Archive for category Ireland

Intimacy and Astronomy in the City of Armagh

Armagh, the medium-sized county town of County Armagh, received city status in 1994, making it the least-populated city in Northern Ireland. This is no bad thing, making it a wonderfully relaxing yet stimulating destination to visit.

With its gorgeous Georgian buildings, two cathedrals, National Trust properties and Ireland’s only planetarium, Armagh has lots to offer.

Make your holiday fully flexible and enjoy Armagh at your own pace by staying in a holiday cottage in the area.

Two Cathedrals for Saint Patrick

With its twin spires overlooking the city, the Catholic Saint Patrick’s Cathedral dates from 1904, but it took many years to complete, having had its foundation stone laid in 1840. Restoration work took place in 2002, following a rededication in 1982, when the relics of St Malachy were placed in a new altar.

The Cathedral’s Church of Ireland counterpart, also St Patrick’s, dates further back, to 1268, with restoration in 1834. It contains a Celtic Cross from the 11th century, as well as several bronze age sculptures. The cathedral grounds are the burial place of Brian Ború, the High King of Ireland.

Both Cathedrals are architecturally imposing, beautiful and fascinating. Offering contrasting but enduring monuments to religious devotion.

 

Armagh’s Museums and Planetarium

Armagh’s museum dedicated to the Royal Irish Fusiliers combines exhibitions and events to give an evocative picture of this regiment that dates back to 1793 and the Napoleonic War.

The museum hosts regular talks by experts in military history and has a permanent collection of items of historical significance related to the regiment. It all adds up to a fascinating insight into this world.

Armagh County Museum is the oldest museum in Ireland. From the outside, it has a distinctive façade, located on Armagh’s Georgian Mall. Its comprehensive collection includes maps, photographs, period clothing, ceramics and prehistoric artefacts.

Ireland’s only planetarium is in Armagh. This leading centre for astronomical education houses a digital theatre where visitors can attend dynamic shows related to the skies above Ireland and astronomy in general. Armagh Planetarium also hosts a monthly open skies evening during the autumn and winter, which gives people the opportunity for telescope viewing.

Other places of interest in Armagh worth checking out include the historic Armagh Gaol, the Grade A listed Diocesan Registry at Number 5 Vicars Hill, and the observatory with its beautifully landscaped grounds.

In Milford Village, Armagh, you will find the Milford House Collection. The McCrum family were a leading linen manufacturing dynasty and the collection brings together fascinating interiors and pieces from their time in residence at the house. The Argory is an historically furnished, preserved Victorian mansion open to visitors. It boasts a fully working barrel organ, a coffee shop and a second-hand bookshop.

The Armagh Visitor Experience

As a small, intimate city, Armagh provides a unique experience to visitors. And whereas the city does have a generous share of modern and stylish outlets, it also has plenty of one-off independent shops selling a range of goods.

Market Square and Shambles Yard host local markets offering local produce and gifts, homeware and clothing.

For eating and drinking in Armagh, there is a great range of restaurants, bars and cafes, including bistros, fine dining establishments and down-to-earth eateries.

Armagh may be a small city, but it punches above its weight, retaining a kind of small-town charm at the centre of its relaxed, welcoming atmosphere.

Exploring the Mourne Mountains and Newcastle by the Seaside

If you’re considering staying in a holiday cottage in Northern Ireland, this part of County Down is an ideal spot. It offers mountains, spectacular views, a seaside resort and a golden stretch of glorious beach. Whether you’re a nature-lover, into walking and climbing, or you just want to relax and take in the scenery, there’s something for you here.

 

The Mourne Mountains

The Mourne Mountains comprise an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with a complex and varied character, presenting a range of walks, from the scenic to the challenging.

The big challenge is walking the six peaks, the tallest in this region. Be prepared though, because this route is nearly 24 miles of rugged terrain, typically taken over a three-day itinerary.

You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with stunning views of the Irish Sea, and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve conquered the six peaks.

