As an island England has more than its fair share of coastline and the national tourist board’s new Coastal Escapes campaign sets out to celebrate it, from quaint Victorian promenades and secret coves to surfers’ hot spots and long sandy stretches. Read on for the low-down on England’s top coastal experiences…
Admire Aldeburgh beach
World-renowned, thanks to its connection with Benjamin Britten, the pre-eminent composer and founder of the annual Aldeburgh Festival. Aldeburgh is about as perfect a traditional seaside escape as you could hope to find. Pastel-coloured 19th-century holiday villas line the promenade. To their east lies a pebble beach with fishermen’s huts selling the daily catch. Stroll north a mile or so along Aldeburgh seafront to see the famed Maggi Hambling sculpture, the Scallop.
Scilly sea safari
A sub-tropical gem, the Isles of Scilly offer numerous boat trips and sea safaris that give visitors the chance to see seals and seabirds up close; you might be lucky enough to glimpse porpoises, basking sharks, and dolphins, or even an exotic visitor such as a sunfish or a turtle.
Dinosaur hunting on the Jurassic Coast
Wander Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site, and marvel at the incredulous rock formations while keeping an eye out for dinosaur bones. This stretch of coastline charts a whopping 200 million years of the Earth’s history.
Donkey rides in Scarborough
Scarborough is one of England’s best traditional seaside resorts and there is nothing more ‘bucket and spade’ than a donkey ride along the seafront. This beach is home to an adorable collection of well-behaved and well-loved animals all wearing their names proudly on their harnesses to help children choose their favorite. Nothing quite beats the smell of warm leather saddles and the taste of candyfloss…
Surfing at Fraisthorpe Beach
Bridlington is the country’s birthplace for surfing and the excellent waves have made Fraisthorpe Beach a favorite among the surfing and kite surfing community on the Yorkshire coast. The beach is wide open with strong winds, so perfect conditions for both kite flyers and beach buggy surfers.
Coasteering in Cumbria
Cumbria’s Lake District is known as ‘The Adventure Capital of the UK’ and it’s a well-deserved accolade. For a memorable seaside, adventure tries rock climbing, scrambling and jumping off coastal cliffs in the Western Lake District. Not one for the faint-hearted!
Chinese New Year in England brings an explosive celebration of color and noise to this green and pleasant land. Tomorrow the nation’s Chinatowns will fill with spectators to watch the music and pageantry of the occasion, including Chinese dancing dragons and brightly colored New Year lanterns adorning the streets. A person born in the year of the snake is said to be the wisest and most enigmatic of all. Here are some of the best spots to see in Year of the Snake
Each year, London holds the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside Asia. The city’s celebrations are centered in the West End. See performances from Chinese artists in Trafalgar Square and explore the richly decorated Chinatown. Enter through the red gates and discover a brilliant red and gold pocket of Chinese food, music, architecture, and shopping. Strung with banners and lanterns, Chinatown for many generations has been home to a Chinese community who’ve turned the area into a hotspot for authentic cuisine. You’ll find specialty duck restaurants, delicious dim sum, and traditional Chinese pastries at the Kowloon Bakery. You’ll also find some of the best Chinese food in London at Hakkasan (www.hakkasan.com), a Michelin starred restaurant in nearby Bloomsbury. For more information, visit www.chinatownlondon.org
Birmingham’s Chinese New Year celebrations will take place from 12.30pm to 5.30pm in the Arcadian Centre in the city’s Chinese Quarter and promise to be bigger and better than ever. The celebrations will start with a bang, with an extravagant dragon and lion dance. Acrobatic and cultural displays will fill the rest of the programme, which will conclude with a spectacular Firework Finale. A wander around Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter will reveal a myriad of restaurants and cafés offering authentic menus from Northern China all the way to Malaysia, with some of the city’s hippest nightspots in between. If you feel like dancing after your dinner, the area offers funky house, electro, and some fun-filled karaoke. For more information, visit www.cnybirmingham.org.uk
Liverpool has one of the oldest established Chinese communities in Europe since a line of steamers connected the city directly to China, trading tea, silk and cotton wool. Today, there are around 10,000 Chinese residents living in Liverpool and its surrounding areas. Here, Chinese New Year is celebrated in style and the city features a spectacular ceremonial arch — the largest outside of Asia — which is decorated with over 200 dragons to commemorate the city being twinned with Shanghai. Celebrations take place from 11 am to 4 pm in the Liverpool Chinatown area including Nelson Street, Berry Street, Great George Street, Great George Square and Bold Street. For more information, visit www.liverpoolchinatown.co.uk. Just an hour away, Manchester is home to the Chinese Arts Centre (www.chinese-arts-centre.org), an institution which promotes Chinese contemporary art in Britain. It’s a fantastic space which holds a lively programme of exhibitions, events, residencies, and festivals, and is the place to go if you’re interested in the Chinese art and artists of today.
