England became a unified state in AD 927 and, since the 15th century, has had a significant impact on the wider world, developing the English language, the Anglican Church, and English law – the basis for the common law legal systems of many other countries around the world. Its beautiful and varied countryside is interspersed with quaint villages and cosmopolitan cities including the capital, London.

The name "England" is derived from the Old English name Engla land, which means "land of the Angles". The Angles were one of the Germanic tribes that settled in Great Britain during the Early Middle Ages.


Derek Forss photography courses

Britain photographer Derek Forss will be running his popular photography courses throughout 2010. So if you fancy capturing some of Britain’s best landscapes, from the Lake District to the Yorkshire Dales, book your place now… Read More »


Places to stay along the River Thames (and fine dining, too)

If you were inspired by our feature on The Rural River Thames and would like to explore this beautiful part of the world for yourself, why not plan a holiday staying at several places along the river, or use one hotel as a base?

The Thames flows through some of the country’s most charming countryside on its way from its source in the Cotswolds through to Greater London. At 210 miles, it’s the second-longest river in the UK (the River Severn beats it at 220 miles) but the best known. Mention the Thames and images of central London usually spring to mind. However, by the time the river reaches Teddington Lock at the edge of London, it has travelled 147 miles through the heart of England and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the Cotswolds, Chilterns and Surrey Hills). It passes meadows and riverside inns, historic properties such as Windsor Castle and Cliveden, the site of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, the River and Rowing Museum, award-winning restaurants and river locks. And flows by one of the world’s most venerable universities (where punting is the favourite mode of river transport), at Oxford. For further ideas on how to get the most out of exploring the river, go to www.visitthames.co.uk.

The Trout at Tadpole Bridge
 The Trout at Tadpole Bridge

First on our journey from source to capital is a 17th-century Cotswold inn right on the banks of the Thames, not far from the village of Bampton (home of the Bampton Classical Opera). The Trout at Tadpole Bridge (4-star) has just been named AA pub of the Year 2009/10. It’s a freehouse with six, well-equipped bedrooms, and river berths for up to six boats. The bar, with its log fires and stuffed trout on the wall, offers local real ales and a good list of wines by the glass and the restaurant is candlelit in the evenings. For a daytime treat, you can go out in a punt or hire a boat and take along a picnic hamper. Local sausages are a theme here: enjoy them at breakfast while watching boats glide by or try different flavours at the Thursday Sausage Club. The Trout at Tadpole Bridge, tel: (01367) 870382.

The Swan at Streatley
The Swan at Streatley

Head east of Oxford now, to the Swan at Streatley, made famous as the spot where Jerome K Jerome’s exhausted Three Men in a Boat finished their journey. This four-star hotel alongside the river has 45 bedrooms, many enjoying the stunning river views, and the Venus Spa with mineral pool, gym and a range of beauty treatments. You can also make the most of the views in the two-rosette restaurant under the care of head chef Andrew West-Letford, or sitting out on the Riverside Terrace. During the summer months, the Thames is the scene  of many regattas, including the famous Henley Regatta each June. The Swan is a great base for regatta fans and the Goring and Streatley Regatta, each July, is just a stroll away. The Swan at Streatley, tel: (01491) 878800.

Danesfield House
Danesfield House

Heading downstream, past the town of Henley to the outskirts of Marlow, just into Buckinghamshire, and you’ll find the picturesque country house hotel, Danesfield House (4-star), set in a 65-acre estate beside the Thames. Danesfield also has a spa where you can pamper yourself or work out in the gym to justify indulging yourself at the Oak Room restaurant – which boasts four AA rosettes – or in the brasserie-style Orangery. In summer months you can also eat outside on the terrace. Danesfield House, tel: (01628) 891010.

Macdonald Compleat Angler
Macdonald Compleat Angler

Along into Marlow, facing the suspension bridge is The Compleat Angler, a Macdonald hotel. This four-star hotel is named after angling author Izaak Walton’s greatest work, and the 64 stylish bedrooms (40 of them with river views) are all named after fly-fishing terms. Already home to a two-rosette restaurant, the Compleat Angler has just welcomed the arrival (this October) of its own Aubergine restaurant, where Michelin-starred chef William Drabble is bringing all the quality French cuisine of his restaurant in Chelsea out to the Marlow riverside. It’s another dining gem for this already rather spoilt-for-choice part of the country (in the town you’ll also find the Hand & Flowers restaurant with rooms (5-star), with Michelin-starred Tom Kerridge at the helm). The Compleat Angler, tel: 0844 879 9128.

Riverbank Cottage
Riverbank Cottage

Just around the bend in the river is Cookham, home of the Riverbank Cottage (4-star). This Grade II listed building, designed in 191 by architect George Walton, is a riverside Bed and Breakfast (4-star) with just two double guest rooms with panoramic views of the Thames valley. Bedroom have French doors opening onto Juliette balconies so guests can make the most of the location. Riverbank Cottage is a great base for enjoying the excellent walks on the Thames Path – www.visitthames.co.uk has information on several walks, including one from Marlow to Cookham which takes you past the wooded slopes of Winter Hill, after which one of the B&B’s bedrooms is named. Make time to visit the Stanley Spencer gallery in the village to learn more about the famous British artist (1891-1959). Riverbank Cottage, tel: (01628) 530662.

