More bang for your Buck on your Britain vacation!

Dollars and Pounds
Dollars and Pounds

The British economy has weathered the international downturn fairly well, and in recent years has shown some promising signs of recovery. Whilst this was great for us Brits as we headed off abroad on our holidays with a strong pound (£) buying lots in other currencies, exchange rates have not always been so great for people coming here. Whilst the value of holidaying in Britain has never been in question, it now looks like this year it is only set to get better! As other economies catch up with the UK, for the first time in several years, exchange rates with the US and Australian dollars (amongst others) have swung distinctly in favour of visitors to Britain. Indeed in 2015 our international guests are now going to get, to coin a classic American phrase, “even more bang for their buck!”.

Self Drive Tour Scotland
Self Drive Tour Scotland

Experts in British business and in the British travel industry in particular have said that the recent relative decline in the pound sterling is sure to have a great impact on people’s holiday plans and will certainly make the UK an even more attractive destination for international tourism. The appeal to the international visitor is enhanced by the fact that some of Britain’s main attractions include enjoyment of the low-cost, natural environments of England, Scotland and Wales. Visiting Britain’s areas of outstanding natural beauty such as the stunning coastlines of Devon and Cornwall or South West Wales, driving through the Cotswolds, hiking in the Scottish Highlands or enjoying walks in the English Lake District can be experienced at little financial outlay. And service experienced on tours, at attractions and amongst hoteliers is said to be exceptionally high following several years of local competition driving up standards.

English Lake District
English Lake District

In addition to the improvement in exchange rate, the cost of a barrel of oil has also tumbled which has, of course, had a significant knock-on effect to the price of petrol/gas at the pumps. In fact the price of petrol here in Britain currently stands at its lowest price in six years which makes touring the UK on a self-drive tour and getting around between all the sights even more cost effective. Likewise, the competitive cost of fuel has seen escorted coach tours in Britain remain keenly priced for 2015. The savings are enhanced if you choose to cover greater distances on your trip to reach the hidden corners of Britain in the north of Scotland or the South West of England. The price of fuel is set to remain at this recent low throughout the Summer touring season and well in to the Autumn.

So with the exchange rate improved, prices of touring coming down and service at its very best, it seems there is no better time to plan and book your trip to Britain!

Happy Hogmanay! What’s Hogmanay?

It will soon be time to say Happy New Year to all our readers, or as they may say in Scotland – Happy Hogmanay! So Hogmanay is just a Scottish word for New Year’s Eve? Far from it! Hogmanay is an entire festival in its own right – and as with many of Scotland’s cultural events it comes with its own array of unique traditions which the Scottish people take very seriously…! Here we thought we’d answer a few questions about this particular Scottish festival…

Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle at Hogmanay.
Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle at Hogmanay.

So there is a big party, right? The evening of Hogmanay is of course celebrated in the way Scots know best – with lots of music, spectacle, dancing and perhaps a nip of whisky. Edinburgh is a focal point for celebration with an organised ticketed street-party taking place in recent years, however previously an unofficial gathering would take place on the Royal Mile around the old Tron Church – with the clock of ancient tower decidedly unreliable chaos would ensue around midnight with various groups celebrating at different times and on different count-downs!

Is Hogmanay just celebrated in Edinburgh? No, celebrations take-place up and down the country and are not immune to local and regional twists. In Stonehaven near Aberdeen, giant balls of mesh filled with flammable material attached to chains are lit upon the tolling of the midnight bells and swung around the heads of the marchers who parade up and down the High Street. Think that’s strange? On the Isle of Orkney it is said there used to be a tradition where the man-folk took turns to don the remains of a burnt out cow’s head – why, no one is quite sure… The Highland city of Inverness and historic Stirling both opted for more traditional festivities and hosted magnificent music concerts this year.

Dancing to Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay.
Dancing to Auld Lang Syne on Hogmanay.

