The Cotswolds – Quintessentially English

Although I was born and raised in Northern Scotland, my mum is from the south of England and this has always been a very important part of my family heritage. When I think of England, it is the small towns and villages of the south that are immediately conjured up in my imagination– an idyllic scene of sitting outside a 15th century pub on a long summer evening, enjoying a jug of fruity Pimms as a cricket match plays out in the background on a village green.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to revisit the Cotswolds, well known worldwide for its rolling countryside and pretty chocolate-box villages. The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers almost 800 square miles across five English counties and stretches between the historic cities of Oxford, Cheltenham and Bath – all of which are certainly worth a visit in their own right. I was based in beautiful Bath staying in a newly renovated Georgian guest house in the centre of town and spent my first day exploring the city with extreme fascination, taking in the Roman Baths, the Abbey and a walking tour that focused on one of my favourite English authors -Jane Austen – and her connections to the city. Following a delicious dinner in a fantastic bistro on the historic Pulteney Bridge, I returned to my guest house with a smile and sank into the comfortable bed waiting in my room.

The following morning, I was collected by a private driver guide and within minutes I was out of the city and heading deep into the tranquil Cotswolds. Of course, as one of England’s best-known regions, there is no doubt that some areas of the Cotswolds are very busy with tourists. Plus, proximity to London does mean it attracts numerous coach tourists and day-trippers.

For this reason, I would always recommend going out for the day with a local guide as I did, to help you really get under the skin of the destination and provide local knowledge and tips you could never discover alone. My guide Jules explained the patchwork history of the Cotswolds – how the region was key to the foundation of England itself, the story of the development of its distinct culture and even the rise of the wool industry, which was so important for the people of the area. Combined with the backdrop of a beautiful drive through the countryside, this really was a day to remember. We passed villages constructed from that traditional honey-coloured Cotswold stone and enjoyed a visit to an ancient abbey, tea at the oldest hotel in England and a traditional ploughmans lunch in an atmospheric pub. The English pub, especially in rural areas, is so much more than just a place to eat and drink. It also acts as a social hub and focal point for the community. So if you would like to meet the locals and really get a good understanding of the destination, just head to the local hostelry! I have to say that after this trip, I think the English ‘do’ pubs better than anyone else in the world (sorry, Ireland!).

As we drove back to Bath, I reflected on my fascinating and enjoyable day learning more about where my family came from. I decided I would return as often as possible to keep exploring this most beautiful and interesting of regions, so fundamentally English in its character, culture and charm.

Words and images from Tom @ McKinlay Kidd 

If you would like to experience the charms of the Cotswolds for yourself, our team would be delighted to tailor-make your perfect holiday. 

London: The City of Dreams

The writer Dr Samuel Johnson once said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’, and I certainly have some sympathy with his argument. Like many young Scots and others from around the globe, I found my way to this innovative city straight after finishing my university studies and ended up spending most of my 20s there.

The term ‘global city’ is banded about quite a bit these days but London really does live up to this title.  Within the city 300 languages are spoken on a daily basis, and almost 40% of the population were born outside the UK. You have the opportunity to dine in restaurants offering every conceivable global cuisine, shop at markets with goods from all over the world and mingle with people from every country you could think of. However, although a cultural melting pot, you are also never far away from the quintessential ‘British’ experience in London, be it the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, glimpsing of a red telephone box at the end of a handsome Victorian terrace, or passing police officers in their traditional custodian helmets.

Last weekend I made one of my frequent visits back to the metropolis to see friends and catch up with the dizzying pace of change in this global city. Since departing back in 2014, I have seen many changes and one of my great joys comes from re-visiting familiar haunts to see how they have developed since I moved on. As such a large city London can seem intimidating, especially for a first-time visitor. Some advice I was once given is to think of it not as one large city,  but rather a collection of villages, each with its own main street, station, community and distinct character, and I find this very useful. The only way to see London is by exploring each of the individual neighbourhoods so you can really get under the skin of the city and see what makes it tick. For this reason I would recommend that rather than take the famous London Underground to get from A to B, you should walk where possible or alternatively sit on the top level of one of the city’s iconic red double-decker buses to get a bird’s eye view of the skyline.

