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  • As the lockdown in Great Britain starts to ease, and with international travel routes starting to tentatively reopen, we thought it was worth giving you an update on how Great British Escapes is dealing with the current situation!

    When can I take a Great British Escape?

    We are open now and are taking bookings for holidays commencing from 4 August 2020. We want to ensure all necessary social distancing and additional cleaning measures are fully in place at all the accommodation providers we use, and we think it would be sensible to give them a couple of weeks to work this out!

    However, we appreciate that it might be a little while before the international travel market picks up and it may be that you are thinking about your plans for 2021. If so, that’s great and we’d love to help you get started by putting together a bespoke itinerary for your self-drive trip next year! All our itineraries are prepared on an entirely ‘no obligations’ basis so there are no charges at all if you decide not to book with us!

    As the situation develops, we’ll need to keep an eye on the travel advice from both the UK government and your home country, and please let us know if you would like any advice about the current guidance.

    What will be different during my holiday?

    One key difference about travelling this year - and probably throughout 2021 - will be around social distancing. We are all getting used to this as the restrictions are lifted and we ask that you respect the government’s social distancing guidance in place during your trip. At the moment this means that, in England, you must maintain at least 1 metre distance from anyone outside of your own household (whilst adopting precautions to reduce the risk of transmission), and 2 metres where possible. In Scotland and Wales, the social distancing requirement is currently 2 metres between individuals from other households.

    A lot of attractions and hospitality venues are working out how they can welcome visitors and we will make sure you have all the updated information relevant for the places you are likely to visit during your trip. A lot of visitor attractions are moving to pre-booked time slots to ensure they aren't too crowded, so that may mean a bit more advance planning to decide where you want to go on any particular day of your trip. Again, we can help with this once the various systems have been adopted!

    You may also be asked to provide your contact details when going into pubs & restaurants. This is to help with contact tracing should a case of Covid-19 be confirmed at the venue. Please also respect any requests made by your accommodation providers to assist them in delivering a safe environment (e.g. limited meal times, table service only, or in-room dining options).

    Finally, as well as social distancing, please follow all government public health advice on hand hygiene and face coverings (face coverings are currently required if using public transport - and in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible – and will soon be necessary in Scottish shops) during your trip.

    Will my accommodation be Covid secure?

    Yes! We will be regularly checking the safety procedures at all the accommodation providers we work with. For example, an example of the Covid-19 procedures being put in place by one of our hotels, the Lister Arms in the Yorkshire Dales, can be found here - https://www.listerarms.co.uk/media/7049/safety-guide-house-of-daniel-thwaites.pdf. Please do ask if you have any queries about the accommodation you will be staying in.

    How safe is it to hire a car?

    We only use the most respected car rental companies and all our suppliers have implemented strict protocols to ensure that all vehicles are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each hire. They will be disinfecting the whole vehicle from the steering wheel to the ventilation system and keys. As with our recommended accommodation providers, we will be regularly checking the safety procedures to ensure that they are operating with best practice for our customers!

    We hope this will help to answer any queries relating to the current situation but, of course, please do contact us to ask if you need any more information or would like to check anything with us!

  • 21 February 2020

    Heritage Passes

    We often get asked questions about this so we thought we’d make our latest blog post a quick summary of the heritage passes that we think are the most useful on a trip to the UK!

    We are very lucky to have such a vast number of historic and cultural sites to visit but, as they are often managed by different organisations, it is difficult to get a pass that covers everywhere you are likely to stop. That said, some passes can work out to be really good value. They are also good if you like the idea of stopping at a few lesser known sites as you pass them without having to think about whether the cost is worth it for a quick stop (maps come with the passes, and are available on the websites, to show where different sites are located, so you can see where would be easy to detour to).

    Here’s our pick of the passes (and links to each pass can be found at the bottom of the page).

    Fountains Abbey

    National Trust Overseas Pass

    We love the National Trust and think they do a fantastic job of caring for our historic places. They have plenty of informative displays, helpful staff and are very good at making the properties interesting and accessible for the whole family. In their care is everything from historic houses, castles, gardens and parklands to film locations and the homes of famous artists, authors, politicians and aristocracy. If you purchase a pass, it will be stamped with the date when you pick it up from your first property. You’re then free to visit as many properties as you like for the following 7 or 14 days.

    Over 300 houses and gardens across England and Wales are included with the pass and some of the highlights include: St Michael's Mount in Cornwall; Avebury, Lacock Abbey and Stourhead in Wiltshire; Bodiam Castle in Sussex; Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire; Sizergh Castle and Hill Top in Cumnbria; and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden in North Yorkshire.

