Halloween is here in eerie England, spooky Scotland and weird Wales!

Do you believe in ghosts?  You may well do after your Britain vacation!  In the wake of Halloween I have been asked about where to visit for a good fright-fest and in a nation with such a long history, it seems that there are eerie goings on whenever and wherever you visit! 

Pumpkin on Halloween
Pumpkin on Halloween

In Scotland you should start of course with a visit to the eerie waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.  For years there have been sightings of the famous Loch Ness Monster, an unidentified sea creature which reputedly lives in the depths of the murky lake.  After a cruise on the Loch with one of the local guides you’ll definitely come away believing there really is something down there!  From the Highlands to historic Edinburgh where there are a wealth of walking tours to choose from to hear the city’s ghost stories; only the bravest however will venture beneath the city’s old town itself to Mary King’s Close, a warren of alleys which were buried beneath the city and sealed from the outside for centuries and which are haunted by victims of the black plague!

London too is host to a number of chilling tales.  Why not embark on a tour which visits the sites of the grisly murders of a number of women at the hands of one of the most notorious murderers of England, Jack the Ripper; try to discover his true identity and solve one of Victorian England’s greatest mysteries.  For something a little lighter, you could take the children to the Harry Potter film studios to discover the secrets of the Dark Arts, see the study of professor Snape and meet the Dementors face to er… hood.  In the West Country of England the brave may choose to venture down 50 000 year old natural caves to unravel the mystery of the Witch of Wookey Hole who, according to local legend, was turned to stone and still stands lurking in the shadows of the caverns.

Mary King's Close - Edinburgh
Mary King’s Close – Edinburgh

Crossing the border, you’ll visit the ancient land of Wales which is renowned for its Medieval castles which were the setting for torturous killings and bloody battles.  Almost every fortress has at least one resident ghost and eerie tales of hauntings from the depths of the dungeons to the tops of the towers.  Conwy Castle in the north is haunted by a soldier whose wife and child fell to their deaths from the watch tower whilst at Cardiff Castle look out for the Marquess of Bute who roams the library and passes through a wall to the chapel where he breathed his final breath.

If you’re not scared yet, why not come and see for yourself if they’re real on your own Britrain vacation!  For further information on visiting any of the above locations or tours, let us know.  Or if you have your own eerie tale, why not leave us a comment below!

50 Years of the Beatles!

I am no paperback writer, but thought I would jot down a few words from me to you about the Beatles event this weekend that saw over sixteen hundred people come together to sing one of the fab four’s greatest hits.

Beatles Story Exhibition, Liverpool
Beatles Story Exhibition, Liverpool

Ok, enough of the puns! Throughout 2012 Liverpool in England has played host to a series of events and festivals to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Beatles and their dramatic rise to world-wide fame.  From humble beginnings, growing up in suburbs of one of the North of England‘s most rugged cities, the Beatles performed their first gig in August 1962 at the 17th annual dance of the horticultural Society of Liverpool, and they never looked back!  As part of the celebrations and on the 50th anniversary of the release of the group’s first single “Love me Do”, Saturday (October 5th 2012) saw the people of Liverpool break an official world record.  Taking place at the Pier Head in front of Liverpool’s famous Liver Buildings, and co-ordinated by staff from

Albert Docks and Liver Building, Liverpool
Albert Docks, Liverpool

the nearby Beatles Story exhibition, the gathering of 1631 people singing in a round was verified by Guinness World Records adjudicator Anna Orford as an official world record.  The group, singing “Love Me Do” which reached number 17 in the charts in 1962, consisted of 934 members from local choirs including the Liverpool signing choir, who recently performed at the Olympics closing ceremony, as well as hundreds of locals and visitors to the city.  Congratulations to all who took part!

Liverpool is jam packed with Beatles heritage and well worth a visit or a day trip(per) at any time of year.  Oh dear, that’s another pun – now I just need to work out how to fit in “Yellow Submarine” and “I am the Walrus”!

Downton Abbey has the X Factor

With the Autumnal weather setting in here in Britain, and the Summer holidays well and truly over, many people dread their Sunday evenings at this time of year.  For me however Sunday evenings just got a whole lot better as I can once again indulge in a guilty pleasure with the return of Downton Abbey to our television screens.

The period costume drama, set in Edwardian middle England, has just returned to the British television schedules for its third season and appears to be going from strength to strength.  Whilst it wouldn’t do my street cred much good to admit I’m a fan, I can’t be the only one tuning in; last Sunday’s episode saw it watched by over a third of the viewing public with figures at times reaching levels achieved by the latest series of Simon Cowell’s X-Factor which precedes it in the schedules.

Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle, aka Downton Abbey

One of the show’s attractions has to be the top class acting; Maggie Smith has just scooped a grammy for her role and there is a raft of other young British talent in the cast.  For me though, the main appeal is the escapism, the opportunity to lose myself in a bygone era of smart dress suits and frilly dresses and all set against the magnificently grandiose back drop of the Abbey itself.  The show is filmed at the magnificent Highclere Castle, a Victorian manor in central England which is still privately owned by the Carnavon family whose generations have lived there since the 17th century.  The family however open their home and gardens to visitors throughout the Summer months and next year it is at the top of my list for places to visit.

Downton Abbey is currently screened in over 100 countries around the world, so if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t miss a chance to tune in when it comes to a network near you.  Or if you fancy the real thing, why not come over to England and wander the gardens and grounds of Highclere Castle yourself as you pretend to be one of the Crawley family – I won’t tell anyone if you won’t!

Olympics Fever!

As a rather self-deprecating nation, the Great British public had been looking forward to London 2012 with some cynicism and quite frequent grumbles regarding the cost of hosting the games in tough economic times.  It is quite safe to say however that all of that has now been forgotten as Great Britain have come down with an incurable case of Olympic Fever.

Whilst I have had mixed feedback from my friends and colleagues overseas regarding the opening ceremony, at home we were generally impressed with Danny Boyle’s vision of Britain through the ages taking viewers from the quaint Cotswolds countryside through the industrial revolution to the swinging sixties and popular culture of today.  And indeed, the Queen of England’s cameo role

Olympic Stadium during spectacular Opening Ceremony
Olympic Stadium during Opening Ceremony

(which she apparently nailed in one take) as parachuting bond-girl went down a treat both at home and abroad.

Since then however Britain has been glued to its television screens watching as the wealth of stories unravel and medals roll in for team GB.  Yesterday, or “super Saturday” as it has now been coined, saw a mini-climax with our best Olympic day since 1908, as the home nation won no fewer than 6 gold medals in one day!

I was lucky enough to have received tickets for a couple of events and got to visit the Olympic Park this week.  The park itself was stunning and the atmosphere was absolutely electric and the party atmosphere was apparent throughout the city which made the metropolis of London feel somewhat like an English Cotswolds village where everyone knows everyone.  The day was made all the more enjoyable by the volunteers or “games makers” who were always on hand to welcome visitors, assist and generally keep the crowd going.

Party Atmosphere at Beach Volleyball Even in Horseguards Parade
Party Atmosphere at Beach Volleyball Event in Horseguards Parade

The Princes William and Harry have been present at the Olympics all week, watching a range of events and leading the support for local competitors.  In an informal interview with BBC presenter Sue Barker they demonstrate their ease in the public eye with some good British banter and revealing that they were unaware of their grandmother, the Queen’s, role in the Games’ opening sequence.  If you can find the interview on youtube it is definitely worth a watch if only for William’s embarrassment about potentially being caught on the “kiss cam” with his wife and Harry quipping of the Queen that “Both of us were slightly surprised with our grandmother’s secret hobby of parachuting”.

As Britain looks forward to another week of breath-taking Olympic events and a potentially unprecedented haul of medals, we are unlikely to shake this case of Olympic Fever any time soon.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Britain is renowned for its weather – or more accurately its rainy weather – and our obsession with it as a topic for social conversation, so this Summer we have had lots to talk about!

2012 to date has been one of our wettest years on record with the rainy weather hitting all areas of Britain even through the “Summer” months when we should be experiencing some sunshine.  Music fans have seen concerts and festivals interrupted and sporting events have been affected at the British Grand Prix (where the car parks werewaterlogged) and at Wimbledon where almost every day of the tournament saw interruptions of play due to rain (thank heavens for the roof on centre court!).

Wild Bee Orchid in English Meadow.
Wild Bee Orchid in English Meadow.

However, always one to focus on the positive, there has been one winner comeout of all this: the British countryside!  England, Scotland and Wales are renowned for their lush green landscapes and the rain fall this year has seen our woodlands and meadows come out in bloom with an unprecedented vigour.  Horticulturists have been in their element as their gardens have blossomed and as a host of new and rare wild-flowers have flourished in our countryside.  In particular a number of rare species of Orchid have thrived including the unique and beautiful bee orchid whose colourful bloom appears like a small bee insect perched in the centre of the pink and purple petals.

The 15th of July in Britain is known as St Swithun’s Day, a day dedicated to the 1st century Bishop of Winchester.  According to folklore the weather that occurs on his day each year will continue for the next forty days.  It is a bright morning today here in Cardiff so I will be selectively superstitious and hope that the next month or so will bring some sunny weather, not least for the Olympic games which is coming to London in a couple of weeks time!  But whether the weather rains or shines, if you’re walking in the countryside this Summer, make the most of the colourful array of rare flowers and keep an eye out for the bee orchid!