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Ferne Arfin

United Kingdom Travel


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Seaside Style on the Suffolk Heritage Coast

Friday April 18, 2014


What can you expect when two of the three hotels in a scenic seaside village are both under the same ownership? That's the situation in Aldeburgh, the former fishing village on the Suffolk Heritage Coast that Benjamin Britten made famous. Both the 3-star White Lion Hotel and the 4-star Brudenell, which bracket Aldeburgh's half mile long beach, are owned by the same small, Suffolk-based group. I recently stayed in both. Differences? Similarities? Read my reviews and see what you think.

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©Ferne Arfin

Dazed and Confused? Find Out How Stuff Works in Your UK Vacation Rental

Wednesday April 16, 2014


I wish someone had explained Gas Marks to me before I turned a 26 pound turkey to smoke in two hours flat - in a nice English lady's kitchen.

If you're planning to come over from North America to rent a vacation cottage in the UK, you're going to save a bundle and have a lot of fun living like a local. But there are a few things that work radically differently over here - like cooking temperatures, heat and hot water and what things are called. You could go blue in the face talking at cross purposes while you try to explain why you need a stove to a UK rental agent who thinks the central heating is perfectly adequate. For cooking?!

Don't go nuts and don't burn your supper. Read about How Stuff Works in your UK Vacation Rental Cottage and you'll settle in like a native.

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David Malan/Getty Images

Plant Yourself in a Time Machine With A Storybook Vacation Rental in Suffolk

Tuesday April 15, 2014


People often ask me where they should tour to see pretty English villages, thatched cottages, half-timbering, ancient parish churches, cottage gardens, old fashioned pubs. It's a tough one because they're usually on their way to somewhere and in a hurry. The kind of villages they want to see are all over the place but they're usually not on the way to somewhere else.

Recently, I've been exploring Suffolk and North Essex - a corner of East Anglia close to London. I've discovered that if you want to see the sorts of market towns and sleepy villages that time forgot, this is the place for a ravishing concentration of picturebook hamlets, landscapes worthy of Constable and Reynolds and wild stretches of beach.

I've already reported on my adventures in Finchingfield, Essex; Ipswich, and Flatford Mill. And there will be more about Suffolk - coast and countryside - coming soon.

One good way of seeing a lot of this part of the world is to grab yourself a piece of it for a few days as a base for exploring. The Landmark Trust, a charity that restores and maintains small historic buildings and turns them into vacation rentals, offers some rather unusual opportunities for self-catering in the region. You can get away from the 21st century - even turn the clock all the way back to the 13th century - in some of their properties. I visited myself recently and they won me over.

Check out The Landmark Trust - Short Breaks in Unique Historic Buildings to see why.

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© Ferne Arfin

This Week in the UK - It's Chocolates, Bunnies and Decorated Eggs as Easter Takes Over

Sunday April 13, 2014

Ramsgate Tunnels

Easter is everywhere - With the holiday weekend looming, you can join an Easter Egg hunt at virtually every stately home in the country, or find some Easter weekend jousting.

How about some Egg Dancing at Blists Hill in Ironbridge Gorge. It's one of my selection of 10 Easter Alternatives for those of you who say bah humbug to bunnies and chicks.

How about a rousing marbles tourney? In Battle, East Sussex, local teams face off against each other for the Battle Marbles Matches at 10am on Good Friday. It all takes place on Battle Green, near Battle Abbey, where, according to traditionWilliam the Conqueror won another battle, the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Or you could just give in to a chocolate and sugar rush at the Chocolate Festival, taking place in Oxford's ornate town hall on Friday and Saturday. There are tastings galore, a chocolate cafe, a chocolate spa, a "Brownie Zone," a "Health Zone" where you can find out all the ways that chocolate is good for you (I like the sound of that) and all kinds of ridiculously indulgent chocolate activities and treats.

Whatever you decide to do, have a happy Easter Week.

