Laurie Lee: A literary landscape

But, of course, the Slad Valley is hardly unknown: its pastoral beauty has been much celebrated ever since Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee’s autobiographical evocation of rural life there, became a bestseller in the 1960s. It’s the centenary of Lee’s birth on Thursday and I had come to preview a new walking trail commemorating the writer.

Lee moved to Slad with his mother and a great tumble of six brothers and sisters in the latter years of the First World War, when he was a small boy. They all squeezed into Bank Cottages – now known as Rosebank Cottage – off Steanbridge Lane and lived cheerfully and frugally on money sent by Lee’s father, who had in all other respects deserted them. Lee left school at 15, and home at 19. He walked to London. He walked through Spain. He drew; he played the violin; and he became a poet. He was 45 when Cider with Rosie was published and its enormous success enabled him and his wife, Kathy, to buy a house back in Slad. With their daughter Jessy, they divided their time between London and the Slad Valley. While Lee continued to write, he also bought land in the valley in order to help protect the area and campaigned vociferously against development. His favourite haunt was Slad’s down-to-earth Woolpack inn. Today, his grave in the village churchyard overlooks The Woolpack – as Slad people say, he lies between pulpit and pub.


One of the literary postsOne of the literary posts (Anne-Marie Randall)

That local flavour I gleaned as I explored the valley with Pete Bradshaw, manager of the area’s Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust reserves. Living close by, he often saw Laurie Lee at The Woolpack and recalled how Lee even had a seat there with his name on it. Bradshaw had come to show me the new Laurie Lee walking trail devised by the trust. As we set off, he pointed out an area of woodland, now named Laurie Lee Wood, that the trust acquired from the Lee family last year. The new trail runs through it and combines walking with Laurie Lee’s poetry. It’s a five-mile route, in parts heart-pumpingly steep, dotted with 10 posts that each display an appropriate poem.

The fog was starting to disperse as I read the lines on the first post and by the time I read the last post, with the glories of the valley increasingly revealed, I felt almost tearful at the lyrical resonance of landscape and words. “If ever I saw blessing in the air,” begins “April Rise”, “I see it now in this still early day/ where lemon-green the vaporous morning drips/ wet sunlight on the powder of my eye.”

Sunshine was seeing off all but a few trails of mist as we climbed Swift’s Hill, an exceptional area of limestone grassland. Bradshaw pointed out common spotted orchids at our feet, adding that 14 varieties, including the rare bee orchid, thrive here. We stopped on the broad hilltop to take in fabulous views across to Slad village, over a wealth of undulating green to Stroud where controversial development at the edge of the valley is currently under planning negotiation. No doubt Lee would have been incensed.

The walk finishes at ancient Frith Wood, which offers further compelling views over to Painswick, with the spire of St Mary’s church piercing the horizon. The length is just right: this is no route march but it presents a healthy opportunity to work up an appetite, so we headed to the pub for lunch, stopping at Slad’s Holy Trinity church on the way.


The Woolpack pub in SladThe Woolpack pub in Slad

There is no trail of brown signposts pointing to Laurie Lee sites; little Slad is too pragmatic for that. Rather than becoming a heritage brand, the author is remembered here as a real person. At Holy Trinity a memorial window to Lee, funded largely by local donations, was installed in 2011. Adjacent, a series of noticeboards feature a charming display of photographs, poetry and newspaper cuttings about the writer, alongside the parish news. This included details of the Slad Valley Festival, which runs until 29 June and is a local celebration of Laurie Lee, devised with the help of Kathy and Jessy Lee. There’s a village picnic, “Cider with Laurie” poetry readings at the Old Schoolhouse and a cider and flamenco fiesta at The Woolpack. A marquee is going up there in anticipation of the crowds.

The roadside pub isn’t a conventional beauty from the outside, but step through the door and you’re in a place creaking with atmosphere. There are old settles, wooden floors and great views from the back. A little worn around the edges, this is the antithesis of designer Cotswold pubs elsewhere, with well-thumbed books on shelves and wild flowers in vases. It’s the hub of the community, as it was in Lee’s day.

An inspiring walk, a look at the church and lunch in the pub: you could leave a visit to Slad at that. But you’d be missing out. A few miles down the road in Stroud there’s a lively museum of Gloucestershire rural life, set in a 17th-century wool merchant’s mansion. The Museum in the Park offers a tremendous insight into the world Laurie Lee was writing about and even features a small Laurie Lee corner that at intervals plays recordings of the writer himself reading passages from Cider with Rosie.

For me the best section, though, is the schoolroom display. On top of the teacher’s desk, I leafed through a facsimile collection of reports of a pupil in the 1920s. He is hopeless to start with – “I am disappointed in the boy”, wrote the headmaster in 1926 – but he improves and by 1928 is excellent at the violin, good at English and art. They don’t make much of these reports at the museum, but look closely and you’ll see that they were, in fact, Laurie Lee’s.

 


Visiting there

A free leaflet on Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Laurie Lee Wildlife Way can be downloaded from gloucestershirewildlifetrust .co.uk and is also available at the Woolpack.

The Woolpack, Slad (01452 813429).

The Slad Valley Festival takes place until Sunday 29 June (sladsociety.org.uk).

More information

Laurie Lee centenary celebrations continue throughout 2014 (laurielee.org).

The Cotswolds Stroud district tourist office: www.visitthecotswolds.org.uk

‘April Rise’ reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London on behalf of the Estate of Laurie Lee © The Trustees of the Literary Estate of Laurie Lee 1983. ‘Laurie Lee Selected Poems’ is published by Unicorn Press (unicornpress.org).

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Bannockburn: Back to the battle lines

An Englishman venturing this way seven centuries ago would have been less agog at the scenery, and more alert to signs of danger. England and Scotland were dug into a war that had been afoot for nearly 20 years – and the prize at stake was Scotland’s very soul. The Battle of Bannockburn, which dragged its bloody feet through the mud two miles south of Stirling on 23 and 24 June 1314, 700 years ago this coming week, would help save it.

It can be tricky, at such historical distance, to grasp the importance of this military tussle. Yet it remains a crucial point in the national narrative – a sliding-doors moment as key to the shaping of borders and identity as the Battle of Hastings or the Battle of Britain. An overwhelming Scottish victory, it largely dispelled the prospect of the medieval kingdom of Scotland having its independence snuffed out by its English counterpart. That its 700th anniversary should fall at a juncture when the definition of the political relationship between Edinburgh and London is under fiercer scrutiny than at any time since the Act of Union in 1707, when the word “independence” again floats on the air, is wholly appropriate.


