If it came to ‘Heritage per square kilometre’ the United Kingdom would win hands down. It’s a tiny island with an immense history and UNESCO haven’t missed a bit of it. From Neolithic Orkney to Maritime Liverpool there isn’t an aspect of the UK’s thrilling past that’s been overlooked. There’s royal pomp and pageantry, politics, paternalistic philanthropy, colonialism, industrialism, romance, religion and more than a dash of dastardly deeds, apparitions, ancient mysteries and, of course, a few murders.
So if I’ve missed a few in my pick, you’ll have to forgive me and put all the blame UNESCO’s way for being so very generous with their UK designations in the first place.
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Blenheim stands alongside Castle Howard and Highclere as one of the finest and most beautifully preserved English Romantic Palaces. You might recognise it from its many movie appearances (think ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’). But as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, caretaker of Capability Brown’s magnificent park and landscaping and curator of a fascinating and important art collection, Blenheim’s been playing a starring role in English architectural, social and cultural history for centuries. Wandering around on your own is mesmerising but for some real passion take a tour, the guides are wonderful. www.blenheimpalace.com
Maritime Greenwich, London
Even if you simply caught a Thames River Boat and just sailed past Maritime Greenwich you’d find it awe-inspiring. Time is measured here, the ideas and discoveries of England’s great scientists, astronomers, navigators and thinkers are celebrated and nowhere expresses the nation’s nautical tradition more eloquently. And for the geeks among us Thor saved the world here in the second movie. Visit The Queen’s House for the art collection, The Old Royal Naval College for seafaring legends and the ancient Royal Park for famous deer and exceptional views. www.visitgreenwich.org.uk
Palace of Westminster, London
Better known as The Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster is London’s most famous landmark, home to beloved ‘Big Ben’ and the seat of central government in the UK. The Palace, viewed in its entirety from across the River Thames, is imposing. Up close, the graceful Gothic architecture is delicate and intriguing. But to lift the lid on ancient traditions and intimate secrets, book an in-depth guided tour with Afternoon Tea on the Terrace – nothing could be more quintessentially British. www.parliament.co.uk
Dorset and East Devon Coast
Cliffs, crags, sea stacks, natural stone arches, miles of sand and many fossils make up the 185 million year old marvel that’s the Dorset and East Devon Coast. Known as ‘The Jurassic Coast’ this was the UK’s first natural UNESCO World Heritage Site and its 95 mile long stretch is one of the best known and best loved walks in England. Whether you do it in bite-size bits – stopping off for fossil hunting and amazing seafood – or you hike the whole lot at once, The Jurassic Coast is truly stunning. www.jurassiccoast.org
Precise and monumental, Stonehenge is the world’s only surviving Lintelled Stone Circle. Archaeologically significant, sacred, historically unique and totally enthralling this Late Neolithic structure has mesmerised for millennia. The very size of the stones and the distances they were carried as early as 2500BC defies imagining and various theories as to Stonehenge’s function have been suggested over the centuries. Today it’s generally accepted as a Temple aligned to solar movement so if you want to see it serve its purpose visit with 1000’s of others for the annual Summer Solstice celebrations. www.english-heritage.org.uk
Edinburgh Old & New Town
Back in the 18th century when the great and good of Edinburgh abandoned the Old Town’s tenements in favour of Georgian grandeur in the New Town, little did they think that both ‘towns’ would be UNESCO World Heritage Sites within a few centuries. Edinburgh New Town is the yardstick by which all masterpieces of town planning are measured. It’s elegant, austere and very beautiful and a complete contrast to the Medieval, higgledy-piggledy fascination of Edinburgh Old Town. For the mighty castle, ghouls and ghosts and graveyards, the Museum of Scotland and St. Giles Cathedral you want Edinburgh Old Town. And you’ll find the Scottish National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery and some of the loveliest homes in the world in Edinburgh New Town – you can even see how the other half used to live in the National Trust’s restored Georgian House on Charlotte Square. www.nts.org.uk/property/georgian-house
Tower of London
The Tower of London’s past might be gloom and doom laden, but for intrigue, espionage, treachery, confounding mystery and sheer atmosphere it doesn’t have an equal anywhere. If you were treasonous (or in a lot of cases just out of Royal favour) back in the day, this is where you’d meet your fate either at the end of a botched blade or – if you still had a bit of clout – a sharp sword. Henry VIII beheaded wives, enemies and friends alike here and Queen Elizabeth I executed Mary Queen of Scots. The magnificent Crown Jewels are on display at the Tower of London under guard of the famous Beefeaters and you can take a – wary – look at the legendary, flightless ravens (there has to be at least six ravens in residence or the Tower will fall, so to defy prophesy it’s customary to clip their wings). Understandably there are more than a few ghosts roaming around and, whether you believe or not, I defy you to tour the entire Tower without at least one shiver. www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon
Honourable mention has to go to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, the enchanting and elegant City of Bath, marvellous Maritime Liverpool and tiny, desolate and far-flung St. Kilda – if you don’t like sailing, 17 hours on a boat from Lewis for St. Kilda might be a bit of a thought, particularly as they’ve been known to get halfway and turn back because of the weather.
