Autumn Wildlife Watch

September 29th, 2014
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Unlike us Homo sapiens – who batten down the hatches at the first sign of the impending winter – wildlife flourishes when the mercury drops and the leaves turn amber. Whether fattening up on seasonal fruits, nuts and berries, or fleeing the imminent chill, there’s loads of critters to spot during the autumn months. Here’s a quick guide on what you’re likely to see should you stray into the country this fall.

Spot seal pups at Farne Islands

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

Not only are the Farne Islands home to one of the UK’s largest seabird colonies – there’s 23 species here, including 37,000 pairs of puffins – they’re also home to a large grey seal colony. On average, around 1,000 seal pups are born on the Farne Islands every autumn, so it’s the perfect place to spot these enchanting aquatic beasts. Historically, these North Sea islets were renowned for their ties to Celtic Christianity, though in recent times, high tides mean they’re now only accessible by boat. To see these cuties though, a boat trip seems a small price to pay.

Bottlenose Dolphins, The Lizard, Cornwall

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

You know that bit of land in Cornwall that sticks out into the Atlantic? That’s called the Lizard Peninsula, or ‘The Lizard’ for short. Why it’s called the Lizard Peninsula I have no clue, but one thing’s for sure; there’s aquatic wildlife aplenty off the coast of this un-reptilian shaped headland. Basking sharks, seals and harbour porpoises are among the sea dwellers you’re likely to spot off the Lizard coast, as well as everyone’s favourite, the bottlenose dolphin. Autumn is a great time to see dolphins wherever you are in the UK, but the beauty of the Lizard Peninsula is sure to make a sighting that extra bit special.

Black Grouse, Durham Dales

For bumpkins, the grouse is commonplace on any country lane commute. For city slickers however, the closest you may have come to one of these handsome birds is the animated one that appears on TV at Christmastime advertising Scotch. Head to the very lovely Durham Dales during the months of autumn and chances are you’ll spot one or two Black Grouse, a globally threatened variety of the Grouse. Though twitching may not be on everyone’s holiday agenda, an afternoon searching for Black Grouse won’t feel wasted when you see Durham’s charming landscapes.

Red Deer, Beecrags Country Park, West Lothian

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

Although Red Deer are synonymous with the British countryside, how many of us have actually laid eyes on one in the wild? Growing up on the fringes of the Yorkshire Dales, I was lucky enough to see plenty of deer, though none – to my knowledge – were red. For those of you who’d like to see the majestic red deer in the flesh, now’s the perfect time to do so. The Beecrags Country Park in West Lothian is home to a large herd of deer, and it’s around this time that the male bucks go head to head to impress females.

Puffins, South Stack Cliffs, Anglesey

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

Just look at ‘em – aren’t they a delight? Needless to say, I’m a big fan of the humble puffin. These comical cliff dwellers are one of the UK’s most beloved seabirds, and for good reason. Though the largest colony of puffins can be found at RSPB Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire, there’s plenty of other places around the British Isles where you can find these multi-coloured wonders, including here, at the South Stack Cliffs in Anglesey. This spectacular headland is teeming with puffins at this time of year, and it’s also the perfect place to blow out the cobwebs with a blustery coastal walk.

Watch wildlife on an autumn cottage break

If your other half’s not keen on devoting a day to wildlife watching, then you could always bribe them with a weekend cottage break from Sykes. We’ve got hundreds of cottages with availability this autumn in many of the UK’s favourite wildlife hotspots, so grab the binoculars and book yours today.

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.

Ten of the UK’s Cosiest Country Pubs

September 28th, 2014
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Does your local have a warming wood burner? What about charming country views? A terrace leading to a sandy bay? Or locally sourced ales crafted down the road? No? Well fear not, because we’re here to let you know about Britain’s best country pubs and where you can find them.