Sir Christopher Wren's House
Sir Christopher Wren’s House

Continue downriver, past Bray – another fine dining destination with Restaurant of the Year 2009, The Fat Duck, and Michel Roux’s famous Waterside Inn – and on to Windsor, with its royal castle towering over the Thames. Here at Eton Bridge, sheltering beneath the castle ramparts is the Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel and Spa (4-star). The main house was once the home of the famous architect – his father was the Dean of Windsor which probably led him to build a family home here. It opened as a hotel in the 1920s. Nowadays bedrooms vary from historic rooms that date back to the 17th-century through to contemporary suites with the latest high tech indulgences. Sixteen have river views and three of these have private balconies, where you can enjoy breakfast by the water. Strok’s Restaurant, also with views, has been awarded two AA rosettes. Sir Christopher Wren’s House, tel: (01753) 861354.

Onward to Runnymede, the famous meadow by the Thames, now cared for by the National Trust, where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, whereby the monarch became bound by law. Nearby is the Runnymede-on-thames hotel, which brings you bang up to date, a large modern four-star hotel, with excellent facilities, a spa and lovely riverside views for bar and restaurants. New developments will add another restaurant, an open-air swimming pool and tennis courts in the orchard for next summer. In the meantime, why not hire the hotel’s electric riverboat, the Runnymede, for up to six passengers, to pootle around on the river, perhaps heading down towards Shepperton to eat at a riverside pub, or back upstream to take in the views of Windsor Castle. Runnymede-on-thames hotel, tel: (01784) 220980.


Take home your own ‘Old Master’ painting

If you want to bring the style of the Old Master painters into your home but can’t quite spare a few millionpounds at the moment, don’t miss the selling exhibition from 1 to 5 December at The Air Gallery in Dover Street, London W1.

The Magpie, after Monet
The Magpie, after Monet

If you want to bring the style of the Old Master painters into your home but can’t quite spare a few million pounds at the moment, don’t miss the selling exhibition from 1 to 5 December at The Air Gallery in Dover Street, London W1. Entitled “Run Out of Monet?”, the show is organised by Richardson Paintings, with some 35 versions of oil paintings by the likes of Sargent, Monet, Emms, Wardle, De Laszlo, Stubbs, Raeburn, Oudry, Van Dyck, Nattier and Pissarro on show. Prices start at £535 for a 20×24 inch canvas, and you can choose your style of frame, from modern to traditional, so the painting will complement any interior design style.

During the exhibition, London-based Michael Alford, will be in residence at the gallery, painting Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, after Edouard Manet (1872) for visitors to view and discuss. This painting will be sold with the proceeds being donated to the charity Crisis.

Seascape, after Henry Redmore
`Seascape,after Henry Redmore

“This is the first time we have exhibited in a West End gallery,” explains Oliver Richardson of Richardson Paintings. “It is marvellous opportunity to show people the differing styles of paintings we undertake. We are very careful to ensure that our paintings cannot be mistaken for fakes or forgeries; they are very fine versions celebrating the originals, which can therefore be enjoyed by more people. After all, most of the world’s greatest artists throughout time have learnt by copying their previous master painters’ works.”

 View of Windsor Castle, after George Vicat Cole
 View of Windsor Castle, after George Vicat Cole

If you have a favourite painting, you can commission a version for yourself, or perhaps why not commission a painting a marvellous present for a loved one? No painting is replicated more than twice and all must be out of copyright (70 years or more old).

Air Gallery, 32 Dover Street, London W1S; tel: (01491) 629549. Open: Tues-Fri 10am-6pm. Further information on The Air Gallery and its exhibitions, www.airgallery.co.uk.

Bike Tours in London

“Fun, informative and environmentally friendly” – just some of the words used to describe a Fat Tire Bike Tour. Book now and see the city’s sights in style and comfort on a California ‘beach cruiser’ bike

Photo courtesy of Fat Tire Bike Tours


Visitors to the capital and Londoners alike are raving about bike tour company Fat Tire Bike Tours which runs English-speaking guided tours here as well as in Paris, Barcelona and Berlin.

The London Day Bike Tour runs daily at 11am from Queensway tube station and once you’ve collected your bike (red and blue California ‘beach cruisers’ with names such as Victoria Beckham and Charles I) it’s off through Hyde Park, stopping every 10 or 15 minutes to hear fascinating facts (all guides are great and extremely knowledgeable but Matt comes highly recommended) and take photos at the various attractions you pass. 

Through Royal Parks (Fat Tire is the only company to have a license to go through four of them) and past royal residences (Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace) it’s then along The Mall (bike horns honking in delight) where you park up and walk into Trafalgar Square for lunch. Afternoon attractions include the Cabinet War Rooms, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Although you don’t get to go inside any of these buildings you’re having too much fun out in the fresh air to worry.