    There are three categories of pass to choose from – Admit one (£33 for a 7-day pass, or £38 for a 14-day pass), Admit two (£58 / £69) or Admit family (£64 / £81 – which covers two adults and any children under 18, children under five go free).
    If you are visiting from the USA, it is worth looking at joining the Royal Oak Foundation, which is an affiliate of the National Trust and based in the US. Membership provides a number of benefits, including free access to all National Trust properties (as well as those properties in Scotland operated by the National Trust for Scotland).

    English Heritage Explorer PassMiddleham Castle

    The English Heritage is, along with the National Trust, the major heritage organisation in England. They do a wonderful job of making the history come to life. The mange a lot of our castle, but the collection included historic sites and artefacts which span six millennia, from the ancient past to the present day and include palaces, houses, hill figures, abbeys, industrial sites, Roman forts and even deserted medieval villages.

    You can visit over 100 places with the pass including the 1066 Battle of Hasting battlefield, Stonehenge, Tintagel Castle, Middelham Castle, Richmond Castle, Helmsley Castle, Whitby Abbey and Housesteads Roman Fort.

    Here you choose a 9 day pass or a 16 day pass and, as with the National Trust Pass, there are three categories of pass to choose from – Admit one (£37 for a 9 day pass, or £44 for a 16 day pass), Admit two (£64 / £74) or Admit family (£69 / £79 – which covers two adults and up to 4 children under 18).

    Historic Scotland Explorer Pass

    The Explorer Pass gives you access to Historic Scotland’s attractions (please note that this a different organisation to the National Trust for Scotland!) and can be a great value way to discover Scotland's history. Among the places to visit are world-famous attractions including Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart castles and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae. Explorer Passes are available for either 3, 7 or 14 consecutive days to suit the length of your stay.

    For the three different lengths of pass, current prices are £33 / £40 / £45 for one adult and £66 / £80 / £90 for a family pass (which covers two adults and up to 3 children under 16).

    Cadw Explorer

    If you are spending some time in Wales, this can be a great option, and covers over 100 of Wales’ impressive castles, abbeys and historic sites. Popular attractions include Caernarfon Castle, Caerphilly Castle, Tintern Abbey and Conwy Castle.
    A 3-day pass can be used in any 7 day period and the 7-day pass in any 14 days. They are sold as either single adult (£23.10 / £33.60), two adults (£35.70 / £53.55) or family passes (£47.25 / £65.10 – which covers two adults and up to 3 children under 18).

    London PassTower of London

    If you are visiting London, one ticket worth considering is the ‘London Pass’ - this is a ticket that gives you access to a number of attractions (including the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Hop-on Hop-off bus tour, The Globe and Westminster Abbey) and gives ‘fast-track’ entry to several attractions, which can be very useful. If you think you will want to visit several of the included attractions, it can work out to be good value (although it is worth looking carefully at where you would like to visit, as you need to visit a few of the more expensive attractions to make it good value). Passes are available for 1, 2, 3, 6 or 10 days, and costs start from £75.

    International National Trust Organisations

    It is also worth noting that there are reciprocal arrangements in place between heritage organisations that are part of the ‘International National Trusts Organisations’ and the National Trusts in England and Scotland, meaning that if you are a member of the National Trust in your own country, you may automatically get free or discounted entry into National Trust properties in Britain. This tends to be particularly relevant to customers travelling from Australia and New Zealand, but several over countries are covered so it is worth checking with your own organisation at home before you travel.

    If you want help planning a self-drive trip around Britain to make sure you get to see plenty of these amazing historic sites, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

  • Sunset over Bishopdale, Yorkshire DalesOur first blog for our new business, Muddy Boots Walking Holidays (see previous blog post), shares our top reasons for visiting the Yorkshire Dales.

    Even if you aren’t a keen walker, this is a fantastic area to visit during your trip to Britain so head over to the Muddy Boots blog to have a look and do get in touch if you would like to find out more about visiting the Dales or about our self-drive trips generally.

  • 31 January 2020

    Muddy Boots!

    View of Bishopdale and West Burton village

    We have just launched our new sister business, Muddy Boots Walking Holidays, arranging self-guided walking holidays in the Yorkshire Dales!

    If you would like to know more or are interested in combining a few days walking with your self-drive trip in Britain, head over to the website to have a look: www.muddybootswalkingholidays.com.

  • With the release of the Downton Abbey Movie in the Autumn, we’re seeing a renewed interest in all things Downton – so what better way to start the festive season than with a nostalgic look back at some of the fantastic locations which helped to make this programme so loved around the world. Any of these sites can easily fit in to one of our self-drive trips!

