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Where to see the Solar Eclipse

Thursday, March 19th, 2015
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I’m sure that by now you will have heard all about it but tomorrow is a momentous occasion in the British calendar. That’s because we’re due to experience our first substantial solar eclipse in over 15 years. Sure there have been a couple take place since that date, however here in the UK we’ve been right on the periphery of them and haven’t been able to get the full experience. But all of this is due to change tomorrow! According to the experts, it won’t be until 2090 that we have another eclipse on these shores to match what we’re due to experience tomorrow, so here at Sykes, we’ve decided to try and give you the lowdown on the best places and ways to make the most out of the event.

The eclipse is due to start somewhere out over the Atlantic Ocean and will hit the British Isles not too long after 8am. It will be at its fullest point at around half past nine onwards depending on where in the country you are. Because of the path that the sun is due to take, the eclipse will be at its fullest the further north and west that you are, but don’t worry! Even in the least affected areas there should be at least 85% coverage of the sun, making it a fantastic spectacle no matter where you are!


As I said before the further to the North you are the better the eclipse will be, making Scotland the prime viewing location. According to the experts, the Torry Battery in Aberdeen will be one of the best spots going to catch a glimpse of the eclipse. Normally it’s the ideal spot for people hoping to see the dolphins that call the North East Coast of Scotland home, however its Easterly aspect and uninterrupted views out over the harbour and North Sea will make it perfect for viewing the solar eclipse.


As seems to always be the way, it sadly looks like the Great British weather will play a part. Experts have forecast that much of the UK will be experiencing some cloud cover during the eclipse and of course this will obstruct the spectacle. Happily however, the forecast in the South West is a good deal clearer than other areas which may well make it the best spot in the country. Add to this the fact that Cornwall is due to experience the eclipse before anywhere else in the UK with it reaching its zenith over Penzance just after 20 past nine.


Or there’s also the option of heading over to one of the many observatories dotted around the UK countryside. After all, it’s at times like the solar eclipse that they really come into their own! We’ve been seeing more and more of these installations opening up with the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland being the prime example.

So there you go, hopefully you’ll enjoy experiencing this rare event, but remember to do so carefully! Experts recommend that you use a device along the lines of a pinhole projector which will allow you to see the eclipse without risking any damage to your eyes. Fingers crossed that that weather holds off for long enough for us all to catch a good glimpse of it!

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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.

Where is England’s Prettiest Village?

Saturday, March 14th, 2015
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Did you know that today sees the start of English Tourism Week? The event is designed to showcase the best that England has to offer all of it’s visitors and we thought it would be rude to not join in. So for today’s blog we’ve decided to have a look and see if we can find England’s prettiest town, but we’re going to need a bit of help deciding! After much deliberation we’ve managed to narrow it down to a select few and this is where you guys come into it! We’d love it if you could have a look through the list and let us know which one would get your vote.

Castle Combe, Wiltshire

For the first village in the list we’re going to head down to the Cotswolds. Castle Combe always seems to feature in lists of the prettiest places in England so it was the logical place to start! With its traditional market cross and countless stone built cottages, Castle Combe has to be considered as one of the quaintest places in the whole of the country. If you think that the village rings a bell it’s probably because it has been used in the filming of numerous TV shows and films, from Agatha Christie’s Poirot through to Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of War Horse.

Mousehole, Cornwall

Next up we’ve got the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole. Once one of the main trading centres in Mount’s Bay, Mousehole has had a somewhat turbulent past, including a raid by the Spanish in the 16th Century that saw the whole village burnt down save for one house which still stands to this day! Thankfully though things are a bit quieter these days. Since the mid twentieth century the Mousehole has been part of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which has helped it preserve the charm that once saw the famous poet Dylan Thomas label Mousehole as “the loveliest village in England”.

Castleton, Derbyshire

Affectionately known as the “Gem of the Peaks”, Castleton is truly steeped in history. The village is overlooked by the remains of Peveril Castle, built for one of William the Conqueror’s staunchest supporters, and it’s also famous for its four ‘show caves’, namely Peak Cavern, Blue John Cavern, Speedwell Caver and Treak Cliff Cavern. Then there’s the scenery! Found at the very western tip of the Hope Valley, Castleton is bordered on three sides by the steep sided hills that typify the Peaks and lurking around two miles from the village is the imposing Mam Tor, where you’ll find some of the finest views in the area.

Hutton-le-Hole, North Yorkshire

Next up we’re heading up to North Yorkshire and to the village of Hutton-le-Hole in particular. Situated at the southern tip of the North York Moors National Park, Hutton-le-Hole is arguably one of the most picturesque spots in the country. With traditional stone built cottages, the babbling Hutton Beck that runs through the village and wide expanses of grassy common land, helpfully maintained by the herd of free roaming moorland sheep, it looks like the perfect place for a summer’s picnic.

