Portfolio and News

Places to go UK and news items

This is our portfolio of places to go within the UK and Ireland, along with useful travel news

13 July 2020 Portfolio

Bodnant Gardens, Wales

Best garden in Wales

Nestled in the Foothills of Snowdonia

Overlooking the Conwy Valley and nestling in the Snowdonian foothills of North Wales, Bodnant Garden is the result of the vision of Henry Pochin, a scientist, businessman and politician. By the year 1874, the garden had been invested in by five generations of Henry's descendants and today covers some 80 acres.  

Dynamic multi layered garden

Comprising several gardens in one, it includes Italianate terraces, informal shrub borders stocked with plants from around the world. The Dell, a gorge garden, several notable trees, also blessed with a waterfall, a great way to stop, relax and let the sound wash your daily worries away: close your eyes and let the natural sounds permeate your mind.

For all seasons

Expansive lawns, intimate corners, grand ponds and impressive terraces, a steep wooded valley and stream, impressive plant collections and continually changing displays of colour there are always inspiring sights throughout the year.

The National Trust

Since 1949 the garden has been owned by the National Trust, and while popular, there seldom seems to be a crowd, its numerous curves and contours enable a secluded tour.  It is open year-round and each season offers its marvellous perspective, a contrast to the surrounding Snowdonia National Park. Dazzling Daffodils or a Riot of Rhododendrons, another memorable addition to any tour.

Overview by John Docherty - Driver-guide

01 July 2020 Portfolio

Chatsworth House

The Stately home, jewel of the Peak District National Park

The origins

Within the delightful Peak District National Park lies one of the great stately homes of England. Chatsworth House was begun in 1687 as an Elizabethan courtyard house for Sir William Cavendish, with much encouragement from his wife, the formidable Bess of Hardwick. Cavendish was to be the second of her four husbands and Chatsworth the first of three great houses she built.

Baroque Palace

Chatsworth House has the distinction of being the first Baroque Palace built for a subject rather than a monarch. It is a perfect example of a grand English country house. Not only is the architecture and sheer scale of the building is breathtakingly, the interior is equally impressive with fantastic decoration, luxurious furniture, numerous masterpieces and an impressive library. 

The Story

The story goes that Sir William Cavendish played an influential role in persuading William of Orange to come to England in 1688.  With the view to oust his father-in-law, King James II. As a reward he was created 1st Duke of Devonshire and the corresponding increase in salary enabled him to employ some of the best tradesmen of the day to build this magnificent house. Since then the house has been altered and enlarged by his descendants. The extensive and idyllic kept gardens were revised and enhanced in the 19th century by Sir Joseph Paxton, (designer of  The Crystal Palace – The Great Exhibition) who planted rare coniferous trees, the rock garden and added the Emperor fountain. With over 100 acres of garden, spend time in the splendour of nearly 500 years of careful cultivation.

The tour

Visitors can tour 30 rooms including the Painted Hall, State Rooms and Sculpture Gallery; the artwork spans some 4000 years from Roman and Egyptian sculpture, works by Rembrandt, Reynolds and modern artists such as Lucian Freud. Treat yourself to locally sourced foods from both the Chatsworth farm estate as well as smaller producers.  Food available from the farm shop ranges from locally sourced beef, pork, poultry, and game to a range of different cooked meats and pies from the delicatessen.

The Devonshire's, still own Chatsworth, the present occupants being the 16th generation. Whether your enthusiasm is for exquisite gardens, inviting open space, historical art or spectacular 17th Century life, Chatsworth will add to a memorable tour.

Overview written by John Docherty - Driver-Guide

01 July 2020 Portfolio

The Peak District National Park

England's most visited National Park

Rural uplands

At the heart of the United Kingdom, the Peak District covers some 555 sq. Miles of rural upland country at the southern end of the Pennine mountain range. For a thousand years, farming was the primary source of employment with limestone quarrying for only a few hundred years! Mining, once a primary industry, has now declined.

The historic towns

Bakewell, famous for its food, is the only major town in the park and features a 13th century five arched bridge over the River Wye. It is often featured in television dramas and also in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In 949 it is recorded under the name 'Badecanwelle', Olde English for a well or stream of a man.

