• 5 of the Most Classic English TV Spots

    12th July, 2017

    Our little island produces some great T.V., and many of our recent series have shot to global fame – we firmly believe that great stories and great landscape are a winning combination. Here are some of our favourites…

    MIDSOMER MURDERS

    Perhaps the most quintessentially English of them all, Midsomer Murders is a crime drama set in the very green and pleasant fictional county of Midsomer. It has been running since 1997, and is a staple of British television, perfectly encapsulating the British sense of humour and way of life. Midsomer isn’t just a fantasy however, and is directly based on the picture postcard villages and little country lanes of the Chilterns. Most filming is done around Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and anyone with a little local knowledge can pick out the locations that make up the villages of Midsomer. We at the Carter Company are fortunate to be based right in the middle of Midsomer Murders country, and live amongst the little villages, the fields and farms, and the beautiful countryside. If you want to sample this yourself, consider our Whistle-stop Thames or Chilterns tour, or our Riverside Ride from Oxford.

    BROADCHURCH

    A much darker crime drama than the light-hearted Midsomer Murders, Broadchurch rose to global acclaim for its portrayal of life in a troubled seaside town. The struggles of the locals, initially following the death of a young boy, are set against the dramatic landscape of the Dorset coast. Showrunner Chris Chibnall created the name Broadchurch by combining the names of Dorset hamlets Broadoak and Whitchurch. The show, starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman, has won several BAFTAs, and has drawn an enormous fan base. Its popularity has caused it to be adapted into both an American and a French version; the success of these remains to be seen, as it is the phenomenal Dorset coastline that gives Broadchurch its power - we can’t imagine an opening sequence without the tall white cliffs and crashing waves of the fierce and beautiful English coast. Our tours around Dorset offer the opportunity to see this dramatic landscape up close, particularly our Dorset Beaches and the New Forest tour.

    DOWNTOWN ABBEY

    Downtown Abbey is another British production that has enjoyed unprecedented popularity around the world. It is period drama at its best, offering viewers a window into the lives of those in the household of the Crawley family, the fictional Earls of Grantham. Downtown Abbey has been filmed in various locations in Southern England; Highclere Castle in North Hampshire is used for the main house, and the charming Oxfordshire village of Bampton forms the village of Downton. Despite primarily being filmed in the South of England, in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, the fictional Downton is supposedly based in North Yorkshire. For those searching for the Downton Abbey experience, we suggest our Oxford and Thames Royal Palaces tour, which features the stunning houses and castles that inspired Downton Abbey. We love showing people the best of English heritage, and in true Downtown style, we can take you through the great houses of our aristocratic history.

    INSPECTOR MORSE AND LEWIS

    Both Inspector Morse, and its successor Lewis, are filmed around Oxford, showing off the ‘city of dreaming spires’ and one of the world’s oldest university. The original series, Inspector Morse, followed Morse and his sergeant Robert Lewis around Oxford in a series that ran from 1987 to 2000. When John Thaw, who played Morse, passed away, the show recreated itself with Lewis as the main character. The show finally retired in 2015, with Kevin Whately (Lewis) having played the role for almost 30 years. The British public were very disappointed to lose such a T.V. classic, and so, in 2014, another spinoff was declared: Endeavor, following the career of the young Morse. These shows are a must watch for anyone planning on visiting Oxford – they act as a travelogue of the city, taking the viewer around the ancient colleges and the stunning streets, through all the historic nooks and crannies of one of England’s finest cities. We have a variety of tours around Oxford, all of which will give you the opportunity to explore with a Carter Company twist.