Haworth, West Yorkshire



And for our next village we’re going to head over to Haworth. We have to admit that Haworth is a bit of a favourite here with the Sykes team, so much so that Louise put together a guide of what you should get up to there following her stay last year. Haworth is probably most famous for being the home of the Brontë sisters whilst they wrote the vast majority of their works, and the village is sure to live up to the expectations of even the most fervent of their fans. Or if that isn’t your cup of tea, you could easily spend an afternoon exploring the quaint little shops in the village – Ms Beighton’s Sweet Shop comes highly recommended!

Staithes, North Yorkshire

And finally we’re going to end with the seaside village of Staithes in North Yorkshire. Once one of the largest fishing ports on the North East coast, Staithes has a long standing maritime connection; in fact it was there that Captain Cook first found his love for sailing whilst working as a grocer’s apprentice. These days there are still a few fisherman who operate out of Staithes, however, it has become more of a base from which you can explore the dramatic Yorkshire coastline, mainly thanks to the Cleveland Way passing the village and coastal paths leading up to the beautiful Boulby Cliffs.

So there you go, the Sykes Cottages shortlist for the prettiest English village. Hopefully you’ve managed to pick one of them out, if so do tell us, you can get in touch over either Facebook or Twitter! Alternatively if you know of somewhere that you think is deserving of a mention in the list do let us know!

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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 Woodlands

Sunday, March 8th, 2015
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How many of you have heard of the European Tree of the Year competition? I’m going to hazard a guess that there aren’t too many. Well here at Sykes we only found out about it a few days ago and sadly we were a little bit too late to lend a hand to the British entries in the competition. However the entry from England still finished in a respectable sixth place – a fair bit better than the majority of our entries into the Eurovision song contest! Although we might have been a little late to the party the competition still made us realise how brilliant some of Britain’s woodlands are and so we’ve taken a look and tried to track down some of the best – take a look and see what you think!

Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Where else could we start but with Sherwood Forest? Not only was it the home of arguably Britain’s greatest folk hero and his merry men, Sherwood is actually the site of England’s entry into the Tree of the Year Competition, Major Oak. Legend has it that Robin Hood and his followers actually used Major Oak as their hiding place from the Sheriff of Nottingham and his men and to this day it still remains one of the most famous tourist attractions in the area. Nowadays, Major Oak is well over 800 years old and weighs over 20 tonnes, so I think we can let it off for needing a little hand from the network of joists and props to keep its branches up.

Wistman’s Wood, Devon

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the beautiful Dartmoor countryside is the fantastic Wistman’s Wood. Apparently back in the eighteenth century the local reverend stated that “it is hardly possible to conceive anything of the sort so grotesque as this wood appears,” but I couldn’t disagree more! Wistman’s Wood looks like it has been transported right out of a novel written by J.R.R Tolkien and dropped into the Devonshire landscape. Local legend states that the wood was originally planted years ago by a group of druids and you can certainly see what spawned these rumours!

Kielder Forest, Northumberland

Last but by no means least we’ve picked the Kielder Forest in Northumberland. Sure it may be the largest man-made woodland in England but that isn’t its main claim to fame. Instead it is probably best known as one of the few Dark Skies areas in the country as there is so little light pollution there. This has made it one of the best places in the whole of the United Kingdom for people who are looking to catch a glimpse of the myriad of constellations, not to mention the odd comet and shooting star that cross the nights sky. In turn this has seen the opening and the rise of the Kielder Observatory. Built completely out of renewable and locally sourced materials, the observatory now offers a wide variety of courses and camps that cater for all levels of experience making it well worth a visit!

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading about our choices of some of the top forests in the country but do remember that it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to British woodlands. There are so many out there that are well worth a visit! Or maybe this post has inspired you into a woodland break? If so you’re in the right place! We’ve got a wide selection of log cabins that are perfect for exploring Britain’s forests, take a look here.

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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.

Devon’s Fabulous Food and Drink

Friday, March 6th, 2015
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For today’s entry into the Sykes Cottages blog we’re going to be taking a trip down the west country to take a closer look at some of the best local produce that Devon has to offer. If you’re anything like me then you might not have thought of Devon as being a centre of culinary excellence but we couldn’t be more wrong! The rolling hills and lush green pastures mean that Devon is one of the true homes of British dairy produce, and it turns out they aren’t too shy of the odd tipple! So we’ve been doing our reading and have picked out some of our favourite Devonshire foods and drinks to show you, have a look and see which you fancy trying!

The Devonshire Cream Tea

We couldn’t really have started with anything else could we, after all cream tea is a true British institution! However, you might not be aware of the long standing rivalry that exists between Devon and Cornwall over the cream tea – for the record, Devonians say that it has to be cream first and then the jam or if you’re in Cornwall it’s jam then cream. But no matter which way round you add the toppings you can’t really beat a good cream tea and there are few places better to tuck into one that Devon. There are countless quaint tea shops all over the Devonshire countryside who specialise in the delight so make sure you pop in and try one if you’re ever in the area!