Statue of Robert the BruceStatue of Robert the Bruce (Alamy)

The path to the battlefield was a complicated one. At its root was the death of the Scottish king Alexander III without viable heir in 1286, and the power vacuum that it created. In 1290, England’s warrior monarch Edward I was invited north to assess the many claimants to the empty throne and advise on an appointment – a decision that was akin to asking a wolf to take part in a sheepdog trials. Espying Scotland’s weakness, Edward launched an aggressive campaign of conquest that – despite an iconic victory for minor noble William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 – seemed to be all but complete by 1304.

However, the king’s death in 1307 changed everything. Edward II, his successor, was not built in his father’s image, and was more interested in bestowing privileges on his favourite, Piers Gaveston (the men were probably lovers), than waging an inherited war. And while Edward idled, a new Scottish champion emerged. Robert the Bruce had displayed ruthlessness in having the other main candidate for the top job, John Comyn, killed on sacred ground in 1306 – before having himself crowned king and retaking much of the lost territory. By March 1314, Stirling was one of only two Scottish fortresses still in English hands, and was under siege. An oddly civil pact was negotiated – if the castle was not relieved by midsummer, it would be surrendered. Edward stirred himself to arms.

I can see no hint of the drama of this real game of thrones when I arrive at the battlefield – nor of the £9m that, in the past two years, has been spent on upgrading the site for the 700th anniversary. The new visitor centre is neither huge, nor especially eye-catching.

But what waits within dissects this seismic collision with thrilling modernity. Eschewing what you might expect of a museum that gazes back 700 years – suits of armour, faded maps – the visitor centre brings the events of 1314 to life via technological wizardry. You enter a darkened space where, on two walls, motion-capture figures – Sir James Douglas, one of Bruce’s right-hand men; Sir Robert Clifford, a respected baron on the English side; Dafydd ap Cynwrig, a Welsh longbowman reluctantly fighting for Edward – relay their tales to those who stand before them. Behind, a mini auditorium of curved screens and 3D wonder recreates slivers of the combat – swords swinging, horse hooves pounding. Any doubt I have that this is history in child-friendly form is removed by the gasps of the school party next to me. I am also drawn in. When a unit of English archers fires a hail of arrows across the room I take an unconscious step back, as if to avoid this deadly shower.


Bannockburn Visitor CentreBannockburn Visitor Centre

The centrepiece, however, is a separate theatre, where a model of the battlefield gives the geographical setting and a simulator shows how events unfolded. You have two options here: “Battle Show”, which plays out the actual cuts and thrusts as they occurred and “Battle Game”, where visitors are split into two teams of up to seven, and combine – with the aid of a “Battlemaster” – to direct the armies, ordering attacks and defending positions.

Either side can win – and realistically, the English should. But taking part in this makes clear to me why, despite having more than twice the muscle (upper estimates suggest 25,000 English soldiers to 10,000 Scotsmen) Edward’s men were so badly beaten. Bruce had firmer strategies, such as the use of schiltrons – disciplined units bristling with spears – while the English became mired in (and were slaughtered in) the boggy ground around the Bannock Burn. Equally, the “Battle Game” underlines the fact that, with both kings in the field, this was a high-stakes affair. English victory would not have reconquered the country – but had Bruce died, Scotland would have been plunged back into headless chaos. As it was, the annihilation of Edward II’s army – fatalities may have numbered 11,000 – all but ended English interest in fighting north of the border for a generation. The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, signed in 1328, recognised Scotland as a sovereign state.

Outside, the area of grass that is ring-fenced as the battlefield provides a calmer picture, local residents walking dogs across a realm of green. Archaeological research indicates that this was not, specifically, a place that witnessed combat, but was probably the site of Bruce’s camp. Yet this does not puncture the puffed-chested pride of the twin memorials stationed here – a statue of Bruce on horseback; the Saltire taut in the breeze. A sea of people will swirl about them over the next few days. The exact septcentenary, on Monday and Tuesday, will see costumed skirmishes and weapons demonstrations. “Bannockburn Live” (28-29 June) will repeat the dose with added musical shows, plus a farmers’ market.

Unlike many of his men, Edward II survived the carnage, fleeing first to Stirling Castle – where he was denied admission – then leaving Scotland via Dunbar, on the east coast. I follow him on the first leg of this desperate exit, keen to glimpse a city where the past readily rears its head – almost literally in the case of the National Wallace Monument, which perches on the volcanic bluff of Abbey Craig, two miles north-east of the centre. A Neo-Gothic tower completed in 1869, it offers a far more solid tribute to this fabled guerilla soldier for his sharp tactics in 1297 than any howling Mel Gibson movie caricature. The steep stroll to its doorstep is ironically peaceful, carrying me through pockets of bluebells – before the view works its magic, showcasing not just the crossing point over the River Forth where Wallace achieved his brutal feat, but Ben Lomond prodding at the horizon.

The crag that forms the original kernel of Stirling also flirts with former eras. Even its main retreat, the Stirling Highland Hotel, is wedded to yesteryear, lovingly slotted into an 1854 school – all ghosts of chalky blackboards and homework. I pause for the night here, eat a hearty breakfast in a restaurant that was once a classroom, then wander up the hill and succeed where Edward II failed – in gaining entry to the castle.

The aftermath of Bannockburn is quietly apparent here – in the way this lofty fortress developed into an eloquent Scottish royal statement. True, many buildings only date to the 15th and 16th centuries, but in their pomp and style, they sing of a monarchy that came to thrive. The palace, constructed by James V in 1538, was designed to present the king as a leading Renaissance ruler, statues of Greek gods peering at the observer. The panorama from its windows is no less glorious, as the sun smiles on the Forth below.

There is a footnote too. Outside, the Church of the Holy Rude bears the bullet wounds of another English incursion into Stirling – this time Oliver Cromwell’s troops in 1651. But the pertinent spot lies inside. By the altar, a paving slab notes that James VI was crowned here in 1567. In 1603, on the childless death of Elizabeth I, he would go south to become James I of England. In the end, Scottish crown ingested English. When September’s referendum is held, it might be worth asking – who is seeking independence from whom?




Travel essentials

Getting there

East Coast trains (03457 225 333; eastcoast.co.uk) run to Edinburgh and Stirling from London, York and Newcastle. By air Edinburgh is served by British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com) . CityJet (0871 221 2452; cityjet.com), easyJet (0330 365 5000; easyjet.com), Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com).

