They'll be saying Erin Go Bragh around the UK this week as festivities get underway in advance of St Patrick's Day, next Monday. Most UK parades and festivities, including London's big green party, will take place on Sunday, but in Birmingham, which boasts the "biggest St Patrick's Day Parade in the world", they've already started partying with a festival that lasts most of the month. Check out where to find the biggest St Patrick's Day events around Britain.
Elsewhere in the UK, the season of literary festivals is heating up. The Words by Water Festival, in the Lake District, continues through Sunday. Among the literary lights still to put in an appearance at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick are Germaine Greer, Penelope Lively, Jeremy Paxman, Phillippa Gregory and Joanna Trollope.
Meanwhile the year long Dylan Thomas Festival, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Welsh poet's birth, this week features a one-man show,
Dylan Thomas's Final Journey, at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea on March 15.
Fashion is a serious business but if you are looking for something a bit less literary and a bit more frivolous, head for Norwich Fashion Week, where events will be continuing through Thursday. Why Norwich? The city with both a university and an art school has a thriving student fashion design community, an exciting selection of independent fashion retailers, plenty of fashion and beauty professionals. It all adds up to plenty of catwalk glamour in the East Anglian city.
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Just before it jumps across the English Channel to its home territory, the Tour de France will leave Cambridge and cross rural Essex en route to London, passing some of the prettiest villages in England along the way. Often overlooked by visitors as commuter belt territory, northern and western Essex are dotted with historic villages, thatched cottages, country pubs and outstanding scenic routes.
Whether or not you are following this amazing cycle race, there's a lot worth seeing along the route. Check out a Stage 3 Tour de France Itinerary.
Britain on View
Don't let the storms and floods of February and the disruption in rail services to the West of England put you off. Cornwall is just fine and ready for visitors. This time of year the weather in Cornwall is milder than in most of Britain - it's the perfect time for a short spring break. And with the UK's great dog show, Crufts, on in Birmingham - and the telly - right now, it seems only appropriate to mention that dogs love Cornwall.
To bring home the point, Visit Cornwall has appointed surfer dude Baxter, pictured here, to welcome his fellow canines to the county and has launched a website jam packed with information about vacationing in Cornwall with your family pet.† Find out all about about it here and start planning a dog-friendly beach vacation to Cornwall.
photo courtesy of Visit Cornwall
If you are planning a trip to England, Scotland or Wales this spring and summer, now would be a good time to stock up on your UK point-to-point train tickets and BritRail passes. Rail Europe is offering North American customers 20% off on British train tickets until March 25. You have to get in quickly though, as there are only 2,000 tickets being offered for this promotion
Does the whole British train system have you confused? Have a look at my British Rail Travel Overview to find out everything you need to know about getting around the UK by train.
© Ferne Arfin
Crufts, the world's biggest dog show runs from Thursday to Sunday this week at the NEC in Birmingham, with 22,000 dogs and 200 breeds competing for Best in Show 2014. Go to see rescue dogs and mixed breeds as well as they compete with the pedigreed crew in agility, obedience, dog dancing and more. Lots of advice for dog owners and breeders; plenty of dog stuff to buy and kids under 12 go free. Which breed will stand out as Best in Show this year?
Also on around the UK this week:
Dancin' Oxford, the Oxford Dance Festival is on all over Oxford until next Monday. The city's spring dance extravaganza includes performances, workshops and taster sessions, an interactive dance experience, dancing in the dark on your own and a festival night club.
Agatha Christie's Black Coffee runs from Tuesday to Saturday at the New Theatre in Cardiff. Robert Powell, who counts† Jesus in Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth as one of his most iconic roles, takes on another almost equally iconic character for this production, Hercule Poirot.
Beethoven's 9th Symphony is the highlight of a choral and symphonic concert at Exeter Cathedral in Devon on Saturday. The Exeter Philharmonic Choir and Exeter Symphony Orchestra will also perform the overture to Wagner's Die Meistersinger and Blest Pair of Sirens by Parry. Tickets from the Cathedral Box Office start at £12.
Comedy Night at the Custard Factory, Birmingham's trendy shopping, media, creative and entertainment venue, launches on Wednesday with the opening of The Comedy Hut, a monthly event scheduled for the first Wednesday of every month.The event will feature established comedy acts for the bargain ticket price of £8. Joe Lycett, the opening act, is known to UK audiences from 8 out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. There are only 100 tickets per event so you need to book fast.
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Maybe you've been thinking of a trip to Britain for a couple of years now but one thing or another put you off. This year is the one to go for if you really need a reason to come to the UK. We've got some beauts in 2014.
Glasgow will be pushing the boat out for the Commonwealth Games. The Tour de France is opening with a few hundred miles of England, both Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas mark important milestones, and, on the eve of its historic vote about whether to stay in or opt out of† the United Kingdom, Scotland remembers the 700th anniversary of its most famous battle for independence. Oh and did I mention the Ryder Cup? And the Downton Abbey Trail? And some really delicious food festivals? And the new-look Stonehenge?
What are you waiting for? Read about the 10 Best Reasons to Visit the UK in 2014. Then stop dithering and book your ticket for heaven's sake.
Readers sometimes ask me about touring England by driving down country lanes and stopping in one pretty village after another. Unfortunately, they usually want to spend four days touring the whole country and have included a half a dozen far flung destinations in their itinerary.
