9 reasons to visit Scotland’s islands in autumn and winter

With more than 790 offshore islands (around 95 are inhabited), Scotland offers ample opportunity for island hopping. From spectacular rugged landscapes and a wealth of exceptional wildlife to truly unique experiences, here's why the islands should be on your must-visit list this autumn and winter.

  1. Incredible scenery

Scotland’s islands are home to dramatic coastlines, scenic white beaches, rugged mountain-scapes, heather-clad moorland and tranquil inland lochs; now picture these enhanced by the russet reds and golden yellows of autumn or mountains dusted with snow in winter. Did you know that the far north islands of Orkney and the Shetlands are also the best places to see Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, in the UK? Outstanding displays of light dance across the sky and, thanks to long periods of darkness and clear nights, the best times of year to experience these phenomena are autumn and winter.

  1. One word – whisky

The region of Argyll & The Isles off the west coast of Scotland is home to 23 inhabited islands, and on the Isle of Islay alone there are nine whisky distilleries to visit, including the most recent, the Ardnahoe Distillery, which opened in 2018. The oldest of the pack, Bowmore, can trace its roots back to 1779! Book onto a tour of one of these distilleries (be sure to check late season opening times), to experience the peaty, smoky flavour of the whisky that the island is famed for. The Laphroaig distillery, for example, offers a ‘Water to Whisky Experience’ until September, an extensive five hour tour that includes everything from a distillery tour, a peat experience, a visit to the distilleries water source and a taste from a selection of casks before bottling your favourite.

  1. Cultural highlights

Autumn and winter are fantastic times to catch quirky festivals and top cultural events. Scottish Opera, for example, takes four singers and a pianist on the road to the Isle of Lewis in the autumn, bringing operatic highlights to all corners of Scotland. And probably one of the most unusual festivals is Shetland’s Up Helly Aa, which reflects the island’s Viking influence. On the last Tuesday of every January , this large-scale fire festival celebrates Shetland’s history. A dragon ship, which takes months to build, is set on fire, followed by processions and much merrymaking.

  1. Captivating castles

Scotland has castles galore – and the cooler months are a great time to explore. On the Isle of Skye, visit the magnificent Highland estate and home of the Clan Donald at the Armadale Castle, Gardens and Museum, which is open until the end of November, a perfect opportunity to enjoy its beautiful gardens during the changing seasons. And, on the Isle of Lewis, if castle accommodation is your style, after exploring the Victorian-era Lews Castle, which remains open in the autumn and winter in the afternoons, you can check in to one of its luxury self-catering apartments. The castle, in the island’s main town of Stornoway, also has its very own whisky bar.

  1. Witness winter solstice

Orkney’s coastline is one of beautiful sandy beaches and is strewn with majestic cliffs and sea stacks, including the famous imposing natural structure of the Old Man of Hoy. But you’ll also find a very spiritual island, holding celebrations for the Winter Solstice. Join in these celebrations at the island’s Neolithic monument, the Standing Stones of Stenness, on 22 December in 2019.

  1. Encounter even more Neolithic wonders

Explore the ancient wonder of the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis, which date back five millennia. And one of the must-sees on a trip to Orkney is Skara Brae, the 5,000-year-old village that is regarded as the best-preserved Neolithic site in western Europe. It forms part of the Heart of Orkney Neolithic sites, along with Maeshowe, a chambered tomb, the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. Visit the ancient capital of Orkney, Kirkwall, where you can explore the magnificent Viking Cathedral and the town’s many mysterious passageways.

  1. Wildlife wonders

Jura is one of the most gloriously wild places to visit in Scotland. Don’t forget your camera or phone as this is the place to spot wild deer; there are more than 5,000 of them on this narrow island, which is inhabited by only 200 people. Fondly known as ‘Eagle Island’, the Isle of Mull is one of the best places in Scotland to spot both golden eagles and white-tailed sea eagles, while Islay is famous for winter-migrating birds.

  1. Awesome adventures

Whatever the season, a fantastic way to experience an island is by safari. On the Isle of Arran, Mogabout Arran Safari offers a coastal and forest adventure, exploring the mountainous and woodland areas of the island in a 4x4, taking you to some spectacular natural points and learning about the history and folklore of the island.

  1. You’ll avoid the crowds

There’s no doubt that avoiding peak high season on the islands means better availability and lower costs; and it’s a great opportunity to mix with the locals! And remember, as the Scots say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!

Getting there:

There are daily flights to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen, and three ferry points of entry too travelling from the mainland.

There are several daily flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Shetland, as well as ferries between Aberdeen and the main town of Lerwick every day, year-round.

Fly to Orkney from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Shetland.

Ferries travel from the western mainland (around a three hour drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow) out to the Argyll & The Isles on a frequent basis.

There are two ferry services serving the Isle of Arran, from Ardrossan on the mainland to Brodick on the island. Ardrossan is a 45-minute drive from Glasgow.

 

The Magic Is Back – Mary Poppins Returns!

It's been 53 years since the original Mary Poppins popped onto our screens with her magical bag and flying umbrella. And, at the end of this year, she's back – played by Emily Blunt – to visit the grown-up Banks children, now in 1935, in the Disney musical sequel Mary Poppins Returns, where London is once again a star of the story. Here’s how to have your very own magical Mary Poppins experience in the capital that’s, as our favourite nanny would say, practically perfect in every way.

                                         

Lights, camera, action

Discover behind-the-scenes stories from the new film and details from the original Mary Poppins books and film on the new Brit Movies Mary Poppins tour, launching in 2019, which will take you through the streets of London and the locations used in Mary Poppins Returns. The two-hour walking tour, which is family friendly, will take in famous landmarks that you’ll recognise from the original movie and that have appeared in the sequel’s trailer, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the most impressive examples of cathedral architecture in the country. Another filming location was by Buckingham Palace – its magnificent state rooms are open to visitors for ten weeks each summer –  as was outside the Bank of England. While this isn’t open to tours, check out its fascinating Bank of England Museum.