Visiting there

Battle of Bannockburn Visitors Centre (0844 493 2139; battleofbannockburn.com; daily 10am-5.30pm; £11). Bannockburn Live (0844 481 8727; bannockburnlive.com; 28-29 June, 10am-7pm; £10 per day). Church of the Holy Rude (01786 475 275; holyrude.org; 11am-4pm daily; free). National Wallace Monument (01786 472 140; nationalwallacemonument.com; 10am-5pm, April-October except July/August to 6pm; £9.50). Stirling Castle (01786 450 000; stirlingcastle.gov.uk; 9.30am-6pm; £14).

Staying there

Stirling Highland Hotel, Spittal Street (01786 272 727; thehotelcollection.co.uk). Doubles £100, room only.

More information

visitscotland.com; homecomingscotland.com; nts.org.uk

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The best exclusive-use campsites in Britain

Unsurprisingly then, many of us now opt to mark a special occasion with a big camp-out. Birthdays, weddings, hen or stag dos, mini-festivals – whatever the occasion, the in-place is outside. Campsites and other venues are cottoning on to this trend and now offer exclusive hire of their sites for larger events and gatherings. Some even offer extras such as hog roasts, entertainment or group activities, including bushcraft or foraging. Best of all, with a site “takeover”, you needn’t worry about disturbing your neighbours into the wee small hours.

Longlands, North Devon

The cosy canvas abodes at Longlands are equally as picturesque as the site’s natural surroundings. Five safari tents come wonderfully furnished with vintage leather sofas, luxurious linen and a blanket box filled with family-friendly games. Longlands barn can play host to parties of up to 30, with its gorgeous green oak tables weighing half a ton each. Welcoming owners Bella and Bugsie can provide all your meals and you won’t have to worry about washing up, because cutlery, crockery and glassware are all taken care of.

Longlands (01271 882004; longlandsdevon.co.uk). Mid-week breaks (Monday-Friday) from £525 (per lodge); weekends (Friday-Monday) from £545. Barn hire £200.

Tribal Fit, East Sussex

This nomadic tented village, which pops up at various locations in East Sussex, offers campers a unique experience. The idea is to get a few friends together for your allotted weekend and then just arrive and enjoy the fun, with accommodation, activities and food all organised by the Tribal Fit team. Bushrangers, storytellers and chefs ensure everything moves along seamlessly, leaving you to enjoy some quality time with friends or family. Activities are tailored to the ages of the children and although parents are expected to accompany children, there is downtime too.

Tribal Fit (07788 836795; tribalfit.co.uk). All-inclusive weekend package: £3,490; Friday to Sunday; packages, not including food and activities, £1,800 to £2,400. Maximum 20 people.

Hop Pickers Wood, East Sussex

This secret, shady glade near an old castle may sound like the stuff of legend, but Hop Pickers Wood is no fantasy. Guests will not be given the site’s exact location until a reservation is made, but let’s just say it’s not far from Bodiam Castle, hidden about half a mile down a private track. There’s a sheltered area with an open fire, which makes it ideal for communal gatherings – in fact, the whole tree-fringed site is perfect for groups seeking privacy and seclusion.

Hop Pickers Wood (01580 831 845; original-huts.co.uk/camping). Groups (of up to 30) can hire their own private area for £300 per night. Larger groups can also be accommodated.

Middle Ninfa Farm, Monmouthshire

Open year round, this is a rustic farm campsite on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. Mornings begin with a visit from a playful young cat and gentle chestnut horse before you rekindle the campfire and enjoy splendid views of the Usk Valley. Three pitches share a space ideal for small groups, while seven more are scattered in remote places, perfect for larger groups who still want a bit of individual space. Activities include a go on the owner’s tennis-court-cum-croquet-lawn, a soak in the wood-fired sauna or a trip out to the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Middle Ninfa Farm (01873 854662; chapel-marketing.com/middleinfa). £6 per person. Bookings should be made well in advance.

Cwtch Camp, Pembrokeshire

Tucked away on the banks of the Daugleddau Estuary, this low-impact woodland site marries a wild, secluded camping experience with the luxury of a fully insulated cabin. There are surprisingly ample facilities (communal kitchen, hot shower, flush loo) considering it’s off-grid and each of the three cabins easily sleeps a couple or family of four. Pretty coves, Norman castles and the rugged cliffs of the Pembrokeshire coast are within reach. Well-behaved hens and stags are also welcome.

Cwtch Camp (0752 5779 454; cwtchcamping.co.uk). Site hire varies between £200 to £320 per night, depending on numbers (maximum 14 people; minimum two-night stay).

Lleweni Parc, Denbighshire

The Meadow at Lleweni Parc is a car-free acre of blissfully tranquil riverside loveliness. It’s in an isolated corner of an airfield and is only accessible via a woodland walk over a charming little bridge. It’s the ideal setting for a surreptitious gathering. Wander around the corner and campers will find their very own flight school where you can try out gliders 3,000ft above the heather-hued hills of North Wales. Weddings, bouncy castles, hog roasts – The Meadow has hosted them all and the Lleweni Parc staff are on hand with a wealth of local knowledge and are happy to help you out.

Lleweni Parc (01745 812062; lleweniparc.co.uk). Flat rate for exclusive hire of the meadow: £200 per night.

Talton Lodge, Warwickshire

Talton Lodge is the ultimate secret garden. This private hideaway is home to a combination of glamping options, including Mongolian yurts, a North American-inspired tepee, one orchard wagon and a tree house-boat, all set within a Victorian walled garden. The lodge also houses two giant event tepees, set in the wonderful seclusion of the original Talton House kitchen-garden. The tepees can seat up to 120 people and create a flexible space, which guests can transform to suit the occasion.

Talton Lodge (07962 273417; taltonlodge.co.uk). Groups of up to 28 with sole access to Talton Lodge start at £1,530 for a weekend.

The Bells of Hemscott, Northumberland

If anywhere deserves the accolade “a walker’s paradise”, it’s the Northumberland coast. Located at the heart of all these spectacular strolls is The Bells of Hemscott, a pop-up experience (runnning from the end of May until August) that combines the thrill of wild camping with a few choice camping comforts. Although some of the bell tents come furnished, Hemscott is well and truly an off-grid camping experience and the ideal venue for groups seeking to savour the great outdoors.

The Bells of Hemscott (01670 458647; thebellsofhemscott.co.uk). Bell tents and tepees from £50 per night (up to four people); wild(ish) camping from £3-£5 per pitch, depending on tent size.

