Ever wonder why there are so many castles and grand houses about the UK and so few genuine Medieval villages. Maybe the houses of ordinary people weren't built to be as strong as castles, but they didn't have to withstand being attacked by catapults and burning arrows and boiling oil either.
The history of Lavenham may hold a clue. It is one of the best preserved Medieval villages in England. And the reason it's still standing is that, for hundreds of years, the Lord of the Manor was just too broke to tear it down and build something newer. By the time town began to see a return to prosperity, the tourist era had begun and there were historic preservationists everywhere.
Lucky for us, because you won't see a village like this every day. While you're touring England, take time out from visiting castles, museums and stately homes for an afternoon of just hanging out in Lavenham - A Time Warp in East Anglia. If you like it enough to hang out a little longer, put up at The Swan at Lavenham. It's been around, in one form or another, just as long as this amazing village.
© Ferne Arfin
Afternoon tea is the sort of treat you think you need a special occasions to enjoy. Of course, it's the way to celebrate a birthday with Gran or Auntie Maude or a catch up with a long lost girlfriend.
But why limit yourself? You don't have a special occasion to celebrate? Invent one. Found a perfect pair of new shoes, just the right shade of red nail polish? Sounds like it's time for afternoon tea. Breakthrough in puppy's house training?...time for afternoon tea. Phew, finally learned what to do with that food processor?...We think you get the idea.
Together with a friend, I recently enjoyed one of the most famous - and arguably one of the best - traditional afternoon teas in London. That curl of buttery yellow in the picture is the way they serve clotted cream at Brown's Hotel in London, where they serve the ne plus ultra of afternoon teas.
© Ferne Arfin
Just because the sea looks more like a darkly sleeping beast than a scintillating pool of clear turquoise water doesn't mean you can't have a splendid beach vacation on the North Sea coast in Suffolk. In fact, without the overwhelming distraction of a sandy beach, there's so much more to do while enjoying the salty air. In Aldeburgh, for example, you can watch fishermen unload their colorful, traditional boats and then dine on seafood that travels no further than up the beach to your restaurant; you can shop in quirky, arty stores and browse work by top artists in several good galleries; you can enjoy the town's brilliant pastel-painted cottages, its Victorian and late Medieval architecture, take in a music festival or go in search of flora and fauna along a winding river estuary. And you can wander up the beach to have a quiet moment alone with Maggi Hambing's stunning and surprisingly controversial sculpture "Scallop." Or - as I am told many hardy souls do - you can don jellies or swimming sandals and dive right in.
Read on to discover 7 Things to Do By the Sea in Aldeburgh
© Ferne Arfin
Museums at Night is back. This successful late night celebration of museums all over the country will take place from Thursday through Saturday this week. Thousands of visitors will attend events at hundreds of museums - for many, it will be their first visit to the museums they choose. And this year, the BBC is planning a major documentary covering the Museums at Night Festival.
Off-beat exhibitions, sleep overs, spooky night time events, interactive and outreach happenings are all on the cards for adults and children alike. Hundreds of events are scheduled, with new ones being added to the list every day. To find out what's going on where you are May 15 to 17, check the Culture24 website, the UK's online collection of 2,000 museums and galleries for venues and inspiration.
Quaint is good, charm is nice, historic can be fabulous. But when it comes to hotel rooms and guest houses, you pay for all those things.
Everyone is tightening their belts these days and it would be a real shame if you allowed your taste for frills and extras prevent you from traveling in the United Kingdom. When you are touring - spending a night here, a night there, all you really need - and all you really need to pay for - is a series of clean, dry, reasonably equipped lodgings, well located along your route.
Why pay for the fancy lounge, the spa treatments and the pool if you won't be around long enough to use them - or if you are more interested sightseeing than lounging around your hotel?
That's when the cheaper chain hotels come into their own. The best ones provide a reliable standard of basic accommodation for an affordable price.
The UK's LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community has a lot to celebrate this summer as the number of colorful Pride Festivals spreads to cities and towns all over the country this summer. Beginning with Birmingham Pride, at the end of this month, there are several festivals every month. Here's the low down:
- Birmingham Pride - May 24 and 25, the biggest Pride event in the Midlands.
- Oxford Pride - June 7
- Blackpool Pride - June 14 and 15, running concurrently with the European Same Sex Dance Championships is the spiritual home of British ballroom dancing.
- Cumbria Pride - June 14
- Pride Scotia Edinburgh - June 18-22, Scotland's biennial event with official events and - this is Edinburgh afterall - a Festival Fringe as well.
- York Pride - June 21
- Suffolk Pride - June 21
- Pride in London - June 22 - 29. This is one of Europe's biggest non-ticketed events. Expect a hot carnival with music, dancing, costumes, floats and a huge crowd of spectators. This year's event marks the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
- Sheffield Pride - June 28
- North Wales Pride - July 4-5
- Bristol Pride - July 12
- Northern Pride, Newcastle Gateshead - July 18-20
- Pride Glasgow - July 19 -August 3, party time runs alongside the Commonwealth Games, so Glasgow will be in a very merry mood. Later, in October, Glasgow's gay cultural festival, Glasgay, turns the spotlight on theatre, visual arts, film and dance.
- Belfast Pride - July 25 - August 2.
- Brighton Pride - August 2. The "gay capital of England" only sets aside one day for its summer Pride festival, but the Brighton Pride Arts& Film Festival from July 18 to August 3 gets everyone in the mood for the August 2 parade. Expect top acts to lend support. Last year Alison Moyet, Stooshe and Paloma Faith took part.
