Shedding light on Stonehenge and the summer solstice

Stonehenge is a large henge or stone circle in Wiltshire, and an internationally recognised travel destination. Huge standing stones were dragged to the site and placed in the landscape in the era 2,500 BC. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Shedding light on Stonehenge and the summer solstice

Shedding light on Stonehenge and the summer solstice

Stonehenge is synonymous with celebrations for the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, as crowds usually flock to see the sun rise from behind the site’s famed Heel Stone. A day of great importance, particularly among the Druid and Pagan communities, for the first time ever the celebrations will be streamed digitally in 2020. English Heritage, which looks after the Wiltshire site, will live stream the sunrise on its social media channels on Sunday 21 June, giving viewers around the world the chance to experience this incredible sight for themselves.

With a history stretching nearly five millennia, the ancient mystical site, together with a stone circle at nearby Avebury, forms part of the 6,500 acre Stonehenge and Avebury UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well as being a wonder of the world and a masterpiece of engineering, the prehistoric monuments have great spiritual and cultural meaning.

But with limited evidence around how it got there, or why it was built, the vast stone complex has spurred a number of highly creative theories. From aliens and giants being involved in its construction, to its use as a burial site, a music venue, and even being the result of an ancient team-building exercise, its past is riddled with mystery. Join us as we take a step back in time and explore the history of one of Britain’s best-known landmarks.

 

Delving into history

What we do know is that construction didn’t take place all at once. The first structure to be built at the site around 5,000 years ago was an early henge monument, a circular earthwork enclosure, with the stone circle added during the late Neolithic period – estimated to be around 2500 BC. This was undoubtedly a mammoth undertaking involving hundreds of people using only primitive tools.

The larger sarsen stones – one of two types of stone used for the monument – were arranged in two parallel formations to form a horseshoe and an outer circle. These stones weigh an average of 25 tons and scientists believe they originated in quarries around 20 miles to the north of the site. The smaller ‘bluestones’ were erected between the two sets of sarsens to create a double arc, and their roots have been traced back to the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales, some 200 miles from Stonehenge.

As with the origins of the monument itself, various theories exist as to how the stones came to be in the region. Some suggest that Neolithic builders used sledges and tree trunks to form rollers, or that they floated the stones on barges along the Welsh coast and up the nearby River Avon. Scientists have also championed the idea that the huge stones were moved by glaciers and vast ice floes during one of the Ice Ages. For those that dream of exploring Stonehenge, it’s possible to take a Virtual Tour until they can visit the site themselves.

 

Stonehenge and Paganism

Physician William Stukeley linked Stonehenge to Druids – followers of a Celtic spiritual tradition widely considered to be similar to modern Paganism – in the 18th century, with a theory that the site was built by them as a temple. While there is no evidence that Druids were alive at the time Stonehenge was built, the site remains a place of spiritual importance, partly due to how the stones align with the sun for both the summer and winter solstice.

 

The role of the sun

Based on archaeological evidence, it’s thought that the Heel Stone – an outlier to the north east of the main arrangement – may have had a partner stone to frame the sunrise in midsummer. From a central vantage point within the main stone circle, it’s possible to see the sun rise to the left of the remaining stone.

Numerous burial mounds and other archaeological findings from the surrounding area date back to the Bronze Age, while a major hillfort, a little over a mile from Stonehenge, can trace its roots to the Iron Age. Further archaeological excavations have found numerous Roman objects in the region too, suggesting that the site carried great ritual importance throughout their time in Britain too.

For budding astronomers keen to see more, English Heritage have also created Skyscape – an immersive experience detailing the skies above the iconic stone circle.

 

Recreated Neolithic houses

Five recreated Neolithic houses, complete with replica artefacts similar to those recovered from excavations at the nearby Durrington Walls settlement, help to showcase what life was like for people in the region at the time of Stonehenge’s construction. Even while sat at home today, it’s easy to imagine how they lived just by looking at the circular huts, built using chalk and straw daub with thatched roofing.

 

Major sites in the surrounding area

The entire landscape around Stonehenge is rich in archaeology, with more than 350 ancient monuments and burial mounds discovered to date. Recovered items include everything from arrow heads and battle axes to antler picks and flint hammerstones, with each piece and every site playing a key part in understanding life in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain. Highlights of the Stonehenge collection of artefacts can be viewed on the English Heritage Website.

