• The Five Best Walks in the UK

    9th April, 2019

    We have been walking in the UK for many decades so as you might imagine we've learnt a thing or two. Below we give our pick of the 5 best walking routes. They may tell you something about the amazing choices available in these varied and historic lands. What you may not know, is that all our walking holidays based on these routes are completely unique to The Carter Company and cannot be found anywhere else.

    Our Celtic Caper in Europe's 50 Best walks

    No surprises our gentle walk along the south coast of Wales was listed in the Telegraph's top 50 walks. The scenery is breathtaking and the wildlife is second to none. Add luxury boutique hotels, a puffin spotting boat ride and a drink in the favourite watering hole of Wales' most famous poet.

    Hadrian's Wall

    As the UK is big on history, there are no surprises that a walk along Europe's largest surviving Roman monument, Hadrian's Wall features in our list. This ever popular tour is a fantastic walk through history as you follow the Roman fortification through a wild and utterly wonderful landscape. As you walk from coast to coast, you stay in luxury boutique hotels be it a castle or family run pile. And once completed, you get the certificate!

    Hand Picked Cotswolds

    We are incredibly proud of our own crafted walk through the beautiful Cotswolds. We designed this walk to include our favourite gems of the Cotswolds - huge views from an aristocrat's folly, timeless hamlets hidden in tiny valleys, an extraordinary castle, the arts and crafts of Chipping Campden and a choice of luxury boutique hotels or the inns we love.

    Scotland's West Highland Way

    The West Highland Way in Scotland coupled with boutique luxury hotels gives drama by day and elegance by night. Nothing can be more impressive than pulling on your boots and heading along the shores of Loch Lomond, up the Devil's staircase, past Rob Roy's cave and across Rannoch Moor to Glencoe. Add simply the best hotels in Scotland with private transfers and you have a walk with it all.

    Coast to Coast

    Legend Alfred Wainwright created this iconic route as he walked coast to coast picking the best paths through the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and wolds and we can help you pick the section most suited to you. Choose luxury boutique hotels or handpicked inns. It'll be a winner!

  • Notes from Connemara

    20th March, 2019

    ‘There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet’

    William Butler Yeats

    As we recently took a trip to Connemara we thought we would share some of our thoughts and highlights -

    Connemara is a region on the west coast of Ireland, with coastline that is part of The Wild Atlantic Way. The closest airport is at Westport, or alternatively Shannon. Dublin is approximately 3 ½ hours to the east. When we were there in February the weather was sunny and glorious and the climate is generally mild and breezy but a little prone to rain – it is not called the Emerald Isle for nothing! The landscape is stunning – rugged with the lowland areas criss crossed with streams, and mountains that rise up from the landscape almost as if they had been strategically placed! The roads are quiet and perfect for a cycling holiday – very few cars but a lot of sheep!

    Killary Fjord

    In the heart of the region is Killary Fjord (the only fjord in Ireland), which forms a natural border between Counties Galway and Mayo. Here you will find some of the most dramatic scenery in Ireland as Mweelrea the highest mountain in Connacht (one of the five ancient kingdoms of Ireland) rises from the north shore, and on the south side you can see the Maumturk Mountains and the Twelve Bens.

    The Famine Trail

    Take an exciting RHIB ride along the fjord past mussel beds and salmon farms, then walk back along the south shore ‘Famine Trail’. The first part of the trail is rocky but then opens to some easier walking past abandoned homesteads and on towards a sheep farm where you may be lucky enough to see a sheepdog demonstration or feed some lambs before continuing on to the village of Leenaune at the head of the fjord.

    Connemara National Park

    Connemara National Park is a protected area with four trails up Diamond Hill – depending on how energetic you feel! The hill gets its name from the resistant quartzite which forms the top of the mountain and sparkles in the right light. The park also contains evidence of human settlement 4000 years ago as well as ruined houses, old sheep pens and other evidence of a greater population and more extensive use of these lands in times past before the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s. On the way back down you can reward yourself with a stop in the Tea Rooms or in Letterfrack perhaps a pint of Guinness in Veldons Bar.

