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  • The summer holidays are in full swing and we have been having some scorching temperatures (albeit mixed with some pretty heavy downpours!). If you need somewhere to cool off, here are some of our top tips on where to take a dip in the great outdoors.

    Remember that wild swimming comes with risks, particularly when water is very cold. It is always done at your own risk and should never be done alone!

    Swimming in Loughrigg Tarn1. Loughrigg Tarn

    The Lake District is, unsurprisingly, the top spot in England for finding idyllic wild swimming spots and there are loads of options. One of our favourites is Loughrigg tarn close to Elterwater. A gorgeous spot that is easy to get to; the water warms up nicely on hot days, and access into the tarn is straightforward.

    You can park at Skelwith Bridge and walk up the steep hill (which has the benefit of allowing you to pick up a picnic at the excellent Chester’s!) or grab one of the roadside parking spots close to the tarn.

    2. Cauldron Force, West BurtonCauldren Force, West Burton

    The charming Yorkshire Dales village of West Burton has the added attraction of a pretty waterfall, tucked away from the green in its own mini amphitheatre at the bottom of the village.

    Although only small, the pool at the base of the main falls is a great place for a dip – deep enough for a proper swim and you can climb up the rocks to get an exhilarating soaking from the waterfall itself. Just downstream past the packhorse bridge there is another deep spot where the more adventurous can jump off the rocks into the pool!

    3. The River Wye, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire

    Tudor Farmhouse HotelThere are plenty of spots along the gorgeous River Wye that lend themselves to a refreshing dip. The stretch from Lower Lydbrook to Yat Rock is a great place to start - a beautiful bend in the river with easy places to get in and out and a good chance of spotting some wildlife while you swim – buzzards, kestrels, peregrine falcons and kingfishers are all a possibility.

    The charming Tudor Farmhouse hotel in the Forest of Dean (pictured) is well located for exploring lots of sections of the river and can provide plenty of information about the best spots to try for your interests and ability.

    Loch Etive4. Glen Etive, Scotland

    A side valley to the ever-popular Glen Coe, Glen Etive has a dead end road running along its length, meaning crowds are kept to a minimum and there are plenty of quiet spots to pull in for a refreshing dip in the inviting River Etive.

    Wild camping is also popular in the glen so the adventurous can pitch up and spend the night under the stars (just remember to clear up after yourselves and take all rubbish away with you).

    5. Golitha Falls, Cornwall

    Cornwall is, of course, more well known for beautiful beaches and swimming in the sea, but it also has some great inland spots for river swimming.

    Golitha Falls is a beautiful stretch of the River Fowey through ancient oak woodland on Bodmin Moor with an easy to follow path and nice spots for a picnic. The best place for a swim is the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls, but be careful of slippy rocks and don’t go in after heavy rain.

    Fowey EstuaryAt the other end of the River Fowey you reach the classic Cornish seaside town of Fowey which also offers good swimming options in the estuary and nearby beaches as well as lots of places for food and drinks.

    If you would like any more information or would like help arranging a self-drive holiday in Britain, please do get in touch.

  • Britain is famous around the world for its pubs and the mention of one often conjures up the image of roaring fires, cosy corners and flagstone floors but, while settling in in front of a fire on a cold day is undoubtedly a quintessentially British experience, the summer months give you the chance to experience the other typically British side to the pub – the beer garden!

    There are hundreds of places around the country that offer the opportunity to sit outside with a pint enjoying the sunshine, the views or just watching the world go by.

    Here are some of our personal favourite spots for an al fresco pint.

    Isis Farmhouse, OxfordIsis Farmhouse, Oxford

    Oxford is home to a wide range of excellent pubs and an unusual number of great beer gardens (the Perch, the Fishes and the Trout could all easily feature on this list) but our favourite is the Isis Farmhouse.

    A short walk along the river from the centre of town, this pub feels more countryside than city and the huge beer garden right on the banks of the Thames is hard to beat. Sitting with a pint on a summer’s afternoon watching boats potter up and down is a real treat. Inside has a rustic feel but is more casual café-bar and music venue than old-school pub. The weekly Sunday live music and several ‘festival’ style events add to this vibe.

    The Square and Compass, Dorset

    Square and Compass. DorsetSet just back from Dorset’s stunning Jurassic Coast, this quirky pub is something of an institution. Specialising in homemade cider and offering only simple pies and pasties as sustenance to reward you for clambering up the hill from the beach (also accessible by car!) the stunning beer garden makes the effort worthwhile.

    Solid stone tables and benches scatter the large grassy area in front of the charming slate roofed inn and offer incredible views over Dorset’s rolling hills to the sea.