 

Stonehenge Avenue

Linking the River Avon with Stonehenge and measuring just under two miles across Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge Avenue forms what may have been a procession route to the stone circle. Formed of two equidistant banks, it was first discovered in the 18th century and runs north east from Stonehenge for around 550 metres before changing direction several times on its route to the river.

 

Avebury

Part of an extensive set of Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial sites – and forming part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Avebury is the location of Britain’s largest stone circle. Constructed during the Neolithic period, somewhere between 2850BC and 2200BC, the site includes a vast set of earthworks and a section of Avebury village. Around 100 stones formed the biggest stone circle, with two further rings found within it. Archaeologist Alexander Keiller excavated the site in the 1930s and a number of the key finds can be found within the museum at the site which bears his name. In recent times, archaeologists working at Avebury have uncovered evidence of an underground square megalith monument within the confines of the stone circle, although its exact purpose is yet to be determined.

 

Woodhenge

Another site close to Stonehenge, Woodhenge dates back to around 2300 BC. Aerial photography played a vital role in determining that the site included a number of timber posts that formed six concentric circles, which may have originally bolstered a ring-shaped building at what was initially thought to be a Neolithic burial mound. Concrete markers now show where those poles were positioned, while archaeological evidence suggests the site remained in use until around 1800 BC. Later evidence of Iron Age and Roman settlement in the region means the site may also have had defensive importance.

 

Silbury Hill

Part of the Avebury World Heritage Site and forming the largest artificial mound in Europe, Silbury Hill compares in height and magnitude to the pyramids in Egypt! The Neolithic site, developed between 2470 BC and 2350 BC, has yielded no signs of ancient burial, so both its use and meaning remain a mystery. The numbers associated with it are staggering – measuring roughly 160 metres across and 30 metres high, evidence suggest that as many as four million hours and half a million tonnes of chalk and clay were needed to create it!

Get a taste of Britain’s brilliant breweries, dazzling distilleries and vibrant vineyards

Bombay Sapphire distillery, Whitchurch, Hampshire, England. Famed for its glass panels and Victorian architecture.
Get a taste of Britain’s brilliant breweries, dazzling distilleries and vibrant vineyards

Get a taste of Britain’s brilliant breweries, dazzling distilleries and vibrant vineyards

Summer's coming and there's no time like now to sip a glass of wine, fill up a dram, or enjoy some gin to celebrate Britain's vast array of breweries, vineyards and distilleries. And with a host of virtual celebrations coming up, everyone can get a taste of the action, even from home…

From marking World Gin Day on 13 June with a brilliantly blended G&T or enjoying a perfect pint for National Beer Day two days later, to celebrating English Wine Week with a sumptuous tipple, these online tours provide a unique glimpse into the history and heritage of Britain’s brewers and vintners.

 

GIN

Marked globally on the second Saturday of June and founded in England, World Gin Day celebrates the processes associated with distilling natural grains with juniper berries and other botanicals. The widespread popularity of gin in England can be traced back to the Georgian period, and the reign of William III – known as William of Orange – from 1689. Having relaxed restrictions on domestic spirit production, the market for gin boomed, and although a series of new laws were needed to curb just how much was being made, the spirit has remained popular in Britain since.

 

Sipsmith – Chiswick, London

Since launching the first small copper-pot distillery in London for 189 years in 2009, Sipsmith now creates a number of award-winning gins that are shipped all over the world. Fans of the spirit can tour its Chiswick Distillery online, guided by founder Sam Galsworthy and Master Distiller Jared Brown. Having petitioned for a change to historic British law to enable the use of a small still when first setting up the business in 2008, the move paved the way for hundreds of small distillers all over Britain.

 

Aber Falls – North Wales

One of only a handful of Welsh distilleries, Aber Falls in the north of the country is a short distance from the famous Rhaeadr Fawr, a picturesque waterfall within the Snowdonia National Park. As the first distillery to open in North Wales since the start of the 1900s, it produces several hand-crafted gins and liquors using local ingredients – processes that are explored in an in-depth virtual tour of the premises. It provides an insight into what to expect for those dreaming of exploring the distillery, its visitor centre and the spectacular nature of the surrounding countryside in future. Aber Falls is also set to launch its first batch of whisky in 2021, matured for three years to ensure maximum taste.

