Britain’s cathedrals…

A millennium of history

York Minster Source:© Nick Garrod

York Minster

Britain’s cathedrals combine a millennium of soaring architecture with incredible stories of saints, conquerors, fire, even murder! It’s no wonder visitors and film crews flock to hear the incredible stories connected with these majestic buildings.

Durham Cathedral is most recently known for its role in the first two Harry Potter films , but is also one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Britain. Together with Durham Castle, it forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Climb to the top of the 217-foot tower, or sneak into the library, which contains three copies of the Magna Carta.

It’s said that the masons who worked at Durham also created the unique red and yellow sandstone work on Britain’s most northerly cathedral, St Magnus in the Orkney Islands . It was Viking Earl Rognvald who oversaw construction of the 12th-century St Magnus Cathedral, named after his uncle and the patron saint of the Orkney Islands. Both men are buried in the crypt.

Back in 1170 the cold-blooded murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket inside Canterbury Cathedral caused pilgrims to flock there, as famously told in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales . Today you can see the spot where Becket fell and marvel at the cathedral’s stained-glass windows which show stories of ordinary people in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Elsewhere, you’ll want to explore York Minster whose tower has views across the maze of medieval streets below,Lincoln Cathedral that was used as a backdrop to the Da Vinci Code film and Salisbury Cathedral which has the tallest spire in Britain. And if you’re more interested in modern architecture, try Liverpool’s distinctive wigwam-shaped Roman Catholic Cathedral that has more coloured glass than any other building in Europe.

Perhaps the greatest of all British cathedrals is St Paul’s Cathedral , an elegant highlight of London’s famous skyline. After almost burning down twice, once during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and once over 1,000 years before, the building survives today as the masterpiece of world famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, who chose the Crypt as his final resting place.

Historic houses…

Holiday homes with a difference

The Pineapple, Dunmore Source:Taffy van Doorn

The Pineapple, Dunmore

We’ve all been there – looked up at a beautiful building with a lustful sigh and wondered aloud what it would have been like to live inside. But did you know you can play Lord or Lady of the Manor at some of best historic and architecturally interesting buildings in Britain?

These are no ordinary holiday homes. Charities like the National Trust , Landmark Trust and Vivat Trust have taken some of Britain’s most beautiful and interesting buildings and saved them from neglect by letting them as unique holiday accommodation.

Love history? Turn your holiday into a medieval experience with a stay at Shute Barton in Devon. Dating partly from 1380, this incredible house transports you back in time with its battlements, turrets and gothic windows. Plus, if your day of fossil collecting along the Jurassic Coast leaves you too tired to cook, you can hire a private chef to cook you a medieval feast.

Or maybe you’d like to live inside Henry VIII’s home? You can take your pick from two properties at Hampton Court Palace – Fish Court , which was originally for the Officers of the Pastry, or The Georgian House , which was built as a kitchen for George, Prince of Wales in 1719. A stay at the Palace means you can visit the public rooms as much as you like during opening hours, but you can also explore the magnificent gardens and courtyards early and late.

There are plenty of weird and wonderful architectural gems to pick from, too. The Pineapple in Central Scotland makes for some unique holiday photos, while The Ruin is a little slice of ancient Rome in North Yorkshire.

So when you’re planning your trip to Britain, forget about the dull hotels and pick a home that will make your holiday unforgettable.

Britain’s castles…

Dramatically situated, packed with history

Eilean Donan Castle at night Source:Allan Gourlay

Castle at night

Allan Gourlay

Want to know a secret about British castles? They really are the stuff of your wildest dreams. Dramatically situated, packed with history and scattered throughout the land, there’s a castle for you whatever your particular interest. Here’s a look at some of our famous British castles.

Capital Castles

British capital cities are all home to very different, very special British castles. The Tower of London would be merely a world-class castle were it not for the presence of the Crown Jewels, ravens and its thousand-year-old history. Edinburgh Castle rewards the wander up the Royal Mile. Cardiff Castle’s Victorian renovation turned a medieval pile into something altogether more spectacular. But what makes these castles special is that they’re part of a bigger heritage you can explore all over Britain. Don’t miss them, but make sure they’re not the only castles you collect on your way round the country.

The Best British Castle You’ve Never Heard Of

As one of the less famous British castles hotspots, Northumberland is a castle-buffs heaven, with over a dozen imposing fortresses paying testimony to the centuries of border tension with Scottish neighbours. Dunstanburgh Castle’s remoteness ensures it’s less heralded than most British castles, and yet this stunning ruin, only accessible on foot, is surely one of the nation’s most atmospheric. Pack a warm jacket and boots and make a day of hiking along the coast from the fishing village of Alnwick, itself home to a fine British castle.

As Seen on TV

Eilean Donan Castle can come as a shock. Having driven, walked or cycled for hours, you can’t escape the feeling that you’ve been here before. The remote fortress has featured in many films and TV shows, most notably Highlander and James Bond’s The World Is Not Enough . As dramatically situated and visually stunning in real life as on film, Eilean Donan is an essential pause on the way to Skye or the northwest Highlands.

Volunteer at a Castle

The heyday of castle building went out with the era of swords and armour, but you can still get involved in the modern life of castles in Britain. The National Trust and National Trust for Scotland offer working holidays on a variety of properties, including castles. Other castles all over Britain recruit summer workers, both paid and unpaid so if your heart’s set on one place, contact them directly.

Most Haunted British Castles

British castles wouldn’t be the same without tales of rattling chains, blood-curling screams and headless horsemen. Glamis Castle in central Scotland claims to be the most haunted, though Northumberland’s Chillinghamhas an equal claim to the title. Both are home to ghost stories by the dozen and regular spooky sightings. But visit any castle during winter or on a stormy night and you’ll think each keep, tower and dungeon is home to an unhappy spirit.

Sleep in a British Castle

Fancy a night in a haunted castle? No problem – historic houses all over Britain throw open their doors to paying guests. Try Gloucestershire’s Thornbury Castle or to truly sleep like a king, Warwickshire’s Studley Castle . For something special though, try the Landmark Trust . They offer weekends and longer stays in historic buildings – not just castles but towers, pavilions and cottages of architectural and historic importance. They even have a 250-year-old pineapple-shaped house in Scotland.

Welsh Wonders

Wales has more castles per head than anywhere else in the world. British Castle junkies should aim for north Wales, where the coast and hills are packed with dramatic fortifications. Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris are the best known, but castle connoisseurs will direct you to Denbigh, Ewloe and Criccieth. And if you need a change of scenery, there’s the small matter of Snowdonia National Park or a day on the beach in Llandudno or Rhyl. For a full rundown of Wales’ castles, check out the Visit Wales castles pages .

Castles for Kids

The clash of swords, rumble of jousting knights and shrill cry of falcons still rings out from castles across Britain – and the kids will love it. Two of the best places where kids can pick up some tips on the art of chivalry are Warwick Castle and Leed’s Royal Armouries , but you’ll never find a castle without dingy dungeons and a ghost story or two to delight junior visitors.

Not Quite Castles – But Don’t Miss Them

Not every graceful heap of stones you stumble on qualifies as a castle. Many of Britain’s most dramatic historic sites were abbeys, swept away by Henry VIII’s soldiers during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Fountains and Riveaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire and Wales’ Tintern Abbey are unmissable sights on a historic tour of Britain. And Britain’s stately homes – the later incarnations of castles – can help fill in the historical gaps between the Middle Ages and the present day. Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and Chatsworth in Derbyshire are two of the finest.