Scotland is a country filled with breath-taking scenery; from sky touching mountains (or glens as they’re locally known) to seemingly endless green valleys, it’s a unique and wondrous place to visit. One of the country’s most renowned natural features is its beautiful and expansive lochs (lakes). While Loch Ness has the international reputation and fame thanks to its ‘legendary’ prehistoric dweller, Loch Lomond is equally astounding when it comes to size, depth and enjoyment. In terms of total surface area, Loch Lomond is the UK’s largest inland stretch of water and one of the deepest too.
Less than a day’s drive away from Edinburgh, Loch Lomond offers a mixed bag of entertainment for visitors of varying thrill levels. Anyone looking for a more adventurous experience on the water will love water sports company Loch Lomond Leisure, which offers a variety of activities to try such as paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing. For those looking for an adrenaline surge, water-skis, wakeboards and speedboats can be hired from a number of companies around the lake.
For those who'd like a more scenic experience of the lake, enjoy a cruise. For a charming trip that passes by the islands in the middle of Loch Lomond, Sweeny’s Cruise Co. trip from Luss to Balmaha is the answer. Just 30 minutes each way, the trip gives you the chance to get off from the boat and explore before making the journey back. With more time, Sweeny’s also offer a half day Island Explorer Cruise which takes you to Inchcailloch, an island in the middle of the lake. There are walks through the woodland on the island from the National Nature Reserve that usually offer a chance to see some local wildlife such as deer and otters.
Around Loch Lomond there are charming Scottish towns worth visiting, most notably Luss. A popular stop for those exploring the Loch Lomond area, the rows of 18th and 19th century cottages down to the loch’s shores make for incredibly pretty sights – especially with the Ben Lomond mountain (or glen) towering in the background.
The town centre has shops, cafes, and restaurants to enjoy as well as the fantastic Luss Smokehouse. Specialising in selling salmon and trout caught from the lake and smoked in house, the Luss Smokehouse sells both in sandwiches and as part of their picnic hampers. A great place to pick up a tasty, local bite to enjoy on the lake’s shore.
Whatever you decide to do, Loch Lomond and Luss are wonderful places for a day visit or short stay - both are beautiful examples of what Scotland’s scenic countryside has to offer.
Feature and images courtesy of INSPIRES by Avis
Wild swimming, chasing pine martens, flying a glider pilot - it can only be Shropshire.
Stripping down to my teeny-weeny pink polka-dot bikini to have a swim in the great outdoors, you would be forgiven to think I was in some hot country about to take a dip in a pool to cool down. Instead, I was in Clee Hills in the Shropshire Hills, on a bitterly cold October morning, having my first experience of wild swimming in the lake as part of learning all that the county has to offer. Invigorating as it was, I wasn't going to turn it into a regular past-time unlike our leader and wild swimming devotee, Jules McRobbie.
Shropshire may be one of England's quiet counties but don't be deceived. There's plenty to see and do here and the people are as wild and adventurous as Jules. I was here for a few days to explore as much as I could to see what this part of the world had to offer. With a wild swim in the bag, I was pretty much ready for anything.
What to see and do in Shropshire
The county has countless historic places to visit - stately homes with beautiful gardens, castles enriched with history such as Ludlow Castle or Stokesay Castle with its remarkable 700-year-old great hall. But nature plays a big part here, too. The Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers nearly a quarter of the county. The Long Mynd (the long mountain), forms part of these hills. Stretching some seven miles, with the highest point measuring 516m, the Mynd has been owned by the National Trust for more than 50 years. It's been working with commoners to reduce grazing levels to allow natural vegetation to flourish and has had success by bringing down sheep numbers from 17,000 to 2,000 since 1990. We toured the area in a 4WD with parkland manager Pete Carty but it’s a great place for a hike to get in the views as well as some exercise.
A foodie haven
Shropshire is renowned for its real ale and leads the way in the "home brew" revival. Real ale inns and micro-breweries including Ludlow Brewing Company and the Three Tuns at Bishops Castle (which has been happily brewing since 1642 and now has a history of beer and brewing museum) are part of the genetic make-up of Shropshire. But little did I know, it's also a foodie haven. Markets a bound and butchers, bakers and delicatessens are found on almost every corner - it’s a gourmand’s idea of heaven.
The Cliff at Dinham restaurant
All this bounty has an interesting effect on local restaurants. I can vouch for The Cliff at Dinham where we dined one night during our stay. The flavoursome meal (I had the Red Mullet, Caramelised Fennel Orzotto, Ratatouille, Tomato & Red Pepper Vinaigrette) was made using local, seasonal produce, making it easy to see why the restaurant has been awarded two AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence. The wine is not to be sniffed at either. With several options to choose from, I was drawn to the Shropshire Lady, a brilliant, award-winning white wine made at Kerry Vale Vineyard just down the road.