Photo courtesy of Fat Tire Bike Tours
The tour costs £20 (£18 students, £14 children) and lasts roughly four hours. It is suitable for all ages and abilities and for a new view of the capital is an absolute must-do.

Also, hot off the press is the new Southbank Tour which starts from just outside Waterloo underground station (exit 2) and makes its way along the River Thames past sights such as Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. Return travel on a Thames Clipper river boat is also included. 

The tour, with group sizes of 8-10 people, runs every Friday at 10.30am and takes roughly five hours. Booking is essential and for a bargain, book a tour during the remaining months of 2009 when you’ll only pay £20 (this will increase to £35 in 2010). 

For details of both tours and to book tel: 07882 338779 or visit: www.fattirebiketours.com/london.

Happy Birthday Phantom!

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning musical, The Phantom of the Opera, celebrates its 23rd anniversary today. If you haven’t already, go see it now before the sequel, Love Never Dies opens next March…

It’s hard to believe that 23 years ago today (9 October 1986) Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman took to the stage for the first time in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. Fast forward to 2009 and this musical masterpiece, based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, is one of the most successful and long-running shows in the West End. Its title song and numbers such as Music of the Night and All I Ask of You are forever etched in the public memory; it has been seen by more than 100 million people; translated into 15 languages; performed in more than 25 different countries and has won 50 awards worldwide.

Needless to say then that Lloyd Webber will be hoping to match this success with his long-awaited sequel Love Never Dies which has its world premiere at London’s Adelphi Theatre on 9 March 2010 (it will premiere on Broadway on 11 November 2010).
The story is set ten years after we last saw the Phantom and he has relocated from his lair in the Paris Opera House to now haunt the fairground of Coney Island, USA. Despite the time that has passed he still pines for Christine, now married and a mother, and longs to hear her sing once more…

The show will star Ramin Karimloo as The Phantom (a role he is currently playing at Her Majesty’s) and Sierra Boggess will make her West End debut as Christine. Boggess was spotted by Lloyd Webber while playing Christine in Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular

The Phantom of the Opera, Haymarket, London SW1Y 4QL. To book tickets visit: www.thephantomoftheopera.com. Love Never Dies (from 9 March 2010) to book tickets visit: www.loveneverdies.com.


The Rural River Thames

Long before the River Thames reaches the capital, it has journeyed through some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, weaving its way from Gloucestershire to Greater London, past historic gems and stately sights. Read More »


Pop Life: Art in a Material World

With work by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Jeff Koons, Pop Life in a Material World at Tate Modern (until 17 January 2010) was always going to be a much talked about affair… Read More »


Southbank exhibition snaps up sailing heroes

Britain’s Olympic sailing heroes have been captured on camera by award-winning photographer Robert Wilson and the spectacular results are on display at London’s gallery@oxo from 30 September to 4 October 2009.

Read More »


Thames Festival Fever

Fantastic fireworks made up the finale to this year’s Thames Festival in London (12-13 Sep). This free annual event boasts food, drink, music, arts, crafts and the famous riverside fireworks finale

Read More »

Metropolitan Police: 180 years of policing the capital

THIS YEAR is the 180th birthday of the Metropolitan Police Service. Founded in 1829 by Robert Peel, Home Secretary, the Met has now opened a new museum looking back at police history in London

Robert Peel

UNTIL 1829, there was no central organisation of law enforcement in London. As the population of the capital grew during the 18th and 19th centuries, the public became more and more concerned about the whole question of law and order and various parliamentary committees were appointed to investigate the subject. In 1828, Sir Robert Peel, who, as Home Secretary in the Tory government, introduced several important reforms of British criminal law, set up a committee and its findings paved the way for his police Bill, leading to the setting up of an organised police service in Greater London.

Before the passing of the Metropolitan Police Act, law enforcement among the general population was carried out by volunteer constables and ‘watchmen’. In cases of serious public disorder, the British Armed Forces would take over. Because the system was fairly unorganised and wasn’t set up to carry out criminal investigation, the novelist Henry Fielding (who had been appointed a Magistrate in 1748) introduced the first detective force, known as the Bow Street Runners. The creation of the Metropolitan Police Service in 1829 meant that Greater London finally had a single police force, except for in the City of London (the financial centre), which has kept its own force.

The Met is the largest police force in the UK and it is sometimes referred to as Scotland Yard, after the location of its original headquarters, which moved to New Scotland Yard in Westminster in the late 1960s. In 1934 the force opened its own training centre at Hendon in north London. The Met has been involved in many famous criminal cases, including The Brides in the Bath, Dr Crippen, Jack the Ripper and The Krays, and you can learn more about the force and its fascinating history on its website.

New Scotland Yard Sign

A new ‘mini-museum’, the Met Collection, has opened this summer at the recruitment centre at the Empress State Building opposite West Brompton underground station. On display are ancient truncheons, handcuffs and the uniform worn by the first TV cop, Dixon of Dock Green, artefacts dating back to the year the Met was founded, as well as archive photographs of the early days at Scotland Yard. For information, tel: (020) 7161 1234.

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