Is there one thing which is done across Scotland? Wherever the celebrations take place, you can guarantee to hear the familiar tune of Auld Lang Syne! This traditional Scots poem, penned by famed Scottish poet Robert Burns, will be boomed out of every pub and inn throughout Scotland as people link arms to dance and sing-along. And of course this is a tradition not only also adopted in England and Wales but exported across the world! But as the Scots will tell you, it’s only done properly in Scotland.

And after midnight and the singing ends, the festival is over? Not a chance! First-footing is an old custom which remains observed today whereby people go to visit friends and neighbours after midnight. You should of course come bearing gifts and if your first visitor (or first-footer) is a tall, dark man with lump of coal then that is particularly lucky (obviously!).

Dooking in Edinburgh at Hogmanay
Dooking in Edinburgh at Hogmanay

But you can rest on New Year’s Day, right? Erm, not exactly. Unless you consider going for a swim in the sea relaxing – bearing in mind this is January and you’re in Scotland! Recent years have seen a resurrection of this old tradition known as “Dooking” whereby people gather to go for a nice dip in Scotland’s icy coastal waters on New Year’s Day. The aptly named “Looney Dook” in South Queensferry in Edinburgh is now a recognised part of the city’s Hogmanay celebrations and many swear it is the ultimate antidote for the excesses of the previous night – we’ll take their word for it!

New year’s Day is of course a public holiday across the UK, however, uniquely in Scotland, January 2nd is also a public holiday which means most people enjoy an extra day off work. Some people in England and Wales are jealous of this whilst others simply believe, after all that ritual, they deserve it!

Our Top Five Tips for your London Stay!

London should be on everyone’s bucket list but you could easily spend a couple of weeks in the city and still not see everything it has to offer. On your England trip, we understand that your time and budget in the English Capital may be limited so here are our own tips to make the very most of your visit to London!

Travel like a Londoner – Buy an Oyster Card.

Oyster Card and Tube Map
Oyster Card and Tube Map

With one of these in your back pocket you’ll travel London like a true local.  But “what is an Oyster Card?” I hear you say – basically it is a travel card which is valid for use on all of central London’s public transport networks, namely the busses, some over ground trains and of course the famous tube (underground rail network).  The card itself costs only a couple of pounds and then you pre-load it with credit which is deducted each time you use it.  The card is easily charged at any ticket office and is easy to use by simply swiping it at the barriers in the tube stations or at the dedicated pads on board a bus. And the best thing is that it will always charge you the best fares possible so if you’re using it all day it automatically stops charging you once you hit the rate of a normal full-day ticket!

Enjoy the free Museums!

British Museum, London
British Museum, London

They say that the best things in life are free and that’s certainly true when it comes to London’s museums.  Whilst London can be an expensive city, all of London’s publicly owned major art galleries and museums are totally free to enter.  So whatever your interests – whether it’s the faces of English Kings and Queens in the National Portrait Gallery, the ancient artefacts of the British and Natural History Museums, the latest gadgets in the Science Museum or the newly revamped Imperial War Museum make the most of this and explore some truly fascinating and world-class exhibitions!

Shop at the Markets.

Covent Garden Market, London
Covent Garden Market, London

There’s nothing quite like a London market – whether you’re in to vintage clothes, music, arts & crafts, gifts and souvenirs or simply to pick up something tasty for dinner that evening there’s a London market perfect for your purchase.  The atmosphere of the London street market is entirely unique, a bustle of activity with the local stall holders calling their prices and conversing in cockney rhyming slang.  They are a part of London life that’s fantastic to behold –  and of course, they are the best place to pick up a bargain or two.

See the Skyline of the City.

London Eye, London
London Eye, London

London is great from the ground but for some truly magnificent views of the vast cityscape in all its glory it is good to get above the rooftops.  And it’s easier than you might think – the London Eye which was originally built as a temporary structure to celebrate the turning of the Millennium remains the tallest observation wheel in Britain offering romantic views over the city from its enviable position on the South Bank of the river Thames directly opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  And if that’s not high enough why not head over to the East of the city to the city’s most recent addition at the architectural masterpiece of the Shard, now Europe’s tallest building with a viewing platform some 800 feet above the ground.