- Liverpool Pride - August 2. Now in its 5th year, the Liverpool parade should be really something to see with its theme of Glam Fairy Tales.
- Pride Cymru, Cardiff - August 16, Cardiff's "Mardi Gras."
- Manchester Pride - August 22 -25. A ten-day festival of art, culture, music, sport, film and heritage events culminates in these four days of non-stop partying in Manchester's Gay Village.
- Cornwall Pride - August 23.
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It's well and truly spring in the UK which must mean it's time to let 'er rip because you can't move for the festivals all over the country this week. Arts, music, literature, outdoors, whisky - you name it, there's a celebration already underway or about to kick off this week. Here are some of the highlights:
- It's Festival Month in Brighton - Both the high culture Brighton Festival (to May 25) and the grab bag of high, low and everything in between, the Brighton Fringe Festival (to June 1) are well underway all over town. Running alongside, Artists' Open Houses sees 1,000 artists open their homes and studios to visitors. And a new Brighton festival, The Great Escape showcases new musical talent, with 400 artists appearing in 35 venues from Thursday to Saturday this week.
- Celebrating traditions in Edinburgh - Tradfest, now in its second year, is Edinburgh's multi-arts festival of Scottish culture. There's music, storytelling, talks and exhibitions, all rooted in Gaelic and folk arts. There are eighty events at 26 venues and its on until Sunday.
- Arts in East Anglia - The Norfolk & Norwich Festival opens Friday and turns the spotlight on local and international talent until May 25. Theater, all kinds of music, visual arts and cabaret in the Adnams Spiegeltent. Get a first look at many performers heading for Edinburgh.
- Literary Cornwall - The St Ives Literature Festival opens on Saturday and continues to May 17. It's another excuse to visit this town in West Cornwall famous for its visual arts. Poetry, writing workshops, open air events, readings, live music and comedy acts are all part of the scene in the town with the lighthouse said to have inspired Virginia Woolf. Meanwhile, atmospheric stories and thrillers are the highlights of the Fowey Festival of Words and Music on the south coast of Cornwall. The festival, in the town that Daphne Du Maurier called home, used to be named for her. The name was changed when the organizers felt the author of Rebecca might not be well enough known to draw an audience. But with the controversial and incomprehensible BBC dramatization of her novel Jamaica Inn setting critical tongues wagging and puzzling UK audiences in April, it may be time for another rethink. Crime writer Linda La Plante and mystery writer Ruth Rendell are among the celebrity authors attending.
Have you ever arrived somewhere, on the first day of a vacation or a business trip only to find out that you can't do anything you want and need to do because it is a public holiday? I've arrived in Calais on VE Day (Victory in Europe) only to discover the car rental office on the ferry docks was closed for the holiday. I've been stuck in Keswick, in the Lake District, when all the shops closed and traffic was halted for a marching band on a "half-holiday", and I've been foiled on a business trip to Luxembourg because none of my business colleagues mentioned that it was Marie Himmelfarb (translated from Luxembourgeoise, that means Ascension) and, being an officially Catholic country, Marie Himmelfarb was a legal holiday.
To help you avoid the embarrassment of being all dressed up in a foreign country with no place to go, I've collected all the public holidays you need to consider when planning a trip - in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - and I've published holiday calendars for now through 2018. So, before you plan your next trip to the UK, have a gander at the 5-Year Calendar of UK Public Holidays.
It will be May in a couple of days. And if you doubt that it's still the lusty month, as Guinevere sang in Lerner and Loewe's Camelot, just remember that on May Day Morris Men dance on the Cerne Abbas Giant, welcoming the month at England's sexiest national monument.
As they have done for more than 50 years, the Wessex Morris Men will greet the dawn at 5:15am on Thursday May 1 at the head of the giant, before moving on to dance again at the Royal Oak in the village at 7am.
In England, May Day traditions still include maypole dances, hobby horse parades and other customs that have their origins in Britain's ancient, pagan past. In Hastings, for example, the revival of the ancient Jack in the Green Festival kicks off with Dancing in the Dawn at 4:30am. It ends on Monday with one of the most bizarre costumed processions in England and finishes with the symbolic "slaying of the Jack" to release the spirit of summer for another year. In Oxford, crowds gather at 5am on Magdalen Bridge to here the choir of Magdalen College sing in the dawn from the top of their chapel tower - they've been doing it since the 1600s. Then it's a day of revelry, music, dancing, drinking and feasting.
Find out more about May Day Celebrations. And - by the way - as this weekend is the first of May's two bank holidays, some of the traditional celebrations will continue through the weekend. Expect widespread hangovers to follow.
This weekend, England celebrates it's patron saint, St George (actually a Turkish bloke who didn't, as it happens, slay any dragons). Nevermind. In the past few years, St George's Day has become a respectable reason to wave the English flag and hold parades and festivals all over the country. The day, like Shakespeare's birthday and the anniversary of his death, is really April 23, but what kind of a celebration would it be if you couldn't have a weekend to party?
This year also marks the 300th anniversary of King George I's accession to the throne, so English Heritage (who throw some of the best St George's Day special events) have added something extra. If your name is George or Georgina, bring proof of identity and you'll be given free entry to all the English Heritage St George's Day festivities and pageantry at their historic attractions this Saturday and Sunday. You can watch St George slay the dragon, take part in medieval fayres, see knightly jousts and falconry displays at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, Bolsolver Castle in Derbyshire, Kenilworth in Warwickshire, Beeston Castle in Cheshire, Belsay Hall in Northumberland and Dover Castle in Kent. Click here for full details.
What a coincidence - St George's Day, the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and his death all on the same day. Hmmm.
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