Badrallach, Ross-shire

If you want to take a group and disappear into the middle of nowhere there are few better places to go than Badrallach. Twenty pitches, hidden between bushes and behind rowan thickets, make up a campsite that’s eight miles from the nearest road. Ideal for a crowd that wants acres of wild space for children to play hide and seek, walking groups aiming to take on the mighty An Teallach or paddlers hoping to explore Little Loch Broom and the surrounding coastline. You can also rent a gas-lit cottage, stay in a traditional bothy or rent an Airstream caravan.

Badrallach (01854 633281; badrallach.com). All 20 pitches for £300 per night.

Harvest Moon, East Lothian

Despite being less than an hour from Edinburgh, this luxury campsite has a remote feel accentuated by the final bumpy drive down a country track to the secluded location. Above an expansive sandy beach, seven luxury treehouses and seven safari tents are fitted with wood-burning stoves, modern, candle-lit en-suite toilets and comfortable beds. There’s a real “Out of Africa” romance to the place and it’s no surprise it’s popular for weddings. Kids will love the bountiful play store and the characterful old boat that houses the campsite shop.

Harvest Moon (07785 394026; 07960 782246; 07817 968985; harvestmoonholidays.com). £3,465 for seven safari tents (four nights), £4,130 for seven tree houses (four nights). Extra wedding charges apply.

For more information and to book all the campsites featured above go to coolcamping.co.uk

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Center Parcs: ‘If the kids are happy, we’re happy’

“We’re very impressed,” said Fraser Chainey from Oxfordshire, as he paid the lunch bill at Café Rouge – one of several high-street chains embedded in and around the complex. He and his wife, Jennifer, are Center Parcs veterans. They had brought their four-year-old son, Alex, and seven-month-old daughter, Eve.

“Alex is in the soft play,” said Jennifer. “He thinks Center Parcs is brilliant. He cries every time he leaves.” Mr Chainey’s parents had joined them for the opening weekend, making a three-generation group that is a staple of Center Parcs business. “It brings the family together,” said his father.


The Chainey familyThe Chainey family

“This is our 36th stay at Center Parcs,” chimed in a couple from Essex, standing in their bathing costumes inside the “Sub-Tropical Swimming Paradise” that is at the heart of every Center Parcs. “We’re very impressed.”

So what exactly is Center Parcs, and why is everyone seemingly so delighted with the place? On the basis of probably quite enough stays from my point of view, but not nearly enough according to my children, let me explain how it works.

The idea was born in Holland more than 40 years ago, as an effective way for city folk to experience the countryside. Since then, it has grown to become a high-end, high-intensity bucolic break. The UK operation began at Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, then expanded to Longleat in Wiltshire, Elveden in Suffolk and now Woburn Forest in Bedfordshire; Whinfell in Cumbria was picked up along the way, after the Rank Organisation struggled with its attempt to emulate and improve upon the concept.

You book a Friday-Monday or a Monday-Friday stay (or, for gluttons, an entire week). On the starting day you turn up any time from 10am; last Friday, one father and son at Woburn had arrived at 8am to ensure they were the very first proper paying guests at the new site. By 3pm you are able to check into your accommodation. For urban dwellers keen to escape to the woods, but not to surrender too much while doing so, the “lodges” are ideal. Row after row of individual chalets are deftly inserted into mature woodland; trees at the Woburn site have been carefully filleted to make room, but it still feels more like a forest than, say, a Butlins. Inside each well-furnished lodge, there are beds for four, six or eight, a communal area with kitchen and a flat-screen TV with Freeview. Nicer than my house, in fact.

“The more quality we add, the stronger the demand,” says Colin Whaley, sales and marketing director for Center Parcs and my guide for the day. “Our experience is that the public want more – they want the quality bar raised in the UK.”

Woburn’s “Executive Lodges” each have a sauna and Jacuzzi in the back yard, and are selling strongly at around £400 a night. There is also a hotel option, intended for couples who don’t need all the space of a lodge.

Everything is tidy in a rustic kind of way. “We haven’t got one litter-picker,” I was told, “We have 1,600.” He means all the staff who, in my experience, are friendly, well-trained and genuinely concerned that guests enjoy themselves.


Inside the Subtropical Swimming ParadiseInside the Subtropical Swimming Paradise

With base camp established, the fun begins. The hub of Center Parcs is that Subtropical Swimming Paradise (SSP), where the hubbub, like the temperature (29.5C), is constant. There are pools for tots, a bigger wavepool that activates at 15 and 45 minutes past each hour (a “Tarzan” yell will warn you) and a Lazy River, which, through a clever system of pumps, manages to waft you downstream, but in a big circle.

None of that, though, compares with the waterslides, which, for me and anyone else with a pulse, are the main attractions. The closest approximation must be experiencing the spin cycle of a washing machine then being spat out into a pool. At Woburn they are named “Tempest”, “Typhoon” and “Tornado”, not weather phenomena that are common in Bedfordshire. The SSP is as appealing in January as in July – which is one reason Center Parcs has the most impressive occupancy figures in the business. Night after night, year after year, over 97 per cent of the lodges are booked; given that a few are typically out of commission for maintenance, Center Parcs is effectively and eternally full.

Expanding the operation’s capacity by one-fifth while maintaining that score is a challenge: in a full year, Center Parcs UK intends to attract one-third of a million extra people to Woburn. The key to that task is to lure first-timers, which is why location is so critical. “Woburn Forest” is pretty much in the middle of Bedfordshire. It’s an odd patch of England: verdant loveliness abounds, yet parts are scarred by Victorian quarrying and carved through by the M1 and the Midland main-line railway from London St Pancras to Leicester and Sheffield. Those two arteries are expected to bring the majority of guests.

The new site is quite near Woburn, but a lot closer to Millbrook (site of the former Vauxhall testing ground, as featured on Top Gear) and Flitwick – whose station is key to unlocking the London market. For the first time, the forest holiday park venture is within easy reach of the capital, and reasonably accessible by public transport. That is why, all this week, commuters at Waterloo station have been greeted by an “experiential exhibition” that allows them to try their hand at a virtual (but astonishingly lifelike) zip wire and compete with fellow train travellers at virtual archery. The idea is that they will want to sample the real thing at a venue that halves the travelling time from the centre of London to Center Parcs.

“We’ll see a different guest mix,” says Colin Whaley. “London is a very different place.”