    POLDARK

    Another brilliant period drama, BBC’s Poldark is based on a series of books by Winston Graham. The show follows Captain Poldark’s (Aiden Turner) struggles to repair his reputation and estate after returning from the American War of Independence. The series is based in Cornwall, and captures the county’s rugged grandeur. Our tour, Coastal Adventures in Devon and Cornwall, will show you the dramatic countryside that makes Poldark so powerful. From towering cliffs, to charming hamlets and blissful beaches, the Cornish coast offers both history and nature. It is a chance to enjoy some of the wild parts of England, and to indulge in some of the best views in the world. Cycle and picnic along the clifftops, or stand in the wind contemplating life like the series’ tragic hero.

    (Photo credit BBC, 2017)

  • 8 Very English Experiences

    12th June, 2017

    You’re not a true anglophile until you’ve tried these…

    FISH AND CHIPS

    Fish and Chips is fundamentally English, and these days, every town worth its salt has a chippy. Traditionally, Fish and Chips was to be enjoyed sitting on a pier or harbour wall, watching the cool sea wash in – for this we recommend Aldeburgh Fish and Chips on the Suffolk Coast. For those wanting the English experience but don’t have the time to travel far, fear not, London offers some of the best Fish and Chips – and you can always eat it watching the boats on the Thames! We recommend The Sea Shell in Lisson Grove, London.

    SPIN A MORRIS MINOR THROUGH THE COTSWOLDS

    At the Carter Company, we feel that there is no better way to see England than on a bike – but that said, a convertible Morris Minor is a lot of fun too and is a local Oxford icon. We have some of the most beautiful landscape in the world. There is no need to just take our word for it, touring our island will leave you in no doubt. We suggest spinning along the little lanes of the Cotswolds, seeing the sandy coloured stone and quaint, postcard villages.

    WATCHING CRICKET

    Although the English can claim the invention of many sports such as football, rugby, tennis and boxing, perhaps the most ‘English’ of all is cricket. Prince Phillip famously said ‘there is a quite erroneously held belief that cricket is just another game’; indeed, for many, cricket is a way of life. It is slow paced and relaxing, skillful but not taxing, and enjoyed by people of all ages. On Sundays, while walking or driving through rural England, it is a common site to see men in their whites playing cricket on village greens; It is a symbol of the great English idyll. Watch at Keswick Cricket Club in the Lake District where Skiddaw provides the dramatic backdrop, with it's summit at 3,000ft!

    VISITING THE LOCAL

    For centuries and centuries, English communities, both rural and urban, revolved around the pub or ‘local’ as it is known; it was a place where all news was shared, great issues debated, and most importantly, where good ale was drunk. Even in busy modern life, the pub remains an important part of our culture. You haven’t really been to England unless you’ve been in a pub. We have many favourites on our tours of which The Half Moon in Sheepwash, Devon is one, but almost all of our tours will lead you past one great pub to the next.

    ROYAL SPOTTING

    England is known and loved for its Royal Family and Brits as well as visitors are keen to spot family members. Really, it’s not so hard to catch a sight of them; if you visit Royal Ascot or Wimbledon, you have a good chance! Other options are a film premiere or the Chelsea Flower Show and Chelsea pub The Pig’s Ear where William sometimes downs a pint. And of course the Queen has been spotted in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle – see our Thames Royal Palaces Trip.

    CATHEDRAL EVENSONG

    As with many other English traditions, choral evensong in the great Cathedrals has survived the ages. These beautiful, ancient buildings still serve as refuges, places of celebration and of spirituality in the modern day. England may have had a tumultuous relationship with religion over the past centuries, but faith still remains a central part of English culture. There is a great power in these places, and even those without religion will be moved by the age and beauty of the churches and cathedrals in England. If you want to connect with England’s historic past, we suggest attending choral evensong; Cambridge and Salisbury offer some of the best experiences.

    AFTERNOON TEA

    What could be more English than Afternoon tea? Its tradition at its finest – wherever you are in the country, you can rely on afternoon tea to give you that blissful Sunday feeling. It combines tea with delicate sandwiches, cakes, scones and strawberry jam – practically the cornerstone of English cuisine. Betty’s in Yorkshire is one of our favourites (and a feature on our Footsteps tour), but for the quintessential experience, try Claridges in London.