Stop by the house where it all began

We wouldn’t have the films if it wasn’t for the original books created by Australian-born author P.L. Travers who spent most of her life in England, which was where she created her unforgettable character. She wrote a series of eight books on the magical nanny at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea, which earlier this year was commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. P.L. Travers lived here for 17 years and the house is said to have inspired the look of the Banks’ family home in the original movie.

 

Enjoy a spoonful of sugar

You’ll get much more than just one spoonful of sugary treats at this creative and delicious afternoon tea at Aqua Shard. Launched to coincide with the relaunch of the five original Mary Poppins classic books, this afternoon tea of nostalgic sweets and savouries is available until April 2019…and it’s all so enchanting. The menu is a gilt gold framed mirror menu – the mirror is a recurring symbol throughout the books – and tea is delivered on a custom-made tea stand with an umbrella on top and silver booted feet below – with crockery designed with Mary Shepard’s original illustrations of Mary Poppins. Feast on homemade scones with jam and clotted cream (which you’ll find in Mary’s carpet bag); miniature crumpets; two bespoke teas ‘Mary’s Tea’ and ‘Bert’s Tea’; unique sweet treats such as Mary Poppins’ very own hat with a black ‘Cherry Tree Lane’ mousse covered in dark chocolate, and Fairground Candy Floss. Order champagne with the tea and be charmed by the kite that flies from the champagne flute before adding ‘medicine’ to the glass, with the choice of three homemade liqueurs. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 

Go fly a kite!

The trailer from Mary Poppins Returns includes a spot of kite-flying – which will have you humming Let’s Go Fly A Kite! from the original movie in no time. Of course, you can fly a kite across many of London’s green spaces, but if you want to fly your kite against the backdrop of the celebrated London skyline, head up to the top of Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, north London. Primrose Hill near Regent’s Park also affords spectacular views over the capital; the top of this hill is one of six protected viewpoints in London.

Step onto London’s rooftops
Bert took Mary Poppins up to the rooftops of London to show her the view of the capital through the eyes of a chimney sweep but you can gaze over the capital’s magnificent skyline in a far more sophisticated manner. London has many rooftop bars with panoramic vistas over the capital’s rooftops. Try out the Rumpus Room on floor 12 of South Bank’s Mondrian Hotel for its awesome view of St Paul’s Cathedral; the Radio Rooftop Bar at ME London for 360 degree views of the capital; or The Rooftop St James’ overlooking Trafalgar Square and ideal for all weathers thanks to  its retractable roof.

Order a bespoke umbrella

What is Mary Poppins’ favourite mode of transport? Flying in by umbrella of course! While owning a flying umbrella is just a dream, you can have your own bespoke brolly created at one of London’s historic establishments of fine craftsmanship. James Smith and Sons, just off Regent Street, has been designing and making high-end umbrellas (think handles of exquisitely carved wood) since 1830, while Fox Umbrellas has been creating beautiful bespoke umbrellas since 1868.

 

Book tickets to see Mary Poppins in the West End

Once you’ve watched the sequel, you’ll be inspired by all things Mary Poppins…and it’s recently been confirmed that Mary Poppins will return to the West End at Prince Edward Theatre in Autumn 2019! Booking for the show – a joint production between Cameron Mackintosh and Disney Theatrical Productions – opens in January 2019 and will star Zizi Strallen, who will step back into Mary’s shoes having played the role in the international tour.

 

 

 

7 ways to add another dimension to stargazing in Britain

7 ways to add another dimension to stargazing in Britain

A two-day microgap in Bristol

A two-day microgap in Bristol

Ten of the best ghostly tours and haunted houses in Britain

Get ready to be spooked this Halloween with these spine-chilling experiences and haunted houses.

 

5 chilling experiences

 

For The Love Of Horror – Manchester, north-west England

Your nerves will be stretched to their very limit as you explore a new creepy experience from Monopoly Events, who will transfer the Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester into a chilling immersive attraction that will make you quake in your boots! Dare you enter the Nightmare Zone, where you’ll be greeted by horror movies’ most frightening characters, before you attempt to battle your way through a zombie outbreak? Meet those real-life creatures that always crop up in horror films, the tarantulas and cockroaches to snakes, before you heroically move on to a ‘mad monster after party’ and experiencing all the other horror attractions. Prove to friends and family you survived it all with a snap in the interactive ‘exorcist’ photo booth.

 

Wicked Nights at Blackgang Chine – Isle of Wight, south England

Walk through a ‘land of twisted imagination’ at amusement park Blackgang Chine’s new horror event, Wicked Nights at the Cursed Mill. Pluck up all your courage as you approach hair-raising live action experiences and scream like you’ve never screamed before on the Cliffhanger roller-caster. Still feeling brave? Hop on board the sinister ghost train before keeping your wits about you as you compete in games and activities at the Freaky Fair.

 

Muncaster Castle – Cumbria, north-west England

Muncaster Castle celebrates the spookiest time of the year in a truly ghostly fashion, as befits a castle known to be one of the most haunted in Britain. Don your finest Halloween fancy dress before making your way bravely through the dark and eerie Meadowvole Maze, be prepared to jump out of your skin as you listen to scary tales of fear and terror, and who knows what you might find lurking in the Ghostly Grotto! In between being spooked you’ll be entertained by the Muncaster Monster Cabaret – a mix of conjurors, fire-eating and aerial acts. 

 

Journey to the Underworld – London, England

Are you brave enough to embark on a Journey to the Underworld? This is a journey where you’ll discover the ‘Greatest Love Story Never Told’ at Pedley Street Station in Shoreditch, east London, as Funicular Productions brings a new enigmatic theatre experience to life. Get ready to encounter a thrilling combination that takes you through a story of fantasy, danger, fear, hope and love, as well as feast on a ‘last meal in paradise’ before your journey to the underworld. It’s here you’ll try to outsmart ‘the seductive Gatekeeper, the hunched Harbinger, and the damnable Dark One’.