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Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Surfing Without a Surf Board? Try the Latest Craze at Watergate Bay

Wednesday April 9, 2014

watergate bay

A new variation on surfing, hand-planing is a kind of body surfing with benefits. And it's catching on with watersports enthusiasts at Watergate Bay in Cornwall. Our occasional adventure correspondent Helen Ochyra confesses to a wee balance problem when it comes to standing up on a board, so lessons in the new sport seemed the perfect solution. Until she had to put her face in the sea. So did she overcome her fears and learn to play in the surf at Watergate Bay's Extreme Academy? Find out how she made out and how you can have a go too.

Find out more about hand-planing in Cornwall.

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britainonview/Martin Brent

Harry Potter Half-Term Treat - Become a Wanding Wizard

Tuesday April 8, 2014

harry potter

There's a lot more to wielding a wand than being able to shout "Expecto Patronus" while waving it around a bit. That's why Warner Brothers London Studios - The Making of Harry Potter attraction is offering wand dueling lessons and more wanding wizardry during Wand Week, May 23 to June 2.

Visitors will discover how dueling scenes were developed and the planning that went into every wand movement. Then they'll learn wand battle choreography and duel with a Death Eater. Special wand effects will be waiting in Diagon Alley and you can learn lots more about wands than you ever thought possible.

These wand experiences are all included in regular admission during Wand Week. And, if Summer Half-Term holiday at the end of May seems a long way off - when you've barely got to Easter school vacation, remember that time-specific tickets for the Harry Potter attraction have to be booked in advance and half-term tickets are always popular. Find out more about how to book and visit this attraction.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter

This Week in the UK - Viking Fun at the British Museum

Monday April 7, 2014

Ramsgate Tunnels

Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Sailors - The Vikings have arrived at the British Museum in a blockbuster exhibition, the biggest in 30 years, on until June 22. Even if you haven't booked yet, you and the family can take advantage of a whole week of free, Viking related activities in the Museum's Great Court. From today, through Friday, 11 am to 4pm, just drop in for family sessions in Viking art, crafts around the Viking home, coins, Viking animals and more, plus a chance for children from 6 up to talk to an archaeologist. And coming up - if you don't think you can make it to the exhibition but will be in Britain on April 24, check out the Vikings Live from the British Museum cinema event. It's a live guided tour of the exhibition, broadcast from the British Museum to hundreds of movie theaters around Britain, led by popular TV historians Michael Wood and Bettany Hughs.

Elsewhere this week

Last Post: Remembering the First World War opens at the Coalbrookdale Gallery in Ironbridge Gorge on Friday and continues through March 2015. The free exhibition explores the impact of the 1914-1918 war on the British Post Office, then the biggest business in the world, its people (more than 8,500 were killed) and the contribution it made to the war effort.

Dark Tales Exhibition at the Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, Cwmbran, Monmouthshire in Wales, features a variety of artists depicting the darker side of life. Curious creatures, mythical beasts and items from imaginary worlds all feature. On until April 17.

Clydach Gorge Foraging Feast on Thursday is part of the Blaenavon Walking Festival at the Blaenavon UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wales. Join a walk to learn about edible plants and find out how they were used and eaten. Adele Nazedar of the Forgotten Landscapes Scheme will cook up some of the plants for snack sized samplings of what our great grandparents might have eaten. It's a 2.5 mile, moderate walk. Walkers should meet in the Llanelli quarry car park and bring waterproofs, a snack and a drink.

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Underground Secrets of Britain at War - The Ramsgate Tunnels

Monday March 31, 2014

Ramsgate Tunnels

Take a walk in the country today and you might stumble upon a big corrugated metal tube, half buried in the woodland undergrowth. It could be construction debris, but, more likely it's what's left of a bomb shelter.