    Stickle Barn, Great Langdale, Cumbria

    There are few things better than a pint in the sunshine with views of the hills after working up a thirst hiking in the stunning Lake District.

    Stickle Barn offers the perfect spot – the only pub run by the National Trust, Stickle Barn sits in the Great Langdale Valley at the start of one of the areas most popular (and beautiful) walks; up the Langdale Pikes. After making it up and down the steep route, the pub is a very welcome sight and the good selection of food and beers is complemented by a large beer garden with views along the valley and to the surrounding fells. Fire pits keep the cold off on cooler days.

    The Ship Inn, Porthleven, Cornwall

    Ship Inn, Porthleven, CornwallThe charming harbour town of Porthleven on Cornwall’s south coast seems to get a lot less attention than some of its more well-known neighbours, but has all the traditional Cornish charm and less of the crowds.

    The Ship Inn sits right at the edge of the harbour and is exactly the sort of place you can picture smugglers settling in after landing a haul! The cosy interior is full of character but the unusual beer garden adds something extra. As the pub is tucked into the hillside, the garden is a series of terraces on different levels with picnic tables tucked between pretty plants and offering views both over the boats bobbing in the harbour and out to sea.

    The Applecross Inn, Applecross, Wester Ross

    Applecross Inn, HighlandsIn the village of Applecross on the remote Applecross peninsula on Scotland’s stunning west coast, it is, not surprisingly, the views that are the real winner here. The beer garden itself is just a simple handful of benches on the street outside the inn and on a patch of grass across the road, but it is hard to imagine a better setting. Close enough to the coast to hear the sea lapping on the shore, the view stretches across the Sound of Raasay to the mountains of the Isle of Skye.

    The friendly inn offers a wide range of drinks, an interesting menu with a big focus on local produce, and the excellent Scottish seafood features heavily. If you can’t tear yourself away, there are also 8 bedrooms of varying sizes.

    London

    The idea of the perfect beer garden usually conjures up images of open grassy spaces or stunning countryside views, but nowhere in Britain is having a drink outside more popular than the capital and there are lots of great options. The weather only has to be vaguely reasonable and you will find Londoners packing terraces and pouring out onto the pavements with their drinks.

    Our favourite place for al fresco drinking is Exmouth Market in Farringdon where several bars line the mostly pedestrian street all with outside tables, providing a lively, sociable atmosphere and an opportunity for some easy bar hopping! Most serve a wide variety of craft beers and other drinks as well as good food. A quick game of table football at long-standing Café Kick is a must!

    For something a bit fancy, treat yourself to a glass of champagne in the rooftop garden at Coq D’Argent in the City of London.

    If you want help planning a self-drive trip around Britain (that could take in some of these spots!), do not hesitate to get in touch.

  • Loch Torridon and the Torridon mountainsAs well as hitting big name sights, we all know that some of the highlights of a trip are often the lesser known little gems that feel like a discovery! Some of these places may be well-known to the locals, but are rarely visited by overseas tourists and you certainly won’t see a tour bus in sight!

    North and South Sands, Devon

    Just minutes away from hugely busy Salcombe, the twin bays off North and South Sands sit in the sort of tiny cove that people imagine stumbling upon on the gorgeous Devon coastline - no more than a tiny cluster of whitewashed houses at either end of the bay and a couple of pretty sweeps of beach surrounded by rocky cliffs and trees. But there are also two big draws, meaning you can spend several hours at this tiny spot!

    The National Trust property of Overbecks is a fascinating subtropical garden of rare plants surrounding Otto Overbeck's seaside home with gorgeous views across the estuary. Once you’ve explored the garden, the other highlight is the excellent Winking Prawn beach cafe, serving a range of local seafood as well as other meals, snacks and drinks. This is a deservedly popular spot but go for an early or late lunch or dinner and take one of the many outdoor tables looking out over the bay and it is a fantastic place to relax over a bite to eat. On a warm day, finish off with a quick dip in the sheltered bay!

    Cat Bells from Little Town, Lake District

    The Newlands Valley from CatbellsBagging the summit of one of the Lake District’s famous hills is on many people’s to do list when visiting the area and Cat Bells, standing at just 451 metres but offering stunning views over Derwent Water and the Newlands Valley, is an understandably popular spot and not one you are likely to have to yourself.

    However, rather than taking the busy ridge walk from Hawes End, approach the hill from the Newlands Valley and you will find that you can enjoy most of your walk in peaceful solitude, until emerging onto the ridge and joining everyone else for the final pull to the summit (feeling a bit smug to have avoided the crowds).

    This route also has the benefit of some Beatrix Potter connections - another thing often sought after when visiting the Lakes - as you walk through the farm and along the path that is the setting for Mrs Tiggywinkle!