Do the Open-Top Bus Tour

City Sightseeing Tour Bus - London
City Sightseeing Tour Bus – London

Like many major visitor destinations, there is an open-top bus tour operating in London.  And as in most cities the tour offers excellent value and a convenient way in which to see the major sites.  However in London the value is amplified – all of the major operators have combined to offer one ticket which includes three separate tour routes around this vast city, not to mention a complementary River Cruise on the Thames and various themed walking tours.  The tickets are valid for a 24 or 48hr period from the point of validation meaning your exploration can span two or more calendar days and the tours are overwhelmingly manned by live-guides in the main season ensuring you gain real personal insight on board.

Why not check out our London City packages or ask your adeo Travel agent regarding adding a London stay to your Self-Drive or Rail Tour of Britain.

When in England, do as the Romans do…!? Our Top Five Roman Sites of England.

Late last year during the building of a new hotel in the heart of the city of London, workmen discovered the statue of an eagle clutching a writhing snake.  So well preserved, it was unimaginable that the statue could have been of Roman origin however specialists later confirmed that it did indeed date back to the 1st or 2nd century AD when the World’s greatest Empire had spread throughout England.  Today, the statue is on full display to the public in the Museum of London but if you want to get more in touch with Roman Britain why not walk in the footsteps of the Roman people themselves and visit some of the country’s most stunning excavated Roman sites.

Below is adeo Travel’s countdown of our Top Five Roman sites of England:

5. Roman York

Minories Roman Eagle Statue - Museum of London
Minories Roman Eagle Statue – Museum of London

The Romans had an excellent eye for identifying strategic locations for their settlements and this was never truer than when they inhabited what was previously an unsettled area in Yorkshire, but which would soon become the undisputed capital of the North of England.  The city of York was born in AD71 when the Romans pushed their empire North from Lincoln and gave them a strategic base at the point where the River Fosse meets the River Ouse and from whence they could continue to push north.  Today the Yorkshire Museum in York houses some of Britain’s most impressive Roman artefacts including mosaics, sculptures and tombstones whilst existing Roman remains can be spotted in situ at Multangular Tower and in excavations in the under croft beneath the magnificent York Minster itself.

4. Roman Amphitheatre in Chester

Roman Amphitheatre dig in Chester
Roman Amphitheatre dig in Chester

Chester, or Castra Devana as it was known by the Romans, was once England‘s largest Roman settlements covering some 60 acres.  It is thought the site was used for legionary training and as a strategic naval base on the River Dee as far back as 75AD.  With parts of the area having been carefully excavated since the 1960s it was not until 2004/2005 that archaeological investigations uncovered (literally) parts of England’s largest Roman amphitheatre which at its peak could have seated 7000 spectators and included a shrine to the Goddess Nemesis.

3. Cirencester, Capital of the Cotswolds

Roman Mozaic Corinium Museum, Cirencester, Cotswolds
Roman Mozaic Corinium Museum, Cirencester, Cotswolds

As a result of Roman settlement, the charming town of Cirencester became capital of the region which would later become known as the Cotswolds located in the heart of England.  Constructed in the 2nd Century AD, the Roman amphitheatre in the town would once have seated more than 8000 people; today it remains largely unexcavated but offers excellent walks for views of the town. In the heart of Cirencester however you’ll find its true gem at the Corinium Museum, a treasure-trove of local Roman heritage which houses arguably the best collection of Roman artefacts outside of London.  Also well-worth a visit are the nearby excavations of the Chedworth Roman Villa.