 

Eden Mill – St Andrews, Scotland

As one of the biggest names in Scottish gin production, Eden Mill produces a core gin range packed with different flavours. This includes a Golf Gin, inspired by botanicals that are found around Scotland’s many coastal golf courses, and in recognition of the distillery’s location close to the ‘home of golf’, St Andrews Links. It’s possible to enjoy an informative journey through the world of Eden Mill on a 360-degree virtual tour, which delves in to the history of Scotland’s first single-site distillery and brewery – where whisky and beer are also produced in addition to its award-winning gin.

 

Bombay Sapphire – Hampshire, England

Renowned for its glasshouses and home to more than 1,000 years of history, the Bombay Sapphire distillery building at Laverstoke Mill in the heart of Hampshire is just as impressive as the gin it produces. The site of a mill since 903AD, and with a listing as a corn mill in the Domesday Book of 1086, the site was transformed to open as a distillery in 2014. Sitting within a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Conservation Area, the modern glasshouses of the distillery juxtapose with the surrounding Georgina and Victorian architecture, while the neighbouring River Test has created a vibrant habitat for native wetland species. For those waiting to visit this exhilarating site, it’s possible to tour it online and delve deep into its rich history.

 

BEER

With the simple aim of promoting British Beer, National Beer Day on 15 June delves into the history and heritage of the drink that so many people know and love. Supported by the British Beer and Pub Association and the Campaign for Real Ale, among others, it is a celebration of what is being created at breweries across the nation. More styles of beer which originated in Britain are now brewed overseas than of any other beer brewing nation – from porter and stout to India pale ale and brown ale, to name just a few.

 

Meantime Brewery – Greenwich, London

Having celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019, Meantime Brewery has grown considerably since launching on a small industrial estate in Charlton. Now found in Greenwich, south London, it produces a tasty array of lagers, pale ales and India pale ales, as well as a limited edition set of seasonal products every year. The brewery’s immersive tour allows people to explore its site from anywhere in the world, or to think of visiting next time they’re in London discovering the neighbouring UNESCO World Heritage Site of maritime Greenwich, which is packed with the Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House and the buildings of the Royal Naval College.

 

Abbeydale Brewery – Sheffield, England

From its location in the centre of Sheffield’s Antiques Quarter, Abbeydale Brewery can brew up to 15 different beers at any one time. Although not usually open to the public, it has a virtual tour thanks to Google Maps and also operates two brew pubs in the city, which is known for its steel production heritage. The brewery’s logo, like its name, was inspired by the frontage of Beauchief Abbey, a medieval monastic house that is now partially restored as a parish church.

 

Greene King – Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

With heritage dating back to 1799, Greene King’s historic Westgate brewery in Bury St Edmunds is a sight to behold. A fully interactive 3D tour of the 1930s art deco building is available online. Giving viewers a state-of-the art peak into the intricacies of beer making, not to mention its striking marble floors and vast giant copper mash tuns, it’s the ideal prelude to returning in person for a tasting session in the future!

 

WINE

Normally held in late May to the start of June, English Wine Week plans to return on revised dates in 2020 to celebrate the hundreds of vineyards that operate all over Britain. It’s a chance to discover new flavours and to imagine wandering among the ripening vines as the year’s crop grows at pace. With more than 550 vineyards across the UK, the majority can be found in England – and especially in the south – where the topography, soil and climate provide ideal growing conditions for sparkling wines.

 

Woodchester Valley Vineyard – Cotswolds

Vineyards across the northern hemisphere start to spring into life in May/June, as the first small bunches of grapes begin to appear. While wine fans aren’t able to visit just yet, they can take a look behind the scenes into the everyday workings of an English vineyard, with a short virtual tour of the Woodchester Valley Vineyard. Located in the heart of the picturesque Cotswolds countryside, viewers can glean an insight into the world of winemaking and the processes involved, and get dreaming of when they can tour its lush green fields in future.

 

WHISKY

Britain is also renowned for its whisky, with Scotland home to more than 120 distilleries spread across five areas. Discover more about Scotland’s national drink, its distinctive tastes, and how it is made by exploring the distilleries virtually with VisitScotland’s Whisky Map – great for planning a tour of the region’s whisky heritage in the future.

 

Talisker – Isle of Skye, Scotland

Said to be the oldest functioning distillery on the Isle of Skye, Talisker can trace its origins back to 1830. Set on the shores of Loch Harport, the distillery produces a sweet, full-bodied single malt whisky and has scooped a number of international awards. Dream of supping a dram against the backdrop of striking views of the loch and the Cuillin – a set of rocky peaks on the island – or choose to tour the working distillery from the comfort of home.

