It might be cooling down on our side of the globe, but in the Northern Hemisphere the weather is warming and the flowers are exploding into bloom.
This is particularly true of Britain where after a cold and rather grey winter, the city’s streets, parks and gardens have heralded Spring with a riot of colours. The blooms will only last a few weeks, but there are many more activities and attractions to draw you to Britain as the days grow longer and warmer. Here are some suggestions by Sue Petrie, British Airways’ Regional Commercial Manager Trade for Southern and East Africa, who knows the area best. Personally, with my brother and his family emigrating to London next month, and my best friend just settled there, it’s very much on my radar for a return visit.
Alnwick Castle in Northumberland has served as a location for dozens of movies and TV series, including the Harry Potter blockbusters, Downton Abbey, Blackadder and several adaptions of the Robin Hood legend. History buffs will relish the castle’s 700-year history, and there’s a strong focus on family activities: you can learn medieval arts and crafts like woodcuts, tile- and soap-making, and creating your own illuminated manuscript. Fans of JK Rowling’s Potterverse can take a guided location tour or learn to fly a broomstick. The castle also hosts theatre and outdoor movie screenings.
If that sounds like thirsty work, head to the nearby Dirty Bottles pub, restaurant and hotel in Narrowgate, Alnwick. You can learn about how the place earned its name, while sampling cocktails like Death In The Afternoon (prosecco and absinthe) and the Cheesier Than The ’80s burger. The building dates from the 1600s but has a modern twist on the classic free house pub, with self-service beer pumps and tasting-walls. It also has its own luxury rooms, smokehouse and a rooftop terrace that looks onto the ancient walls of the castle.
The coast of Kent, on England’s south-east coast, has long been a favourite seaside destination for stressed city-dwellers looking for some sea air and a break from commuting. The beachfront shacks at Whitstable provide quirky accommodation with a view of the shingles and the waves. The shacks originally served as cockle farmers’ supplies and now provide short-stay accommodation in a charming, rustic setting. The area offers a bounty of fresh seafood, especially oysters, which have been farmed at Whitstable for centuries. Try The Oyster Shack on the south quay of the harbour, or The Forge, a casual beachfront shack beloved for its fresh fish and chips and good local beer.
While the town has long centred on the sea and seafood, there’s also an intriguing art scene, with galleries like Fishslab in what was once a fishmonger’s premises, the Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre and the Chappell Contemporary.
The Wellcome Collection in Bloomsbury, central London has free admission and until September hosts the “Smoke and Mirrors: The Psychology of Magic” exhibition, which shows how magic offers insights into the mind. It shows the science behind séances, magic tricks, mentalism, hypnosis and illusionism. Exhibits include a ghost detection kit and props used by the illusionist Derren Brown.
For a touch of the wild in the middle of London, head to Hampstead Heath, nearly 800 acres of woodland and meadows, and home to wildlife including deer, terrapins, bats, foxes, 25 species of butterflies and more than 180 species of birds. It also has a zoo, athletics facilities, children’s play areas and swimming ponds. Entrance is free.
The area has some lovely architecture and one way to see it is to walk from Hampstead Heath to Belsize Park following markers set in the pavement. Along the way, you’ll see homes once occupied by Arthur Rackham, who illustrated books including Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
There’s a suggestion of two local restaurants. In Hampstead is La Gaffe, a family-run Italian restaurant, wine-bar and guest-house housed in what was once a shepherd’s cottage. The extensive menu includes a vast antipasti spread that’s helped earn the restaurant 4.5 Tripadvisor stars.
Nearby, in Belsize Lane, Chef Shatrughan Singh Rathor and his team have secured Hazara’s inclusion in the Michelin Guide, no mean feat considering the high standard of many Indian restaurants in London. There’s a strong emphasis on fresh ingredients sourced from local markets, with regional cuisine from Punjab in the North to Terala and Tamil Nadu in the South, and a wide variety of vegetarian options, like the house special, Chatpata Bhuna Baingan: Slowly grilled long aubergine, tossed in pickled sauce & freshly chopped coriander.
Wanting to visit?
British Airways has a seat-sale on until May 13th. This includes a World Traveller fare to London from R8 918.93 (no bag) and a Club fare. Fares include surcharges but may vary slightly on the day of sale depending on the exchange rate. That said, there are always good specials on offer, and the direct flight between Cape Town and London is very convenient, for my fellow Capetonians.
** This is published in partnership with British Airways and kulula, who keep me in the know. Pics are sourced on Pixabay.com.