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Great Britain is home to some of the most spectacular settings in the popular imagination—from the moors of Wuthering Heights, to the sprawling estates of Downton Abbey, to the misty highland lake where the Loch Ness Monster is reputed to make its home. Whether you’re interested in history, literature, or BBC period pieces, Great Britain offers more than enough attractions to plan the trip of your dreams.

Expedia and VisitBritain—the national tourist board for England, Scotland and Wales—have launched “Find Your Storybook,” a new marketing campaign that “draws upon the parallel between reality and the fairytales of castles, knights and queens.” Visitors to the Find Your Storybook tool on Expedia can create a custom vacation to Great Britain based on their specific interests, whether they be arts and culture, the outdoors, food, sport or shopping.

Not wanting to be outdone, we at Untapped have rounded up some amazing castles that are worth adding to your storybook trip to Great Britain.

1. Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed

Highclere-Castle

Actually located in Newbury (west of London), the home is still occupied by the Carnarvon family but is open for tours and events. If the architectural style rings a bell, that’s because it was designed by the same architect as the British Houses of Parliament.

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Leaf, on Liverpool’s Bold Street is a great cafe/venue in the city.  Having been around since 2007, it’s well established and loved by many!

Formerly a tea room in the 1920s, it’s gone full circle, from being a cinema in the late 20th century and a Microzine clothes shop, back to where it is today as a tea shop!  Not limiting themselves to just tea, in which they excel, they also host vintage markets, music and club nights.

Leaf boasts a great open space with high ceilings and comfy chairs as well as tables and benches.  A large space upstairs for events and functions, and a great overall atmosphere.  The staff on duty were great, taking our orders at the counter and then bringing them over to the table when ready.  A rather extensive choice of food is also available – including options for various food preferences or allergies.  They only stock loose leaf tea, and have a wide variety of flavours for you to choose from.

Get in touch with the author @charlsvallance and check out her blog.  Check back every other Wednesday for the next installation of (Art)chitecture by Charlotte Vallance.

Mary Rose ship sinking Portsmouth England Untapped Cities

Source: The Mary Rose Museum

The always excellent Atlas Obscura recently broke the news that the remains of a 16th century shipwreck are now on view at the newly opened Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England. Allison Meier reports that the Mary Rose, which was one of Henry VIII’s flagships, sank in 1545 near Portsmouth Harbor after an illustrious career as a battleship. Apparently, the cries of the dying crew members were so loud they could be heard on shore. No one knows if the ship sank by accident (as the English claim) or due to French military prowess (as the French claim). The Mary Rose remained at the bottom of the sea for over 400 years. It was discovered in 1971 and brought to the shore in 1982.  (more…)

The Arnolfini, Bristol.

Bristol is an amazing city in itself, but once every two years the Arnolfini is home to BABE – the Bristol Artist Book Event - over two days in April.  It’s in a gorgeous location, right on the waterfront, surrounded by Bristol’s iconic cranes and colourful buildings.  A short walk from the town center, with nearby shops, restaurants, bars and cafes it’s a great place to plan a trip to.

The Arnolfini itself is a gallery/space for contemporary art and always has interesting exhibitions on as well as talks and workshops. It was founded in 1961 and moved to its current location in 1975. At the time, the building was a near-derelict warehouse on Bristol’s floating harbor, which sparked an urban renewal project that brought life back to the harbor. The rooms are lovely and spacious with high ceilings and wide corridors.  They also have an excellent book shop, for a browse and perhaps a cheeky purchase after your look around.  You can then relax in their cafe, which serves drinks and food until late.

Get in touch with the author @charlsvallance and check out her blog.  Check back every other Wednesday for the next installation of (Art)chitecture by Charlotte Vallance.

Following on from my Urban Renewal post, this illustration is fully dedicated to The British Museum.  It’s such an amazing building, and looking back through photos I have from various trips to the Museum, I can safely say, it appears to change colour depending on the weather!  I’ve illustrated it here as quite a sandy brick but in some lights it’s a pale grey.

The collections that you’ll find inside are mostly quite educational and classic. Not only are you welcomed by this amazing building, surrounded by massive pillars with plenty of space to walk around and enjoy it from all angles, but once you walk through the doors and the initial foyer, the whole building opens up.  In the middle is a courtyard area with a central building within this space.  The ceiling that joins this middle building to the outer is glass and has a great, almost spiraling effect in it.  I’ve had the pleasure of only going when it’s sunny, which really brightens up the space but I can imagine that if it’s stormy outside it can get quite dramatic in there!

