Feel like a spring break? Somewhere you can enjoy brisk easy walks through lovely countryside. And after, relax over tea and cakes in a cosy café. Woodbridge offers gentle strolls along its river banks. Aldeburgh has a more bracing alternative along its vast shingle beach. Both towns are in the county of Suffolk, a county that prides itself on its home-produce and warm hospitality. [Read more…]
Exploring the Jurassic Coast
Buses are a great way to get around. Particularly double-decker open-top buses that give the public access to beautiful places such as the Jurassic Coast in Dorset As a Londoner I am used to travelling by public transport so when I spent some time in Dorset it was natural for me to take to the buses. Visitors to Dorset can take advantage of the Purbeck Breezer Buses to explore without the hassle of trying to park a car in this very popular area. I soon discovered that buses are a great way to meet local people and learn about the local history. [Read more…]
When I was a child museums were gloomy, musty places and National Trust properties were for adults only. But days out in Swanage and Corfe Castle Village alerted me to the fact the approach to tourism and historical attractions in the United Kingdom has changed dramatically. Encouraged by these experiences the next step was a staycation in my own country. I chose two completely different experiences, a quaint hotel in Ramsgate and a luxury lodge in Sherwood Forest. [Read more…]
There are many facets to Ramsgate in Thanet, Kent an English Seaside town. Pilgrimages and Gothic-style architect were not two that immediately spring to mind. I was surprised to find that it is renowned for both.
Ramsgate has a long sea-faring history as detailed by the Maritime Museum housed in the Clock House in the Royal Harbour. During the Second World War Ramsgate was in the front line but the majority of the population survived thanks to the construction of the Ramsgate Tunnels which were used as an air raid shelter. In 1940, due to its proximity to France Ramsgate was requested to provide small boats to assist in the evacuation of Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo. This event is remembered every year by a pilgrimage of the remaining boats to France. One of the boats that takes part in this and other events commemorating the evacuation is the Sundowner.
This famous Dunkirk Little Ship is now over one hundred years old. It was originally build for the Royal Navy and served in the First World War. After the war Commander Herbert Lightoller converted the ship into a ‘gentleman’s motor yacht’. The commander, the senior surviving officer of the Titanic, took Sundowner to France for the 1940 evacuation returning with 130 men. Although the navy attempted to requisition the boat the Commander sailed it himself. After the evacuation the vessel was converted to an armed patrol boat and spent the rest of the war guarding the Thames estuary. It became part of the Ramsgate Maritime Museum’s floating exhibition in 1987 and represents the town at the regular naval events held around the south coast and in Dunkirk.
In 2012 the Church of Saint Augustine in Ramsgate was recognised as the official shrine of Saint Augustine. In 597AD Saint Augustine came ashore to the west of Ramsgate harbour with forty monks. Their mission was to re-establish Christianity in Britain. Saint Augustine met with King Ethelbert of Kent who agreed to hear him preach but only in the open air. The king was afraid that if he preached in an enclosed space he may try to unleash a magic spell. In 1884 the place where these two met was marked by Saint Augustine’s Cross, erected by the second Earl of Granville, then the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1884 the church of Saint Augustine was consecrated and since March 2012 the church of Saint Augustine has been recognised as the official shrine of Saint Augustine for pilgrimages. The shrine, the church and a visitor centre are open to visitors. The shrine features a linear set of paintings depicting the Stations of the Cross. Each year the people of Ramsgate are host a St Augustine Week of Catholic History and Culture which leads up to his feast on 27th May. A rare surviving relic of St Augustine’s body was placed in the reliquary in the church by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the shrine inauguration. Many pilgrimages have since followed and the Way of Saint Augustine has been created. This is a two-day pilgrimage route between the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate and Canterbury.
The Church itself has a very interesting history as it was a personal project of the architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and one of two remarkable buildings he created in Ramsgate.
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was a nineteenth century architect with a particular interest in medieval architecture. He studied the great churches of England that celebrated the Roman Catholic faith and had been built for the Mass and to honour important saints. He became a fervent convert to the Catholic faith and decided England needed to rediscover Catholicism. He was particularly fascinated by Saint Augustine after whom he was named. This brought him to Ramsgate as he searched for a place where he could build a seaside home. In 1843 he bought a property on the cliffs where he built a family home, the Grange, in Gothic style. This house, in its own private garden offered Pugin a retreat from the outside world. It was here, surrounded by his large family, that Pugin produced some of his finest work. These included his designs for the House of Lords and the Great Exhibition. This talented architect also added some unique flourishes to his own home; a private chapel, a tower from the roof of which he could look out to sea and his own personal wallpaper.