 

The Glenturret – Perthshire, Scotland

Having been established in 1775, The Glenturret distillery is nestled in the Perthshire countryside and claims to be Scotland’s oldest distillery still located in its original premises. Using waters from Loch Turret and several traditional techniques, including mashing by hand, The Glenturret creates single malt whiskies that are chock-full of flavour. Those keen to delve into the world of Scottish whisky can see every corner of the distillery on a virtual tour, helping them get one step closer to seeing the spectacular Perthshire countryside and the distillery in person.

 

Laphroaig – Islay, Scotland

Embark on a 360-degree virtual journey around Laphroaig to learn more about one of Islay’s most famous distilleries. Situated on a small island off the west coast of Scotland, the distillery has been producing whiskey for more than 200 years. Awarded a Royal Warrant by Prince Charles in 1994, reflected by the coat of arms which features on every bottle, its single malt scotch whisky has a rich flavour and is aged for at least ten years. The distillery also runs a Friends of Laphroaig Club, where members are given a lifetime lease of up to one square foot of the distillery’s land, and rewarded with a dram of whisky if ever they visit the premises.

 

Penderyn, Brecon Beacons, Wales

Imagine taking in the picturesque surroundings of the Brecon Beacons while enjoying a dram of whisky at the Penderyn distillery. An informative walk-through is available to guide whisky-lovers through the processes that are involved in the creation of its award-winning single malt whiskies, an experience usually reserved for those who are unable to access the distillery’s viewing platform. Founded in 2004 in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Penderyn relies on water from the park to give its whisky its distinctive taste.

Explore Britain from home with these modern TV classics

Gas Street Basin at the heart of the city centre, the meeting point of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the Birmingham Canal Main Line. Historic buildings. Passenger boats moored.
Explore Britain from home with these modern TV classics

Explore Britain from home with these modern TV classics

Gas Street Basin at the heart of the city centre, the meeting point of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and the Birmingham Canal Main Line. Historic buildings. Passenger boats moored.

April 2020 saw the announcement that smash-hit British crime drama Life on Mars will be returning for a final series, 13 years after the last series aired. Co-creator Matthew Graham has revealed the new episodes are to be set in the 1970s, 80s and modern-day Manchester and London.

While fans eagerly await the release, they can dive into a host of other modern British TV classics, from gripping crime shows to side-splitting comedies and rich period dramas - all ready and waiting to be binged.

 

Crime Dramas

Life on Mars

A British crime drama gem, Life on Mars follows the case-busting journeys of Manchester police officer Sam Tyler (John Simm), who wakes up in 1973 following a road accident in then present-day 2006. Combining gripping story lines, nostalgic British scenes and an epic soundtrack, the show saw two hugely successful series, filmed in 2006 and 2007, and gained a cult following. Ashes to Ashes, the sequel to Life on Mars, quickly followed, as did remakes in America, Spain, South Korea and Russia.

A key filming location is the Brutalist Stopford House, a short distance from Manchester central in Stockport. Built in 1975, this council building was used as the setting for the Manchester and Salford Police station in the series, giving audiences an authentic look into Britain’s past.

 

Broadchurch

Once audiences have exhausted all episodes of Life on Mars they can fill the crime series-shaped void with the thrilling Broadchurch. Staring Scottish Dr Who actor David Tennant and The Crown’s Olivia Coleman, three exhilarating series of the show were filmed between 2013 and 2017. Based in a fictional town in Dorset, the series' location was partially inspired by the home of writer Chris Chibnall, who lives on the picturesque Jurassic Coast. The vast coastal views of West Bay played a starring role in the show, as did the town of Clevedon, near Bristol. Broadchurch tips its hat to the Dorset-born poet and novelist Thomas Hardy throughout the series, with the surname used for one of the main characters being Detective Inspector Alec Hardy.

