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Ambient Travel Blog

Aldeburgh, the Suffolk Coast and the Benjamin Britten Trail

As a child, a trip to the seaside meant a visit to the sandy beaches of Scarborough and Bridlington.

The Suffolk coast was a new experience and the shingle beach of the beautiful seaside town of Aldeburgh proved something of a revelation.

We stayed at the four star Brudenell Hotel that occupies a fantastic location with only a small service road between its front entrance and the shoreline.

Although it was late afternoon when we checked in, there was still time to enjoy the last of the autumn sunshine, and take in the stunning views from our room’s small balcony, before changing for dinner.

The Brudenell is part of the TA Hotel Collection, a group of award winning luxury hotels and leisure facilities across Suffolk. As you would expect, the two AA rosette Seafood & Grill restaurant has an excellent menu choice with the very best ingredients provided by local suppliers and fishermen. By way of a bonus, every table has a panoramic sea view.

The service was superb and the food we ordered exceeded our expectations.

Waking up early next morning, we could hear a strange whistling sound created by the wind whipping around the hotel and the rhythmic crash of the waves on to the shingle beach. It was a reminder that these orchestral sounds of nature had provided musical inspiration to one of Aldeburgh’s most famous former residents, the composer, Sir Benjamin Britten.

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Lavenham – the perfect base from which to explore the Suffolk countryside

The construction of main trunk roads and motorway systems across England has made journeys between major conurbations much easier. But travelling this way means that places of cultural and historic interested are nearly always bypassed.

The last time I visited Suffolk, I drove to Ipswich along the A14 trunk road that links the industrial Midlands to the port of Felixtowe. Some of the most beautiful towns in the county were simply names on road signs along the way.

The paintings of Thomas Gainsborough (born in Sudbury in 1727) and John Constable (born in East Bergholt in 1776) drew inspiration from the wonderful landscape to be found in their home county. Visitors to Suffolk today will find a countryside little changed from when these gifted artists were putting paint to canvas.

We chose the historic town of Lavenham as our base during a recent visit.

The area around the town has been continuously occupied for thousands of years but the first settlement dates to Saxon times.

Through the 14th to 16th Centuries the town prospered as a result of the growth of the wool trade, especially dyeing and weaving.

Wode, used by the Iceni tribe of Ancient Britons to cover their bodies, was now the key ingredient in the dyeing process that produced various shades Lavenham Blue Wool that was then woven into the famous Lavenham Blue Broadcloth. Much sought after, it was exported all over Europe making the ruling families in the town very rich.

During the 16th century the wool trade in the town declined as a result of the introduction of cheaper, lighter and more fashionable imports.

When Henry VIII, introduced a new tax, not sanctioned by Parliament, to pay for the war with France, thousands of men from the town, and the surrounding villages, took part in an uprising in protest and demanded more pay. When the revolt threatened to extend to other areas it was brutally suppressed.

After this event the wool trade in Lavenham went into terminal decline. By the time of the visit of Elizabeth 1 in 1578, much of the town’s wealth and trade had moved elsewhere.

The pace of this change of fortune resulted in many of the towns medieval and Tudor buildings remaining in their original form. There was not the money available to remodel or rebuild them in the latest styles.

The misfortunes of the 16th century inhabitants has ensured that Lavenham is now regarded as one of the country’s finest examples of a medieval town. There are over 300 listed buildings and its small narrow streets are a magnet for tourists.

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An introduction to Newmarket - the home of Horseracing

I am not a gambler by nature but I have to admit that I enjoy attending the occasional horse race meeting.

The colour, the excitement, the overall atmosphere and, particularly, the sight of finely tuned thoroughbred horses rippling with muscle and ready for the chase, can be quite intoxicating.

My knowledge of ‘the sport of kings’ was somewhat limited but I was always aware that the Suffolk town of Newmarket was known as ‘the home of horseracing’.

When we received an invitation to visit the town to learn more, it was readily accepted.
The four star Bedford Lodge Hotel provided an ideal venue for our overnight stay. It was originally a Georgian hunting lodge built for the Duke of Bedford in the 18th century and was converted into a hotel in the 1940s.

Today, Bedford Lodge Hotel retains the charm and character of a country house yet offers the very best in modern comfort and luxury. It boasts 77 beautifully appointed bedrooms, a fantastic Spa and a reputation for excellent dining. Surrounded by some of the most famous stables in the world, it is only a short walk to the centre of the historic town of Newmarket.

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Country House Visits – Experiencing a Taste of Fine Living

The popularity of TV series like ‘The Tudors’, ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ have provided audiences worldwide with an insight into the social history of some of the United Kingdom’s great country estates.

The castles and houses built on them, many by the ancestors of today’s current owners, contain collections of art and furniture purchased by successive generations that provide a time capsule of changing fashions over the centuries.

One constant over the years has been the social divide between those living ‘upstairs’ enjoying the privileges of their accumulated wealth and those working ‘downstairs’ to ensure all the rooms are cleaned and warm, that great food arrives  at the table on time and is expertly served, and cleared away with almost military precision.