In this amazing courtyard space you’ll find a canteen-style cafe, perfect for people watching and taking in the building with a cup of tea or coffee.

Get in touch with the author @charlsvallance and check out her blog.  Check back every other Wednesday for the next installation of (Art)chitecture by Charlotte Vallance.

One of the great advantages of living in the post-industrial cities of North West England is how easy it is to get out of town. I’m not being disparaging of Liverpool, Manchester, Salford or Chester, rather stressing the fact that these cities are well connected and less congested than our capital. After all however much we love urban life, every so often the sounds, sights and smells of the seaside can help keep the complexities of life in perspective. The beauty of British seaside towns is that they all resonate at the same frequency, so you feel like you are being reminded of places you’ve been as a child even if you’ve never visited before. This nostalgia is key as it would seem most coastal towns in Britain have seen their hey days come and go and are now struggling to make sense of their place in our lives. However there are real signs of reinvention, and after all, the scenery remains spectacular – that graphic line the horizon separating sea from sky.

Victorian Seats

Victorian Seats

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

I recently visited one of our most maligned English seaside towns along with its smaller, lesser-known sibling. The famous town of Blackpool has a little brother 4 miles or so up the Fylde coast called Cleveleys, which I’d never been to. They make a good day out having different moods and complimentary attractions. For me Blackpool is like a city by the sea, it really is big and being linear, following the contour of the coast, would take a long time to traverse on foot. With a quarter of a million residents in its urban area and a huge transient population, Blackpool has a buzz. By contrast Cleveleys is tame and small, and its attractions are simpler, with visitor’s eyes directed towards the sea or along the new sculptural prom and sea defences.

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The new promenade at Cleveleys

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The new promenade at Cleveleys

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The new promenade at Cleveleys

It makes perfect sense in my mind that Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys is from Blackpool. Like their music, Blackpool is a mix of melancholy, nostalgia, longing, humour and excitement. Part of the lure of Blackpool is its confident yet conflicted personalities. On one hand it is a cheap party town with hoards of stag and hen parties parading through the main streets of town, best admired from a safe distance. Then on the other hand the pleasure beach is the most visited amusement park in the UK, with nearly 6 million visitors a year, aimed squarely at young families.

sinless

Sinless

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

Hen nights in Blackpool

There is a large established gay population and a gay tourist industry centred around a gaggle of bars and clubs. The historic illuminations are sheer extravagant camp, designed to extend the summer season they run from the end of August to the beginning of November. It works too as it brings in an estimated 3 million visitors a year. If you’ve never seen them you need to visit, more than a million lamps running the length of the town is an awe-inspiring sight. Equally showy is Blackpool Tower, which was designed to be an Eiffel Tower replica, but actually about half the height. It is still very impressive and can be seen from miles around, especially from other coastal towns. It was a Victorian idea finished in 1894 and acts as an icon for the town.

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

Blackpool view

Blackpool’s rise in the nineteenth century is directly mapped to the rise of train travel, and as the lines were extended, the trains brought growing numbers of visitors in from all over the North of the United Kingdom. Likewise the decline of the British holiday resort can be directly linked to the rise of cheap flights, taking us off to reliable weather in warmer parts of Europe. Visitor numbers did more or less halve from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, but Blackpool is managing to engage people once more, and although we are more likely to go for the day than a week, there is a sense of reinvention about the place. The sea, previously almost ignored by the town, now seems much nearer thanks to cleverly designed steps spilling down from the prom. No one would want to replace the staple diet of fish, chips and mushy peas, however more contemporary feeling cafés and restaurants are appearing, offering alternatives. One of the most original and exciting of the new public art commissions along the front is the ambitious Comedy Carpet by artist Gordon Young, designed in collaboration with Why Not Associates. It is exactly what is says on the tin, a carpet of catch phrases and references to comedians old and new, perfectly sited between the Tower and the sea, like Blackpool itself, impossible to ignore.

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The modern face of Blackpool

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The modern face of Blackpool

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The Comedy Carpet by artist Gordon Young

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The modern face of Blackpool

Untapped Cities - British Seaside Towns - Blackpool -

The modern face of Blackpool

So if like me you need to flee the city every so often, Blackpool and Cleveleys offer a sense of escapism not easily matched and certainly a lot more than the hackneyed clichés of rock and kiss-me-quick hats. With any luck the more diverse the range of visitors to these historic seaside towns, the more momentum will build around the well-considered and creative redevelopment. Personally I’m still pretty happy with a walk up the beach followed by an ice cream and a shandy!

Get in touch with the author at @marcprovins and follow his blog.