In short, I’ve just scratched the surface of the UK’s heritage. My advice is: make your own list and even if you just stick with UNESCO’s 28 sites, there’s more than enough to make several historic holidays in the UK.
Legend has it, Scotland got Hogmanay as compensation for bagpipes. The Great God of National Identity looked down, realised the Scots were condemned to an eternity of mournful dirges and said, ‘Here, have an insane party once a year to make up for it …. I am not without mercy.’ And Hogmanay was born.
credit: capn madd matt
Admittedly my details are a bit vague. But the bit about the bagpipes does have a certain ring of truth. And there’s no doubt that the Scots do have a tradition of seeing in the New Year like they don’t intend to live much past the 1st of January anyway.
credit: Ben Cooper
A bit of a ‘do’ for the bells is compulsory from Orkney to Stranraer. There are a few isolated spots where ‘insane party’ translates as ‘a wee sherry and a slice of fruit cake’. Certain restrained types even make do with some light ‘first footing’ (365 days of good luck befalls you if a tall, dark stranger pitches up at the door on the stroke of midnight, but it’s Scotland, so no guarantees). And then there are the Letter-Of-The-Legend-Die-Hards who don’t recognise the start of anything, let alone a New Year, unless the music’s loud, the partying fierce and you can’t move for fireworks, food, drink and much, much, much reeling and birling – Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland’s capital starts celebrating Hogmanay as soon as it can on New Year’s Eve with the annual Carnival on Market Street kicking off at 11am to let little Hogmanayers have all the fun of the fair before the festivities get too grown-up. This year there’s a giant Ferris wheel, all the usual ‘win an unfeasibly large furry creature’ type stalls and a seemingly endless supply of sugary snacks. After dark the Carnival lights up the Old Town’s tenements and towers spectacularly and rides with height restrictions and death-based names come into their own. This is probably the time to start thinking about alternative events if your Hogmanay companions are small enough to look genuinely cute in a onesie.
credit: Sarah Ross photography
My money’s on the Torchlight Procession this year. Reinventing the idea of ‘spectacle’ completely, upwards of 35,000 people gather at 7pm on the city’s George V Bridge and walk en-masse with flaming torches to Calton Hill for the annual Son et Lumière Finale. And all you have to do is buy a voucher (£8 in advance at www.edinburghshogmanay.com) pick up your torch on the day and be there. Calton Hill’s closed to all but Torch Carriers, so the walk and the £8 also entitles you to arguably the city’s best view – if getting to carry a big, lit torch through Edinburgh at night wasn’t quite exciting enough.
If you don’t make it to the Torchlight Procession, you could always head to Edinburgh’s venerable St. Gile’s Cathedral on the Royal Mile for the Hogmanay Candlelit Concert. Haydn tops the bill this year, along with Baroque classics and some essential Bach. You’ll find St. Gile’s Cathedral Choir in good voice as ever and they’re joined in force by several celebrated, young, international soloists. Tickets are £16 and bookable online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com.
credit: Lee Carson
Sounds a bit sedate? You’ll be wanting the Street Party then. This is one of the original and best in the UK, so it’s understandably very popular and tickets only – really, no ticket, no party, it’s the rule. But for your ticket price (£20) you get DJ’s, bands and non-stop party right through midnight and on into the wee small hours (as they possibly don’t say in Edinburgh). There’s also food, drink and thousands and thousands of people – if you were ever anxious about having no one to kiss at Midnight your worries end here.
Traditionalists might want to get in the party mood with a few reels and jigs courtesy of the UK’s biggest outdoor ceilidh, The Keilidh. Part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party the all singing, all dancing, ceilidh calling, strip the willowing Keilidh is a perfect warm-up or an event unto itself, depending on how you like your dancing. Tickets for The Keilidh are £37 and give you access to the Street Party too – and it’s on the Mound Precinct so pole position for the city’s incredible midnight Firework Display.
