Andy Murray – Wimbledon Champion!

Few of us thought we would see the day; and once it arrived few of us felt we would survive it!  In a breathtakingly dramatic final, yesterday Scotland‘s Andy Murray clinched championship point to become Britain’s first male Wimbledon single champion in 77 years – and Britain couldn’t be prouder!

Wimbledon Logo
Wimbledon Logo

I blogged last year about our annual obsession with tennis during the Championships and this year was no different.  After seeing Andy Murray reach Wimbledon final in 2012 only to lose in straight sets to the ever dominant and seven-time champion Roger Federer, Brits were holding their breath yesterday when we had a second chance to see a Brit once again lift the trophy in London.  And the feat was to be no easier this year as he faced world number one from Serbia, Novak Djokovic.  The win was, on paper, a straight-forward victory with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 straight sets score-line; not a tie-break or fifth set in sight!  However in reality it was a tight tussle with Murray twice having to come back from a break down once in each of the second and third sets.

Andy Murray - Wimbledon
Andy Murray with Wimbledon Trophy

However, it was in the final game that the drama really unfolded; for the last few weeks we have cooked in one of our warmest Summers in a long while, but yesterday, in London‘s blistering heat, Andy Murray made us sweat for a whole new reason.  Coming out to serve for the match Murray made it to 40-0 and held three consecutive championship points only for the Serbian player, with a combination of bravery, skill and a hint of luck, to edge his way back in to the game.  Equalling at deuce all of a sudden what had seemed like a certain victory now hung once more in the balance.  The tension was tangible in the stadium, on Henman Hill and on sofas up and down the country from the highest of the Scottish Highlands to the tip of Cornwall in England as Djokovic enjoyed three break points before Murray steadied the ship and his nerves finally clinching the victory on his fourth match point.

As Murray roared in celebration so did the British public.  More than 20 million people in Britain, almost a third of the population, tuned in to watch the final –  a sign of just what this historic win meant to the nation!  Well done Andy Murray!

Liverpool – A Capital City!

“Why should you never swerve your car to hit a Scouser on a bike…?”  This is the beginning of a joke about Liverpool that I heard in the pub last week. I’ll tell you the punchIine shortly, but needless to say it is not complimentary of the city.  Incidentally the joker had never actually been to the city but it seems that here in Britain it is fair game to poke fun at Liverpool and the city still takes a good verbal bashing from the peoples of other areas of England.  So why was Liverpool named European capital of culture as recently as 2008?  What is the culture of Liverpool?  And what on earth is a Scouser?

Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008.  Flag.
Liverpool Captial of Culture, 2008. Flag.

As a major port, Liverpool boomed during the industrial revolution from international trade and immigration from Ireland.  Lobscouse was the regional dish, a hearty Lamb Stew that was eaten by the Sailors and shipbuilders after a long day out in the cold dockyards and it is from this that the colloquial name for  Liverpudlian’s (people from Liverpool) is derived, Scouser and the name of the accent, Scouse.  By the 1980’s however the city’s heavy industries fell in to decline and in 1981 an area of Liverpool called Toxteth was the scene for some of the worst riots in England.  For many Brits, it is from this era that Liverpool and Scousers still hold their reputations, hence the jokes and stereotypes suggesting that Liverpool is high on crime and with many deprived areas.

Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.
Liver Buildings, Albert Docks, Liverpool.

So why was Liverpool named European Capital of Culture?  Well, Liverpool has bounced back from its eighties lows.  Aesthetically, Liverpool has always been very appealing; it is home to a number of iconic landmarks, as the only city in Europe with not one, but two Christian cathedrals, an elegant 18th century town hall and the stunning riverside Liver Buildings.  But in recent years this has only improved with the redevelopment of the cosmopolitan Albert Docks area, now home to trendy bars, boutique shops and popular museums and the addition of the “Liverpool One” commercial centre which offers some of the best shopping in the North of England.

But surely “culture” really lies within the people of a city and any city that has experienced the turbulent history that Liverpool has must have bundles of character.   In fact Liverpool has given birth to a hugely disproportionate number of Britain‘s best-loved actors, comics and TV personalities not to mention a few singer/songwriters that you may have heard of: John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool
Eleanor Rigby Statue, Stanley Street, Liverpool

The Beatles, of course hailed from Liverpool and catapulted the city into the international Limelight with their Mersey Beat and Pop/Rock sounds.  They were inspired by the city, it’s people and their humble surroundings such as Penny Lane, a quiet suburban street, and Strawberry Field, a local city orphanage. Indeed even the Cavern Club where the Beatles first performed together remains unassuming and fairly low-key. Today you will see a number of sculptures all over the city such as those of the Beatles themselves, the un-missable Yellow Submarine at Liverpool Airport and the, rather fittingly, little known statue of Eleanor Rigby sat alone on a bench tucked away on a quiet side street.

