your own pace
The gardens stay green irrespective of the time of year, as with the ancient yew hedges that frame the upper parts of the gardens, particularly the fountain and rose gardens. Wandering through the outstanding, world-renowned June Borders, beautiful vistas of the castle can be seen through the fusion of colourful flowers
You return back to Ardoe House later for another overnight
Your tour heads further north today and starts the day with a visit to Fyvie Castle near Turriff, which will open its doors especially for our party at 9.30
Fyvie Castle dates back to the 13th century and has a fine collection of arms and armour as well as 17th century tapestries and opulent Edwardian interiors.You then continue, travelling through beautiful scenery and on to Nairn, where lunch will be taken at nearby Brodie Castle. Then you have time to explore the castle further. Dating from the 16th century, this imposing castle stands in rich Morayshire parkland
It has very unusual plasterwork and a major art collection and tells the fascinating story of the Brodie family.
In the afternoon you will be able to take the Clan Walk at the Culloden Visitor Centre. The Clan Stone Walkway is designed to commemorate the Scottish Clans and their clansmen who fought at the battle of Culloden with a special Insignia Stone. The Clans are represented with their individual Crest and personal inscription
After the visit you continue to Knockomie House Hotel. A dinner for our group will be held tonight in one of the private rooms
Today sees you travelling south again through some of the most stunning scenery Scotland has to offer
You pass Inverness and travel to Kingussie for a photo stop at the Ruthven Barracks. From here you continue to Dalwhinnie Distillery. Dalwhinnie is the highest Distillery in Scotland and takes its waters right from the source of the River Spey. A tour of the distillery is included and you will also have the chance to taste the ‘Water of Life’
After a lunch stop in Pitlochry you head to Loch Leven by Kinross. In the middle of the Loch you find Loch Leven Castle, a late 14th century tower, which was the setting for the most traumatic year in the life of Mary Queen of Scots
It was in 1567 that she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate her throne before her dramatic escape a year later
You will enjoy a short boat ride over to the castle, following in the footsteps of Mary Queen of Scots. Then explore at your leisure the island and tower house, before returning back to Edinburgh, arriving around 18.30
This exclusive Scotland tour can be booked through our preferred travel partners ‘Best Value Tours’
The Small Group Tour Experts
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the banks of the Thames in London to watch a spectacular firework display mark the new year.
Rockets flared from the London Eye and the capital’s riverside landmarks were lit up in a display which lasted 11 minutes and featured 12,500 fireworks.
Mayor Boris Johnson said: “What an amazing end to an incredible year.”
About 250,000 were in the city to watch the show, which also involved clips from the 2012 Olympic Games.
Mr Johnson added: “Watched by hundreds of thousands in the capital and millions around the globe, London has proved, yet again, that it can pull off spectacular world-class events in style.”
Many of the revellers had waited hours to secure the best vantage points and fortunately it was a dry and mild night.
Rob Haine, 30, a computer game programmer from Wakefield, said: “The display was mesmerising, it was a joy to witness.
“I got here at 5pm and have been standing the whole time but it was worth it. It was cool that they got the Olympics into the fireworks.”
Sandro Benvenuti, 46, travelled from Italy with his wife and two daughters to see the display.
“We were waiting for six hours but it was fantastic,” he said.
“We have fireworks in Italy but those were much better. They went on for longer and the design and special effects were superior.”
Lynn Shepherd, 53, from North Newbald, East Yorkshire, praised the “electric atmosphere”.
She said: “There’s no trouble here. Everyone is having a good time and it’s the perfect way to finish 2012.”
The Metropolitan Police said as of 3:45 GMT, officers had made 96 arrests across the capital relating to the New Year’s Eve celebrations, mainly for being drunk, public order offences and assault.
More than 3,500 police supported the organisers and stewards of the event in central London, working alongside colleagues from the British Transport Police and other emergency services to keep revellers safe.
‘No major issues’
Chief Inspector John Williams said: “This year has really been one to remember and what better way to top off the success of team GB at the Olympics and Paralympics and the pageantry of the Queens Diamond Jubilee than with a world-class firework display.
“This year saw the viewing areas fill up earlier than ever before with thousands of revellers coming to see in the new year London-style.
“There were no major issues reported to police and the crowds were good natured.
“Officers continue to work through the night to facilitate the clean-up operation, ensure roads are reopened and the area returns to normality in time for the New Year’s Day parade.”
The Tube, DLR, tram and selected National Rail services in Greater London ran all night.
Following their work during the London 2012 Games, more than 150 Team London Ambassadors volunteered during the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
They gave out maps, directed people to the viewing areas and gave guidance and advice on getting home safely.
The Small Group Tour Experts
On New Year’s Eve, London comes alive with celebrations, fireworks and parties. Be here at midnight to see in 2013 with a bang!
London’s spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display at the EDF Energy London Eye is famous around the world.
The event is hugely popular and large crowds gather in the designated viewing areas along the river Thames. These areas fill up early, by 9pm or 10pm, with access to each zone closing as soon as it is full.
Make sure you plan in advance if you want to watch the fireworks from the riverside. Many nearby pubs and bars will be ticketed on the night, and public transport will be the best way to get to and from central London.
There will be free London travel on bus, Tube, tram and DLR from 11.45pm until 4.30am and on London Overground until last trains. Check the Transport for London website for the latest New Year’s Eve travel information.
The Small Group Luxury Tour Experts – www.Welcome2Britain.com
Why small groups ? With a maximum group size of just 16, we keep the experience and enjoyment both as individual and as personal as possible. Typically, a group consists of half couples or friends and half individuals raveling alone. Our tours attract people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities but united in a desire to break away from regimented, impersonal big coach tours.
Small groups are environmentally more friendly and their effect less disruptive to local communities. It also means you get the chance to get away from crowded tourist haunts, taking scenic backroads to places you may not have heard of, but wouldn’t want to miss.
Small groups leave fewer footprints.
Luxury Travel – Choosing OUR small group tours doesn’t mean you compromise on comfort or safety. We use recent models Mercedes mini coaches (less then 3 years old) – coaches renowned for their reliability and safety, custom built to our specification for your comfort – huge panoramic windows for the very best views above the hedgerows, high backed coach seats, 3 point seat belts, air conditioned and a first class sound system.
All the features of a big coach without all the passengers!
About Our Guides – Our guides are carefully selected for their personality, wide knowledge and genuine enthusiasm for our style of tours. Never boring – you will find them informative, professional but down to earth with a real passion for showing you the very best of Britain ! They pride themselves on entertaining you with tales of England’s rich history, culture and legend to ensure a memorable experience of the real England. Of course all our drivers and guides are trained to meet the high standards of the London Tourist Board’s ‘Welcome Host’ program.
Affordable Quality– Relevant entrance fees are included (some tours include lunch in historic pub). – NO HIDDEN EXTRAS.
We have PRIORITY ENTRANCE into all attractions. No QQQQQQ’s – more time to explore.
We GUARANTEE that you wouldn’t be able to visit the same places in one day, or at a cheaper price, by raveling independently using public transport.
Our Commitment to you…… We are committed to providing a high standard of quality and personal service. We constantly monitor our tours, looking out for new routes or places to visit etc…………….. and listen to what you want.
We are proud to boast that many of our customers come back to us year after year and 60 per cent of our business comes from recomendations from previous customers. As a small business satisfied customers are our best advertisement
Welcome2Britain. Small Group Tours