 

Ghoulies Haunted House – Liverpool, north-west England

After bringing a live-action scare attraction and horror-themed bar to the residents of, and visitors to, Liverpool on a year-round basis it’s unsurprising that Ghoulies Haunted House is upping the scare factor come Halloween. This year, a character that may be innocuously called Kavity the Clown will be roaming the Haunted House, but you can guarantee it will be as scary as clowns get…and with a lot of laughs thrown in. If you enjoy this, come back any time of year to experience the venue’s horror-themed cocktails and events such as Scaryoke Karaoke, the Brain Dead Quiz and Boogeyman Bingo.

 

5 of Britain’s most haunted houses

 

Chillingham Castle, Chillingham, Northumberland, north-east England

Chilling by name and chilling by nature, this 13th-century castle in Northumberland was the scene of bloody battles and eerie intrigue for centuries. Its rooms and gardens are lovely places to explore but to properly experience one of the most haunted castles in Britain, head into its Torture Chamber and join an evening Ghost Tour for a more unnerving encounter.

The Ancient Ram Inn, Gloucestershire, west England

For nearly 900 years the Ancient Ram Inn has stood in the Gloucestershire village of Wotton-under-Edge and brings with it stories of a gruesome and bloodthirsty history. Not only that, there have been numerous reports of supernatural events taking place here, making it a frontrunner for spookiest house in Britain. If that doesn’t petrify you, stay overnight here – although whether you’ll get a good night’s sleep is another matter…

Newton House, Dinefwr, Pembrokeshire, west Wales

The gorgeous Dinefwr Estate is a beautiful 18th-century park landscaped by Capability Brown, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tales of ghosts and ghouls roaming the grounds. Newton House, in the centre of the park, has a ghostly visitor each night in the form of Lady Elinor Cavendish. The tale goes that she was betrothed to a man she didn’t love and, when she ran away from him and escaped back to Dinefwr to her family, her suitor strangled her. Visitors should listen out for muffled voices and watch out paranormal activity from the servants’ basement…

St Briavel’s Castle, Gloucestershire, west England

Looked after by English Heritage, this castle is now a youth hostel and if you enjoy the thought of hearing all the creepy tales about this 800-year-old castle, this is the place for you. Maybe you’ll sense the spine-chilling atmosphere as you explore the castle and feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you read pleading notes carved into the walls by prisoners held here centuries ago.

Glamis Castle, Scotland

Known as one of the most haunted castles in Scotland, Glamis Castle – 20 minutes’ drive from Dundee and, incidentally, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother – is said to be home to many spirits…which makes sense when you learn it’s been standing since 1372 and was said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There’s many a spooky tale of historic dark deeds to be heard, especially around Halloween on one of its ghostly tours…

 

Road trip – England’s North West

As the autumn months roll round, thoughts turn to brisk walks in a countryside ablaze with colour, cosy dinners by log fires and exploring cities as they gear up for the festive season. And what’s a great way to experience all of this on one trip? Take to the road! It’s easy to travel by car around regions of Britain, as short journey times between urban and rural landscapes mean packing in a huge amount within a few days. Here we look at travelling through England’s north-west region, driving from the vibrant city of Manchester, through the spectacular landscapes of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and culminating at the historic city of Carlisle.

Journey length: 120 miles

DAY ONE

Take time to explore Manchester before you head out on the road. Love football? This is the home of two of the world’s most famous football teams; Manchester United and Manchester City. Book a tour at their stadiums and then head to the National Football Museum to learn more about the history of the beautiful game. Manchester is also a renowned cultural hotspot; head to its Northern Quarter, the city’s creative hub, to spot awesome murals and visit independent boutiques, bars and restaurants. Into museums and art galleries? Check out the city’s Whitworth Art Gallery and The Lowry as well as the Imperial War Museum North and HOME, a purpose-built centre for international contemporary art, film and theatre.

Visit before the end of 2018 for: the Manchester Literature Festival in October and the Manchester Animation Festival in November.

Drive 45 minutes from Manchester to…Samlesbury Hall

You’re now in the gorgeous Lancashire countryside, home to one of the county’s most beautiful stately homes; Samlesbury Hall, a half-timbered black and white medieval house. Discover centuries of history as you explore the Victorian kitchen and schoolroom and take time to enjoy the autumnal colours in its stunning grounds.

Visit before the end of 2018 for: Spooky tours led by characters such as Witch Janey and ghost-storytellers, throughout October and November.

Drive 30 minutes from Samlesbury Hall to the conservation village of Downham

Downham is one of the north-west’s most picturesque villages and sits in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its main charm is the gorgeous views from the village, unencumbered by apparent signs of modern life (satellite dishes, overhead wires, road signs). Downham has regularly featured as a filming location for period pieces.

Stay: At the Grade II-listed Assheton Arms gastro pub with rooms. Tuck into hearty meals created from local ingredients in its restaurant, complete with log fire.

DAY TWO

Drive 45 minutes from Downham to Haworth

You’ve crossed over from Lancashire into England’s largest county, Yorkshire, where you’ll be captivated by views that inspired literary classics Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Head to the attractive village of Haworth, home to the world-famous Bronte Parsonage Museum, which gives a fascinating insight into the lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte.

Visit before the end of 2018 for: a true taste of English eccentricity. In November, to mark the start of the festive season, Haworth hosts the quirky Pipes, Bows and Bells Weekend and Scroggling the Holly Weekend.

Drive an hour from Haworth to the village of Malham in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

A pretty village that’s worth exploring, Malham is also a short walk from the incredible Malham Cove, once a glacier and now a gigantic rock amphitheatre with 80-metre high cliffs. Hike up the steps at this natural beauty spot and be rewarded with phenomenal views.

Stay: 30 minutes from Malham is the village of Austwick, home to The Traddock country house hotel, which dates to the 18th century and offers amazing views of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

DAY THREE

Drive 45 minutes from Austwick to the city of Lancaster.

