An oldie but a goldie

Who doesn’t like street markets?

And while some European cities are ablaze with colour and lights, our favourite market is a much smaller affair – but one truly steeped in history.

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The twice-weekly market at St Albans – an historic city in Hertfordshire, England – is documented back to the ninth Century.

In 1553, the street market was given a special Royal Charter.

Today, it draws large numbers of visitors and locals to the market stalls that run the length of St Peter’s Street, in the city centre of St Albans.

We visited the market to give it an ‘Age-Friendly’ Rating – and found a charming event in a delightful city.

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St Albans Cathedral

St Albans can trace its roots back to an Iron Age settlement and the Roman city of Verulamium, the second-largest town in Roman Britain.

The city takes its name from Briutain’s first saint, who was executed by the Romans.

St Albans Abbey was the principal abbey medieval in England – and the first draft of Magna Carta was drawn up there. It became a a cathedral in 1877.

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The Abbey Gateway

On our way to rate the market, we wandered past the city Cathedral and through the imposing Abbey Gateway.

This structure was built in 1365; was besieged during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, and was used as a prison for many years.

Then, as we entered the market, we marvelled at the remarkable and historic St Albans Clock Tower – the only medieval town belfry in England.

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Our Age-Friendly Rating

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8/10: from our experience, the St Albans market on Wednesday and Saturday is suited to all ages. Small and quaint, the event is perfectly suited to its historic surroundings deep in rural Hertfordshire. It could be described as ‘“farmers market meets modern arts and crafts – with clothing stalls, a Mr Whippy ice-cream van, collectables and the occasional antique offering thrown in”. The markets are well advertised online; contain up to 160 stalls; are easy to find in the city centre; and contain ample room in the wide old street for stalls down either side. It attracts a big crowd, but there was no hint of a crush. One section of the market is set aside for food stalls, selling both hot and cold delicies.

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Falcon Inn, Denham, UK

Over the years, we’ve written a lot about the quaint English village of Denham.

Although only a tiny dot on the map of county Buckinghamshire, Denham has made a big impression on us as a fine example of village culture and British history, set in stunning natural surroundings.

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It’s the traditional storybook English village – with the advantage of being easy to reach from Heathrow airport and London.

We’ve gathered together a collection of our reviews and articles about Denham over the years.  Some of the information may repeat itself, but we can never get enough of this awesome village — so forgive our enthusiasm.

Our experience of Denham was certainly influenced in no small way by one of the oldest buildings in the village – the Falcon Inn.  Talking about this wonderful inn is a perfect way of introducing this collection.

So, welcome to Denham through our eyes and camera lens — and if it inspires you to visit, please say ‘hi’ to our friends at the Falcon. You can’t miss it!

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This 16th Century inn is an absolute gem, sitting squarely in the historical heart of the village amid stone and red brick cottages, wisteria bushes and bubbling streams.

The Falcon Inn – or Emmots Deye as it was called in the time of Henry VIII – has played a key role in the history of Denham.

According to the inn’s website, it once belonged to Robert Bowyer, the brother of Knight of the Realm, Sir William Bowyer, who had purchased the whole Manor of Denham.

It’s said that the Bowyer family crest was a “Falcon rising”.

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Today, the Falcon Inn overlooks Denham’s delightful village green, where you can easily while away restful hours listening to the birds and the relaxing sounds of village life.

If you are a guest, you can also sit on the village green and use the Falcon’s free wifi.

On our visit to the inn, we hired a car and driver for the 15 to 20 drive from Heathrow Airport. Once there, we had no need for a vehicle to explore the wonderful old village set close to a section of the Grand canal.

It’s easy to walk through the area’s parkland and winding bridleways to quickly discover the natural beauty of Denham and its surrounds, especially the regional park in the Colne River valley.

It’s also only a short walk on a level, paved path to Denham station where trains run regularly to the from London.

Our hosts at the Falcon Inn put us in one of the building’s top floor rooms, where we were impressed with the exposed oak beams and old world decor.

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The room radiated the 16th Century charm of the Falcon Inn, yet contained all the modern conveniences you could want.

The free wifi operated perfectly throughout the building.

The bed was comfy and fluffy and the ensuite was the equal of any big city accommodation.

The view across the rooftops of Denham was also eye-catching and scenic. Sure, there were some narrow stairs, but nothing more than you would expect in a building of its age.

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Downstairs, the ambience continued in the bar and brasserie where we enjoyed several sumptuous meals and plenty of chatter with people fortunate enough to call Denham home.

The Falcon Inn is apparently well known for its fine cask ales and the few we tasted were as good as any glasses we have raised in the UK.

All in all, the operators of the Falcon Inn went out of their way to ensure out visit to Denham was unforgettable.

We have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending the inn and Denham as a wonderful way of experiencing life in a lovely English village.

The Falcon Inn is located in Village Road, Denham, Buckinghamshire, about 18 miles from London via the A40.

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Photo feature: Cambridge UK

One of our favourite destinations in the United Kingdom, the city of Cambridge is surprisingly vibrant for a bastion of academia.

