Historic Britain and Its Hidden Gems

200 Years of Charles Darwin

It was at Down House that Charles Darwin worked on his scientific theories, and wrote ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’ – the book which both scandalised and revolutionised the Victorian world. Today the house remains much as it was when Darwin lived here.

On the 13 February 2009 Down House will reopen after a few months conservation work with a new exhibition celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of ‘On the Origin of Species’. During a visit you will enter the study where ‘On the Origins of Species’ was written, get a glimpse of family life in the ground floor rooms, audio tour narrated by Sir David Attenborough and relax with a cup of tea or coffee in the cosy tearoom.

English Heritage has also restored the gardens to their appearance in Darwin’s time, where you’ll see honeybees working in the fascinating observatory beehive just as Darwin did almost 150 years ago. You will also follow in Darwin’s footsteps on his famous path ‘The Sandwalk’ and marvel at the carnivorous plants in Darwin’s garden “laboratory” and unusual varieties of vegetables growing in the vegetable garden.

Kennet’s 5000 year treasure hunt

As you may not know where this area lies, find Bath on your map and then go east to Chippenham, Devizes and Marlborough. It is a place where you can delve deeply into past centuries, visit ceremonial landscapes and hills that are steeped in mystery myth and legend. Here you will find the World Heritage Site of Avebury which was built in around 3000 BC. Unlike Stonehenge, you can touch and feel the stones that surround this Neolithic spot. If you allow enough time, you can also take instruction in the ancient art of dowsing, prior to or after a traditional ploughman’s lunch in the Red Lion pub which is located INSIDE the ancient stone circle. It is also reputed to be one of the most haunted pubs in the south west with Florrie, being that its most well known ghost. The well she is supposed to have been thrown down after being murdered can be seen inside the lounge bar, so no misbehaving while you’re there! Proof that mankind has always had an urge to leave an impression can be seen in the White Horses which have been cut out of the chalk on the Wiltshire Downs. The story behind each one is fascinating. Another site of mystery and legend is the West Kennet Longbarrow, which is one of the largest Neolithic burial tombs in Britain and the nearby Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes houses the world renowned Bronze Age collection from the barrows surrounding Stonehenge and Avebury. The Black Swan in the Market Place in Devizes goes back to the 16th century and has an interesting past and was featured on Living TV’s “Most Haunted”. With prior notice you can roam the cellars and search the blackness for orbs, detect energy and electro-magnetic fields. If you are seeking thrills of a different kind there is plenty of paranormal activity in the area. After a visit to the Back Swan, take a Ghost Walk around the town. This is NOT for the faint hearted and you will need that drink at the end of the evening…

Hastings Old Town

Just round the corner from the caves and shore lies Hastings Old Town, home to many famous smuggling gangs including Ruxley’s Crew and the Hastings Outlaws. They were a violent bunch and in 1768, 13 of Ruxley’s gang were hanged for their part in the gruesome murder of the master of a Dutch ship, off Beachy Head, near Eastbourne.

The Old Town is packed full of narrow streets, unusual shops and buildings. Its smuggling legacy remains with the annual bonfire celebrations during Hastings Week, where bonfire society members don the outfits of either smugglers or the revenue officers tasked to catch them.

Explore the Gardens of England’s England

Whether you are a keen gardener looking for inspiration or simply appreciate the beauty of English gardens, make sure you take time to explore the gardens of Shakespeare Country.

From early spring to late autumn, discover a profusion of scents, colour and creation as the gardens of Shakespeare Country flourish with trees, shrubs and flowers. Even the winter months are exciting and you’ll often come across gardeners working hard to prepare their gardens for the following seasons.

Shakespeare Country and the neighbouring Cotswolds are home to some of England’s most enchanting gardens from almost every period of English garden history. From landscaped to cottage, exotic to herbal, the gardens are a delight to explore as they grow and change over the seasons and years.

Explore the gardens of England’s England, enjoy the colour and the quiet, and remember where they are as you will almost certainly want to return.

On the Wales England border

One lesser known area of England is the county of Herefordshire, where England meets Wales. It has been back drop for several well known films including Shadowlands with Anthony Hopkins, which was filmed in the Wye Valley – visitors can follow the Shadowlands Trail. More recently filming has taken place in the Black and White Villages of North Herefordshire for a new film “Unconditional Love” starring Julie Andrews, Cathy Bates and Rupert Everett. The film was launched in the fall of 2000. Literature has always been key to the county, Elizabeth Berrett Browning grew up in Ledbury and John Masefield was also born in this pretty market town. Poetry fans may like to visit Ledbury in July for the annual poetry festival.

Hatfield House – where Elizabethan history began

Henry VIII sent his children to live and be educated at Hatfield when Elizabeth was just three months old. Elizabeth spent most of her childhood at Hatfield, and it’s said that she heard the news that she was to become Queen while sitting under an oak tree in the Park. Elizabeth: the Golden Age starring Kate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Clive Owen was filmed at Hatfield House. Mary, Queen of Scots’ house Chartley Hall was recreated in the Armoury and other state rooms were used for Sir Francis Walsingham’s home. As Geoffrey Rush Commented: “The first day of filming, for me, was the death scene and we’d recreated Walsingham’s bedroom in Hatfield House and we knew that she had walked there some 450 years earlier. It just ups your game because you play into it with a greater sense of relish.” Visitors can see the Banqueting Hall of the Old Palace of Hatfield where in November 1558, Elizabeth held her first Council of State and also see the site of the famous oak tree.

2008 marks the 450th anniversary of Elizabeth’s accession to the throne and as part of the celebrations there will be exciting new events for all the family to enjoy. Experts on the period will be talking about life in the Elizabethan times in a new series of lectures. Documents from the Collection will be on Display, together with the famous portraits of Elizabeth. For younger visitors, there is a chance to try on period armour and learn about life as a fighting knight. On Friday evenings, Banquets are held in the Old Palace. A sumptuous four course dinner and excellent entertainment set within wonderful surroundings. During the evening, the Players will entertain with period music, song and theatre from King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I and their Courtiers followed by dancing.

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