You’re driving back into the county of Lancashire and heading to the heritage city of Lancaster. Explore the 1,000-year-old Lancaster Castle, the city’s secret alleyways, historic pubs and Georgian architecture before a spot of shopping in its quirky boutiques and independent art galleries. While you’re in town, journey across the Trail of the Pendle Witches, a driving trail of 45 miles that the  infamous Pendle Witches travelled from as they headed to Lancaster Castle to stand trial in the early 17th century.

Visit Lancaster before the end of 2018 for: Lancaster Live, a three-day music festival in October when the city comes alive with hundreds of musical performances.

Drive 45 minutes from Lancaster to Cartmel

In less than an hour’s drive from Lancaster you’re in the picturesque Lake District, where one of your first stops should be the ancient village of Cartmel. Not only is it famous for the 12th-century Cartmel Priory, but also for the delectable English sweet treat, sticky toffee pudding; pick up your own to take home at the Cartmel Village Shop.

Stay: Cartmel is also home to Michelin-star restaurant-with-rooms L’Enclume, where you’ll have an unforgettable meal created by chef Simon Rogan. Stay in one of its 16 bedrooms located in the village.

DAY FOUR

Drive 30 minutes from Cartmel to Bowness on Windermere

You’re now in the heart of the Lake District National Park at the towns of Windermere and Bowness and gorgeous lakes scenery. Catch those bright autumn colours from the water itself aboard Windermere Lake Cruises’ steamers. Children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter was one of the Lakes’ most famous residents and all ages can enjoy the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction.

Visit Bowness before the end of 2018 for: an exhibition by Turner Prize-winner Grayson Perry at f Or drive 20 minutes into Kendal for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October and Kendal Mountain Festival in November.

Drive 45 minutes from Bowness-on-Windermere to Keswick

A lovely market town, Keswick is close to the lakes of Ullswater, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite; catch the beautiful autumn colours from the lake on board Ullswater Steamers. Or, if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, check out Honister, an innovative adventure attraction (also England’s last working slate mine). Climb the original miners’ route (the Via Ferrata Classic) an exposed adventure climbing course 1,200 feet/366 metres above the valley floor or take the bigger challenge by climbing the Via Ferrata Extreme!

Stay: Ten minutes from the centre of Keswick is Whinlatter, England’s only mountain forest and home to the Cottage in the Wood, a beautifully restored 17th-century restaurant-with-rooms.

DAY FIVE

Travel 45 minutes from Keswick to Carlisle

Known as the ‘Border City’, for its location just 15 minutes from England’s border with Scotland, Carlisle is a bustling city with a legendary history. Dating back to the Romans, who settled here to serve the forts of Hadrian’s Wall (just a 30-minute drive away), the city is home to artefacts of their occupation and influence, which can be seen at the Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery. And, for nine centuries, the medieval fortress Carlisle Castle has stood majestically overlooking the city; visit for a glimpse into medieval life and the castle’s turbulent past.

Visit before the end of 2018 for: the Carlisle Fireshow in November, one the largest of its kind in the north of England.

The Highs & Lows of London

From skyline spectaculars to subterranean secrets, London presents a raft of thrilling experiences to showcase its sights.

Up High

Sky Garden

The view across the capital from the stunning glass dome of 20 Fenchurch Church – which Londoners affectionately refer to as the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building – is jaw-droppingly awesome, delivering iconic views of the city and far beyond...and it’s all for free! Space is limited at its beautifully landscaped Sky Garden, so tickets must be booked online, but you can also soak up the views while enjoying fine dining at its Fenchurch Restaurant, Darwin Brasserie or Sky Pod Bar.  

ArcelorMittal Orbit

Soaring 114.5 metres high above the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is the UK’s tallest sculpture. Head up to its observation deck for a spectacular 60-degree view of London and the legendary sporting arenas of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (home of the London 2012 Olympics), including the impressive London Stadium, now home to West Ham United FC. That’s not all – with views of up to 20 miles across all angles of London, you’ll catch sight of famous London landmarks as well as five of London’s football grounds. And the best way to descend the Orbit? Via the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide where you’ll whizz down 178 metres.

Frank’s Café

A hidden gem in the buzzing south-east London neighbourhood of Peckham is Peckham Levels, a multi-purpose, artistic space created in a multi-storey car park that has also evolved into a foodie and nightlife destination. Head to the top-floor Frank’s Café for gorgeous panoramic views of the capital’s skyline while you enjoy a drink or two.

Greenwich Park

Head to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Royal Maritime Greenwich for magnificent, sweeping views over the capital. Climb to the top of the hill in Greenwich Park and outside the Royal Observatory you’ll find a fantastic viewpoint in front of the statue of General Wolfe that offers incredible vistas, taking in the beautiful architecture of the Royal Museums Greenwich buildings and the Old Royal Naval College, the River Thames and out across to the City of London. It’s also a perfect spot when the sun sets and the city lights illuminate the view.

Up at the O2

Yes, you’ll be climbing onto the actual roof of the iconic entertainment venue, but climb guides will be with you throughout the 90-minute climb and, as you reach the summit, 360° views over historic Greenwich, the Olympic Park and Canary Wharf await you; on a clear day you’ll be able to see 15 miles away. As well as daytime climbs, you can set off on this high-scale adventure as the sun sets or at night for extraordinary night-time views.

The Tower Viewing Gallery – Westminster Abbey

One of the newest ‘high points’ to launch in the capital, Westminster Cathedral has opened its recently refurbished Tower Viewing Gallery, standing 210 feet/64 metres above street level. Add to that an exhibition of stunning drawings illustrating the design and heritage of the Cathedral in its Viewing Gallery and ground floor lobby and you’ll gain a full sense of the tower’s perspective.

Also worth heading up for outstanding views: The View from the Shard, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge Exhibition, restaurants SushiSamba and Duck & Waffle, as well as the OXO Tower.

