Some of my favorite places in the UK and Ireland
By guest, Feb 11 2015 04:47PM
A Great Britain
The Big Island
A GREAT, Great Britain!
Clients often ask me what is my favorite part of Britain, and I find myself unable to answer.
Each part of Britain has its very special charm. The city of London is vibrant and exciting, combining modern hotels, restaurants, and attractions with ancient history, tradition, and pageantry. There literally is something for everyone in London, and visiting this city is always an exciting and wonderful experience.
But, London is no more Britain than New York City is America, and every region of Great Britain has its own special charm. The country villages in the Cotswolds look like something out of a storybook. The magnificent Yorkshire Dales and Lake District offer beautiful countryside and magnificent scenery. Southern England and the West country offer tiny seaside towns, Devon cream teas, mysterious Stonehenge, and the beautiful and wild Dartmoor National Park. Bath is a very special city with its ancient Roman baths and wonderful Georgian architecture. The most northern part of England, Northumberland, with its mighty castles; wild moors; tiny fishing villages on its East coast, and Hadrian's Wall, offers yet another view of this special land.
Continuing North, one crosses the border into Scotland, a land steeped in history with wonderful cities, the breathtaking beauty of the Highlands, and the Hebredian Islands, which offer some of the most spectacular scenery in Britain. The wonderful city of Edinburgh combines ancient history with modern charm, and is very special.
The Isle of Skye has been written about in many romantic poems and songs, and it is wonderful, but my personal favorite is the Isle of Mull, with it's dramatic scenery of mountains and lochs, so beautiful that it takes your breath away.
Another enchanting part of Britain is Wales, the smallest country but the one with the most castles of all! Each one is different and very special. It is a land of song and poetry, and its people are warm and welcoming. For a country only 160 miles at its longest length, it contains an amazing variety of landscapes and attractions. The capital of Wales,Cardiff, is a delightful cosmopolitan city, with wonderful hotels, shopping and the new Cardiff Bay development which is the pride of the city. But, 10 minutes out of the city and you are in beautiful countryside. This tiny country, with 3 major national parks and several "areas of outstanding natural beauty" as designated by the British government,is truly "magical", and once you have visited Wales, it remains in your heart.
Some of my favorite parts of England are located in England's North Country, with the city of York being very special to me.
It is a wonderful mix of very old and new. It is surrounded by the Roman Walls, which surround the city, and you can walk around all or part of them and feel like you are a part of history.
You can visit the famous and magnificent York Minster; walk down the ancient tiny street called "The Shambles", and climb to the top of Clifford's Tower. You can visit the Jorvik Viking Center; go to the Railway Museum, and finish it all off with a wonderful afternoon tea at Betty's Tearoom.
It is a wonderful mix of old and new and never fails to capture my imagination.
For children of all ages.
Legoland in Windsor, England, not far from London, is a land dedicated to the imagination and creativity of children of all ages. It is set in 150 acres of parkland, and has rides, attractions, and live action shows. There are amazing exhibits that are built with tens of thousands of Lego blocks (entire cities in miniature, for example), as well as terrific gift shops, and wonderful eating places that have excellent fresh food rather than the usual fast-food places, all at a reasonable price.
There is also a maze, which the average 5 year old had no problem getting through, but I promptly got lost !!
The entire park is also accessible for the disabled which makes it perfect for any family to enjoy. Even the bathrooms are unique !
It makes a wonderful family day out for all travelers with children, and for those who have a child who is the wheelchair user, it it a place that they can truly enjoy as well.
Hidden Treasure in Scotland
On a recent trip to Scotland, I tried to visit places that were new and relatively "undiscovered", and I found a very special castle in the Northeast of Scotland, about 15 miles South of Aberdeen. It's called Dunnottar Castle and it is truly one of the most spectacular ruins I've ever seen. It sits a few hundred feet above the North Sea, on a rocky cliff, exposed to the sea on three sides, creating an impregnable fortress. It dates back to at least the 13th century, with parts of it being older. Since it is well off the usual "tourist trail", it's possible to wander about the ruins and be totally alone in places, allowing your imagination to take you back in time and to think about what life must have been like living there 700 years ago.
