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Explore Glastonbury and the Avalon Marshes

Rising above the surrounding Somerset Levels, the hill of Glastonbury Tor has been a site of cultural significance for over a thousand years. And

Picture taken by Diego Torres.

Picture taken by Diego Torres.

Glastonbury itself has much to offer visitors, far beyond the concentrated activity of the Glastonbury Festival.

The area has many self-catering holiday cottages, homes and apartments, and is an ideal location for exploring the immediate area and rural Somerset.

 

The Tor and the Abbey

The National Trust has designated the whole site of Glastonbury Tor a national monument. It comprises the hill and, atop it, St Michael’s Tower, a Grade I listed building.

The Tor may date back as far as the Iron Age. It had several buildings built on its summit over time, from the Saxon to early medieval periods, including a wooden church destroyed by an earthquake in 1275. St Michael’s Tower remains from the stone church built in the 14th century.

As a location, Glastonbury Tor’s spiritual significance spans many historical eras, from pre-Christian, pagan worship, to its Christian settlement. There was renewed focus on it from the 19th century onwards with a growth in interest in Celtic mythology.

Glastonbury Abbey is one of England’s oldest abbeys, originally dating from the 7th century, expanded and improved over time by the Saxons, then the Normans, before falling into disuse following Henry the Eighth’s Dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century.

The ruins of the abbey sit in 36 acres of parkland in the centre of Glastonbury town. In the grounds you’ll also find the Holy Thorn tree and the supposed burial place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

There’s also a wildlife area, Badger Boardwalk, a cider orchard and a picnic area for visitors.

 

The Town

As a market town, Glastonbury has a unique character, informed by the history of the area and its continuing focus for alternative lifestyles and spiritual interests.

Consequently, the town is full of individual, idiosyncratic shops selling crafts, charms and crystals, alongside antiques, books and clothing. There’s also a fine selection of cafes, tea rooms, pubs and restaurants.

A good way of exploring the town is to follow the Millennium Trail, a circular walking route that takes you around the town and provides information about its architecture and heritage, including the Pump House, St John’s Church Tower and the town hall.

 

The Avalon Marshes

At the heart of the Somerset Levels lie its wetlands, the Avalon Marshes. Its combination of marshland and low lying green pastures give it a unique, picturesque quality, complementing its mystical heritage.

The nature reserves here are of national importance, home to the marsh harrier, bittern and the great white egret.

You can visit great open expanses of water, but also fenland, heaths, woodland and grasslands. This is great country for exploring and walking in; and Glastonbury has its own, special aura which seems to hang over the whole area.

Defenders of the South Coast: Sussex’s Castle Strongholds

castle-and-moat-bodiamHistorically, Britain’s South Coast has been a key strategic location, which is why successive monarchs chose to build castles there. The added benefit for modern visitors is that it’s such a beautiful part of the country, providing breathtaking scenery and views.

Sussex has plenty of accommodation to offer visitors, including self-catering holiday cottages, providing the perfect base from which to explore the area’s rich heritage.

 

Early Norman Castles

Hastings Castle was the first ever Norman castle built in this country. With fabulous views of the Hastings coastline, these ruins evoke a powerful sense of the past. The site also includes a history of the famous Battle of Hastings vividly recreated through sound and images; and the nearby Smugglers Adventure, comprising mysterious caverns and tunnels of the coastline.

Overlooking the river Arun, Arundel Castle dates back to 1067. Rising high above the town, it’s an imposing structure and is the ancestral seat and family home of the 18th Duke of Norfolk. By contrast to Hastings Castle, this building is very much the result of historical development, containing an impressive Regency library and Victorian bedrooms.

The castle also has an impressive art collection, including paintings by Canaletto, Van Dyck and Gainsborough. The surrounding gardens are open to the public, offering a sumptuous display of flora and landscaping, as well as hosting open air performances of Shakespeare’s plays as part of the Arundel Festival.

The 1000 year old Lewes Castle offers panoramic views of Sussex if you make the climb to the top of its tower. It also houses a great bookshop, while adjoining it is the Barbican House, where you’ll find the Museum of Sussex Archeology.

