Jan 22nd
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Britain's Countryside & Wales

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Jaunts around Europe

The weather was so hot in Britain this summer that we decided to stay home and enjoy our swimming pool. As you can imagine, outdoor pools – and, for that matter, sweltering hot days – aren’t exactly common in England, so we were inundated with desperate mothers and children, eager to get out of the 90-plus degree heat.

(but some great accommodation)

    By the third week – and keep in mind that we have only five weeks of summer vacation in Britain – we had had enough of the pool and decided to do a little exploring. My parents were visiting from South Africa and so we headed north to Northamptonshire to reacquaint ourselves with a cousin, Willia, and her extended family, which included four grandsons under the age of eleven – bliss for Morgan and Duncan. Willia lives in the picturesque village of Nobottle – where there are 12 houses and, as the name might suggest, no pub.         
    Nobottle skirts the edges of Althorp, the home of the Spencer family, and the estate where you can visit Princess Diana’s memorial.
    Although we were in the area for a family reunion, and didn’t have time to visit Althorp, it is a popular destination, featuring tours of the house and garden, and a museum dedicated to Princess Diana. Advance booking is recommended
for the Spencer estate as visitor numbers are limited each day to avoid overcrowding, and advance booking tickets are cheaper than tickets bought at the gate.
    To book a visit to the Spencer estate and Princess Diana’s memorial, call 0870 167 9000, or book online at The estate is open July through September.
    Our accommodation during our visit to Nobottle was provided by a local bed and breakfast Nobottle Grange (Tel. 01604-759494), which is on land rented from the Spencer family. The B&B is run by the friendly and accommodating Valerie Cox and her husband, a former steeplechase jockey, who was a colleague of the legendary author Dick Francis. The house is full of interesting steeplechase memorabilia. It’s also full of beautiful china, provided, no doubt, by the Grange’s own china shop, where Staffordshire and Spode are sold. The entrance to the china shop faces the stables behind the house. These are working stables, and it is possible to ride a horse while you are visiting.
    The house itself is old and elegant and has glorious views of the Northamptonshire countryside. We had a separate room from our two boys, but our rooms were linked and we shared a bathroom. Each room featured coffee and tea making facilities and a television set. My parents had a double room, which was not en suite but had its own bathroom. The cost of the accommodation was £50 for adults and £25 for the boys, for bed and breakfast. We enjoyed the comforts of Nobottle Grange B&B very much!

Visiting the Vikings

    While planning this two-day weekend up north, we discovered that Morgan would be studying the Vikings at school in the Fall term. We decided to extend our trip by three days to include a visit to the historical city of York, famous for – among other things – the Jorvik Viking Centre (www.vikingjorvik. com).
    One of the joys of living in Europe is that whatever period of history our two sons are studying, there’s something local that we can visit, such as a building, a museum, or a ruin from that era.         
    The Jorvik Viking Centre is a fascinating living museum, built on the site of an original Viking village. You can see some of the original excavations, and the museum tour is like a Disney ride through a reconstruction of a Viking village – complete with sights and sounds… and smells!
    York is a city steeped in history and you can spend a day wandering along the walls, and visiting the many museums and historical sites ( Because it’s a walled city, the streets seem quite crowded with tourists, so it’s best to avoid peak tourist time during the British summer vacation from mid July until the end of August.

To the Manor Born

    Rather than stay in the city center, we headed for the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales and found a wonderful lodge tucked-away in the village of Thixendale – about 20 miles from York. Manor Farm Bed & Breakfast (Tel. 01377-288315, manorfarm/) owned and run by Charles and Gilda Brader. The B&B is not only a working farm, but also features some magnificent gardens that are shown annually as part of Britain’s National Gardens Scheme. The farm is also just a few steps from Wolds Way, a National Trail that wanders through the Yorkshire Wolds for 79 miles. The trail is very popular with both serious hikers and casual walkers.
    At Manor Farm the boys found much to occupy their youthful energy including cows, sheep, geese, four dogs (which we watched going through their paces), and a grass tennis court (equipment for rent). We had comfortable rooms with lovely views and the usual B&B facilities. Gilda’s food was out of this world – real farm cooking, and lots of it. You won’t need to eat for the rest of the day! Gilda is also willing to provide other meals on request. Our last night, she prepared a roast chicken dinner with all the trimmings, £12 per person.
    While I was on the hunt for accommodation in Yorkshire, we also applied to Clifton Farm (www. – also 20 or so miles from York. However, when they were unable to accommodate the six of us, the owner (Lynne Laughton) phoned around until she found the three rooms at Manor Farm. Definitely Clifton Farm is a wonderful alternative if Manor Farm Bed & Breakfast is not available.

