Normally the venue for the worlds greatest pop and rock stars, for one week only, last week, the crowds that came to our O2 Arena here in London came to see not the great stars of rock/pop but of tennis in action, and it proved to be a treat for all involved with a number of worthy and breathtaking matches on show from the worlds top eight single and double tennis players who qualified for the final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Series.
Up until Sundays final, the epic 3 hours semi-final match between Nadal, the world number 1 and our British hope Andy Murray had proved to be the highlight, with patriotic pride resting on the Scotsman Murray who played valiantly and came painstakingly close but ultimately lost to the champion. So like many a final before, it was between the eternal rivals and giants of the modern game, the current number one Rafael Nadal and the record breaking former champion Roger Federer.
It was almost like a replay of their famous epic Wimbledon match of two years ago for although the pair have played in many finals since, it was the first time the pair have faced each other on British soil, indeed in London, since their record-breaking 2008 match in Wimbledon. This time Federer turned the tables on Nadal, who may have been feeling the after effects of his epic battle with Murray, to record a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory at the London arena and win his fifth Barclays ATP World Tour title, having succeeded previously in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007, becoming the third person in the history of the ATP to do so joining Pete Sampras who dominated it in the 90’s and Ivan Lendl in the 80’s. It proved to be a bittersweet win and end to the season for Federer, who despite a brilliant start winning the Australian Open earlier in the year and end with this record equalling win, conceded the overall ATP World Tour Championship title and number 1 ranking to his rival Nadal who had a fantastic year in 2010 winning 7 titles this year in tennis among them the French, Wimbledon and US Opens and a number of ATP tour finals.
The overall Barclays ATP World Tour Final proved to be a thrilling event inside Londons O2 arena, which, usually filled with the best of events and stars of the entertainment world, was transformed for this one week only, into a world class indoor tennis arena for the second year in succession. It’s proved to be a great venue, with all the little nuisances from last years event having been tweaked out to perfection. The tour schedules were set in tune with Londons transport lines making travelling to the arena easy, with no danger of missing essential matches. Also new this year, were two practice courts with seating for 400 spectators, allowing people without tickets to wander in at their own leisure and catch a glimpse of the worlds top players in action during practice times.
Another bonus with this years renewal was that the worlds’ top eight tennis players (including double champions as well as singles) were still game and fresh enough, despite a gruelling season, to bow out for the year in terrific champion worthy style. This years final with players still at the top of their game, highlighted the ATP finals and series status as the worlds best indoor tennis event and showed Britains O2 arena as a world class sporting as well as entertainment fixture, a great omen for London 2012 where the O2 will host the gymnastics and a number of indoor events. All in all it proved to be an event not to be missed, with Nadal deservedly being crowned the series champion despite the final loss, Murray proving a worthy British contender and upcoming threat and the old king of the court Federer finding some consolation in winning the ATP final and adding another tennis record to his overall legendary status, ending on a high note after a somewhat disappointing season for him and proving why he is still the only player capable of overthrowing Nadal, setting the stage for some exciting tennis next year, and perhaps a rematch at Wimbledon 2011. Overall the events at the London indoor arena this year proved to be a fitting end to the tennis year and a good omen for future tennis and indoor sporting events on these shores.
December 2, 2010 No Comments
Picture yourself slipping your hand in to your partner’s as you stand at the head of a deserted loch whilst a gentle breeze rustles the heather on the glen…
A perfect destination for your honeymoon vacation, Scotland holds an air of romance just waiting to be absorbed. Perhaps it comes from the historic tradition when young English lovers would elope across the border to Scotland’s Gretna Green, declaring their love in marriage. Or perhaps it simply comes from the ruggedly beautiful scenery and Scotland’s rich history and tradtions. Either way, Scotland boasts an array of destinations where you can share new experiences and create perfect memories which will last your entire married life. In Scotland you will walk in the footsteps of Kings and Queens at the nations ancient castles, see rare wildlife thriving in its natural habitat along the coastlines, experience ultimate tranquility on the deserted Scottish Isles and sample the rich flavours of traditional food and drink.
myguideScotland can help you make the most of this special time together in our beautiful country. Your local expert will take care of all the planning ensuring you have nothing more to do than enjoy yourselves as you explore together. With our personal touch, we will recommend the best places for you to see and experience by day and by night we will offer a unique accommodation for every couple’s tastes; whether it be a getaway loch-side lodge, or an intimate higland hotel experience, a historic coaching inn or modern spa hotel, a quaint island cottage or the ultimate in romantic grandeur at a magical castle accommodation.