2013 will see the return of one of the biggest celebrations of its kind in the North of England, as NewcastleGateshead welcomes in the Chinese New Year. The Year of the Snake will commence with a day of free events and performances for all the family, including traditional crafts, dance, music, martial arts and food and drink, with festivities commencing around Newcastle’s Stowell Street and Chinatown from 11 am to 5 pm. There’ll be a unique opportunity to witness the ceremonial ‘Eye Dotting’ of the new lion. This tradition brings the year’s beast (a traditional costume) to life by adding color to its eyes, giving it sight, taste and power, and awakening its spirit while bringing good luck and plentiful fortune to all who take part. Once ‘awake’, the lion performs a colorful street dance alongside the Chinese dragon and unicorn. The captivating ceremony will take place beneath the ornate ceremonial arch at the entrance to Chinatown. For more information, visit www.NewcastleGateshead.com/ChineseNewYear
For a Chinese New Year with a twist, visit Bristol Zoo Gardens (www.bristolzoo.org.uk) and learn more about snakes in their special year. The zoo’s reptile house is home to some of the fastest, biggest and most venomous snakes on earth. Housing over 400 species and nine animals houses under cover, this is a great day out in Bristol whatever the weather. Combine your trip with a visit to Wai Yee Hong (www.waiyeehong.com), the place to usher in the Chinese New Year in Bristol. The firecrackers will be lit at 11.15am to scare away the evil spirits. This will be followed by a kung fu demonstration from the Yi Quin lion dance troupe, who will bring luck and prosperity through a traditional Chinese Lion dance.
The historic city of York is an ideal destination for a day trip, as Kaye discovers
Confession time… I have lived and worked in the UAE, Cayman Islands, and China and think nothing of visiting Vietnam, schlepping to Sri Lanka or booking a weekend break in Boston but back home in Britain, I have only left London on the rare occasion (read visiting relatives and attending weddings).
As regular CD-Traveller readers will know, I love London but nonetheless am aware that judging a country on its capital is the equivalent of saying you’re au fait with America because you’ve had a Big Mac or not interested in experiencing India, having slurped a Starbucks’ Chai Latte.
So inspired by the new £4 million government-backed ‘holidays at home’ scheme, I decided it was time to venture north of the M25 and visit York – the historic city that not only topped a poll of the most beautiful cities in the UK, but was ranked as the place most Brits would like to live. Throw into the mix the fact that York is currently celebrating the 800th anniversary of receiving its charter from King John of England in 1212, and 2012 seemed like a memorable time to visit.
The magnificent Minister – the largest gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe – tops the usual sightseeing agenda and for good reason. York’s blockbuster sight is an instantly familiar, iconic landmark guaranteed to jump-start a cold tourist engine. Consecrated in 1472, this beautiful building (www.yorkminister.org) took 250 years to build and contains England’s greatest concentration of medieval stained glass including the great east window which, at 186 square metres, is thought to be the largest area of stained glass in the world.
I continued my classical sightseeing with a walk around York’s famous 3.4km long medieval walls. They are the longest in England (allow two hours to do the full thing) but the arresting views from the top, ensure you won’t regret a step! Next I took the time machine back to AD975 and experienced the sights, sounds and smells of Viking York (the capital of Viking York in the late ninth century and early 10th centuries) at JORVIK (www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk) in Coppergate. Built on the very site where archaeologists discovered over 40,000 Viking age artifacts, this gem of an attraction affords visitors the opportunity to get up close to 1,000 year old relics as they are revealed beneath your feet!
