United Kingdom travel guide
Edinburgh is soaked in history. It has been the royal seat for both English and Scottish kings throughout history. For protection, medieval Edinburgh had a city wall built, meaning that when the town grew bigger, it could only expand one way, up, creating the world's first skyscrapers, some 12 storeys high. The centre of attention in the Old Town is of course Edinburgh Castle, perched on an extinct volcano. From here the exquisite Royal Mile (the main street) runs down the ridge flanked by the impressive 'skyscrapers' and ending at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's Scottish residence. Narrow lanes and winding streets twist down the sides leading to squares or hidden courtyards. Pubs are everywhere, many named after historical criminals. In general, Edinburgh's history is filled with murders, executions and killings - it seems every place has a bloody history. But Edinburgh is far from being dead. Tourists and locals fill the pubs, nightlife is pumping (Edinburgh is a popular university town) and the city hosts a never-ending range of festivals. Edinburgh is certainly everyone's favourite.
Going to London and not visit some pubs, is... well, not something that should happen. Pubs are just such a big part of British culture and history, that they have to be experienced thoroughly. Some of these drinking holes have been around for 400 years, though the building might have burned down a couple of times throughout history. Take for example the pub on the picture, Lamb & Flag on Rose Street in Covent Garden. It was first licensed in 1625, but probably goes back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I (end of 16th-century). Rumour has it that Charles Dickens was a regular here. Can it become more Londonish?
The Giant's Causeway is a surreal area of packed naturally-made hexagonal rock columns. There are more than 40,000 of them, formed some 60 million years ago when lava from an ancient volcano cooled off. They are stacked together in such a way that they stick right into the air, making a natural giant stepping stone pathway stretching out to the sea, hence the name. It has of course led to myth and legends involving giants. The same rock formations can also be seen at the island of Staffa in Scotland (Fingal's Cave) across the sea. You are welcome to walk on the columns, but be careful not to get too close to the crashing Atlantic waves. It's fascinating to see how well-defined the geometrical shaped columns are from the rest of the otherwise ordinary rocky shore. If you can take your eyes off the wonder, the view of the Northern Ireland coastline is almost equally spectacular. The Giant's Causeway is well-deserved an UNESCO World Heritage Site - and Northern Ireland's only.
© Fingal Ross
The resting place of King Arthur and possibly Excalibur, a pilgrimage place, known as the Isle of Avalon back in Arthurian times is now the very popular Glastonbury. There is definitely an energy that runs through the ground (and maybe the water) that creates joyful people who love to dress up. Fairies, Angels, Goths, bearded vest wearers, grannies with pink streaked hair, and shopkeepers that seem to teleport themselves to each shop fresh from the last witch's coven. If it is healthy healing or psychic abilities, tarot card readings and aura photos you are after, then look no further, there are crystals, joss sticks and spiritual healers at every second shop. Buskers play on the corners, dreadlocked hippies sell jewellery under the monuments, there are little alleyways that will lead off to crystal-adorned courtyards complete with cafes and bookstores full of locals and tourists alike. The Abbey is spectacular in all its historical ruins, and the Tor is worth the hike to the top for 360 views of the town and of the patch worked fields of Somerset. And keep an eye out for the Green Man.
© Fingal Ross
Rumoured to have been the site of King Arthur and Guinevere's tomb, the Abbey ruins are over 2000 years old and a great place for a bit of architecture photography and solitude. Enjoy the daffodils in spring and the snowbells in winter, you can spend a good hour wandering through the 36 acre parklands that surround the romantic ruins. There is an Abbot's kitchen that is a 14th century octagonal building complete with period food sets and the lives of monks; as well as a herb garden and the Holy Thorn Tree that only blooms twice a year. The Lady Chapel has an alter, and you can light a candle for a small donation in St Patrick's Chapel; picnicking is encouraged and they make cider from the apples in their orchard if you fancy a drink or two. Right in the centre of town next to the local hall, Glastonbury Abbey can be visited anytime of the day and is also popular with wedding photos.
© Fingal Ross
Glastonbury definitely has a vast interest in magic and faeries. It is believed that the Tor (defined as a hill in Celtic tradition) is home to the King of the Faeries and the Fay folk, you will notice by the amount of people waving their crystals around that it is also where the earth's leylines converge. Many think it gives you an uplifting effect; you go up the hill a cranky person and come down a happy one. The Tor is associated with the Holy Grail, King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea, it has seven terraces for which there are various theories on why this was, one of which was a labyrinth. It is a 20 minute walk from the middle of town to the top where St Michael's Tower is situated, and don't forget your jacket as once you pass the first initial hill, it can get very windy and cold. There are 360 views from the top and on the way back down you can peruse the jewellery made by a didgeridoo playing hill dweller.
A nice Scottish town at the mouth of river Ness, which functions as transport and shopping hub for the area. There is not much in terms of sights besides the nice river front, but Inverness makes a fine base to explore the region. It's also here the Great Glen Way starts and winds 117 km through some of the best bits of the Scottish Highland, including Loch Ness. Inverness is infamous for its own monsters, but contrary to the Lock Ness monster, the Inverness ones are very much alive and prey on young men at night time - so be careful at the pubs, boys.
Northern Ireland has some fantastic atmopheric pubs, and it's no more evident than in Belfast. Some of these traditional drinking holes go back to the 18th century with a crowd that almost seems equally old. Here you can get a well poured Guinness with a top foam so thick you can leave bite marks in it. It's also here you will find some great live Irish folk music. Not on a stage, but sitting at one of the tables fiddling and playing between the beer drinking. It hardly becomes more Irish than this.
The pretty seaside town of Llandudno is a Walsh mini version of Nice. The east side beach is long and flanked by an equal long promade with benches. Cute boutique hotels and B&Bs make up the first row of houses and seem to attract a mostly mature crowd. Llandudno is a very traditional British holiday town during summer, but doubles as a ski resort in winter, as the nearby mt Great Orme has a few ski lifts. There are plenty of smaller walks to do in the area, else head to Snowdonia National Park for some real mountains.
Loch Ness is more famous for its mythical monster than its natural beauty, which is a bit of a shame for the lake is really pretty, monster or not. Loch Ness is the deepest lake in Britain (max depth 230 m) and 37 km long. Wooded mountains flank the lake, creating the perfect lakeside setting for picnicking, sailing, fishing... and, of course, monster spotting. For a place that is that famous for something that cryptic, you would think they would compensate with tacky Nessie stuff everywhere, but you hardly see any. Maybe the Scotsmen are too proud to fully take commercial advantages of the Nessie madness.