 

Down Below

The Mail Rail

Descend into the former engineering depot of Mail Rail – the one-hundred-year-old Post Office railway – and set off on a 15-minute underground exploration via miniature train into the original tunnel below Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office. The experience is fully immersive; you’ll discover original station platforms and secret parts of the underground railway that once transported mail through the capital.

Hidden London – London Transport Museum

Hidden London is the London Transport Museum’s exclusive programme of tours and events at disused stations and secret sites across the capital. It’s a fantastic chance to discover locations rarely seen by the public and experienced guides will divulge unique stories about the stations’ different histories along the way. Hidden London is offering tours between October and December 2018 at locations such as ‘Down Street: Churchill’s Secret Station’; ‘Euston: The Lost Tunnels’; and ‘Clapham South: Subterranean Shelter’.

The Vaults at Waterloo

Located in a maze of disused railway arches under Waterloo station, with some incredible street art right in front of you, The Vaults is a haven for immersive theatre and alternative arts. Check out its weird and wonderful programme of unique events that take place throughout the year; future events on the bill in 2018 include an immersive dining experience called Divine Proportions and a Hidden Jazz Club.

Churchill War Rooms

This underground bunker beneath the streets of Westminster was the secret location where Winston Churchill and his war cabinet planned the allied route to victory during the Second World War. Explore its intriguing maze of corridors and rooms, discovering where history was made, as well as visit its Churchill Museum to learn more about the wartime leader’s life.

Cahoots

Channelling a retro theme, Cahoots is a Soho-based bar where you’ll find delicious cocktails, sing-alongs and swing dancing, all housed in a disused Underground tube station and decorated to transport you back to post-war 1940s London. Drinks are all served in vintage milk bottles and tins, hip flasks and crockery that wouldn’t look out of place in your gran’s kitchen. Kitsch and fun, there’s also live music and entertaining experiences such as the ‘Squiffy Picnic’.

Silver Vaults Chancery Lane

Did you know that hidden on Chancery Lane between the City and the West End are London’s Silver Vaults, a subterranean labyrinth of antique silver dealers? It’s one of London’s most unusual shopping destinations; the underground location is home to 30 specialist silver retailers, selling British, international, and antique silver from every period, in every style. Whether you’re window shopping or looking to buy, it’s a lovely place to explore.

Also worth heading down to: St Paul’s Cathedral Crypt, the Greenwich & Woolwich Foot Tunnels and bars such as WC Clapham and Basement Sate.

 

 

Ten cool and unique ways to see Britain’s cities

Searching for an alternative to a walking tour of Britain’s cities? Here’s how you can turn city sightseeing into an immersive experience, whether it’s via watersports, from the sky…or even in a hot tub!

In a hot tub – London

Yes, you read that correctly – you can now step into a freshwater hot tub that sails down London’s River Thames, passing by some of the capital’s most iconic sights. The 90-minute HotTug experience sets sail from two different locations; its original site in Angel, north London, takes you through the cute and calm waterways of Regent’s Canal and, just last month, a new experience launched in the Docklands area around Canary Wharf/West India Quay. Book the VIP Experience and receive sailors’ hats, robe and towel rental and an essential ice bucket to keep drinks cool.

Kayaking by night – London

London’s landmarks are emblazoned with light come nightfall, delivering an atmospheric glow as you view them from double kayaks on the River Thames. On board the Night Kayak Tour you’ll paddle past the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge, a journey that takes you from pretty Battersea and ends in the historic maritime neighbourhood of Greenwich. Waterproof clothing, paddles, buoyancy aids – and instructors – are included.

By group cycle – Belfast, Northern Ireland

Chat face-to-face with your friends at the same time as cycling around Northern Ireland’s capital, on a specially adapted cycle with Wee Toast Tours – and enjoy a drink or two en route! An hour or two allows you to cruise around the city centre at gentle speeds, taking in such sights as City Hall and the Opera House. Wee Toast Tours also offers a Cathedral Quarter tour, through Belfast’s cultural heart, and will soon be launching a tour of the Titanic Quarter, home to the world-famous Titanic Museum, SS Nomadic and HMS Caroline.

Stand-up paddleboarding – Bristol, south-west England

Bristol is renowned for its historic harbours and waterways but why not explore its iconic waterside  via the contemporary watersport of stand-up paddleboarding with SUP Bristol? The professional team there will show you the ropes and take you out to float past Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the historic dockside and the multi-coloured houses of the leafy and elegant neighbourhood of Clifton – as the sun rises is a particularly lovely time to head out.

Singing in the back of a taxi – London

Black cab taxi driver – and professional singer – Aiden Kent had been driving customers around London for 20 years when he decided to combine his love for singing with his love for performing. The ‘Singing Cabbie’ fitted out his cab with a red carpet, Italian red leather seats and a bottle of champagne for guests, and a specially-adapted PA system to experience an extraordinary performance as you zip past London’s sights.

From a bird’s eye perspective – Cardiff, south Wales

Wales’ capital is packed with legendary landmarks – and one thrilling way to experience them is from the air! Hover Helicopters fly you to more than 1,000 ft/300 metres above Cardiff and over the Cardiff Bay, Cardiff Castle and the majestic Principality Stadium. Flights take place between March and October and the company can also take you over south Wales and its striking coastline. City skyline flights are also available over Manchester and Liverpool in north-west England.

On a ghostly tour – Edinburgh, Scotland

Enjoy the thrill of a fright? Ghost Bus Tours in Scotland’s capital takes you on a spooky theatrical experience around one of the UK’s most haunted cities, on board a classic 1960s Routemaster bus. Both entertaining and educational – it’s billed as a comedy horror show – you’ll learn all about the city’s former grisly sites where historic executions took place and hear eerie tales of supernatural occurrences.

Out on the river – Liverpool, north-west England

The legendary landmarks of Liverpool – the Liver Building, Albert Dock and the two stunning cathedrals that tower above the city skyline – can be seen from a different perspective from the River Mersey, on board the Dazzle Ferry, itself an attractive sight. The ferry was created by Sir Peter Blake, as part of the First World War centenary commemorations, with the design commissioned by Liverpool Biennial, 14–18 NOW the First World War Centenary Art Commissions, and Tate Liverpool in partnership with Merseytravel and National Museums Liverpool. Learn about the city as well as the history behind the ‘dazzle’ ship.

