Are you ready to dip a toe into the wider world? As I sit at my laptop writing this post, for the first time in the long, wet month of May the sun is shining in a clear blue sky and the birds are singing with gusto. With the French doors open wide, the light is bright and the day is full of hope. It’s an unfamiliar feeling of late but I like it. The past year or so has reminded me to take the small pleasures where I find them. So today, I’ll enjoy the sunshine, a good cup of coffee and the pleasure of exploring the possibilities for travel. Come join me.
There’s so much of beautiful Britain that I haven’t explored and here’s four destinations that are on my note-to-self travel list.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
“A former industrial powerhouse with a troubled past, Belfast has pulled off a remarkable transformation into a hip party town.” Lonely Planet.
See and Do
Of course, you don’t have to be a party animal to enjoy the sights of Belfast and the surrounding landscape.
- Titanic Belfast tells the story of the Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through construction and launch, to maiden voyage. www.titanicbelfast.com
- Ulster Museum, home to a diverse collection of art, history and natural sciences. www.nmni.com
- Belfast Cathedral and Botanic Gardens.
- CS Lewis Square commemorating the Belfast-born author and featuring seven bronze sculptures from ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
- The Annesley Gardens in the Castlewellan Forest Park featuring 100 acres of arboretum and 12-acre walled garden. https://visitbelfast.com
For guidelines on travelling within the Common Travel Area. www.nidirect.gov.uk.
The Rabbit Hotel
NEW The boutique Rabbit Hotel at Templepatrck opens on 18 June 2021. It is situated in a lakeside location 20 minutes from Belfast and offers the best of both worlds of city centre and the beautiful surrounding area. There are four categories of rooms, Luxe, Comfy, Snug and Attic. Continuing the bunny theme is the Rabbit Restaurant and the Relaxation Burrow which overlooks the lake. Tongue-in-cheek, the Hunter’s Bar offers a snack menu and live music on Friday and Saturdays which you might like to experience or not, so make a note. Being easily accessible for the international airport it sounds ideal for a city stay comfort- and location-wise. The Rabbit Hotel from £180 per night. www.rabbithotel.com.
Hillyard House guesthouse in the historic market town of Castlewellan is located between the Mourne Mountains and the Irish Sea. Comprising 20 contemporary rooms and The Yard Restaurant. If you’re feeling active try mountain biking or canoeing in the Castlewellan Forest Park. For a more relaxing break enjoy long walks here or along the beach. Price double room from £130 per night, including bed & breakfast. www.hillyard-house.co.uk
Hotel Trematonia, Cornwall
Brits have had a long love affair with caravanning. As a child, my family spent two weeks every summer in the type of caravan at Hotel Trematonia. There the similarity ends as these are beautifully restored 1970s vehicles. Guests are offered the unique opportunity to experience the wild, surrounded by gardens and woodland, in one of the Castle Caravans pitched within the grounds of the Castle of Trematon. The House of Hackney, the Shoreditch-based home-decor boutique have bestowed upon these sweet little caravans a remarkable level of charm and comfort. Luxury bespoke mattresses, topped with natural hemp bed linen along with soft wool duvets and pillows, blankets by Johnstons of Elgin, House of Hackney cushions and wool flooring courtesy of a collaboration with Axminster Carpets. The classic British ceramics are by Burleigh Pottery and Cornishware. Outdoors deck chairs, a table and fire pit provide the perfect setting for meals al fresco. There is a converted barn with a full kitchen that guests are welcome to use. P.S. I know you’re wondering about this one. Each Caravan also features a private loo, and there are shared outdoor shower and toilet facilities. Explore the Castle’s gardens and woodland, and swim in the Indian pool. The Castle Caravans sleep two and are available for 3-night and 6-night minimum stays from 1st July to 22nd August 2021. Prices from £190 at The ‘Hollyhocks’ Caravan), accommodation-only basis and including the use of a courtesy Jeep Renegade 4xe. See web site for full conditions. www.houseofhackney.com/uk/caravan-bookings
Isle of Skye
When you’re visiting a new location you can’t beat a tour with a local. In the past, I’ve tried include a tour of Dublin and another in the East End of London which were a lot of fun, combining some history with colourful local stories. Choose your guide carefully, one who is knowledgeable for a great way to get a potted history of the city, as well as pointers on where to explore in more depth later.
The Scottish Islands are high on my must-visit list. Their beauty and romantic remoteness call to me like Circe from her island. ToursByLocals (a Canadian operator with offices in Glasgow) offer tours worldwide. For instance, local historian, Michelle, and outdoors guide, Matt, run bespoke tours whereby in travel-restricted times you can ‘swap Seljalandsfoss in Iceland for The Fairy Pools on Skye’. Cold water wild swimming has been a popular meme during the pandemic with selfie’s in abundance on social media of dips into rivers, ponds and lakes. There are also some health benefits claimed for this type of wild experience too. The Scottish tour offers the opportunity to try wild swimming over five spots spread across the breathtakingly beautiful Isle of Skye, including The Fairy Pools located at the foot of the Black Cuillins.
ToursByLocals Wild Swimming Adventure full day tour from £830 per tour, for up to four people and includes guiding services, private transportation, towels, warm blankets, wet suit boots, goggle, hot chocolate, light snacks and refreshments, as well as a dram of Skye’s finest whisky at the end of the day. Just about everything you might need when dipping your toe into wild waters. www.toursbylocals.com
Cruise the British Isles
When my first-ever cruise, in the Mediterranean, was cancelled it was another disappointment in a disastrous year. But I have high hopes of sailing the high seas in the future. With that end in mind, a cruise around the British Isles really appeals and definitely fits the ‘dipping a toe’ criteria. You are never too far from land, or home if you’re UK-based. Seeing land from the perspective of an ocean is a unique experience and extra-special when it’s your homeland. Britain can claim some the most magnificent coastline in the world. Cruise operator, Hurtigruten, venture off-the-beaten-track to remote beaches in the rugged Scottish Hebrides, to sandy coves and small fishing villages of Cornwall and more. A dedicated Expedition Team are on hand to advise and support seafaring travellers to make the most of opportunites on land. Expect Scottish island distilleries, colonies of seabirds and more. British Isles – Remote Islands, Natural Wonders and a Diverse Coastline (13 days). Price from £3,329. www.hurtigruten.co.uk/destinations/british-isles
That’s all for this week. Are you dipping a toe into travel once again? It would be good to hear about your plans and experiences in the comments. Stay safe and well wherever you are in the world.
As always please check the regional and Foreign travel advice web sites for the latest on domestic and international travel guidelines.