Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Dickens’ Britain: Celebrate the 203rd birthday of Charles Dickens

Saturday, February 7th, 2015
Pin It

Charles Dickens was, and still remains, one of the UK’s most prolific writers, penning a total of fifteen novels, five novellas and hundreds of short stories. His works include some of the world’s most beloved fictional characters, including Oliver Twist, Miss Havisham and Ebenezer Scrooge, and he is widely regarded as one of the best writers of his generation.

Today is the 203rd anniversary of Dickens’ birth, and to celebrate, we’re taking a look at some of the places that were the inspiration behind some of English literature’s most important settings.

St James’ Church, Cooling, Kent

Located amid the bleak heathlands of Kent’s Hoo Peninsula, the village of Cooling was subject to the Dickens’ treatment in the 1850s when its church, St James’, became the setting for the opening character of Dickens’ 13th novel, Great Expectations.  St James’ is the backdrop of Pip’s meeting with the convict, and is described as a desolate, sinister and bleak place. Far from being forsaken, the 13th church is a fascinating historic site with many original features, and is open daily to visitors.

Bowes Academy, Barnard Castle, County Durham

Anyone who’s read Nicholas Nickleby will recognise the infamous Dotheboy’s Hall – the imposing boarding school governed by devilish disciplinarian, Wackford Squeers – but have you heard of Bowes Academy? This was an actual Victorian boarding school located in the town of Barnard Castle, which Dickens visited on a tour of northern England. Recently, Bowes Academy was converted into apartments and renamed Dotheboys Hall as homage to Dickens novel. It’s thought Dickens based the brutal Wackford Squeers on the then headmaster of the school, William Shaw, a fact which has caused controversy since the book’s publication.

Restoration House, Rochester, Kent

Beyond the historic city walls of Rochester lies one of England’s most undervalued medieval houses: Restoration House. Dickens chose the palatial manor house as the setting for his revered character, Miss Haversham, one of the primary antagonists of Great Expectations. Looking at Restoration’s imposing exterior and dark furnished chambers, it’s easy to see why the novelist would choose this to be Haversham’s home. Today, Restoration House serves as a fascinating example of a Tudor manor house, and its house and grounds are open to the public on selected dates.

 Bonchurch, Isle of Wight

In the Victorian-era, the Isle of Wight was very much the in vogue destination for the filthy rich London elite. Queen Victoria had a holiday home here; Charles Darwin began his Origin of Species on the island; and Lewis Carroll spent many long holidays lounging on the Isle of Wight’s beaches. Dickens too, was a frequent visitor, and was particularly fond of the St Boniface Down. In 1845, the writer rented Winterbourne County House for the entire summer, and it’s thought much of his beloved novel, David Copperfield, was written during his visit.

Pin It
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.

Postcards to the Past

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015
Pin It

There are few things like a holiday for making happy memories. Trips to the seaside, long walks through the countryside; we love to try and remember them in any way we can, and what better way is there than to take a photograph. You need only leaf through any treasured family photo album to find countless holiday snaps that all seem to have the ability to transport you right back to the moment they were taken.

Now with Sykes Cottages’ Postcards to the Past, you and your loved ones can revisit those happy times together. All you have to do is upload your chosen photograph, complete the accompanying form and before you know it you’ll have your very own personalised digital postcard complete with a note from yourself, whether it’s a letter to someone in the picture or just why you remember that moment with such fondness. You can share this postcard with your friends and family, and who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of it on the Sykes Cottages website.

Make your own Postcard to the Past today!

Postcards to the Past

Pin It
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.

England’s Top 10 most picturesque counties revealed

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
Pin It

It’s a debate that’s raged on for years: which of England’s eighty-three counties is the prettiest? Could it be Somerset with its treasured Quantocks? Dorset with its inspiring Durdle Door? Or Norfolk with its beloved Broads? To settle this once and for all, we asked one thousand Brits to tell us which English county they love the most – here’s what we found.

Cornwall voted most picturesque county in England

Image by Darren Flinders is licensed under CC 2.0

Image by Darren Flinders is licensed under CC 2.0

That’s right, one in five respondents voted Cornwall as England’s prettiest destination, and it’s hardly surprising, given the county’s evocative mix of coast and country. Cornwall is a firm favourite among many UK holidaymakers thanks to its wonderful beaches and rugged heathlands, not to mention its seemingly endless heritage. You can find out more about England’s prettiest region by visiting our brilliant new visitor guide, Discover Cornwall.

Image by James Whitesmith is licensed under CC 2.0

Image by James Whitesmith is licensed under CC 2.0

Yorkshire was voted England’s second prettiest destination in the poll, with a respectable 18% of the vote. Despite failing to topple Cornwall from its picturesque pedestal, God’s Own County remains one of the UK’s most revered holiday destinations, and was dubbed Europe’s best destination at the World Travel Awards in 2013.

Coming in a close third was Cumbria, whose world-famous national park – the Lake District – will certainly have helped the county climb up the rankings. But the Lakes aren’t the only thing this northern county has to shout about; head to the coast, and you’ll find some of England’s most beautiful, secluded and windswept beaches, as well as a handful of charming towns and villages.

Which English counties completed the top 10? Find out below…

Picturesque 3

The Leadership Factor polled 1,019 British adults in December 2014 on behalf of Sykes Cottages.

Top 10 Most Picturesque Counties in England

  1. Cornwall
  2. Yorkshire
  3. Cumbria
  4. Devon
  5. Kent
  6. Derbyshire
  7. Northumberland
  8. Dorset
  9. Isle of Wight
  10. Gloucestershire

So there you have it: a definitive shortlist of England’s most picturesque counties. Do you agree with the top 3? Which English county would you choose? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter – we’d love to hear from you.

