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United Kingdom & Ireland Travel Articles

Travel notes and articles for England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. Articles posted must be approved by the Admin before they are published.
England was populated in prehistoric times and many burial tombs, stone circles and hill forts remain. The Roman conquest of Britain started in 43AD during the reign of Emperor Claudius. They built roads, towns and villas in the countryside and the remains of many have been preserved. The medieval history is everywhere, in the castles and historic houses. The industrial revolution also left sites that are interesting to explore today. Designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) preserve the countryside and historic villages, National Parks preserve wilderness areas and organizations like the National Trust and English Heritage preserve the historic buildings. There is more to see in England than just London. We hope these...
Crosses in the Isle of Man The first Christians on the Isle of Man were Irish missionaries known as “Culdees” who first arrived around AD447. They began converting the Manx population and built tiny chapels known as Keeils, across the Island. These were very simple stone buildings with a thatched roof and surrounded by a turf or stone wall, with a preaching altar outside where the monk could be seen and heard by the congregation. Christian burials were marked by a stone carved with a simple cross, either laid flat on top of the grave, or upright at the end. Later crosses were more elaborate with a wheel head and carved shaft decorated with Celtic spirals. When the Vikings arrived in the C9th, they brought their Norse...
For centuries the border between England and Scotland was known as the 'Debatable Lands". As well as bloody battles between the English and the Scots, this was a lawless area with perpetual feuds between the major border families. It was a bit of a ‘no’go’ area with Cattle rustling, feuding, murder, arson and pillaging were all common occurrences. It was a time when people owed their tribal or clan loyalty to their blood relatives or families. And it was common for these families to straddle the Border. The Border area was poor farmland, suitable only for grazing where raiding or reiving was seen as an acceptable way of life. Raids were planned like military operations and could involve gangs of armed men and last for days. More...
A small ruined castle on Hadrian’s Wall Built on the line of Hadrian’s Wall, there isn’t a lot left of Thirlwall castle, just a few walls above the Tipalt Burn. This was the 'Debatable Lands' and the area suffered hundreds of year of in fighting between the English and the Scots. A simple motte and bailey castle was built here in the C12th. This was replaced by a fortified stone L shaped hall house in the C14th using stones plundered from nearby Hadrian’s Wall. There were regular skirmishes between the powerful border families and the raiding (reiving) of cattle by both sides was common, particularly in the winter months. After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James Vi of Scotland became James I of England after the death of...
Huntly is a very nice Scottish Town which has has maintained a range of small family owned shops. The dark grey stone houses are neat and well cared for. Dean’s Shortbread have their factory in the centre of the town with a viewing platform, good shop and excellent cafe. The castle is to the north of the town, surrounded by trees with glimpses of the River Deveron glittering a deep blue in the sunlight below, and with views across to the distant heather covered hills. It is reached through a splendid archway with a clock tower and along a tree lined avenue. There has been a castle here since the C12th and the original grass covered motte can be seen next to the castle. This guarded the strategic crossing point where the Rivers...
In the the valley of Loch Eck and the River Eachaig, some 7 miles north-west of Dunoon, Benmore Gardens are part of the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh. The gardens climb 450’ up the hillside side and is one of the best collections of trees in the country, with plants from across the globe. Over a third of the hardy conifer species in the world can be found growing here along with over 300 different species of rhododendron as well as many different species of deciduous trees and shrubs. It is also important in the conservation of species now threatened in the wild. Until the 1800s, the estate now known as Benmore was the hunting grounds of the Dukes of Argyll, and belonged to the Campbell Clan of Ballochyle. It was known as...
I visited Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula during a very wet and windy end of October. It looks very different when the sun is shining.. With the arrival of the arrival of the paddle steamers in the late C19th, Dunoon rapidly became a popular holiday resort for Glasgow, with its two beaches separated by the volcanic plug of Castle Hill. It is still has a regular car or foot passenger ferry service and is now a commuter base for Glasgow. There is little information about the early history of Dunoon. Little remains of the C11th castle built on Castle Hill. This was an important stronghold became a royal castle with the Earls of Argyll as hereditary keepers. Mary Queen of Scots visited in 1563. The castle was abandoned by the mid...