On the run – London

Don’t just walk around London – run through it! City Jogging Tours offers both specially designed tours or customised versions; all you need to do is bring your running shoes and be ready to explore. An experienced guide leads you to the city’s attractions and the tours cater for all running abilities, from newcomers to endurance runners. A great way to keep fit and fit in essential sightseeing.

Meandering through canals – Birmingham, central England

Did you know that Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice and that they are lined with beautifully restored industrial heritage landmarks and intriguing contemporary buildings? See all of this on board a canal boat tour; there are several to choose from, ranging from tours of the more modern developments of Birmingham to the city’s pretty suburbs and out further into the countryside.

 

48 Hours in…Chester and Cheshire

With an enchanting mix of historic market towns, quaint village squares and picturesque landscapes, not to mention an impressive collection of stately homes and formal gardens, there are few places more quintessentially English than Cheshire. At the heart of the county is the compact Roman city of Chester; bewitching in its beauty and quietly making a name for itself as one of the UK’s most enriching short break destinations.

 

GET YOUR BEARINGS

One of several counties in the north of England, Cheshire is within easy distance of a number of key cities, locations and tourism hubs, including Liverpool, Manchester, The Peak District, Staffordshire and North Wales. Due to Manchester Airport’s southern location within Greater Manchester, it is possible to travel into northern parts of Cheshire within minutes of leaving the airport, whilst a journey from the airport to Chester takes around 45 minutes by car.

 

TIME TO CHECK IN

If you’re setting up base camp in Chester, there are few hotels as impressive as The Chester Grosvenor. Overlooking the famous Eastgate Clock, The Grosvenor has been welcoming guests for over 150 years and was recently bestowed the title of ‘World’s Best Classic Hotel’ at the Boutique Hotel Awards. Similarly impressive but with a much more idiosyncratic style is the achingly-cool Oddfellows Chester, an Instagrammers dream hotel, and if you’re arriving on a late flight (or have an early departure) from Manchester Airport its sister property, Oddfellows On The Park, is equally charming. Of course, with so much beautiful countryside, Cheshire itself isn’t short of country-piles-turned-hotels and standout options include Peckforton Castle, The Mere, Mottram Hall and brand new opening in Knutsford, The Courthouse.

 

 

DAY ONE

 

10:00 – FIND YOUR FEET

Founded by the Romans in AD79, Chester has a long and fascinating history. Take a brisk morning stroll to discover the most complete City Walls in Britain; Eastgate Clock, said to be the most photographed clock in England after Big Ben; the River Dee; the largest Roman Amphitheatre; the oldest racecourse in Britain; and the city’s stunning Cathedral. There are plenty of great walking tours available, but for a tour with a difference, book a Chester Running Tour and whizz around the sites on 5k or 10k routes. Just make sure that you backtrack to Chester Cross for midday to see the Town Crier’s daily proclamation.

 

12:30 – HAVE A STICKY LUNCH

Take a five-minute taxi ride or 30 minute walk to Hoole where you’ll find a quaint high street and a small restaurant with big ambitions. Sticky Walnut is the acclaimed neighbourhood restaurant from local restauranteur Gary Usher offering delicious British cuisine and a great value three-course lunch. It’s one of several restaurants across the north west that serial crowdfunder Usher has opened, drawing diners into small towns and suburbs such as Heswall in Merseyside where people flock to Burnt Truffle, Didsbury in Greater Manchester where he opened Hispi in 2016, and Prescott in Merseyside where Pinion is coming soon. There’s also Wreckfish in Liverpool and Kala, due to open in Manchester in 2019.

 

14:00 – A HIT OF HERITAGE

Take your pick for an afternoon of unique heritage attractions and experiences. Chester Castle reopened to the public last year and features the 12th-century Agricola Tower, the first stone gateway to Chester Castle, which had been founded by William the Conqueror in 1070 in the south west part of the city. Open during the summer months, you can soak up views across the city from the tower and then head over to the Grosvenor Museum or St. Michaels Church on Bridge Street, where plans are well underway for a brand new heritage attraction – watch this space! Heading out of town, The Lion Salt Works Museum is a restored historic open-pan salt making site where you can find out about the curious impact of salt on mid-Cheshire’s people, economy and landscape. Or for something completely different, try theAmazing Women by Rail trail which invites visitors to explore the fascinating and often hidden histories of women who lived and worked in areas along the Mid Cheshire and Calder Valley railway lines; from writers, artists and sportswomen to campaigners, suffragettes and politicians.

 

18:00 – ENJOY INDEPENDENT EATS

Chester’s bar and restaurant scene is booming at the moment, with independents at the heart of the scene. Book an early dinner at The Chef’s Table and let the small but passionate team look after you or Porta, a low-key, high-demand Spanish joint run by brothers Ben & Joe Wright. Alternatively, make the a pilgrimage to Stockport to sample culinary storytelling via a blind-tasting menu put together by one of the UK’s most exciting young chefs, Sam Buckley at Where the Light Gets In. You’ll need to book well in advance for the latter, however, given the perfect 10 score from Guardian reviewer Marina O’Loughlin last year.

 

19:30 – STORYTIME

Opened in May 2017, and then formally opened in June 2018 by The Queen and The Duchess of Sussex, Storyhouse is a sprawling multi-arts centre incorporating a library, theatre and cinema. It’s one of the country’s most successful cultural buildings, welcoming one million customers in its first year and is the perfect place to while away your first night in Chester. During the summer months look out for moonlight cinema screenings and open air theatre events in Grosvenor Park run by the Storyhouse team.

