England’s Top Five Cathedrals.

Following the discovery of Richard III’s remains under a car-park in Leicester, the body is likely to be re-interred in the grounds of the nearby Leicester Cathedral – a situation which, combined with the opening of a dedicated exhibition, has seen a twenty-fold increase its visitor numbers.  Leicester Cathedral, however, is just one of a number of English cathedrals which remain incredibly popular with visitors looking to explore their history, wealth of cultural artefacts and some truly stunning medieval architecture. But which are England’s most beautiful and interesting cathedrals?  Here are some of our favourites:

Salisbury Cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

A stunning gothic masterpiece, Salisbury Cathedral is a bit of a front-runner.  Built, as one of many English cathedrals after the Norman invasion of 1066, Salisbury is home to Britain’s tallest cathedral spire but also Europe’s oldest working clock dating back to the 1300s.  Visitors can view an original copy of the Magna Carta or climb the 332 step spiral staircase of the main tower, which leans almost two feet, and offers spectacular views over the city and the Salisbury Plain to Stonehenge and beyond.

Winchester Cathedral.
Near to Salisbury, Winchester Cathedral was once the site of a small Anglo-Saxon church but was later transformed in to the magnificent cathedral that still stands today.  Guests once flocked to here to visit the final resting place of St Swithun, whose remains supposedly offer healing qualities to the sick, whilst visitors today are more likely to enjoy the exhibition dedicated to Jane Austen who is laid to rest within the cathedral grounds.

Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral Stained glass windows.
Canterbury Cathedral Stained glass windows.

Possibly England’s most renowned cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral is currently basking in the limelight following the recent enthronement of a new Arch Bishop of Canterbury.  The cathedral has been the destination of pilgrimages since the middle ages and the murder of the then bishop Thomas Beckett as related in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Today’s pilgrims come in the form of tourists who flock to see the magnificent 12th and 13th century stained-glass “Miracle Windows” and the cathedral’s surrounding medieval structures such as the monastic ruins and the revived herbarium.

York Minster.
The seat of the Archbishop of York, York Minster’s importance in the Anglican Church is second only to that of Canterbury.  The Minster is the largest medieval cathedral in Northern Europe, dominating the York skyline and, from the 602 metre tall central tower, offers stunning views over the surrounding countryside towards the Dales and Moors.  Guests can enjoy the intricate gothic architecture and the world’s largest area of medieval stained glass in a single window.

St Pauls Cathedral.

St Pauls Cathedral Interior
St Pauls Cathedral Interior

Burnt down twice in its history, most recently in the Great Fire of London of 1666, St Pauls Cathedral as it stands today was a 35 year labour of love of architect Sir Christopher Wren.  And its magnificent dome remains an unmistakable feature of London’s iconic skyline today.  At the time of building, the dome was the second largest in the world, behind only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and in the interior is painted with intricate frescoes of the life of St Paul.  Visitors today can explore the cathedral from top to bottom from the crypt through the whispering gallery to the Golden Gallery at the very pinnacle of the dome.

These are five of our top selected English Cathedrals but there are many more besides.  In Wells the towering cathedral dominates what is essentially a small town, Lincoln Cathedral appeared in the “Da Vinci Code” film, Durham Cathedral enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status whilst Liverpool boasts no fewer than two cathedrals (both Anglican and Catholic).  If you want to explore England’s cathedral cities then why not tailor-make your own tour by contacting us here.

Great Expectations of the Dickens Museum!

Whilst mulling over the purchase of some Christmas presents this week I was first told that “procrastination is the thief of time” and then, when I opted for a cheap item, that I was a “Scrooge”!  I was slightly insulted by the comments but then realised that they were actually both quotes from Dickens novels.  Like Shakespeare, Dickens’ works and characters seem to have pervaded our lives and language, much of the time without us realising.  That’s when I added a visit to the newly reopened Charles Dickens Museum in London to my Christmas list.

Dickens Museum Library, London
Dickens Museum Library, London

In 2012 England celebrated the 200th anniversary of his birth and what better a finale of this bicentenary than the re-opening of the Charles Dickens Museum on Monday after its massive £3.1 million investment.  Located in the writer’s former family home in Bloomsbury central London, the museum has been welcoming visitors since 1925, but was struggling to keep up with the through flow.  Following this lottery funded investment the Victorian town house located at 48 Doughty Street has been completely restored to its former glory whilst the neighbouring house has also undergone extensive conversion to house a brand new visitor centre, learning centre and cafe.  The aim is to secure the sites for future generations and provide a visitor experience for the 21st century.

Westminster Abbey, London
Westminster Abbey, London

And it seems to be achieving its aims; the upgraded museum now offers visitors the opportunity to step back in time and walk around the immaculate Grade II listed building  which is completely furnished and decorated as Dickens himself would have known it.  The location where he penned some of his most famous works, including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, the house is bustling with memorabilia including a range of documents, photographs, manuscripts and the writing desk which he designed himself.  Guests can also experience the family kitchen, drawing room and the newly opened attic room which now houses a range of personal materials detailing his troubled childhood.  And once you’re finished at the museum you may want to pop over to Westminster Abbey to visit his final resting place in the Poets Corner.

So this Christmas, after I have revisited the familiar story of “A Christmas Carol” once again, it will be with great expectation that I open my Christmas presents in the hope that someone will have given me an admission ticket for the museum.  And if they haven’t?  Bah humbug!

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!

A Stirling Day Out!

Central to much of Scotland’s tumultuous history, Stirling Castle has seen its fair share of battles over the years but now it can celebrate another victory as it has been rated the UK’s top heritage attraction.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle

The castle, located in the charming town of Stirling in central Scotland, has topped a recent survey conducted by British consumer group Which? who have taken up the challenge to try and rate Britain’s wealth of heritage sites.  The survey which took place between 2009 and 2011 asked people to rate their experiences of British visitor attractions they had been to and covered a range of criteria including the value for money, customer service and information provided at each site.  The recently released results show that Stirling Castle topped the list across the categories fending off challenges from other favourite heritage highlights including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and a number of other historic Castles across England, Scotland and Wales.

Recently Restored Palace Apartments
Palace Apartments

Stirling Castle is Scotland’s second most visited heritage site behind its close neighbour Edinburgh Castle which overlooks the Scottish capital city.  Stirling, the lesser known of the two castles, has played a key role in Scottish history; it was once the ruling seat of Scotland, saw the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots and was the preferred residence of the Stewart dynasty.  Last year however the castle saw the reopening of the palace apartments which have seen a £12 million restoration to their historic splendour and how they may have appeared in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.  It is thought that this investment has helped Stirling Castle reach its full potential which has now been recognized by its visitors in the results of this survey.