Tom's Britain - Exploring places of interest and things to do in England, Wales & Scotland

31 August 2013

Attend the Stroud Fringe Festival

The annual Fringe Festival in the South Cotswold town of Stroud began yesterday and continues all weekend, offering a range of free entertainment in pubs, cafes and streets around town and in the main stage in Bank Gardens. For the first time in many years your author will not be attending due to a wedding in Worcestershire, but the Festival promises as always to be a good one.

The Festival has grown and shrunk and grown again over the years since it began in the 1990s, but offers some very pleasant entertainment from a range of bands that very few people have ever heard of. Nevertheless it's this small town at its best and brings out a local crowd and many from further afield to enjoy the entertainment.

For more and a full lineup, see

30 August 2013

Climb down from Birling Gap

The ladder at the tiny hamlet of Birling Gap, with its 19th century coastguard cottages, offers a rare chance to access the beach among the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, which rise to a peak at Beachy Head. Where once there was a rickety ladder, and later stairs now there is a new and improved metal staircase which makes the beach accessible for most able-bodied people.

When your author last visited, he walked from Eastbourne over Beachy Head - with a late lunch at the Beachy Head Pub - and then had an evening drink at the Birling Gap Hotel before catching a taxi back to the station. As a walk, it is highly recommended.

For more, see

^Picture © Udey Ismail used under a Creative Commons license^

29 August 2013

See some art at Towner, Eastbourne

An award-winning art gallery in Eastbourne, Sussex, the Towner originally opened in 1923, and in 2009 relocated to its current premises attached to the Congress Theatre in Devonshire Park, where it maintains a rolling programme of great arts for a town with a population of nearly 100,000 people, as well as many tourists and visitors.

The Towner's collection includes works by Tacita Dean, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Eric Ravilious, Eric Slater, Alfred Wallis and the British painter with the best name in the business, Thomas Jones. Nowadays, some say it's part of a 'ring of pearls' of South Coast art galleries that includes the Jerwood at Hastings, the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill and the Turner Contemporary at Margate.

For more, see

^Picture © Rowan Collins used under a Creative Commons license^

28 August 2013

Visit Alfriston Clergy House, Sussex

The very first building acquired by the then-newly-formed National Trust in 1896, Alfriston Clergy House was built as a farmhouse in the 14th century, and was later used as a convenient home for the parish priest, situated beside the parish church on the village green.

It's a peaceful spot, and whilst the house is very interesting the garden is the real pleasure of the place, offering a pleasant setting to soak up what remains of the summer sunshine, whilst considering the work of those who built a charity to care for such interesting places, and the volunteers who keep them open today.

For more, see

^Picture © eGuide Travel used under a Creative Commons license^

27 August 2013

Drink at the Five Bells, Brabourne, Kent

An attractive 16th century pub close to the Pilgrims Way - a route that once took travellers by foot to London, Canterbury, Dover and the Continent - The Five Bells Inn is now also on the North Downs Way, a modern walking route that here follows the line of the Downs towards Folkestone & Dover.

Though it has an up-to-date feel inside it is not at the loss of it being a friendly local pub, with woodsmoke in the air when your author last visited and fresh food for sale from the kitchen and also in the form of the in house village shop, as well as added extras necessary to make a pub profitable nowadays like breakfast brunch and morning coffee, tea and cake.

For more, see

^Picture © Adam Hincks used under a Creative Commons license^

24 July 2013

Drink at the Jolly Sailors, Brancaster Staithe

A decent little pub in the upmarket North Norfolk village of Brancaster Staithe, built in the 18th century and still popular with locals and visitors, especially due to its attached brewery which produces ales such as Brancaster Best, Malthouse Bitter - named after one of the country's largest malthouses which stood in the village from the 18th century onwards, built from Roman bricks - Oystercatcher and The Wreck from local ingredients.

When your author visited for a beautiful wedding last month at nearby St Mary's Church, Burnham Deepdale - known for its Saxon Round Tower, its Norman Font and its Medieval Glass - he managed to sneak in two trips to the Jolly Sailors in 24 hours, and was even lucky enough to stumble across the pub's 4th Norfolk Ale and Music Festival.