Woburn Forest is a different place to the other Center Parcs. The first time I visited the spa at Longleat, for example, it was basically a sauna with a warning notice about the hours when it operated in the “Continental” mode (ie without costumes). At Woburn, the Aqua Sana complex is the biggest spa I have ever seen, with three floors of hydrological bliss. It comes at a price: like just about every activity apart from the SSP, you pay extra. My Center Parcs app, which allows me to book everything without standing in line at a counter, says a basic three-hour spa session costs £37. In the Plaza – looking like a high-spec municipal leisure centre – a half-hour of table tennis costs £7. I reckon that works out at a penny per ping, or per pong.

After all that excitement, you have to eat. Many people bring their own food and drink; Asda and Tesco stores near Center Parcs prepare themselves to be emptied on Monday and Friday afternoons, as guests stock up en route. The restaurants are partly Center Parcs’ own creations, and partly high-street implants such as Strada and Starbucks. SSP (the railway-platform-to-pizza organisation, not the Subtropical Swimming Paradise) has a big presence. Quality is high, as are the prices.

I told Colin Whaley about an encounter two weeks earlier with a British family in the Spanish city of La Coruña. They explained that they were on a cruise and volunteered that they would have preferred to have been at Center Parcs, but after taking all the costs into account, a week on a ship worked out cheaper. “We’re not competing against cruises,” he said. “We’re a short break, a top-up break. And our lead-in price in June is £419 for four people.”

As the ripples of sunlight on the artificial lake began to soften and the shadows from the very real trees lengthened, Colin Whaley was relieved that the two-year, quarter-billion-pound project had survived first contact with the great British public. Outside Café Rouge, where my soup and salad for a lead-in price of £9.95 was excellent, Jennifer Chainey summed up the secret of Center Parcs’ success: “If the kids are happy, we’re happy.”

Center Parcs: 08448 266 266; centerparcs.co.uk

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5 ways to go caravanning in Britain

Rock’n’ roll up

If you can’t face that little two-man tent anymore, you can book a caravan ticket at most of the UK’s music festivals, from Womad (24-27 July) to Bestival (4-7 September). Take your own or hire a “boutique” caravan from Festival Caravans (festivalcaravans.com) which has a fleet of restored 1980s models. They cost £500 plus a delivery fee that varies for each festival: for Glastonbury it’s £400, for Latitude £300. Festival tickets and campervan access tickets not included.

A head for heights

The Rooftop Rockets are silver, vintage-style, but modern purpose-built caravans –on the roof of Brooks Guesthouse (0117 930 0066; brooksguesthousebristol.com) in Bristol. With all the mod cons you’d expect from a contemporary hotel, there are four caravans in all – two for couples and two for families, starting at £99 per caravan per night for two sharing including breakfast.

Horse power

If you’re going to cause a traffic jam, do it in style – with a horse-drawn gypsy caravan in Cumbria. Barny the driver and Charlie and Bob the horses will take you to your first campsite. There are three to choose from including Little Salkeld Watermill, an organic working mill with bakery and café. From £150 per night for two adults (0117 204 7830; canopyandstars.co.uk/wanderlusts).



Mobile magic: the luxury AirstreamMobile magic: the luxury Airstream

Glampervan

Beryl is a 1963 Cheltenham sable caravan. Kitted out with retro fixtures and fittings, she’s offered by Kent-based The GlamperVan Hire Company (0800 035 3454; theglampervanhirecompany.com). You can tow Beryl yourself, but if you’d rather have her delivered to a campsite then this can be arranged for a fee. A glamping package during August for Beryl at Dogwood campsite costs £550 a week including set up on site at Brede in Sussex, pitch fees, gas and bedding. Hire costs from £150 for two nights including barbecue and outdoor table and chairs. On the Isle of Wight, Vintage Vacations (07802 758113; vintagevacations.co.uk) has a fleet of 13 restored Airstream caravans dating from 1946 to 1966. Two-night breaks cost from £255 this summer.

Silver service

The ultimate in designer caravanning is still the sleek, silver Airstream (0845 070 5990; airstream-rentals.co.uk). Airstream Rentals offers the luxury option, delivered to the site for you, pitched and ready, with wine in the fridge, towels warming on the heated towel rail and beds made.  From £1,000 a day for a minimum of three days, £400 per day after that, including a gourmet welcome hamper and flat-screen plasma TV.

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Dune roaming on the glorious Gower Peninsula

Oxwich Bay is a neat introduction. East of the car park, the dune slack flora is stunning. Round-leaved wintergreen and dune gentian nestle among a horde of orchids, including thousands of common twayblade and pyramidal orchids, and scores of bee orchids. In scrubby areas bordering reedbeds, yellow flag irises entice the eye and Cetti’s warbler heralds the ear.

Spend the afternoon west along the undercliffs between Port Eynon and Worm’s Head, searching for limestone plants that occur at few other British sites. At the base of the cliffs, there is thrift, spring squill, sea stork’s-bill, rock samphire and buckhorn plantain. The beach at Port Eynon holds sea stock. Among the birds, you will not fail to see raven, but keep an ear out for the cawing of a relative that has recently recolonised Gower: chough. Another returnee is the peregrine, seduced by seabird colonies at Worm’s Head.

A single Gower day cannot suffice, so spend an additional morning at Whiteford Burrows. Flora is similar to Oxwich, but the dunes are larger, wilder and more bountiful. Your botanical targets are dune gentian, round-leaved wintergreen, variegated horsetail and the adder’s-tongue fern. Gower butterflies include both the tiny and timid (small blue) and the big and bold (dark green fritillary).

A Gower dune speciality that you are unlikely to see is fen orchid, recorded from both Oxwich and Whiteford but probably now locally extinct. Fortunately, this enigmatic plant persists at Kenfig, just off Gower, so head there for the afternoon. The orchid’s luminously pale green needles underpin a whirl of delicate white flowers.

Finish the weekend a short way back towards Swansea. Britain’s largest arachnid (7cm from toe to toe), the fen raft spider, walks on water thanks to its hairy legs. Strikingly striped, this invertebrate frequents only three sites nationwide. Along the southern edge of Pant-y-Sais Fen, look for nursery webs in greater tussock sedge, between the towpath and the peaty Tennant Canal.