St Davids with its Cathedral and Ruined Bishop's Palace (#5) is Britain's smallest city. The Cathedral with the shrine of St David, has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries and is still a honey pot destination for visitors today. St Davids is the largest and most important medieval diocese in Wales, with property scattered across the south west Wales. The Cathedral houses the relics of the C6th St David who is the patron saint of Wales and attracted substantial number of pilgrims. So much so, that in the C12th, Pope Calixtus II stated that two pilgrimages to St Davids was equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome. William I came in 1081 to pray at the shrine of St David. Henry II and Edward I both made pilgrimages. Pilgrims and...
Tenby is a popular holiday resort in south west Wales with its walled old town with brightly coloured houses, harbour overlooked by a ruined castle and four sandy beaches. Add in a tidal island with a C19th fort (#4) and Caldey Island with its monastery, what more could you want? Pembrokeshire has been described as “Little England beyond Wales” as the area was settled by the Normans in the early C12th. It still feels more English than Welsh, with the population speaking English rather than Welsh. It was only since the passing of the Welsh Language Act in 1993 that bilingual signs became common. The Normans built a castle in Tenby on the high point of the headland above the harbour in around 1090 and a settlement grew up under...
Narberth is a small town about ten miles north of Tenby. It is often included in coach excursions from Tenby for its “shopping centre , local foods and art galleries”. But there is a lot more to Narberth than that! It is along the Landsker Line, the language border between Welsh and English speaking areas of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. A series of castles, including one at Narberth, was built along the line by the Norman Kings in the C11th and C12th. A town grew up in the shelter of Narberth Castle and became the administrative centre for the area. Today it is an attractive small town with a good range of family owned shops and multicoloured Edwardian and Georgian buildings. The war memorial is in the Market Square...
The only electric mountain railway in the British Isles With increasing numbers of visitors to the Isle of Man and the opening of the electric railway to Laxey, plans were drawn up for a tramway up Snaefell, the highest mountain on the island. The route was first surveyed in 1888 by George Noble Fell, with plans to use a central third rail (the Fell Rail) for propulsion and breaking. Although approved by Tynwald, the railway was not built until 1895. The five mile track took just seven months to build and was opened on 21st August. It was an immediate success with 900 passengers per day for the rest of the season. The system was built as an electric railway with power supplied by overhead wires as it was found the cars could cope...
The 17 mile line between Douglas, Laxey and Ramsey was built between 1893-1899 to capitalise on the tourist boom with increasing numbers of visitors arriving to the island. It runs through some of the best scenery in the island, particularly to the north of Laxey. There are many small unmanned halts serving remote sections of the line. The track is double with power from overhead wires with poles set between the tracks. It is still using the original power cars and open trailers. Trailer No 59 was built in 1895 as a ‘Special Saloon’, for use by the Directors and their guests. It is now referred to as the ‘Royal Saloon ’ after carrying Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902 . It still sees occasional service when it is raining...
Horse trams have been taking visitors along the sea front since 1876 and are still as popular as ever By the mid C19th, the Isle of Man was becoming a popular holiday destination. Hotels and guest houses were being built along the sea front in Douglas. In 1875, Tomas Lightfoot planned to build a horse pulled tramway to serve the length of the promenade and carry visitors between the ferry terminal and their accommodation. The tramway opened the following year with two tramcars on a single track with passing places. This was later doubled and the tram fleet expanded to 12 cars. There were 8 double decker tramcars with the remainder open ‘toast racks’, including a few with no roof, only used in good weather. when the sun shone. By...
At just over 15 miles long, this is the line between Douglas and Port Erin is the only railway line to survive on the Isle of Man. The introduction of a regular steamship service between Liverpool and the Isle of Man opened up the island to tourism. Soon visitors were arriving in their thousands and Douglas developed rapidly as a tourist resort with hotels being built along the Promenade. In 1871, the Isle of Man Railway company was formed to open up the rest of the island to tourism and plans were drawn up for railways from Douglas to Peel and Castletown. Construction began in 1872 and the line to Peel, running along the central valley, was soon opened and an immediate success. The line to Castletown cut across the lie of the...