Then we’ve got the West Country’s favourite tipple, good old fashioned cider. Nowadays you’ll be able to find countless varieties of cider from all over down the local boozer but you can pretty much guarantee that it won’t match up to that produced in Devon’s orchards. The local favourite is a variety known as scrumpy, which derives from the local term for a small shrivelled apple, but don’t let that put you off! Scrumpy tends to be cloudier in appearance than your standard cider and it is normally a touch stronger, but it’s the perfect refreshment on a hot summer’s day!

Devonshire Blue

Next up we’ve got the wide selection of cheeses on offer. As it turns out, Devon is near enough the perfect spot for the production of dairy products. A good climate, reasonable frequent rains and extremely fertile soil mean the grasslands provide excellent food for the dairy herds and this shows in the quality of the cheeses. It’s too hard to pick out just one variety to recommend although the Devonshire Blue was crowned Britain’s Best Cheese a couple of years ago!

Plymouth Gin

And finally we’re finishing with the world famous Plymouth Gin. Devon actually has a long connection with the gin trade that stretches back several hundred years, and it’s still thriving to this day. Plymouth Gin remains one of the most famous brands going, although its heyday was at the turn of the twentieth century. Back then the distilleries were shipping out a thousand cases every week to New York alone, and what’s more, in his original dry Martini recipe, Martini di Arma di Taggia specifically stated Plymouth Gin as one of the main ingredients. Right to this day, Plymouth is still produced in the same Black Friar’s Distillery that has been going for over 300 years and is now also the site of a fashionable brasserie – the perfect place to spend an afternoon!

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about some of the stunning local produce that you can try out in Devon. And if you fancy a trip down to indulge then why don’t you take a look at our wide selection of Devonshire holiday cottages, we’ve got everything from cosy cottages for couples right the way through to properties big enough for the whole family to fit in.

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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.

Robson Green’s Tales From Northumberland

Monday, February 23rd, 2015
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If you tuned into ITV last Monday night you’ll probably have noticed that Robson Green’s Tales From Northumberland returned to the small screen for a second series. The first season went down a storm here at Sykes HQ, and I think that success was mirrored all around the UK. Millions tuned in every week to see the ever enthusiastic Robson explore some of the most beautiful and interesting spots in Northumberland; from the Kielder Observatory through to Alnwick Castle and Hexham Abbey, and it seems to have had a lasting effect. The Northumberland County Council ran a survey off the back of the program and 91% of respondents were of the opinion that the county is a great place to visit whilst 85% of people had been encouraged to learn more about the area. Little wonder Robson’s back!

This series will see Robson visit some more of Northumberland’s treasures; from beautiful stately homes to hidden hermitages and as you’d expect, he’ll be finding himself waylaid by some of the fantastic activities on offer like scuba diving with rare white beaked dolphins through to Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling. One thing for sure is that the series will be well worth a watch, so make sure you tune in!

Cragside Manor

If you did watch last week’s program, you’ll be well aware of Cragside Manor in Cartington. For years it served as the home of the renowned Victorian engineer William Armstrong and although it may have started off as a relatively humble country lodge it ended up being transformed into a towering Tudor style mansion by the architect Richard Norman Shaw. As you would expect from the home of one of the most eminent engineers of the Victorian period Cragside was well ahead of its time, in fact it was the first building in the world to boast a lighting system completely powered by hydroelectricity – quite the claim!

Corbridge Roman Town

Another of the spots that Robson will pay a visit to over the course of the series is the Roman Town at Corbridge. Found just a couple of miles south of Hadrian’s wall Corbridge was actually the most northerly town in an empire that, at it’s height, stretched from Spain through to Asia and covered over 5 million square kilometres! As a garrison town it served to support the troops stationed on the wall and you can still see echoes of this from the high street that survives to this day through to the Corbridge Hoard, a veritable treasure trove of Roman artefacts that includes the most complete set of armour ever found, not bad for a sleepy Northumberland town!

The Cheviot Hills

Finally we’ve got the Cheviot Hills. Nestled right on the border between England and Scotland the Cheviots are one of Northumberland’s hidden treasures. They constitute the northern section of the Northumberland National Park, a stunning area of countryside that somehow manages to remain free of the crowds who visit the Lake District and the Peaks every year. The Cheviot Hills were the scene of many a battle between the English and Scottish raiders over the years but nowadays it’s a fair bit sleepier there, making it the perfect spot for a quiet afternoon stroll.

Well there you go, the Sykes spotlight on this newest series of Robson Green’s Tales From Northumberland, hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading, if so make sure that you turn over to ITV at 8pm where you’ll find the second episode of the series. Or maybe you know of some of Northumberland’s hidden treasures yourself? If you do we’d love to hear them, you can get in touch with us over Facebook or Twitter and we’ll be sure to pass it on! And remember it’s easy enough to visit Northumberland if the program inspires you into it – just take a look here and see which cottages catch your eye!

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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.