Win a Romantic Retreat with VisitEngland

October 22nd, 2014
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Have you entered our competition in conjunction with VisitEngland yet? With the competition end date in sight, we want to make sure that you don’t miss out on the chance to win this fantastic prize and enjoy a cosy cottage holiday in one of our stunning romantic retreats! We’re offering one lucky winner £400 worth of Sykes Cottages vouchers and a luxury hamper full of goodies; but hurry, the competition closes on October 31st. You can enter by heading to the VisitEngland website.

Here at Sykes, we think a cottage getaway is the most romantic way to take a break with your partner (not that we’re biased!) and in honour of our competition with VisitEngland, we want to share just a few of our tips on making the most of your romantic getaway!

Turn your phones off

Romantic holiday cottage in the Peak District

House on the Hill, Peak District, Ref. 916619

There is nothing that kills the mood more than looking at your phone every few minutes to flick through Twitter, check your Facebook notifications and upload pictures to Instagram. Just stop. Avoid temptation by turning your phone off and instead, focus on spending time with your loved one.

Make the most of the cottage’s facilities

Romantic holiday cottage in Shropshire

The Old Chapel, Shropshire, Ref. 30035

If you do your research before you go and read about the facilities that your cottage has to offer, you’ll ensure that you get the most out of your getaway. If your cottage has a hot tub, make sure that you pack your swim suits; if there’s an iPod dock, create a romantic playlist for your time together; if your cottage has a bath then splash out on some luxurious bath products for you both to enjoy! It’s all in the details.

Treat yourselves

Romantic holiday cottage in Yorkshire Dales

Journeyman Loft, Yorkshire Dales, Ref. 12252

As all of our cottages are self-catering, why not stop off at a local food shop or supermarket on the journey to stock up on all of your favourite snacks, drinks and ingredients for delicious home-made meals. Eating in is much more intimate than heading out to a restaurant, where you are frequently interrupted by waiters and distracted by other diners; if you’re looking for the perfect romantic meal then we recommend you cook up a storm in your holiday cottage and enjoy the privacy!

If you’ve entered the competition already and are waiting with bated breath to find out the winner, why not spend your time planning your potential romantic getaway by having a browse of our fantastic romantic cottages collection. If you haven’t entered yet and want to do so, head to the VisitEngland website now!

Louise O'Toole

By Louise O'Toole

Louise loves reading, shopping, baking and cosy country pubs with log fires. A nice cup of tea will never be turned down. She has spent many childhood summers on the beach in Cornwall and walking the hills of the Lake District.

Five Unusual Things to Do in Edinburgh

October 21st, 2014
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Edinburgh is one of our favourite cities and we can often be found talking about the best places to go and things to do while you’re visiting the Scottish capital. Of course, there are the classics: Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat; but what about the more unusual things to do, that aren’t often mentioned in guidebooks? If like us, you’re fond of heading off the beaten-track, check out our pick of the five most unusual things to do whilst you’re in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh

Via Flickr

Go underground with The Real Mary King’s Close

Although there are ghost tours aplenty in Edinburgh, The Real Mary King’s Close stands out as something a little different. This fascinating tour takes you down underneath the Royal Mile to a warren of 17th century streets, or ‘closes’ as they’re known, that have been frozen in time. These closes were part-demolished and buried underneath the Royal Exchange for a very long time, awash with rumours of plague victims being buried in the walls, and urban legends of murders and ghosts. They’ve now been opened up to the public and visitors can take the tour under the streets of Edinburgh, learning about the closes’ history, the people that lived there and the grisly things that took place.

See the Penguin Parade

While Edinburgh Zoo may not be the most unusual place for people to visit, the Penguin Parade is certainly one-of-a-kind. Edinburgh Zoo was actually the first zoo in the world to start housing and breeding penguins back in 1913, and they’ve remained a firm favourite with visitors ever since. The daily tradition of the Penguin Parade began in 1951 when a keeper accidentally left the enclosure door open and was followed around the zoo by the inquisitive escapees. It delighted visitors so much that the zoo continued the tradition and now, a parade of Gentoos, Rockhoppers and King Penguins occurs every day at 2.15pm.

Penguin at Edinburgh Zoo

Via Flickr

Visit the Royal Commonwealth Pool

Want to dive from the same diving board as Tom Daley? Head to Edinburgh’s Royal Commonwealth Pool, which played host to the diving events at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games! This 50m swimming pool has its own dedicated diving pool with facilities including 1m and 3m spring boards, as well as 3m, 5m, 7.5m and 10m platforms. You can either turn up at specially-allocated time slots for casual diving practice or pre-book an individual diving session with an instructor.

Walk the Water of Leith

Described as one of Edinburgh’s “best kept secrets”, the Water of Leith Walkway is a stunning path that takes you through Edinburgh city centre, along the River Leith and on to Leith itself. The walkway is perfect for a crisp afternoon stroll and takes walkers through charming villages such as Dean Village and Stockbridge; it also reveals fantastic views of Murrayfield Stadium.