 

A Fairytale Fortress in Sussex

Sometimes a castle fulfils all your expectations. Bodiam Castle is just such a place. Located in East Sussex, by the river Rother, the castle dates back to the 1300s, but it isn’t certain whether it was built primarily as a fortress, or as a stately home for Sir Edward Dallingridge.

Either way, it’s a mightily fine structure, with its lofty turrets and wide moat. The National Trust owns Bodiam Castle, and this distinguished historical building is open to the public.

The castle’s interior was destroyed during the English Civil War but was restored in the early 20th century. Now you can explore its spiral staircases and living quarters; and you can’t help but its well-preserved exterior impressive.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped, and after exploring the castle and its surroundings you can relax in the tearoom and buy excellent local produce from the castle shop.

Because it looks like such an archetypal storybook castle, Bodiam has immense appeal, conjuring up a really magical setting for the whole family to enjoy.

Explore the Seaside of Brighton, Hove and Eastbourne

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Eastbourne Pier: Petr Kratochvil

The historic county of Sussex is probably best known for its seaside places. Brighton and Hove and Eastbourne in particular are embedded in the national consciousness, evoking a certain cheeky charm alongside Victorian elegance.

Sussex has plenty of varied accommodation, including self-catering holiday cottages, and plenty of choice when it comes to things to see and do.

 

Brighton and Hove’s Seaside Mix

Brighton and its smaller, immediate neighbour Hove are full of character, combining the traditions of the British seaside with both a quirky and cosmopolitan air of individuality.

Mixing the city with the coastal resort, Brighton, beach bohemia actually has a wide appeal, because there’s something here for everyone.

Brighton has been a fashionable resort since the Regency period, and its Royal Pavilion dates from the time that the future George IV, then the Prince of Wales, made Brighton his home. Visiting the museum and art gallery at the Royal Pavilion, you can see a confluence of tastes, from Regency to Oriental, all housed within a magnificent architectural folly. The museum also hosts exhibitions of 20th century art, design and fashion.

Out an about in Brighton, you’ll find a wide range of places to eat and drink, including independent cafes and bars and notable restaurants, such as the Coal Shed, the Regency Restaurant and Terre a Terre.

The Lanes in Brighton is a great destination for the unusual and the unique when it comes to shopping. This is the historic quarter of the city, a maze of alleyways where you’re always sure to bump into something intriguing.

The Brighton Beachfront is lined with restaurants and bars and is the epicentre of the city’s nightlife. It’s not just about being cool and hip though; you can also let yourself go with traditional seaside entertainment such as fortune tellers, rides for thrillseekers and candyfloss.

Hove is Brighton’s smaller, more laid-back neighbour, but its relative quietness belies a charm all of its own.

There are plenty of Regency buildings and elegant mews houses to feast your eyes on, and the town centre has plenty of independent shops, cafes and restaurants of its own.

Hove Art Museum and Gallery has a fine collection of contemporary craft on display, including textiles, glass and ceramics.

 

Elegant, Cultural and Spectacular Eastbourne

Combining Victorian design with seaside relaxation, Eastbourne has experienced dynamic growth in the past twenty years without losing its inherent character. It has a wonderful pier and seafront, and the contemporary Towner Art Gallery.

The Towner is at the heart of Eastbourne’s Cultural Quarter, set back from the seafront. It hosts exhibitions and has its own permanent collection, including work by 20th century artists such as Paul Nash and Henry Moore, alongside contemporary artists like Grayson Perry and Julian Opie.

As a resort, Eastbourne offers typical seaside attractions alongside unique places to see, such as the nearby Beachy Head and the South Downs National Park.

Beachy Head itself is spectacular: it’s the UK’s highest chalk sea cliff and a famous location featured in many films and television programmes. You can also visit the iconic lighthouse and ride the waves on a boat trip to take in the view of the cliffs from the sea.

Close to Eastbourne is Bateman’s, an historic writers’ retreat dating from the 17th century. This large house is set in beautiful gardens and was where Rudyard Kipling loved to stay. The house retains its feel from this time, resplendent with oriental rugs and the artifacts Kipling brought back from his travels.

