Every January come rain, snow or shine, I go to the ‘Excursions’ trade show at the Alexandra Palace in London.
Now in its 10th year it has become an embarrasment of travel riches and once again I’ve returned home with my mind buzzing with new ideas.
This year the event moved into the magnificent Great Hall in order to accommodate the 250 attractions, historic properties, gardens, museums, animal attractions, destinations, cruise operators and accommodation providers. The finished result was an Aladdin’s Cave of excellence which offers dozens of imaginative ways of looking at your old friend Britain.
Let’s take a look at some of the bright stars in the Excursions firmament.
This group of three castles, three stately homes, a cathedral and a fabulous walled garden in central England have really fired my imagination for travel less, see more value added tours. All of them are within an hour’s drive of one another with picturesque towns, typically English villages and magnificent, largely undiscovered countryside in between.
Throughout the year they stage fine food markets, international horse trials, music event, jousting and medieval history displays and flower festivals.
For the ‘been there done that’ crowd these are ancestral homes and gardens to get excited about especially when the visits are tweaked and some very good hotels are added into the mix.
Treasures of the East
Far too many travel planners head to Cambridge and then head due west to get to the AI and the fast route to York. Talking to the enthusiastic people from Holkham Hall opened my eyes to a different way of doing things and another itinerary began to take shape with a morning visit to the beautiful cathedral at Ely before spending the afternoon at Her Majesty The Queen’s country retreat at Sandringham.
With two nights in the Kings Lynn area, the next day is filled with special visits to the privately owned elegant Palladian style mansions at Holkham Hall and at Houghton Hall where there’s also another award winning garden.
The return journey to London will be enhanced by a couple of hours at the unforgettable Hat Shop in Burnham Market, some time in Walsingham, a place of pilgrimage since the 11th century, an interesting distraction in Bury St. Edmunds and some more nice touches before the last two nights in London.
A Tale of Two Flower Festivals
I’ve found two outstanding cathedral based flower festivals that will make a great hook for a garden lover’s tour.
‘Reflections’ (July 24-27) will transform St. Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk with over 80 magnificent floral displays depicting key themes from the last 100 years.
Two months later, St. Albans Cathedral will become a wondrous oasis of colour and sound with their 2014 ‘Music in Bloom’ Flower Festival (Sept. 25-28).
Topped and tailed with visits to privately owned stately home and castles, tea rooms, pubs and time in London, these spectacular events will appeal to your garden club. You might also offer it to the ladies (and their husbands) who decorate your church every Sunday?
Great Gardens to Visit
Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to have visited dozens of gardens all over the UK and Ireland. This knowledge enables me to put together and operate memorable tours which match your client’s interests, time frame and budget. I don’t know it all (by any stretch of the imagination) which is where friends like Tony Russell, gardener extraordinaire, writer and broadcaster is a huge help with the publication of his Great Gardens to Visit.
If visits to some of our remarkable gardens are on your agenda, take a look at one of my ‘bibles’ at www.gardenstovisit.net. It will help you to be more creative with your tour planning but you’ll still find useful your UK ground operator who can then knock it into a well balanced and sensibly priced programme.
London For Families
Excursions also reminded me of just how family friendly London is. In addition to the must-sees of the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London to name just three, a few more caught my eye such as:
– A visit to the Household Cavalry Museum who uniquely provide The Queen’s Mounted Bodyguard before or after visiting the Royal Mews and Buckingham Palace.
– The Churchill War Rooms and Museum in conjunction with a tour of the Houses of Parliament.
– A cruise from Westminster Pier and a look at the heights and depths of Tower Bridge plus the panoramic views from the top of the Shard
– A trip to the Olympic Park to experience the Arcelormittal Orbit.
– Stadium tours of the hallowed turf at Chelsea and Arsenal Football Club.
The Excursions organisers claimed that the show is bigger and better than ever. They got that absolutely right!