Book Now for the February Half Term

December 19th, 2014
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Believe it or not Christmas is just around the corner, in fact it’s less than a week away – where did all that time go? But get the festivities out of the way and the time will start to fly by yet again; before you know it it will be February and the schools will have broken up once more. The February half term always seemed like a bit of an anti-climax for me when I was growing up, with it being wedged in between Christmas and Easter it always seemed to be a bit overshadowed, but book yourself holiday cottage for the break and you’ll never find this to be the case!

Why book in December?

It may seem strange to be talking about booking yourself a February break during the Christmas holidays, but there’s no better time. It tends to get a touch hectic here at Sykes HQ just before the schools break up with people trying to snap something up at the last minute, and sadly a lot of our properties have already been booked by that point. So why don’t you beat the crowds and get in there early? Also, if you book in December you can take advantage of the time off from work and get the family together to make sure that you pick the right cottage for everybody!

Where to go?

Well it’s entirely up to you! We’ve got cottages throughout Britain and Ireland, from the Scottish Highlands right the way down to the Cornish Coast, so it all depends on what you’re after. Lovers of the great outdoors will be right at home in places like the Lake District with stunning scenery and bracing walks. Or alternatively you might fancy a city break where the culture vultures will be able to get their fill, not to mention the option to sneak in a touch of retail therapy!

What to get up to on your cottage break

You’ll never be short of something to do when you go away to your holiday cottage. From rustling up warming winter meals in the kitchen to settling down in front of the fire to watch a film. And then there’s all of the fantastic days out and activities that you can try out whilst you’re away! Websites like the National Trust and Day Out With the Kids are usually very good for finding out what’s on in the area, and many of our owners will leave various leaflets and information packs in the cottage listing some of the local attractions.

So there we have it, just a few of the reasons that you should book yourself a cottage break for the February Half Term this Christmas time. It’ll be less hassle, you’ll have a wider choice and there’ll be no mad rush come February; what more could you want?

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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.

Britain’s Best Christmas Trees

December 18th, 2014
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We’re probably all a little biased but when it comes to Christmas trees, I think everyone is inclined to think that their own is by far the best. We all spend hours choosing our decorations, decorating our trees and of course, uploading the obligatory pictures to social media. However, there are some trees in the UK that are slightly more distinguished than others. Read on to find out about some of Britain’s best Christmas trees!

Europe’s Largest Walk in Tree – Cheshire Oaks, Cheshire

Cheshire Oaks Christmas Tree

Via Flickr

Cheshire Oaks is a favourite haunt of many of us here at Sykes Cottages as it’s just a short drive from our offices. However, the McArthur Glen designer outlet is also home to the Europe’s largest walk-in tree, which stands at over 90 foot high and 32 foot wide. The tree itself has over 5 miles of fairy lights, weighs 18 tons and boasts 100,000 baubles. Visitors to Cheshire Oaks this Christmas can pay an optional donation to step inside this one-of-a-kind twinkling tree for a look around and a fantastic photo opportunity!

UK’s Oldest Christmas Tree – Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

Wrest Park Christmas Tree

Via Flickr

This year, for the first time in a century, the UK’s oldest Christmas tree will be decorated for the festive season. The Wellingtonia stands at around 98 foot and dates back to 1856, when it was planted by Thomas de Grey in Wrest Park, which is now an English Heritage country estate and gardens. When it was first planted, the tree was brought into the property every year, decorated for Christmas, and then re-planted once the festivities were over. During this period, Christmas trees were all the rage as the Royal Family had recently embraced them as part of their own Christmas celebrations – the tree at Wrest Park is believed to be ones of the earliest examples of a Christmas tree grown in the UK.

UK’s Tallest Christmas Tree- Ballatar, Aberdeenshire

Ballatar Christmas Tree

Via Flickr

The title of the UK’s tallest Christmas tree is believed to be held by a 125 foot tall tree in Ballatar, Aberdeenshire. The tree is located at the Hilton Grand Vacations Club in the Victorian village of Ballatar, and has been decorated with 2,100 lights and a 5 foot star at the top. Previously, the claim for the UK’s tallest Christmas tree lay with a redwood tree at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, which stood at 118 foot.

Think you know of a better Christmas tree? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions – you can let us know by leaving a message on our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet.

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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.

Christmas Baking

December 17th, 2014
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Throughout the festive period you will find tasty goodies everywhere you look, but if you can’t indulge over the holidays then when can you? Here at Sykes Cottages, we have an extremely sweet tooth so the holidays are the perfect time to satisfy our cravings for baked goods. If like us you like to treat yourself over the holidays then keep reading as we share our favourite Christmas baking recipes.

Biscuits

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

I make a lot of biscuits for the team here at Sykes and judging on how fast they disappear they must be pretty good! I’ve included my own recipe for butter biscuits below which makes 25 biscuits and takes around 50 minutes from start to finish.