Eastbourne may feel a little less brash than Brighton, but it more than holds its own as a fascinating, entertaining holiday destination.

Bath: Somerset’s City of Beauty and Charm

Somerset is a rural county with a wide variety of places for you to visit and explore, from the rolling Mendip Hills to Exmoor National Park and the Somerset Levels. The county offers a wide choice in self-catering holiday cottages, from which you can explore the different facets of the area.

Alongside its countryside, Somerset is also home to a number of quintessentially English locations, brimming with character and history. One such place is the city of Bath.

 

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Bodiam Castle and view of Bath: Karen Arnold

Architecturally Intriguing

The Romans originally developed bath as a recreational centre, building it up around its natural hot springs, and making it a centre for curative treatments and baths.

Under the guidance of Beau Nash, known as the “King of Bath” the city began to change significantly in the early part of the 18th century. Its heyday arrived in the Georgian era, when Ralph Allen and the visionary architect John Wood set out to transform the city.

Of the must see sites of Bath, the buildings of this era are unmissable. In the landscape gardens of Prior Park you’ll find the Palladian Bridge. Built in 1755, the bridge is wonderfully elegant and eye-catching. The National Trust carried out major restoration work on it in the mid-1990s – but the restorers were careful to leave the 18th century graffiti untouched!

Overlooking Royal Victoria Park, the iconic Royal Crescent dates from 1775. It comprises 30 grade I listed houses forming a crescent and in doing so, creating one of the greatest, lasting examples of Georgian architecture. With its houses arranged around a perfect lawn, the Royal Crescent is both imposing and charming. Currently it’s home to a luxury hotel and a museum, alongside private homes.

The Circus is close by to the Royal Crescent. This is three curved townhouses which together form a circular layout. The architect John Wood designed the structure but it was completed by his son of the same name after his death. This striking landmark was home to the painter Thomas Gainsborough for a period.

It was damaged during Bath Blitz of 1942 but was later fully restored and reconstructed.

 

Bathtime in Bath

Visiting Bath, you can experience both the historical Roman Baths and indulge yourself in their contemporary equivalent.

Hot springs have played a key role in the history of Bath, and were the reason the Romans founded the city in the first place.

The original Roman Baths are a testament to their ingenuity and you can really get a sense of the times from wandering amid the ruins and seeing the remains of the Great Bath itself, lying below street level.

The baths also house an interactive museum and the accompanying audio guide helps immerse you in the Roman world.

To truly understand the experience, take yourself off to the Thermae Bath Spa and literally immerse yourself in the thermal waters of the city. The open air, thermally heated outdoor pool overlooking the city is not to be missed.

This contemporary bath complex also offers a wide choice of spa treatments and packages, including a meal in its restaurant.

 

Other Things to See in Bath

Bath Abbey is a formidable example of Gothic architecture and a dramatic structure in the heart of the city. Originally dating from the 7th century, Sir George Gilbert Scott restored it in the 1860s. If you fancy a challenge, climb the Abbey Tower’s 212 steps for rewarding, spectacular 360 degree views of the city.

You might also visit the Holburne Museum, itself a beautiful building surrounded by gardens. Here you can see examples of 18th century paintings, porcelain and sculpture, and experience the exquisite interiors of this one-time hotel.

Traversing the River Avon, Pulteney Bridge has shops built into it and is another beautiful Bath landmark. Viewed from the Parade Gardens park, it captures an enduring sense of beauty that belies its origins as a practical piece of engineering, originally designed to connect the centre with land across the Avon.

Bath is both an historical wonder and an idiosyncratic, contemporary home for individual shops, restaurants and other businesses. As such it retains a dynamic heart central to its charm.

Scenic Buildings and Beautiful Settings in Suffolk

house-in-the-clouds-thorpenessSome of Suffolk’s most impressive sights are in fact manmade, with a number of quite beautiful and imposing historical stately homes dotting the landscape, alongside other visually stunning, culturally significant buildings.