The Kirkstile Inn, Cockermouth

The Kirkstile Inn – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

The Kirkstile Inn – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

The word ‘enchanting’ doesn’t do The Kirkstile Inn justice. Neither does ‘magical’, or ‘amazing’ for that matter. Don’t fret, I haven’t gone soft. It’s just the location of this Lake District boozer is extraordinary. Seated beneath the fells of the north west Lakes, Kirkstile offers good food and great beer. It’s said to have been frequented since Tudor times – we can definitely see why.

The Berkeley Arms, Melton Mowbray

The Berkeley Arms

The Berkeley Arms – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

From the village that brought you the pork pie comes a country pub offering culinary treats and a great choice of liquid refreshment; The Berkeley Arms. This Melton Mowbray public house offers well-appointed dining and a cosy bar from which to enjoy a pint or two. The food here has earned quite a reputation, so be sure to book in advance.

Groes Inn, Conwy

Groes Inn – Via Flickr

Groes Inn – Via Flickr

As one of Wales’ oldest taverns, the proprietors of The Groes Inn have quite the reputation to maintain. Thankfully, they’re doing a damn good job of it. With a roster of local ales and a top notch menu brimming with responsibly sourced fare, this ivy-clad watering hole is arguably one of Wales’ best.

The Gurnard’s Head, Cornwall

The Gurnard's Head – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

The Gurnard’s Head – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Sink a pint on the edge of the world – there’s a slogan for you. Joking aside, you can do just that at The Gurnard’s Head, a friendly pub on Cornwall’s magical north coast. A strip of land yay big is all that separates you and your Cornish IPA from the Atlantic, making Gurnard’s Head one of the most invigorating places to enjoy a pint in Blighty.

Battlesteads, Northumberland

Battlesteads – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Battlesteads – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Nestled amid the castle-strewn landscape of Northumberland’s border region – just down the road from Hadrian’s famous wall no less – is Battlesteads, a lovable pub offering a friendly and oh-so-warm-welcome on a bitter winter’s day. If it wasn’t for the inn’s proper grub and distinctive ales, the amber glow radiating through its windows would surely be enough to entice the weary traveller.

The Bull’s Head, Herefordshire

The Bull's Head –  Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

The Bull’s Head – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Eat, drink and be merry in the shadow of The Black Mountains; that’s what’s on the menu at The Bull’s Head, a former drover’s inn hidden in the Herefordshire countryside. If not for the contemporary – and equally indulgent – menu, you’d think time had forgotten The Bull’s Head; it’s stone walkways, hole-in-the-wall-bar and traditional furnishings do hark to yesteryear.

Lathkil, Bakewell, Derbyshire

Lathkil Hotel – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Lathkil Hotel – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Panoramic views of the Peak District beckon at the Lathkil Hotel, a whitewashed tavern perched atop a peak two miles from the town of Bakewell. Lathkil serves wholesome food and locally sourced ales, but enough about all that; if their bitter had the consistency of dishwater, you’d still enjoy it, happy to spend another moment in the midst of its striking vistas.

Shieldaig Bar & Coastal Kitchen, Shieldaig

Loch Shieldaig – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Loch Shieldaig – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

Fresh seafood? Check. Great views? Check. Friendly staff? Check. The best pizza in the Highlands? Supposedly. Yes, this is the Shieldaig Bar & Coastal Kitchen, a delightful seafood joint overlooking Loch Shieldaig. Though not your classic country pub, this contemporary coastal bar and restaurant is well worth a visit if you’re touring the Scottish Highlands.

The Royal Oak, Chipping Norton

The Royal Oak – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

The Royal Oak – Via Google Images – Labelled for reuse

From contemporary coast to charming country, The Royal Oak in Chipping Norton is dripping with traditional pub panache. Though it shares its name with over 400 other pubs around Britain, this stone-built tavern has welcomed travellers for centuries, and happens to be one of the prettiest places to plant your bum and enjoy a pint in the Cotswolds.

Take a trip to the country on a cottage break

Country pubs and autumn go hand in hand, so if you’re in the market for a seasonal excursion, why not rent a cottage near one of these rural taverns? We’ve got plenty of cottages to rent near pubs in the UK that offer a great base for a holiday; why not take a look at our selection today.