A recent search through my family tree revealed many references to ancestors who laboured ‘in service’ as gardeners, house servants or grooms.

Unfortunately, to date, I have found no references to any who owned even a modest country house. A great grand father did own his own business and employed a housemaid in his Victorian semi detached and a great, great grandfather kept a few cows and started his own dairy.

Nevertheless, I continue to live in hope that one day I will discover that, back in the realms of time, a great country estate was taken from one of my forebears and that I will be able to claim it as rightfully mine.

A few years ago, I discovered that the family ancestral home was a 600 year old moated castle in rural England. Intent on claiming my birthright, I drove down to look it over. Imagine my disappointment when the owners, a very, very distant branch of my family, turned out to be direct descendents of the person who had commissioned it to be built all those years before. Another dream dashed!

Luckily, my involvement in cultural and heritage tourism has enabled me to visit and experience the opulence of some of the finest country estates in the United Kingdom.

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Last Minute Decision to Visit Dunham Massey Proved to be an Inspired Choice

Leaving early for a two day break in Cheshire, we found that a late afternoon hotel check-in time, meant that we had three hours to fill. With an itinerary of visits already planned, we hastily thumbed our way through our National Trust brochure and came across an entry for Dunham Massey. It filled our requirements on many levels. Only 30 minutes drive from our hotel, to get there required only a slight detour from our existing route. Furthermore, it was one of the few heritage venues that opened on a Monday. We just had to visit and see what it had to offer.
This last minute decision proved to be an inspired choice.
Dunham Massey features a Georgian house set within a 300-acre deer park comprising a mix of pasture and park woodland and one of the great gardens in the North of England. The present hall was originally built by Sir George Booth in 1616. Between 1732 and 1740  it was remodelled by John Norris for George, Earl of Stamford and Warrington. Further alterations were carried out by John Hope towards the end of the 18th century and by Joseph Compton Hall between 1905 and 1908. As a result, the hall, stables, and the carriage house at Dunham Massey are all Grade I listed.

 The hall and parkland was donated to the National Trust by the last Earl of Stamford, in 1976.

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Going Home - Planning a Visit to Yorkshire's Broad Acres

Every person born in Yorkshire will tell you that the largest county in England is ‘Gods own country’. When we move away, for family or business reasons, we still pine for its ‘broad acres’. Even the cities and large towns have a character of their own and the rolling hills and the picturesque dales are never far away.

As a child, I lived on a housing estate situated equidistant from the centre of the city of Leeds and the market town of Otley, in Wharfedale. A working farm was just a few hundred yards up the road. Summers were spent ‘helping with the harvest’. Fresh eggs and milk were collected from the farmhouse door. It was more country than city living!

In the days before a holiday abroad was considered a necessity, weekends were spent exploring the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors. The annual two weeks holiday included a week in a boarding house in either Scarborough or Bridlington. Days were spent digging castles in the sand, playing cricket on the beach and swimming in the ‘inviting’ North Sea. This routine continued whatever the weather – rain or shine! 

A career in advertising beckoned and I found myself promoting the joys of Scarborough and the Yorkshire coast to a wider audience. This led to the formation of the Yorkshire Tourist Association whose mission was to promote the county and its many attractions. My job was to compile and edit the information provided into a comprehensive brochure of all that was best in the county. As a result, I became something of an expert on the subject.

My career in marketing has involved travel all over the world but I have always taken the opportunity to promote the county of my birth to anyone who would listen.

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The Grandeur and Fanfare of Malta's Good Friday Celebrations

Throngs of people milled about to the strains of rousing music blaring through loudspeakers, and the atmosphere pulsated with anticipation. Bright-eyed toddlers sat atop their fathers' shoulders; gray-haired women leaned on their elbows at open windows and extended families filled wrought-iron balconies. Teenage boys with baseball caps askew chatted up young women in leather jackets and Jackie O sunglasses and middle-aged men stood off in the shadows with small cups of something strong.

A vendor in the tree-lined plaza did a brisk business selling plump, over-sized pretzels and heart-shaped pastries painted with frosting. A crowd spilled from the door of a social club onto the sidewalk, where rows of folding chairs were filled to capacity. Officious-looking men in suits looked at their watches and paced inside space marked off with yellow police tape.

And then, finally, they began to appear, led by a humble contingent in colorful, flowing robes, their feet in sandals and hands around palm branches, and in their midst a donkey. All of us who had been eagerly awaiting this moment were not disappointed, as wave after wave of elaborately-costumed men and women appeared, displaying regal bearings, proud faces, feathered headdresses, gleaming armor, some atop prancing horses. 

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Sudeley Castle – a place steeped in history

Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Cotswold Hills in rural Gloucestershire, Sudeley Castle incorporates the ruins of a medieval castle where only the banqueting hall, the tithe barn and the dungeon tower remain intact.

The castle we see today owes its existence to Emma, wife of John Coucher Dent. With the help of the famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, she restored the house and gardens to create a true reflection of their former glory.

When King Ethelred the Unready gave the manor house and estate at Sudeleagh to his daughter Goda, the sister of King Edward the Confessor, he started an association with the royal families of England that was to last until the end of the English Civil War.