If you want something less physically demanding, you can take other walks which will give you a vivid sense of the area without quite the same level of exertion. The 26 miles of the Mourne Way, for example, follows mountain paths through the foothills of the Mournes.

You can also explore the beauty of Tollymore Forest Park or take in the sights of Silent Valley Reservoir.

 

Newcastle

Around 45 minutes’ drive from Belfast, Newcastle is a small coastal town with an unspoiled, almost magical feel. It lies at the foot of the Mourne Mountains as they descend towards the coastline.

Nearby, you’ll find self-catering accommodation and the town itself has a 1930s lido, plenty of charm and a local restaurant, Vanilla, with a formidable reputation for great food.

 

Dundrum Castle and Coastal Path

On a wooded hill outside Dundrum Village, near Newcastle, Dundrum Castle dates back to 1177. This well-preserved Norman structure offers fantastic views of Dundrum Bay and the Mourne Mountains. This reflects the strategic importance of the castle when John De Courcy first built it as part of the area’s coastal defences.

The Dundrum Coastal Path takes you along a stretch of disused railway line on the western shore of Dundrum Inner Bay. The walk begins next to Dundrum Village and follows the shoreline, and passes through a conservation area including rich grassland and saltmarshes. It also provides a habitat for a variety of birdlife.

Murlough Beach and Nature Reserve

Murlough Beach is just outside the town of Newcastle. It is a blue flag beach, with its golden sands stretching some five miles.

The beach is part of the Murlough Nature Reserve. This was Ireland’s first nature reserve, and consists of a 6,000-year-old system of fragile dunes, at the edge of Dundrum Bay. It contains evidence of human habitation dating to Neolithic times.

There is a network of paths and boardwalks through the dunes and this example of a dune heath landscape is home to butterflies, wildflowers and bird species, including wildfowl.

Discover the Drama of Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast

Between Belfast and Derry, and some 120 miles long, Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route takes in natural and manmade attractions such as Carrickfergus Castle, Torr Head, Giant’s Causeway and Magilligan Point. This stunningly scenic route is visually arresting and culturally immersive.

Where to Stay

The Causeway Coastal route is ideal if you plan a self-catering, holiday cottage break, because you have the freedom to set your own itinerary.

There is plenty of variation when it comes to holiday cottages in Northern Ireland, including areas conveniently located close to the Causeway Coastal route.

Belfast and Derry

These two cities bookend the route, and both are ideal places to either start or finish your journey.

The only remaining walled city in either Northern Ireland or the Republic, Derry is richly historical but also dynamically contemporary. With a calendar full of events and festivals, the city feels like it wears its history well.

Attractions include the Siege Museum, the Tower Museum and the civil rights-themed Museum of Free Derry. Derry also has the contemporary Void art space and Warehouse Gallery. There are several bus and walking tours, taking you along the walls, and visiting sites of political interest.

Also, as a thriving cultural centre, Derry has a great selection of restaurants, bars and pubs.

Belfast is home to the Titanic Belfast attraction, where you can explore the shipyards and take a walking tour to experience the Titanic story up close.

The Titanic Studios are where the iconic Game of Thrones series is filmed, and there are a variety of tours which take you to the outdoor locations where key moments of this unfolding saga have been shot.

Like Derry, Belfast has a lively entertainment and arts culture, with plenty to see and experience, including restaurants, pubs and attractions.

Castles on the Causeway Coast

Standing high on the cliffs of the North Antrim coast, the ruins of Dunluce Castle bear witness to centuries of conflict. The MacQuillan Family built the castle in about 1500, and became the sought-after prize in conflicts between warring warrior clans.

Glenarm Castle is the ancestral home of the Earls of Antrim, the McDonnells. Its famous walled garden is one of Ireland’s oldest, and originally supplied the castle with all its fruit and vegetables. Now it is purely decorative, with rich displays of herbaceous plants and bright and rare specimens of flower.

Not far from Belfast, Carrickfergus Castle is one of Ireland’s best preserved medieval constructions, and it continued to play a military role right up until 1928. You can easily explore the castle using the information on site, and get a feel for medieval life by visiting the restored banqueting hall.

