United Kingdom holidays

Travel

Ireland’s border country: walking the line and in love with the landscape

Since the Brexit referendum, the Irish border has again become a source of tension but on the ground it remains a fascinating wilderness of low mountains and fantastic hiking country

Today I’m hiking from Thur Mountain to the Cavan Burren along lanes and among prehistoric relics. This is north-west Ireland, not far from the sea but far enough for me to call it midlands. My route goes from Co Leitrim into Co Cavan, staying close to the border with Northern Ireland. For so long associated with violence and up against the appeal of the west coast, Ireland’s borderland has been ignored by travellers. Yet its history is fascinating and there are many beautiful stretches. Word is starting to get out, but this still feels like Ireland’s undiscovered region.

I spent last night in a B&B in Glenfarne, a thinly spread community of farms and homes. Clancy’s (doubles from €89 B&B, walking packages available) appears to be the area’s heart, a string of businesses along the roadside, under one roof. It’s a B&B, a cafe, a shop and a post office.

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Travel

City safari: overnight with wolves and monkeys in Bristol

A stay at a new wildlife centre offers families a mini safari experience – with monkeys, a night-time wolf expedition and breakfast with giraffes

Plus: More UK wildlife sanctuaries

It’s early evening and the gates to the wildlife park have been closed to the public. All is quiet, except for birdsong, the gentle rustling of wind in the trees and an occasional excited shriek from a gelada monkey. We (my six-year-old daughter Nell and husband Huw) are gathered around a fire pit along with four other families who are trying out Camp Baboon, a new night-time wildlife and bushcraft experience at the Wild Place Project, a satellite venture run by Bristol Zoo.

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Travel

Cycling the North York Moors – a galaxy on my doorstep

Looking for an adventure with a cosmic feel, our writer reckons a new cycling centre in the wonderfully named Great Fryup Dale will fit the bill

The best trips, I reckon, are those where you arrive home feeling like you’ve been to the other side of the cosmos. And the strange thing is that those trips don’t have to involve travelling very far – or remortgaging the house. I’m on a mission to see how close to home I can find such a trip. Not only that, but how cheaply it can be done, and how easily arranged. When someone mentions Fryup Dale, my “other end of the cosmos” radar lights up. It is on the North York Moors, has an irresistible name, and no one I know has heard of it. I leap into action.

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Travel

Cross country: trail running the coast-to-coast route

The 192-mile route over the Lake District and Pennines is usually plodded by hikers but our writer zips across on a new guided running trip
Plus: 5 more running breaks

Burning with exertion, I shuffle up the hillside, a sweaty mess. Beside me, the heather is also dripping – with morning drizzle. A fresh, Lakeland breeze envelops me as I climb out of the sheep-speckled valley, mud squelching under my feet. This is trail running in the fells – though right now the word “running” is a misnomer.

Happily, Mark Sandamas of Coast To Coast Packhorse (pictured above, with the writer), a company that helps walkers and cyclists, as well as runners, to tackle the 192-mile coast-to-coast route, doesn’t consider my plodding gait a problem. “The beauty of trail running is that your pace is dictated by the changing landscape,” he tells me as we pause to drink in views of majestic Crummock Water far below. “You hike up steep sections to preserve energy, then let the brakes off and flow downhill.”

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Travel

10 of the best UK winter escapes

A good way to break up the winter is with a few days in the countryside. We’ve picked stays across Britain, from cosy B&Bs to stylish holiday homes, many with seasonal offers

The Bell Inn is an independent hotel in a Grade II-listed building that has been family-owned since 1782. Its classic country house interiors – fireplaces, flagstone floors and stylish bedrooms – are complemented by a restaurant that prides itself in locally sourced food. A “winter warmer” deal including dinner and breakfast is £64.50pp.
• Doubles from £99 B&B, bellinn-newforest.co.uk

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Travel

Take the kids to … the Ragged School Museum, east London

Once a school that provided a free education for destitute children, a row of 19th century warehouses is now a free museum giving visitors a chance to step back in time – and into the classroom – for a strict Victorian lesson