Ludlow Food Centre
If like me, you want to see 'behind the scenes' of the food industry, a visit to the Ludlow Food Centre is a must. Launched in 2007, Ludlow Food Centre offers fresh, local, seasonal, hand-made food. All their beef, lamb, and rare breed Gloucester Old Spot pork comes from the estate, along with a selection of fruit and vegetables from Lady Windsor’s very own walled garden. Committed to sourcing at least 80% of the produce from Shropshire and its surrounding counties, the food centre produces half the food it sells on the premises. We were fortunate to sample many foods including the “new” Shropshire cheese, revived from a 100-year-old recipe by head cheesemaker, Dudley Martin. Delicious doesn't come even close to describing it and the blood orange and gin marmalade I took home barely lasted a week!
Enjoy the great outdoors
Just as well there are plenty of physical activities to take part here, from walking and hiking to swimming and cycling. In fact, walking enthusiasts can walk on the new Heart of Wales Line Trail to Broome. It covers some 150 miles by foot but being time constrained, we managed a fraction of it at just over five miles. We covered double the distance on bike courtesy of Wheely Wonderful Cycles. They offer all types of cycling holidays from easy to difficult to and speciality tours taking in castles or foodie delights. We leisurely cycled from their base in Elton to Baron at Bucknell with the obligatory pub stopover. Had I known the lap of luxury that awaited us at our luxury rooms, complete with outdoor tubs and a natural swimming pond, I would've peddled faster.
Surrounded by beautiful, unspoilt countryside, the area is a real treasure especially for wildlife. We were fortunate to witness life in the wilderness at Clunton Coppice as we searched for Pine Martens. Accompanied by Stuart Edmunds, of Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s Pine Marten Project, we were fascinated to learn there has been sightings of Pine Martens here for the first time in recent years in 2015. These elusive animals were thought to be extinct in England until the sightings. We gathered around various spots, as quite as mouse, in search of the animals via binoculars. But try as we did, the Pine Martens were not going to make an appearance that night.
Take to the skies for a birds-eye view of the countryside in a glider
Flying is part and parcel of my job as a travel writer but being able to fly a glider was a first for me. The Midland Gliding Club, officially founded in 1934, specialises in training pilots at all levels, from beginners to advanced cross country soaring. Strapped to the front of the cockpit with my trainer behind me, we took to the skies over the Long Mynd. Quite different from just being a passenger in a metal tube, I felt I was part of the surroundings. And when I was handed the controls for a while, I totally appreciated the fascination with gliding. Sadly, there's been a decline in membership in recent years and the proportion of women participants is just five per cent.
Get a prescription for some ‘emergency poetry’
Just when I thought there couldn’t be any more surprises arising from Shropshire, we met Deborah Alma, the Emergency Poet. Dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope dangling from her neck, Deborah took each one of us one-by-one inside her 1970s 'ambulance' and prescribed poems as cures following a questionnaire. A mix of a therapeutic and theatrical experience, Deborah travels to literary and music festivals, libraries, schools, pubs, weddings and conferences to deliver poems wherever help is required. It's been a while since I dabbled with poetry but something about the poem Deborah gave me, rekindled my love for it. Was it the Emergency poet or was it being in Shropshire that did it? Who knows.
For more information on any of the above activities as well as explore what else Shropshire Hills has to offer, visit https://www.visitshropshirehills.co.uk.
"If you slip and send a rock hurtling down the hill, shout 'rock below'". This was the advice from our guide Pete Thomasson as he took us on a week-long hiking trip ‘bagging Munros’ in the Scottish Highlands. Bagging Munros is the term associated with a challenge to conquer Scotland’s Munros - Scottish mountains over 3,000 ft - named after Sir Hugh T Munro, who catalogued the mountains in 1891. The highest Munro is Ben Nevis.
As a hiker, I can't get enough of mountains. I travel far and wide to find some of the best mountains. So, when an opportunity came for me to bag my first set of Munros, I couldn't pop my hiking boots on quick enough. This new walking trip is the latest offering from HF Holidays and as bagging Munros has been on my bucket list for a while, I decided to put my right foot forward. After a long train journey, plus a coach transfer to my base at the country house in Glen Coe, I was ready to stretch out my legs.
Munro bagging has been a popular hobby since the 80s - almost a century later than when Munro wrote his definitive list made using maps and barometer readings. There are 282 Munros in total and as I reached the summit of Beinn Sgulaird (pronounced byn sgoolart, meaning ‘the mountain of the large old hat’), I did a mini fist pump. Through heavy legs, over six hours of walking and scrambling and at times on all fours, I had bagged my first Munro of the week.
Day two and I was raring to go, hoping to bag two Munros on the same day. I was surprised my legs were still intact but feared that delayed onset of muscle soreness would kick in 48 hours later. But for now, I focused on climbing Stob Ghabhar (pronounced Stob Ghowar, meaning ‘goat peak’) and Stob a’ Choire Odhair at (pronounced Stob a Corryowa, meaning ‘peak of the dun-coloured corrie’).
The beauty of wanting to bag the Munros is that you really get to see some of Scotland's most dramatic landscapes. Luckily, our guide ensured we took time out to actually take everything in by stopping for regular breaks and sharing details on the local history. The environment felt empty yet alive with only the odd animal movement here and there. A deer that eyed us up in the distance and a ptarmigan that took flight over the hills were our only company.