Pugin died in 1852. His descendants occupied this property until 1928. Thereafter it was occupied by a variety of people, including a school, before falling into disrepair. In 1997 the house was rescued from demolition by the Landmark Trust and restored to the same condition it was when Pugin built it. The Trust renovates historical properties and lets them to holidaymakers. The Grange was ready to welcome guests in 2006. Its renovation included the addition of a small exhibition in the Cartoon Room, a separate building next to the Grange that is open to visitors. Members of the public can also book guided tours of the house.
Once the family home was completed Pugin set out to achieve a long-held ambition, to build his own church dedicated to Saint Augustine. It was to be built according to the true principles of Christian architecture. Construction began in 1845 using the best materials and workmen. He told his son, Edward, that he should watch the church being built as it would be the best architectural lesson he could have. Not a single true principle was to be broken. When Pugin died in 1852 the church had not been completed. Before he died he bequeathed the unfinished church to the diocese of Southwark. The church was completed by his sons Edward Pugin (1834-75), Peter Paul Pugin (1851-1904) and many of the original associates. The exterior of the church is covered in a hardy flint to withstand the weather. The interior is lined with Whitby stone and decorated with stone and wood carvings, statues, stained glass and ornate tiles. The church was consecrated in 1884. In 1988 it was listed as a Grade 1 Building. From the 1860s until 2010 the church was home to the Benedictine monks of Saint Augustine’s Abbey. The Abbey had been built opposite the church by Edward Pugin. When the monks withdrew from the church it came under the jurisdiction of the Southwark Archdiocese. It still functions as a local church and the process of restoration continues thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Getting There/Staying There
Ramsgate is within easy reach of London thanks to a high speed train service from St Pancras station (75 minutes). Access by road is also very good.
Ramsgate is home to the delightful Royal Harbour Hotel. This unusual hotel occupies three Georgian houses above the Royal Harbour with glorious sea views from an interesting collection of bedrooms and sitting rooms. Their sophisticated Empire Room Restaurant features an elegant cuisine using local produce. I really enjoyed my stay there.
When the weather turns warmer and the sun shines longer, people like to get out and do things. And one of our favourite things is to take in a good music festival complete with like-minded music lovers and the greatest artists on the planet. Here’s the best part: the weather is always good somewhere in the world, so there’s always a music festival going on.
We have our fair share of headline events here in the UK. Glastonbury is just one example. But what about going overseas for some great music? Well, there is no shortage of incredible music festivals for you to choose from. Here’s a list of some of the best offerings for 2016:
Boom Festival – Aug 11-18, 2016
Portugal’s Boom Festival is a little different in quite a few ways. First and foremost, it is held every two years rather than annually. Second, there is more to Boom than just the music. This festival combines great music with art, culture and spirituality to create what promoters call a ‘state of mind’ rather than just a music festival.
The Boom Festival is a lot like Burning Man except with a more transcendent and holistic approach. One of the things you’ll notice right from the start is that it is entirely free of outside advertising. That’s right; Boom is paid for entirely through ticket sales. Without corporate interests to satisfy, Boom is free to be what it wants to be: a fusion of electronic entrance music combined with performance art and a whole lot more. From street theatre to jugglers to avant-garde films and great music, there’s nothing quite like the Boom Festival.
Bestival – Sept 8-11, 2016
Isle of Wight, England
Every year, tens of thousands of people head to the Isle of Wight for one of the best-known festivals in the UK. Known as Bestival, this event is all about enjoying good music with your friends. Now in its thirteenth year, Bestival is known for providing a fun atmosphere without the need for the hard-driving party scene so many other festivals are known for.
Keeping things interesting are the costumes people wear during the week-long event. From priests dressed in purple to entire families decked out in 1960s tie-dye, there is something for everyone. And, of course, don’t forget the Fancy Dress Parade held every year, usually on Saturday. The festival even offers a number of tents set up around the site where festival goers can attend seminars to learn the finer points of costume design. Go for the music, and go for the fun, or just go because you’ve never been to Bestival before.