Brideshead Revisited

    Our other day-trip while in Yorkshire was to Castle Howard (, home of the Howard family, and the setting for the “Brideshead Revisited” television series. Armed with a picnic prepared by Gilda (for a minimal cost), we spent the day exploring the buildings and gardens of the castle. The six of us were able to get around the place in a single day and get a good feel for its history. Inside the house, a small museum room dedicated to the making of “Brideshead” features photographs of the cast, and some of the costumes and props used during the filming. Castle Howard was recently voted one of the top ten castles to visit in Britain and it certainly lives up to its reputation.

The Welsh Hills

    This time last year, during the boys’ one-week half-term vacation, we decided to revisit the scene of many of their father’s happy childhood vacation memories:  Wales – probably the least well-known of the countries in the UK.
    It’s not too hard to find gorgeous accommodation in Wales, but we really lucked out with Wern Farm ( property). Wern is a 16th century working farm situated four miles north of Crickhowell near the Brecon Beacons National Park in southeast Wales. The farmhouse has three double bedrooms, an attic room with four single beds, a living room with oak beams and a log fire, and a fully equipped kitchen with oil-fired Rayburn stove. We gathered in this cozy spot every morning. There is an enclosed grassy garden, but the boys spent lots of time exploring the hills and stream near the farmhouse.
    On our first night in Wales, the area was hit by a massive windstorm, but the house seemed solid enough to last at least another 400 years. When we discovered that a hilltop tree had been split into three by the wind, we hiked out through the bracken and the dazed sheep to take a look.

Things to Do in Wales

    It was remarkably easy to fill our week in Wales, even with cloudy and rainy weather hanging over us almost every day. We visited an Elizabethan manor house, Llancaiach Fawr (www.caerphilly., near Nelson in Glamorganshire. Guides in Elizabethan dress showed us around the house and grounds, speaking a version of Elizabethan English. The kids were fascinated!
    One of the highlights of the week for the boys was the Halloween Special ride on the Brecon Mountain Railway near Merthyr Tydfil (www.breconmountainrail For just £6 per adult, and £3.50 per child, we enjoyed a special nighttime ride with all sorts of scary Halloween tricks and treats. The train normally runs from April to October, with five or six departures daily, depending on the day. The rides take 65 minutes.
    On a particularly rainy day, we decided to forego the rainy weather and head indoors to Techniquest, the Science Discovery Centre in Cardiff ( The museum was heaven for Morgan and Duncan, and contained pretty much any type of hands-on science exhibit they could have imagined. (Entrance:  £18 family ticket, or £6.50 adults, and £4.50 children aged 5-16. Open daily except Christmas.)
    My own personal highlight was a visit to The Big Pit: The National Mining Museum of Wales at Blaenavon (www.nmgw. This included an underground tour led by a former Welsh miner, and offered remarkable insight into the truly horrendous lives of not only the miners, but also the children who were forced to work the mines. The temperature plummets as you travel underground, so wrap up warmly, and wear comfortable shoes as the tour takes you walking through some uneven areas. You will have to wear a safety helmet with a light, which is quite heavy.             
    Andrew and I  had to help both boys carry their lights. There is no entrance fee to the museum, but a donation is requested.
    Our last visit of the week in Wales was to the late-medieval Raglan Castle, just off the A40 (Welsh Historic Monuments website:
    Started in 1435 and updated in the 16th century, the castle fell to Cromwell’s demolition team sometime after 1646. A £7 family ticket allows you to stroll around the grounds and the ruins, which ooze atmosphere and history. We have now discovered that our boys love to visit ruins – there’s nothing to break and there’s plenty of space to run around!

More Day Trips

    Other trips we’ve made in the past few months have been to visit the Chedworth Roman villa in Gloucestershire (www.national Be sure to go fossil hunting at Kirtlington Quarry ( geological/protect3j.htm), a Nature Reserve just outside Oxford, visit the infamous Tower of London (, and have lunch at one of the fictitious Inspector Morse’s favourite hangouts, the Trout Inn at Lower Wolvercote on the outskirts of Oxford (www. members. htm).
    We’re still planning to spend some time on the Isle of Wight, but there’s too much choice so we never really know where we’re headed next. Stay tuned…

-- Marjorie Thorne


Where was Solomon born?

This is Solomon, a new born Humpback whale. He provided hours of entertainment for our group of whale watchers. Where was Solomon born? Click here to find out.

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