Speaking of midnight. This year Edinburgh has taken ownership of the whole kissing, teary-eyed, sentimental, over-emotional shooting match and even given it a name: Midnight Moment (it doesn’t sound so bad if you think of it in context, sort of). Calton Hill and the Castle will be setting off a ferocious amount of fireworks as usual and, as I said before, no shortage of people to celebrate with at the Street Party. But Midnight Moment’s real hook is Edinburgh’s ambition to achieve the world’s biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne – you’ll find the lyrics online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com, so no excuses I’m afraid.
The Street Party isn’t everyone’s dram at Hogmanay, but don’t be despondent. Pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants all over the city are heralding in 2014 in their own way. And there’s no shortage of things happening that don’t involve being outdoors – Edinburgh is not warm on January 1st!
If you are outdoors, wear warm clothes – the Torchlight Procession’ torches are wax, so you might want to dress down for that event. Tickets for everything should be bought or booked in advance (things do sell out). And if you’re in doubt about anything at all, visit www.edinburghshogmanay.com, they’ve got a downloadable events programme and that’s where you’ll find the Auld Lang Syne lyrics.
credit: The Queen’s Hall
What else can I say? Clearly Edinburgh’s got Hogmanay organised so in Woody Allen’s words, ‘All you have to do is turn up’, or something like that. Have a wonderful Hogmanay (even if you’re somewhere that doesn’t call it that) and here’s to a great 2014!
Featured image by Chris Watt.
Happy New Year! (just getting ready, don’t worry you haven’t drifted off and skipped December)
It might be a bit early to be hurling streamers and kissing complete strangers, but New Year’s these days is all about preparation. Because, at some point in the past couple of decades, the mysterious ‘cash in on anything’ crew spotted New Year and thought, kerching!
It started small: a few bands, a few fireworks, a few clubs, a few dj’s then it just grew and grew. Now there isn’t a city on the planet that doesn’t have a New Year party. And most of them are ticketed in some way, hence our kindly advance warning – leave it too late to decide what to do at New Year, and you’ve got more chance of getting a taxi at 3am on January 1st than finding a place to party.
Naturally everyone says they’ve the ‘biggest and best’ event but, despite tireless efforts, we couldn’t come up with a reliable benchmark. So we’ve based our choice of New Year Celebrations 2013/14 on budget – from low to high (ish) – missed out the parties that start crowd-herding at 2pm on New Year’s Eve and there isn’t a single one that’s only low-cost because it’s you, three crofters and an illegal Still.
Bulgaria’s capital might be Europe’s best value travel destination 2013 but it certainly doesn’t come across as cheapskate, especially not at New Year. Turning the entire city centre into a ‘people only’ zone would be inspired enough even if Sofia didn’t score 100% on our ‘TRANSPORT PUMPKINOMETER’ (based on Cinderella’s cautionary tale of carriage woe, this is an official measurement of late night/early morning transport for revellers who didn’t think they’d ever be too tired to walk). Not only is there public transport in Sofia for New Year party people until 3am, it’s free and plentiful. The importance of this might only become truly apparent after you’ve spent 12 hours with the live music, fireworks, dancing and general Bulgarian-style New Year carry-on. Almost every nightclub in the city is partying but the main celebrations (crowds of 80,000 last year) take place in Batenberg Square and Knyaz Aleksandar I Square. No tickets needed but get there early it gets busy!
It’s plenty cold in Budapest in December, so a rule of ‘eat lots and keep moving’ is liberally applied to the 3-Day Party the city hosts to celebrate New Year. Starting on 30 December and running through to midnight on the 1st of January, everything centres on the fireworks, music and outdoor events at Nyugati tér and Vörösmarty Square. Cafes, bars and restaurants on Liszt Ferenc Square are teeming with locals on the 31st December. And if you want to take a step back and quietly observe the old year’s demise, New Year’s Eve Danube cruises are very traditional and very romantic.
The annual Hogmanay Street Party in Edinburgh promises the biggest ‘Midnight Moment On The Planet’ this year. 80,000 plus are expected to descend on Scotland’s capital on 31st December 2013 with Street Party tickets clutched in their excited little hands. It’s no ticket, no party for this huge event but just £20 gets you hours of live music, fireworks, lots of people to kiss at ‘the bells’ and one of Europe’s most gorgeous cities all gussied up and looking amazing. Edinburgh’s also the venue of the UK’s largest outdoor ceilidh ‘The Keilidh’ – buy tickets for that and you get into The Street Party too.