    A WALK IN THE PARK

    British cities are famous for their parks, islands of green in the midst of bustling cities, often with wonderful gardens. It is a very English thing to take a stroll or a cycle ride through the park in your lunchbreak or as the sun sets. Parks we love are Westgate beside the River Stour in Canterbury, Greenwich in London where you can stand astride the Prime Meridian Line and Tring in the Chiltern Hills where the Rothschilds created avenues of lime trees leading to stone follies.

  • On the trail of England's literary treasures

    27th April, 2017

    In our travels around England, we have had the chance to explore some of the nation's greatest heritage - here's a little insider info on some of our favourite finds...

    J.R.R. TOLKIEN

    Tolkien has ranked 6th on The Times list of most popular British writers, and his epic Lord of the Rings ranked 26 in the BBC’s list of the greatest British novels. It is fair to say that Tolkien is a national treasure; as the father of fantasy and as a continuing influence and inspiration to writers worldwide. Despite being born in South Africa, having had his books published in over 38 languages, and having had them filmed in New Zealand with a multi-national cast – Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings has always been best at home in England. The Bell in Moreton in Marsh is supposedly the inspiration for the Prancing Pony in Bree – and is a must see for any Tolkien fan. They are well aware of their heritage and have a traditional blue plaque proving their link to Middle Earth. If you find yourself on one of our Thames tours or rambling in the Cotswolds, look out for the ‘rolling hills and little rivers’ of Oxfordshire and the Chilterns - this is Shire country.

    WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

    April 23rd marked William Shakespeare’s 453rd birthday – and although he is getting on a bit, he remains as popular and as culturally important as ever. The Carter Company has many tours that will lead you along Shakespeare’s Way, take you to a play in Stratford-upon-Avon or the Globe, and will show you literary history at its finest with Shakespeare’s Five Houses. Nestled in the heart of England, Shakespeare’s five family homes, beautiful traditional cottages, still welcome visitors. Whether its history, literature, or just a good day out that you are craving, the Five Houses will deliver.

    WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

    The First Generation of Romantic Poets called the Lake District their home – and judging by the incredible scenery, it isn’t surprising that this corner of England nurtured some of the nation’s greatest poets. Between the tarns and the rocky hills, scattered sheep and mossy mountains, you can see some of the most dramatic landscape in England. While you are in the Lake District, a trip to Dove Cottage or Rydal Mount are essential – but you can glean literary history from the landscape itself. Although scholars are uncertain which lake is the setting of Wordsworth’s famous ‘boat stealing’ episode, it has long been suggested that it all took place on the shores of Lake Grasmere.

    AGATHA CHRISTIE

    Agatha Christie was an incredibly prolific writer – publishing over 80 novels, and selling over 200 billion copies – she is one of England’s favourites and retains a reputation as the mother of murder mystery. Throughout her life, Christie called the English Riviera home - this section of the Devonshire coast has long been praised for its picturesque views, beautiful bays and historical towns. Torquay, Christie’s birthplace, is the setting for many of her novels, and the inspiration for many others. While in Devon, consider walking the Agatha Christie Mile, and stopping by the Greenway Estate (Christie’s beloved family home – now part of the National Trust) and taking part in the annual Agatha Christie Birthday Celebrations.

    This is just a snapshot of what England has to offer – also worth a mention is Whitby - home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Kent - Dickens Country, Bath - home to Jane Austen and of course, a Carter Company Favourite, Enid Blyton’s Dorset. To find out more, check out our tour: In the footsteps of famous writers

    (Photo Credit, Warner Bros. Pictures, 2012)

  • Discover the Dorset marvels that inspired Enid Blyton

    11th April, 2017

    Dorset was Enid Blyton’s most treasured holiday spot. From the 1940s to her death in 1968, the Isle of Purbeck was the author's refuge; a place she would go to rest and refuel twice or three times a year, rarely writing during her visits. But while her brain was at rest, her imagination was at play, the stunning coastal surroundings and historic sites serving as endless inspiration for her beloved children’s stories. This year marks the 120th anniversary of Blyton’s birth, and to celebrate we’ve compiled a special walking and cycling holiday highlighting some of her favourite Dorset spots – many of which feature in the some 700 books she wrote during her lifetime. To tempt you further, we’ve compiled a list of six of the most magical destinations she liked to frequent, all of which form part of the tour.

