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Feature: Best of British...

Bodiam Castle

I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.

So began the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and in the sixty years since she has served, as promised, with dignity and a calm hand. This month we celebrate (a bit early, but why not?) the Diamond Jubilee of the monarch and the best that our country has to offer: heritage, culture, pubs, those funny things we do that so entertain other nations and everything in between. Read our feature and celebrate Britannia.

Diamond Jubilee EmblemThe Diamond Jubilee Emblem designed by 10-year-old Katherine Dewar, from Chester.

The Queens Diamond Jubilee

Amongst monarchs she is known as the Monarch and we often forget just how unique Her Royal Majesty the Queen is - hers is only the second Diamond Jubilee to ever have been celebrated, the first being Queen Victoria in 1897. Sixty years on the throne through multiple governments, wars and the occasional scandal, Queen Elizabeth has been the enduring symbol of the United Kingdom in the 20th century and this still-young 21st century. We’ve collected some of the biggest and best events leading up to and including the Diamond Jubilee weekend from the 2nd to the 5th of June. Drop in and take part in an event that most likely will not be repeated in our lifetime.

For Interactive Fun: Pinning the Queen

Where: www.historypin.com/diamondjubilee

The Diamond Jubilee celebrates the length of Queen Elizabeth's reign and as such initiataives like 'Pinning the Queen' lets anyone anywhere who has ever had the pleasure of her presence upload their moment with her. The site allows users to pin pictures, videos and memories to go on this interactive map that serves as record of all the places that she has been during her reign. Add your own memories and be part of the interactive experience.

For Lovers of Feathered Hats and Horse Racing: Epsom Derby

Wearing a feathered hat at a horse racing eventFeathers and flowers are de rigueur

When: 1-2 June, 2012

Fine fillies (and colts) and the finest featherd hat in Britain will be making a special appearance. Epsom Derby - the original derby - is the perfect place to wear your bouffant headgear and enjoy the best of the Classic horse racing events. The event has been held at Epsom Downs since 1780 and makes up the middle section of the Triple Crown (the other races being the 2000 Guiness and St Legers). Of course, the Queen is well-known for her extensive collection of hats, so keep up and wear your best. This year Epsom Derby will kick off the Diamond Jubilee weekend and punters are eagerly betting on the colour of the Queen's hat this year (we have it on good authority that her hat will be blue - you heard it here first...wink wink).

Advance tickets are available at a discount - make sure to book early. For the betting crowd, a little birdie told us that 'Camelot' is the horse to watch this year.

For Lovers of Ceremony: Parade and Muster at Windsor

When: 19 May, 2012

What would a Royal event be without the obligatory military parade. Befitting an event of this stature 2500 troops, drawn from all services, will parade through Windsor Castle for an inspection by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. If you're into military pagaentry, and who isn't impressed by men in uniform, this is an event you must not miss. Details are still unclear, but check this page for more info closer to the date.

For a Variety Show: Diamond Jubilee Pageant

When: 10-13 May, 2012

Best described as a variety show themed according to Her Majesty's unique history, this event will bring together entertainers from all corners of the Commonwealth: from performances of the Lion King musical (from South Africa) to Susan Boyle to Indian folk music from Raghu Dixit to the Australian musician and artist Rolf Harris. The event will host different aspects of the Commonwealth on different nights and during the day you can enjoy the Windsor Horse Show - the largest outdoor euquestrian show in the UK. Like the Pagaent, international talent will be on display - Candian Mounties, Kremlin riders and the rare Indian Marwari Horses (with inward-curving ears) will be performing.
Highlights of what you can expect at the Windsor Horse Show.

Tickets for the Pageant range from £30 to £100 - depending on which night you wish to attend. Tickets include entrance to the Windsor Horse Show. For more info visit www.diamond-jubilee-pageant.com

For A Commununity Get Together: The Big Jubilee Lunch

When: 3 June, 2012

The Big Lunch is based on a simple premise: take a long table, place it somewhere public and accessible, serve lunch, voilà! - a community experience to remember. This year the event coincides with the Diamond Jubilee so remember to toast the Queen while you're getting acquainted with your neighbours, having an extended family gathering or just making new friends. To get you started the people at www.the biglunch.com have put together a starter kit to help with your preparations.
Watch video highlights from last years event.

For A Party: Battersea Park

When: 3 June, 2012

The older folk always talk glowingly of THE party of 1977 - the Silver Jubilee - and Battersea Park promises to top that and make lasting memories for this generation. Of course, everybody wishes they could be part of the 1000-boat flotilla for the River Pageant on the river Thames, but places on river boats have been sold out so unless you have a Russian oligarch uncle with a spare boat, Battersea Park is the next best option. Maybe an even better option when you hear some of the names that will playing at the park: Noissetes, Boxettes, the Bomshellettes (begining to see a pattern?), Elton John (well someone who passes for him at least) and Queens of Noize.