 

Sherlock

A modern day adaptation of the seminal Arthur Conan Doyle detective novels, the BBC created four seasons of Sherlock, filmed from 2010 and 2017. Watched by audiences in over 200 countries, the show stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and is set in contemporary London, with filming split between the British capital and Cardiff. The location shots for the fictitious detective’s famous home, 221b Baker Street, were filmed at 187 North Gower Street in Bloomsbury. Fans will no doubt recognise Speedy’s Café which is located next door, an eatery that has added a special ‘Sherlock’ breakfast to its menu. 221b Baker Street, the address made famous by Conan Doyle in 1887, has been recreated in the shape of the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

 

Vera

Still keen to to dive into a much-adored British crime series? One of the most established is Vera, which ran over 10 series from 2011 to 2020 and was enjoyed by more than twenty counties across the world. Based on novels by Ann Cleeves, this British drama followed the eternally frumpy and slightly unorthodox Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, played by Brenda Blethyn, and her work with the Northumberland & City Police (a fictional police force). Set in north-east England, many stunning corners of Newcastle and Northumberland were used as filming locations including Whitley Bay, the stunning Farne Islands and St Cuthbert’s Cave.

 

Period Dramas

Call the Midwife

Viewers with a penchant for period dramas will not want to miss Call the Midwife, which returned for an incredible ninth season in early 2020. Based on former nurse Jennifer Worth’s trilogy of memoirs, created by Heidi Thomas and starring British comedy heroine Miranda Hart, the show follows a team of midwives who confront everyday life in London’s East End in the 1950s and 1960s, a backdrop of vast social challenge and change. The series has been sold to more than 100 countries, so international fans might recognise the 2019 festive special, which saw the midwives change their usual scenery as they headed to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, a string of idyllic islands that are renowned for bird watching and wildlife, in addition to striking coastlines.

 

Downton Abbey

A chance to peer into the life of Britain’s high society and their loyal staff, Downton Abbey follows the twists and turns of the Crawley family, from post-war into the roaring 20s. Having run from 2010 to 2015, the glamourous six-series classic was a rip-roaring success, with more than 100 countries showing the British drama, cementing its place as a modern British classic.

Although filled with breathtaking scenes of Britain, the most iconic of all the filming locations has to be the family’s expansive estate, shot in Hampshire’s Highclere Castle. Set in 1,000 acres of parkland, the Victorian-built manor house remains home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, whose family have lived on the site since 1679. Julian Fellowes, the author of Downton Abbey, is a long-standing family friend and actually had Highclere in mind while penning the series. The picturesque village of Bampton in the Cotswolds was also used for many of the exterior scenes of Downton Village, including the church, post office and pubs.

 

Peaky Blinders

Now shown in an astonishing 183 countries worldwide, why not join the Shelby fan club and dive into the world of 20th-century British gangsters in the award-winning Peaky Blinders? With five gasp-inducing series (and a sixth series reportedly on the way), this Birmingham-based phenomenon has gone from strength to strength since first being aired in 2013, with the last series gathering an audience of 6.2 million for the first two episodes. Set in the once industrial hub of the UK Midlands, anglophiles can follow the story of gang leader Tommy Shelby, played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, as he and his family rise to become the top dogs of the city, shortly after the First World War. Expect scenes of smoke-filled pubs, mist-covered canals and hours of dramatic suspense. Many of the gritty scenes from the seasons were filmed in the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, a firm favourite with creator and writer Steven Knight, as scenes from all seasons to date have been shot there.

 

Mr Selfridge

Peering into the mind of Harry Gordon Selfridge, Mr Selfridge tells the story behind London’s famous department store Selfridges & Co., which was built in the early 1900s. This opulent British drama follows the life and times of the man himself, Mr Selfridge, played by Jeremy Piven, who was determined to import the American idea of shopping being a leisure activity as opposed to a chore. The high-end department store still stands on London’s Oxford Street, a testament to how much it shaped modern culture. Televised in the UK between 2013 and 2016, Mr Selfridge was comprised of four series and was also shown in the USA, Australia, Israel, Netherlands and Sweden.

 

Outlander

Based on the novels of the same name by Diana Gabaldon, this historical drama sees former Second World War nurse Claire Randall, played by Irish actor Caitriona Balfe, transported back to 18th-century Scotland, in a story that has captivated international audiences for five engrossing series. Filming took place in various beautiful locations across Scotland, including Abercairny Estates, in the town of Crieff, which has been the home of the Moray family since the 13th century. The series transformed the estate into an American plantation house, also known as Aunt Jocasta’s plantation, River Run. Another of the series’ filming locations is St Andrew’s in the Square, in the heart of Glasgow. This former parish church served as a filming location in the fourth series and is now home to Glasgow’s Centre for Scottish Culture. What’s more, there’s a sixth season on the way!

