Category Archives: ENGLAND

Go West, but not too far, to enjoy the sub-tropical climate of England’s Scilly Isles

Skybus flight to Scilly Isles

The view from the Skybus from Exeter to the Scilly Isles

IT’s hard to believe that a short plane or boat hop from the west coast of England can take you to a sub-tropical paradise but the Scilly Isles are said to be probably Britain’s best-kept secret.

The five inhabited islands in the archipelago, 28 miles off Lands End in Cornwall, bask in the Gulf Stream and boast white sand beaches and flora and fauna you don’t see in England.

One of the most exciting ways to arrive is by the Skybus which flies to the islands from Land’s End, Newquay and Exeter.

It offers spectacular views and a ride you won’t forget easily in a Twin Otter 16-seater plane.

On landing at St Mary’s Island, one of the first things I noticed was the ubiquitous and fascinating aeonium plant.

This large rubbery multi-headed succulent, which looks like a cactus sprouting cabbage heads,  comes in green and red versions and basks everywhere in the greenery of Scilly as proof of its claim to a sub-tropical climate.

The Scilly Isles are places of great contrast and Tresco, the second largest island,  is perhaps the best example of this.

The Abbey Gardens, in the sheltered southern tip of the island, is able to support a range of wonderful southern-hemisphere plants.

Yet the exposed granite outcrops of its northern shores are sculpted by fierce Atlantic gales during the short winter period, creating a rugged and heather strewn landscape more familiar to Britain.

The gardens were started in 1834 and also house the Valhalla marine museum of figureheads reclaimed from the ancient  shipwrecks the island was once notorious for.

There are some interesting north of England connections here with some of the ships built in the region. One was the River Lune, an iron barque of 1,172 tons built in Wallsend in 1868.

Although only 11-years-old, her wreck fetched no more than £55 after she went down on the rocks.

Cars are not allowed on Tresco making it an ideal spot for a complete getaway and the best way to enjoy the island is either by walking or cycling. The coastal rambler pathways and beaches beg you to explore them.

St. Mary’s is the largest island of the Scilly Isles at 2½ miles by 1¾ miles and is home to about three quarters of Scilly’s population.

This is where all visitors arrive and either stay or are filtered out by boat journeys to the other islands – Tresco, Bryher, St Martin’s and St Agnes.

St Mary’s is served by three means of transport – a steamship company and a heliport are based in Penzance. Flights operate from Newquay, Exeter, Bristol and Southampton airports.

Useful website:

Pick the right ship for the trip to fully enjoy your cruise experience

cruise ship Queen VictoriaIF you want to really enjoy your cruise you need to do a little research before embarking on your voyage.

The first and most important thing is to pick the right ship. Everything else – such as paying extra for an outside cabin or balcony – is secondary.

A mum and dad with young kids who pick a Fred Olsen ship may find it disappointing. It is a great, long-established cruising company which has been in the business since the early days

Over the decades it has built up a base of loyal passengers which it sets great store by. Therefore average age is older and it is particularly favoured by the older generation seeking peace and quiet.

Retired people find a cruise is a safe and comfortable way to travel but the age of passengers is getting younger each year with the. average age of first-timers now well under 40.

There are much more exciting options for the young family, for instance Disney Cruise Line ships which are designed to handle both children and adults well with different areas for different age ranges.

Ships with a nursery for ages 6-36 months are Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Magic, Disney Wonder and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.

Much is made of life on board a cruise ship but let’s not forget it’s all about travelling and seeing new places. Inside or outside cabins may be an important question for regulars to cruising but is it so important for people seeking their first cruise experience?

Having a balcony can enhance the cruise but how much time do you want to spend on your own reading a book as opposed to enjoying the sundeck or a bar or restaurant aboard?

Royal Caribbean  is good for families and children. Carnival offers a fun ship all-American cruising experience  which attracts passengers of all ages, mostly between 30 and 55, and is also good for children and teens.

The Norwegian cruise line and Princess Cruises offer a similar friendly US-style experience. Princess Cruises are popular with couples, families with teenagers and young children and older singles who like to mingle.

Costa  Cruises offers an Italian ambience with stylish lifts and atriums and is geared for families with children.

Celebrity Cruises are aimed at sophisticated adult couples and families with older children such as teenagers  who want to travel in style.

Holland America’s  big ships appeal to younger families with children while its small cruise ships are popular with seniors. MSC  Cruises are stylishly geared for adult couples and singles and families with children.

P & O is a  traditional British cruise company popular with British families wanting to sail fom the UK. It has adults-only ships and ballroom dance instructors and does theme cruises.

Cunard  is steeped in maritime history and the grand traditions of ocean liners  and best enjoyed by experienced travellers who enjoy a cosmopolitan sailing experience.

England – it’s a great time of the year to explore all it offers

England - touring and exploring

Delights of the English countryside are awaiting visitors

England is just brimming with history and diversity

IT’S a glorious time of the year right now to visit England. It is possibly at its most vibrant at this time of the year as its short summer comes to an end.

The forecast is an optimistic one, for pleasant warm weather across much of the country for the rest of August. Yes, you may encounter some rain but this is, after all, what makes England so pretty at this time of the year.

And, besides scenic beauty, there is so much else on offer in the way of stone circles, hillforts, castles, ancient and modern architecture, variety of cultures and regions, social and industrial history, crammed in to such a relatively small area when compared to other countries.

The beautiful rolling chalk downland of the south of England makes the area ideal for a touring holiday with short driving times between a multitude of attractions ranging in diversity from old coaching roads to antique shops and the Georgian splendour of Bath.

There is the Garden of England in Kent and the haven of outstanding beauty that is Sussex. You can follow ancient pilgrim routes to Canterbury or see the site of the famous battle of 1066.