For more info on other Diamond Jubilee events visit www.directgov.uk

The Best Heritage

If an alien from another world came to Britain, what could we show them that would speak of our history, culture and abilities? The great monuments of our nation would be a good place to start. Unfortunately there's not enough to space in 10 magazines to say something about every monument, but we're tried to to whittle it down to a select few of our favourites.

Castles

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

Holyrood Palace

It's the official residence of the British Monarch in Scotland everything you'd expect from a house made for a Queen. From the Royal Apartments to the Great Gallery - which was originally opened in 2002 as part of the Golden Jubilee celebration – to the Thrones, the jewels and the historic gardens, a tour of Holyrood Palace takes you into a working domain that is used by the Queen every year. The palace is geared for individual, group and family tours, and there's something for everyone – the little ones will really enjoy dressing up in the games room.

For more info visit www.royalcollection.com

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle is exactly what you'd imagine when you think of knights, wars and medieval times. This is the perfect example of a military-purpose-built, quadrangular castle, with a dramatic moat that surrounds the premises, save for a long footpath that paves the way to Bodiam's main gate. It's a venue where anyone's imagination can run wild, as the interior and exterior are so well preserved it feels like you are stepping back into the 1300's when the Hundred Years' war with France was in full swing. A run up the stairs takes you to the turrets above the four corners and entrance, offering visitors a clear view of the East Sussex countryside.

Tours of the castle are available for families, groups and individuals. Visit www.nationaltrust.org for more info

Glamis Castle, Scotland

Glamis Castle

Glamis Castle is arguably the most charming of all. Maybe because it has been the home of the Earls of Strathmore for centuries (and of the late Queen Mother), but there is something that gives the castle a warmer feel than you'd expect from such a grand monument. Not only is it visually remarkable, thanks to numerous alterations and upgrades during the six hundred years, but a tour of the premises is made even more enjoyable through the telling of stories about the castle's long history. The guides are known for being very knowledgeable and passionate about the castle, which makes a big difference when you're visiting a place as easily overwhelming as this. Not only is it a great place to bring the family for a good, light-hearted history lesson, it's also a wedding venue, a restaurant and a hire-able film set. It may be old, but there's plenty of life left at Glamis Castle.

For more info visit www.glamis-castle.co.uk

Monuments To Art

Banksy's Work

Banksy - One Nation Under CCTV

The Tate Modern, National Gallery and the British Museum will always draw a big crowd, thanks to the historical significance and quality of work on display. But Banksy is the most current example of growth, evolution and development in art. He has carved a career outside the mainstream that is no less significant than the greats, through wit, cynicism and skill, earning the artist a cult-like following across the world. Known for his subversive messages and cutting social commentary, his work meshes graffiti, stencil art and word-play, to create images that will make you think and stare, and think again. The sites of Banksy's more prominent murals are going to be in the public eye while the UK is flooded with tourists this year, and this attention is a great reminder that we have the opportunity to visit the same places everyday.

Essential Travel's Top 3 Banky's To See:

  • 3. Aristoc Rat, Camden
  • 2. One Nation Under CCTV, London
  • 1. Window Lovers, Bristol

For more info visit www.banksy.co.uk

Cathedrals

Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

Canterbury Cathedral

The original foundations of Canterbury Cathedral were laid in 597 AD, after St. Augustine was tasked by the Pope to go to England on a mission. The church St. Augustine established has rebuilt and altered several times throughout history, after natural disasters, wars, change in power and sieges took their toll on the structure. The cathedral's most famous happening took place in 1170, when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was murdered in the name of King Henry VII. Becket's martyrdom has won him a place in the hearts of pilgrims and history buffs that has lasted centuries, and a mention in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The grand structure that stands today is a visual marvel and an invaluable monument to the making of our nation. From the ruins surrounding the site, to the Romanesque Water Tower, the striking 12th and 13th century stained glass windows, the crypt, the magnificent Chapter House and the precinct gardens, a walking tour of the cathedral is worth every step of the experience. The cathedral is now a world heritage site, and although you'll pay a fee to visit, it's worth every penny when you consider the upkeep of such an incredible piece of history.

For more info visit www.canterbury-cathedral.org

Llandaff Cathedral

Llandaff Cathedral is another stalwart structure on our shores, located in the capital of Wales. It has outlasted everything man and nature has thrown at it since the 1200's, including bombs, lightning, rebellions and centuries of Welsh weather. The district of Llandaff is a monument in itself, but the cathedral is its crown jewel that stands out above the rest.

For more info visit www.llandaffcathedral.org.uk

Liverpool Cathedral

Liverpool Cathedral

At over 180 meters in length, Liverpool boasts the limousine of cathedrals – it is the largest in the UK and right up there with the world's biggest. Besides being notably long and several hundred years younger than the others on this list, the cathedral is a visual masterpiece, having been designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the man credited by many as the master of blending tradition with modernism. He spent most of working career on the cathedral and sadly died before it was deemed complete. Every day of the week it draws a good crowd, being noted as one of Liverpool's finest attractions.