2. Roman Baths in Bath

Roman Baths in Bath City
Roman Baths in Bath City

Possibly England’s most visually spectacular Roman remain, the Roman Baths in the city of Bath were constructed as far back as the 1st century AD.  After discovery of hot water springs from the nearby Mendip Hills, with magnificently advanced engineering the Romans constructed their Temple of Sulis Minerva which was soon regarded as one of the best bathing stations throughout the entire Roman Empire and drew visitors from across Europe, even in those times!  Since its rediscovery in the 18th century, when workmen uncovered the bronze head of the goddess Minerva, the magnificent temple has been fully excavated and restored and today you can walk the worn slabs that the Romans themselves strolled along and even sample the mineral-rich water which drew them here in the first place all those centuries ago.

1. Hadrian’ Wall

Hadrian's Wall, North of England
Hadrian’s Wall, North of England

Undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of the Roman Empire in Britain, Hadrian’s Wall stretches from coast to coast across the North of England for almost 80 miles.  Constructed by Emperor Hadrian as a barrier to keep out the “uncivilised” Scottish Pictish people the wall was an early form of border control with deep ditches, tangled undergrowth and frequent forts and watch-towers defending the wall itself which in places reached 15 feet tall.  Long stretches of the wall remain in-tact today and provide excellent hiking routes whilst the Roman heritage comes to life at excavations and the best of the remaining wall-forts including those at Housesteads Fort, Chesters Fort and Birdoswald Fort not to mention at the Roman Army and Vindolanda Museums at Hexham.

For more information on experiencing first-hand any of the above locations as part of your tailor-made tour of England, simply ask your adeo Travel Britain vacation expert.

Burns Night – A Scottish Festival

The Scottish know how to have a good party – in Scotland both January 1st and 2nd are public holidays (so as to offer good recovery time from Hogmanay) and the national day, St Andrews Day, is patriotically celebrated.  There is little excuse needed then for a further festival which takes place across Scotland on January 25th each year to celebrate possibly the nation’s greatest poet – Robert “Rabbie” Burns – and few festivals could carry with them such intrinsically Scottish tradition!

Scottish Poet Robert Burns
Scottish Poet Robert Burns

Taking place on or around January 25th, each year, the Birthday of Robert Burns, “Burns Night” is celebrated widely throughout Scotland as a tribute to the life and works of this great Scottish poet.  Robert Burns, who was born in the 1700s and loved in the Scottish Borders region south of Glasgow, was, and still is, revered as a master of the Scots Language as well as writing in English and a Scots dialect of English; his poetry and folk songs are widely known across Scotland and indeed the world and include the famous “Auld Lang Syne” which is traditionally sung at Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) each year and of course, his “Address to a Haggis” a fantastic work dedicated to Scotland’s national dish.

Piping of the Haggis
Piping of the Haggis

The Burns Night celebration usually takes place as a traditional Burns Supper which can be a formal meeting and meal of a society, club or social group or simply a family gathering. Nowadays this gathering can take many forms however typically the evening starts with contributions from the attendees which could be story-telling, recitals of verse or performances of songs, original or old but most definitely including some of Burns’ work.  Then to the important business of food and drink – the main dish is of course Haggis (minced offal and oats cooked with onion and seasoning and served in a sheep’s stomach lining) usually served with neeps and tatties (Parsnips and Potatoes).  Traditionally the meal is served only after a recital of the famous “Address to a Haggis” often accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes in the background.  The dish is of course washed down with some quality single malt scotch whisky!  In more formal quarters the evening is then rounded off with “a toast to the lassies” whereby a male speaker shares his views and words of wisdom on the subject of women followed by what’s now often referred to as the “toast to the laddies” in which a female responds with her insights and anecdotes regarding  the male species!  And all followed with general socialising, drinking and banter that the Scots are so good at.

If you find yourself in Scotland in January, don’t miss out on a chance to experience a Burns Supper and even if you’re not here for Burns Night itself you can still enjoy a traditional Scottish evening in Edinburgh including the piping of the Haggis.

Scottish Festivals is one of “Top Five Reasons to Visit Scotland
For the full poem “Address to a Haggis” click here and to hear some stunning recitals click here.