On our third day of hiking, we felt the full force of nature as we attempted to hike Binnein Mor (pronounced beenyan moar, meaning ‘the big peak’). We were battered by seriously strong winds and stinging sideways rain, making for a fearful ascent, which is when our guide made the decision for us to retreat for our own safety. Despite missing out on bagging Na Gruagaichean (pronounced na grooageechan, meaning ‘the maidens’), I was pleased to have a bit of respite from the miserable conditions.
Mid-week through our hiking holiday, we had a day of rest, which was amazing for both my mental and physical wellbeing. I felt relaxed and rejuvenated after three days of hiking and I finally had the time to appreciate Alltshellach, the cosy country house I was staying in, which had wonderful views from its three lounges and the dining room. To top it off, the home-cooked food was seriously delicious and there is a heated indoor swimming pool, which was a lovely treat.
After a day of rest with a renewed spring in my step, we resumed hiking in the mountains. This was our longest walk of the week at 13.5miles, and we traversed a hat trick of three Munros and six other mountain tops, including: Carn Liath (pronounced carn lyeeu, meaning ‘the grey cairn’); Stob Poite Coire Ardair (pronounced stop potsha kora aardar, meaning ‘peak of the pot of the high corrie’) and Creag Meagaidh pronounced krayk megeeand, meaning ‘bogland rock’).
As the week went by, I realised how relaxed I felt in the mountains. Nature has a way of doing that even when the weather is bad. But it's the simplicity of life and living in the moment and practising mindfulness that puts your mind at ease. When figuring out where to place my foot pretty much every step, all of my worries had disappeared. In fact, when I bagged the last two Munros - Aonach Beag (pronounced oenoch bayk, meaning ‘little ridge) and Aonach Mor (pronounced oenoch moar, meaning ‘great ridge’) - I was sad the experience was over. That being said, the experience of bagging nine Munros has inspired me to start planning my next Munro bagging trip, although I have a long way to go to bag all 282 of them! For now I’m proud to say I’m a Munroist in the making.
HF Holidays offers 7-night Munro Bagging holidays in Glen Coe, Scotland. Prices start at £845 per person and include full board en-suite accommodation, a full programme of guided walks with all transport to and from the walks, the services of experienced mountain leaders and light-hearted evening activities. The next departure is in June 2018. For more information visit www.hfholidays.co.uk.
This January Hull was named the ‘2017 UK City of Culture’, the UK’s second ever city to have been nominated (Liverpool was nominated in 2008). Hull will now proudly carry the torch for four years, celebrating its nomination with a programme of cultural events throughout 2017 and beyond.
I visited Hull during the ‘Made in Hull’ opening week, which kicked off with a bang. During the week, Hull celebrated its history with an impressive display of projections and installations, which saw the crowds come out in droves, signalling a promising start to the year.
You can feel the excitement in the air in Hull - the galleries are jumping for joy as they’ve surpassed their average yearly footfall targets and local businesses are reaping the benefits of more visitors to the city, which has instilled a real sense of pride amongst the locals.
It looks like former Culture Secretary Andy Bernham got it right when he set up City of Culture for the UK, seeing is as a ‘fantastic opportunity to use culture as a catalyst for economic growth’.
To help you make the most of your visit to Hull, we’ve compiled our top picks of things to see and do throughout the year.
Museums in Hull
Dining and foodie delights in Hull
Furley and Co (casual dining)
This lively, low-key restaurant is conveniently positioned near the marina. The food here is casual -think quality fast food, such as burgers and falafel wraps. I loved the falafel wrap, with its warm, soft bread served with a side of thick-cut, lightly battered haloumi chips served with a spicy chilli sauce. Beverages include craft beers or for those with a sweet tooth, incredible milkshakes.
If you love tapas, head to Ambiente, an industrial style tapas bar located on Humber Street, a trendy are near the marina. Guests have the option of ordering from a selection of small dishes or sharing boards. To complement your meal, try the sherry tasters, where the staff will guide you through a selection of sherrys and recommended food pairings to accompany each sherry. For group bookings, diners can enjoy the party booth, where they can play their own music and select their own lighting!
This casual coffee shop in Trinity Market is a great place to get your caffeine fix.
Love chocolate? Head to this chocolatier on Humber Street where you can buy artisan chocolates and cakes. They also offer chocolate-making courses for those who want to try their hand at the craft.
When to visit - Upcoming highlights from the April – June Programme
Not sure when to visit? We’ve inserted below our top picks of things to see and do from now until June:
‘Poppies: Weeping Window’
Summary: This stunning and emotive public art installation by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper first debuted at the Tower of London. If you missed it the first-time round, now’s your chance.
‘Back to Ours’
Summary: This programme of theatre and comedy events held across eight venues is certain to delight.