Sitting on the banks of the River Cam in eastern England, the city is probably best known for its prestigious university that dates to 1209.

But there’s a lot more to the heart of Cambridgeshire than just the stately old university with its Kings College chapel and the closely associated high technology industries that gained international significance.

Today, we feature a selection of stunning Cambridge scenes:

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Spring on the river Cam

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Cambridge University architecture

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Kings College chapel

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Homerton College

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Wooden bridge

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Chapel, Queens College

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Keeping Cambridge green

Cambridge is situated about 50 miles (80 kilometres) north-east of London via the M11 motorway.

Fast trains run to Cambridge Station from London King’s Cross.

The journey takes between 50 minutes and an hour and a half. There are also frequent trains from London Liverpool Street Station

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The London Eye is still a hit

It had a rocky start, but as the London Eye heads towards its second decade of operation, the giant Ferris Wheel has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom.

Situated on the south bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, the London Eye was opened on New Years Eve in 1999 in time for Millennium celebrations.

However, technical problems prevented the public from coming aboard for a couple of months.

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Since then, however, the wheel has grown steadily in stature, with more than three-and-a-half million users a year.

The popularity of the attraction is understandable. We were amazed at the awe-inspiring and uninterrupted views over the grand city of London.

It was a cloudy day, but, from the top – about 443 feet or 135 metres above ground – the scene was breathtaking.

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The Eye has 32 air-conditioned capsules (one for each of the city’s boroughs), but they’re numbered from one to 33.

As with many buildings and other structures, there is no number 13 capsule— and the cars skip from 12 to 14.

Each ride takes a leisurely 30 minutes, during which the Eye makes one complete cycle.

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The popularity of the London Eye has continues to grow despite losing its tag as the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world.

That title is now held by a 550 feet (167.6 metre) monster in Las Vegas, Navada, USA, which will itself be eclipsed by another giant under construction on Staten Island in New York harbour.

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The Staten Island wheel is expected to be 630 feet (192 metres) tall when it opens next year.

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English village series: Rye’s colourful past

History, some say,  isn’t what it used to be.

Take the case of Rye, in beautiful East Sussex, England, where the town’s rich past included smuggling; gangs; ghosts; secret escape tunnels; a disappearing harbour; and a mass evacuation of sheep.

One of the best preserved medieval towns we’ve visited, Rye draws  big crowds of visitors eager for a taste of its colourful past.

The town’s Mermaid Inn – parts of which date to 1156 – offers a peek into the days when the bloody Hawkhurst smuggling gang met in the bar and often left by a secret passageway.

Today, the inn continues to be well known as the site of repeated ghost sightings.

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Photo courtesy Mermaid Inn

 

Smuggling is known to have existed in the Rye area since the 13th Century, when King Edward I introduced the Customs system.

Taxation on wool exports made the rewards from illegal wool export well worth the risk of capture.

Rye fronted the English channel and locals knew the shifting  and dangerous sands well. Smugglers were able to evade customs officials with relative ease before moving  contraband across the misty Romney Marsh that adjoins Rye and covers over 100 square miles.

Rye’s narrow cobbled streets and closely built houses interconnected by attics and cellars, made it an ideal landing place for smuggled cargoes. As import taxes were later imposed on luxury items, the emphasis switched to bringing in tea, spirits, and tobacco.

The murderous Hawkhurst gang – at one stage about 600 strong – was a force to be reckoned with until it was finally crushed in 1747 and many of its members executed. For a time,  the gang was so bold that it transported goods in broad daylight in convoys of hundreds of heavily armed men, known as ‘Owlers’.

Coastal defences too

With its channel frontage, Rye was also at the forefront of England’s coastal defences against attack from Europe.

Eventually, the coast shifted, leaving Rye with a dry sea port but three local rivers.

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Today, visitors can stand on Ypres Tower – built in 1249 to defend the town – and gaze across the old port area.

The tower has served as a fort, private dwelling, prison, court hall and now finally as a museum. Visit the tower to read a lot about the area’s smuggling past.

Rye’s charm

With enchanting streets, the 900 year old medieval Church of St Mary’s, restaurants, shops and pubs, and well preserved historic houses from medieval, Tudor and Georgian times, Rye is a ‘must-see’ for travellers in southern England.

Again, we soaked up the town’s history by checking out  the Landgate, which built in 1329 and is another remnant of Rye’s earliest fortifications.

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And we rambled  through the original town and smiled at the quaintly named houses such as ‘The House with two front Doors’ or ‘The House Opposite’.

At the Rye Heritage Centre, there is a sound and light show that brings to life seven hundred years of the area’s history.

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World War II

Rye’s dramatic history certainly didn’t end with the smugglers.

In World War II – expecting an invasion by Germany – a radar station was set up near the town, beaches were mined and the Rye area was fortified with wire and concrete pill boxes designed to hold machine guns.

Many of Rye’s residents were evacuated – including tens of thousands of  local sheep.

Medieval gem

Overall, Rye is fascinating with a capital ‘F’.

The town thoroughly deserves its international reputation for architectual treasures, medieval ‘feel’, specialist shops, art and photography galleries, stunning nature reserves and long beaches.