Know of a picturesque pub in the country? We want to hear about it! Get in touch on Facebook or Twitter.

Looking for more interesting taverns to visit? Check out our definitive guide to the UK’s best pubs.

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.

Booking a Surprise Holiday: The Ultimate Guide

September 27th, 2014
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Whether it’s for a birthday, anniversary or just because, nothing says you care like booking a surprise holiday for your loved one. Whether you want a relaxing break or something to let out your adventurous side, we have a huge choice of properties that will suit your every need and are happy to help keep your booking a surprise. Take a look below at our latest infographic for hints and tips on booking – and keeping – that holiday a surprise!

The Ultimate Guide to Booking a Surprise Holiday

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Booking a Surprise Holiday… The Ultimate Guide!

There is nothing  like a luxury, romantic break for two and they’re even sweeter when it’s a surprise. Booking a getaway whilst keeping your partner in the dark can seem like a logistical nightmare but read on to learn a few tips on how to make your surprise a success!

Making a Surprise Booking

When making your booking, ensure that all correspondence goes to an address that your loved one doesn’t have access to. Book using your work email and ask whether they will be sending you anything in the post – if so, use your work address for that, too!

If you have a shared bank account, make sure that you don’t use it to pay for your surprise holiday. Use your personal bank account to avoid raising suspicions!

If you make your booking using a shared computer, or a computer that your loved one has access to, be sure to delete your browsing history and cookies afterwards.

Is there a series that your partner never misses or a TV show they’ve been longing to watch? Then be sure to record them if they’re scheduled for whilst you are away.

Things to Keep in Mind

Make sure that both you and the recipient of the surprise have booked holidays from work on the dates that you would like to go away.

If you’re leaving it until last minute to unveil your surprise, you can take some of the strain from your loved one by doing some of their packing for them.

If you aren’t staying in the UK think about any identification that you both might need and check that any identification is up to date before embarking on your journey.

Don’t forget that if you or your partner have a four legged friend, make sure to book pet friendly accommodation or arrange for a friend or family member to look after them.

Let their friends and family know about the surprise, to ensure that they do not make plans with your loved one over the time you will be going away.

Extra Touches

While You’re Away

Think about whether you want to have a relaxing or an action packed getaway. Does your loved one need to unwind or would an energising holiday full of activities suit them better?

If romance and relaxation is on the cards, then why not book a meal at a local restaurant whilst you’re away? Or even better, order a food shop from an organic delivery service and cook up a romantic meal for two.

If you’re looking for something a little more action packed then take a look at what activities are available in the local area and plan your days accordingly. If you’re near the coast then why not surprise your lucky holiday companion with surfing lessons, or if they’d rather stay on dry land, book a segway tour through a local forest.

Back at Home

If you’re keeping the getaway a complete surprise and not telling your loved one until last minute, there are a few thoughtful things you can sort out back at home so that they don’t have to!

Postpone any deliveries that they may have. Do they have milk or the newspaper delivered? Perhaps they receive a health snack food box through the post. If so, then put these deliveries on hold until you return from your getaway.


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.

Five Ways to Make Your Holiday Cottage Stand Out

September 26th, 2014
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Here at Sykes, we know a thing or two about holiday cottages and we know that one of the most important things to consider when you own a cottage is how to make yours stand out from the thousands of others that are out there. Below, you’ll find five tried-and-tested ways to make the most of your property and ensure that you attract as many bookings as possible!

1. Have great pictures

Holiday cottage in Shropshire

Barleycorn Cottage, Shropshire, Ref. 27007

Pictures play an important role when guests are choosing a holiday cottage, and so you want to make your cottage look as appealing as possible. If you’re signing up with Sykes Cottages, a specialist member of our team will come out to take the pictures for you, and will be on hand to advise you on how best to show off your property. However, there are a few things that you can do to prepare your cottage before our team member arrives. Complete a thorough clean of your property and make sure that the garden is looking neat. Make the most of any stand-out features that you have; ensure that your log fire is lit and burning brightly, your hot tub is bubbling away and your swimming pool is uncovered and clean. Finally, buy a bunch of flowers to brighten up rooms instantly!