    Jervaulx Abbey, the Yorkshire Dales

    Jervaulx Abbey, Yorkshire DalesThe Abbey ruins of North Yorkshire are famously beautiful but, when visiting the Dales, it is well-known Fountains and Bolton Abbeys that draw the crowds. A little further north in Wensleydale, the little gem of Jervaulx Abbey often gets overlooked.

    Privately owned, the Abbey appears out of nowhere in a farmer’s field. It has a charming feel as wild flowers grow through the nooks and crannies of the ruin. Nothing is out of bounds and the owners ask only for a voluntary donation of a few pounds.

    Over the road they run an excellent tea room with homemade food and cakes and just up the road you can call into Brymor for ice cream made from their herd of Guernsey cows!

    You could also combine a visit with a lovely walk along the river to the excellent Blue Lion pub in the pretty village of East Witton.

    Applecross, Wester Ross, the Scottish Highlands

    Tables outside the Applecross InnRather than sticking to the main road to the far north of Scotland, there is a fantastic detour around the stunning Applecross Peninsula. It takes you up and over the steep and winding Bealach na Bà pass (confident drivers only!), before dropping down to the little village of Applecross where you can stop for refreshment at the waterside Applecross Inn, taking in the sweeping views of Applecross Bay and the Isles of Raasay and Skye.

    Continue along the single track road around the coast, through remote rocky outcrops frequented only by sheep, before taking in stunning views over Loch Torridon to the Torridon mountains. Back on the ‘main’ road, stop in pretty Shieldaig on the edge of the loch, where you can pick up smoked salmon from the tiny Loch Torridon Smokehouse, found in a little outbuilding at the back of one of the loch-side houses.

    Minster Lovell, the Cotswolds

    As charming as the Cotswolds are, it is very difficult to find somewhere that isn’t busy with visitors, but head to tiny Minster Lovell and you will find you are one of few people strolling around. Little more than one street, that street is full of classic Cotswolds charm and thatched cottages, and leads you through picture-perfect St Kelem’s Church to the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, sitting on the banks of the bubbling River Windrush. If you want to stretch your legs, footpaths lead along the river to pretty Swinbrook and on to bustling Burford.

    Back in Minster Lovell, get refreshments at the beautiful Old Swan, full of character with beams, thatched roof, flagstone floors and great local food. On a sunny day, the gardens and grounds around the pub are a great place to relax with a game of croquet or boules!

    We hope these places have inspired you to explore some of the less well-known places in Britain. If you would like some help planning a self-drive trip, please do get in touch.

  • After settling in for the cosy Christmas season, it isn’t long until signs of spring start to appear and it’s one of our favourite times to get out exploring in Britain, as days lengthen and green shoots start to poke their way through the ground.

    If you’re thinking of planning a trip to Britain this spring, here are our top 5 reasons why it is a great option!

    1. Bluebells

    Bluebells above UllswaterThe emergence of carpets of dancing bluebells filling forest floors is one of the signs that spring has really arrived in the UK. Usually seen from mid-April for a month or so, they can be found in woodland and on hillsides all over the country from the Scottish Highlands to the south coast.

    Some of our favourite places to see these include the Blickling Estate in Norfolk, the woodlands of the Chiltern Hills, Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire, Skelghyll Woods in the Lake District and Glen Finglas in Scotland’s Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. But there are many other places so we can easily let you know the best options close to where you are staying.

    2. Long days

    Spring sunset in the Yorkshire DalesThe clocks going forward in March always signifies the start of spring and seems to put the whole population in a good mood after the seemingly long, dark months of January and February!

    Visit in May or June and the light days stretch into long, hazy evenings, meaning plenty of opportunity for evening walks watching the farmers making hay as the sun sets in the countryside, or lazy al fresco drinks and dinner in the cities!

    3. Lambs

    Lambs gambling through the fields is one of the quintessential images of British springtime and there is certainly no shortage of opportunity to witness these playful animals. Take to the well-worn footpaths and lanes of areas such as the Cotswolds, the Lamb above WindermerePeak District and the Yorkshire Dales at this time of year and you will see crowds of them racing up and down over every dry stone wall that you peer over!

    If travelling with a family, many farm parks will offer the chance to see lambing or bottle feed newborn lambs, which can be a great way to introduce children to farming.

    4. Gardens

    The grand country houses are often high up on the list of priorities when people come to visit Britain, and the gardens are often as impressive as the houses themselves. Vast, manicured gardens, designed hundreds of years ago and meticulously looked after over the centuries, are found all around the country. Winter is rarely the season to see them at their best but, come spring, the leaves come out, flowers blossom and returning wildlife brings the whole thing back to life.

    There are many to choose from, large and small, but some of our favourites are the gardens and grounds at Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, Stourhead in Wiltshire and Chatsworth in the Peak District.