In 1877 Dr Thomas Barnardo opened the Copperfield Road Free School, the largest of three ragged schools (charitable institutions that offered the poorest children a free education) in a row of three warehouses on Regent’s Canal in Tower Hamlets. Now an underfunded, independent museum (opened in 1990), a small exhibition offers an insight into how tough life was in east London in the late 1800s, but the highlight is one of the original classrooms where visitors can attend a lesson led by an actor in Victorian costume. The museum is in the second phase of applying for a lottery grant, which will allow it to make vital repairs to the largest of the three warehouses, though the aim is to retain the authentic atmosphere of the building.

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Travel

Walk the North Kent Marshes – while the solitude lasts

The Hoo peninsula between the Thames and Medway estuaries has a rough-edged beauty, a landscape rich in history and a thriving bird reserve – but this sanctuary near London is under threat from development

Hope and loss have begun to bleed into each other, for me, out here on the North Kent Marshes. I spent a year walking this landscape for my book, On the Marshes, rediscovering its beauty and learning about its fragility. So now I take people out walking and just hope they get it.

The marshes are not an obvious beauty: it is a rough-edged love, full of derelict industry, broken barges, wide bays of mud; icy with blue light and shrill with redshanks’ calls in the winter, fields and scrub bubbling over with nightingales in the spring – and you never know if others will understand its appeal.

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Travel

Top 10 last-minute Christmas and New Year activities in London

The run-up to the big day doesn’t have to be all shopping malls and panto: we pick cool, offbeat and cultural events and gift-buying opportunities across the capital

It’s magical enough at the best of times but for Christmas Kew Gardens becomes a magical wonderland of light – from a flickering fire garden to laser beams shooting from the iconic Palm House. A trail through the grounds is lit by over a million lights, and the North Pole village is home to Santa and his elves, and plenty of toasted marshmallow.
• Until 1 Jan 2018, adult £18.50, child £12, kew.org/christmas

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Travel

The joy of wild winter swimming

One brave swimmer is taking a dip a day throughout December in the rivers of Surrey and Berkshire, and finding ‘the nip of the water and the zing of a swim is quite addictive’

• For a calendar of festive swims in the UK visit outdoorswimmingsociety.com

My toes sink into the mud at the edge of the river Mole at the bottom of Box Hill in Surrey. The water immediately cools my feet beyond feeling. I had hoped for a quirky swim here. Normally there are stepping stones that cross the river at this point, and I pictured myself skipping over them in my swimsuit. But the reality is quite different. After significant rain and snow melt, I should have known the river would be higher than usual. The spot – tranquil in all the photos I had looked at – was now a rushing, fast flowing river. And the colour of chocolate milkshake, rather than the clear water I’d pictured. Oh well, I have swum in worse.

I step gingerly into the unknown. I find the stepping stones under my feet and try to walk across them, but with the strong current against my legs it’s no use, so I just get in. I fumble into the water with zero grace. The water feels silty and leaves brush against my body rushing downstream.

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Travel

Take the kids to … Lappa Valley Steam Railway, Cornwall

With miniature steam engines, a special Santa train, a lake and maze, this charming small attraction near Newquay is a great day out for families with younger children

Board a narrow-gauge (15in) vintage steam train and weave through leafy woodland to the site of historic East Wheal Rose mine. Once there, paddle a canoe or giant swan around the boating lake, explore gentle nature trails or the wooden fortress, play crazy golf and ride more tiny rare trains, such as the 7¼-inch woodland railway, with sit-astride benches.

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Travel

The Boot Inn, Repton, Derbyshire: hotel review

Ale fans will love this cosy, stylish pub with its own brewery in the heart of a curious little village – and the food’s quite something, too

South Derbyshire may not have the Peak District, its literary associations and country houses, but in one area of history it thoroughly beats north Derbyshire – beer.