Ramsey is the second largest town on the Isle of Man and is the main service centre for the north of the island. At the mouth of the River Sulby it has a sweeping sandy bay which attracted Victorian summer visitors. The Vikings landed in Ramsey in 1079 and, after the collapse of Viking rule in 1265, it became a strategic location in the power struggle between the English and the Scots for control of the island. By 1600, Ramsey was an important settlement, with the oldest part of the town with its narrow streets, around the harbour. The well sheltered but tidal harbour is protected by two breakwaters. In the C19th, boats were often able to dock here when winds made docking difficult in Douglas. The harbour is still busy with...
This is a lovingly restored narrow gauge railway that used to carry Victorian holiday makers down a wooden glen to a small zoo in the rocks below. At the end of the C19th the Isle of Man was undergoing a tourist boom. Groudle Glen was originally a remote hamlet of a few houses with a steep valley running down to a small harbour. A large hotel was built at Groudle Glen next to the Douglas and Laxey Coast Electric Tramway (later the Manx Electric Tramway). Richard Maltby Broadbent who had a family farm near by, opened up Groudle Glen as a tourist attraction. It was promoted as the ‘Fernland of Mona’ and Broadbent planted hundreds of trees on the bare hillside. Visitors paid a fee and could explore the rustic paths and bridges along...
Laxey began as a small close knit fishing community around the mouth of the Laxey River. There was a herring smoke house and it was also important for washing and bleaching linen cloth used in the manufacture of sails. Small scale mining began in the valley above the village. By the C19th, most of the male population worked in the mines. The women and young boys worked on the washing floors. Life was hard and wages were low. Miners had to pay for explosives and other supplies. There was no welfare state and if miners were badly hurt and unable to work or too old to work, they were reliant on Friendly Societies to support them. As the mines grew, the harbour at the mouth of the river was improved by two breakwaters and a warehouse...
Peel is the largest settlement on the west side of the island and is renowned for its stunning sunsets. On a clear day there are good views of the Mountains of Mourne and this is the place to come to see basking sharks. Peel has a long history. Hunter gatherers from the stone age settled on St Patrick's Isle and later the Irish Missionaries established a monastery here. The Vikings built a castle and it became the capital of the island during Viking times, and the seat of the bishopric. A small settlement grew up round St Patrick’s Isle, which gradually became Peel. With the building of Castle Rushen, Peel’s importance waned. Peel castle continued to be used by the Lord’s of Mann until the Civil War and continued as a garrison until...
St Johns is often described as the historic and cultural heart of the Isle of Man. It is a small village on the A1 which cuts through the central valley joining Douglas and Peel. It is an important location at the crossroads of the A1 and the A3 Castletown Ramsay Road. The arrival of the Douglas to Peel railway line and later branch to Ramsay, both now closed, at the end of the C19th led to rapid growth of the settlement. As an integral part of its historical significance, St Johns has the only Manx speaking primary school, Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, on the island. St Johns was the site of one of the original Viking Tynwald sites which were scattered across the island. With its central location, itt became the main site in 1471. The ‘Hill’...
In the C16th, Douglas was a tiny settlement of a few houses clustered around the mouth of the Douglas River. Castletown was the capital and power house of the island. Douglas began to grow in the C18th as a result of the smuggling trade, a better harbour than at Castletown and good links to Liverpool. The harbour developed and merchant’s houses and warehouses were built along North Quay. St Matthew’s Church was built on the quayside as parishioners had to walk over a mile to attend services at Braddan Parish Church Douglas didn’t really begin to develop as a port until the introduction of steamships at the start of the C19th which provided a much more reliable service than sail. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company running the service...
The village of Ballasalla on the Silver Burn, is a rapidly growing dormitory settlement for Douglas. There is a large industrial estate on the edge of the village. Ballasalla grew up around Rushen Abbey. After the Dissolution of the Abbey, the abbey was stripped of anything of value and much of the stone was robbed out and used as building stone for the houses in the village. Ballasalla is in the parish of Malew and the original parish church of St Lupus was a mile away. Not only was it a long walk but, as the population grew, the church was no longer able to seat everyone. A new church was built in the village at the end of the C19th. It is a large but plain church built from limestone quarried from Scarlet point. The inside is...

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