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

8 December 2015

Climb Skirrid

Legend has it variously that the hill known as Skirrid in Monmouthshire was blown apart by a bolt of lightning at the moment of Jesus Christ's Crucifixion, or that an angry Devil stamped it in two to spite St Michael. It is, of course, impossible to disprove either, and whilst the geology of the hill known in Welsh as Ysgyryd - or 'divided hill'- reflects the myths, it seems more likely that its two humps were separated during the Ice Age. Having said all that, the mysterious air which surrounds the hill means nothing should be discounted.

The hill was used as a hill fort during the Iron Age, with those inside feeling great security thanks to the panoramic views from the top, and there was also once a church dedicated to St Michael near the summit, of which evidence can still be seen today. The hill is also known locally as the Holy Mountain or Sacred Hill, and the short pull to the top is pleasant enough, even in as much wind as when your author visited recently.

For details of a decent ascent, see

6 September 2015

Attend the Great Dorset Steam Fair

Yesterday, your author was lucky enough to spend the day at the Great Dorset Steam Fair at Tarrant Hinton, near Blandford Forum. The event is a gathering of traction engines, tractors and vestiges of historic life in rural England which is now in its 47th year. As the double decker bus bounced over the hill and the Fair came into sight, the feeling of excitement was much the same as was felt some 16 years ago when first arriving at Glastonbury Festival, with almost as much to see and do. Today is the last day, but the sun is shining and if you leave now you could still get there.

Any show which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest parade of steam rollers, where you can pick up a new handle for your garden spade for just £4 and where you can watch historic earth-moving equipment demonstrating how to build a new stretch of road is as remarkable as it is not for everyone. However, those who do embrace it have the time of their lives, with cider of unknown percentages served in ex-military tents, miniature traction engines, horse ploughing demonstrations and the chance to take a picture with a mock-up of the late Fred Dibnah all experiences on offer on site.

For more, see

19 August 2015

Have lunch at the Brockweir Inn

Once local farm labourers, watermen and shipwrights could find hospitality in more than 15 inns in the village of Brockweir, a sleepy little place on the eastern banks of the River Wye which was once an industrial port where goods were transferred from seagoing boats onto river barges to continue upstream.  Today, the demise of The Ship, The Severn Trow, The Bristol, The Spout and The Royal Arms mean that only one remains, but it certainly makes up for it with bags of charm. The Brockweir Inn stands proudly on a corner close to both Brockweir's Victorian Moravian Church and the iron road bridge which was opened in 1906 to finally allow residents to visit their neighbours on the other side of the Wye without getting a ferry.

The Brockweir Inn was known as the George Inn in 1793, and had become the New Inn by 1840, before taking its current name around 1994, perhaps because all the competition had died off. Inside, two cosy bars - one with a fire and another with a wood burner - offer a pleasant place for a meal, or a local ale, including regular brews from the Kingstone Brewery, a mile down the road in Tintern.

There is also a nice garden bit at the back and an inspirational Community & Visitor Reading & Games Room upstairs, supported by the Pub is the Hub campaign. When your author dropped in on a recent bike ride it appeared to be thriving, with reasonably-priced and tasty sandwiches and half-pints of Wye Valley Ale providing the sustenance needed to continue southward.

For more, see

12 August 2015

Take tea at Sid's Cafe, Holmfirth

The longest-running sitcom in the world was filmed in the West Yorkshire town of Holmfirth for 37 years until 2010, and told the story of three old boys with a penchant for sexually assaulting ladies with wrinkly tights, and going down hills in a bath. Today, the picturesque town thankfully has more to trade on than its association with Compo, Clegg and Foggy, but some last metaphorical sediment remains from the Last of the Summer Wine. When the BBC crews first showed up in 1973, the building that was to be immortalised as Sid's Cafe was a former fish & chip shop that was being used to store paint, but now it is an honest caff famous for its green gingham curtains and Yorkshire Tea.

Thankfully, in this part of the country tea drinkers will not settle for sky-high prices just because a place has a brush with fame and when your author dropped in on Yorkshire Day a week or so ago, a cup of tea was still less than a pound, the most expensive thing on the menu was only a fiver and every purchase came with a free box of Yorkshire Tea.

For more, see

17 July 2015

This weekend: Attend the Bristol Harbour Festival

The free Bristol Harbour Festival kicks off today, and continues all weekend, with music, arts, circus, dance, boats, food and drink and plenty of other things to do from now until Sunday. Some of the acts playing over the weekend include reggae legend Dawn Penn, Asian dance act Swami, folk-rockers Roving Crows, alt-folk and country outfit Cardboard Fox and Zanzibar’s live wire singer Mim Suleiman.

As well as the music, plenty of events will take place on the harbour itself, including a chance to try the UK's fastest growing watersport, stand up paddleboarding – games of Massive Battleships, and trips on one of the M Shed museum's historic boats.

The festival will also celebrate Bristol's role as European Green Capital 2015

For more, see

^Picture © James F Clay used under a Creative Commons license^

13 July 2015

Visit Mangersta bothy, Isle of Lewis

There is possibly be no more exhilarating experience in the British Isles that gazing out into the Atlantic from high on the sea cliffs close to the tiny hamlet of Mangersta, near Uig on Isle of Lewis, such is the rawness of the location.

Your author was drawn to the spot by word of a wild stone bothy built among the boulders on the cliffs by John and Lorna Norgrove, who run the Linda Norgrove Foundation from the islands.

Almost invisible for those without a guide, the bothy provides a lonely dot of man-made beauty on the wild and rugged stretch of cliffs, in one of the most sparsely populated corners of the British Isles, and even occasionally offers views towards the Flannan Isles and St Kilda, and beyond to Iceland and Greenland.

For more, see