Here at McKinlay Kidd, we know London intimately and our speciality is advising you on how to discover the city beyond the tourist clichés. We always include the more quirky and lesser known attractions and a specially curated art trail for all of our clients who will be visiting London as well as our own personal recommendations and favourite restaurants. We work with a small collection of family-run, original hotels in some fantastic central locations and can also set you up with one of our local guides for the day. London is at the centre of the UK and Ireland’s transport network so lends itself perfectly for a stopover at the beginning or end of a McKinlay Kidd holiday in Scotland, Ireland or elsewhere in England.

So the question is this; if I love it so much, why did I leave? Like all truly global cities, London does face challenges, notably the high cost of living and exorbitant housing prices. I made the decision to return north of the border to buy my own property and be closer to family, and I don’t regret it at all. At times like last Saturday though, as I sat sipping a gin and tonic with dear friends overlooking the Thames, I do feel incredibly lucky that I got to spend some of the best years of my life in this amazing city.

Words by Tom Hamilton @ McKinlay Kidd, with images from Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

 

Bath’s Brilliant Buns

Hidden down one of Bath’s quaint cobbled lanes is the oldest dwelling in the city, established in c.1482. This historical site has been the home to the original “Bath bun” since 1680, when Sally Lunn – the inventor of this regional speciality – was employed in a bakery on the premises.

VB-Sally Lunn's plaque
Commemorative plaque

Story has it that a young Huguenot refugee, Solange Luyon, came to Bath from France in 1680 to escape persecution. She found work in the bakery on what was known at the time as Lilliput Alley. In addition to selling the baker’s wares from a basket, Sally Lunn – as she came to be known, an anglicised version of her name – had a special talent for making a unique brioche bun in the French tradition, resembling French festival breads.

The bun quickly became popular in Georgian England, with customers soon coming to the bakery just to request the unusual delicacy that could be served with either sweet or savoury accompaniments. The bun became known as the “Sally Lunn bun” or “Bath bun” and today is legendary the world over.

A visit to the Sally Lunn tea house and eatery is essential to any visit to the historical city of Bath.

McKinlay Kidd now offers two new itineraries to Bath in 2018. Take a look at Explore Britain by Train and Classic England by Train.

Hamish uncovers some home truths in York

Before my recent weekend trip to York, I am ashamed to say that the only thing I thought I knew about it was that William Wallace sacked the city during his rampage into the North of England, as depicted in the film Braveheart (a film not known for its historical accuracy, but on this part, I was willing to trust it).

I soon discovered that I should have known better. Five minutes into a walking tour of the city with the Association of Volunteer Guides of York, our guide was describing the history of St Mary’s Abbey and happened to mention something about pesky Scots. “Aha”, I thought, here’s my chance to impress the group with my historical knowledge and proceeded to ask, “William Wallace being the peskiest of the lot I presume?” Inevitably, the answer came back that William Wallace came nowhere near the city and that it is pure Hollywood fiction. Curse you Mel Gibson!

Fortunately, this embarrassing faux pas did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the rest of the excellent walking tour in which I learnt so much about the history of this fascinating city. Taking in 4th Century Roman fortifications, a medieval Abbey from which King Henry VIII stole stone to build his Kings Manor, the ancient city walls and the city’s oldest street “The Shambles”, amongst several other highlights.

Spring has finally sprung in the UK and I was treated to glorious sunshine over the course of the whole May weekend. This enhanced the total experience and revealed one particularly beautiful aspect.

Described as York’s jewel in the crown, the Minster really is an amazing sight. The first version was the size of a small house and built of wood, the current “modern” version is made of limestone and its central tower is large enough to fit the leaning tower of Pisa comfortably inside. However, as impressive as it is from the outside, the real treat is when you walk inside. Stained glass windows three storeys high glistened with the sun pouring through them and when combined with the resident organist practicing for that evening’s service, it made for quite a spiritual experience.

The great thing I found about York is that so many of its sights are within short walking distance of each other. It reminded me of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh in that way. On my last morning, with a 2.30pm cross country train back to Glasgow to catch, I climbed up Clifford’s Tower, which is an absolute must if you want the best 360° view of the city, followed by a couple of hours in the National Railway Museum, without even breaking a sweat.

On the food front, I have to say, the city mightily impressed me. Yorkshire is famous for its love of tea and this meant there is an abundance of excellent tearooms… which, of course, also means plenty of cake! When the sun goes down, the bustling Walmgate area has a number of excellent restaurants. I’d advise booking well in advance.