‘Where Are We Now’
Summary: This programme of workshops, spoken word, hip – hop ensures there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
‘The Height of the Reeds’
Summary: This sound journey on the Humber Bridge, the 8th longest bridge in the world spanning 2,220 metres, is currently sold out but due to its popularity, they may extend it, so keep an eye out.
*During my visit, I was hosted by Hull 2017. All words and opinions are my own.
Glasgow’s Subterranean Spa Paradise
Though the lure of cheap airline seats, affordable European city breaks and Mediterranean sunshine is ever present in my world, the fact that we reside on one of the most richly historical and cultural islands in the Western world means there’s never any shortage of home-grown breaks to indulge in. From the cobbles of Cambridge to the beaches of Devon, I’m determined to start making the most of Britain and its beauty and exploring more of our fair land this year.
When I found myself in Glasgow recently, I decided to indulge in some well-earned R&R with a night at the Blythswood Square Hotel & Spa. Having heard more than one or two complimentary reports on this city centre oasis, I couldn’t wait to visit.
Perfectly situated only a few minutes’ walk from the bustling shops, restaurants, galleries and attractions Glasgow city centre, Blythswood Square seems a world away from the buzz of the city. The award-winning five-star hotel is one of the most elegant in the city, taking up one side of Blythswood Square overlooking beautiful gardens (though the view was a tad grey and blustery the day I arrived…) and features 100 guest rooms including suites and a rather impressive penthouse. The lobby instantly transports you back in time; heels clack on the black and white tiled floor, little red velvet lined seating nooks call out for your you to sink in with the weekend papers and the impeccably dressed doorman doffing his cap to you can’t help but make you stand a little straighter and walk a little taller.
With a chic restaurant, garden view salon, fully-loaded spa, private dining rooms and private screening room, you’d be hard-pressed to want to leave its four walls.
The Rooms at Blythswood
Good luck not falling in love with your room the moment you step through the door. The decor in my Deluxe Room was luxurious yet understated. The room had a beautifully comfortable king size bed (complete with pillow menu, naturally) and an absolutely dreamy bespoke Spanish marble bathroom with a huge tub and rain shower, making scheduling a time to get into that tub number one on my to-do list!
The spa at Blythswood
With a Scottish storm full-on raging outside, there was nothing better to do with my Friday afternoon than really get away from it all by paying a visit to the 10,000 square foot basement spa.
One wouldn’t think that a city centre building would have the space to accommodate nine treatment rooms, a thermal suite, two relaxation pools, a lounge and café area and additional relaxation rooms, but lo and behold this cavernous subterranean wonderland does just that.
Slipping into a robe and flip flops, we managed to while away three hours quite easily, flitting between the walk-through hydrotherapy pool, sauna, crystal steam room, laconium, saunarium and vitality pool, before falling asleep on one of the heated tiled beds in the toasty tepidarium.
Treatments on offer vary from signature hot stone massages, seaweed body wraps and rhassouls to couples’ massages, detoxing body scrubs and chakra-aligning experiences. I indulged (the only word for it really) in a relaxing massage, using seaweed oil from local Hebridean beauty brand ishga; so lovely to see a spa supporting local brands and businesses and it’s certainly a beauty brand I’m going to be trying again.
The restaurant at Blythswood
After floating back up to the room on a cloud of bliss to chill out in front of the TV, my guest and I headed down to the restaurant. Inspired by local Scottish favourites, the dishes focus on classics with a twist and European flavours,
The Restaurant at Blythswood Square comes with impeccable reviews and is obviously a big hitter on the Glasgow dining scene. Housed in a majestic former RSAC ballroom, it’s certainly an elegant setting in which to enjoy dishes such as hand-dived scallops, cured Loch Etive trout and slow cooked ox cheek.
With a menu full of tempting dishes, we’d need to visit again to work our way through the menu. During our visit, we had the pistachio-crusted goat’s cheese mousse, with beetroot, curly endive, apple gel and rye wafers, a perfectly light intro before my steamed fillet of lemon sole with a potato cake, roast shallots, lobster scampi and lobster bisque. While my dish was delicious, I did get a slight dose of food envy at the chicken and duck liver parfait that arrived across the table however, resplendent with blood orange and hibiscus fluid gel, shaved fennel salad and sourdough wafers, accompanied with a fresh, warm bread basket we couldn’t get enough of.
The wild Highland venison with date and darjeeling tea puree, honey spiced beetroot, red wine pickled salsify and red wine sauce looked particularly good and - uncouth as it may be - I couldn’t help but have a nose around at the other dishes that were arriving on surrounding tables throughout our meal. Everything looked - and smelt - sublime - and judging by the empty plates everywhere one presumes it tasted it too. Try and leave space for dessert if you can, the gingerbread cheesecake with honeycomb and gingerbread crumb won’t disappoint.
If not being lured out to the bright lights of a night in Glasgow, I can heartily recommend the aforementioned bubble bath, wrapping up in a cosy bathrobe and getting into that glorious bed for a night in front of your screen; with Pitch Perfect 2 on the TV and a bottle of prosecco on ice, my tonic for the perfect night in.