Giant’s Causeway and Torr Head

The Giant’s Causeway is a natural geological wonder. Consisting of some 40,000 basalt columns interlocked with one another, it provides an organic, sculptural landscape feature.

Visitors can climb the Shepherd’s Steps cut into the hillside and hike along the clifftop for a panoramic view of the coastline.

A short detour off the main coastal route, the trip to Torr Head takes you along a narrow stretch of winding road. But you’re rewarded with awesome views of the coastline, including the coast of Scotland, which is only 13 miles away.

 

Other Attractions and Landmarks

The Causeway Coastal Route is unfeasibly packed full of places to see and things to experience, which could mean some hard choices when it comes to making the most of your time.

There is the Old Bushmills Distillery, Ireland’s oldest, where you can enjoy tutored whiskey tastings; and, along the Antrim Coast, the sandy beaches of Whitepark Bay to stroll along. Walk beneath the natural occurring archway of intertwining beech trees at the Dark Hedges; or visit the Cornish-styled, charming coastal village of Cushendun – the work of Clough Williams-Ellis, who also designed Portmeirion in North Wales.

Wexford and Wicklow: Ireland’s Ancient East

In the province of Leister, County Wexford is the centre of Ireland’s Ancient East, a gateway to 5,000 years of history. Further north up Ireland’s east coast is Wicklow, known as the Garden of Ireland, a walker’s paradise, surrounded by valleys and mountains.

The east of Ireland is an ideal part of the world for a self-catering holiday in a holiday cottage, and both Wexford  and Wicklow  offer plenty of choice.

Exploring Along the Norman Way

The Norman Way is a heritage trail running along the south coast of County Wexford, where you can lose yourself in the magic and history of the region. It passes through medieval sites and picturesque seaside villages.

Intriguing and interesting landmarks along the Norman Way include: the Norman castle and tower on Lady’s Island; the medieval church of St Iberius; Sigginstown and Ballyhealy castles; and the Tacumshane Windmill, also dating from Norman times.

The Norman Way is suitable for both walkers and cyclists, and there are pubs and tearooms along the route to keep all travellers refreshed.

The Hook Lighthouse and a Haunted Hall

At the tip of the Hook Peninsula, this 13th century lighthouse is one of Ireland’s top attractions. The Hook lighthouse is more than just an artefact however, because it is the world’s oldest operational lighthouse.

The lighthouse balcony offers spectacular views, following a climb up its 115 steps, and there are guided tours of the lighthouse tower. There’s also a café and art workshops.

Further up the peninsula is Loftus Hall, said to be Ireland’s most haunted house. It has played host to numerous paranormal investigations and visitors can experience its full dark and troubled history on a guided tour.

Castles and Abbeys

Wexford has more than its fair share of historic buildings, including the imposing Dunbrody Abbey, Tintern Abbey – home to the Clodagh Walled Gardens – and the early Anglo Norman Enniscorthy Castle. Here you can also access the roof of the castle for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

Later, gothic architecture is on glorious show at Johnstown Castle, while Ferns Castle has a uniquely intact circular chapel.

For an immersive experience in Ireland’s ancient history, visit the Irish National Heritage Park. This outdoor museum is a detailed recreation of Ireland’s heritage, with ancient homesteads amid 35 acres of woodland. There are plenty of activities held here to leave your kids happily exhausted, while you enjoy the scenery, or join in.

Wild Wicklow

Wicklow is a walker’s paradise. The 131 kilometre Wicklow Way takes you up mountainous trails and through glacial valleys. It begins south of Dublin, in Rathfarnham, and takes you to the uplands of County Wicklow, finishing in the small village of Clonegal.

The full trail takes eight to ten days, but your time is rewarded with a sequence of varied and stunning scenery, from forest trails and parkland to mountain landscapes and deep, rolling hills.

The Glendalough Valley

Known as the valley of two lakes, Glendalough is home to a world famous, 6th century monastic site, a collection of ancient religious buildings including a cathedral, priests’ house, several churches and a round tower. It is a beautiful place, full of natural detail and a pervading sense of calm.

