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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
So Game of Thrones Season 5 is here at last! HBO’s colossally successful show is set to hurl us through more scenes of plotting and intrigue, bloody battles and epic twists as the fight to rule the Seven Kingdoms and secure the Iron Throne rages on.
Real-life British history
With British accents dominating the cast, it’s genuine British history that inspired the epic and often gory spectacles on the screen, confirmed by George RR Martin, the author of the books.
Britain’s history is very vivid and very visible. You can step inside castles and courtyards and wander the corridors of power in the footsteps of kings and queens or stand in the middle of ancient battlefields that saw thousands of sword- and shield-wielding warriors changing the course of history.
The warring houses of Stark and Lannister in the series are compared to the real-life 15th-century battles between the houses of York and Lancaster in the War of the Roses; a bloody civil war which thundered on for decades.
So where to see it for real
Bosworth Field Visitor Centre brings the site of one of the war’s most decisive battles to life with fascinating displays.
To the north, Dunstanburgh Castle was taken twice by the Yorkists and now remains as dramatic looking ruins perched along the Northumbrian coastline – a pristine location dotted with castles.
Head further north still and you’ll come to Hadrian’s Wall, an incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site stretching right across northern England and southern Scotland. Building began back in AD 122 under the orders of Roman Emperor Hadrian to separate the Romans from the Picts who were seen as “wild” and “barbarian”. Giant wall? “wildings”? Sound familiar?
And of course Game of Thrones has Daenerys Targaryen – Mother of Dragons – exiled and then building an army across the ‘Narrow Sea’. Compare to Henry Tudor who, during the War of the Roses, was over another narrow sea – the English Channel, building an army of his own.
He’d later return with his troops to Wales, the land of his birth, gathering more support before tearing into the action and claiming the throne.
Wales, a country with more castles than anywhere in Europe, has a rather iconic national flag. It’s emblazoned with an enormous snarling red dragon.
In fact, you can pretty much pick any period and place in Britain and you’ll find enough battles, seiges and conspiracies to inspire plenty more fantasy series from a land with an epic past.
View the full story and follow the excellent Visit Britain Travel Blog here
The Small Group Touring Experts