For more info visit www.liverpoolcathedral.org.uk

Mysterious: Stonehenge

It has been the topic of conversation around arm-chair philosophers and historians' tables for countless generations. Theories have suggested it could be a sun-dial, an intergalactic telephone or an ancient church. Whatever it is, the UK's most iconic and unresolved monument outdates all the cathedrals, art museums and palaces in the world. In one paragraph, it's impossible to sum up the mystery of this ancient enigma that goes back all the way into the thousands of years BC. The sheer magnitude of the stones and their precise arrangement leads only to bigger questions that leave visitors shaking their heads, preparing their thoughts for the lengthy dinner-table conversation that lies ahead.
Watch the video below to learn more about this mysterious structure.

For more info visit www.english-heritage.org.uk

Culture

Historic Pubs

Pub Taps

There is something quite enchanting about the pubs at our doorsteps. Perhaps it’s the vibrancy of cheery patrons clanging pints and bellowing down-downs. Or maybe it’s the familiarity of nonchalant regulars who order the ‘usual’ and while away evenings with football banter. So much life is contained behind the glazed windows, one might even argue that pubs are the quintessential symbol of all things British, a culmination of culture that dates back hundreds of years. Drinking establishments may have changed since the Bronze Age when people first encountered and fell in love with ale, but the spirit of traditional Public Houses lives on today in all the best pubs. As a cheers to drinking holes throughout time, we’re exploring the oldest pubs across the UK to uncover some of the best of British culture.

England: Bingley Arms

Recorded in the Guinness World Records as the oldest pub in Britain, the pub now named Bingley Arms has been in existence since at least 953 AD. Previously named Priests Inn, it was both a popular rest spot for travelling monks and used as a safe-house by Catholic Priests in hiding. The pub underwent alterations in the 1700’s and was renamed Bingley Arms. Attracting patrons for over a thousand years, this pub is a truly phenomenal icon of British culture. If you find yourself in Leeds’ famous pub, keep an eye open for signs of bygone days, including two locals, a knight and a young girl, who like to make an appearance from time to time.

Northern Ireland: Grace Neills

1611 saw the humble beginnings of what is now Ireland’s oldest pub. Grace Neills can be found in the port town of Donaghadee, County Down and in the Guinness Book of World Records as Northern Ireland’s oldest pub. Known previously as The Kings Arms, it is an integral part of a local family’s history and heritage. The pub was renamed after Grace Neills, who acquired it from her father as a wedding present in 1842 and whose own children then went on to run it. Grace was 90 when her son died, leaving the pub once again in her capable hands. Grace is quoted as having been a very friendly and welcoming person, and one who continues to delight in the company of customers - or so say the staff and patrons who have experienced some otherwise unexplainable incidents...

Scotland: The Sheep Heid Inn

For more than six centuries locals and travellers alike have been drawn to what is now Edinburgh’s oldest surviving watering hole. Established in 1360, the origin of the name remains a moot point to this day. While some attribute it to the sheep-rearing habits of Duddingston locals and their tendency to use the skulls as cobbles for their pathways, the more accepted explanation is in memory of a ram’s head snuff box presented to the pub landlord by King James VI. The Sheep Heid also proudly boasts a fully-functional 19th century bowling alley, the last of its kind in Scotland.

Wales: Skirrid Mountain Inn

Having stood for nine centuries, the Skirrid has been host to much history, hops and horror. Situated in a small village in the shadow of the Skirrid Mountain, the pub was reputedly established in 1110 and has been used as a both an ale house and a court house. The latter saw the conviction of 180 prisoners, who met their fateful end from the pub’s very own wooden beams, on which the chaffing marks of rope can still be seen today. As Wales’ oldest pub, The Skirrid has been known to receive visits from phantom regulars and has even been featured on Sky’s ‘Most Haunted’. Rumour has it that the pub’s 17th century landlady still checks in sometimes, perhaps oblivious to her grave that lies just outside.

Music

In the interest of doing any justice to the tremendous scope and success of British music, we’re not even going to try sum it up in one paragraph. For an aural adventure, listen to the compilation of top-selling singles in the UK from 1952 until almost present day.

Literature

Literature

British literature is no short story. In order to renounce any responsibility for compiling a list of the best of British bests, we’ve decided to explore all the British laureates who have received the acclaimed Nobel Prize for Literature. Here are but two handfuls of Britain’s greatest writers.

  • Rudyard Kipling, 1907: In consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.
  • George Bernard Shaw, 1925: For his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty.
  • John Galsworthy, 1932: For his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsythe Saga.
  • Thomas Stearns Eliot, 1948: For his outstanding, pioneering contribution to present-day poetry.
  • Earl Bertraind Arthur William Russel, 1950: In recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.
  • Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, 1953: In consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.
  • Sir William Golding, 1983: For his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today.
  • Seamus Heaney, 1995: For works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.
  • Harold Pinter, 2005: Who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms.
  • Doris Lessing, 2007: That epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny.

Last Updated: May 2012

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

A timid traveller, but a traveller none the less; Gugulethu is in his element lost and without a map - preferably with a companion willing to listen to his tall tales. He's our resident expert on the best muffins in town.