    5. Country walksCauldron Falls, Yorkshire Dales

    We have always said that we think getting out on a walk through the countryside, be it a gentle riverside stroll or a tough hike, is one of the best ways to get a feel for an area. As the tricky conditions of winter give way to grassy meadows, wild flowers and sunny days, while there is still enough rain for waterfalls and babbling streams to be at their best, spring is the perfect season for enjoying Britain’s extensive network of footpaths.

  • VisitEngland/New Forest District Council/Nigel MortonWhile many people are mourning the loss of summer, at GBE we love a bit of autumn weather – the colours changing in the trees, the blustery wind blowing around clouds of falling leaves and the sun taking on a warm glow of the changing seasons.

    Here are our suggestions of some of our favourite places in Britain to make the most of this fantastic season.

    Stourhead, Wiltshire

    Stourhead is one of the most famously beautiful landscaped gardens in Britain and, as the leaves change colour and the autumn sunlight reflects the whole picture in the lake, it is hard to imagine a prettier scene.

    Run by the National Trust, there are lots of ways to make the most of a visit at this time of year – volunteers run daily ‘autumn walks’ to show you the best of the gardens and autumn events include an ‘autumn leaves trail’, for you to get the most out of your visit at this time of year, ‘the Big Draw’ on 6 October with arty events all around the grounds, and ‘Apple Day’ on 20 October when the farm shop with have lots of produce made from apples from the estate to sample.

    Lake District Forests

    (c) VisitEngland/Alex HareThe Lake District is most renowned for its rugged mountain tops, but in autumn its forests can match the fells for drama and beauty.

    Grisedale and Whinlatter, the two large forests managed by the Forestry Commission, are fantastic days out at any time of year, with miles and miles of well-maintained paths for hiking and mountain biking (experienced riders only at Whinlatter, England’s only mountain forest), as well as tree-tops courses, segways, orienteering and sculptures, and activity trails and play areas for younger visitors.

    However, in the autumn, the forests take on a more dramatic and atmospheric look, as yellows, oranges and reds spread across the trees and rusting leaves cover the paths, making it the perfect time to visit.

    Some of the Lakes’ less well-known woodland, such as Dodd Wood, most famous for its Osprey lookout point, and Ennerdale Forest, are other great autumnal outings.

    Loch Lomond

    (c) Visit Britain / Adam Burton

    While Loch Lomond and the area around it sometimes gets overshadowed by the drama and rugged terrain of the Highlands to the north, in the autumn this area, and particularly the National Nature Reserve near Balamha on the eastern side of the loch and the vast Great Trossachs Forest to the north, can rival the beauty of its northerly neighbours.

    The gentle 1.5 mile ‘Millennium Forest Trail’ from Balmaha is a great starting point or, for something more testing, hike up Ben Venue in the Great Trossachs Forest for views across the area. Gentler walking trails, a play trail and walks to spots that inspired literary greats are also available, as well as a loch-side café for some refreshment!

    The New Forest

    (c) VisitEngland/New Forest District CouncilAlthough large parts of the New Forest National Park are no longer actually forested, the sections that are are home to some of Britain’s oldest and most impressive trees – 800 year old oaks, 400 year old beech trees and yews that can beat them both! The autumnal colours make the area truly beautiful and the history of the place can be felt in the atmosphere; a feeling that is only added to by stumbling across pigs roaming the forest floor for fallen acorns!

    Autumn also sees the New Forest host its annual walking festival, this year from 13 to 28 October, when many themed guided walks can be joined (advance booking recommended), and its Food and Drink week, taking place between 29 October and 4 November.

    Arboretums

    Arboretums are, of course, at their best during autumn and Britain has many excellent ones to visit all over the country. A couple of our favourites are Wesonbirt National Aroretum in the Cotswolds, a vast collection of over 15,000 tree specimens with a tree-top walkway and lots of activities for the whole family; and Thorpe Perrow Arboretum on the eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales. As well as a stunning collection of trees turning a beautiful variety of colours this season, the arboretum has a birds of prey and mammal centre and an excellent playground to keep the children entertained.

    (c) Great British Escapes / Matt CoppinA visit to Thorpe Perrow can easily be combined with a trip to the wonderful gardens at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, which also put on a magical display at this time of year.

    For more ideas on where to visit this autumn or help planning your holiday in Britain, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

  • About my Blog

    On this blog, I am going to share some of my favourite things about Britain – taking beautiful country walks, trying out classic british pubs, exploring castles, palaces and stately homes, getting involved in some uniquely British experiences and events and much more. I hope that this blog will whet your appetite for a trip of a lifetime in Britain.

    Helen Coppin
    Founder, Great British Escapes

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