During the World War II Blitz, when Hitler bombarded England's civilian population with tens of thousands of bombs, people took shelter wherever they could. The story of Londoners sleeping in the Underground tunnels, especially the deep tunnels of the Piccadilly and Northern Lines, is well known. But another story, the Ramsgate Tunnels, is little known outside the town itself, yet as many as 26,000 people were protected by tunnels 60 feet under the town. Some 300 families actually lived in them full time.

Now, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Ramsgate Tunnels shelter, a tour of this undergound world will open to the public in June. Find out more about the tunnels that protected England's most bombed town.

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Image courtesy of VisitKent

Laurie Lee and A Memoir of the Cotswolds

Monday March 31, 2014


The late Laurie Lee, an artist, poet and memoir writer, whose 100th birthday will be marked in June, was a chronicler of a lost age in the Cotswolds. Set during the period just after World War I and written some 40 years later, his childhood memoir "Cider with Rosie," is a nostalgic - though relatively unsentimental - book about coming of age in a changing, rural world.

Once required reading for English school childen, it remains very well known among the English, less known in North America and elsewhere. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, his publishers, Penguin and Random House will be issuing new editions of Lee's books. If you are planning a visit to the Cotswolds, pick up a copy of "Cider with Rosie" or download it into your Kindle to read on the way. It could add an extra dimension and a richness to your visit.

Today in the Cotswolds, you'll find achingly pretty villages that are popular for second and retirement homes, that are bedroom communities for the nearby cities and that are very popular with tourists. But while you are admiring the tiny, golden sandstone houses with their tile or thatched roofs, Lee's book will remind you of the simple and hard rural life that was once lived in this gathering of villages that are scattered across Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Wiltshire.

Find out more about Laurie Lee, his books and the events marking his centenery.

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View of Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water ©Ferne Arfin

This Week in the UK - Time to Have a Flutter?

Sunday March 30, 2014


Monbeg Dude, ridden here by his trainer Michael Scudamore, is among the favorites in the Grand National, one of the world's most famous races. And they're running at Aintree (near Liverpool) this week. The race meet starts with a gala opening day on Thursday. Ladies' Day is Friday (hats, formal dress, lots of champagne) and Saturday is the National itself. It's one of those races that people who don't normally bet on horses have what the British call "a flutter" on. And you don't have to be here to watch. An estimated 600 million people watch the race all over the world. Will you be one?

Elsewhere in Britain this week:

It's all happening in Glasgow - The Commonwealth Games may be months away but Glasgow is already turning itself into a sporting and cultural party city well in advance.

  • Aye Write, Glasgow's Book Festival opens on Friday for nine days of readings, workshops, discussions and book related hoo hah with a Scots accent.
  • On Friday, The Glasgow International, a biennial festival of contemporary art, gets underway at galleries and venues all over the city. Expect exhibitions, events, talks, performances and projects by international and Glasgow-based artists until April 21.
  • The Scottish Bike Show, Saturday and Sunday at the Emirates Arena and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome (site of Commonwealth Games events), has all kinds of fun and games for bike lovers of all ages to try. Taster sessions, test tracks, "Kiddimoto" for the wee'uns and more. Sir Chris will be there too.

The Edinburgh International Science Festival opens on Saturday and continues until April 20. The theme is Science at the Heart of Things and there will be more than enough "Ew, ew, ew" moments to keep even the most ghoulish five year old entertained and educated. There's plenty to amaze and engage older children and adults too.

And if you can't make it up to Scotland, don't worry. At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London The Glamour of Italian Fashion: 1945 - 2014 opens on Saturday. The exhibition is sponsored by Bulgari so expect plenty of luxurious style and a seasoning of bling.

And last but certainly not least, on Sunday, The Boat Race, the annual grudge match between the rowing crews of Oxford and Cambridge, takes over the head of the Thames, between Putney and Mortlake for most of the afternoon. It's the 160 the running of the race, and though it is a quintessentially British event, both crews are international with Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, Aussies and even a German outnumbering the British members of the teams. Crowds will watch from the short and millions will tune in around the world.

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Michael Steele/Getty Images

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