With myguideScotland your scotland honeymoon vacation will be one to remember forever.
April 20, 2010 No Comments
Scotland is a land of contrasts combining the old and the new, the rural with the urban. A land of unspoilt and unrivaled landscapes, of rugged mountains and lochs, yet possessing vibrant and modern cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, it manages to successfully combine these two contrasting sides. It holds a rural backdrop of awe inspiring scenery, villages and towns of unique local history and culture all the while possessing a modern and young urban landscape with cities of the calibre of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen that can rival the best in Europe. Scotland is a land for many tastes, both young and old. From the intrepid trekker, the nature enthusiast, the history buff to the young trendsetter and music fan, Scotland holds a bit of everything.
With that in mind here are some of the Top 10 reasons to holiday or vacation in Scotland:
1. The festivals – Edinburgh festival
For three weeks each August, Edinburgh is taken over by a selection of festivals running concurrently celebrating and promoting all sectors of the Arts. During this month there are a host of activities and events designed in part to both endorse and engage the population in the Arts, from music to theatre (classical to contemporary), from dance to comedy, to pantomime and children’s shows, art displays and the visual arts, free street theatre and caberet, musicals and opera there is something for everyone of all ages and budgets.
During the day the streets are filled with free street entertainment, art exhibitions and events for all the family, while at night Edinburgh comes alive with theatre, opera, shows, acts and parties held across various venues while the pubs are often filled with live music and some comedy acts.
2. The cities – Nightlife
As well as magnificent and unspoiled countryside, Scotland has a trio of large cities in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow that in terms of shopping and, most importantly, nightlife can rival the cities of it’s counterpart over the border England. Of the three, Glasgow is the largest, most bustling and vibrant of all with a busy nightlife, consisting of earthy, traditional pubs, trendy cafe bars and a range of all night discos and super-clubs.
As evidenced by the strength of the Edinburgh festival, Edinburgh, the capital, is a city renowned for the Arts and classical entertainment whilst hosting a range of cool designer bars and restaurants. Aberdeen, the third largest city, is a university city with a wealth of art galleries, museums and a thriving youth scene, and is well known as being the centre of live music in Scotland with live music of all types being catered for in many music bars and venues.
Also of special note in these cities is the Scottish celebration of Hogmanay (or New Year’s Eve) a party that combines tradition with modern hedonism. Starting early on New Years Eve people take to the streets to celebrate with live bands, dancing, and street theatre. As the countdown to the New Year begins, the street celebrations descend into a flurry of wild parties and revelry that last long after the ringing in of the New Year, the singing of Auld Langs Syne and the fireworks. Overall it is a party not to be missed.
3. Scenery and Wildlife– the lochs and the highlands
While the cities of Scotland are a-buzz with activity, by contrast the countryside and rural communities have for the most part remained unspoiled by time and industrialisation, still retaining the wild mysticism of old. With the most spectacular scenery in the UK and a magical variety of flora and fauna, the rugged, uncompromising Scottish landscape is a nature lovers’ haven. As well as a stunning landscape Scotland possess a wealth of undisturbed wildlife such as eagles and osprey, mountain goats, hares and deer. Along the coast and on the Scottish islands, particularly Mull and Skye, there are many opportunities to observe various species of birds and puffins, seals, whales and dolphins whether on foot or on whale watching excursions along the coast. With this range of scenery and wildlife it is no wonder that Scotland is one of the most photographed countries in Europe, a point proven with the 2009 landscape of the year photograph being awarded to a picture taken of the Old man of Storr on the Isle of Skye.
4. Loch Ness – mystery of the monster
Mention Loch Ness and the first thing that comes to mind is “Nessie” the legendary Loch Ness Monster that is said to lurk in the dark depths of this vast loch. Since the controversial “surgeons photograph” appeared showing a plesiosaur–type creature (ancient underwater dinosaur) emerging out of the loch in the 30’s the legend of Nessie has continued to baffle and intrigue visitors to the loch to this day inspiring a string of stories and film. If you want to check out the story of Nessie and the Loch for yourselves, why not visit The Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre. There you will find a wealth of documented sightings and facts, reports from respected investigative search expeditions such as Operation Deep-scan and audio-visual displays that show the history and the main sightings of the monster, hints that there may be more to this legend than what you may have thought.