The castle ruins are difficult to get to from the car park, and unfortunately, are not accessible for anyone with physical mobility problems. I also wouldn't recommend it for those with any other health problems, such as a heart condition, since the access to it is a steep path leading up to the castle, and it can be strenuous. However, the views from the car park and from a short level walk to where the path starts are wonderful, so even if you cannot actually explore the ruins, it's worth it just to stop by and see the castle outlined against the sea and sky. Incidently, it is also the castle where the movie "Hamlet", starring Mel Gibson, was filmed. Speaking personally, this added to it's already considerable appeal!
This is truly a castle that dreams are made of.
A Lovely Day Trip
Leeds Castle has stood for over a thousand years on two islands in the middle of a natural lake in Maidstone, Kent, England. It is one of England's oldest and most romantic stately homes. It was home to six of the medievial Queens of England, as well as the infamous King Henry VIII. It now contains a magnificent collection of furnishings, much dating fromm medievial times, as well as tapestries and paintings.
The Castle is surrounded by over 500 acres of rolling parkland and superb gardens, many with views across the lake.
The Leeds Castle Maze provides amusement for visitors of all ages. There is an Aviary which houses many rare species of birds, and The Duckery, which provides a perfect habitat for a wide collection of ducks, geese, and swans.
Several shops offer unusual and interesting souvenirs. Restaurants are available on-site which serve everything from ice cream and sandwiches, to afternoon tea and full meals.
Throughout the year, there are many special events. I had the good fortune to be there during the Great Leeds Castle Balloon and Vintage Car Weekend a few yars ago. The setting of the Castle and the lake, with over 30 hot air balloons gently drifting above, and reflected in the lake, was not to be believed. In addition, a display of magnificent vintage cars on the grounds was wonderful. This year, it is being held on September 11th & 12th.
Other special events include a Flower Festival; A Festival of English Food and Wine; and a Grand Fireworks Spectacular in the Fall.
The Castle and grounds are totally accessible for disabled visitors, with regular transport from car parks in an accessible mini-bus. Wheelchairs are also available for loan, and accessible toilets are available. In addition, there are Braille guidebooks available, as well as special exhibits and information panels in Braille.
"The loveliest castle in the world", said Lord Conway.
"Well, it's certainly high up on my list of favorites", said Ann Litt.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
400 Years of History
1999 marks the 400th anniversary of the opening of the Globe Theatre, with the first performance, on September 21, 1599, being the tragedy "Julius Caesar", with a cast of some 15 people.
Today, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London is a magnificent replica of the original Globe. The 1989 discovery of the foundations of the original Globe helped with the constructions plans of the new theatre, which was built using the same craft techniques, materials and plans as the original Globe of Tudor times.
The new Globe, on the banks of the River Thames, offers performances each season from May through September. As the theatre is partially open-roofed, performances in the winter months are not possible. This season, performances include "The Comedy of Errors", as well as all-male productions (just as they were in Shakespeare's day) of "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra".
In addition to the shows, there is also the Shakespeare's Globe exhibition, which is held all year long and provides a fascinating tour of the facilities as well as a stop in the well-stocked giftshop, which offers a large variety of excellent quality goods. There is also a Cafe, serving light meals and afternoon tea, and a restaurant, serving pre-and post-theatre meals.
The Globe Theatre is fully wheelchair accessible, as well as having facilities for those patrons who are hard of hearing (induction loops available at all performances), and "touch tours" for visually impaired people are available as well by prior arrangement.
The Globe is an experience that should not be missed by anyone visiting London.
Galway is both a county in Ireland as well as a city. The city itself is vibrant, with great restaurants and pubs; fine shops, art galleries, a theatre company, and fantastic Irish music. It also is the home of the Galway Arts Festival, and the Galway International Oyster Festival, both of which attract thousands of people each year.
They come for the great atmosphere and good cheer as well as the food and drink.
Co. Galway encompasses Conamara, one of the loveliest parts of Ireland, with varied landscapes including The Burren, which almost looks like a moonscape rather than a typical Irish scene.
The three Aran Islands lie at the mouth of Galway Bay, and they are unique in their language and culture. They are one of the few places left where Irish is the first language of the people. There are ferries running from Galway city to the islands, and once there, it's like being in another world, with pre-Christian forts, monastic sites, a heritage center, and lots of traditional music and song.