If you stay in Suffolk in a self-catering holiday cottage, there are plenty of places to visit set in beautiful grounds and arresting landscapes.

 

Unique Suffolk Structures

The Red House at Aldeburgh was home to the composer Benjamin Britten from 1957 until his death in 1976. If you visit the Red House you can see the studio where Britten worked, as well as the house’s extensive library.

The distinctive House in the Clouds at Thorpeness is in fact a holiday home, but architecturally unlike any other. It was actually originally a water tank topped with a fairytale-style cottage, perched high above the trees. Originally built in 1923, it’s set in an acre of its own private grounds with spectacular views.

On the Suffolk-Essex border is Kentwell Hall, at Long Melford. This is a red brick Tudor mansion surrounded by its own moat. It has extensive gardens and a working farm. The speciality of the house is to celebrate history on a spectacular scale. This happens on regular Tudor Days and can involve around 250 people all recreating Tudor period details and lifestyles across the entire estate.

In Little Glemham, the 16th century Glemham Hall is situated in 300 acres of parkland. It’s a popular wedding and corporate event venue but its gardens are open to the public on selected days in the summer. It also hosts the annual Suffolk Game and Country Fair.

At Clare, you’ll find the grade I listed Ancient House. Constructed from medieval timber, the 14th century building has elaborately carved interiors and decorative oriel windows on its east wing. It’s now run as a museum by volunteers, providing plenty of information about the history of the town, alongside various medieval artifacts.

Pleasingly picturesque, the Pink Cottages in the Suffolk village of Cavendish are a distinctly colourful addition to the landscape. They date back to the heyday of the wool trade and were originally homes for its successful businessmen. The Suffolk Pink hue originally derives from a combination of unlikely elements such as elderberries, dried blood and red earth.

For over 200 years the vivid red and white striped lighthouse at Orfordness has guarded this particular stretch of the coastline. Battered by the elements and unused since the 1960s, it remains, nevertheless, an impressive remnant of a bygone era.

Explore Suffolk and you experience captivating settings with unique buildings and idiosyncratic structures to match. There’s something both eccentric and charming about the scenes that Suffolk offers up to its curious visitors. These are the memories you’ll take away with you.

50 Miles of Beauty Along the Suffolk Coast

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It looks fantastic, and it’s incredibly varied. The Suffolk Coast stretches for some 50 miles from Lowestoft down to Felixstowe. Combining the traditional English seaside with places of natural beauty and cultural interest, this coastline offers visitors a huge variety of things to do.

There’s plenty of holiday cottage accommodation along the 50 mile stretch and throughout Suffolk itself, so you won’t be stuck finding a base for your explorations.

 

Natural Suffolk

The Suffolk Coast is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and home to a rich variety of flora and fauna. Minsmere is one of the RSPB’s top reserves for rare and well-loved birds. The reserve offers a range of different walks, taking in woodland, wetland and the coastline.

The wild birds you’re likely to see include the Avocet, Bittern, Nightingale and Marsh Harrier. Minsmere is also home to red deer, and the red deer rut, in the

Autumn, provides the spectacular sight of stags fighting over the right to mate with female deer.

The Suffolk Wildlife Trust manages different reserves along the coast, including Gunton Meadow, Carlton and Oulton Marshes and Trimley Marshes. Visiting  these places, you’ll see many different species of wildlife, and experience spectacular views of rural Suffolk.

On the coast at Southwold you can explore inland and visit the Blyth Valley. This is ideal for walking, cycling as well as seeing wildlife. There are plenty of beautiful villages to visit along the River Blyth, and some unique sights, such as the Old Chapel at Walpole, and Holton Mill, with its distinctive white sails.

At the southern end of the Suffolk Coast, at Felixstowe, is the Landguard Peninsula, which includes the Landguard Nature Reserve and Landguard Fort. This stretch of shingle coastline is home to migrating birds and rare flowers and plants, and it’s another great spot for cycling and walking.

 

Best Beaches in Suffolk

No visit to the coast is complete without going to the beach, and Suffolk is blessed with many beautiful beaches. Here’s a selection of the best ones.