    Knoll House Hotel, Studland

    Knoll House Hotel in the idyllic village of Studland was Blyton’s favourite place to stay during her later visits to Dorset in the 1960s. Set in four acres of gardens, with gorgeous sea views – you can even see the Isle of Wight – the hotel is just a short walk from Studland beach. The ultimate base for a good old fashioned seaside holiday, and your home for the duration of the trip. (Fun fact: Studland is said to be the inspiration behind Toy Town, home to Noddy et al in Blyton’s acclaimed series; while Mr Plod, the town’s pernickety policeman, is thought to be based on a local PC who scrupulously patrolled the village streets).

    Isle of Purbeck Golf Club

    In 1950, Blyton and her husband Kenneth bought the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club, which features in the author’s 1962 book, 'Five Have a Mystery to Solve'. The splendid heathland course, which dates back to 1892, numbers among the best in Britain, and is just a short cycle from Knoll House Hotel. (Along the way you can spot the tiny cottage that was home to fussy, young nature-lover Wilfrid in the book!) Should golf not be your thing, it’s well worth a visit for the magnificent views alone.

    Corfe Castle

    This glorious, battle scarred castle, perched on top of a thyme-strewn hill, could ignite even the most dormant of imaginations. And in Blyton’s case, the iconic, one-thousand-year-old ruin gave shape to Kirrin Castle: the dilapidated site frequented by the Famous Five during a number of their adventures. Blyton first visited the castle in 1941, arriving by steam train from Swanage; later, her feted protagonists would be described embarking on the same train ride, in the opposite direction, as they travelled home from boarding school for the holidays. The steam railway has recently been restored, and is a magical must-do included on our itinerary.

    The Grand Hotel, Swanage

    This classic Victorian hotel dates back to 1898, and was one of Blyton’s favoured holiday destinations in the 1950s. It overlooks the splendid Swanage Bay, around which the author and her husband would swim each evening before supper. Stop for cream tea and lashings of ginger beer in its sun-filled garden.

    Brownsea Island

    Another location in 'Five Have a Mystery to Solve' is Brownsea Island, located in the middle of Poole Harbour (NB: in the book it’s called Whispering Island and is set "in the great blue harbour"). Today the verdant nature reserve – filled with grassy gardens, a variety of trees, as well as peacocks and red squirrels – is owned by the National Trust, but in Blyton’s day it belonged to the notoriously reclusive Mrs Bonham Christie, whose steely determination to return it to a natural haven, saw all visitors turned away. For this reason, Blyton, who is unlikely to have visited herself, playfully refers to it as ‘Keep Away Island’ in parts of the book.

    Kimmeridge Bay

    In 'Five Fall into Adventure', the young explorers visit Kimmeridge Bay on the Jurassic Coast, where they’re described frolicking by rock pools and rowing around the coastline. There they spot “a high cliff on top of which was a dour grey stone building... a little like a castle... with one square tower overlooking the waves”. This is believed to be the Clavell Tower, a folly built in 1831, which you can visit on the third day of your trip as you traverse the breathtaking clifftop footpath that Blyton so loved, taking in Lulworth cove and Stair Hole, which also star in her stories.