 

Comedies

The IT Crowd

Four series of The IT Crowd was enough to secure its status as a classic British comedy.  Starring Richard Oyoade, Chris O’Dowd and Katherine Parkinson, the hit show aired from 2006 until 2013 and boasts additional performances from kings of comedy Chris Morris, Matt Berry and Noel Fielding. Taking place in a fictional office, which Irish writer Graham Linehan described as ‘a geek’s Shangri-La’; The Centre for Computing History in Cambridge even loaned the show a collection of computers and manuals from the 1970s and 1980, in order to give the set a true air of authenticity.

 

Fleabag

Based on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show of the same name, Fleabag first hit screens and won hearts in 2016. Since its premiere and the subsequent second and final series in 2019, the show has risen to cult comedy status, ranking in the top ten of The Guardian's list of the 100 best TV shows of the 21st century.

Featuring writer Waller-Bridge as the main character, as well as Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott, filming was done almost entirely in the borough of Camden, with a cluster of other recognisable locations nestled in the Dartmouth Park area. This includes the guinea pig-themed café, a key filming location on York Rise in Camden that is now a Turkish restaurant.

 

The Inbetweeners

A hysterical coming-of-age comedy, The Inbetweeners follows four boys as they clumsily fight their way through the highs and lows of adolescent awkwardness. Starring British actors Simon Bird, Joe Thomas, Blake Harrison and James Buckley, it spanned three series and won the British Comedy Academy Outstanding Achievement award in 2011.

Mostly filmed in north-west London, areas such as Uxbridge and Watford were used as the backdrop to the series, as well Ruislip, which was the location of the boys’ high school. Fans will no doubt remember the theme park episode, which was filmed at Thorpe Park in Surrey.

Celebrate literature with these classic tales for all ages

Man reading a book, leaning against a tree at the Hay Festival, Wales.
Celebrate literature with these classic tales for all ages

Celebrate literature with these classic tales for all ages

The world of literature provides a welcome retreat for many, giving readers the chance to explore dreamt-of lands, take a trip into the future, or step back in time with a much-loved childhood favourite. Britain’s rolling hills, golden sandy beaches and quaint country villages have provided inspiration for hundreds of authors over the centuries, with many locations often reflected in their works and celebrated at renowned events such as the Hay Festival, a regular on the literary calendar since 1988. While the spectacular backdrop of the Brecon Beacons, and Hay-on-Wye in Powys, Wales, is usually the setting for the celebrated event, this year the Hay Festival is going digital.

 

Hay Festival Digital

Bringing writers and readers together from 22-31 May, Hay Festival Digital will feature a packed programme of free interactive sessions and live broadcasts. Famous literary figures and actors, including Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith, Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch are among those set to share their insights and discuss some of the world’s key issues. More than 100 sessions will be streamed via Crowdcast, with individuals able to register to confirm their free virtual seat by browsing the programme of events.

A five-day Hay Festival Programme for Schools will also run from 18-22 May, including an array of creative reading activities and films for primary and secondary school children to access with their parents. But the event isn’t the only means of discovering a slice of literary Britain, as these classic tales reveal…

 

J.K Rowling – Harry Potter

Born in Gloucestershire, renowned Harry Potter author J.K Rowling penned her wizarding works after moving to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. The release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 sparked a global phenomenon that has seen her tales published in 80 different languages. Rowling wrote much of her early works about the boy wizard in The Elephant House café, overlooking Edinburgh Castle, as well as a number of other coffee houses around the city. Delve into her wizarding world for a journey that has enthralled the imaginations of millions around the globe.

 

Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Famed for his humorous yet distinctive style of writing, Welsh writer Roald Dahl’s works have captivated children for generations. Born in Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, he wrote many of his classic novels from the confines of a small writing hut in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire. From the exploits of Mr Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the adventures of James and Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox or the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), his works are packed with thought-provoking adjectives, sounds and poems, as well as striking illustrations from Quentin Blake that help to bring the stories to life.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson – Treasure Island

Born and educated in Edinburgh, Robert Louis Stevenson travelled widely during the 19th century, journeys that influenced several of his works. The Scot helped transform modern perceptions of pirates with his Treasure Island adventure novel, a tale of buccaneers and the search for buried gold that has been transformed into film and television spin-offs. He also penned the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a gripping gothic novel that delves into the dual nature of humankind.