It is true that England is packed with lovely villages and quiet country roads. But the trouble is, if you are in a hurry to get from one place to another, you won't find them. The villages have stayed quaint because they are off the beaten path; the roads remain quiet because they don't connect big towns and major destinations.
If, however, you are prepared to set aside a day for back country explorations, there are some wonderful places to discover. This past weekend, heading out for a really good pub lunch in the pretty village of Finchingfield, Essex, I discovered an area well worth exploration. The village sits at the intersection of the B1053 and the B1057 (which will be part of the Cambridge to London leg of the Tour de France this July).
Both of these quiet rural roads are dotted, here and there, with thatched cottages and pretty farmhouses, and along the way you can visit the market towns of Saffron Walden and Great Bardfield (lots of good tea shops in the town center). Both are well endowed with ancient timber framed buildings and substantial Georgian houses. Continue on to Thaxted for a quite stunning ancient Guildhall and Stoney Street lined with Medieval houses. At Thaxted, pick up the B184, designated a scenic route by VisitEngland, the official tourist authority.
And I've seen daffs and crocuses opening in London's parks as well. That must mean spring is almost here. Gardens and parks all over the UK are celebrating the arrival of blankets of snowdrops this week. Here's where to find some of the best:
Scottish Snow Drop Festival Scotland's gardens show off their carpets of quivering white blooms now through March 16. Hundreds of varieties of snowdrops are on display at 53 gardens - some not usually open in winter. And there's a chance to have a cup of tea and a cake here and there and to buy some bulbs as well. At the Cambo Estate in St Andrews, Fife, after you admire more than 350 kinds of snowdrops, you can join in family activities, learn some practical gardening, enjoy a beer festival, shop for snowdrop gifts or take part in one of their free, weekly workshops.
Snowdrops with the National Trust Every year, the National Trust highlights its properties with the best snowdrop displays. Among those picked out are some of my favorites - Attingham Park, Fountain's Abbey and Nymans.
Wild Swans at Welney - You can watch the wardens feed the wild swans that visit the WWT Welney Wetland Center in North Norfolk, every day at 3:30pm until early March. But for a real treat, visit this week on Thursday or Friday to see the spectacle illuminated by floodlights at 6:30pm. Paths at the center are still flooded from the recent rains, but the main heated observation center is unaffected.
Bath Literature Festival It may have nothing to do with nature or wildlife, but with comedians Jennifer Saunders and Mark Watson both putting in appearances to flog their books, the Bath Literary Festival, opening on Friday, could get wild.
Blenheim Palace among the heritage award winners
A haunting legend made real, a glamorous campsite in the vineyard of a castle, great shopping at a magnificent estate and an undiscovered Victorian museum in Wales were among the winners and highly commended award recipients of the Hudson Heritage Awards, announced yesterday at Goldsmiths' Hall in London.
The awards, an offshoot of Hudson's Media (publishers of accommodation guides, official tourist board guides and the Hudson's Explorer Pass), recognize successful projects and visitor experiences at heritage attractions all over the UK. The awards, judged by an independent panel, cover 11 categories ranging from best family day out to favorite picnic spot (the grounds of Chatsworth).
Heritage tourism is big business in Britain. It accounts for a £26.4 billion contribution to the UK economy (Heritage Lottery Fund figures) and supports at least 200,000 jobs. The UK government office of statistics indicates that 72% of UK adults visit a heritage attraction at least once a year. And, according to a Visit Britain survey of 20,000 incoming tourists, more than 75% intended to visit a stately home, castle or historic monument.
Among the highlights this year were heritage awards for:
- Family Day Out - Holkham Hall & Estate in Norfolk
- Accommodation - Knight's Glamping at Leeds Castle in Kent, a village of striped pavilions set in the castle vineyard and based on a Medieval design. Leeds Castle was one of the places Henry VIII and his queen, Catherine of Aragon, stayed - along with their retinues of 5,000, en route to The Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 when Henry met the French King Francis I. Some of their courtiers no doubt stayed in similar tents.
- Shopping - Blenheim Palace, where a new shop specialises in First World War memorabilia inspired by Blenheim's latest exhibition.
- Hidden Gem - The Judge's Lodging in Presteigne, Powys in Wales, the restoration of the upstairs/downstairs life of what was once known as "the most commodious and elegant apartments for a judge in all England and Wales."
Award winner Pentille Castle , now a boutique B&B in Cornwall, was only "highly commended" in its category - New Discovery, but made the best story of the day in my books. The castle's builder, Sir James Tillie, asked to be buried in a favorite garden folly, sitting up in his favorite chair and supplied with wine and food. Apparently, Tillie's servant's brought him wine and food for two years. The folly became one of the oldest garden mausoleums in Britain. Local people had always assumed that eventually Tillie's body was moved to a nearby churchyard. But, in 2012, when the mausoleum was being restored, a brick-roofed, vaulted chamber was found under the floor. And in it, was Tillie's leather chair!
photo ©Ferne Arfin
Well of course you should. If you've booked travel to the UK in winter you weren't expecting balmy weather were you?
But with the kind of extreme weather we've been having since the end of December, you probably want to keep your plans loose and flexible and keep up with the latest information about weather distruptions. Check out my top tips on How to Cope with Extreme Weather on Your UK Vacation.
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