At Lowestoft, Claremont Pier has a lovely stretch of sandy beach that also hosts a variety of watersports and provides good access to the East Point Pavilion. Just south of Claremont Pier is another stretch of sand known locally as Victoria Beach.

Aldeburgh Beach combines sand and shingle and is a popular family destination; while the Denes Beach, at Southwold, is a quieter location, close to the mouth of the River Blyth.

Southwold itself is a busy but charming resort town and Southwold Pier Beach is a shingle beach by the 800ft long pier. The gently sloping South Beach at Felixstowe is another popular family spot, backed by a scenic promenade and beyond that, gardens.

If you’re looking for something a bit less busy, then beyond the sand dunes you’ll find a lovely little beach at

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, close to the local nature reserve.

There’s a beach along the Suffolk Coast to suit most tastes, whether you want to get closer to nature, or experience the peculiarly English charm of a traditional seaside setting.

Water, Culture and Character in Ipswich

ipswichWith its history dating back to a Roman settlement and its development to Anglo-Saxon times, in the 7th and 8th centuries, Ipswich can claim to be one of the oldest towns in England. As a non-metropolitan district, Ipswich retains a concentrated degree of local charm while being culturally dynamic and, more recently, undergoing extensive rebuilding and gentrification.

Ipswich is busy enough to be really diverting but it’s location in the heart of Suffolk makes it an ideal spot to explore if you’re staying in holiday cottage accommodation.

Maritime Ipswich and the Waterfront

While Ipswich has had a working port since Saxon times, the town’s waterfront has more recently become the centre of a thriving restaurant and bar scene. This rejuvenated area has plenty of places where you can eat and drink and is also home to some architecturally significant buildings, such as the Old Custom House and the modern Waterfront Building.

The Old Custom House is home to the Ipswich Port Authority and dates back to 1845 and its brick façade was designed in such a way as to imitate stone.

The University of Suffolk’s Waterfront Building looks out over the marina and is an imposing architectural presence. This was built in 2008 and adds a whole new modern dynamic to the location.

The quayside is rich in atmosphere, dotted about with bistros, bars and restaurants. There are also monthly waterfront markets, and the annual Ipswich Maritime Festival attracts up to 70,000 visitors, combining food, street entertainment, live music and markets.

There are also regular sightseeing boat trips running from the waterfront, including a river cruise restaurant, the Allen Gardiner.

An Independent Town Centre

Running between the town centre and the waterfront, The Saints is a flourishing fashionable retail area of Ipswich. The road structure including St Peter’s Street and St Nicholas Street itself dates back to Saxon times, but it is in recent years that The Saints has developed as a hub for intriguing independent shops and an eclectic choice of restaurants.

There’s also a periodic popular vintage and craft market at St Peter’s Street, and the arts and heritage centre at St Peter’s Church, home to the contemporary Ipswich Millennium Tapestries.

On the east of the town centre are the historic remains of the Blackfriars Monastery, and Blackfriars is also the name of the surrounding area, in which there is a great choice of places to eat and drink, and shops to visit.

Cultural highlights in Ipswich include Christchurch Mansion, a Tudor-era property set in beautiful grounds of Christchurch Park; the Ipswich Museum; and also the independent, volunteer-run Ipswich Film Theatre, in the town’s corn exchange.

In June and July there is the annual Ip-Art Festival, with its focus on the performing arts; and the Ipswich Arts Association organises its concerts and lectures throughout the year.

The Wolsey Art Gallery, based inside Christchurch Mansion, houses the largest collection of paintings by Constable and Gainsborough outside London; and the university’s UCS Waterfront Gallery is home to a changing collection of contemporary art.

Ipswich is a town with real character, both historically resonant and forward-looking.

Captivated by Constable Country

church-and-paddocks-at-long-melfordThe East Anglian county of Suffolk is steeped in the history of England, and in the south is Constable Country, so named because it provided the source and inspiration for the work of the painter John Constable.