Yet while castles, cathedrals, and vikings are a big deal, they’re not the whole picture. Not by far. To truly appreciate York, you have to lose yourself in its labyrinths like cobbled streets and atmospheric alleyways: step forward the Shambles whose narrowness and exterior wooden shelves (a reminder of when cuts of meat were served from the open windows) acts as a remnant of an older, miraculously unspoilt world. The Shambles and its sister streets – Swinegate, Stonegate and, my favourite, Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate – wind haphazardly through the city centre and are home to quirky boutiques, as well as a plethora of top notch restaurants, chic bars and laid back cafes.
For food is undoubtedly a big part of York’s short break pleasures (not for nothing did TripAdvisor name York as the UK’s top food and wine destination in October 2011). The antique city is choc a bloc with tea rooms selling local treats like warm, buttered fat rascals (a tasty teacake bursting with currants and candied fruit) but the best, by far, is Bettys (www.bettys.co.uk). Busy at all hours, the famous wrought-iron-embellished tea rooms serve light bites, lunch and dinner (welsh rarebit, sausages and mash and more) in an elegant old – wood panelled room, but the afternoon tea is where it’s really at. Expect a generous sized spread of scones, thick clotted cream, the freshest of jams and a pot of Yorkshire tea, which the owners will watch you savour with fierce pride.
The sweet toothed can satiate their cravings further in York’s newest visitor attraction – ‘Chocolate: York’s Sweet Story’ (www.sweehistoryofyork.com). York is home to some big names in the chocolate aisle: Rowntree’s created Kit Kat, Smarties and Aero while Terry’s created the Chocolate Orange during the 20th century in their sizable York-based factories and this immersive experience – which only opened on April 1 – will educate you about the city’s confectionery trading and manufacturing past. And yes, tasting opportunities are happily guaranteed!
Regardless of whether you choose to check out the much-hyped Chocolate attraction or hidden gems like the Historic toilet tour (www.yorkwalk.co.uk) or YorkBoat Cruises (www.yorkboat.co.uk), exploring is easy. Unlike other university towns (here’s looking at your Cambridge) everything is accessible by foot and if you purchase the York Pass (www.yorkpass.com), you’ll score free entry into over 25 attractions.
Had I been there for an evening, I would have liked to have gone on a guided ghost walk (many York pubs like the Black Swan, www.blackswanyork.com, are said to be haunted) or have seen a show at the Grand Opera House (www.grandoperahouseyprk.co.uk).
Still, now I know that a short train ride north brings me to scenes the equal of any abroad (I was constantly reaching for my camera), it won’t be long before I am back. “Why don’t more Londoners come?” asked an attendant at York Train Station as I prepared for my all too soon return south. Why indeed?
When the summer sun puts his hat on, few places are more fun than the British seaside. CD-Traveller has teamed up with DK Eyewitness Travel to give you the low-down on Britain’s best beaches
It was the British who invented the seaside resort, complete with changing rooms that could be wheeled into the water, concealing the lissom limbs of Victorian ladies from the public gaze. The expansion of the railways in the mid to late 19th century brought the masses to seaside towns, and by the 1930s, bank-holiday trains would be heaving with city-dwellers flocking to the beach. Indeed, for most of the 20th century, British families looked no further than their own seaside for their annual holiday – until the advent of cheap travel to the Mediterranean and then even more exotic destinations.
In the 21st century, the British are rediscovering the charms of their coast. Some resorts have reinvented themselves: Brighton has embraced the arts, while Newquay has become Britain’s pre-eminent surf resort. Others, such as Blackpool, remain fabulously brash. Piers, donkey rides and fish and chips are still seaside staples, and few sights are quintessentially British than a row of colourful beach huts. Childhood memories of rock pools and sand castles bring parents in search of these simple pleasures for their own children. It is nostalgia, as well as the beauty of the British coastline, that is drawing people back to the sea.