    Highclere Castle, Berkshire

    The obvious starting point is Downton Abbey itself, Highclere Castle. This impressive Victorian castle - with over 1,000 acres of surrounding parkland - sits in the heart of Berkshire, and is the real life home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, whose family have lived here since 1679.

    As well as seeing plenty of easily recognisable interior shots (most of the ‘upstairs’ scenes where filmed here) and taking in the classic exterior view, you can also view artefacts and treasures of the Carnarvon family, including some particularly interesting ancient Egyptian relics.

    Highclere Castle is open for 60 to 70 days each year: two weeks over Easter; each of the May Bank holidays; two months (Sunday to Thursday) over the summer months, and a few days in early December. Advance booking is recommended.

    Bampton, Cotswolds

    The village in the programme is actually set in the village of Bampton, in the quintessentially English countryside of the Cotswolds (you may be forgiven for thinking this village would be in Yorkshire as that is where the Downton estate is supposed to be!) and is home to a number of recognisable locations that were used for filming.

    Filming locations you’ll find in Bampton include: the post office; Churchgate House, which is used as Isobel Crawley’s home; Church View, which houses the fictional pubs The Grantham Arms and The Dog & Duck, and also St. Mary’s church – one of the key locations for many of Downton’s most dramatic moments. You can also visit the Bampton Community Archive in the Old Grammar School, which serves as the Downton hospital in several episodes, where you can pick up a variety of Downton related information and souvenirs.

    Swinbrook, Cotswolds

    The village of Swinbrook, also in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside, became a filming location for Downton Abbey in Season 2, where The Swan Inn was the secret meeting location for Lady Sybil and Branson, her chauffeur, to plan their elopement.

    Cogges Farm, Cotswolds

    Also found in the Cotswolds, once a working farm and now a heritage centre, Cogges Manor Farm is better known as Yew Tree Farm in Downton Abbey. The farm has appeared in several series, first under the tenancy of Mr Drewe and later the new farm of Mr Mason.

    Cogges Manor Farm is a beautifully preserved collection of Cotswold stone farm buildings set in its own grounds. The site has been farmed since before the Domesday Book and parts of the manor house date back to the Thirteenth Century. Now you can enjoy the historic farmyard, feed the animals, explore the manor house and grounds, as well as stop for some refreshments at the excellent Cogges café!

    Lacock, Wiltshire

    With its cobbled streets and cosy stone cottages, the National Trust village of Lacock has been a favourite filming location for decades, not least for Downton Abbey! It’s here that the exterior of Carson’s cottage was filmed, and it forms a perfect backdrop to the royal parade in the Downton Abbey movie.

    While there, make sure you don’t miss out on the 13th century Lacock Abbey, a quirky country house of various architectural styles, built upon the foundations of a former nunnery. The entrance ticket to the Abbey also includes the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography.

    Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

    Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle starred as the magnificent Brancaster Castle in two Christmas specials of Downton Abbey. The first episode featuring the castle saw the Crawley family attend Lord Sinderby’s shooting party. The State Rooms inside the castle provided a spectacular backdrop for a number of scenes, and the episode highlighted the grounds of the castle and the nearby Hulne Abbey, nestled in the Northumberland countryside.

    In 2015, the State Rooms once again were used, this time in the final-ever episode of Downton Abbey, setting the scene for an emotional finale. Additional filming also took place on the ramparts of the castle, in Bow Alley and St. Michael’s Church Hall nearby, which you can also see on a visit to Alnwick.

    As well as Downton, the castle is no stranger to hosting film crews - it most recently featured in Transformers: The Last Knight, it featured as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films, and appeared in Elizabeth and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

    Inveraray Castle, Scottish Highlands

    Duneagle Castle was the location for Rose Aldridge and her parents, the MacClares, to escape for the weekend in season 3 in the episode ‘A Journey to the Highlands’. The gothic Inveraray Castle in the Scottish Highlands stood in as Duneagle Castle, as well providing the backdrop to the exterior fishing and stalking scenes.

    The Scottish scenes opened with the Grantham party arriving at the castle, to be welcomed on the original front steps of the castle, before going into the Armoury Hall. The West Highland’s spectacular hills, lochs and glens are all on show throughout the episode.

    As the real-life home to the Duke of Argyll, the castle boasts beautiful manicured gardens and opulently decorated rooms that hold everything from ceramics and paintings to antiquities. The castle has a really imposing location on the banks of Loch Fyne, and about 40 miles from Oban.

    If you want help planning a self-drive trip around Britain (that could take in some of these spots!), 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