A special hotel is the Glenlo Abbey Hotel, only a few miles from Galway City. It is a 5 star hotel overlooking Lough Corrib, and in addition to it's 45 bedrooms and golf, tennis, riding, and lake boating, it also has on its grounds something truly unique: one of the orignal cars from the Orient Express, which is now used as The Pullman Restaurant. This rail car was left exactly as it was while in service, and is very luxurious and full of atmosphere. You really feel as if you are on a special journey in a rail car that has carried so many famous people over the years. It is a perfect place for a special dinner that will long be remembered.
A Book-Lover's Paradise!
Bibliophiles will need no introduction to this charming little town in Wales, only a few miles from the English border. Over the years, Hay has earned an unlikely, but well-deserved reputation as the "second-hand book capital of the world". There are bookshops everywhere - along the main street; tucked away in nooks and crannies around the old marketplace; and even in a building that used to be the town cinema!
The shops specialize in everything from rare antique volumes to new books. There are shops where serious collectors congregate, and there are other shops where you can spend a day or two, browsing through literally thousands and thousands of titles, and where you can find some serious second-hand bargains. For book-lovers, it is like finding paradise! One of my favorite places in Hay is the "honesty bookshop", which is an outdoor "shop", really just lots and lots of standing bookshelves in the courtyard of the castle ruins. There is no one attending this shop; only a small wooden sign that says: "Hardbacks - 1 pound; Paperbacks - 50 pence", with a box with a slit on the top to deposit the money. What a wonderful and refreshing sight.
I've been to Hay on Wye several times myself, and once with my husband, who is a serious "book fanatic". I deliberately planned our visit there at the end of our trip, since if we had planned on stopping there first, we'd have never gotten anywhere else. It wasn't easy to drag him away, but we did have a flight to catch the following afternoon!
With such a strong book persona, it is not surprising that Hay on Wye hosts an important literature festival each May, which attracts a cast of internationally famous authors, as well as thousands of book lovers from all over the world.
In addition to the bookshops, the small town also has a few nice restaurants, and a wonderful upscale craft centre on the edge of the town, with shops containing all sorts of woven clothing, glass, ceramics, leather, and wood items.
There are several good places to stay within 10 minutes drive from the town. Among two of my favorites are a charming coaching inn, as well as a very luxurious country-house hotel owned by Sir Bernard Ashley, the widower of Laura Ashley, the famous designer. It is one of the most superb hotels in Britain.
Hay on Wye is a short driving distance from one of the most beautiful parts of Wales, Brecon Beacons National Park, as well as several towns with excellent facilities and sightseeing. It is a really special and different place to go for a few days, or more.
The Emerald Isle
Ireland - just saying the name makes me smile.
What a truly special and enchanting land!
No one who visits Ireland returns home without leaving a part of their heart there.
Aside from the beauty of the country, which is considerable, there is that one very special asset that Ireland has that makes it unique - and that is its people, whose warmth and hospitality make visitors feel instantly as if they've "come home", even if they're not of Irish descent. The famous Gaelic greeting, Cead Mile Failte, meaning "one hundred thousand welcomes", sums it up perfectly.
Dublin is one of the great cities of the world, combining the history of thousands of years with modern hotels, great restaurants, and wonderful nightlife. It's Temple Bar area offers food of any nationality you can think of and its pubs, with music floating out into the street, offer the perfect spot for that pint of Guinness.
But, once out of Dublin, you experience the beauty of the Irish countryside. The old expression "forty shades of green" is not an exaggaration!. And because of its temperate climate, it remains green and beautiful almost all year long.
Each part of Ireland offers special charms, but because the country is small enough to see it well on one tour, you can experience all is has to offer. You can stay in anything from a charming B&B, with the hostess making you a traditional Irish breakfast that will fill you up until dinner; to a cozy inn; a magnificent Irish Manor House; or a real Irish castle!
Every town in Ireland has several pubs to choose from, and their home-cooked food; ever-flowing Guinness, brewed right in Dublin, and lively traditional Irish music make them very hard to resist. And, of course, talking to the wonderful Irish people, with that "twinkle" in their eye, is always a delight.
If you love life, you can't help but love Ireland!
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast was an unexpected wonderful surprise!