Arran, Southern Scotland
Pebbly coves and sandy beaches ring the rugged shores of Scotland’s most accessible island, and Broddick, its biggest village, has great pubs and fish-and-chip shops. www.visitarran.net
Largs, Southern Scotland
For years, this great sweep of beach has been Glasgow’s summer getaway. Much more sophisticated now than in its heyday, it boasts a shiny new marina. www.largsonline.co.uk
Kinsale, Southern Ireland
Set on a superb natural harbour not far from Cork, Kinsale boasts great restaurants, charming hotels and old fashioned pubs, as well as pretty beaches nearby. www.kinsale.ie
Llandudno, North Wales
This legendary Welsh resort’s North Shore beach has a Victorian pier, while the sandy West Shore is the place to be for fabulous sea views and sunsets. www.llandudno.com
Blackpool, Northwest England
With its trams, sing along pubs and roller coasters, Blackpool is the epitome of the seaside resort. Despite attempts to go upscale, it’s still gloriously tacky.
Morecambe Bay, Northwest England
This resort is renowned for its abundant birdlife, fabulous sunsets and fast-moving tides, which can rush in at the speed of “a good horse.” www.morecambebay.org.uk
Scarborough, Northeast England
Sweeping North Sea views, sandy bays, dramatic cliffs and some of the freshest seafood in England are among the charms of this Yorkshire resort. www.scarborough.co.uk
Bridlington, Northeast England
This town is home to a seaside museum and the John Bull World of Rock, celebrating the confectionery that is synonymous with seaside fun. www.bridlington.net
Filey, Northeast England
Known since Victorian times for its bracing sea air, Filey is a fishing harbour with beaches overlooked by the chalk cliffs of Bempton and Flamborough Head. www.filey.co.uk
Southwold, Eastern England
A swathe of sea-smoothed pebbles, a long line of brightly painted beach huts, a brewery and great fresh crab make this quirky Suffolk seaside village irresistible. www.visitsouthwold.co.uk
Brighton, Southeast England
The Prince Regent (later King George IV), made this city fashionable in the early 19th century. A hub of the arts, its still where London goes for a week-end by sea.
Margate, Southeast England
A favourite with Londoners for years, this bucket and spade resort on the Kent coast now has the Turner Centre – a gallery named after the famous English artist. www.visitthanet.co.uk
Weston Super Mare, Southwest England
This resort has been famous for its donkey rides and arcades for almost a century. An observation wheel adds to its appeal. www.weston-super-mare.com
Newquay, Southwest England
England’s answer to Bondi Beach has become the southwest’s party town par excellence, loved by surfers, yachties and gap-year party animals.
St Ives, Southwest England
Gorgeous beaches and a heritage bequeathed by some of the 20th century’s best British artists are the hallmarks of this Cornish fishing village. www.stives-cornwall.co.uk
Torquay, Southwest England
Palm trees line the esplanade and subtropical blooms adorn the gardens of stylish Art Deco hotels in genteel Torquay. Don’t miss the town’s superb Devon cream teas. www.torquay.com
For more suggestions on some spectacular places to visit in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, check out Where To Go When: Great Britain & Ireland, Foreword by Julia Bradbury (DK Eyewitness Travel, £19.99).
From colourful cottage flowerbeds and lovingly tendered inner-city allotments to the serenely landscaped estates of grand English houses and botanical gardens that continue centuries-old traditions of research into the healing powers of plants, Britain’s gardens are legendary.
Great Britain and Ireland start to come into bloom as early as February, when the first aptly named, snowdrops appear in woods and gardens, to be followed soon after by bluebells, daffodils and early crocuses. Around the same time, the first sunny days bring out bumblebees and tortoiseshell butterflies that have overwintered under cottage eaves and in attics and greenhouses.