Although the thought of a 7am wake up on a Saturday was enough to make me want to stay in bed, my woes were eased by a hearty Scottish breakfast consisting of tattie scones, haggis and smoothie station.
Work or play, when looking for accommodation in Glasgow, I urge you to eschew the Hiltons and Marriotts of the world and embrace the independent. My night at Blythswood was one of the most relaxing and reviving I’ve had in a long time and when aligned with big chains I’ve stayed with in the past, there really is no contest.
Overnight stays including bed and breakfast from £160. Market Menu lunch at the Restaurant at Blythswood Square from £18.50 per person for two courses, dinner from £20 per person for two courses. Afternoon Tea in The Salon from £28 per person. For further information, or to make a booking, please visit the website, call 0141 248 8888, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For over 11 years now, the grand Fishmore Hall hotel has been luring in guests with its tantalising six and nine course tasting menus paired with fine wines at its award-winning restaurant Forelles. But now residents can flock to this 15-bedroom boutique hotel situated in Shropshire to lie horizontally in its brand spanking new spa.
A first in the UK, this pre-manufactured modular SPAShell, was customised by Spa Creators and delivered in sections on seven lorries before being craned into place. Sitting in the hotel’s grounds, the wooden exterior of the spa is in stark contrast to the main hotel building which once functioned as a school in its former life. But with its floor to ceiling windows, you can be rest assured that with this Scandinavian spa experience you are never far away from the rolling countryside. What’s more, you’ll feel closer to nature watching cows grazing in the field next door just feet away. A highly therapeutic experience in itself in my opinion.
The stylish building boasts four treatment rooms and a cosy relaxation area which also houses a sauna and steam room. The terrace area has been cleverly designed to feature a six-seater outdoor cedar wood vitality pool with massage jets and colour-changing lights, an outdoor drench shower and a bucket shower. A gigantic huge hammock and lounging area ensures further R&R. Come winter months, guests can still enjoy the outdoor space thanks to it being heated.
Owner Laura Penman, who restored the derelict building in 2007, said she felt there was a huge need for this revolutionary spa solution because offering treatments in the hotel bedrooms was no longer viable. I couldn’t agree more. I would have felt guilty turfing out my friend Charlotte while I indulged in a spa treatment in our oversized bedroom!
Elemis treatments are plentiful in its four treatment rooms. From massages to beauty treatments there is ample choice but their lava shell massage treatment is definitely a draw. Having never had one, I opted for this experience, which uses self-heating shells as devices to massage the entire body head-to-toe. I clearly got too relaxed as I dozed off midway and had to be awoken by the therapist to turn over! Suffice to say,I will have the same treatment in the future when I’m in need of complete downtime.
The spa can be used by overnight guests or be booked out by groups looking for the ultimate in relaxation. It would work well as an ideal getaway for a few hours for a birthday or a hen do. Add in the hotel’s offering of afternoon tea and you can stretch out your stay at the hotel for at least half a day.
A spa experience always makes me hungry, so after a quick change in our spacious room, Charlotte and I headed for the 3AA Rosette restaurant Forelles. The aforementioned tasting menus are designed by Chef Andrew Birch, whose name you may recognise from BBC2’s Great British Menu. But if like me you are a bit picky about what you eat, you can choose from the normal menu, which offers good wholesome traditional in-season dishes from the local area. Portion sizes are just right too, so you don’t have to feel at all guilty about the indulging in pudding.
The charm of Fishmore Hotel is that it just makes you want to stretch out the evening as much as possible and its cosy drawing room with its oversized chairs and sofas is the perfect way to extend it. Waiters are more than happy to serve you post dinner drinks late into the evening while you wile the hours away admiring the paintings on the wall and indulge in all important gossip. Any hangovers in the morning can be cleared with a gentle walk in the countryside. Alternatively, you can feed it with a trip to the foodie market in Ludlow town, a mere 15-minute walk away. Food here which ranges from paellas to pizza to home cooked curries and hog roasts, the perfect tonic for setting you up for the day.
Bedrooms are from £150 (per room per night on a B&B basis).
In my experience, some of the most beautiful places in the world are best discovered on foot. So, when I was offered the chance to discover a treasure trove part of the Isle of Wight with HF Holidays, I couldn’t tie up my new Hi-Tec walking boots quick enough as I tossed my trusted backpack over my shoulder in preparation for my hiking holiday.
My journey began by non-foot modes of transport, namely a train to Portsmouth Harbour, then on to the Wightlink ferry to Ryde before travelling by taxi to Freshwater Bay House where we would stay during our hiking holiday.
Freshwater Bay House
This newly refurbished historic country house dating from the 1790s, sits on a cliff- top location overlooking the bay after which it is named. It wasn’t until the next morning (my guest and I arrived after dark) that I saw this local landmark commanded awe-inspiring views from many of the rooms and its extensive grounds.
During our stay, we learned about the history of the island, which was visited by Queen Victoria who had a long connection with the island, alongside notable writers including Tennyson, JB Priestley and Lewis Carroll.