Pin It
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.

Blue Monday made you mardy? Discover the UK’s happiest places!

Monday, January 26th, 2015
Pin It

There was a debate at Sykes HQ on when exactly the fabled Blue Monday phenomenon occurs. Some “celebrate” it on the third Monday of January, others on the fourth, whilst some resolute Debbie Downers are crying into their cereal by the second. At Sykes, we like to think we’re more glass half-full than that, so don’t let Mondays get us down ‘til the fourth – AKA – today.

And so far, it hasn’t been that bad. Yes it’s cold and dark. And yes, parting from our slumber was such sweet sorrow. But in retrospect: things could be worse.

If you’re struggling to see the light at the end of a long, dark January, visit one of Britain’s happiest towns this January and feel your spirit soar. Here’s a look at five of our favourites.

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Image by Phil Beard is licensed under CC 2.0

Image by Phil Beard is licensed under CC 2.0

The people of Harrogate laugh in the face of Blue Monday and for good reason. On a number of occasions, this northern town has been crowned the happiest place to live in the UK, and residents aren’t going to let some crummy Monday in January mar their reputation for jubilance. Even the most miserable wretches will feel a smile work its way on to their face at the sight of this charming spa town, which is often thought of as Yorkshire’s prettiest settlement. From its stylish shops to its Roman relics, a trip to happy Harrogate could be just what you need.

Taunton, Somerset

Image by Somerset Photos is licensed under CC 2.0

Image by Somerset Photos is licensed under CC 2.0

Somerset’s always struck me as happy-go-lucky sort of place, so it’s no surprise that Taunton – Somerset’s county town – is ranked among Britain’s happiest places to live. This endearing market town has all the right credentials when it comes to contentment: welcoming pubs, family friendly restaurants and lots of things to see and do. Plus, it’s warmer than other towns on the happiest places shortlist, making it a winner for those in need of some Vitamin D. Taunton’s countryside isn’t too shabby either, with two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Exmoor National Park on your doorstep – sigh no more.

Inverness, Scottish Highlands

Image by Dave Conner is licensed under CC 2.0

Image by Dave Conner is licensed under CC 2.0

Despite being the UK’s northernmost city, Inverness is often ranked among the country’s cheeriest places to live. The plucky Scots have learnt to live with the city’s infernal weather, a feat which alone deserves your R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Then again, with such a backdrop, it’s easy to see why locals can live with a downpour or two. Inverness is encircled by some of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes, making city life a less bitter pill to swallow. Speaking of cities, Inverness itself is really rather special; once the stronghold of Scotland’s much-feared Picts and site of many a bloody battle, Inverness is a proud city whose heritage rarely fails to raise a smile among visitors.

Blue Monday? What Blue Monday?

In a few hours, Blue Monday will be over, and the anxious, crest-fallen and dejected will have no grounds for sullenness. But what comes next? Terrible Tuesday? Woeful Wednesday? Or will you – like the inhabitants of Harrogate, Taunton and Inverness – take the remainder of January each day as it comes?

Pin It
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.

Give a Bird a Home

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
Pin It

Here at Sykes, we read about the struggle that is facing the country’s bird-life. Some of the figures involved made pretty grim reading: for example, the RSPB has noted that the number of House Sparrows in the UK has dropped by an estimated 71% since the late 1970’s, and this is by no means the worst. To be honest we were pretty shocked and thought we’d see if there was anything we could do to help out Britain’s birds. However when we came to it we weren’t too sure where to start, after all we’re more used to finding homes for people than birds!

So we called in for a bit of help from our friends at the North Wales Wildlife Trust. We picked their brains to find out what ordinary people could do to make a difference and lend our feathered friends a hand. And as it turns out, just by making a couple of tiny changes you can transform your garden into a bird’s paradise, providing them with shelter, food and water – the things that make all the difference when the going gets tough! We’ve put all of these hints and tips together and created a handy guide that you can use when doing your bit for Britain’s birds, so take a look below and see what you can do to help out.

Give a Bird a Home

If you want to show your readers how to give a bird a home copy and paste the below code into your website:

Give a Bird a Home

Due to a loss of habitat and shortage of food, birds have struggled in recent years, with several species seeing a decline in numbers. Thankfully, there are a few things we can do to help. Working together, Sykes Cottages and the North Wales Wildlife Trust have gathered information on two common types of nest box you can use to give a bird a home, as well as some hints and tips on transforming your garden into a haven for our feathered friends.

Open Fronted Nest Boxes

Ideal for Robins and Pied Wagtails

Specific Tips

Place low down, no more than 2 metres off the ground.

They need to be hidden under some cover; ivy or other climbing plants are ideal for this.

Small Holed Nest Box

Ideal for Blue Tits and the House Sparrow

Hole Sizes

Different birds use different sized holes

Blue Tit – 25mm

Great Tit – 28mm

House Sparrow – 32mm

Starling – 45mm

Specific Tips

Place 2 metres or more off the ground.

Attach to a wall, tree or fence. Make sure it’s out of reach of cats.

Make a Bird-Friendly Garden

Feeder

Place feeders in the garden so birds have plenty to eat. Remember to put them in sight of your windows so you can keep an eye on the visitors.

Birdbath

Birds use birdbaths to drink and clean themselves, just be sure to keep it topped up with fresh water.

Planting

Create a safe and sustainable habitat for birdlife in your garden by growing a wide variety of plants, including fruit trees, evergreens, climbers and spiny shrubs.

For More Information

Your local Wildlife Trust can offer further information on how to help birds in your garden.  Alternatively, visit the RSPB website.

nesting_R3 - thumbnail for blog

Are you on Twitter? If so click below to share this infographic and show your followers what they can do to make a difference!

Pin It
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.