 

 

 

DAY TWO

 

10:30 – HAVE A MONKEY OF A TIME

Your second day needs to be all about exploring the tourism attractions of wider Cheshire and no visit to county is complete without a visit to Chester Zoo. The UK’s most popular zoo with over 21,000 animals and 500 species, it’s been the subject of several high profile TV series’ including the BBC drama Our Zoo, which chronicled the inspiring story of founder George Mottershead and his family in the 1930s. Major recent developments at the zoo include ‘Islands’, which showcases the tropical environments of six South East Asian microclimates with immersive and interactive experiences throughout, plus a newly-expanded nature reserve, located on the zoo’s doorstep which is free to enter. A must-see event during winter isThe Lanterns, a light festival which turns the zoo into a magical festival wonderland featuring colourful, over-sized animal illuminations.

OR

10:30 – GET YOUR GEEK ON

For over 50 years, the giant Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank has been a familiar feature of the Cheshire landscape and an internationally-renowned landmark in the world of astronomy. It’s now firmly establishing itself as a tourism destination too after the UK government nominated it for UNESCO World Heritage status earlier this year. There’s the telescope itself but also several pavilions exploring in great detail our understanding of space, stars and planets so far. Taking afternoon tea at the onsite café with the telescope and rolling hills of Cheshire as a backdrop is surely one of the most unique and unusual experiences you can have in the country. And if you want to see Jodrell Bank at its best, visit during the annual Blue Dot which offers a boutique festival combining music, art and science.

OR

10:30 – EXPLORE A COUNTRY ESTATE

Tatton Park is perhaps the best known of Cheshire’s country estates and is indeed one of the most loved historical sites in the UK. It houses a neo-classical mansion, acres of landscape gardens, a huge deer park and a Tudor Old Hall. The park is alsor home to a rare breed farm, which has recently been reworked as the ‘Field to Fork’ story, explaining in honest terms where food comes from by bringing to life Cheshire’s farming history with costumed actors. Not one for vegetarians or vegans perhaps, but an essential education piece for children, it’s also possible to get hands-on with workshops and agricultural skills classes such as cheese-making and bee-keeping.

 

16:00 – BRAIN FREEZE!

Whichever activity you choose, a crucial stop on your way back to Chester has to be The Ice Cream Farm at Tattenhall. Primarily an adventure park for kids, it also features what is considered to be ‘World’s Largest Purpose Built Ice Cream Parlour’ housing all manner of award-winning ice cream flavours. It’s probably no surprise that The Ice Cream Farm made it into the top 20 visitor attractions in Britain in 2017. However, if ice cream’s not your thing, back in Chester make a beeline for The Cheese Shop which stocks over 200 varieties including the iconic Cheshire cheese. We also recommend stocking up on Pant Glas Bach Preserves’ award-winning marmalade and other local treats at Hawarden Estate Farm Shop.

 

19:00 – SECRET STOP OFF

It’s a relatively little-known fact that much of the hit show Peaky Blinders was actually shot on location in Cheshire, including in particular, Arley Hall which stands in as anti-hero Thomas Shelby’s country home. Mark this connection with a visit to hidden speakeasy Prohibition where you can enjoy cocktails and jazz music, then head off to Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor for an exquisite dinner that Mr Shelby would certainly approve. Remarkably, the restaurant has held a Michelin start since 1990 and also has four AA Rosettes and an AA Notable Wine List Award.

Accommodation Update - September 2018

Photo credits to Cove Cottage, Cary Arms & Spa

From elegant rooms in the heart of London, to cosy and charming cottages located on the Devon coast, discover new places to stay across the UK. Here we take a look at which accommodation sites are planning to open their doors within the upcoming months, and beyond.

 

RECENTLY OPENED

 

LONDON

 

The Chilworth, Paddington

Opened July 2018

Conveniently located just few minutes away from Paddington station with all its city, regional and international connections, The Chilworth is set in a beautifully refurbished Georgian townhouse and provides an oasis of calm on one of the capital’s characteristic tree lined streets, a short stroll from Hyde Park. With an elegant yet informal atmosphere, the décor blends classical period features with sharp, contemporary design. In the restaurant, the carefully considered menus include elements of health and wellbeing, reflecting a philosophy of nurturing the soul as well as the body. There is also a stylish bar for relaxing with pre or post-dinner drinks, including a range of signature cocktails.

 

The Townhouse Residences at Athenaeum, Mayfair

Opened July 2018

Located on a light-dappled residential side-street, a turn from the Athenaeum’s main entrance and royal Green Park, this elegant mansion was once owned by MP and arts patron Henry Hope. This brand new 14-bedroom accommodation provides a private London base for guests, but with all the benefits and services of a five star hotel. Designed by Martin Hulbert, the creative visionary behind Britain’s most beautiful bolt-holes, the Athenaeum Townhouse Residences demonstrates English eccentricity and charm, and is ideal for exploring the capital’s key landmarks.

 

The Boathouse, Paddington

Opened August 2018

The Boathouse London is a new boutique hotel and event space on an industrial-style barge moored in Floating Pocket Park, Paddington. Launched in partnership with interior design brand MADE.COM and decked out in contemporary Scandi-style décor, it’s available as a one-bedroom hotel or as a unique venue for events such as product launches, yoga brunches and supper clubs. Hotel guests will be greeted by a complimentary Daylesford hamper, given use of two bikes and a rowing boat, and offered bespoke on-board experiences, such as yoga sessions.

 

ENGLAND

 

The Apple Rooms at Houghton Lodge & Gardens, Stockbridge, Hampshire

Opened June 2018

The Apple Rooms is a new luxury self-catering accommodation within the grounds/gardens of historic Houghton Lodge & Gardens. The house is a beautiful 18th century ‘Cottage orné’ on the River Test. The six restored rooms, all named after apple varieties grown in the walled garden, were previously the cowsheds and now beautifully decorated with antique and contemporary furniture and fittings, luxury king or super king size beds, contemporary bathrooms, mini kitchens and outside lawn areas for outdoor eating or barbecues.