 

C.S Lewis – The Chronicles of Narnia

Having been born in Belfast, the life of Clive Staples Lewis took him from the trenches in the First World War to literary positions at Oxford University, alongside fellow author J.R.R Tolkien, and at Cambridge University. The Chronicles of Narnia, one of his most famous works, is a series of fantasy novels, set in the fictional realm of Narnia and packed with magical happenings, talking animals and mythical beasts. A hit with children and adults alike, it has appeared in at least 47 languages and has since been adapted for radio, television, theatre and film.

 

Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, penned the classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass in the mid-to-late 19th century. It follows Alice, a pre-teen girl who discovers an underground land packed with mysterious characters – including the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts – after she falls down a rabbit hole. The vicarage in Cheshire where he was born, All Saints’ Vicarage in Daresbury, is home to several stained glass windows depicting characters from the novels, while the adjacent Lewis Carroll Centre explores his life and that of his family – all of which will leave children grinning like a Cheshire Cat!

 

Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows

Set against a bucolic English country backdrop in the early 20th century, Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale The Wind in the Willows follows Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger on their animal adventures. Born in Scotland, Grahame moved to Berkshire at a young age and it is thought he took great inspiration from the landscapes of the Thames Valley when penning the novel. Known for the beautifully-imagined friendship between the animals, it has been adapted for both the theatre and the big screen, has appeared in multiple languages and has continued to enthral those of all ages since its publication in 1908.

 

Beatrix Potter - The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Inspired by the picturesque surroundings of the Lake District where she regularly holidayed, Beatrix Potter used the spectacular environment as a basis for The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Published in the early years of the 20th century and following the adventures of Peter, the book became an instant hit and is still produced in multiple languages to this day. Her stories have also been adapted for the ballet, for cartoons and in feature films, including Will Gluck’s 2018 3D live-action computer animated comedy Peter Rabbit. Following her literary success, Potter purchased a number of properties in the Lake District, like Hill Top Farm, while the World of Beatrix Potter in Windermere explores how the magical tales are brought to life.

 

Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials

From warrior polar bears to angels and witches, English novelist Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials takes readers on a journey through a series of parallel universes. The trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) has scooped a host of literary prizes and is available in more than 40 languages around the world.

Pride, Prejudice and Poirot – 11 British classics for an inspiring night in

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, England
Pride, Prejudice and Poirot – 11 British classics for an inspiring night in

Pride, Prejudice and Poirot – 11 British classics for an inspiring night in

Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, England

2020 marks 25 years since the television mini-series of Pride and Prejudice hit TV screens, starring British star Colin Forth as the debonair Mr Darcy. Based on Jane Austen’s classic romantic novel of the same name, the series is one of many classic British TV shows that will leave audiences dreaming of Britain.

 

Pride and Prejudice

Jennifer Ehle stars as protagonist Elizabeth Bennett is this much beloved adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, which first exploded onto our screens in the mid-1990s.  Delving into 19th century British life, the story reveals the prejudice between social classes and the battles for love that can result. A number of National Trust sites were used for filming this renowned adaptation, including the hugely impressive Lyme Hall in Cheshire, which acted as the exterior of Mr Darcy’s Pemberley Estate. It was here that Firth would famously emerge fully clothed from the lake in one of the show’s most instantly recognisable moments. Lacock Abbey, in Wiltshire, was used to depict some of the interior of the Pemberley Estate, while the village of Lacock itself was used as the setting for Meryton. Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire and swathes of the Peak District National Park also provided the backdrop for this classic tale.

 

Agatha Christie’s Poirot

Mystery drama Poirot made a name for itself on television screens for more than 20 years, featuring David Suchet in the starring role. The eccentric crime solver was the chief protagonist in 70 episodes, all of which were based on the tales written by Christie - with every one of her seminal works featuring the detective having been transformed into a case by the conclusion of the show.  The art deco Florin Court, found in London on the edge of Charterhouse Square, acted as Poirot’s residence Whitehaven Mansions throughout the show. Meanwhile, the Greenway Estate, Christie’s former home and a National Trust property, also featured in the episode titled Dead Man’s Folly – a sign that her inspiration came from sources that were never too far away.

 

Only Fools and Horses

One of the masterpieces of British comedy, Only Fools and Horses ran from 1981 to 1991, with an additional number of special Christmas episodes spread over the following 12 years. Tracking Derek Trotter and younger brother Rodney’s various attempts to make their fortune, the show was a huge hit both overseas and on British TV screens, where it provided the foundations for several spin-offs. To this day, the 1996 Christmas special Time On Our Hands has the record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom. Starring David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst and set in the heart of south-east London, in Peckham, writer John Sullivan’s show was predominantly filmed in Bristol and parts of west London.