So if culture is about people then it is little wonder that Liverpool won city of culture in 2008; Scousers, are loyal and humble, abundant in personality and with unrivalled sense of humour even in hard times.  So, the joke I heard goes: “You should never Swerve your car to hit a Scouser because the chances are that the bike is yours…”.  However in reality this is an outdated view of this magnificent city – if you did knock a Scouser off his bike today he would probably get up, dust himself off, check your car wasn’t damaged and then offer to buy you a pint in the pub down the road. And if you don’t believe me, why not visit yourself!

Check out our blog from 2012 – 50 years of the Beatles.

 

Keep Calm and Carry On!

Walk in to any tourist gift-shop in London and you’re faced with a deluge of merchandise all with one slogan (or at least variations of it) – Keep Calm and Carry On!  Parodied time and again by individuals, groups, comics and entire industries, where did this slogan come from and how did it become so entwined with all things British? And are we (and our tourists) fed up with it yet? Well, to find out, simply keep calm and carry on reading…

Keep Calm Merchandise
Keep Calm Merchandise

Keep Calm and Carry On.  This simple slogan actually first appeared on a poster that was created by the British government in 1939.  Facing imminent war with Germany, it was one of three such images which, printed against a red background below the King’s crown, were designed to stir nationalist pride, strengthen the public’s resolve and maintain morale in the event of invasion.  More than 2.5 million of them were published ready for distribution across Britain but (thankfully) all remained in storage throughout the war.

Keep Calm and Book
Our Contribution!

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the poster was rediscovered by a bookseller from Northumberland in the North of England who framed an original copy of the poster and hung it in his bookshop.  It was not long before he was inundated with requests to purchase it and decided to print copies for sale.  Soon after, it seems, the craze swept England and it wasn’t long before the slogan was appearing on all manner of merchandise including mugs, t-shirts, aprons, mouse mats to name just a few.  And it was then that the parodying began and variations of the slogan first started to appear.  Many agree that the simple and most original remain the best including: Now Panic and Freak Out, Keep Calm and Have a Beer, and one of our favourites, the Yoda-inspired – Calm You Shall Keep and Carry On You Must.  At one stage Amazon listed more than 440 thousand items with “Keep Calm and” in the title…!

There’s no doubt that there is something very British about the slogan and indeed the humour of its parodies; namely the classic juxtaposition of a charming understated tone, set against the seriousness and drama of war.  But have we had enough of it yet?  Well, I guess only the demand for the items will decide!  In the meantime, sorry but we couldn’t resist our own contribution – Keep Calm and Book your Britain Vacation!

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.

Celebrating Wales – St David’s Day!

What do leeks, small onion-like vegetables, and daffodils, beautiful glowing yellow flowers, have in common?  Well, quite a lot if you’re Welsh actually.

Wales Flag
Wales Flag – Welsh Dragon

Last Friday the little nation of Wales celebrated its National Day as it does every year on 1st March.  Whilst not as internationally well known as the celebrations of St Patricks Day, which come around just shortly afterwards, the festival of St David is celebrated just as vigorously by the Welsh, who are certainly a proud and patriotic bunch.  So who was St David and how do the Welsh celebrate?

A 6th century Welsh Bishop of Minevia, legend has it that St David made his way from Wales on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was made an archbishop and returned home to become a renowned preacher and teacher setting up monastic settlements throughout the country.  His miracles include moving the earth itself as it rose up beneath him whilst he was giving one of his speeches.

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales
Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Almost 900 years later, St David was pronounced a saint and today St David’s Day, which is celebrated on the date of his death, marks an unmissable highlight of spring-time in Wales.  Celebrations take place across the country in every town and village of this little nation but the centrepiece of the festival takes place in the capital city of Cardiff.  Here there are master-classes in Welsh culture and cuisine with language workshops of the ancient Welsh tongue and culinary expositions taking place offering tasty treats such as the traditional Welsh cakes, Cawl and Welsh Rarebit.  The hi

The Daffodil - National Symbol of Wales
The Daffodil – National Symbol of Wales

ghlight is a vibrant parade of red and yellow which marches through the city past the stunning Cardiff Castle and on to St David’s Hall.  Dancers and theatrical performers come together to create a grand spectacle showing off the symbols of Wales such as giant dancing red dragons, and children in the traditional dress of black chimney hats, frilly skirts and white shawls.  And of course no Welsh celebration would be complete without some fine Welsh music whether from the national orchestra, a rendition of the stirring national anthem, the traditional dulcet tones of

some of Wales’ world renowned male-voice choirs or some the country’s best known international divas such as Tom Jones or Shirley Bassey.

And of course the locals are out in force wearing their national symbols of Wales proudly on their breast – the lowly leek or the beautiful daffodil.