    Kylemore Abbey

    One of the most lovely spots in the area is Kylemore Abbey. Originally the site of a hunting lodge, the 15,000 acre estate was bought by English Doctor and Industrialist Mitchell Henry as a gift for his beloved wife and he began to build the beautiful fairytale castle. At this time over one third of the population of Connemara was lost due to starvation, fever and emigration and the remaining tenants were concerned about their futures following a long and troubled history with England. However Mitchell Henry created much needed employment, paying high wages and improving housing for his tenants and other facilities including a school for local children. Sadly Margaret Henry died in 1874 on a holiday to Egypt and the property had a chequered history until it became the monastic home of the Benedictine nuns in 1920.

    Glassilaun

    A visit to the coast would not be complete without a trip to the beach and there are some breathtaking beaches along this stretch possibly the most lovely of which is Glassilaun. Reached by a narrow road which keeps it a hidden gem, the huge horseshoe of sand is bounded by rock pools with views of the mountains in the distance.

    Ballynahinch Castle

    We feature some very special hotels on our Jolly Around Connemara cycling holiday and one of our favourites is Ballynahinch Castle with the Owenmore River on one side and the Twelve Bens on the other. Built in 1754 on the site of a former castle, Ballynahinch has had several famous owners including Richard Martin (Humanity Dick) founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and His Highness Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, otherwise known as the famous cricketer Ranji – much loved in the local area and commemorated in the Ranji Bar at the Hotel.

    We are also planning a walking holiday as this area has so much to offer, and if you would like us to tailormake an itinerary for you – let us know hello@the-carter-company.com

  • Travel Photography Tips Part 2

    12th February, 2019

    Here is the second installment of local Photographer Rachel Piper’s tips on taking great photos.

    Framing and Composition

    There are ‘rules’ when it comes to framing and composition, which I will explain, but I believe that rules are made to be broken! My personal view is that you should look at everything in your frame, not just the subject but the clutter as well, and decide if you like what you see. Move if you need to. I love taking photographs from unconventional angles, so try lying on the ground, pointing your camera up to the sky or just showing a hint of your subject. And now for those rules…!

    The Rule of Thirds is perhaps the most well-known ‘rule’ when it comes to composing a photograph, so imagine an image broken down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that it consists of nine parts. The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines your photo will become more balanced and encourage more interaction with the subject. Here is an example of where I have used the rule of thirds and one where I haven’t!

    Close-up photo of frog with grid overlay

    Landscape photo looking out to sea at sunset

    My main rule is to enjoy taking your photographs!

    Lighting

    Before you take your image do stop and think about the lighting and ask yourself how it will affect the outcome. In many cases you can use natural light to your advantage. I love the softness of morning and evening light, but the shadows produced by the midday sun can be very dramatic. Don’t avoid going out when the weather is overcast or you might miss out on some dramatic images, and it is usually easier to take photographs when the sun isn’t shining brightly. You can, if required, change the exposure settings on your camera, but my first piece of advice would be to move if the lighting conditions aren’t right, particularly if you can shoot without strong sunlight. Here, I am pointing my camera towards the sun, so my image is underexposed. This is because my camera is metering the overall light and thinks it’s a lot brighter than it is. If you have no choice then manually change your exposure to allow more or less light into the camera.

    Ring-tailed lemur stuffed toy placed on a garden fence

    In this photo, as the sun is behind me, there is a lot of contrast. The camera is struggling to cope with the range from light to dark, so detail in the face is lost. In advanced photography there are ways of dealing with these issues, but my suggestion would once again be move to the shade if you can. Also, don’t be afraid to get up close and personal. One common ‘error’ is to stand too far away from your subject. If you are taking a portrait it’s better to zoom in (if you have an optical zoom) rather than go right up to people, as this minimises the distortion (and they feel more relaxed!).

