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  • 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.

  • 21 November 2019

    Castles of Wensleydale

    The beautiful scenery (and the eponymously named cheese!) is often the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Wensleydale, one of the most well-known areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Gorgeous open views, the meandering river Ure, babbling waterfalls and idyllic stone villages all combine make this part of the country so unique. But you may not know that it is also home to two impressive castles with fascinating histories, meaning a day out here has something for everyone! Here we have a closer look at a couple of the castles that can be found in this magnificent Dale.

    Middleham CastleMiddleham Castle

    Tucked away in the picturesque village of Middleham, on the eastern edge of the dale (strictly speaking, it’s just outside the National Park boundary), the imposing ruins and fascinating history of Middleham Castle come as something of a surprise.

    The first written records for a castle at Middleham date from 1216 but the remains of an even earlier castle survive to the south of the present castle, on the site known as William’s Hill. It was probably built in about 1086 and the earthworks can easily be reached from a public footpath behind the castle.

    The castle we see today was begun sometime in the late 12th century, and the great Norman keep (one of the largest in the country) was probably built in the 1170s. The most fascinating period in the castle’s long history is during the mid-fifteenth century at the time of the Wars of the Roses. The castle was developed under the powerful Neville family, and it became the powerhouse of Northern England (with Middleham subsequently known as the ‘Windsor of the North’).

    Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) spent much of his youth at Middleham and, following his marriage to Anne Neville, he effectively ruled the north from Middleham while his brother, Edward IV, was on the throne, before becoming king himself following Edward’s death (and the disappearance of his sons and heirs, the ‘princes in the tower’).

    The ruins of Middleham Castle sit on the village edge and are in the ownership of English Heritage. You can look around the ruins, climb one of the towers for great views of the surrounding area, and learn more on the history of the castle. The little museum through the entrance also proudly holds a replica of the so-called ‘Middleham Jewel’ – a beautifully engraved 15th century amulet discovered near the castle in 1985 by a metal-detectorist. The jewel is a wonderful example of a London goldsmith’s work of about 1450–75 and it is thought may have belonged to is Anne Beauchamp, widow of ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’ and mother-in-law of Richard III.

    Getting there: There’s no car park at the castle but free on-street parking is available in Middleham. Postcode DL8 4QG. An adult ticket costs £6 (or free for English Heritage overseas pass holders).

    Bolton CastleBolton Castle

    600-year-old Bolton Castle sits high above Wensleydale, with gorgeous views down the valley. Still in the private ownership of Lord Bolton (the direct descendant of the castle’s original owner Sir Richard le Scrope), who lives just down the valley in the impressive Bolton Hall, the well preserved castle tells the fascinating history of this fortress and home.

    The castle provides beautiful views from both inside and the garden, where displays of medieval activities regularly take place, including archery, falconry and hawk and owl displays (as well as feeding with wild boar!).

    Bolton Castle's most famous moment in history came in 1568, when Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned here during Elizabeth I’s reign after her escape from Scotland. The range of chambers in the south-west tower where she is thought to have lived have been arranged to reflect what they would have looked like during her ‘stay’ in the castle.

    The end for Bolton Castle came during the Civil War, when John Scrope, the owner of the time, held the castle for the Royalist cause. Parliamentarians besieged the castle for an entire year, and in November 1645 Scrope was forced to surrender (apparently after the garrison had been reduced to eating their own horses to survive starvation!). Parliament intended to destroy the castle to make it unusable in future, but the south-west tower and the west range survived almost completely intact and habitable, leaving the beautiful medieval castle that we can enjoy today.

    Below the castle walls is a recreation of a medieval garden. This has been extended to include a maze, rose garden, herb garden, honey bees and a small vineyard. Also in the area, immediately opposite the castle entrance is the beautiful medieval parish church, and the charming village of Castle Bolton, which is full of lovely traditional Dales’ cottages.

    Getting there: Open between mid- February to the end of October. There’s a large car park on site – postcode DL8 4ET. Adult tickets costs £9.00.

    If you’ve been inspired to explore some of England’s historic castles, please get in touch and we can put together your own personal itinerary to take in some of these fantastic sights.

  • 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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