For more, see

^Picture © Howard used under a Creative Commons license^

19 July 2013

Attend the Latitude Festival

Your author is off to Latitude Festival this weekend with Ebury publishing to talk about books and that sort of thing. Indeed, if you're interested there will be a talk based around the new book at 1.30pm on Sunday in the Ebury Library and Bookshop.

The whole festival looks like a decent combination of bands, arts, theatre and people talking about funny and interesting things, and it will hopefully be good fun.

For more, see

^Picture ©  Ebury Piblishing used under a Creative Commons license^

15 July 2013

Spend at night at Woody's Top, Lincolnshire

Your author spent a very peaceful night yesterday at Woody's Top Hostel, a remote former barn in a beautiful area of the Lincolnshire Wolds near Louth which has been run by the Youth Hostels Association since 1948.

We are told that the hostel's name is derived from "Mr Wood's Top Barn", and it certainly has a remote barn feel about it, surrounded by fields of swaying barley and offering beautiful sunsets over the rolling hills. The Lincolnshire Wolds is an underrated area of the country, and as many make their way to seaside resorts such as Skegness and Cleethorpes, or RSPB reserves at the coast, they would do well to stop and explore this line of hills which is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

For more, see

8 July 2013

Drink at the Black Horse at Amberley

Your author was out in Gloucestershire this weekend, for a pub cycle around the South Cotswolds. The participating cyclists arrived just in time for dinner at a great little pub which has always been a favourite, and benefits from fine views across the green valley towards Woodchester Park, owned by the National Trust.

Originally built as two weavers cottages, we are told that the building has been a pub for more than 250 years, and maintains an exterior of beautiful Cotswold stone, with plenty of room inside and out for drinkers and diners. One of two licensed premises in the village, it was busy when your author popped in, with plenty of customers and even the local MP dining quietly with a group.

For more, see

3 July 2013

Ride the Two Tunnels Greenway, Bath

A brilliant shared-use bike and walking path that takes riders from near the beautiful centre of Bath right out into the Somerset countryside, following the route of an old railway line through tunnels beneath Combe Down, a hill on the south side of the city.

The route only opened this year, in April, and is a great ride, with eerie musical installations in the tunnels and plenty of people enjoying it when your author rode it earlier in the summer as part of a pub cycle. Plus it avoids all those big hills around Bath, which can be troublesome.

For more, see

2 July 2013

Take the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail

An experience from your author's childhood, when family would meet in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire for picnics and bike rides, and an occasional visit to the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, a four mile walk around some interesting sculptures which when it opened in 1986 was one of the first of its kind.

The trail is maintained by the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust, which continues to add new works such as  Annie Cattrell's Echo, which was installed in 2008 and David Cotterrell's imposing eleven metre high Hill33, added in October 2010 and weighing 1,300 tonnes.

For more, see

^Picture © Stuart Richards used under a Creative Commons license^

1 July 2013

Drink at the Red Lion, Ampney St Peter

The Red Lion in Ampney St Peter in Gloucestershire is a beautiful 300-year-old Grade II listed pub constructed in beautiful Cotswold Stone.

The real highlight is the interior of the pub, which is listed in The Campaign for Real Ale's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, based around two small rooms and no bar, one of a tiny handful of pubs left in the  the country without a proper bar. It's timeless atmosphere is further enhanced, we are told, by the fact that the current landlord is fourth since 1851.

For more, see

18 February 2013

Walk in Woodchester Park

Known for its unfinished 19th century Gothic revival mansion - abandoned around 1870 by workmen who never returned - Woodchester Park can be an eerie place, not least because the high wooded sides of the valley prevent winds from penetrating too far and make for a quiet and atmospheric setting. 

The Park itself is maintained by the National Trust, and is open to the public, allowing visitors to wander a network of paths around the lakes, trees and fields and wonder what it might have looked like when the house was occupied during the 18th century.
For more, see
^Picture © Stewart Black used under a Creative Commons license^

30 January 2013

Tour the HMS Trincomalee

The centrepiece of Hartlepool's Maritime Experience, a themed recreation of the town in the 18th century, HMS Trincomalee was built in Bombay, India, in 1817 and is the oldest British warship still afloat, and is said to be the second oldest floating ship in the world. 