Apart from the strange worship of all things sausage, Berlin is pretty much always given to achingly cool and New Year is no exception. The Brandenburg Gate is where you’ll find the fireworks and kissing crowds at midnight on the Eve itself. DJ’s love Berlin so if you love DJ’s this is your place to party. And there’s obviously some unwritten club code in the city with high scores given for endurance, so be ready for some long, long, long nights of New Year partying – stoke up on sausages is our advice!
Dublin’s not a city known for restraint so you won’t be surprised to find it celebrating New Year as if the end of the world was nigh and the best partyers were the only ones with a chance of salvation. Getting down to business as soon as darkness falls with the traditional city-wide Torchlight Procession, Dublin then goes all out with as many fireworks and projections as it can manage for as long as it can manage. And, for the big midnight moment itself, it’s over to College Green and the massive, annual Countdown Party with live music, dancing and all sorts until all-hours. College Green Countdown Party is tickets only.
Venice is one of the most romantic cities on earth, so naturally it bids farewell to 2013 with a celebrated ‘Group Kiss’ on St. Mark’s Square, accompanied by fireworks, champagne, live music and thousands of beautifully dressed people. But if you’re looking for the ultimate, splurgy, extravagant, once-in-a-lifetime New Year in Venice, you want tickets to La Fenice Theater on December 31st for the Concerto di Capodanno. Not cheap (tickets live on another continent that hasn’t heard of cheap) the Concerto di Capodanno is part of one of the city’s most celebrated New Year traditions and worth every penny for the outrageous theatre alone.
Bagpipes and reels, DJ’s till dawn and beyond, classical Venice, over the top everything Dublin, generous Sofia and eat all you can Budapest – that’s our pick for New Year this year. But, wherever you go, whatever you do and whoever you’re with, have a great time and don’t do anything we wouldn’t do – which leaves the field wide open!
Featured image: Torchlight procession in Edinburgh, credit deradam…
Summer’s here, traditionally the time for British sport’s enthusiasts to get serious about stretching and bending and re-hydrating, preferably in front of a monster TV at the nearest pub offering a fine selection of beer and salty snacks.
Everyone watches the Wimbledon Men’s Final. The Tour de France is for dipping in and out over three weeks (mostly for edited highlights and the big crashes). The Ashes is quintessentially English and enjoyed at its best with real ale we believe. And as for golf it’s more often than not up to Scotland for some of that fine, bracing weather, magnificent scenery and The British Open.
If watching men in pressed slacks and pullovers spend an inordinate amount of time crouching down to eyeball an almost invisible hole in the ground is your thing, then you should be glued to Muirfield this week. That’s where the caddies and competitors are quietly fighting over the coveted Claret Jug and (although it’s not really about the cash obviously) several hundred thousand pounds in prize money.
Muirfield, Gullane (pronounced ‘Gull-In’) is home to ‘The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ and one of the most celebrated golfing links in the world. Now what we’re about to say here might disturb the ardent golfer: not everyone understands your obsession. It’s hitting balls with sticks, right? Well if anywhere could convince a cynic to take up clubs and book a tee-time it’s Muirfield, a course with so many distractingly beautiful sea views it’s almost worth dressing like a 90 year old South Florida retiree just to enjoy them. But not quite …….
In honour of this year’s British Open at Muirfield, the enduring tradition of fine Scottish links courses and the undeniable fact that not every wants to play ‘the true sport of kings’, here’s our own brief guide ‘to golf or not to golf’ for summer 2013. No course is more than 30 miles drive from Edinburgh city centre, they’re all open to visitors, they all look great and they all come with alternatives.
Dunbar, East Lothian (Edinburgh 30 miles)
The first East Lothian course on what’s now known as ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’ is Dunbar. With sea views towards the dramatic Bass Rock, a lighthouse, a very picturesque little East Coast town and a breathtaking route from Edinburgh, Dunbar is also the ‘Final Qualifying Course’ when The British Open’s played at Muirfield. Dunbar’s open to visitors all year round and on-line booking’s available http://www.dunbargolfclub.com.
OR NOT TO GOLF
East Links Family Park, Dunbar
This 20-acre family park has everything from pony rides and a petting zoo to go-karting, pedal tractors and a small gauge railway. The park’s open all year round and is just a few miles from the town of Dunbar. There are regular events throughout the summer months, the atmosphere is really relaxed and friendly and you’ll find activities for children of all ages http://www.eastlinks.co.uk/.