Myriad microclimates make it possible for imaginative gardeners to cultivate an array of exotic imports. Some of our grandest and most fascinating gardens date from Britain’s colonial heyday, when botanists searched the Himalayan foothills, Alpine meadows and the jungles of Brazil and Borneo for ever more exotic decorative, commercially useful or simply unusual plant species. The grand estates of Scotland and Ireland are splashed with the pink, white and purple blooms of azaleas and rhododendrons, originally imported from sub-tropical Asia, and it’s hard to imagine south-coats resorts, such as Torquay in Devon, without their decorative palms.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Southern Scotland
Britain’s tallest palm house, giant sequoias, a Highland heath garden and a world famous Alpine rock can be found here. www.rbge.org.uk
Mount Stewart House and Gardens, Northern Ireland
Thanks to the mid microclimate of the Ards Peninsula, spring comes early to these glorious gardens. www.nationaltrust.org
Blarney Castle and Gardens, Southern Ireland
Spring bluebells burst into flower in the beautiful gardens on the estate of this famous castle, where cattle graze in lush lakeside pastures. www.blarneycastle.ie
Bodnant Garden, North Wales
Azaleas, rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias put on a stunning show in spring in this garden, which has superb views of Mount Snowdon. www.bodnantgarden.co.uk
Wordsworth Daffodil Garden, Northwest England
In spring, this space between Grasmere’s church and the River Rothay is smothered in the daffodils that inspired William Wordsworth.
Harlow Carr, Northeast England
Bluebells and mixed primulas flourish in sun-dappled clearings in the woods of this Yorkshire garden, with its streams and rocky outcrops. www.rhs.org.uk
Biddulph Grange Garden, West Midlands
A Chinese garden, Egyptian courtyard, stumpery and “upside down tree” make this one of Britain’s quirkiest gardens. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Hidcote Manor Gardens, West Midlands
Gardens designed as “outdoor rooms” and enclosed by immaculately trimmed hedges are the keynote of this masterpiece of Arts and Crafts design. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Anglesey Abbey and Gardens, Eastern England
Outstanding gardens created in the 1930s by Lord Fairhaven as an ambitious, classical landscape of trees, sculptures and pretty borders. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London
One of the world’s most important centres for plant science and conservation, with palm houses, hothouses, landscaped lawns and shrubberies. www.kew.org
Chelsea Physic Garden, London
A sanctuary in the heart of London with beds of ferns, herbs and aromatics. Founded in 1673, it continues research into medicinal plants. www.chelseaphysic garden.co.uk
Wisley, Southeast England
The flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society is more than a century old and boasts lavishly planted borders, velvety lawns, lush rose gardens and glasshouses. www.rhs.org.uk
Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Southeast England
A charming complex of gardens and courtyards created by the writer Vita Sackville West and her husband, Harold Nicholson. www.nationaltrust.org.uk
The Eden Project, Southwest England
In March, the beds are awash with daffodils in every shade of yellow. In April, it’s the turn of English wild flowers, such as campions and violets. www.edenproject.com
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Southwest England
Neglected for almost a century, the gardens of this Cornish estate have been lovingly restored; fruit, bamboo and banana plants flourish here. www.heligan.com
Rosemoor Garden, Southwest England
A magnificent 260 hectare (65 acres) of gardens, including bluebells woods, two rose gardens, a formal garden, a French style potager and stream. www.rhs.org.uk
For more suggestions on some spectacular places to visit in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, check out Where To Go When: Great Britain & Ireland, Foreword by Julia Bradbury (DK Eyewitness Travel, £19.99).
In continuing our focus on British Tourism Week, the smallest county in England, Rutland, is lucky to have one of the best waterside areas, Rutland Water. Apart from sailing, boating or fishing there is a popular pastime in walking and cycling around. This week there is a discount off bicycle hire. Strange to think that Rutland Water is only about 30 years old and that it is man-made. What life was like in the villages that disappeared can be found in the Normanton Church Museum.
Like a lot of other local tourist destinations, there is also a free offer just for residents. Barnsdale Gardens (they were the ones developed and featured by Geoff Hamilton on BBC’s Gardeners’ World) are open to locals for no cost this week (www.barnsdalegardens.co.uk).
Rutland is one of those places that is avoids bustle. The county only has a population of about 35,000 yet 1,600,000, visitors come each year to see the 152 square miles. So what do they come to see other than Rutland Water? The peace and quiet? Even the bigger villages like Oakham (the county town) and Uppingham only display a hurriedness in the rush hours. Best seen on foot or bicycle to best advantage, this is one county which is a favourite with Londoners looking for a weekend retreat. Oakham is the current holder of a Britain in Bloom award and, in a few weeks time, as this long winter ends, the spring flowers will be quite a sight.