Austin City Limits Festival – Sept 30-Oct 2, Oct 7-9, 2016
Austin, TX USA
Since 1976, America’s public broadcasting corporation (known as PBS) has been airing Austin City Limits, a programme that is easily the longest running music programme in American television history. Some of the best bands in the world combine with bands you’ve never heard of to offer residents of Austin, Texas great live music week after week. The Austin City Limits Festival is a natural extension of the weekly concerts held at Zilker Park.
What makes this festival so special is the fact that it is ‘grown up’, so to speak. The music is always headline quality, and the fans know how to behave themselves and still have a great time. The Austin City Limits Festival is run so well that music lovers of all ages feel safe and secure. That’s saying something, given the fact that music festivals do have a tendency to be raucous.
Awakenings Festival – June 25-26, 2016
If you like techno, the Awakenings Festival is for you. Since its inception in 1997, the festival has done nothing but this genre of music. Past festival goers have described Awakenings as a rave on steroids, thanks to a venue on the outskirts of Amsterdam that includes eight different arena areas and space to accommodate as many as 35,000 music fans.
Awakenings emphasises sight and sound to create a dance experience equal to the music itself. At the same time, event organisers use their platform to promote progressive values – particularly where the green movement is concerned. They follow a strict ‘leave no trace’ policy that insists festival-goers leave the grounds cleaner and greener than they found them.
Bass Coast – July 8-11, 2016
Merritt, British Columbia, Canada
The annual Bass Coast music festival in Canada’s Pacific North West is an unusual event in that it is billed as a four-day refuge from contemporary society. It is a very small festival, purposefully so, held every year along the banks of the Cold Water River in British Columbia. Only 3,000 tickets are sold, and festival-goers come prepared to camp deep in the woods.
Bass Coast features four different stages that act as much as art venues as a place for the bands to play their music. Yet even in the secluded wilderness atmosphere of the festival, organisers find a way to include technology via lighting, projection mapping, and complete multimedia integration between the music and the art. And by the way, the music is mostly electronica.
Boomtown Fair – Aug 11-14, 2016
Alresford, Hampshire, England
What do you get when you combine Britain’s love of the pop-up with our penchant for throwing world-class music festivals? You get the annual Boomtown Fair in Hampshire. Boomtown is undoubtedly the UK’s most well-known immersive festival complete with a pop-up city inviting tens of thousands of music lovers to come and live for four days of incredible fun.
Boomtown features a full range of music styles, covering everything from techno to jazz to reggae. And, of course, the bright and colourful clothing choices Boomtown is known for are a feast for the eyes. The festival ‘town’ is split into nine districts, each designed around a different theme and style of music. There’s something for everyone at Boomtown for four days and four nights – then it’s gone for another year.
Coachella – April 15-17, Apr 22 -24, 2016
Indio, CA, USA
As Glastonbury has come to represent what a music festival is supposed to be like in the UK, Coachella is the definitive event in the US. Every year, the polo fields of Indio, California welcome some of the biggest names in pop and rock music along with up-and-coming acts that the world will be taking notice of in the very near future. And all of it is enjoyed under the clear blue skies and bright sunshine of America’s Golden State.
Coachella has been around since 1999 when Pearl Jam drew 25,000 to the remote location of the Empire Polo Club. That concert was so successful that event organisers decided to turn it into an annual festival beginning in 2001. Headliners like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, and the Pixies have kept people coming back year after year. Coachella offers great music, both indoor and outdoor venues, and plenty of good times with your friends under the California sun.
Donauinselfest – June 27-29, 2016
Austria’s annual Donauinselfest is also Europe’s largest open-air music festival held on a man-made island that was originally constructed to prevent flooding. Now the 11-mile island features restaurants, bars, bike paths, parks, and a vast area of open green space perfect for the annual music festival. And with the Danube River never more than a few steps away, you can mix swimming with your appreciation of great music.
Donauinselfest boasts 11 stages offering 600 hours of live music – that’s enough time to host almost 2,000 acts every single year. It is all about the music, and it’s all free. With so much to choose from, you can bet there is something for everyone, from dance to rock to German folk tunes. Believe it or not, the Vienna boys choir has been known to grace the festival as well.
