Edinburgh is UNESCO's first world city of literature. Everyone from Burns to Stevenson and Conan Doyle to Ian Rankin lived or wrote here, and a walk with a drink is the best way to find out about them. The Edinburgh Book Lovers' Tour takes you through the Old Town at night, weaving from pub to pub telling stories and reciting extracts. If you're a particular fan of just one grumpy detective, Rebus Tours will take you to the scenes of some of Britain's best-selling crime novels.
Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the British Isles – you cannot be serious?! For a not so experienced walker it’s a truly terrifying prospect. But it can be done. Tackling it with an experienced and fully qualified mountain leader and first aider, my fears were quelled. The guide, Gary, was reassuring and patient, and the sheer joy of reaching the summit is as incredible as the surrounding landscape. Knowing that you are with a professional who has done this many times before is invaluable. I won’t lie; it is hard and scary at times, but worth every penny, digestive biscuit and blister. It will rain, the sun will shine, you will be cold and you will get boiling hot. But when you reach the top, around seven or eight hours later, you will feel literally on top of the world.
The Ulster museum has recently had a £17 million facelift. It's well worth a visit. It's right next to the compact Botanic Gardens and historical Queens University so you can do all three together.
The hometown of the Style Fair is Belfast but the fair travels to various locations across Northern Ireland. Each event has around 30 stalls packed with preloved clothing, as well as garments from vintage dealers. It's a great place to bag a bargain at a fraction of the original price. Some fairs specialise in style for the home and some have handcrafted items from local designers. Each venue is always different and there are often other features such as style makeovers and beauty advice from professionals. It is a great place to go with friends for a fun and rewarding shopping experience.
Cities across Northern Ireland, www.thestylefair.co.uk
Leominster is a small market town in Herefordshire, and it's a hidden gem when it comes to antiques. Try Broad Street for Teagowns and Textiles, a lovely vintage shop with a great selection of men and women's clothing plus a selection of table linen in the back of the shop. Broad Street also boasts the Leominster Antique Market, a veritable treasure trove set out over three floors that houses small rooms let out to individual traders. There's so much in there, you can spend hours wandering around, it's like the Tardis inside! They have vast amounts of pottery and china, so if you're looking for a set or are trying to find a replacement piece then you may well find it here. Corn Square, where the market is held, is home to The Old Merchant House, which operates on a similar basis to the Leominster Antique Market - it's a little less ramshackle and their wares are laid out with more care, so it's more expensive, but definitely worth a look. They also have a lovely cafe downstairs.
So many visitors in the crushing crowds inching down Portobello Road completely miss the wonderful antique stalls in the rambling arcades. So go early - 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning - and enjoy the opportunity to talk unhurriedly to experts in their trade, then buy some beautiful, unusual presents for your friends or yourself. At 10 o'clock have coffee and freshly baked cakes at 'Books for Cooks' and leave the Road to the growing throng.
Portobello Road, Notting Hill, W11 www.portobelloroad.co.uk/
Google map: bit.ly/GYCQzz
Books for Cooks:
4 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, W11 1NN
+44(0)20 7221 1992
Google map: bit.ly/Hi7DVH
Go on a tour of Nottingham with Robin Hood! The guide, Ade Andrews, is great in character as the legend himself, bringing to life the stories and tales of the man in green tights. Great way to explore Nottingham and learn more about its most famous son.
A really interesting guided walking tour of Nottingham exploring some legends and villains. Robin Hood of course is included, but it also covers Torvill and Dean, DH Lawrence, Lord Byron - all sorts of stories that really bring the city to life. A great way to see lots of interesting historic spots in the city's laneways too.
This fair claims to be the biggest antiques fair in Europe and the size has to be seen to be believed!
Newark is not far from Nottingham - about 30 minutes by car or train. Or about one hour 30 minutes from London Kings Cross. Makes for an interesting day out - and you can even take your dog along. Next one is in April... they happen a few times each year.
The Georgian Rooms are very special. On the well preserved high street of the old town in Bridlington, they are a treasure trove of fascinating pieces, mostly antiques, some vintage clothing, garden ironmongery, furniture, photographs and to cap it all, a wonderful tea room on the ground floor, serving home made cakes and lunches. The owner collects items from far and wide and has a keen interest in the unusual. We picked up some Frank Meadow Sutcliffe photographs, reasonably priced and were very tempted by a gorgeous velvet purse for one sovereign and one half sovereign - crockery, glass and cutlery are kept in delightful old cases. The garden has several rooms and sheds with interesting outdoor objects, wooden restored furniture and follies. A real treat.
For a wonderful simple romantic break, you can't beat Scotland and the West Highland Railway which takes you past breath taking scenery to Mallaig. From here you can see the Inner Hebridean islands and travel onto Arisaig, a pretty small town with boat trips out to Rhum, Eigg and Muck. If you're lucky, as we were, you can watch dolphins and mink whales on the early boat ride over and bask in the beauty and tranquility of the islands when you reach there.