After learning about the property and the local area, we enjoyed a much needed three-course dinner and a glass of wine to help us unwind in preparation for the day ahead. Feeling invigorated and refreshed after a good night’s sleep and a hearty well-cooked breakfast, I was ready to hit the pavement, road, coastal paths, hills, and whatever else lay ahead!
Exploring the local area on foot
Activity based holiday company HF Holidays has been organising walking trips as far back as 1913, with a wealth of walks to choose from both in the UK and worldwide. For ease, HF Holidays can organise your destination, accommodation, and your walks.
HF Holidays offer guided, self-guided, challenge walking, walking and sight-seeking, guided trails and island hopping packages. To make the most of the great outdoors, I opted for one of the more difficult walks, while my companion tried both the medium and easy routes. Given that we had zero navigation skills, we opted for the guided trip, which allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the moment, one of the draws of going hiking, in my opinion.
Our guide, Linda, led the way as some 20 walkers followed, all taking in the island’s glorious 85-mile stretch of coastline, which boasts unspoilt sandy beaches and dramatic white cliffs. With weather on our side, the sun shining and blue skies, it felt refreshing to have left the hustle and bustle of the mainland.
Our walk was a 12.4 mile circuit of the western tip of the island, which followed the Yar Valley to Yarmouth before following the coastal path to Alum Bay. From different angles we were able to spot the jaggy spires of the famous Needles Rocks – the Isle of Wight’s most famous landmark. Linda explained that the needle-shaped rock about 120ft high and known as ‘Lot’s Wife’ collapsed into the sea in 1764 with a crash which must have scared the living daylights out of people many miles away!
Take a break from the trail to dine al fresco
There’s something magical about eating lunch al-fresco and none more so when you have been walking for miles. Our packed lunches made by staff at Freshwater Bay were more than ample. Lunch options include a baguette or a salad and snacks such as chocolate, crisps, cereal bars, cake, biscuits and more. It’s said that one should eat mindfully and although my chicken salad was delicious, my mind was well and truly absorbed in my surroundings as I took in the landscape, mountain panoramas and coastal vistas.
Bellies full and more energy to last us for days let alone the remainder five miles, our journey continued over the chalk cliffs of Tennyson Down where several stops were made to admire the views. Too often than not we can get so absorbed in conversation or where we are placing a foot, it’s easy to miss them. But Linda ensured that we had time to stop to take it all in before heading back to Freshwater Bay.
Dining at Freshwater Bay House
Taking the weight off my feet was bliss as well as ending the day with a hot dinner after six hours of trekking with 1,500 feet ascent. Food at Freshwater Bay is what can only be described as beautifully home-cooked fare. Wherever possible, local produce is used such as beef, ham and fresh fish. Vegetarian and gluten-free diners can rejoice as there is ample choice every day. There’s always room for pudding but if you’re feeling virtuous, you can always ask for half a portion. That way you really can have your pudding and eat it!
Entertainment at Freshwater Bay House
Entertainment is laid on many evenings during your stay and we were treated to a live band, ‘All Washed Out.’ Having walked all day, you’d think the last thing I wanted to do was move my feet, but I found myself tapping to the music. I guess it’s something about being in the open air, a hearty meal and good solid entertainment that just keeps you going.
HF Holidays offers a 3-7 night guided walking holiday at Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight. Prices start at £299 per person and include full board en-suite accommodation, a full programme of guided walks with all transport to and from the walks, the services of experienced walking leaders and light-hearted evening activities.
During my visit I was hosted by HF Holidays and Freshwater Bay House Hotel. All views and opinions are my own. Images courtesy of HF Holidays.
There's nothing quite like a weekend in the Lake District and for me, each visit always feels like the first.
England’s prettiest lake, Ullswater, does not disappoint. Situated in the northeast of the Lake District, it's the second largest lake at nine miles long and three-quarter’s of a mile wide. The surrounding Ullswater Valley has it all; from walking routes, boat rides, cycling, pony-trekking and camping to exploring inspiring scenery, there's something to suit everyone.
For experienced climbers, Ullswater is ideal as it lies at the foot of one of England’s highest mountains, Hellvellyn, or for those that enjoy less strenuous pursuits, the woodlands and easy routes that surround the lake are a perfect option.
The Ullswater Way
Travelling with my 10-year-old niece means we have to be slightly more mindful when it comes to choosing an appropriate walking route. The Ullswater Way is a 20-mile walking route around Ullswater Lake, which offers various treks suitable for all levels. You can pick and choose where to start and to make life a little easier, catch the open top bus or a steamer to help you along your way. We walked the Lower Route from Pooley Bridge to Howtown, meeting the Higher Route just past Barton Fell - a spot that guarantees magnificent views of the lake and its windy ‘Z’-shaped path that leads to Glenridding.
After a good two and a half hour walk, we reached Howtown where we stopped for a well-earned break to enjoy some tea and cake at Howtown Hotel. From here we booked a ticket for the Ullswater Steamer to take us back to Pooley Bridge. The walk and boat ride took the best part of four hours, done at a gentle pace with snacks in between. We definitely plan to return to Ullswater to visit the almighty Glenridding and the waterfalls at Aira Force!