Alternatively for those with no interest in the legend one can also avail of a Jacobite cruise into the heart of the loch and witness the stunning panoramic views it offers of the surrounds including the majestic Urquhart Castle and the surrounding mountains. Whether a believer or a sceptic one cannot deny nonetheless that there is a haunting beauty to be found in this vast mysterious loch.
5. Castles – Edinburgh, Stirling, Eilean Donean
With its bloodied and romantic history it is no wonder that the Scottish landscape is dotted throughout with castles of varying quality steeped in legend. From the iconic castle of Eilean Donan Castle on the Isle of Skye, famous for its appearance in many films and photos worldwide, the elegance of the now manor residence Culzean Castle to the dominating spectacle of Stirling castle with views to the highlands, lowlands and the capital, castles dominate Scottish landscape and history. Of all the castles in Scotland, however, the most famous and best loved is, of course, Edinburgh Castle perched on an ancient volcanic rock and overlooking the capital. Inside, it is a living reminder of Scottish history where Scottish kings and Queens reigned and where the Scottish crown jewels reside to this day. It is a must see for visitors to Edinburgh offering both a wealth of history and legend and holds stunning views over the entire domain of Edinburgh from its man-made urban skyline to the north to it’s geological landscape to the south.
6. Chapels and Cathedrals
While maybe not as romantic as castles, Scottish cathedrals and chapels carry their own tale of history as most were the scenes of as many battles as worship. They can be found throughout the Scottish landscape and islands, for the most part in a state of ruin. Some of the most noteworthy are Melrose Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey said to be the place where Robert the Bruces heart is buried, and Dryburgh Abbey, the resting place of Sir Walter Scott, Scotland’s most famous writer. Perhaps one of the most intriguing abbeys and one of the few fully standing intact is Rosslyn chapel brought to public attention recently with the worldwide success of the book and film the “Da Vinci Code” in which it plays a central role to the plot of the story. Whether or not the allusions to freemasonry, the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail are true or not, there is no denying that the intricate architecture and carvings sculpted inside Rosslyn Chapel are fascinating. All of the details involved in the chapel appear to be steeped in symbolism from many different sources, biblical, pagan, and Masonic, all of which appear to add to the legend of its position in the tales of the Knights Templar and freemasonry
As evidenced by the various castles and cathedrals situated across the landscape Scotland is a land steeped in history made famous on film through the film Braveheart. All the castles and ruins are open to the public. Also of considerable note are some of Scotland’s famous battle sites such as Stirling and Bannockburn of William Wallace legend and the desolate moors of Culloden where Bonnie Prince Charlies highland armies met their end at the hands of English forces. On each of these sites one will find monuments in honour of the brave souls who died for their country and nearby visitor centres at Culloden and Bannockburn provide more detailed accounts of these events which helped to shape Scotland’s history.
For those of us whose idea of history is more ancient there are many examples of prehistoric landmarks around the country and, in particular, on the Scottish Islands. The most noted of these is Orkney Island with its World Heritage sites such as the Neolithic dwellings of Skara Brae (predating the Egyptian Pyramids) the ancient tomb of Maes Howe and the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar all built long before Stonehenge.
8. Cultural festivals – Highland Games, EE
Scotland has a distinctive and unique culture and nowhere is this better highlighted than in traditional festivals such as the Highland Games. Although considered on first glance as a festival for tourists, the highland games are actually a range of festivals held in Scotland and Scottish communities worldwide that celebrate Scottish and Celtic culture & heritage, especially that of the highlands.
Certain aspects of the games have in turn come to epitomize the worldwide view of Scottish culture, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the Scottish dancing. In the these games, which take place in Scotland throughout the summer, one will find a variety of events ranging from the actual games themselves (involving the cable toss and Scottish hammer throw to name just two) to Scottish dance competitions highlighting the Scottish country dances and highland dances to the country fairs and cattle shows. At the end of these local festivals the rendition of traditionally favorite songs are played by the pipe bands creating a sound that has come to symbolize the games and Scotland.
Another event where one can hear the music of the bagpipes and especially the haunting lament of the lone piper is at the Edinburgh military tattoo held in Edinburgh castle grounds in August during the height of the Edinburgh Arts Festival, where the history of Scotland is played out in a spectacular and colorful array of music and dance.