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Getting there

Rye is in East Sussex, about 75 miles or just over one-and-a-half hours by road from London.

The town is situated on the A259 between Hastings to the west and Folkestone to the east – and on the A268 from the north.

By train, the trip takes a little more than one hour. High speed trains run from London’s St Pancras station to Ashford International, where you change into a train for Rye.

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Across Romney Marsh

Accommodation

The visitor can choose from a range of hotels, including the Mermaid Inn and  The George Hotel, which is one of the south coast’s most luxurious accommodation options.

Rye also boasts guests houses, B&B’s and self-catering accommodation.

Main photo courtesy Rye Museum

Rye travel village life

Dreams come true in Cornwall

If you’ve watched TV’s Doc Martin or marvelled at the scenery in Poldark, then you know a little about Cornwall.

But, this historic and endearing area – a key part of England’s West Country – is a traveller’s dream.

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The rugged Cornish coastline

In a nutshell, Cornwall is as far west as you can go on Great Britain’s south-west peninsula. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the River Tamar and the county of Devon.

Cornwall has heaps of attractions, from animal and bird conservation centres and general amusement parks to historic gardens, fine Tudor mansions, steam railways and many reminders of the county’s  industrial heritage

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Well known for its stunning cathedral, Truro is the county’s unofficial capital and adminstrative centre and in the Middle Ages it controlled Cornwall’s flourishing tin mining industry.

Truro has some wonderful examples of Georgian architecture, and Lemon Street is one of the best preserved Georgian streets in England.

But, knowing our liking for the English countryside, you probably won’t be surprised that we are particularly fond of Cornwall’s north coast, with its striking scenery and charming villages.

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Travelling through this area is unforgettable, with villages like unspoilt Portreath; ‘Doc Martin’s’ Port Isaac with its whitewashed cottages and narrow alleys; Tintagel’s eye-catching Cornish castle ruins; scenic Boscastle; and picture-postcard Bude by the sea.

There’s something calming and extraordinary about sampling villages in an area where life and surrounds have changed little over the years.

Cornwall works for us – and we can’t recommend the county more highly.

 

Cornwall UK

Now that’s a castle!

The many wonderful attractions of the United Kingdom include some of the world’s most beautiful castles.

And, naturally, everyone seems to have a favourite.

From the grandeur and amazing history of Windsor Castle and the Tower of London, to the fairytale settings of Bodium Castle in East Sussex, Corfe Castle in Dorset and Leeds Castle in Kent, there are many stunners.

However, without hesitation, our vote goes to a lesser known but equally awe-inspiring structure.

Although it is set high on a hill, Arundel Castle, in West Sussex, seems to appear out of nowhere to literally take your breath away.

 

It caught us totally by surprise as we travelled from Brighton on England’s channel coast to the ancient settlement of Shaftesbury in Dorset’s Blackmore Vale.

Our road swung around a corner bringing us suddenly face-to-face with a commanding 11th century Norman Castle overlooking the River Arun.

The great castle totally dominates this section of the South Downs, perched above the historic market town of Arundel. We were in awe of its sheer size and majestic presence.

On investigation, we discovered that Arundel Castle was built at the end of the 11th century by Roger de Montgomery, a loyal baron in the days of William the Conqueror.

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The baron was awarded a third of Sussex with the stipulation that a new castle be built near the mouth of the Arun to protect the area from attack.

It was founded on Christmas Day in 1067.

Arundel Castle has been owned by the family of the Duke of Norfolk for more than 400 years and is one of the longest inhabited country houses in England.

Investigations have shown that there was possibly prehistoric earthworks on the site.

The castle was damaged in the English Civil War and was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, many of the original features such as the Norman keep, gatehouse and barbican and the lower part of Bevis Tower survive.

The castle’s size and location also lends itself to regular jousting tournaments, occasionally on an international standard.

Grounds of Arundel Castle are also extensively landscaped to feature striking gardens, with particularly stunning displays of tulips each April and May.

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When we told English friends how Arundel castle had impressed us, they mentioned that – as well as its beauty and sensational location – the building was also well known for a collection of ghosts and a mysterious white owl said to warn of impending death.

How to get there

Arundel Castle is located in a steep vale of the South Downs of West Sussex.

It is open from Easter to the end of October each year. See exact times.

Only about  49 miles from London, the castle is also close to both Brighton and Chichester. Arundel can be reached via the A27 or by train direct from the capital’s London Bridge and Victoria stations.

Visit the cathedral too

There’s more than one magnificent public building worth inspecting in tiny Arundel.

In 1868, Henry, the 15th Duke of Norfolk, decided that he wanted a church to rival the imposing castle. The result was Arundel Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival style in England.

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Soaring high above its gardens, the Catholic cathedral features unmistakable Bath stone, clusters of pillars and awesome vaulted ceilings.

The western frontage of the cathedral is dominated by a huge rose stained-glass window, much like another sensational English church, the York Minster.

 Credits: main photo courtesy Brett Oliver; aerial and cathedral photos courtesy Flickr and snowmanradio; videos and garden photo courtesy Arundel Castle
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