Where to stay
Check in to the Rampsbeck Hotel, an 18th Century house set in an idyllic spot on the shore of Ullswater Lake (prices starting from £129). The staff are friendly and the hotel is a beautiful old fashioned house with plenty of room to find a comfy fire-side sofa (dreamy in winter), play a game of Scrabble, dig into a delicious afternoon tea or enjoy a glass of wine.
We loved the breakfast menu, which offered tasty pastries and fresh fish caught from local lakes. The bar menu is varied and serves both lunch and dinner, with the option to dine in the evening from the a la carte menu (prices start from £50 per head for three courses).
Head to nearby Pooley Bridge to get all your holiday tidbits and enjoy a hearty meal at one of the public houses. We recommend the Pooley Bridge Inn, a classic old English pub with a great sized front and rear garden, the perfect spot for an after walk tipple.
Top tip: Visit the information kiosk by the public restrooms; the staff will provide maps and invaluable knowledge of the local area.
Essentials to pack when out and about:
For more information visit:
Lake District National Park
Britain's oldest recorded town, Colchester is steeped in history. The Romans, Saxons, Normans and Victorians have all left their mark here, making it a must-visit town for history buffs. That being said, Colchester is a truly modern town with a wide variety of things to see and do. Located near the gateway to East Anglia with its picturesque villages yet only a stone's throw away from the coast, it's the perfect destination for a weekend escape.
Where to stay in Colchester - Wivenhoe House
During our visit to Colchester, we stayed at Wivenhoe House, a 4-star hotel on the grounds of the University of Essex that is run by students undertaking hospitality degrees, a unique concept that I've not seen anywhere else previously. From the check in desk to the waiters, all staff (with the exception of management) are students.
Room options at Wivenhoe House include doubles, suites and luxury suites, to cater for all needs. The hotel is a popular wedding venue and is also a great spot to enjoy a stylish afternoon tea in Colchester.
Upon check in, I heard animated shouting coming from one of the rooms, which I was informed was the popular murder mystery dinner, a fact that was confirmed when I saw a woman in a French maid's outfit and a man dressed as I presume Colonel Mustard, if his uniform was anything to go by!
Our room at Wivenhoe House
We stayed in room 210, a simple and tastefully decorated room overlooking the university's playing field (I'm not into sports, so I couldn't tell you what sport it was for, but it was a playing field nonetheless). My favourite feature of the room was the expansive, cedar timbered balcony (which could have comfortably held 10 people), where I spent my time gazing over the field at the ducks who were wandering around the grounds.
What to see and do in Colchester
There are an abundance of activities to keep you occupied in Colchester including the Colchester Castle and gardens, St. Botolph's Priory, First Site Museum, The Colchester Zoo and The Bourne Mill (a National Trust property) to name a few. If you can't be bothered seeking out specific places, simply enjoy a stroll around the town to see a wealth of architectural and historical delights.
During our visit, we loved taking a peaceful walk in the gorgeous gardens located on the Colchester Castle grounds, which would be perfect for a picnic on a sunny summer's day. Sadly, we couldn't go inside the castle during our visit as a wedding was taking place, but it looked spectacular from the outside!
While taking in the sights, we also walked past the gorgeous St Martin's Church, a redundant Anglican church and Grade II listed building that has an almost ethereal appearance.
Before we knew it, our weekend jaunt was over and it was back to London! Whatever you decide to do during your visit to Colchester, we'd advise that you plan the activities you'd like to do in advance, to ensure you make the most of your visit. If you're not sure where to start, The Colchester Visitor Information Centre (VIC), the tourist office for Colchester which is situated in the heart of Colchester's historic town centre, is the place to start!
For more information visit:
During our visit, we were hosted by Wivenhoe House and Visit Essex. All views opinions and photography are my own.
A medieval gem that can't be beat
Home to medieval streets with unique names (Fish Street, Grope Lane, Bear Steps), this picturesque town with its abundance of Tudor buildings (more than 650 listed buildings to be exact) has charm in spades. More than 11,000 years old, history lovers will adore the traditional buildings and the stories behind them. Whether you pronounce it ‘Shrowsbury’ like the Romans once did or ‘Shrewsbury’ as it’s more commonly called today, either is correct.
What to see and do in Shrewsbury
Sink your teeth into sensational food and drink at the Shrewsbury Food Festival
Being real foodies, one of the main draws for our visit to Shrewsbury (24-25 June 2016) was the annual Shrewsbury Food Festival, a food lovers delight with more than 200 exhibitors showcasing the best in food and drink. Last year the festival drew 20,000 visitors and this year it was rumoured to attract double that.
Renowned as a foodie destination, people flock to the area each year to taste Shropshire’s finest food and drink offerings.Whether you’re a fan of delectable desserts, cider, sausages, artisan cheese and much more, you’ll find it here. To keep people entertained, there was also live entertainment, activity tents for children, and stalls selling a variety of crafts.