    Ring-tailed lemur stuffed toy placed in a leafy bush

    Post-Production

    Some people think that you should be able to do everything in the camera, but I didn’t in my darkroom days and I don’t now! I use Photoshop, mostly to adjust the brightness, contrast, tonal range of an image, and to crop if required. You don’t need Photoshop, but you might want to invest in something if you want to improve your photographs. Cameras often come with a basic editor, but if not, you can purchase something like Photoshop Elements very cheaply or download a freebie, such as the Gimp.

    Happy Shooting!

    To view Rachel Piper’s photographs please visit her website

    As lovers of the great outdoors both Rachel and the team here at The Carter Company, would like to support the Woodland Trust, the UK’s leading woodland charity, and we have therefore made a donation on Rachel’s behalf to thank her for her time and advice.

  • Travel Photography Tips

    8th January, 2019

    Part of the fun of visiting somewhere new is looking at the photos when you get home, so we have asked photographer Rachel Piper to share some of her tips in getting the best from your walking trip, cycling tour and touring holiday shots! Here is the first of her articles -

    An Introduction

    I have been passionate about photography for a very long time. My first ‘proper’ camera was an old Russian Zenith B, with no light meter, so I had to gauge the light myself. At the age of 11 or 12, I started developing film and printing photographs on a homemade photographic enlarger made from tin cans and old lenses. You might think that things have changed since then (it was quite a long time ago!), but many of the basic principles of photography remain the same. I often hear people complain that you need to have a very expensive camera in order to create award-winning photographs, so in 2010 I set out to show that this isn’t true. The location I chose was my back garden, the camera a £300 Nikon, and the subject a frog in a make-shift pond. And here’s the proof that you can do it! Me with my frog at the start of a major exhibition at Kew Gardens! The image I took with this relatively inexpensive camera reached the final of International Garden Photographer of the Year in 2010. I’ve been successful in other major competitions, but this remains my proudest moment.

    I hope the following words will help you to improve your photography skills.

    Choosing Your Camera

    Once you have set your budget what factors should you take into consideration before buying your camera? Weight is an obvious one, particularly for outdoor photography, so compromises might have to be made. Before choosing, I would always recommend reading several web-based reviews from reputable authors, writing a list of your requirements first. To get you started, here is an explanation of some of the types of digital camera available to you.

    Compact Cameras (also known as point and shoots) are small, light and are usually relatively inexpensive. Most of them tend to perform less well in low light, in particular the budget models with small sensors, but the compact camera market is changing. Manufacturers are now designing models with larger sensors and improved image quality to compete with the smartphone market, but these come at a price. With compact cameras it is impossible to obtain a shallow depth of field (see below) and there are many other limitations, but this might be the right option for you.

    Single Lens Reflex Cameras with interchangeable lenses are my preferred choice, but I have, on several occasions, fallen flat on my face because I am carrying too much and looking at my subject not my surroundings! I also miss shots because my camera is wearing the wrong lens. The benefits are, of course, improved quality and more control, but they are not necessarily the best option for bicycle riders! If you like the idea of having interchangeable lenses, but don’t want to break your back it is worth considering a mirrorless camera.

    Bridge (Superzoom) Cameras offer an excellent compromise and are popular with enthusiasts. With manual and automatic controls and a non-interchangeable zoom lens with a good range, the Bridge is far more portable than the SLR. Due to their wide zoom range, most feature built-in image stabilisation to keep your photographs as sharp as possible.

    The Megapixel Myth

    When you are choosing your camera, don’t just look for the one with the most megapixels: more megapixels do not necessarily equate to better quality. The size of the sensor is far more important. Yes, you will need more megapixels if you carry out significant cropping post-production or if you are going to make very large prints, but most of us just do not need the number provided (and they eat up memory!).

    Manual Settings

    I use manual settings all the time, mostly so that I can control the depth of field (the amount of the photograph that is in focus), obtain action shots with a fast shutter speed or adjust the lighting. If you want to get the most out of your camera you will need to understand the relationship between the three fundamental elements of exposure: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I will not go into these in detail, but instead I will let my photos do the talking. If you like what you see I would suggest that you search for the Exposure Triangle on the Web.