A city with a big heart, from home made chocolate snowballs at The University Cafe (a Glaswegian institution that hasn’t changed since it opened in 1918) on Byres Road, a stroll round the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, lunch in the Merchant City, a peruse down the ‘style mile’ in the afternoon and a candle lit dinner at night. This is a city you can enjoy being lost in. But, ultimately, it’s the people that make Glasgow - even in the rain they have a smile for everyone. I would absolutely recommend No.1 Devonshire Gardens, an indulgent experience, where they will do their best to upgrade your room for free. My boyfriend doesn’t believe in Valentines Day - he says I hoodwinked him into it, but I know this city will always hold a special place in our hearts - may even move there one day.
Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow, G12 0UX
+44(0)141 339 2001
Google map: bit.ly/GYs8vd
24 Candleriggs, Merchant City, Glasgow, G1 1TD
+44(0)141 552 1114
Google map: bit.ly/GYG5FE
Kelvingrove Art Gallery
Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AG
+44(0)141 276 9599
Google map: bit.ly/Hidn1z
I can't promise the same will happen for you but if you want an amusing romantic story to tell you could do worse than going to Maeshowe on Orkney Mainland. My girlfriend and I were there a few years ago, standing opposite each other among the rest of the group in this small Neolithic chambered burial cairn. Our Historic Scotland guide (trying to ensure we could all see a particularly fine piece of 12th century Viking graffiti) asked whether I'd like to move to stand beside my wife? My hesitation evidently made her doubt the status of our relationship for she then asked,"You are married aren't you?"... I had to admit we weren't, upon which she promptly offered to conduct the ceremony there and then, telling us she was “qualified”! A response absolutely typical of the generous and ever helpful Orcadians.
But what a magical place to get married! Visit Maeshowe on the shortest day of the year and if the sky is clear the rays of the setting sun will shine for several moments directly along the narrow entrance passageway, dramatically illuminating the wall of the 5000-year-old chamber within.
Regarding the wedding - unfortunately for us no cake had been prepared so we were forced to decline our guide's kind offer. We'll have to go again another year ...
With luxurious sandy beaches, archaeological sites, cetacean spotting and shark fishing, the Isles of Scilly are the UK's own tropical paradise. Don't just stay in one place, though, use the excellent boat service to explore all the islands, several of which are uninhabited. You'll find rare birds, seal colonies, pre-historic remains and the UK's most south-westerly lighthouse, Bishop Rock.
Nature walking tours:
Walks start in late March and finish mid October, numbers and weather permitting.
Katharine Sawyer leads archaeologial and historic walks round the islands between April and September
Google map: bit.ly/AlTA1D
This hidden gem is well worth seeking out. Arguably one of London's larger city farms, there is an abundance of animals from all the farmyard favourites to tropical birds and even some alpacas. A beautiful shire horse gives cart rides in the summer months and there are regular events for all the family. It's free to get in and there is plenty there to keep you coming back.
Stansfeld Road, Beckton, London, E6 5LT
Closest station: Royal Albert DLR
Bus: 300, 376, 262
+44(0)20 7474 4960
For a fun London experience, check out the late night adult-only openings of the London Science Museum on the last Wednesday of every month. With 'no kids between you and the big red button' you can refresh forgotten science knowledge by checking out the rocket show (where the presenter proves he can do adult as well as childish humour), doing a spot of speed-dating, and contemplating the properties of sound while boogieing away at the silent disco. Best of all, it's completely free.
Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD
+44(0)870 870 4868
Google map: bit.ly/AjDdSY
This walk brought the history of the Thames to life for the whole family. Led by Fiona, an intertidal archaeologist we strolled along the river with stops for background facts. Then onto the part my sons had been waiting for. Clad in plastic gloves and wellies we were led down the safest path onto the foreshore outside Tate Modern and let loose to beachcomb (strictly no digging). An amazing array of items were found by the group and expertly identified by Fiona. We went home with clay pipes, a Victorian jelly mould and a piece of a 17th century 'Witch pot' tossed into the river full of pee to ward off evil spirits. And my seven-year-old son's highlight, a musket ball.
Dates and times depend on the tides so check www.walks.com and search for mudlarking. Meets at Mansion House tube. No booking needed, £8 for adults and free(!) for kids.
Darting through the chilly winter night to the steaming outdoor pool, or sunbathing and splashing here in summer is my idea of fun in London. Just a saunter away from Covent Garden Market, and shielded by a disguise of tower blocks, Oasis Sports Centre is one of London's hidden treasures. It is such an unexpected contrast to the shops and offices that surround it- a true Oasis.
The London Monopoly Pub Crawl is a great way to see the city and socialise with friends at the same time. It's basically a pub-crawl around central London, with a real ale hostelry at each street or station which appears on the monopoly board. There are organised trips but it's much more fun to download the directions from the website (both the most direct route and the original board route are listed), grab your oyster card and some friends and hit the street! Note: it does take all day (we started at around 11am and reached the final pub just as last orders were being called) and if you drink alcohol at even half of the stops you're likely to be a bit squiffy by the end!
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