 

Loft Apartments at Easton Walled Gardens, Grantham, Lincolnshire

Opened June 2018

Overlooking the beautiful Victorian Stable Courtyard, these three loft apartments are brand new for 2018 at Easton Walled Gardens, Lincolnshire’s very own ‘lost gardens’. The Hay Loft, converted and sensibly designed with a mix of original features and contemporary style, is the largest of the three lofts, with a super-king sized bed and a luxurious bathroom with both a bath and a walk-in shower. The large room is complete with a vaulted ceiling and original trusses on show. There are also two Coach House lofts, each available separately or they can be combined as a whole, giving flexibility to guests travelling with extended family, or with friends.

 

Easton Walled Gardens is part of Hidden England, a consortium of heritage sites all within an hour’s drive of one another with picturesque towns, villages and rolling countryside in between.

 

Chesters Stables, Humshaugh, Northumberland

Opened mid July 2018

Brand new for 2018, Chesters Stables offer eight self-catering Stable Suites in a beautiful Grade II listed building, situated within the grounds of Walwick Hall Country Estate in a village of Humshaugh in Northumberland. Set in 100 acres of beautiful countryside, along Hadrian’s Wall, this Northumbrian gem is a ‘world away from the norm’. Ranging in size, each of the fully refurbished Stable Suites offers a fully-fitted kitchen with dining area, underfloor heating, living areas with toe-warming wood burning stoves, sumptuous sofas, king-sized bedrooms and plenty of room to relax in a luxurious home away from home.

 

The Beverley Arms, Beverley, East Yorkshire

Re-opened July 2018

A fabulous boutique hotel re-opened at the end of July following a two year restoration project. The Beverley Arms was once Beverley’s flagship coaching inn, welcoming guests since the 17th Century. The new-look hotel now boasts 38 bedrooms, a 68-seat restaurant bathed in natural light, plus two private dining/meeting rooms, a modern bar and an outdoor courtyard. Wildlife is also being accommodated at the hotel, with ecological features including bat boxes, swift boxes and a sparrow terrace.

 

New Cottages at Cary Arms & Spa, Devon

Opened July 2018

Sitting majestically in the beautiful Babbacombe Bay on the South Devon coast, the award-winning and dog-friendly Cary Arms & Spa combines all the charm, personality and values of an English “Inn on the Beach” with the beautiful interiors, first class facilities and private gardens and terraces - including the newly opened Bay Cottage and Cove Cottage.

 

Cove Cottage sleeps up to six adults in a luxury master king room with balcony, a second king bed and a twin. All have sea views and contemporary ensuite bathrooms. There is a spacious and stylish drawing room with a large welcoming open fire, a stunning fully fitted kitchen with dining area, leading onto a large private terrace and garden.

 

Bay Cottage is similar in style and character and features one master king and one twin - both ensuite and both with exceptional views - sleeping four adults. There is a beautiful fully fitted kitchen with dining area opening onto the terrace and garden, complemented by an adjoining sitting area as well as a separate drawing room.

 

WALES

 

Caer Rhun Hall, Conwy

Opened August 2018

Nestled in the heart of the Conwy Valley, only a five-minute drive from Surf Snowdonia Adventure Park and a 15-minute drive from the medieval Conwy Castle, the hotel is surrounded by magnificent countryside, with uninterrupted views of the mountains of North Wales and bordering Snowdonia National Park. Every public room has unique features with craftsmanship of an earlier era - including the Tudor panelled hall, elegant Garden Room, Drawing Room and Library. The Library is soon to be renamed the Apothecary and will act as the resident guests’ ‘honesty’ bar. Caer Rhun Hall is ideally located for those looking for walking and cycling adventures.

 

OPENING SOON

 

ENGLAND

 

St Michael’s, Falmouth, Cornwall – look out for the press release

Re-opening autumn 2018

This stylish hotel in Falmouth set in subtropical gardens with sea views and a short walk from the town centre is nearing the completion of a £10 million expansion and re-furbishment, which includes a new luxury spa, health club and beach house with an additional 32 bedrooms. Located in a perfect spot to enjoy beach life on Cornwall’s South East coast and explore Falmouth, where you can find art galleries, shops and great restaurants.

 

SCOTLAND
 

The Fife Arms, Braemar

Opening late November, 2018

The Fife Arms in Braemar is being restored and returned to its former splendour as a first class hotel. Situated in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, this historic hotel, will be reimaged as a globally acclaimed cultural destination, offering luxury accommodation across 46 bedrooms. The refurbished hotel will include a restaurant with a wood fired grill, two bars, a fire room, library and cinema.

 

NORTHERN IRELAND
 

The Waring Hotel, Belfast

Opening winter 2018

Signature Living, the UK hotel brand launched in 2008, aims to transform the former 1960s War Memorial building into “the ultimate party destination in Belfast” with 64 vibrant bedrooms, including ‘signature suites’ and ‘party rooms’, as well as swimming pools, private bars and other luxurious amenities.

 

LONG LEAD

 

LONDON

 

The Hoxton, Shepherd’s Bush

2020

Hoxton, the design-led accessible brand, has been expanding its international network of hotels with a new opening in Shepherd’s Bush. The new property will join sister hotels already open in London (Shoreditch and Holborn). Subject to planning permission, the 214-bedroom hotel will be developed on the west side of Shepherd’s Bush Green on a site occupied by a 1950’s office building. It will include a restaurant, bar and an events space offering a cultural events programme.

 

Raffles Hotels & Resort, Westminster

2020

One of London’s most significant historic buildings, the Old War Office - once the office of Winston Churchill and sections of the British secret service - is being transformed into a 125-room luxury hotel by Raffles Hotels & Resorts. It will be the company’s first property in Britain, and rooms will include 50 suites and 88 private residences.

 

ENGLAND

 

Eden Project, Cornwall

Eden Project has improved the design of their new hotel, located near St Austell in Cornwall. Eye-catching in its look, the Eden Project hotel has been designed to blend into the countryside and have high standards of accessibility, energy-efficiency and sustainability. The 109-bedroom hotel will include new features including a meadow and orchard that will be planted around the hotel.