It’s a great centre for walkers and rock-climbers, with its network of trails and high, granite cliffs.

Ireland’s Ancient East manages to maintain an air of mystery while being widely accessible, combining great natural beauty with intriguing, manmade historical structures.

 

Captivated in Cork City and County Cork

The biggest county in Ireland is Cork, in Munster province, to the south. Cork City is Ireland’s second city and it’s a lively, cosmopolitan destination. Visit County Cork and you can combine the dynamism of the city with the charms of the county’s vivid landscapes and places of historical interest. And County Cork has plenty of self-catering, holiday cottages to choose from.

 

City Life

The ornate ceilings and columns in the grand Victorian setting of the English Market make this a must to visit, even if you don’t buy any of the wonderful local produce on sale there. You’ll find plenty of takeaway food on offer too, and various cafes and delis.

Another notable 19th century building is the Cork City Gaol, where you can take a tour of this imposing structure and get a vivid sense of what life would have been like for its inmates – in the days when you would be sentenced to hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread.

For all its grimness, the gaol is an outstanding example of historical architecture, full of Georgian and Gothic character.

Both whimsical and dramatic, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral is an elaborate construction dating from that virtually batters your senses into submission with its over-the-top grandeur.

If you want a break from sightseeing in Cork City, then there’s a wealth of places offering food and drink, from modern Irish cuisine and contemporary vegetarian to local bistros and fine dining. You’re also never too far from excellent artisan coffee and independent cafes.

When it comes to working off all that good food and drink, there are a number of Cork Walks you can take in the city centre. These heritage-themed trails take in various places of interest, from medieval to modern, while providing an immersive experience of the city.

Cork also has several key art galleries, showcasing Ireland’s vital, contemporary art scene. These include the Crawford Art Gallery, the Lewis Glucksman Gallery with its award-winning architectural design, and the Triskel Art Centre.

Countywide Adventures

Outside the city, the county of cork has a wide variety of attractions and some stunning scenery. Visit Blarney Castle and gardens. The castle dates to around 1210 AD, with its original wooden structure then supplanted by a stone construction, before being rebuilt a third time in 1446.

Explore the castle’s battlements, dungeons and grounds, its labyrinth passages and enchanting estate. While you’re there you must kiss the legendary Blarney Stone – supposed to bestow eloquence on the kisser!

In East Cork you’ll find plenty of blue flag beaches, at Youghal and Garryvoe. Youghal also has an iconic clock tower, dating from 1777. Youghal Clock Gate is on the site of the former Trinity Castle and you need to book a guided tour to visit it.

On the shore of Cork Harbour, the town of Cobh provides a captivating combination of heritage and contemporary culture, from restaurants and bars to museums, studios and galleries. You can reach Cobh on a direct train from Cork City.

Mizen Head, at the end of the Mizen Peninsula, is Ireland’s most South Westerly point. Here you get stunning views of the coastline and a real sense of the elemental force of the Atlantic Ocean. Visit the Signal Station for a truly exhilarating encounter with Ireland’s natural elements.

There are numerous attractions in Cork, both city and county, whether you want outdoor adventure, inspiration from the arts and Ireland’s diverse heritage, or just to relax, eat and drink and enjoy the scenery.

Flybe launches new domestic flights from London City

Flybe is to launch new domestic and international flights from London City Airport in October. 

Flights are on sale now to Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Exeter and Inverness with departures launching on 27th October. The airline is also planning to offer off-peak leisure flights to selected ski, regional French and Northern Spanish destinations.

Flybe will base three aircraft at regional airports and two at London City, where it expects to carry around 500,000 passengers a year.

Flybe’s chief executive officer Saad Hammad said: “Today’s announcement is a significant landmark in the re-birth of Flybe. We are delighted to re-enter the London market at London’s most convenient airport following a rigorous profitability analysis utilising our strict route assessment model.

“Dedicating five growth aircraft initially to these new routes is a major statement of intent and we look forward to building a successful and growing presence there over the coming years.