Georgian Brighton, Roman Chichester, and the wonderful Isle of Wight all beckon as do Stonehenge and the world heritage prehistoric temple at Avebury. Further west lies beautiful Devon and the narrow country lanes and villages of Cornwall and Land’s End.

I could easily lose myself in London for weeks. It remains one of the most fascinating cities in the world with most of its museums free and brimming with art and culture. For those who don’t like cities, it’s a good setting off point for a heart of England tour taking in the Chiltern Hills, the Cotswolds, the Shakespearian centre of Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and the Thames Valley.

A couple of hours’ drive north from London is Derbyshire and the Peak District, a magnet for walkers, and Nottinghamshire and Robin Hood country.

Head further north for the impressive cities of Liverpool, Manchester and York, and the wonderful areas surrounding them, both rural and brimming with their urban history of canals, railways and so forth.

Most northerly county of Northumberland has the Cheviot Hills and the cathedral city of Durham and the industrial grit of the Tyne and Wear to offer while to the west there is Cumbria and the Lake District, full of the scenic beauty that so attracted and inspired the Lakeland poets.

We’ll get round to Wales, Scotland and Ireland another time!

England - Chichester Cross

The 15th century Chichester Cross is the centrepiece of the cathedral city

England history - HMS Victory

Lord Nelson’s famous flagship, HMS Victory, can be found at Portsmouth


England - thatched roof cottage

Thatched roof homes are a common sight in southern England


Newcastle, England, and the Chinese New Year

Newcastle celebrates year of the snake

Newcastle and Chinese New Year

Newcastle Chinese New Year celebrations in city’s chinatown

 Chinese New Year celebrations in Newcastle, England, just get bigger and bigger.
The celebrations take up all of the length of Stowell Street which is the city’s Chinatown area.
This year the community was celebrating the year of the black Snake which began on February 10.
This 2013 year of Snake is devoted to steady progress and attention to detail. Focus and discipline are said to be necessary for someone to achieve an aim.
Newcastle and Chinese New Year The Snake is the sixth sign of the Chinese zodiac, which consists of 12 animal signs.
 It is regarded as  the enigmatic, intuitive, introspective, refined and collected of the animal signs.
Ancient Chinese wisdom says a snake in the house is a good omen because it means that your family will not starve

Born in the year of the snake

People born in the Year of the Snake are reputed to be thoughtful and wise and to approach problems rationally and logically, seldom instinctively. They are complex beings, clever and noted for being of few words from their birth.

Their business is always going well, but they are stingey very often. They are sometimes egoistic and conceited.

People born in the snake year love to appreciate beauty. People with the Chinese zodiac snake sign are very stylish, fashionable and have exceptional taste, it is said.

Newcastle Chinese New Year celebrations

England’s northernmost county of Northumberland is a peaceful haven with a memorable past.

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h2span style=”font-size: 13px;”On a fine day in north Northumberland you can find nothing but cornfields and peaceful quiet around the tiny village of Branxton. It’s hard to imagine you are standing at a spot where thousands were buried after one of the bloodiest battles ever fought./span/h2
In the space of a few hours on a miserable day in 1513, the Battle of Flodden Field left for dead an estimated 4,000 Englishmen and 10,000 Scots, including their king and many nobles.

But quiet, thinly populated Northumberland is full of surprises like this. You could say it has earned its right to a peaceful life.

It has castles galore as its countryside was a prize asset for the Scots and the English. Two of the best to visit are at Alnwick and Bamburgh, the latter restored by Victorian industrialist Lord Armstrong.

The fortifications of the  town of Berwick – built during the 16supth/sup century reign of Queen Elizabeth l after it changed hands an estimated 13 times between the English and Scots – are so massive you can spend an afternoon walking around them as the famous painter L.S. Lowry often did

Ruined Warkworth Castle on the county’s east coast was the setting for three of the scenes in Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth part one and one of the county’s famous sons, Harry Hotspur, killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, earned a place in the play.

And the border hostilities go back even further hence the county’s famous Roman Wall stretching through it and across to Cumbria.

But enough of those warrior days, Northumberland is now a county which is a massive draw for people wanting to enjoy its wonderful  open spaces.
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Walkers head for Wooler, the town known as the gateway to the beautiful Cheviot Hills and its breathtaking rolling moors and grasslands, ancient hillforts and pure rivers. A favourite climb is the Cheviot,the highest hill in the range at 2,674 ft

Pilgrims still cross the causeway to visit Holy Island where St Aidan founded his monastery in 635AD.

Hadrian’s Wall and the Northumberland National Park straddle the county to form another big draw.

Kielder Forest is famed for having the darkest night skies in England thanks to minimal light pollution.

The forest and its observatory wants to join an exclusive worldwide club by creating what would be the third largest area of protected starry dark sky in the world in deepest Northumberland.

Only 12 such preserves exist, including the two largest in Big Bend National Park, Texas, and Mount Megantic in Quebec, Canada.

Northumberland  is also a place to spot the rare red squirrel.  The Northumberland Wildlife Trust is behind a project to help protect the species, under threat from the grey squirrel.

It’s a great county to tour by road but drivers and bikers should take care when using the A1, the main highway on the east coast between England and Scotland.

The stretch between Brownieside and Berwick is a national disgrace with Government leaders in the south turning their backs on the needs of the north.

The combination of slow moving farm vehicles, lorries obliged to observe a 40mph speed limit, and motorists wanting to travel at 60mph and more on single carriageway road can be stressful for the sensible road user, to say the least.

If you are in Northumberland you should visit the city of Newcastle which offers its very own contrasting mix of industrial and architectural heritage plus a really lively social scene.

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