With its geothermal spring the waters, the Romans created a settlement in Buxton (AD78) which rose to prominence as a spa town of which maintain a constant 28C. Due mainly to the waters, Buxton experienced a resurgence in popularity in the late 18thC when the 5th duke of Devonshire started developments in the style of the spa in Bath. Another attraction is the Pavilion Gardens which date from 1871 and the Buxton Opera House from 1903.

Natural wonders

But it is the natural world that makes this area a must-visit. People explore the exposed and isolated tracts of Moorland. They wish to hike its expansive rolling plateau which is covered by Cotton-grass bogs and heather moorlands, the Peaks themselves, 'Padley Gorge', 'Winnats Pass', 'Mar Tor' (or Shivering Mountain) invite you to travel further.  Marvel at the glittering underground caves, formed over 2 million years ago Poole's Cavern offers the opportunity of walking through several chambers which extend to around 310 metres, all of which are traversable on foot.

Inspiration for writers

The Peak District has inspired many writers and artists among them, Jane Austen, who set her novel Pride and Prejudice in the Peak District. His many visits to the area inspired several of William Wordsworth's poems. Others include Beatrix Potter, the author of Peter Rabbit and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who set one of his Sherlock Holmes stories, The Terror of The Blue John Gap, in the Peak District. 

Whether you are an explorer seeking hiking trails and caves or want a relaxing time absorbing the lakes, streams or old railway lines, the Peak District offers a spectacular and memorable tour. 

Overview written by John Docherty - Driver-guide

01 July 2020 Portfolio

Snowdonia National Park

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

A Welsh gem

The stunning Snowdonia National Park covers some 823 sq. Miles of widely varying and striking landscapes on the west coast of Britain. Designated a National Park, it is home to over 26,000 people and visited by thousands of tourists each year who are enchanted by its breathtaking landscapes.

Within the park is Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales which rises to 3560ft. The park is a centre for climbing enthusiasts; people who wish to avoid amateur climbers head over to the adjacent peaks, the Glyder and Carnedd ranges, which are around 3000ft. The typography of the landscape resembles the Hymulaiyas and therefor remains a training ground for the worlds top climbers. 

Snowdon Mountain Railway

A great way to see the area at its best is to ride the Snowdon Mountain Railway. A majestic mountain, place of legend – Snowdon is said to be the burial place of the giant ogre Rhita, vanquished by King Arthur. Some believe that Arthur's Knights still sleep beneath the hills.
The breathtaking view from the peak beats the likes of Stonehenge, Loch Ness, the Palace of Westminster and Giant's Causeway to be named the nation's favourite.
In contrast to the mountains, the park area sweeps down to the sea, taking in the Llyn Peninsula, an (AONB) area of outstanding natural beauty, and around 40 miles of coastline, much of it attractive sandy beaches.  

Sheep and green hills

Throughout this area of natural beauty, our tour takes us along winding smooth roads, through woodland, and across farmland. Wales is known for its high population of sheep.  While you will see cattle, beef and dairy, a third of the Welsh population of over 9 million sheep reside within the Snowdonia Park. With over 1,100 farms, the scenery is a delightful mix of the natural world.

For the adventurous, the park is a haven for walkers and climbers with favourite treks that easily roll off the tongue; Y Garn to Elidir Fawr and Cadair Idris neat Dolgellau! Three days in Snowdonia is recommended although returnees very much enjoy exploring further.

Overview written by John Docherty - Driver-guide.

01 July 2020 Portfolio

Conwy Castle and Town

Medieval walled town with castle

Medieval military settlement

As we leave the lush Welsh valleys by road and join the Conwy Valley, we glimpse the Castle towers across the Conwy River. Situated on the scenic North Wales coast, Conwy Castle guards the crossing over the river as it flows into Conwy Bay. The castle and town walls were constructed in the 13th century for Edward I as part of his conquest of Wales. 

Turbulent history

The Castle and town survived the turbulent Middle Ages and the Civil War. It became a temporary haven for Richard II in 1399 and provided a safe haven for the forces of the Welsh Leader, Owain Glyndwr, (the last Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales) in his long battle to end the English rule in Wales. 