Water of Leith, Edinburgh

Via Flickr

Take a Turkish Bath

Take a trip east from the city centre to the seaside suburb of Portobello, to discover a part of Edinburgh less-known to tourists. Whilst visiting this delightful beach resort, make sure you pay a visit to the Portobello Turkish Baths, which are one of only three working Turkish Baths still left in Scotland. Guests can take their pick from a steam room, relaxation area, three hot rooms and a cold plunge pool. Why not treat yourself to a little relaxation time away from the busy city and come back feeling fresh, rejuvenated and ready to sight-see!

If you’re planning on visiting Edinburgh or the surrounding areas, then make sure you check out Sykes Cottages’ fantastic range of holiday cottages in Scotland. We have over 550 properties located across the country, so you’re sure to find what you’re looking for!

Louise O'Toole

By Louise O'Toole

Louise loves reading, shopping, baking and cosy country pubs with log fires. A nice cup of tea will never be turned down. She has spent many childhood summers on the beach in Cornwall and walking the hills of the Lake District.

Cottages for a Family Holiday this Half Term

October 20th, 2014
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It may seem like yesterday the kids went back to school but, believe it or not, the October half term is creeping up on us – and there’s no better time to take a break! You get to see the UK in all its autumnal glory with long country walks and warming comfort foods being the order of the day. We’ve tracked down some of the cottages that are still available to book for the school holidays, so that you can have a look and start planning your autumn escape.

Berian Cross, Pembrokeshire

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Berian Cross, ref. 14417

First up  is Berian Cross in the sleepy hamlet of Brynberian, around five miles from Newport in south Wales. A chocolate box cottage, Berian Cross features three bedrooms which sleep up to seven people between them. This property is perfect for a lover of the outdoors; situated in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, it gives easy access to walks, bike rides and even boat trips. And what’s better, back at the cottage there’s a luxury kitchen waiting for you to rustle up a nice warming meal at the end of the day!

The Granary, Norfolk

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The Granary, ref. 14213

Or there’s The Granary, a grade II listed cottage in the town of Downham Market, not too far from King’s Lynn in Norfolk. A cosy property with an open fire in the living room, a wonderful country kitchen, and a bay window looking out over the cottage garden, you’ll never want to set foot outside! Should you venture out, you’ll be spoilt for choice with spots like the RSPB reserves at both Snettisham and Titchwell Marsh, as well as a range of stately homes a short way away, including Sandringham Estate and Holkham Hall.

Bwthyn Awel, Anglesey

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Bwythyn Awyl, ref. 913963

Finally there’s Bwythyn Awyl on Anglesey; a delightful property that can sleep up to ten people throughout its five bedrooms, two of which come with their own en-suites! There’s a luxury NEFF kitchen too, which leads to a raised deck where you’ll find stunning views over the sea. And that’s not all; within a few miles, you’ll be able to find the palatial Plas Newydd Country House, as well as the South Stack Lighthouse, one of the most iconic sights of Anglesey.

But don’t forget those properties are just a few examples of the fantastic cottages that are still available over the half term period! We’ve got everything from cosy cottages in the countryside to houses big enough for the whole family, so if you fancy taking a break then have a look at the full selection or call us on 01244 356695 and we’ll help find your dream holiday cottage!

Jamie Tomkins

By Jamie Tomkins

Jamie is a big fan of long weekend walks with the dog, especially when there is the chance to refuel with lunch in a country pub. Living in Lancaster for three years gave him the perfect opportunity to spend a lot of time in the Lake District.

Top 5 Scenic Drives in Ireland

October 19th, 2014
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Ireland is well known for its stunning scenery; the Emerald Isle’s dramatic landscapes, lush green countryside, remote beaches and breath-taking cliffs are high on most people’s must-see list. One of the best ways to see as much of this beautiful country as you can, in all its glory, is to drive. There are many roads in Ireland – away from the main motorways – that reveal the most spectacular views to those who visit them, so we’ve listed our pick of the best Irish drives below.

1. Wild Atlantic Way

Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

Via Flickr

The Wild Atlantic Way requires a tad more commitment than the rest of our drives; this newly unveiled touring route has been hailed as not only one of the longest coastal routes in the world but also one of the most beautiful! This 1,553 mile route stretches from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal, down the west coast of Ireland, to Kinsale, Co. Cork. Along the way, you’ll encounter some of the highest sea-cliffs in Europe, the most picturesque beaches in Ireland and maybe even catch a glimpse of some friendly bottlenose dolphins! If you don’t fancy driving the Wild Atlantic Way, you can see our guide to walking short sections of it, here.

2. Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Via Flickr

The unspoilt, rugged beauty of the Ring of Kerry means it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, behind Dublin. This 115 mile tourist trail follows the N70, N71 and R562 around the Iveragh Peninsula, taking in a wealth of breathtaking sights including the spectacular views from Ladies View (named after Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting who fell in love with the scenery) and Bog Village, a unique village made up of 6 properties which have been restored to their original setting, including thatched roofing.