At one of the very smallest of Rutland villages, Stoke Dry, the Gunpowder Plot was supposedly hatched. Is it true? All that is really known was that Everard Digby, one of the conspirators who was hung drawn and quartered was born and lived there. For a village of this size it also has one other historical appeal. In the Digby chapel, there are some murals that have been dated to the 1280’s which seem to show native Americans some 200 years before Columbus got to Peurto Rico.
Now that more and more short breaks are appealing to us, Rutland is one of those places conveniently situated for just about anyone in England to visit. See www.discover-rutland.co.uk
Everyone wants to make the most of their time on earth and Rough Guides’ new compact sized book, Make the Most of Your Time on Earth, tells you how to go about it. We’ve handpicked five of Britain’s best travel experiences to whet the appetite
HUNTING GHOSTS IN YORK, ENGLAND
Roman and Viking history, the Minster and Betty’s Tearooms maybe visitor staples during the day, but there are some rather different experiences to be had on the backstreets of York after dark. At night, at various points around the city, groups of tourists gather, some nervously wringing their hands, others cracking jokes to ease their apprehension. As the Minster bell tolls, their guide arrives, clad in funeral black, and a hushed silence falls upon the group. Leading his flock down the shadowy streets, the ghoulish journey begins.
With its turbulent history, it’s not surprising that York is such a hangout for things that go bump in the night. Founded by the Romans in 71 AD as “Eboracum” the city has suffered Viking invasion, Civil War, the Black Death and a cholera epidemic. With its narrow lanes, twisting alleyways and dark, looming Tudor buildings, it’s a decidedly spooky place to wander in the dark. The Shambles (originally the Anglo-Saxon “Fleshammels”– meaning “Street of the Butchers”) is an obligatory stop off for any “hunting party”, one of the city’s oldest streets and mentioned in the Domesday Book. Ghostly apparitions that have appeared here include a headless Sir Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who was executed in 1572 for plotting against Queen Elizabeth 1; and a forlorn Margaret Clitherow, crushed to death by authorities for illegally harboring Catholic priests in 1586. Another stop is The Treasurer’s House, reputedly the most haunted building in Britain. Legless Roman soldiers, a murderous wife and sallow-faced children are all said to lurk in the corridors of the house, built in 1419. The ghosts are not just limited to humans though: a large black hound with red glowing eyes is also said to patrol the city’s gloomy snickleways and passages.
You have been warned.
HOLKHAM MAGIC ENGLAND
Is Holkham Bay in north Norfolk the best beach in Britain? It must certainly be the broadest. At high tide, you follow the private road from Holkham Hall, walk through a stretch of woods and expect to find the sea at your feet. But it is – literally – miles away: two miles at the very least, shimmering beyond a huge expanse of dunes, pools, flat sands and salt marsh. If it’s your first visit, it may seem oddly familiar – for this was the location for Gwyneth Paltrow’s walk along the sands, as Viola, at the end of Shakespeare in Love.
The amazing thing about Holkam is that, even with the filming of a Hollywood movie in full swing, you could have wandered onto the beach and not noticed. It is that big. You could saunter off from the crowds near the road’s end and within a few minutes you’re on your own, splashing through tidal pools, picking up the odd shell, or – if it’s warm enough – diving into the sea. You can walk along the beach all the way to Wells (to the east) or Overy Staithe (west), or drop back from the sea and follow trails through woods of Corsican pines. Just beware going out onto the sandbanks when there’s a rising tide: it comes in alarmingly fast.
Birdlife is exceptional around Holkham – which is a protected reserve – and you’ll see colonies of Brent geese, chattering and little terns, and many other birds. And if you head down the coast to Cley-next-the-Sea or to Blakeney, you’ll find even more riches, accompanied by rows of twitchers, camped behind binoculars. Take time to walk out to the hides at Cley Marshes or for a boat ride to Blakeney Point, where you can watch up to 400 common and grey seals basking on the mud.