Exit Festival – July 7-10, 2016
Novi Sad, Serbia
In its early days, the Exit Festival was as much about political activism as it was the music. Today, it’s all about music, ranging from punk to metal to underground electronica. The festival is held on the grounds of a historic 17th-century fortress in Novi Sad, the second-largest city in Serbia. The landmark Petrovardian fortress is the perfect setting for this hard-driving festival considered to be one of the most important in Europe.
One of the more unique aspects of this event is the mixing of music that some describe as ‘almost unhinged’ with the history of a fortress that has seen so much political turmoil over the centuries. It’s almost as though the ghosts of the past join festival goers to let out all of that energy that has been pent-up for so long. If you are planning to attend Exit, be prepared for an incredibly intense experience.
Montreal International Jazz Festival – June 29-Jul 9, 2016
Not every music festival is about hard-driving rock and electronic music. Take the annual Montréal International Jazz Festival, for example. This event is famous for being one of the best jazz festivals in the world. It is so important to the genre that the festival is almost a brand unto itself. Jazz lovers from all over the world come to Montréal every summer to enjoy a mix of innovative new music that never forgets the past.
The inaugural Montréal International Jazz Festival was held in 1980 against a backdrop of criticism that said festival organisers would never succeed. After all, jazz appeared to be dying through the 1970s at the hands of disco and protest music. But Ray Charles headlined that first festival and event organisers have not looked back since. The Montréal International Jazz Festival is the largest and most reputable jazz festival in the world.
Fuji Rock Festival – July 22-24, 2016
Mount Naeba, Japan
Japan’s largest outdoor music festival is held every year at the Mount Naeba ski resort. Upwards of 150,000 festival attendees get together for a few days of carefree living and great music from mostly headline acts already big in Japan. The first incarnation of the festival was held at the foot of Mount Fuji in 1999; that event was spoiled by a combination of very bad weather and poor planning by event organisers that left festival goers vulnerable. Mount Naeba was chosen as the new location because the weather is more cooperative.
The Fuji Rock Festival has both indoor and outdoor stages for live music. The indoor stage, with a capacity for 5,000 festival goers, is used mainly at night to host a huge dance party, with some of the world’s most famous DJs playing until the small hours of the morning. Three additional stages host rock bands and soloists outdoors. Throughout the festival, there are venues established to provide music lessons along with quirky sideshows that will keep you entertained when your favourite band is not playing. There’s even a hot spring to relax in when you need to wind down.
Glastonbury – June 22-26, 2016
You couldn’t put a list like this together without mentioning the biggest, best and most popular music festival in the UK: Glastonbury. This festival, modelled after the infamous Woodstock of the 1960s, has been ongoing since 1970. Glastonbury is influential enough that many big name bands do not consider their careers complete until they play the main stage.
You meet all kinds at Glastonbury, from hippies to hipsters looking for a good time. And like Woodstock, rain and mud are part of the equation. It’s all about getting out into the elements and enjoying yourself, even if the elements don’t cooperate. Best of all, Glastonbury operates thanks to the efforts of an army of volunteers who are thrilled to know that proceeds are donated to charities.
Festival Hacks to make your life easier
- Find some cheap travel insurance through a comparison site, this will cover you if anything gets stolen or your travel plans get messed up. Note, it may not be valid if you are drunk and lose your phone! If you are worried about your £600 iphone, buy a cheap mobile for £20 to take.
- Travel light as possible, only pack the bare minimum. You’ll have enough booze to carry.
- Don’t camp near any walkways, people will stumble and fall onto your tent. It’s happened to me on numerous occasions.
- Invest in a portable phone charger, there is nothing worse that losing your friends. Anker’s Power Core mini is awesome.
- Take wet wipes.
- Take some ear plugs, not for the music but when your neighbouring tent is getting rowdy at 6am.
If we left your favourite music festival off the list, our apologies. There are literally hundreds of festivals held all over the world in any given year. Suffice to say that there is something for everyone. So get out there and enjoy the music. After all, you only live once!
Gone are the days when a stately home was just a building, a formal garden was just that and a zoo a collection of cages housing animals. Now these attractions have been developed to educate, entertain and excite. And none more so than Blenheim Palace, Kew Gardens and Marwell Zoo.
Whether you live and work in London or are just visiting for a day trip there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained. From gardens and museums to clubs and bars, there is something for everyone. Below you’ll find 6 of the best things to do in the capital.