With a rich history of defence from conflict across the centuries, Conwy has been of great significance since its construction as part of the 'Ring of Iron' – King Edward's chain of fortifications. Later, at the time of the English Civil war, the Castle was held by forces loyal to Charles I but surrendered to the parliamentarians in 1646 and further destroyed in 1665, putting it beyond repair.

Construction and restoration

With extensive restoration works carried out in the second half of the 19th century, it gained World Heritage status.  The Castle is one of the most excellent examples of 13th and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe. Vast amounts of stone came from local and overseas quarries, it is possible to walk along the Castle's 15ft thick walls which were built in the shape of a Welsh harp and are half a mile in length, with high drum towers and 21 semi-circular towers at regular intervals. A great way to step back in time and also view the quaint town and the beautiful estuary and surrounding countryside.

The three bridges

A suspension bridge spans the river.  Designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1849 to replace the ferry. Telford designed the supporting towers to match the turrets of the Castle. The bridge is open to pedestrians and, together with the toll keepers house is maintained by the National trust.  In addition to Telford's Bridge, there is also a Tubular Bridge built-in 1848 for the Chester and Holyhead Railway by Robert Stephenson, famed for his work as a railway engineer. 

Tour with Bodnant Gardens

A visit to Conwy should be combined with both a tour of the fabulous Bodnant Gardens close by and a little shopping in the small walled town with its antique and art. Finish a day by visiting the most modest and smallest house in Great Britain, down be the quay, not far from a quaint little pub. 

Overview by John Docherty - Driver-guide

01 July 2020 Portfolio

York Minster

Worship for the Romans, Vikings, and Normans

The beginning

An old walled city founded by the Romans in 71AD surrounds the majestic York Minster. Once named Eboracum by the Romans and later Jorvik by settling Vikings, York has for two millennia been a significant city, a wool trading point and religious centre. This attractive city with a rich legacy of historic buildings, picturesque alleyways and an almost intact circuit of medieval walls and gates invites you to wander, and one can stumble upon the Minster and marvel at its scale and grandeur.

Iconic features

Taking 250 years to build, York Minster is the second largest Gothic Cathedral in England and one of the most visited places of historic interest in Northern England. The windows are a significant feature and among the best and most breathtaking to be seen in England. They contain some two million individual pieces of glass. The Great East Window is 76ft high, and together with the Great East Window, dates from 1408 and is the largest area of medieval stained glass in anywhere in the world. The Five Sisters window each 53ft tall and 5ft wide glazed with grey glass, and the Rose window are sights that simply are 'Must-See'. 

Pillars of the earth

York Minster is the Cathedral of York and stands on a site associated with Christian worship since the seventh century. Initially built in a hurry in 627 for the baptism of Edwin, King of Northumbria, the hastily erected wooden structure was replaced with a stone building completed in 637.  Damaged by fire and hostile invaders, the building has been remodelled several times. The Cathedral today dates from 1230 when, under archbishop Walter de Gray, construction began on a Gothic style Cathedral to rival Canterbury Cathedral. Some years later (1472) the building finished and consecrated.  

Fire and restoration

Around the 1800s the Cathedral underwent a major restoration.  In 1840 the Cathedral was devastated by a fire which destroyed much of the roof - repairs were then completed in 1866. York Minster is the second largest Cathedral in Northern Europe (second only to Cologne Cathedral) and is some 524 ft. Long, with a central tower of 235 ft. High. 

Not to be missed is the 15th century stone screen, known as the Kings Screen, which separates the choir and sanctuary from the rest of the church. The screen features 15 figures of English kings from William the Conqueror through to Henry VI. It was the idea of Henry V and, due to his early death was finished by his son Henry VI.

Tour York

A memorable visit is guaranteed, the beautiful city offers many other sites, quaint shops along ancient lanes and alleyways, oh, and great beer in the numerous small pubs.