Ingredients

  • 250g butter (softened)
  • 300g plain flour
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 3tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk

Method

  1. Cream together the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl using a wooden spoon.
  2. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract before beating the mixture together.
  3. Sift in the flour and stir until the mixture is combined – if you are struggling to do this with the spoon get your hands in and press everything together.
  4. Wrap the dough in cling film and place it in the fridge for 30 minutes, this will make it easier to work with.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge and place it on a floured surface and pre-heat your oven to 180c.
  6. Roll the dough out to around 5mm thick before cutting out shapes using festive cookie cutters.
  7. Place your biscuits on to backing paper on top of an oven try and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.
  8. Remove the biscuits from the oven and leave to firm up for 2-3 minutes before placing on a cooling rack. Wait until the biscuits are cool before decorating.

Mince Pie

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Mince pies are a true Christmas classic and much easier to make then you would first think. The recipe we have suggested below is from the master baker himself Paul Hollywood, will make 16 mince pies and takes around an hour to complete.

Ingredients

For the filling;

  • 600g mincemeat
  • 1 apple (finely chopped)
  • 2 satsumas (segmented)
  • Zest 1 lemon
  • Icing sugar for dusting

For the pastry:

  • 125g caster sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
  • 260g unsalted butter (softened)
  • 375g plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 beaten egg (for glazing)

Method

  1. Rub the flour and butter together until it looks like crumbs then add the sugar and egg before mixing everything together.
  2. Tip the pastry mixture out onto a lightly floured service and fold until the mixture comes together – be careful not to over fold the pastry mixture. Wrap the mixture in cling film and chill for 10 minutes.
  3. Put your mincemeat into a bowl and add the satsumas, apple and lemon zest. Pre-heat the oven to 220c.
  4. Take out the pastry mix and roll out until 3mm thick. Using a 10cm round cutter cut out 16 bases and fit them into a muffin try. Fill each pastry with around 2 tbsp of mincemeat mixture and brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg.
  5. Re-roll the pasty this time cutting 16, 7cm lids and place them on top of the mince pies applying slight pressure to seal around the edges. Glaze the lids with the rest of the egg then sprinkle over a little caster sugar before making a small cut in the top and place them in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven when golden brown and leave to cool. Once cooled take them out of the muffin tray and add a dusting of icing sugar before serving.

Yule Log

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

Who doesn’t love a chocolate cake, especially one with a creamy filling and a chocolate topping? Mary Berry certainly isn’t shy of chocolate and that’s why her yule log is the perfect centrepiece to any Christmas buffet. The following recipe from the Queen of baking takes around an hour to make and will serve up to ten people.

Ingredients

For the chocolate sponge

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 65g self-raising flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 4 large eggs

For the cream filling

  • 300ml double cream (whipped)

For the chocolate ganache topping

  • 300g dark chocolate (broken into small pieces)
  • 300ml double cream
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200c and lightly grease a Swiss tool tin then line with non-stick paper or baking parchment making sure to push it in at the corners.
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture turns pale. Sift in the cocoa powder and flour then carefully fold together the mixture using a spatula until all the cocoa powder and flour are incorporated into the mixture – careful not to beat any of the air out!
  3. Pour the mixture into the Swiss roll tin making sure to evenly cover the surface and corners. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch (the sides should be shrinking away from the edge of the tin.
  4. On your work surface place a large sheet of backing parchment (bigger than the Swiss roll tin) dust this with icing sugar before carefully tipping out the Swiss roll and removing the bottom piece of paper.
  5. Cut a score mark 1in in along one of the longer edges and begin to tightly roll up the sponge using the paper. Keep the paper inside and sit the Swiss roll on top of its outside edge to fully cool.
  6. Whilst the Swiss roll is cooling you can make your ganache topping. Heat the cream in a pan (it shouldn’t be too hot that you can’t place your figure in it). Remove from the heat and add the dark chocolate, stirring the mixture until it has dissolved. Cool until it reaches room temperature and then place in the fridge to firm up – remember you’re icing the ganache onto the Swiss roll so it needs to be thick enough to pipe.
  7. Once the Swiss roll has cooled uncurl it and remove the paper. Evenly spread the whipped cream on top then re-roll tightly.
  8. When the ganache has firmed up put it into a piping bag which has been fitted with a star nozzle. Pipe long thick lines across the cake covering it completely. Cover the ends with chocolate ganache before dusting the icing sugar over the top and serving.

And there you have it our three favourite recipes for Christmas baking. If this post has left you feeling inspired to try out these seasonal recipes then please share your tasty results with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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nicole.westley

By Nicole Westley

As a food lover Nicole can often be found in the kitchen, covered in flour and experimenting with new tastes! When not making a mess she loves to explore her Celtic roots by roaming the Scottish countryside or exploring the bays along the Anglesey coast with her fiancé.

Christmas Decor for Cottage Owners

December 16th, 2014
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Christmas time is here and it has brought with it festive cheer, flashing lights and a mass of chocolates (just us?) We know how important those little touches to your holiday property can be to guests, particularly at Christmas time, so we thought we would write up a blog post giving you some inspiration on decorating your holiday property for those festive guests.

A Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree Decoration

Image via Flickr

So obvious that I wasn’t sure whether to include it! No Christmas is complete without a tree but they are quite bulky and not the best for travelling. Save space in your guests’ car and save them time by having a tree up and decorated when they arrive.