As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Constable Country continues to inspire contemporary visitors. With plenty of self-catering holiday cottages, it’s a beautiful destination for experiencing some of the best of England.

The Scene of the Hay Wain

Constable’s most famous painting is the Hay Wain, where he created the unforgettable image of a horse and cart crossing the River Stour. You can visit the actual location and experience Constable’s inspiration for yourself at Flatford.

This is like walking into a painting, the landscape and buildings are so vividly real. The white cottage is there, and Flatford Mill, which Constable’s family once owned.

There’s guided trail that can take you through the scenes as painted by Constable – he also painted Boat-Building Near Flatford Mill and nine others in this area.

You can also take a closer look at the buildings from the Hay Wain, now under the National Trust’s custodianship.

Dedham Vale and Stour Valley

Dedham Vale is another of Constable’s most famous paintings, and its idyllic setting is accessible by taking one of various Dedham Walks in the area.

The area is home to picturesque villages such as Stratford St Mary and Stoke-by-Nayland, as well as Dedham itself, and Flatford.

The Stour Valley Path, first established in 1994, is divided into ten different sections of varying lengths, allowing you to explore the stunning countryside and visit areas rich in historical relevance and detail.

The entire route is 60 miles in length, running from close to the source of the River Stour at Newmarket to Cattawade.

The 8.5 mile route between Clare and Long Melford takes in Clare Castle, Long Melford Church, originally built in 1484 then rebuilt after the Reformation, and the brick Tudor Mansion of Melford Hall. Cavendish, along the route, is also the location of the first Sue Ryder nursing home, dating from 1953, created for concentration camp survivors of World War Two.

The final stretch of the Stour Valley Path, from Stratford St Mary to Cattawade, takes in Constable Country, including the painter’s birthplace at East Bergholt. At Dedham you’ll appreciate the Tudor and Georgian architecture, and the church of St Mary’s, location of one of Constable’s religious paintings.

Cycling on the Painters’ Trail

As well as walks and sightseeing, there are plenty of cycling routes in Constable Country.

The Painters’ Trail is a 69 mile long route through Dedham Vale. It comprises three one-day cycle rides along well-worn tracks, paths and quiet, rural roads. It’s both invigorating and serene, taking in many places of interest along the way.

The first route on the Painters’ Trail is circular, from Bures, along quiet country roads and is around 18 miles. The next 16 miles of route runs down the Stour Valley to the river’s estuary and offers the option of departing from Manningtree railway station on completion. The final part of the trail is another 18 miles, through Constable Country, and is a circular.
This large, picturesque area of the Suffolk countryside offers an unforgettable outdoor experience of rural England at its most captivating.

Try the Inner Hebrides for Whisky, Wildlife and Wandering

the-skye-bridgeClose to the west coast of Scotland, the Inner Hebrides include Skye, Mull Jura and Islay, along with a number of smaller islands. They present an ideal opportunity for exploration by island hopping, in order to experience a whole range of things to see and do.

Across these island, there is a good range of self-catering, holiday cottage accommodation to choose from, but you don’t need to be restricted by where you base yourself. The best thing to do is to get out and about, exploring the islands.

Exploring on Skye

At the northern end of the Inner Hebrides, Skye is the largest of the islands. It has miles of coastline, mountain ranges and towns and villages bursting with character.

It’s an ideal destination if you want to pull on your walking boots and really get involved in exploring the landscape. While you wouldn’t necessarily come to Skye for a traditional beach holiday, it does have beautiful beaches, such as Claigan Coral beach, actually made of algae fossilised and bleached by the sun. Nearby is the island of Lampay, which you can cross the bay to in low tide. Also close by is the historic Dunvegan Castle, which is well worth a visit to see both the interior with its highland artefacts and treasures, and its beautifully tended, formal gardens.

By way of contrast, the Cuillin is a rocky mountain range that is the dominating feature on Skye, approachable by boat or on foot. You can walk the popular Glen Sligachan route, which runs between the granite Red Hills and the Cuillin to the west.

