• 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.

  • 5 of the UK's Most Amazing, Lesser-Known Museums

    21st March, 2017

    With hundreds of marvellous museums and galleries dotted all over the United Kingdom, it can be an overwhelming task knowing where to start. A quick google will provide you with the big names, but some of the smaller, lesser-known gems, are just as good – if not better – in our opinion. So, to narrow down the long list and share some of our insider knowledge, we’ve picked five of the very best, spanning art, architecture, literature and natural history, all of which can be factored in around one of our unique cycling or walking tours for the perfect combination of culture and exploring.

    1 Sir John Soane’s Museum

    Tucked behind Holborn underground station, in a leafy square edged with terraced houses, you will find the former house and museum of pioneering English architect Sir John Soane. This unique, awe-inspiring space, built and lived in by Soane, remains exactly as it was left at the time of the architect’s death almost 180 years ago. Soane was an avid collector and his home is brimming with antiquities, furniture, sculptures, paintings by Hogarth, Turner, Canaletto and more, as well as architectural models and drawings. We recommend seeing the museum by candlelight, an experience offered on the first Tuesday of each month. Why not combine a three-night stay in London with a trip to the Cotswolds with our ‘Quintessential England' cycling tour for a wonderfully diverse adventure?

    2 The Turner Contemporary

    The seaside town of Margate is one of England’s most exciting locations, boasting a dreamy combination of old world nostalgia and blossoming contemporary culture. There are shops, attractions (like Dreamland, the renovated, old-fashioned amusement park) and fish and chips galore, as well as plenty of great galleries, but the absolute must-visit is the Turner Contemporary, situated on the seafront in the same spot that Turner himself once lived. The wonderfully curated space, designed by Sir David Chipperfield, is geared towards making “intriguing links between historic and contemporary art” – and it certainly succeeds. Whether you’re looking for a fabulous foodie holiday, a seaside jolly or the chance to soak up Kent’s delightful scenery, we have an array of holidays in the area offering something for everyone.

    3 Jane Austen’s House Museum

    The village of Chawton in Hampshire is well worth a trip to visit the idyllic cottage where English author Jane Austen spent the final eight years of her life, creating some of her most important work. The red brick abode contains a collection of enlightening Austen artefacts, as well as retaining its modest, 19th-century charm. You can bring a picnic to enjoy in the lush garden where Austen would spend her time pottering and picking potatoes! The museum is just one stop on our ‘In the footsteps of famous writers’ walking tour, a remarkable excursion from London to Edinburgh, shedding light on the worlds of Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, William Shakespeare, The Bronte sisters, James Herriot, William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and Austen along the way.

    4 The Oxford University Museum of Natural History

    This museum in Oxford is a natural history lover’s dream come true. It comprises the prestigious university's extraordinary collection of geological and zoological specimens, from dinosaurs to dodos to moths and minerals, housed in a majestic Neo-Gothic structure built in 1860. The museum is free and is attached to the Pitt Rivers museum of anthropology and archeology, if you’re looking for a double dose of fascinating historical discovery. You can visit the university town and its myriad sites on our ‘Ramble and ride on downs and meadows’ walking and cycling holiday. Beginning in Oxford, this magical tour takes you along the Thames Path and out to the dramatic White Horse on the downs and the ancient Ridgeway path, before returning you to your starting place by Thames boat.

    5 The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

    A hub of brilliant modern and contemporary art, this gallery in Edinburgh is one of the city’s finest. The museum is set in beautiful leafy grounds, which house a sublime sculpture park featuring the award-winning 'Landform' by Charles Jencks, a geometric land artwork constructed from grass and ponds. Inside, the collection spans such 20th-century greats as Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley, Rene Magritte and Picasso, as well as contemporary artists like Duane Hanson and Tracey Emin, and a reconstruction of the studio of Scottish-Italian pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Wend your way to the Scottish capital on our ‘Lochs and glens to Edinburgh’ cycling tour, taking in the dramatic landscape of the Trossachs National Park and Pitlochry in the Highlands as you go.

  • The best time of year to visit the UK – and enjoy the weather!

    6th March, 2017

    Here at The Carter Company, we’re often asked for our insider advice on the optimum time of year to visit the UK. So much so that we thought we’d put together a handy guide to help you decide when and where is best to plan your walking or cycling holiday in order to get the very most from your Great British adventure.

    Shoulder Season (March through May and mid-September through October)

    It might be a little more of a gamble to book your vacation in the so-called shoulder period rather than the height of summer, but it can prove well worth it. There are fewer tourists, prices are lower and, on the whole, you’re likely to experience pleasant weather. In between March and May, sunny days are regular occurrences, but come prepared for bursts of sudden rain – April showers in the UK are not just the stuff of Disney soundtracks! While most imagine September and October to signal a distinct drop in temperatures, fairly often they give way to 'Indian summers', replete with glorious mid-summer temperatures and picnics galore.

    High Season (June through August)

    From June until August, British weather tends to be at its finest. Of course, school summer breaks mean that you will be contending with British tourists, as well as international travellers, so accommodation rates are at their peak. Be sure to book well in advance to avoid disappointment. On top of that, certain areas, such as seaside towns, national parks and historic cities (York, Oxford, Bath et al), become a hub of activity meaning that surrounding roads are usually busy. August is particularly crowded in areas popular with British holidaymakers, like Cornwall, Devon, Kent, Dorset, Scotland and the Lake District, so we recommend heading to the gorgeous Cotswolds or pootling down the Thames, where crowds are smaller and accommodation much easier to secure in August than in May, June and September.

    Low Season (December through February)

    Unsurprisingly, the low season tends to summon up wind and rain, and, up north, often snow. So for cycling and rambling outside of the cities, it’s best to book your trip to coincide with warmer climes!

    So, in conclusion, we recommend you plan your UK vacation for late May, June, July, August or the first half of September to make the most of the good weather, but book early to ensure you secure a hotel as availability is limited, especially this year. If you’re looking to book a British-based exploration in August, our top tip is adventuring in the Cotswolds and by the Thames. Of course, like everywhere in the world, the weather is becoming increasingly hard to predict so take a look at the Met Office's Climate Map for more in-depth info on the annual forecast in specific areas of the UK.