“Flybe is today already connecting over seven million passengers a year across the UK and Europe. With a major London connection, we reaffirm our place as the UK’s largest regional airline.”

Initially there will be four daily flights to and from Edinburgh and Dublin, three flights a day to and from Belfast and Exeter, and twice daily flights to and from Inverness.

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Doncaster Sheffield flights to Belfast and Isle of Man

Doncaster Sheffield airport is launching two new routes to Belfast City and the Isle of Man this April.

LinksAir will base an aircraft at the Robin Hood Airport, with twice-daily flights to Belfast on weekdays and a single Sunday return from 7th April. Isle of Man flights will start on 14th April, operating on Monday, Friday and Sunday.

Airport managing director Steve Gill said: “This is fantastic news for the airport and for Yorkshire passengers.

“These two new routes are a great addition to our offering. Belfast will be a fantastic business route with people being able to set off in the morning and be in Belfast city centre for the start of the business day.

“Our new three-time weekly service to the popular Isle of Man is Yorkshire’s only link to the island, famous for its world famous TT motorcycle race event and its rugged coastline and sandy beaches. It is also a convenient link for the financial services sector.”

Easily reached from the airport, why not try one of these highly commended tourist award 1,2 and 3-bedroom apartments. Located on the beautiful Antrim coast overlooking Ballygally Beach, they are an ideal centre for touring the Glens of Antrim and the world-famous Giant’s Causeway. There are restaurants and pubs within walking distance.

The apartments have been furnished and equipped to the highest standards with full central heating for winter visits. Children are welcome, and it’s a great place for fishing and bird watching. With 2-night breaks from £195 and 3-night breaks from £220, it’s an ideal place for a short break nipping over from Yorkshire.

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2013 round up

Happy New Year from all of us at Holiday Cottages! Before we start on the news and reviews for 2014, here’s a some highlights of what we covered on the blog in 2013:

We started the year with a report that we Brits are creatures of habit with our holiday choices, often returning to a previous destination and holiday cottage when we’ve had one good holiday there before. Last year was the Year of Natural Scotland, and was launched with an advert featuring Shetland ponies wearing onesies!

In February we found that 50% of Londoners prefer holidays in the sunshine, with many also stating that their holidays in the UK were some of the happiest they have had. We also gave you a run down of some of our most splendid cottages with pools, which are all still available now and could be great for a summer holiday vibe in winter!

Flybe announced flights from Manchester to Scotland in March, making for a quick and relatively cost effective way of taking a short break in Scotland. The Easter holidays were blighted by bad weather sweeping across the country. It didn’t affect Cheshire, though, as I shared my photography adventure in Tatton Park over the Easter weekend.

Our friends at Helpful Holidays swept the board at the Which? Travel magazine member survey in April. Meanwhile, in May, Blackpool was named the most popular British seaside resort at the TripAdvisor Choice Awards.

In June, research by VisitBritain found that more overseas visitors to the UK prefer visiting open green spaces such as parks and gardens than they do museums and galleries.

July started with the news that a change in the law in 2015, which means schools will decide their own term dates, will very likely drive up the prices of holidays year round. There was a rise in visits to UK attractions, helping to bolster domestic tourism.

We gave our top tips for festivals and activities over the August Bank Holiday; we also reported on the large number of UK piers under threat of coming under a state of disrepair if funding isn’t found.

September was a time for activities such as the Devon Open Studios, Frome Cheese and Agricultural Show, and pickling at Powderham.

In October, inbound tourism was on the up, and also Yorkshire was voted one of the top 10 places to visit in the world!

In November we recommended the North Devon Clovelly Herring Festival and reviewed the light fantastic Lumiere Festival, Durham. There was good news for Hull, as it was named the next UK City of Culture 2017.

Finally, in December, we found that we Brits are flavour of the month with Americans, as tourists from across the Pond have been increasing in number year on year. Christmas was also a great time for UK tourism as the number of overnight stays and short trips increased substantially over the festive period.