3. Causeway Coastal Route

The Causeway Coastal Route spans 120 miles between Northern Ireland’s most vibrant cities, Belfast and Londonderry, tracing the winding curves of the spectacular coastline in-between. The route takes in sprawling coastline, picturesque seaside villages and forest highlands. Make sure to stop off and experience wonders unique to this part of the world along the way, including the extraordinary Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (not for the faint hearted!) and the breath-taking UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway.

4. Dublin-Wicklow

Wicklow Mountains

Via Flickr

Escape the bustle of the Irish capital by heading south to the natural beauty of the Wicklow Mountains, known as the Garden of Ireland. Take the Military Road to get the best views; it can be a little windy and bumpy but the view is worth it. By taking Military Road, you’ll cross over the mountains and drive through the extensive heath-clad moors and bogs of the surrounding area. Turn east at the small village of Laragh to experience the delights of Glendalough Valley, home to Ireland’s oldest monastery settlement and picturesque teal corrie lakes.

5. Cooley Peninsula

Cooley Peninsula

Via Flickr

The Cooley Peninsula in County Louth provides an alternative to some of the more well-known scenic drives in the country. This beautiful but remote peninsula was awarded a European Destination of excellence award for its “intangible heritage” and is well worth a visit. Take a drive on the R173 which circles around Cooley Peninsula, and discover the sweeping Mourne Mountains, mysterious Carlingford Lough and the medieval town of Carlingford which is brimming with rich historical heritage.

If you fancy getting in your car and heading to the Emerald Isle, make sure you check out our fantastic selection of self-catering cottages in Ireland. With over 750 properties across the country, we’d be more than happy to help you find somewhere nice to stay along the way!

Louise O'Toole

By Louise O'Toole

Louise loves reading, shopping, baking and cosy country pubs with log fires. A nice cup of tea will never be turned down. She has spent many childhood summers on the beach in Cornwall and walking the hills of the Lake District.

Autumnal Recipes for National Apple Day

October 18th, 2014
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Can you think of a more autumnal flavour than the humble apple? From crumbles to pies, sauces to chutneys, apples and autumn go hand in hand. This explains why National Apple Day always falls around this time of year. In honour of this year’s apple day, we’ve tracked down some recipes for our favourite apple dishes that you can try at home!

Mini Apple Crumbles

via Flickr

via Flickr

Ingredients

  • 125g of flour
  • 75g of unsalted butter
  • 75g of caster sugar
  • 50g of oats
  • 750g of apples
  • 2 tsp of caster sugar
  • 2 tsp of unsalted butter

Method

  1. First up preheat your oven to around 200°c.
  2. Place your flour in a large bowl and add the butter. Rub the butter and flour together until the texture resembles breadcrumbs and then mix in the 75g of caster sugar and the oats.
  3. Next take your apples, peel them and chop them before mixing in with the rest of the sugar.
  4. Divide the mixture between the jars and top with the crumble mixture.
  5. Place in the oven and cook until the crumble topping is golden brown and crisp.

Toffee Apples

toffe apples

via Flickr

Ingredients

  • 8 apples (preferably Granny Smith)
  • 4 tsp of golden syrup
  • 1 tsp of vinegar
  • 400g of caster sugar

Method

  1. First, put the apples in a bowl and cover with boiling water. This will remove the natural waxy cover and will make the toffee stick. After they have soaked, dry them and push a skewer through the core of the apples.
  2. Place your sugar into a pan with 100ml of water and cook over a medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  3. Add the vinegar and golden syrup and turn up the heat. Using a thermometer, wait until the mixture has reached 140°c.
  4. Once that temperature has been reached, take each of the apples and dip into the toffee mixture. Place them on a sheet of baking paper and leave to cool.

Classic Apple Pie

Ingredients

Pastry

via Flickr

via Flickr

  • 250g of plain flour
  • 75g of caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 125g of plain flour
  • A pinch of salt.

Filling

  • 1 kg of Cox Apples
  • 250g Granny Smith Apples
  • 250g Bramley Apples
  • 200g of caster sugar.

Method

  1. Start by making the pastry. Put your butter, sugar, flour and salt in a food processor and blend until it looks like breadcrumbs. Then, add in your egg yolks and gently pulse the mixture until it is dough like.
  2. Knead this mixture on a floured surface until it is smooth and then wrap in cling film and refrigerate.
  3. Next peel and core all of your apples and slice them up. Add them to a saucepan with the sugar and gently heat the mixture until the apples begin to break down.
  4. Next take your pastry, split one third away from the mixture and roll out both pieces until they are a few millimetres wide. Take the bigger portion and use it to line a pie tin before blind baking it for 20 minutes at 200°c.
  5. Spoon your apple mixture into the pie dish and cover with the remaining third of the pastry. Return to to oven and bake for another 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.

Well there you go, some simple recipes for our favourite autumnal apple dishes. Next time you’ve got family or friends coming round to dinner why don’t you give them a go. They’re easy enough to do and I’m sure they’ll bring out a few smiles around the table!

Jamie Tomkins

By Jamie Tomkins

Jamie is a big fan of long weekend walks with the dog, especially when there is the chance to refuel with lunch in a country pub. Living in Lancaster for three years gave him the perfect opportunity to spend a lot of time in the Lake District.