2. Provide a welcome pack

Holiday cottage on Anglesey

Carreg Rhys, Anglesey, Ref. 24459

Something that we see time after time in our customers’ feedback is that guests REALLY appreciate welcome packs. Leaving tea, coffee, milk, sugar and biscuits are a fantastic idea – your guests may have travelled quite a distance to reach your cottage and this sort of thoughtfulness will go a long way. Other ideas include home-made cakes, a sample of a local delicacy, or a bottle of wine, all of which are sure to make your guests’ day and will help ensure that your property’s reviews stand out!

3. Know your market

Dog friendly

Via Flickr

One of the best ways to make your holiday rental stand out is to be aware of who stays in your property and cater to this. If your property is dog friendly, make sure you include information on where’s good to go for a walk and what pubs in the area are dog friendly. If you describe your cottage as child-friendly then why not provide cots, stairgates and high-chairs to give frazzled parents a helping hand; you could also include leaflets on days out for children in the area. If your cottage is more of a romantic retreat, consider making a list of nearby restaurants or leave a supply of cosy blankets in your property.

4. Invest in features that appear on customers’ wish-lists

Holiday cottage with a swimming pool

Rushmore Lodge, Kent, Ref. 16229

It’s easier said than done but one of the easiest ways to make your holiday cottage stand out is to invest in features that are high on customers’ wish-lists. It can be something as simple as WiFi or a dishwasher, which are always appreciated, and are facilities that are frequently requested by customers. More expensive features such as hot tubs and swimming pools are harder to install but will certainly guarantee that your property has an edge; cottages with hot tubs and swimming pools are certainly our most popular and they book up very quickly.

5. Don’t forget about the little things

Holiday cottage in Worcestershire

Lavender Cottage, Worcestershire, Ref. 21367

Sometimes, it’s the little things that can make the most difference but they can often be the easiest to forget! We’ve listed a few suggestions on how you can avoid this below:

  • Get the basics right. Make sure that you provide a generous amount of toilet roll, cleaning equipment and have plenty of crockery.
  • It’s always helpful to provide information on how to work the appliances in the property and how to start up any other features such hot tubs or open fires.
  • Providing a guest book is a great way to hear what your guests thought about their holiday cottage; what they loved and any feedback that they have. They can also leave recommendations on places to visit for future guests, something which is always very much appreciated.

If you want to know more about how you can make your holiday cottage stand out, or if you want to know more about letting your holiday rental with Sykes Cottages, then please visit our website or give our owner care team a call on 01244 356 666.

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.

Quiet Corners of Ireland

September 25th, 2014
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Peace and quiet is hard to come by, so it’s important to soak up every minute of it. Luckily, there’s a place offering buckets of tranquillity at no extra cost; Ireland. Here’s a shortlist of the quietest, most peaceful corners of the Emerald Isle.

Glen of Aherlow, Co. Tipperary

Glen of Aherlow- Via Flickr

Glen of Aherlow- Via Flickr

Sixteen glorious miles of countryside await in the Glen of Aherlow, a peaceful valley near the town of Tipperary. Wayfarers young and old will appreciate the unnerving stillness of Aherlow, which has welcomed wanderers for centuries. With a variety of walking trails and a total lack of civilisation, this Irish gully gets a big tick in the box marked ‘secluded’.

Connemara, Co. Galway

Connemara- Via Flickr

Connemara- Via Flickr

It may sound like somewhere from Middle Earth – and look like it too – but believe me, Connemara is as real as it gets. Tucked away on the Emerald Isle’s brooding Atlantic Seaboard, even the boundaries of this scenic beauty spot are elusive. Escape here for a holiday and it’s likely you won’t see another human for the duration – bliss.