So, that’s it for 2013! Keep up to date with news and reviews in 2014 by following the blog, or you can like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter

 

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Happy birthday Fastnet

Fastnet Line, the company which runs the Cork to Swansea ferry route, celebrated the first anniversary of operations on 10 March. The first sailing on the route since 2006 took place on this date in 2010 when the Julia set sail from Swansea to Cork.


The re-establishment of the route has given a boost to tourism on both sides of the Irish Sea, with Fastnet Line exceeding its targets for vehicles and passengers in a highly successful first season. More than 80,000 people travelled on the route between March and December 2010 in a year which saw the importance of access by sea emphasised during the volcanic ash cloud crisis.

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Build a better bookshelf

One of the great pleasures of getting away on a cottage holiday is the chance to relax with a good book. Another is getting out and about, seeing and doing things that make a real change from everyday life.

So having a well chosen selection of books (as well as DVDs and games) in a holiday property can contribute a lot to a holiday. Bookshelves tend to acquire a life of their own, with visitors donating books they’ve brought and read. That can lead to a wonderfully mixed selection of books reflecting all sorts of tastes and interests. Even so, it still helps a lot if at the heart of the collection is a core of books appropriate to the property. Books about the area, of course, whether guide books, local history or fiction. But also books that can help visitors appreciate aspects of country life they might otherwise miss.

For instance, a couple of new books from Britain’s Wildlife Trusts do this in quite different ways. The first is a guide designed to help you get closer to nature, called 152 Wild Things to Do. Divided into four seasonal sections, it lists places to visit (mostly wildlife reserves owned by the Trusts), activities for both adults and children, and skills you can acquire.

In spring, if you’re in Wales you could visit Silent Valley nature reserve. Or you could cook nettle soup. “Healthy, delicious and found absolutely everywhere, nettles are a wonderful leaf that can be cooked up into a wholesome soup. Food that’s free and full of goodness – perfect! You’ll need to pick the tender tops of young nettles in the spring.” It goes on to a full Nigella-style listing of ingredients (including optional wild garlic leaves), cooking instructions and a final flourish: “You could stir in some crème fraîche or serve with a swirl of cream and some crusty bread.”

In summer, you could go wild swimming or glow-worm spotting; in autumn, you could go blackberrying (and make jam), discover Tolkien’s inspiration or see Britain’s largest butterfly. And in winter… well, buy the book and give it as a present, or just for yourself to spur inspiration and booking another cottage holiday.

In all there are – as you would expect – 152 recommendations, so there’s plenty to keep you busy. The book is probably aimed mostly at parents hoping to occupy children and stir an interest in nature and the countryside, but there’s plenty for everyone. It serves as an introduction to a number of small, lesser-known nature reserves and the colour photography is beautiful. It’s a book that deserves a place on every holiday cottage bookshelf.

Rather more traditional is Nature Tales, from  the same source. It’s a compilation of nature writing spanning the last three hundred years, with a forward by Sir David Attenborough. “This wonderful collection of some of the greatest nature writers in Britain’s history is a pleasure to read from start to finish and a valuable addition to any naturalist’s library,” says Sir David. Quite so, but don’t let that reference to a naturalist’s library make you think this is some learned, stuffy book. Quite the reverse, because it’s the ideal accompaniment to a cup of tea and a digestive, with most of the items no more than two or three pages long.

The book is organised in themed sections – By river and sea, From my window, Nature trails, and so on – each with items from across the 300 years. So an entertaining piece by Bill Oddie – one of the longest items at nine pages – is preceded by the 19th century novelist Richard Jefferies and followed by Nan Shepherd, a wonderful descriptive writer who died in 1981 at the age of 88. There are brief notes on each contributor, which might well lead you to follow up on their other writings.

Even more than in a naturalist’s library, this book belongs in every holiday cottage. And it, too, would make an excellent birthday or Christmas present for any nature-minded reader.

152 Wild Things to Do, published by Elliott and Thompson Ltd, £12.99,
Nature Tales, published byElliott and Thompson Ltd, £18.99

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