Throughout the day, there were also live demonstrations from well-known chefs, performances from live bands and even a beauty station where you could be transformed into a vintage vixen, which was hosted by the lovely ladies from The Blusherettes Vintage Pop-Up Parlour!
You know you’re getting a bit carried away at a food festival when you end up with frosting on your sunnies! How it happened I don’t know, but I’m guessing it occurred at some point during the haze of cakes and sugary desserts that were greedily devoured as we visited stall after stall in search of culinary pleasures.
Glide down the River Severn
No trip to Shrewsbury is complete without a trip down the River Severn. Once the boundary between England and Wales, this peaceful river is located in the heart of the city. Catch a ride on the Sabrina Boat (named after the nymph that’s said to guard the river) and take in the willow-tree lined banks and the historical buildings and cute houses that hug its banks.
The boat departs every hour from Victoria Quay near the Welsh Bridge and sails to the English Bridge and back. During the tour, the owner Dilwyn Jones talks you through the town’s historical highlights, making for an educational, yet relaxed experience.
Get your dose of culture at the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery
Having reopened in 2015 following a £10.5 milion restoration project, the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery is a great option to while away the hours – especially during inclement weather (open Sun 11am-3pm). Unfortunately, during the time of our visit, the gallery was closed, but ensure you pop by when they have an exhibition on as it's an impressive space.
Treat yourself to a bit of retail therapy
We loved the abundance of quirky shops and independent boutiques found down the winding streets and passages. From vintage clothes to antiques to high-end homewares and furnishings, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Our favourite shops were Brok for men's footwear and casual clothing; The Blue Lemon for handmade soaps, Shrewsbury Antiques for vintage treasures, and Esperar Boutique, a unique retail offering, which consisted of a hair salon that also sold a selection of women’s clothing.
Visit a historical castle
The town’s oldest landmark, the castle was built by Roger de Montgomery, William the Conqueror's right hand man, then rebuilt by Edward I, two hundred years later. The Shrewsbury Castle is a popular local attraction, which features houses the spectacular collections of the Shropshire Regimental Museum Trust including pictures, uniforms, medals, weapons and other equipment from the 18th Century to the present day.
Where to Eat and Drink during your visit to Shrewsbury
Where to eat
The Armoury, Victoria Quay
The Armoury is a truly impressive space, illuminated by windows looking out over the river, with a good bar and bookcase-lined walls. While trying the beers, take in the scenery and enjoy a casual meal.
Bear Steps Coffee House, St Alkmonds Square
Have a cuppa at this gorgeous little café situated in a Tudor house. Cafes don’t get any cuter than this!
Henry Tudor House, Barracks Passage
This restaurant, bar and live music venue boasts a cool decor and a buzzing atmosphere. Definitely a great place to check out during your visit to Shrewsbury!
Where to wet your whistle
Blind Tiger, 17A Hills Lane
Set in a characterful heavily timbered 17th century building, this bar is perfect with its low lighting, cosy corners and comfy seating. Play a game of scrabble while sipping on a Jumbled Fruit Julep.
The Libertine Cocktail Bar & Tea Room, 16-17 Butcher Row
The talented team at the Libertine on Butcher Row make a mean Mojito, Cosmo and Daiquiri, to name just a few.
St Nicholas’s Café, Bar & Spa, 24 Castle Street
Tucked away in an Old Welsh Chapel, St Nick’s is well worth a visit for some great cocktails and live music.
Where to Stay in Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury’s newest boutique hotel, Darwin's Townhouse is a 20-room B&B in a Grade 2 listed building, which oozes quirkiness and beats staying in cookie-cutter accommodation.
Interesting design features and nods to Charles Darwin, whom the hotel has been fashioned after, dominate throughout. From a skeleton in the hallway to a dinosaur sculpture in the bedroom, to map-patterned wallpaper, to simian lamps and salt and pepper shakes, there’s nothing boring about the décor.
The property consists of two intimate lounges (one with an honesty bar), a dining room in the conservatory and a private garden. Upon arrival, we were tempted to make a G&T at the stylish honesty bar, but after a long train journey, our room was beckoning and it didn't disappoint, as it was stunning AND we had a bottle of bubbly waiting for us upon arrival!
During our stay, we stayed in room 5, a hexagonal shaped superior room with high ceilings, which was bursting with character and original features including a marble fireplace and a gorgeous ceiling with original cornicing.
The central location makes it a perfect bolthole for those who are only in Shrewsbury for a short stay as all of the shops, restaurants and bars are only a stone’s throw away.For those that aren't familiar with the local area, the exceptionally friendly owner, Ann, is on hand to share her recommendations.
We loved having a tasty breakfast in the conservatory each morning, followed by a short walk to the high street to walk off the ample breakfast!
With so many things to do, there's something for everyone in Shrewsbury. We'll definitely be back! Perhaps the Chocolate Festival, as it sounds like our type of event!
When to Visit Shrewsbury - Key dates
For further information on Shrewsbury visit www.originalshrewsbury.co.uk.
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