Overview by John Docherty - Driver-guide

01 July 2020 Portfolio

The Lake District National Park

Sublime landscapes of natural beauty

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

Arguably the finest of Britain's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Lake District is situated in northwest England to the north of the old Lancashire mill towns. Now a regular tourist destination, it remained exclusively sheep farming country until medieval miners made use of the abundance of metals in the local rock.

With the Atlantic current bringing high volumes of rainfall, the scenery is lush, and green with rocky peaks and Tarns (from the Old Norse for 'pool' – it usually refers to a small mountain lake or pool). To see Little Langdale Tarn, Stickle Tarn or the stunning Tarn Hows in any season is to behold Britain's most exceptional untouched landscape, fishing for brown or rainbow trout, a pleasurable pastime for the few.

Enjoy the Lakes

On a grander scale, the lakes are numerous, sixteen in all and 53 smaller pools, and overlooked by our highest peaks, Scafell Pike at 3,210 feet and 20 others over 2,000 feet such as Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag, all ancient names. The stunning lakes themselves can be enjoyed by boat, on surrounding footpaths or seen in all glory, from the comfort of our tour car, we usually let the weather decide which. 

Beatrix Potter and others

Famous children's author, Beatrix Potter so loved the Lakes that she was inspired to draw and write about the wildlife which surrounded her. When she died in 1943, she left fourteen farms and over 4000 acres of land to The National Trust along with her flocks of Herdwick sheep. The Lake District has inspired many other writers and poets among them, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Ruskin.


Today's wildlife is plentiful and varied, enjoy watching a scurry of Squirrels, a romp of Otter, a parcel of Red Deer or marvel at a cast of Peregrine Falcon, the fighter jet of the natural world! Red deer are the largest found in England and can reach a height of 1.2 metres at the shoulder. The males have strikingly large, branching antlers that increase in size as they get older. The famous golden eagle is the second largest bird of prey in the UK, and there is one in the Lake District, he's a tricky one to spot mind, but the wait is worth it. No longer resident, the area was once home to wolves, beavers, lynx, aurochs - large cows with long horns - and European Brown Bears, a relative of the American Grizzly Bear.


The area has a long association with beautiful garments, cloth made at Shap Abbey was exported as far away as Italy! In 1315, an Italian wool buyers listed names Ciappi in Vestrebellanda - Shap in Westmorland - as one of his suppliers in the British Isles.

With excellent hotels, breathtaking views, outdoor activities and stunning wildlife, our Lake District deserves its reputation and your visit. 

Overview by John Docherty, Driver-guide

01 July 2020 Portfolio

British farming

The origins of our wealth

In the beginning

With its origins lying in ancient migration, probably introduced here around 4500BC from Syria, farming on the British Isles is its primary industry. Climate enabled these islands to have fertile land and after centuries of small-scale farming, the Roman invasion, AD43, brought structure and scale, roads and cities, which shaped the next 400 years. Britannia was essential to Rome as emperors had for centuries promised its people Bread! 

Originally Wheat and barley were grown in small plots near the family home. Sheep, goats and cattle came in from mainland Europe, and pigs were domesticated from wild boar already living in forests. 

The Black death and monastic farms

Agriculture boomed in the mid-1600s after the Dissolution of the Monasteries with land ownership transferring from the churches and newfound efficiency bringing the wealth that funded Henry VII naval ambitions, continued through Queen Elizabeth to the British Empire. The Black Death (1350ad) decimated a third of the population. Between 1750 & 1850 the population tripled, it becomes a priority to improve farming efficiency, to the point that Britain had the lowest percentage of its population working on farms.

Efficiency and quality

Despite a real variety in soil structure, 70% of land in England is farmed. The high quality of products is world-renowned, not just meats and produce but animal skins and furs. The British trademark remains strong. Four crop rotation was introduced in the mid-1700s with the simple Turnip, less fallow land time as Turnip roots, for example, can recover nutrients from deep under the soil.

The increase in food availability contributed to the massive increase of population in Wales and England, to over 9 million by 1801 from 5.5 million in 1700. However, domestic production gave way increasingly to food imports in the nineteenth century as the population more than tripled to over 35 million.