With my first recce trip to Northern England done, I am looking forward to helping McKinlay Kidd clients see this unique city differently in the months ahead.

By Hamish @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at York Minster)

A lengthy journey

Today sees the official launch of our new website, mckinlaykidd.com, which brings together our holidays in Scotland and Ireland under one “roof” and also sees the launch of our new programme in the North of England.

Thirteen years ago, over a warm and sunny Scottish Easter weekend, Heather and I sat on a Kintyre beach and scribbled our initial plans for a travel business. Thousands of miles of recce visits, uncovering many a hidden gem, meeting hundreds of other small business owners and employing some great team members later, this website is the culmination and by far the most ambitious project we’ve undertaken. We are proud of the new look and hope it’s even more informative and inspirational that the last one.

We also decided it was about time we gave our branding a refresh. The keen-eyed among you will notice a new look for our logo, including our revamped symbol, the swallow.

“Why that logo?” I get asked every so often. Simple really: our good friend who initially designed it said, “Well, swallows are famous for heading south each winter but they always come back to Scotland every spring – indeed to the exact same location.” A very appropriate choice, therefore, for a Scottish-based company which hopes its customers will become loyal and return year after year. And since that spring day in 2003, we are delighted that so many have indeed done so.

Our own business “journey” so far may not have been quite as mind-blowing as the thousands of miles covered by a small bird every spring, but it’s a very personal adventure for us and the team at McKinlay Kidd, and one we hope will continue for many years to come.

Exploring Northumberland – hills and castles!

I may be a little biased as I have lived in Northern England all my life, but I have truly enjoyed researching holidays for McKinlay Kidd on my own stomping ground. I thought I knew my home area fairly well but have made some amazing discoveries and continue to be very impressed with the quality of accommodation and experiences on offer. The overriding feeling from all of my encounters in Northumberland has been the friendliness of the people I have met, who are all so passionate about their surroundings and all they have to offer.

Being Northumbrian by birth, I have always adored the dramatic countryside, the stark contrasts, the often wild weather and the endless opportunities for a good walk, safe in the knowledge that you won’t bump into many people! Whatever the time of year you will find a spot you can call your own, perhaps to enjoy a peaceful picnic with a superb view, interrupted only by birdsong.

In the north-west, the Cheviot Hills offer an inviting wilderness of hidden valleys, waterfalls, endless heather moorland and copious remains of Bronze Age activity, with hill forts, standing stones and cup and ring marked carvings scattered throughout the area. You really can get away from it all in the most sparsely populated of all the English counties. Pack waterproofs and sunglasses and prepare to enjoy four seasons in one day. If you prefer to enjoy the great outdoors from the comfort of your car then North Northumberland’s roads offer fantastic drives, criss-crossing the county with superb views in all directions. The roads are incredibly quiet and a joy to explore. I discovered some routes I had never been on before and loved seeing the new views of the hills from different directions. There are plenty of great pubs for lunch, too.

Northumberland has more castles than any other county with over 70 sites; I must have visited nearly all of them. Being the most northerly county of England the area was continually fought over by the ruling powers of England and Scotland, resulting in grand fortifications as Bamburgh and Alnwick, which remain intact and still lived in today. My favourite castle is the ruin of Dunstanburgh, dramatically perched on a headland overlooking Embleton Bay. There’s an easy walk from Craster village along the foreshore (and back to enjoy a crab sandwich in the pub for lunch) or continue to Embleton and Newton further north for a proper hike. The views are incredible from both directions. A close second favourite of mine is Warkworth, a solid structure towering above the delightful village of the same name, on a bend in the River Coquet, one mile inland from the sea.  It’s a ruin but a substantial one, accessed by a drawbridge and surrounded by a moat.

As well as the royal castles, the locals certainly added to the battle-torn countryside of Northumberland with many fortified houses and peel towers to guard against raids from each other. The Border Reivers from both England and Scotland scraped a living from the land from the 13th to 17th centuries: there was a certain amount of lawlessness and basically it was survival of the fittest. There are numerous ruins and dozens of stories from this era. One saying I remember on reading about a quarrel over sheep rustling which resulted in a murder was “his heid span alang the heather like an inion”. Fortunately, such tough times are well behind us!

by Anna Skelton, who has been helping us plan and prepare our new programme of holidays to the North of England.