Glendalough, Co. Wicklow

Glendalough- Via Flickr

Glendalough- Via Flickr

Prettiness embodied; that about sums up Glendalough, a glacial valley in County Wicklow. To elaborate, it’s got a magnificent lake, plenty of trees, and an Early Medieval monastery that English troops nearly did away with at the end of the 14th century. Oh, and though it’s not far from Dublin, it’s surprisingly peaceful, so keep your voice down!

Skellig Isles, Co. Kerry

Skellig Isles- Via Flickr

Skellig Isles- Via Flickr

Perhaps peaceful is the wrong word to describe Skellig, after all, it’s renowned for its battalion of highly verbal seabirds. Plus, you’ll need to take a boat to reach these Atlantic islets, which will of course involve a degree of human interaction. Disembark however, and you’ll feel like you’ve been marooned on your own un-tropical island, complete with 6th century pathways and inspiring views of the Irish coast.

Benbulbin, Co. Sligo

Benbulbin- Via Flickr

Benbulbin- Via Flickr

Is it just me, or does Benbulbin have a bit of an Uluru vibe? (Minus the colouration of course) Regardless, this formidable mountain packs a serious aesthetic punch, it being 200m taller than London’s newly erected Shard. Rising sharply out of ‘Yeat’s County’, Benbulbin – or Ben Bulben if you’re feeling pedantic – is a designated County Geological Site, and offers the perfect backdrop for a peaceful stroll.

Achill Island, Co. Mayo

Achill Island- Via Flickr

Achill Island- Via Flickr

It may be Ireland’s largest island, but thanks to its measly population, it’s still weirdly under-inhabited. You know what that means? There’s plenty of secluded corners in which to enjoy a quiet leg-stretch. Achill is also home to some glorious beaches – including no less than five Blue Flag ones – making it the perfect place to take the kids if the family is ready for some R&R.

Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry

Killarney National Park- Via Flickr

Killarney National Park- Via Flickr

It may look like a typo, but McGillycuddy’s Reeks is actually Ireland’s tallest mountain range, and it’s right here, in the Killarney National Park. At over 1,000 metres, Reeks is an impressive sight to behold, not least when viewed as a reflection in the stunning Lakes of Killarney below. Though the national park is on the well-trod Ring of Kerry, it remains one of South West Ireland’s most peaceful spots.

Blackstairs and Barrow Valley, Co. Carlow

Blackstairs Mountain- Via Flickr

Blackstairs Mountain- Via Flickr

When I read about the Barrow Valley, it was described as having ‘wild silence’, which I thought was rather lovely. Here, beneath the might of Blackstairs Mountain, traffic noise and chaos is replaced by the hullabaloo of nature; of gurgling streams, blustery forests, and the hum of bees as they go about their business. Anyone who travels here will leave with a sense of vigour, and the absolute knowledge that they’ll be returning soon.

Derryveagh Mountains, Co. Donegal

Derryveagh- Via Flickr

Derryveagh- Via Flickr

Just when you think Ireland has nothing left to give – when you’ve reached the northwestern corner, and the Atlantic coast beckons – the Derryveagh Mountains appear on the horizon to take the breath from your lungs once more. As the Emerald Isle’s least populated region, this spectacular wilderness is the perfect destination for a secluded getaway. Simply put, in Donegal, nothing matters but you and the wild.

Loop Head Peninsula, Co. Clare

Loop Head Peninsula- Via Flickr

Loop Head Peninsula- Via Flickr

Want to go really off the beaten path? Head to the Loop Head Peninsula, a lean slither of land branching into the Atlantic. Time seems to have forgotten Loop’s villages, though all offer the usual level of Irish hospitality. Venture forth into the wonderful coastal landscapes – which scooped a European Destination of Excellence award in 2010 – and the long drive will soon seem worth it.

Book an Irish break with Sykes Cottages

Purveyors of peaceful breaks since the 1990s, Sykes will set you up with a secluded getaway in a jiff. Simply browse our range of Irish holiday cottages and pick one as near or far to civilisation as you like.

Are you sitting on a secret Irish beauty spot? Share it with us on Facebook or Twitter – it can’t stay a hidden forever!

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.