During the War of the Roses, Sudeley became the property of the Crown when Edward IV granted the estate to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester who held the estate until 1478. When he acceded to the throne, as Richard III, in 1483, Richard took ownership of Sudeley for a second time. It was during this period that the magnificent Banqueting Hall and the now ruined State Rooms were built.

When Richard III was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the new King Henry VII granted the Sudeley estate to his uncle, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford. When Jasper died in 1495 the property reverted back to the crown.

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The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II - an unforgettable experience for visitors to the UK in 2012

The Diamond Jubilee takes place in 2012 and marks 60 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen came to the throne on 6th February 1952 although her Coronation did not take place until 2nd June 1953.

To mark this unique occasion, a full programme of activities has been planned throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.

There are several major events taking place in the early part of summer 2012.
The first is the Diamond Jubilee Pageant. In the presence of the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, this event takes place on the 10-13 May 2012 in the private grounds of Windsor Castle. Over the three nights over 800 international performers and 500 horses will provide dancing, music, military and equestrian displays to pay tribute to a very special anniversary.

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Guimarães - the city where Portugal was born

Situated in the South of the Minho Region, Guimarães sees itself as the cradle of the nation of Portugal. It was the birthplace of the first king, Alfonso Henriques, in 1110 and first capital of the kingdom, then known as ‘Portucale’.
Although, it lost its position as capital to Coimbra, in 1143, its wealth of medieval monuments and attractive narrow streets has earned it UNESCO World Heritage status.

Guimarães can be reached by bus, car or train from Porto. When planning our visit, we found that there was a direct train but it stopped at every station enroute and we decided that car was the best travel option for us.

In 2012, Guimarães will be European Capital of Culture and it was clear when we arrived that every effort is being made to live up to the accolade. The roads were being repaired and building work was being carried out everywhere.

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Marine Greenwich and the Royal Palace of Placentia

The Old Royal Naval College is the centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich a UNESCO World Heritage site, on the River Thames just downstream of the centre of London. It has been described as the finest and most dramatically sited group of buildings in the whole of the UK.

The current buildings were originally constructed to serve as the Royal Hospital for Seamen, which was designed by Christopher Wren, and built between 1696 and 1712. The hospital closed in 1869. In 1873 the complex became the Royal Naval College when the facility was moved from Portsmouth. It retained that role until 1998. The buildings are today occupied by the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.

However, the Greenwich site was historically important well before Wren’s masterpiece was constructed because it was built on the site of the Royal Palace of Placentia.

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A Tourists Guide to Porto

About five years ago, I visited Porto on a business trip and promised to return and see exactly what it had to offer as a tourist destination. I have visited Portugal on numerous occasions since then but the closest I got to fulfilling my ambition was collecting a hire car at Porto Airport and crossing the River Douro on my way further south.

In June of this year, I booked a week’s holiday in Portugal with the aim of visiting Porto as part of a tour of the north of the country.  Rather than use a hotel in the centre of the city, we decided to stay at the Hotel Solverde Spa & Wellness Center at Sao Felix Da Marinha. I had visited the hotel before and knew that we would enjoy excellent facilities, service and good food.

The only 5 star Hotel by the beachfront in the North of Portugal, the Solverde is just 2 minutes by car from Espinho City, a bustling seaside resort, 15 minutes from the centre of Porto and only 30 km from the airport.

Like most visitors, we hired a car at the airport thinking that this was the easiest and most convenient way of getting around. We had under-estimate the excellence of the Portuguese public transport infrastructure and the difficulties of congestion, and parking, in a large city.

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The Historic University City of Cambridge

The title of Duke of Cambridge, gifted by Queen Elizabeth II to Prince William on his wedding day, was first officially recognised in 1664, when James Stuart, son of the Duke of York by his first wife, was granted the title. It is named after the English University city of Cambridge.

The city has a long connection with royalty. In 1068, only 2 years after his successful invasion, William the Conqueror visited and ordered a castle to be built. The original wooden structure was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century.

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Visit Buckland Abbey and follow in the footsteps of Sir Francis Drake

Nearly everyone knows the story of how, in 1588, Sir Francis Drake famously completed his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before engaging the Spanish Armada, but his connection with Devon goes back much further.

He was born in the county, near Tavistock, in around 1544 and it was from Plymouth that he sailed on the 13 December 1577 on a three year voyage to circumnavigate the world. During his journey he amassed great treasures for Queen Elizabeth I and she rewarded him with a knighthood and with gifts that made him extremely wealthy. This enabled him to buy a large house befitting his new found status. His choice was Buckland Abbey, near Yelverton around 11 miles from Plymouth.

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Burghley House - one of England’s largest and grandest Elizabethan mansions

A visit to Burghley House is a must for anybody who is interested in the Elizabethan period loves fine buildings, world renowned art collections, beautiful gardens and sweeping parkland.

Burghley delivers them all in one superb location in rural Lincolnshire.

The house was designed and built under the watchful eye of William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I and arguably one of the most powerful men of the first Elizabethan era. 

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