    Close-up photo of flower Shallow depth of field (f2.8 aperture)

    Photo of lighthouse from a cliff looking out to sea Large depth of field (f16 aperture)

    We hope this is helpful if you are planning to treat yourself to a new camera in 2019! Look out for our next blog where Rachel will give some more tips on composition and lighting.

  • Winter warmers

    14th December, 2018

    Winter holidays are often an unexpected bonus and a wonderful time to slow down and engage with special places away from the crowd. With our knowledge of the grand array of historic and cultural gems in Britain, we have created a small selection of breaks that we feel are perfect for the winter season. They blend short, fascinating walks with our favourite inspirational places.

    With cosy pubs, delicious afternoon teas and stays in warm, friendly boutique hotels and inns, these short winter walking holidays will warm the cockles of your heart. The footpaths we have chosen are largely hard surfaced and sheltered for most of their length. All trips include substantial time indoors be it in a castle, a workshop, a palace or a glasshouse. And we have included transfers in many cases, should the weather not be to your liking! They are available from November to 31 March. We are sure you will have a brilliant time.

    Winter warmers in England

    Potter and paint in the Cotswolds Cotswolds

    History and 'her' story Thames

    Culture,countryside and couture Oxford

    The Cotswolds tour

    This combines countryside walks with a little history and the chance to develop your creative talents at a painting, craft or cookery workshop at Daylesford Organic Farm. We have planned this break with some lovely winter walks but also optional transfers and indoor activities - just in case the weather decides to be unkind! This tour includes some of our favourite places such as Sudeley Castle and Bourton on the Water, with a chance to embrace the views and fresh air with shorter walks that end in cosy hostelries. You will also have the opportunity to explore some of the history that abounds in case the weather is not so kind. The routes follow a few well worn Cotswold walks as well as lesser known tracks - our speciality. We have also included a workshop - choose from painting, calligraphy, floristry, or cookery and spend a few hours indulging your passion or trying something completely new! Tell us what you would like to do or the dates that suit and we will do our best to find the perfect match.

    The Thames tour

    This a remarkable short walk along this famous river exploring some of the fantastic history of England from a female perspective - from present day with the fairytale marriage in Windsor of our present Queen's grandson to a beautiful American Actress back in time to all 6 of Henry VIII's wives at Hampton Court, and on to Kew Gardens the site of Kew Palace. Here is a celebration of royal history. Monarchs built their palaces and planted their gardens along the banks of the River Thames. They hunted on the vast tracts of land surrounding these palaces which remain today as unspoilt royal parks. We have arranged a series of shorter walks so you can experience the sights and smells of quintessential England, as this great river threads its way through sleepy rural villages, pretty landscapes and through the heart of bustling historic towns such as Windsor, Richmond and London, but also with plenty of opportunity for indoor exploring if the weather is unco-operative! Royalty and history beckon, whilst water meadows, old inns, wildlife and weirs lead you serenely on.

    The Oxford tour

    A feast for all the senses whether you are a connoisseur of history, culture, wildlife or the more material pleasures of luxury shopping. This winter walking holiday covers it all! Start off in Oxford where there is so much to explore from the world renowned university - the oldest in the English speaking world; the one thousand year old Oxford Castle; and Museums and galleries galore with plenty of cafes and hostelries for refreshment. We have included a city tour to help you get the most from your visit. The next day get away from from the bustle with a surprisingly rural walk along the canal and river with lunch at one of our favourite pubs. After a second night in Oxford we will take you to Woodstock for the next two nights and a day exploring Blenheim Palace with a choice of outdoor walks in the grounds and indoor discovery in the Palace. On your last day it's time for a little retail therapy. Our driver will take you to Bicester Village - Britain's leading designer shopping outlet and return you to your hotel for a last night in Woodstock.