 

Monty Python

Icons of on-screen comedy, the Monty Python troupe played a pivotal role in shaping comedy around the world. From the moment Monty Python’s Flying Circus hit screens in 1969, featuring John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, among several others, the group helped to redefine the possibilities of television comedy. 45 episodes followed across the next five years in addition to several blockbuster films – including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian – not to mention multiple books, records and stage shows that received international acclaim.

 

Fawlty Towers

Written by and starring John Cleese as hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty, two seasons of comedy Fawlty Towers aired in the mid-to-late 1970s. Having been inspired by the unusual behaviour of a hotel owner that Cleese observed while filming Monty Python, the series focuses on Basil’s hapless attempts to run a hotel in Torquay, as he and his staff tackle a variety of amusing mishaps and uncompromising guests.

 

Miss Marple

The murder mystery works of Agatha Christie formed the basis of another hit series in the 1980s, Miss Marple. All 12 original novels were dramatized for the series, with Joan Hickson in the role of the amateur detective. Filming took place at locations across Britain including Devon and Oxfordshire, whiles scenes at St Mary Mead – Miss Marple’s village – were filmed in Nether Wallop in Hampshire. Another similar series, Agatha Christie’s Marple, with Geraldine McEwan and then Julia McKenzie in the lead role, ran for six series from 2004.

 

Blackadder

Starring Rowan Atkinson – known for his portrayal of Mr Bean – as Edmund Blackadder, this classic comedy takes places over four series, each set in a different historical age. Starting at the end of the Middle Ages, and with series encompassing the reign of Elizabeth I and the Regency Period, before culminating in the trenches of World War One, Blackadder is always accompanied by his servant and sidekick Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson.

 

Midsomer Murders

After first appearing in 1997, Midsomer Murders has developed a cult following all around the world as it tracks the attempts of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, and latterly his cousin, John Barnaby, to solve murder cases in the picturesque but deadly county of Midsomer. Starring John Nettles and then Neil Dudgeon in the lead role, 21 series of the show have been produced to date, with broadcasting rights purchased by more than 200 countries globally. Originally inspired by Caroline Graham’s series of books titled Chief Inspector Barnaby, the show is set in quaint English country villages, with many scenes shot amid the picturesque surroundings of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. The fictional village of Causton, for example, features parts of Wallingford, Thame and Henley-on-Thames.

 

The Office

A global phenomenon that sparked variations in many countries around the world, The Office was the brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. Focusing on the comedic goings-on at a Slough-based paper company – where ‘life is stationery’ – Gervais starred as narcissistic boss David Brent. Notorious for his dancing skills – one of the show’s most famous scenes – and maverick behaviour, his character in the sitcom took inspiration from Fawlty Towers. While the British version ran for 14 episodes, other versions ran for far longer – the US show went on to surpass 200 episodes and is one of the most watched shows on Netflix globally.

 

Doctor Who

A cornerstone of British popular culture, Doctor Who has been a television hit since it first aired in 1963. Depicting a time lord known as the Doctor and a time-travelling space ship called the TARDIS – which is shaped like a blue British police box – the science fiction show has won fans all over the globe. Having initially aired from 1963 to 1989, the show made its triumphant return in 2005 and has remained on screen since. There have been 13 incarnations of the Doctor to date, as well as numerous spin-off shows, while a special episode created for the show’s 50th anniversary achieved the Guinness World Record for the largest simulcast of a TV drama – having been shown in 94 countries spread over six continents!

 

Wallace and Gromit

Animated plasticine pair Wallace and Gromit – a naïve English inventor with a love of Wensleydale cheese, accompanied by his intelligent, yet silent dog – first hit screens in 1990. Creator Nick Park, and Aardman Animations, based in Bristol, produced three animated shorts using stop-motion clay animation techniques, with the first taking the loveable pair to the moon and back in A Grand Day Out. One of Wallace’s wacky inventions takes centre stage in The Wrong Trousers, before the duo tackle sheep rustlers in A Close Shave. Widely viewed as cultural icons in Britain and popular with people of all ages, the pair have also appeared in a feature-length film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and in another short, A Matter of Loaf and Death.