A Plate and Mug for Father Christmas

Father Christmas Treats

Image via Flickr

Travelling around the world giving gifts to everyone on the nice list is pretty tiring, and we have word that Father Christmas gets a little peckish! Why not provide a fun plate for children to use so that they can leave out a mince pie and milk for the big man in red. Don’t forget a carrot or two for the reindeers!

Psst! We hear that Father Christmas is quite a fan of these festive tipples, as well…

Tableware

Christmas Tableware

Image via Flickr

What is Christmas lunch without a tablecloth and centre piece? Whether you go for a fun, novelty throw away table cover or something a little more traditional and plush, leave one for your guests. This will make their holiday property feel a little more like home, even more festive and also has the benefit of protecting your dining room table! Providing a matching centre piece or candles can really add to the festive feeling.

Little Touches

Little Touches at Christmas

Image via Flickr

Christmas is not all about the big things; it is the small and thoughtful things that can really make a difference. Why not leave some crackers (the edible, or the pulling kind) for your guests and add some festive sweets or biscuits to your welcome pack? If your property is dog friendly, don’t forget to put in some treats for the pooch – it’s these little things that can make a lovely festive addition that your guests are sure to love!

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Leanne Dempsey

By Leanne Dempsey

A lover of reading, eating and shopping Leanne will often be found spending time with her two pugs or snapping away on instagram. A big fan of the city, She likes nothing more than getting away for a weekend break in the UK, her favourite places being London and Bath.

Last Minute Cottages for Christmas

December 15th, 2014
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Christmas is almost upon us. From here on out, ‘tis the season to be jolly. The majority will be prepped, ready and waiting for the arrival of Little St Nick. If you’re not, or if you’ve been umming and ahhing about where to host Christmas this year, there’s still time to book a cottage for Christmas with Sykes. We’ve got plenty of holiday homes with availability over the Christmas period, some of which are offering great discounts on selected dates. To give you a taste for the cottages we have on offer, take a look at these five wonderful holiday cottages.

Clove Cottage – Ref. 917424

Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria

Nestled in the beautiful Cumbrian countryside, just four miles from the ancient town of Appleby-in-Westmorland, Clove Cottage is an idyllic holiday home, with space for up to four guests to enjoy a comfortable and relaxing break. The property feature two spacious bedrooms – double and twin – a cosy lounge and fully fitted cottage kitchen. Original period features, such as exposed brick walls and oak beams, add character, whilst the property’s location makes it a great base for exploring the nearby Lake District. In short, Clove Cottage is ideal for a relaxing family Christmas.

Miller’s Lodge – Ref. 2470

St Keyne, Cornwall

Couples longing for an isolated Christmas away from everyday stress should take a closer look at Miller’s Lodge, a characterful property in St Keyne, Cornwall. This lovingly restored barn is situated in the Looe Valley, an area of outstanding beauty renowned for its peace and tranquillity. Miller’s Lodge features one double bedroom, a shower room, and open plan living area with galley-style kitchen. Couples will love the property’s tasteful front room, which is the ideal place for opening presents come Christmas morning. To top it off, you’ll receive a discount of £100 on seven night stays from the 22nd December.

Bronwydd – Ref. 996

Llanbedrog, Wales

Gather your friends and family and make for the bracing Welsh coast this Christmas with a break in Bronwydd cottage. Accommodating up to seven guests, this spacious Welsh holiday home is the perfect destination for families or a group of friends. Bronwydd is located in Llanbedrog, a coastal village three miles from the popular village of Abersoch, and has a number of superb coastal walks right from the door – perfect for walking off the Christmas dinner. The property features four bedrooms, a spacious sitting room with exposed beams, and well-equipped kitchen with everything you need to cook up a memorable Christmas feast.

Waterside Cottage – Ref. 2661

Hovingham, North Yorkshire

Enjoy a relaxing family Christmas this year and rent Waterside Cottage, a wonderfully charming holiday home in the midst of North Yorkshire’s picturesque Howardian Hills AONB. For a family of four, this Yorkshire holiday cottage proves perfect; one king-size double and one twin room can comfortably accommodate up to four guests, and the cosy sitting room – complete with real, woodburning stove – is a luxurious place to debunk after a big Christmas lunch. The rolling countryside of the nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty offers a playground for outdoor pursuits, and is the ideal place for little’uns to try out the toys that Santa has brought them. Book now for Christmas, and you’ll receive over £100 off the weekly rental price.

Rent a self-catering holiday cottage for Christmas

If you’re convinced by a cottage break this Christmas, now’s the time to make a booking. Many of our Christmas holiday rentals also offer last minute discounts, which are now valid on breaks booked for the 22nd December, and will give you a great reduction on the weekly rental of your chosen cottage. To find out if a property accepts last minute breaks for Christmas, scroll to the bottom of the property page and look out for the Last Minute Break icon.

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Jonathan Tuplin

By Jonathan Tuplin

Jonathan is a lover of books, music and good food. Originally from Yorkshire, there's nothing he likes more than a cycle in the country. One of his favourite spots in the UK is Tenby, where he spent many a happy holiday as a child.