HOARDING BOOKS IN HAY-ON-WYE WALES
Though a drive through the electrically green countryside that surrounds Hay-on-Wye makes for a perfectly lovely afternoon, the more potent draw is the sleepy Welsh town’s mouth-watering amount of printed matter: with over a million books crammed into its aging stories, quaint, cobblestoned Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelkli, in Welsh) is a bibliographic Mecca to be reckoned with.
Dusty volumes are packed in like sardines, occupying everywhere the eyes roam. Moldering British cookbooks fight for shelf space – some of them in shops down tucked away alleys verdant with moss and mildew – with plant taxonomy guides, romance novels and pricey but lavishly produced first editions.
To unearth these treasures, the intrepid book hunter need only meander into one of the many bookshops that liberally dot the town. And with a human-to-bookstore ratio of 40:1, there’s a lot of choice. Mystery aficionados should check out Murder & Mayhem, while a visit to The Poetry Bookshop is de rigueur for fans of verse. One of the largest and most diverse collections can be found at the Hay Cinema Bookshop – rickety mini-stairways, two sprawling floors and a labyrinth series of rooms loosely divided by subject matter create a unique book-browsing space that seems to exist outside the space-time continuum for the way in which it can so wholly consume an afternoon. Stay long enough and your faith that there’s an underlying logic to the bookshelves’ progression from “Fifteenth-century Russian History” to “British Water Fowl” to “Erotica” will grow wonderfully, psychotically strong.
Topic-driven pilgrimages aside, a visit to the two outdoor used bookstores in front of crumbling Hay Castle is unmissable. Ringed by stone ramparts, the castle – nearly 1000 years old – provides a striking backdrop as you rifle through scads of books eclectic in appearance as much as theme.
FLYING WITH BA TO BARRA AND BEYOND SCOTLAND
BA88555 is perhaps the oddest scheduled domestic flight in Britain. It is a twenty-seater propeller plane that takes off daily from Glasgow and lands an hour later directly on the beach at Barra, the southernmost island of the Western Isles, also known as the Outer Hebrides. There is no airstrip, nor are there even any lights on the sand, and the flight times shift to fit in with the tide tables, because at high tide the runway is submerged.
Even if Barra were a dreary destination, the flight would be worth taking simply for the views it gives of Scotland’s beautiful west coast and the islands of Mull, Skye, Rum and Eigg. It’s probably the only British Airways Flight on which the woman who demonstrates the safety procedure then turns round, gets into the cockpit and flies the plane.
The Western Isles is the only part of Britain – and one of only a few in the world – where you can experience truly stunning landscape and solitude at the same time, a hundred-mile-long archipelago consisting of a million exquisitely beautiful acres with a population that would leave Old Trafford stadium two thirds empty.
Give yourself a week to drive slowly up through the island chain, from Barra to Eriskay, site of the famous “Whisky Galore” shipwreck (both the real and fictional one), from South Uist to Benbecula to North Uist, then finally to Harris and Lewis. Some islands are linked by causeways (all of which have “Beware Otters Crossing” traffic signs), others by car ferries. Stop if you can at the Scarista Inn, a gourmet paradise set in the midst of a walker’s Eden alongside a stunning, vast, perpetually empty white sandy beach.
CATCHING THE LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS ENGLAND
As much a part of the British summer as strawberries and cream, the Proms can also lay claim to being the biggest classical music festival on the planet, watched by millions around the globe. Eight weeks of daily concerts culminate in the raucous end of term party that is the Last Night, when after a relatively light programme of popular classics a 5000 strong audience – including a core of die-hard “Prommers”, armed with Union Jacks and klaxons and sporting straw boaters – attempts to raise the roof of London’s Royal Albert Hall with rousing patriotic sing-alongs in the Rule Britannia vein. Tickets are not easy to get. To apply for Last Night tickets in advance, you need to book for at least six other concerts. If this seems like overkill, join the misty-eyed, flag-waving hordes at the open-air Proms in the Park for big screen link-ups to the main event in Hyde Park and now in other cities around Britain too. All together now: “Land of Hope and Glory….”
For a further 995 ultimate travel experiences in Britain and beyond, check out Make the Most of Your Time on Earth: A Rough Guide To The World, £12.99, www.roughguides.com