This is an edited extract from ’52 Wildlife Weekends’ by James Lowen, published by Bradt. IoS readers can buy a copy for just £7.79 (inc UK pp) by visiting bradtguides.com and using the discount code 52WW. Offer valid until 31 Jan 2015

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The ultimate hire car: A Highland fling in a Ferrari

The most embarrassing moment came on the Isle of Skye ferry. I was in the Highlands for three days, driving a Ferrari 360 Spider. Not an obvious choice of hire car, but it was all they had left. Only kidding. This is a new initiative by a Glasgow-based travel firm to show you Scotland’s finest views from the cockpit of a supercar. For the price of two nights at a luxury hotel, you get two nights at a luxury hotel, plus the use of the Ferrari.

Skye seemed the perfect destination for a day trip from my base, just north of Fort William. It’s a 25-minute boat ride from Mallaig, which is 45 minutes from Fort William, and you can loop back via the swooshing Isle of Skye bridge and the A87. The conditions for our crossing were perfect: a clear blue sky and a reassuringly still sea. In the Western Isles, you park your car on an open deck and trot up a level to take in the view. The surrounding hills, russet and grey in the glow of a warm autumn day, seemed close enough to touch. The stillness felt therapeutic.

Then the ferry lurched into action. Off went a car alarm, shattering the calm. A woman who had seen me clamber out of my ludicrous slab of bling turned and said: “That would be the Ferrari!” Cue gales of laughter from the whole deck.


The Ferrari 360 SpiderThe Ferrari 360 Spider

Never mind. You get used to it. The day before, on arriving at Fort William, I set off to explore Glen Nevis. This is Ben’s little brother, the valley at the foot of Britain’s highest mountain. A rocky path through the steep Nevis gorge broadens out into a wide valley and takes you to the Steall Falls, the third biggest waterfall in Scotland. It was unusually warm, and because the option had been available to me, I had spent the day driving with the hood down. Putting it up in the car park was memorable. In a 360 Spider, it is a two-stage action that one motoring journalist called a “stunning 20-second mechanical symphony”. That’s one way of putting it. Slow and fiddly is another, as the drizzle sets in, and the Czech tourists roar with laughter.

Still, I had the last laugh. Because for all the embarrassment of a car that some see as a statement on your manhood, the pleasure of driving it is worth it. It takes a little getting used to: the paddle gears; the impossibility of seeing anything while reversing; the ease of hitting 100mph by mistake. But once you adjust to these foibles, you find yourself relaxing into a relationship of mutual respect between man and beast.

Actually, relax may be the wrong word. Voltaire said that when he lost his libido, it was like being freed after a lifetime of being chained to a madman. By the end, I felt something similar. This is a car that demands to be driven fast, that overheats if you dare to pootle. This actually happened once on Skye, after I stopped one too many times to take photos. A warning light came on, and after some reading of the manual, I discovered the car’s emissions sensors had got too hot. They needed a good blast of rushing cold air to cool them down. So, with a heavy heart, I put my foot to the floor, and the problem soon cleared.

My trip had started in Edinburgh, a city I usually can’t wait to get to, rather than speed out of. Flying into Scotland from London makes it seem like a foreign country which, if the referendum goes Alex Salmond’s way, it soon will be. The drive from Edinburgh to Fort William was a brisk three-hour introduction to what lay ahead: moors, lakes and looming grey hills. The M9 peters out at Stirling, the end of the motorway network. In Doune, the first town on the A84, graffiti on a sign begs you to “Please Drive Car Fully.” If you insist! But it isn’t until you pass through Callander, and get on to Rannoch Moor, that you start to involuntarily say “wow!” every couple of miles.

I did wonder, faced with three days of a 60mph speed limit, whether a Ferrari is quite the right car for the Highlands. Wouldn’t it get frustrating, having all this power and nowhere to vent it? But one of the pleasures of driving this squat wide toad is how tightly it grips the road – you don’t have to slow down for corners. When you get stuck behind a caravan, a little blip of the throttle quickly turns it into a speck in the mirror.

My base was Inverlochy Castle, a Victorian country house in Torlundy, two miles north of Fort William. Once the home of Lord Abinger, it sits in a quiet valley, commanding views of the surrounding hills and its own lake. Plenty more “wows” here. This is the sort of place where you toss the keys to a flunkey when you pull up. So, I duly handed them over and tried to keep cool as the baby-faced porter skipped away. Happily, neither he nor the chef could get to grips with the immobiliser, so we all agreed Sir would park his car from now on.

Chef more than made up for it in the kitchen. Philip Cargenie has a well-earned Michelin star, and in between dishes of locally sourced fare, such as parmesan-crusted scallops and veal sweetbread ravioli, waiters bring out amusing little mouthfuls he has dreamt up. Cauliflower panna cotta is certainly hard to forget.

You could easily spend a week without leaving Inverlochy. Drinking gin and tonics in the bath was a high point. Log fires roar as lunch gives way to tea, to cocktails, to dinner. But the West Coast demands exploration. As Jefferson Davis, the American statesman who stayed at Inverlochy in 1869, wrote in a letter to his wife: “The scenery about here is the grandest of all the sublime spectacles I have met in Scotland. You would find a wide field for your imagination in the mists and changing lights and shades which characterise the Scottish mountains.”

The trouble is the excess of possibilities, especially with a Ferrari at your disposal. You would need a week to acquaint yourself fully with the entire coast and a couple more to see the islands. But I had come armed with an ambition. I wanted to fulfil a childhood dream of seeing an otter. The West Coast of Scotland is supposed to be the best place to see them, and the good news is that, after generations of decline, the population has enjoyed a revival in recent years.

Disembarking from the Isle of Skye ferry, I pulled into a filling station. “Where’s the best place to see otters?” I asked. “You can usually spot them on the rocks along there,” said the man, pointing to half a dozen spots on the map. “You have to be patient. And if they see you first, you won’t see them.” It was a beautiful day, perfect for mooching about on Skye’s empty beaches. Hours slipped away clambering over rocks, then taking up position, to watch and wait. Gannets, egrets, cormorants and herons were plentiful. Occasionally, they would catch a fish. But otters there came none. Only when dusk began to fall did I see a spot on the map marked “otter sanctuary”.

A sign by the hut at Kylerhea tells visitors to be very quiet, and says it’s the best place in Britain to see otters. Built by the Forestry Commission halfway up a wooded hill, the shelter is fitted with free binoculars and overlooks the Kyle Rhea, the narrow sound of water between Skye and the mainland. Down below, you can see the ferry chugging between Kylerhea and Glenelg. It’s the last turntable ferry in Scotland, a hand-operated shuttle of a kind once seen all over the Western Isles.