The city is beautiful, with Victorian archectiture, wide streets (with curb cuts on every corner), lots of hotels; some older and quite elegant, and others new, contemporary, and accessible. The main shopping area is closed off to traffic, so one can walk along, enjoying the wonderful shopping (many of the top London stores have branches in Belfast); cafes, and people-watching without worrying about crossing streets in heavy traffic, etc. There is excellent night-life, and lots of great pubs. The entire harbour-area is being rebuilt, with new hotels, concert halls, and walkways along the water. In spite of past negative publicity about Belfast, Thenew Titanic Center, which opened on the 100th anniversary of the ill-fated sinking of the Titanic, is amazing and should not bemissed. Belfast is a great city, and totally safe. It definitely is a "do not miss" part of Ireland !
Belfast is only two hours by rail from Dublin, and within an hour's drive from the gorgeous North Antrim Coast, one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland. There are many attractions both in and around the city, most of which are accessible, and it makes a wonderful place to "base" for a few nights while enjoying Northern Ireland.
I will most definitely go back!
World-Class City...with heart!
There is no place like Dublin. It is a city that captures your heart and lifts your spirits.
It has everything that a world-class city should have, like great hotels, outstanding restaurants and shopping, museums, parks, and attractions, but it also has something else that is very special.....the Irish people that live and work there. They are full of life; with that special "twinkle" in their eye and ready smile that makes you never want to leave.
Dublin is an easy city to get around, and by staying in the city center, most places are within walking distance or a short taxi or bus ride away. The Temple Bar area, throbbing with life, is a walk in one direction; O'Connell Street, the main street in Dublin is another. Trinity College, The National Museum of Ireland, Grafton St., St. Stephen's Green, all close to one another and all adding so much to the atmosphere of the city.
Although not everything in Dublin is wheelchair accessible, there is enough to see and do there that is, with a choice of many hotels with wonderful accessible accommodation, that Dublin becomes a wonderful city to visit, and day trips out in the countryside are easily arranged.
Several new attractions are wonderful for both able-bodied as well as disabled visitors, including the Old Jameson Distillery tour and evening show; the Viking Adventure; the Guinness Hop Store tour; the Irish Cabaret show at one of Dublin's major hotels, a stroll along the River Liffy, or just sitting on a bench in St. Stephen's Green, watching the people and the enjoying the atmosphere of the city.
Once you've been to Dublin - or most anywhere in Ireland, for that matter, you'll want to go back again and again, because you will have left a bit of your heart there.
Go once.....you'll see !
A Very Different Island
Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days on Orkney, which lies 6 miles off the north coast of Scotland. Interestingly enough, it is on the same latitude as St. Petersburg, and lies closer to Oslo, Norway than to London! It is very different from mainland Scotland, both in look and in "feel". In the summer, it is light outside 18 hours a day, and it is possible to read a book outside all night long.
You can take a ferry to Orkney from mainland Scotland, or fly up from Glasgow or Edinburgh. Kirkwall is the capital of Orkney and it has a Viking heritage. The town center is small and busy with shops, banks, and Kirkwall Cathedral. But, the main reason most people visit Orkney are the prehistoric sights that are located on the island.
Maes Howe is a Stone Age burial cairn, and the finest in all of Britain. A fascinating bit of information is that the passage is so aligned that a single shaft of sunlight pierces its 36 foot length into the chamber on only one day of the year, that of the winter solstice. The walls inside are covered with "runes", ancient Viking inscriptions, also known as Viking graffiti. After being transcribed, the guide told us the meanings, and it appears that young men and the content of their graffiti have not changed much over the thousands and thousands of years since they were written at Maes Howe. The structure dates back to 3500 B.C.
The Ring of Brodgar - Of the original 60 standing stones, 36 now remain. They date from about 1560 B.C. and are believed to be some sort of lunar observatory, as well as a splendid reminder that Stone Age man may have been primitive, but he certainly wasn't stupid.
Skara Brae was a Stone Age settlement, when it was hit by a massive storm that buried it in sand for at least 4000 years. Another storm then blew away some of the sand, revealing the village to archaeologists. It is unique and gives an insight into the whole way of life of prehistoric tribes. The excavation has uncovered about 6 of the original 10 single-roomed houses, a workshop with covered passages from one to another, and a communal paved courtyard. Slabs of stone were used for furniture and bed platforms, which still remain, as well as a fascinating collection of tools and implements. There is also a new and excellent visitors center. The entire site is wonderful !
There are no 5-star hotels on Orkney,(although there are several very comfortable places to stay) nor deluxe shopping or theatre, but it is a truly fascinating place, and visiting these special sites is like going back in time.