The boat sits in the town's Jackson Dock where she was brought in 1987 for 10 years of restoration following work as a training ship, and is now part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection.

For more, see
^Picture © Martyn Wright used under a Creative Commons license^

25 January 2013

Stay at Beverley friary

A truly beautiful Youth Hostel set in a 600 year old restored Dominican friary, Beverley friary sits close to the centre of the Yorkshire market town of Beverley and has been a youth hostel since the 1980s. Following a recent £340,000 refurbishment, the friary re-opened in October and the results are impressive. 

Whilst your author didn't meet the ghostly Dominican Friar who is said to live there he was thoroughly impressed with the amazing friary. It isn't often you get to spend a night in a place mentioned in the Canterbury Tales for a tenner, and explore your own medieval and Tudor wall paintings, high beamed ceilings and stone fireplaces. The friendly volunteer warden charged with greeting winter visitors was a particular pleasure, and the place was a fine example of the interesting buildings in which the YHA has hostels.

For more, see

24 January 2013

Visit Grimsby's Fishing Heritage Centre

Grimsby's Fishing Heritage Centre opened at Alexandra Dock in 1991, aiming to tell the story of the town's fishing heritage, with a particular focus on what was like for trawlermen and their families in the 1950s.  

The Museum offers the chance to climb aboard the Ross Tiger, a 1950's trawler acquired by the town in 1992 for £1, and moored beside the museum, with other highlights based around the recreation of '50s Grimsby.

For more, see

^Picture © Dave Hitchborne used under a Creative Commons license^

23 January 2013

See the Boston Stump

The parish church in the Lincolnshire town of Boston is one of the largest parish churches in England, known for its huge tower - visible for miles around in a particularly flat area of the Fens - which is affectionately referred to as the Boston Stump and used for navigation by everyone from 16th century farmers to Second World War bomber pilots. 

Construction of the church started in 1309, but the tower was not begun for another century, until 1450, with the church completed by 1510. The church is known for its library, founded in 1634 and regarded as one of the best parish libraries in the country.

For more, see

^Picture © The National Churches Trust used under a Creative Commons license^

22 January 2013

Walk on Skegness Pier

Opened in time for the summer season in 1881 and built by Head Wrightson of Stockton, Skegness Pier was designed to allow North Sea boat trips, which we are told ran as far as The Wash and Hunstanton in 1882. 

Despite various bumps and scrapes - from a ship in 1919, floods in 1953, demolition work in 1971 - the pier remained intact until severe gales caused damage in 1978, and further damage caused the pier to be partially dismantled in the 1980s. Whilst only 118 metres of the pier remain, it has since been refurbished and is still a popular spot for visitors.

For more, see

^Picture © foxolio used under a Creative Commons license^

21 January 2013

Spot birds on Frampton Marsh

A large nature reserve on the edge of the Wash in near Boston in Lincolnshire, RSPB is a coastal wetland reserve in one of Britain's most important feeding grounds for birds, particularly in winter. 

The winter season - we are told - brings Brent geese from Siberia to feed on the saltmarsh in their thousands, and also offers us the chance to seeflocks of lapwings and golden plovers.

For more, see

^Picture © Graham Horn used under a Creative Commons license^

14 January 2013

Visit Sutton Hoo

Though the treasures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial are now held by the British Museum, the 255 acre site on which they were found, beside the River Deben in Suffolk, is now in the care of the National Trust and is open to the public. 

The estate is home to cemeteries from the 6th and 7th centuries, in the fields of grassy mounds, inside one of which was the undisturbed 7th century ship burial - excavated in 1939 - which gave up the treasures now held in the British Museum. The site also has a visitors centre, which is open at weekends at this time of year.

For more, see

^Picture © p_a_h used under a Creative Commons license^

7 January 2013

Drink at the Ship Inn, Blaxhall

Your author recently spent a agreeable evening at the Ship Inn in Blaxhall, a historic Suffolk pub known for its folk and traditional music and traditional Suffolk step dancing. 