Sparkling wine to rival Champagne

Wine is the NEW boom segment of UK farming. The Romans introduced winemaking to England, and even tried to grow grapes as far north as Lincolnshire; now the south-eastern counties vineyards are making delightful wines. We regularly operate private wine tasting and vineyard tours from London and from hotels in Kent and Sussex, the heart of England's wine region.


Currently, there are 17,000 dairy farms, average herd 86, and 41,000 sheep farms, Wales having a high percentage of sheep comparatively. Britain has the second largest sheep herds on earth.

Today. 475,000 people work in the farming industry, producing some of the finest food in the world. Check our our gastro tour of London markets. 

Overview by John Docherty, Driver-guide


01 July 2020 Portfolio

The Cotswolds

England's largest designated Area Of Natural Beauty (AONB)

The Cotswolds

A triangular region of natural beauty in the west of England edged by the historic cities of Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath. The Fosse Way, a Roman road runs through the middle and remains in use today.

With limestone being the dominant stone, buildings from the middle ages have reflected that local resource. Therefore the colour is unique to this area, albeit each quarry has its shade, each village has a different colour tone. The golden limestone is also the choice of roofing material, sliced into rectangle sheets and nailed to thick oak beams. There are a few locations where straw-thatching is a preferred roofing material, which is satisfying to see. Visitors marvel at the 4,000 miles of stone walls enclosing farmland within the rolling hills. When touring with visitors, I like to suggest a stop at an ancient woollen mill, along with cake and tea by a 500-year-old limestone fireplace, so stress relieving. The region has over 800 square miles of small fields, beautiful churches and micro villages; this is old England.

The wool

Six counties share the right to call the Cotswolds their own, and the rivers Thames, Severn and Avon each provide trading routes through the region. The high-end trade-in wool is the origins of local wealth; the source is the Cotswold Lion (Sheep) producing a ball of refined, silky yarn, ideal for clothing. The raw product was particularly popular with Italian traders due to its attributes of warmth, softness, and look.

The wealth

The proceeds of the wool trade helped fund the many village churches that still exist, the 13th and  14th centuries being a boom time for the area. On approach to each unique village, we catch a glimpse of the modest Norman tower or the beautiful Gothic Lancet window with the sun reacting to the old stained glass. Many village churches are open to visitors, and even a short tour we have time to unlock secrets of its past, discover a knights tomb and marvel at the church craftsmanship.

The Romans

At the southern tip of the region, near Cirencester sits the Roman Villa of Chedworth.  This 2nd-century exhibit to the life of a Roman nobleman is rich in evidence of a luxury lifestyle with its large mosaic floors, hypocaust systems and bathhouse rooms. Combine this stop with a day trip to nearby Bath, for a journey back nearly 2,000 years and see the best-preserved Roman Baths in the world, in the City of Bath

Lacock Village - a real film set

The name Lacock dates from Saxon times when the earliest permanent settlers lived by the Bide Brook, which runs through the middle of the town. They called it lacuc or 'little stream'. Fans of television and film may decide to visit the historic Lacock Abbey as part of their tour. Its appearances on screen include Harry Potter, Wolf Hall and Pride and Prejudice, the Abbey featured in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Lacock Abbey started as a nunnery, then became a Tudor family home; this was common after the Dissolution-of-the-Monastries (1534-40). The vast confiscated the monastic estates and sold them off at low prices.  Religious buildings transformed from places of worship into lavish homes for their new owners. The last owners were the Talbots, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) pioneered a process of creating light-fast permanent photographs, a museum at the house details the history. 

We tend to take pub lunches very seriously at Luxury Vacations UK, its great fun to have a couple of lunches while on tour at a proper gastropub, it is a real treat – world-class food without all the fuss. Visiting the Cotswolds for any length of time and not having a pub lunch is just not done. 

England's most beautiful and best-preserved villages are within the Cotswolds, notably Castle Combe and Bibury. The preserved modest living of English country folk is in these quaint hidden places. The region remains unspoilt by large towns, and any new building must adopt the original style and scale of yesteryear making the Cotswolds an intriguing place to see. Hotels, pubs, restaurants are of classic style; the Cotswolds leaves modernity behind in most cases. We know all the best places to stay while touring.

Kim Fanshawe