Darkness comes later in Scotland, but when it did, I was still watching and waiting. On the mainland across the water, Gavin Maxwell spent the late 1950s with Mijbil, the otter that inspired his book, Ring of Bright Water. Maxwell died young in 1969 (the centenary of his birth is next month), and if Mijbil’s descendants were here, they had already seen me coming. I did spot a seal: a big, black, flubbocking chap, lying on a rock, flapping his fins. He was there when I arrived and, as night enveloped us, he was there still. Tomorrow, I was heading home, and my three-day dream would be over. I tiptoed back to the car, and strapped myself in for another wild ride.




Visiting there

McKinlay Kidd (0844 873 6110; seescotlanddifferently.co.uk) offers a three-day break starting from Edinburgh, with two nights at Inverlochy Castle Hotel from £1,215pp, based on two people sharing, with breakfast and three days’ hire of a Ferrari 360 Spider.

More information

visitscotland.com

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The renaissance of the pier

If piers were about the Victorians demonstrating that they could conquer the elements, the end result never looked quite as thrusting and dominant as it was supposed to. The gaps between the boards, the skimpy ironwork, the knowledge that so many piers have burnt down (Southend did in 1959. And 1976. And 2005), all combine to give a sense of impermanence. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the British seaside pier celebrates its 200th birthday this summer, and that 58 of them remain standing in Britain.

The first pier opened at Ryde on the Isle of Wight in July 1814. Throughout the 1800s, dozens more followed. Southend’s first pier shot up in 1830 – and the current much-extended incarnation is the longest in the world. Just before the start of the summer season, on a weekday, it’s like 28 Days Later. There’s not a soul about, apart from two fishermen braving the breeze. Adventure Island looks as creepy as all deserted theme parks do on blustery days.

Piers are part of the iconography of the British seaside holiday. Those holidays were always peculiar institutions. In L’Angleterre de Martin Amis, a documentary made for French broadcaster Arte and shown earlier this year on BBC4, Amis meditated on the way the English grimly endure holidays at home. He reckoned we practise Schadenfreude on ourselves, that we derive a weird joy from the rain and the cold; from the seaside suffering and the pier-based boredom. Piers are often called “pleasure piers”, but the pleasures derived from them, especially out of season, can be dubious: arcades, funfairs, ribald postcards and candyfloss.

John Betjeman was a fan, though. He loved the heroic thrust of a pier – especially if it had a railway on it, as Ryde and Southend do. He believed a pier made a seaside town complete and said that “the Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier”.

So many early memories end up with us on piers. Cast your mind back. I remember spilling my orange juice on the way to Blackpool’s Central Pier, and being amazed by the lifeboat station and its precipitous rollercoaster ramp at the end of Cromer Pier. The present is even stranger. At Eastbourne, on a chilly Sunday, the Chippy On The Pier offers misty-windowed solace for the disconsolate and a cracking bag of chips for £1.70. In Funtasia, you can play those 2p gaming machines, where shrill bells ring and lights flash. But the feeling here is of life ebbing away, perhaps because it’s a retirement town. Even the sea seems lackadaisical; calm and just sort of hanging around – like the fishermen at the pier’s tip.

We Brits have a strange relationship with that sea, perhaps because our sea is almost always too cold to swim in. We parade around on top of it, at a physical and emotional distance from it. But if piers were in terminal decline as the 20th century wore on, now at least they seem to be enjoying a late flowering. Penarth Pier re-opened in December following a £4.2m restoration; Southwold Pier has a new owner (and will flaunt a boutique hotel if its plans come to fruition). If piers seemed morose, last year’s Alan Partridge movie changed that a bit, too, by setting its gun-toting denouement on the same Cromer Pier that baffled and awed me as a kid. It was the perfect, and perfectly odd, choice for that film’s ending.

The most encouraging pier restoration of all is just along the coast from Eastbourne at Hastings. The local community always loved its pier. The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix played gigs here, Syd Barrett did his last ever turn with Pink Floyd on the pier. Hastings also suffered from a fire in 2010, but today, rebuilding work is under way and architects dRMM have drawn up plans to create the coolest-looking pier in the world, with futuristic buildings that will again host shows and events. When it opens next year, Hastings Pier might become the main reason people go to visit the town. It won’t be a pier trapped in a timewarp, it’ll provide real, tangible, modern pleasures.

In a way, Brighton’s Palace Pier provides those pleasures, too. Brighton bursts with vitality; it’s the least depressing of Britain’s south-coast seaside towns. The Palace Pier is a reminder of how exciting the concept of a pier must have seemed to our sheltered forbears who didn’t go to summer festivals in Croatia or enjoy gap years in South-east Asia.

Of course, Brighton is also home to the saddest pier wreck. Lorded over by the uncompromising brutalist bulk of the Holiday Inn, the skeleton of the much older West Pier is intensely morbid, especially during a Brighton spring sunset. The whole scene here is set to get much, much stranger in summer 2016, because Brighton has plans to build a 600ft-high viewing tower at the exact point that the West Pier used to lurch out into the sea.

The tower, which will look like a hypodermic syringe and boast a revolving viewing platform, is the brainchild of architects Marks Barfield – who also built the London Eye. From the tip, visitors will be able to see 25 miles on a clear day – the distance to Bognor Regis Pier in the west and Eastbourne Pier in the east. µ

70

The speed, in mph, of winds that battered Brighton’s ruined West Pier in early February, splitting it in two. Winter storms also played havoc with Cromer, Skegness, Blackpool North, Southsea South, Teignmouth, Torquay Princess and Weston-super-Mare Birnbeck piers, which all suffered damage.

7

The date, this month, that designer Zandra Rhodes launches her new fashion collection, called Zandra On The Pier, at the Seaweed Salt boutique on Southwold Pier in Suffolk. The pier has been spruced up by the Gough family of hoteliers, which owns the Angel in Bury St Edmunds and the Salthouse Harbour Hotel.

58

The number of piers still standing in Britain. Hazel and Jay Preller visited every one – and got married last year on Brighton’s Palace Pier. Hazel wrote a book called From Piers To Eternity. Two Birmingham writers – Jon Bounds and Danny Smith – also visited all of Britain’s piers to research a book documenting them all.

1979

The year the National Piers Society was formed by Sir John Betjeman to campaign to protect Britain’s historic piers. Grade I-listed Clevedon is the current NPS Pier of The Year winner.