A Grade II listed, 17th century pub in rural Suffolk which claims to include smugglers, shepherds, seafarers, pilots, tourists and locals among its previous customers, the Ship offers bed and breakfast and is also located conveniently close to a hostel run by the YHA, offering a choice of where to lay your head after an evenings step dancing.

For more, see

^Picture © Chris Holifield used under a Creative Commons license^

6 January 2013

See David Shrigley's HOW ARE YOU FEELING?

Your author popped in to see David Shrigley's HOW ARE YOU FEELING? at the Cornerhouse in Manchester yesterday and as ever thoroughly enjoyed the amusing and thoughtful works of the Glasgow artist. The exhibition - which has its final day today - features a mix of Shrigley's trademark small drawings alongside some larger interactive pieces. 

The strategically-placed napping mattresses for those overcome with fatigue during their visits were particularly appealing, as was the opportunity to sound a huge gong and whilst your author didn't attempt to draw a naked humanoid figure designed by Shrigley in the third floor gallery or act out a play by the artist, both were well-executed and typically thoughtful.

For more, see

^Picture © Karen Cropper used under a Creative Commons license^

5 January 2013

Join the Waldron Wassail

The last gasps of the Christmas season are fading away and Wassailing season is upon us, the time of year when apple trees are blessed to ensure a good harvest later in the year. The Waldron Wassail takes place this evening at Waldron in Sussex, with Long Man Morris, Old Star Morris and Winter Solstice Mummers gathering at the Star Inn for a Wassail.

Those visiting are told to expect Morris dancing at the village war memorial and a mummers play, followed by the wassailing in the garden. As the events take place outside, visitors are advised to dress warmly and prepare to join in.

For more, see

^Picture © Paul Farmer, used under a Creative Commons license^

4 January 2013

See the site of a Viking Invasion

In 991 AD, after sacking the town of Ipswich, a huge Viking fleet sailed down the coast and landed at Northey Island in the Blackwater Estuary in Essex, preparing to take Maldon. Here as they waited for the tide to fall, they were trapped on the island by the East Saxon forces of Æthelred the Unready, led by Earl Byrhtnoth and his forces. 

When the Viking forces requested payment to leave, Byrhtnoth refused and challenged them to battle, but as the high tide prevented proper battle, the Vikings were allowed onto the mainland and the Battle of Maldon commenced, ending in defeat for the Anglo-Saxons. Today, the site is remembered as the oldest recorded battlefield in Britain. Today the island, which is in the care of the National Trust, can be visited by prior arrangement.

For more, see

^Picture © terry joyce used under a Creative Commons license^

3 January 2013

Walk to the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall

One of the oldest intact churches in England, it is believed that there has been a chapel on the site of St Peter-on-the-Wall at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex since around 653 AD when St Cedd arrived from Lindisfarne at the invitation of Sigeberht the Good, then King of the East Saxons. Though the current chapel probably dates from around 660 AD, it is remarkable that it has survived so well. 

The chapel was built using bricks from the Roman fortress which once stood on the same site and is built against the wall of the ruins of the abandoned Roman fort of Othona, and takes its name from this. Today, it stands at the end of a long distance path from Chipping Ongar called the St Peter's Way, which makes a lovely if tiring walk over a few days.

For more, see

2 January 2013

Walk in Hadleigh Country Park, Essex

Whilst many might dismiss the area around Southend on Sea, your author finds the tidal creeks between Benfleet and Leigh-on-Sea particularly beautiful, and the stretch beneath Hadleigh Castle - itself am impressive 13th century construction refortified during the Hundred Years War and open for free by English Heritage - is this part of the world at its best. 

Between the castle and the creekside, Hadleigh Country Park offers more than 350 acres of parkland, with a mix of woodland, grassland and marsh, with a nearby bridge - just outside the park - enabling walkers to cross to the Essex Wildlife Trust's nature reserve at Two Tree Island.

For more, see

^Picture © Edward Clack used under a Creative Commons license^