  • 5 Hidden Gems to Discover in Scotland

    31st March, 2017

    This month The Carter Company were delighted to announce the launch of our first ever Scottish walking holiday, spanning The West Highland Way, and offering what is truly one of the most wondrous walks in the world, taking in lochs, glens, moors, mountains and more. In celebration of the newest addition to our range of tours in the awe-inspiring country, we've picked five of Scotland's most marvellous hidden gems, spanning food, flowers and a favourite pub, as well as magical wild swimming in so-called Fairy Pools (pictured above) and dolphin spotting opportunities – all of which, you'll be pleased to hear, can be factored around one or more of our bonnie holidays.

    1 Mhor Food Company

    If you’re looking to feast on delicious food while staying in an extraordinary location, the Mhor Food Company – nestled in the beautiful, thistle-strewn Braes of Balquhidder – is the place for you. The family run food and hospitality business comprises a cosy café that serves its organically farmed produce, a bakery that bakes fresh bread daily, and two hotels, the Mhor 84 Motel and Monachyle Mhor, a pink farmhouse turned boutique hotel situated in splendid 2000-acre grounds. The hotel – one stop on our 'West Highland Way' walking tour – boasts a world-class restaurant that serves locally sourced meat and fish. While for those in search of a unique “glamping” experience, there’s a converted 1950s showman's wagon and a cabin constructed from found objects, both situated in the surrounding parkland.

    2 Benmore Botanic Garden

    For garden lovers, a trip to this stunning, mountainside garden, a few miles south of the lowest point of The Trossachs National Park, will reveal Scotland's most marvellous collection of flowering trees and shrubs. Approach via an avenue of giant sierra redwoods, planted in 1862; potter among glorious displays of rhododendrons and azaleas; peep inside the picturesque Puck’s Hut, built in 1928 in memory of Sir Isaac Bayley Balfour and topped by a miniature bronze sculpture of the mischievous Shakespearean character; and discover the recently restored Victorian fernery tucked into a shaded cleft in the hillside. A trip to this Scottish arcadia can be arranged around our 'Lochs and glens to Edinburgh' cycling tour.

    3 The Sheep Heid, Edinburgh

    No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a wander up Arthur’s Seat, the ancient volcano, which, at 251 metres above sea level, forms the highest point of Holyrood Park, offering a fantastic view across the capital. But every good walk requires a good lunch, and Scotland’s unpredictable, often windy weather doesn’t always guarantee a peaceful picnic. Which is why The Sheep Heid, located in the small village of Duddingston, just a ten minute walk from the hilltop, is our top insider tip. It is the oldest pub in Edinburgh, built in 1360, and has offered rest and refreshment to monarchs and poets alike. Expect a roaring fire, delicious pies, tasty fish and chips, local ale and a two-lane skittle alley. Why not make a literary trip of it, and wend your way to Edinburgh via our ‘In the footsteps of famous writers’ walking tour?

    4 Dolphin spotting at The Moray Firth

    The Scottish highlands offer hidden gems at every turn, from historic towns to tiny fishing hamlets, mountain ranges to deserted lochs and gorgeous offshore islands, but you wouldn’t necessarily associate them with dolphins. However, the Moray Firth – an idyllic inlet on the east coast, and the starting point of our 'The Highlands coast to coast' cycling tour – is one of the best places in the UK to encounter these majestic creatures. The dolphins hunt for salmon in spring and summer, which is the optimum time to spot them – either from the land or by boat. Whales.org offers a comprehensive guide to help ensure you aren’t disappointed in your quest.

    5 Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye

    These crystal clear, turquoise pools, situated at the foot of the Black Cuillin Mountains in the west of Skye, number among Scotland’s most magical natural wonders. Reaching them requires a 2.4-kilometre hike through the Glen Brittle forest but the reward is a chance to wallow in some of the most pristine swimming holes in the world. (NB. A wetsuit may be required, however, as they’re not the warmest!) For those less beguiled by wild swimming, the sparkling waterfalls and atmospheric moors won’t fail to sooth and restore. Visit Skye, and factor in the Fairy Pools, on our 'Highlands and Hebrides' cycling holiday.