19

The chart position reached by One Direction’s “You and I” single. The band filmed the accompanying video on Clevedon Pier in Somerset.

piers.org.uk

bit.ly/BritishPiers

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Walk of the Month: The Isle of Wight

Click on map to enlarge

Shalfleet quay has been in use since medieval times, when the harbour was more swollen and deeper. Across the water – and visited later on this walk – is the minuscule hamlet of Newtown. The clue is in the name, as Newtown in the 14th century was the most important port on the Isle of Wight. At that time, Newtown creek opened into a mighty harbour estuary, but centuries of coastal ebb and flow, erosion and silt have changed all that. What’s left today is a delightful setting for an easy walk meandering along rivers and streams, guarded from the sea by large shingle banks and tidal mudflats.

Thanks to playful weather, which long ago breached the sea wall, this walk involves retracing my steps here and there. I begin with a short, there-and-back-again linear walk to Shalfleet quay, where mature trees line the inlets and Lilliputian river.

Before setting out, I’d chatted with Mark Buckett, who used to work for the island’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. “I met a Japanese tourist here who’d landed at Heathrow and made straight for the Isle of Wight. She told me this was because it’s England in a nutshell,” he said. “We’ve got the chalk downs of the South Downs,” Mark added, counting the island’s merits on his fingers, “the coastline of the New Forest, the estuaries, everything in a little package. We’ve the diversity and the variety. The only things we don’t have are the mountains of the Lake District – so we just need some kind of monumental and unexpected geological incident and we’ll have the box set.”

The boats at the quay are coated with resin to waterproof them, a process known as caulking and which gives rise to the local name for a true islander, a caulkhead. To qualify, your family must have lived on the island for at least three generations. The resin makes the boats watertight. “You tend to need to be good at that if you live on an island,” Mark had added.

My walk heads east, along a delectable wooden bridge of the kind where Christopher Robin and co might play pooh sticks. There’s a brief stretch of a B road – irksomely treated like a motorway by drivers – before the path cuts across fields for Newtown.


Newtown Creek, Isle of WightNewtown Creek, Isle of Wight

 

As I cross Cassey Bridge below Newtown, the air is full of honking as hundreds of dark-bellied Brent geese settle down on the water. You may still just catch them as they set off for the summer breeding lands in Greenland and Russia.

The walk winds it way down to the estuary, this time on its eastern flank, the mats and moorings of Shalfleet Quay now looking surprisingly distant. The hay meadows here are edged with hedgerows and grazed by the black-and-white belted Galloway cattle and Hebridean sheep. Instead of pesticides, the dung from the livestock is used to attract insects, which is in turn good for birds and bats.

An enticing wooden walkway leads out to an isolated hut marooned over the water. The planks flank two large ponds that were once saltpans until breached by a fierce storm in 1954. The coastline is gorgeous – soft, green rolling hills tumbling to a foreshore, while the New Forest makes for a wooden-framed horizon across the Solent.

It’s utterly glorious, but this part of the island once – depending on your view of such things – endured a close shave. A nuclear power plant was proposed here in the 1960s but was dropped amid the AONB designation and the area’s status as a National Nature Reserve.

I retrace my steps, this time taking a slightly different route out of Newtown, passing the idyllically positioned Church of the Holy Spirit and – one last oddity – Newtown old town hall. The redbrick house rests on large pillars and dates to 1659.

As Newtown’s influence waned, so did the fortunes of the hall, to the point that it became a town hall with no town. I push open the door to learn more. The building was rescued from collapse only by the intervention of the eccentric “Ferguson’s Gang”, a group of masked women who remained anonymous but devoted their time to raising funds to buy property for the National Trust. They would burst into Trust meetings, Robin Hood style, and plant a sack of cash on the table, with strict instructions on how it should be spent.

I get the impression that Newtown dozed on through the whole drama: it’s looks as though it’s been a wonderfully sleepy idyll for centuries.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE

Mark Rowe travelled with Wightlink ferries from Lymington to Yarmouth (0871 376 1000; wightlink.co.uk).

Red Funnel (0844 844 9988; redfunnel.co.uk) operates a foot passenger ferry service between Southampton and West Cowes.

STAYING THERE

Mark Rowe stayed at Nettlecombe Farm in Whitwell (01983 730783; nettlecombefarm.co.uk) which has self-catering cottages from £360 per week.

MORE INFORMATION

visitisleofwight.co.uk

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England’s best beaches: Blue Flag and Seaside Award winners announced

In total, 168 awards were given to English beaches by Keep Britain Tidy (KBT). Blue Flags were awarded to 56 beaches while 112 picked up the Seaside Award.

The awards recognise “high standards of management, cleanliness and safety”, according to KBT. This year the water quality was judged against the EC Bathing Water Directive, which the group said requires meeting “the very highest international standards”.

Thanet in Kent has claimed the title for the most Blue Flag beaches with seven, closely followed by Poole, Torbay, Bournemouth and Isle of Wight which received four each.

Richard McIlwain, Programmes Director for the charity Keep Britain Tidy, which is responsible for the Blue Flag and Seaside Awards in England, said: “It’s fantastic news for everyone who loves visiting the seaside that more than 160 awards have been won by beaches, which guarantees the public the best facilities and the cleanest beaches this summer.

“The sight of the Blue Flag or Seaside Award flying gives visitors the reassurance that they’ll have a great time.”

The Blue Flag beaches for 2014 are as follows:

  • East Midlands: Mablethorpe Central , Skegness Central, Sutton-on-Sea and Cleethorpes North Promenade
  • East of England: Cromer, Sea Palling, Sheringham, Mundesley, Martello Bay in Clacton on Sea, Dovercourt Bay, Brightlingsea, Frinton On Sea, Southwold Pier and South Claremont Pier in Lowestoft
  • North East: Tynemouth Longsands, King Edwards Bay, Whitley Bay, Sandhaven
  • Yorkshire: North Bay in Scarborough, Whitby and Hornsea
  • South East: Littlehampton Coastguards, Tankerton, Hayling Island Beachlands, Sandown, Ventnor, Yaverland, Colwell, Sheerness Beach, Minnis Bay, West Bay, St Mildreds, Westbrook Bay, Margate, Botany Bay, Joss Bay, Stone Bay, West Wittering
  • South West: Blackpool Sands, Sandbanks, Shore Road, Canford Cliffs and Branksome Chine in Poole, Alum Chine, Durley Chine, Fisherman’s Walk and Southbourne in Bournemouth, Carbis Bay, Sandy Bay, Salcombe South Sands, Swanage Central, Dawlish Warren, Breakwater, Broadsands, Meadfoot, Oddicombe and Westward Ho!

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