North Berwick, East Lothian (Edinburgh 27 miles)
Just along the coast from Dunbar is North Berwick Golf Club. Like The Royal Course, St. Andrews, North Berwick is a ‘traditional links’ so the course begins and ends in the town and a very pretty town it is too. The sea views from the course are vast and some of us with golfing dads remember many a happy childhood summer spent ‘caddying’ North Berwick – and we won’t admit that about many golf courses. North Berwick is open to visitors all year round and online booking is available http://www.northberwickgolfclub.com.
The Scottish Seabird Centre Boat Trips, North Berwick
A great boulder rising sheer out of the sea just off the coast of North Berwick, the Bass Rock is one of the town’s most iconic sights. It’s a protected bird sanctuary and every day from March to September The Scottish Seabird Centre has a range of Bass Rock sailings. For speed choose the super fast 1 hour RIB trip or cruise at a gentler pace for a few hours, take pics and be glad you’re not playing golf. http://www.seabird.org/book/boat-trips/16/54
Musselburgh Old Links, Musselburgh (Edinburgh 6 miles)
What golfer could resist playing on the ‘World’s Oldest Course’? Musselburgh Old Links has recorded games as far back as 1672 and the challenging (often with a stiff wind) links are still healthily in play today. If history and golf go hand in hand for you, Musselburgh Old Links can be played using traditional ‘hickory’ clubs – you don’t have to bring your own, you can hire them at the clubhouse. Musselburgh Old Links is open to visitors all year round and online booking is available http://www.musselburgholdlinks.co.uk
NO GOLF THANKS
Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh
If you’re round and about Scotland’s capital during the first two weeks in August it’s the Edinburgh International Festival. For 14 days every year the city behaves as if a performance famine was imminent and uses almost every inch of space for some kind of entertainment. The Edinburgh Fringe is almost completely free of charge, there are loads of children’s events and activities and most of the city’s famous museums and galleries have festival exhibitions. http://www.eif.co.uk/
Gullane Courses 1,2 & 3, Gullane (Edinburgh 20 miles)
For a relatively small town just outside Edinburgh, Gullane lucked out on golf. Not only is it home to Muirfield, it also has another three distinguished courses and, unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most desirable places to live on the East Coast of Scotland. Gullane Course 1. is famous for its views and its 3rd hole is listed in the world’s top 500, Course 2. is popular for challenging ‘short holes’ and Course 3. is known to demand exacting levels of accuracy and precision from even very experienced players. Gullane also has a free 6-hole Children’s Course. All three courses are open to visitors all year round and online booking is available http://www.gullanegolfclub.com.
Greywalls Hotel, Gullane
The only Lutyen’s house in Scotland and the only house to sit right on the edge of Muirfield Links, Greywalls is also the best place to have Afternoon Tea in the summer. With its stunning Gertrude Jekyll influenced gardens, beautiful architecture and outstanding location Greywalls is now one of Scotland’s finest hotels. And if it’s not The Open and it is Tuesday or Thursday and you have a recognised handicap of 18 or under, you can play a round on Muirfield Links while Greywalls is setting the table for tea. http://www.greywalls.co.uk/ http://www.muirfield.org.uk
To golf or not to golf, it’s entirely up to you but bear in mind if you are swinging clubs and striding greens, most Scottish courses have strict (or strict-ish) dress codes for visitors. It’s a given that trainers aren’t on anywhere, but you might not have known that Muirfield only allows players to wear white socks with tailored shorts! If in doubt, ask when you’re booking.
Featured image by zaza_bj.
In this week’s Photo Friday we are casting off and exploring some boats around the world where you may hang your hat. Everybody knows that a houseboat in Amsterdam is one of the best ways to enjoy this city if you like the canal life, with the water gently lapping beneath your hull and rocking you to sleep. But did you know that Paris also has a huge selection of boats docked along the banks of the Seine?
Next time you’re thinking of somewhere unusual to stay for your break, then maybe a spacious, luxurious houseboat is the answer.
Have a great weekend.
Zeeburg, Amsterdam. By Myra.
Bastille, Paris. By l’amiral.
Alapphuza, India. By BudgetHouseBoats.
Key West, Florida. By Sleep Afloat.
Westerpark, Amsterdam. By Myra.
Portsmouth, UK. By wendybarry.
Key Largo, Florida. By Chanoch.
In the heart of Edinburgh. By The Four Sisters Boatel.
One of the five best houseboats in the world, Amsterdam. By Hans.
La Defense, Paris. By Cathy & Fred.
Featured image by Jacob.