If you want to experience wild swimming, or just take in some natural beauty, you must visit the Fairy Pools on the island, at the foot of the Black Cuillins. On the River Brittle, these are beautifully clear, tranquil blue pools.

Tobermory and Mull

On the island of Mull, Tobermory is the main town, originally built as a fishing port in the late 18th century. This charming location has a good collection of independent artisan shops, pubs and eateries.

Mull is also hugely important for wildlife. Its woodland is home to a variety of Warblers and Songbirds in the summer months, while pine forests to the north of the island are where you may find the Crossbill, a bright red, parrot-like bird, whose rareness makes spotting it all the more rewarding.

The island is also the best place in the UK to see eagles, including the Golden Eagle and the White Tailed Sea Eagle.

Other wildlife on Mull includes otters, whales and dolphins – all of which you can arrange guided tours to see in their natural habitat.

Islay and Jura Distilled

Islay and Jura are walkers’ paradises, as well as being centres of notable whisky distilleries. Jura has over 5,000 deer, while Islay is home to the RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve, where you can observe a wide variety of bird species.

On Islay there is an annual Festival of Malt and Music held every May, and you take guided tours at its various distilleries at Port Ellen, Bowmore and Port Askaig throughout the year.

Jura is really quite an untamed location, but this long, narrow island is worth a visit to experience its wildness and natural beauty. It has its own distillery, producing whisky with a distinct, smoky flavour, which you can visit by appointment.

The Inner Hebrides offer plenty of choice when it comes to scenery, activities and accommodation, and a real opportunity to experience a different kind of Scotland.

Scotland’s Outdoor Capital and the UK’s Tallest Mountain

ben-nevis-scotlandFor many, the Highlands simply are Scotland. They display a glorious series of amazing landscapes and intriguing locations. A key one of these is Fort William, often known as the UK’s outdoor capital and home to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK, at a height of 1,345 metres.

There’s a good range of accommodation in the Fort William area, including plenty of self-catering holiday cottages.

 

Mountain Biking and Scotland’s Wildlife

Fort William really is the great outdoors, and the things to do here reflect this. It’s a well-known centre for mountain biking, with a reputation founded on hosting the Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup.

It’s not restricted to a championship activity though – there are plenty of family-friendly bike routes as well as varying grades of tougher routes available at the Witch’s Trails in Leanachan Forest.

These bike trails provide excitement and stunning views in the shadow of Ben Nevis itself. There’s also a coffee shop at the base of the 4,000 foot Aonach Mor route, and, for those who persevere, the Snowgoose restaurant at the top.

In addition, you can always explore a number of unwaymarked trails in the Fort William area.

Fort William is also home to the big five of Scotland’s wildlife species: golden eagle, red deer, red squirrel, otter and harbour seal.

You can watch and photograph these creatures in their natural habitat by taking a wildlife safari. Organised trips include cruises on Loch Shiel and searchlight safaris in search of pine martins.

In winter you’ll witness vast herds of red deer coming down from the mountain tops to shelter from the harsher conditions. At the other end of the scale, why not take a guided expedition to search for Scotland’s elusive otter population?

 

Walking Up Ben Nevis

The mountain, or munro, dominates the landscape around Fort William. The climate is not always that mild – the northerly latitude makes for some arctic temperatures – but Ben Nevis is well worth braving harsh, chilly winds for.

The good news is that you can walk up it. There’s a clearly marked mountain track leading all the way from Glen Nevis at the base to the summit. If you’re unsure about the scale of your ambition, there are guided walks available, where an experienced Ben Nevis mountain guide will take you along the track and up the mountain.

There’s another walking route up, by the narrow, rocky Carn Morg Dearg Arete, which offers stunning views of the north face.

For something more challenging, try the scrambling route up the mountain. Scrambling comes somewhere between walking and climbing, and involves ascending Ben Nevis’s North Face via the Ledge Route. For this you’ll need the right safety gear, and experience. There are separate scrambling courses available for varying levels of ability.

Finally, there is climbing, going up the mountain on the Tower Ridge, Observatory Ridge or North East Buttress. These routes are for people with a good degree of mountain climbing fitness and experience.