Think hoppy beers were invented in Hackney in 2008? Think again. In the 1800s, the south Derbyshire and Staffordshire borderlands, and Burton upon Trent in particular, were the global epicentre of beer innovation. Burton’s strong, heavily hopped India pale ales were a sensation, a story you can explore at its National Brewery Centre.

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Travel

Great Scott: walking Scotland’s Rob Roy Way

Sir Walter Scott’s account of the lawless life of Rob Roy was published 200 years ago. And today, hikers can follow in his cattle-rustling footsteps on a footpath across central Scotland

Hero, thief, extortioner, loyal Jacobite, traitor or Scotland’s very own Robin Hood. Any of these epithets can be used to describe Rob Roy MacGregor, and will at least be partly true. The outlaw, whose fame was sealed 200 years ago this New Year’s Eve with the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s fictionalised account of episodes from his life, is one of history’s true enigmas.

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Travel

Happy valley: a family gathering in the Yorkshire dales

With families spread far and wide, it’s good to get the gang together. Ruaridh Nicoll sticks a pin in the map, and ends up eating, drinking and walking around Malham

Bill Bryson once said of Malhamdale: “I won’t know for sure if it is the finest place there is until I have died and seen heaven (assuming they let me at least have a glance), but until that day comes, it will certainly do.” The much-loved travel writer was a local resident. He also talked of the “Malham wave”, where drivers would raise a finger in recognition when passing on the local roads.

As my brother and I pulled in one Friday in September after a long drive from London, we got the wave, only it wasn’t a friendly greeting a van driver gave us, but rather the finger.

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Music

The alt city guide to York

It’s time for the Romans and Vikings to make way for a new insurgency in the North Yorkshire jewel: a sparky, creative scene fuelled by innovative music, food and drink outlets

What images come to mind when you think of York? The Minster, steam engines, Romans and Vikings, a city resisting the 21st century? But look beyond that twee facade, outside York’s narrow medieval streets, and a very different city is asserting itself.

“It’s definitely getting more vibrant,” says Danielle Barge, editor of webzine Arts York. “In recent years, a lot of people have started independent projects: small theatre and film companies, artists’ studios, music promoters. People are almost in artistic rebellion. They’re taking it upon themselves to say, ‘if no one else is going to make it, we will’.”

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Travel

Volunteering on St Kilda is all about DIY and clearing ditches. Yay!

Volunteer working trips to St Kilda are oversubscribed every summer. After her two-week stint on these wild Atlantic islands, Jay Sivell can fully understand why

Wanted: DIY-er with retail skills – or shop assistant handy with paint brush. Fit outdoor types preferred. Must be happy to be marooned on a remote Scottish island for a fortnight in May with 11 strangers and minimal sanitation. No wifi. Abundant sheep poo.

Ever since the National Trust for Scotland was bequeathed St Kilda in the 1950s, volunteers have taken the wild, three-hour Atlantic boat ride to the four “islands on the edge of the world”. They have reroofed the cottages on the main street, restored the church, and restacked stones that years of gales had toppled from the cleits, or bothies, that dot the volcanic landscape.

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Travel

In Grandpa’s footsteps on the shores of Carlingford Lough, Ireland

Hannah Louise Summers uses a new ferry service – a lake crossing on which her grandfather once worked – to explore both sides of Carlingford Lough, which straddles the Irish border

Every school holiday was the same. For hours we’d trundle south from Belfast in my grandpa’s battered blue minibus – a journey dotted with punctures, Werther’s Originals and mugs of tea. We’d cross the border, stop for a loaf of bread and a scratchcard, and finally pull into Omeath, the small village on Carlingford Lough where my grandpa grew up.

Here, on a hill overlooking the water, granny and grandpa had a pea-green static caravan. Trapped in the claustrophobic web of its net curtains, I’d make the most of my holiday, playing shop with anyone who’d pop in. Sometimes I’d wander down to the shore, lose my hard-hustled coppers to a tiny room of slot machines, or throw some pebbles in the lough – the lough where Grandpa first wooed Granny when she was here on her holidays; the lough where Grandpa worked as a ferryman.

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