9. Food and Drink– haggis and beyond, the whisky distilleries
For a country with a rich rural and coastal landscape and temperate climate it is not surprising that Scotland has a reputation as a food producer of quality foods such as beef, lamb, game, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables all of which can be found in various recipes in the finest eateries in Scotland and worldwide. And that is forgetting its traditional foods such as Haggis, neeps & tatties and Abroath Smokies (famous local haddock specially smoked over woodchips for a distinctive flavour). Haggis from it’s description (a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, minced and mixed with oatmeal, onion and salt and served encased in a sheep’s stomach lining) sounds more stomach curdling than mouthwatering but description aside it’s actually a delicious treat while tatties and neeps which are often served with Haggis may sound likewise unappetizing but they are actually Scottish names for mashed potatoes (tatties) and mashed turnip (neeps).
But Scotland is more famous as a producer of fine Whisky with a plethora of distilleries around the country. These distilleries are now well known as tourist attractions which give the visitor a guided tour and a complimentary taste of the produce, while shops on the distillery grounds provide a nice sample to take home.
10 Sport – Home of Golf
Scotland is known as the ancestral home of golf with the first recorded game of golf being originally played at St Andrews (allegedly by shepherds knocking stones into rabbit holes in their spare time) and developed from there into the game it is today. Today, St Andrews holds the seat of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, the game’s governing body and its old golf course is one of Scotland’s most famous links courses, the others being Royal Troon, the Old Course, Muirfield, Carnoustie and Turnberry all of which often hold the British Open Championship. As well as the above, Scotland has a variety of golf courses across the countryside making golf a sport accessible to everyone and if you’re a golf buff the British Golf Museum at St Andrews holds information on the roots and history of the game.
Other than golf, Soccer and Rugby are the other main components in the Scottish sporting calendar. In soccer old-firm rival Glaswegian clubs, Celtic and Rangers and to a lesser extent Aberdeen, dominate the sport having reached international acclaim and watching the matches can be a lively event in itself. The main soccer stadiums are mainly situated in the Glasgow homes of Celtic (matches held at Celtic Fc) and Rangers (matches held at Ibrox). Also in Glasgow, Hampdon Park is the venue for the Scottish national team. As for Scottish Rugby, Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh is where one can find most of the action with the main rugby events to look out for being the Six Nations Championship and European (Heineken) Cup.
All of the above reasons are just the basics, for more in-depth analysis of Scotland one has to go there and see it for themselves.
February 8, 2010 No Comments
Britain is home to an endless history of myths, legends and unexplained tales. From the famous standing stones of Stonehenge to the murky depths of Loch Ness to the gruesome lives of our murderous monarchs throughout the middle-ages, there are ghost stories and mysteries to be unraveled in every corner of Britain. At this time of year, in the run up to Halloween (Oct 31st) the paranormal is ever nearer so where did this ancient festival come from and how do we celebrate here in the UK?
Dating back thousands of years, to Pagan times Halloween can be traced back to a festival of the celtic people who populated Britain, Ireland and Northern France. Pre-dating christianity, this celtic festival marked the transition from the spring and summer seasons of life, growth and warmth to the colder, darker winter, essentially symbolising a transition from the world of the living to the world of the…dead! They believed Oct 31st marked the night when the mortal world would be revisited by the dead. In response Celtic Priests, the Druids, would light bonfires to ward off evil sprirts. Today there are many theories that the standing stones at Stonehenge are related to the ancient celts and particularly the Druid Priesthood.
It is believed the festival continued in some form after the invasion of Britain by the Romans in 43AD although over the course of several hundred years it adopted some characteristics from the Roman traditions and celebrations including a the tradtion of “bobbing for apples” which is still a popular game played by children in the UK today.
Following the Romans in the 5th century the germanic clans of the Saxons invaded pushing the celtic peoples to the north and western extremes of Britain including Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. And shortly after this the Christian religion was introduced to Britain and imposed upon much of its people. The Christian festival of “All Hallows Day” which traditionally remembered those who had died for their beliefs, was moved from May to Nov 1st to coincide with Pagan festival and help assimilate the Pagan people in to Christianity. The Pagan night therefore became All Hallows Even which over the centuries became Halloween.
As with many other countries, modern day Halloween is still widely celebrated. Excited groups of children take to the streets to “Trick or Treat” namely dressing as skeletons, witches, ghosts, vampires and other creepy characters. They wander from house to house demanding sweets and treats. Others have Halloween parties, again involving scary costume, and the telling of ghost stories by candle light. Some games are played including bobbing for apples where children dunk there heads in to a bowl of water to fish for floating apples with their mouths. And of course, as in many other countries, children here hollow out pumpkins, cutting faces in to the side and lighting them with candles.
October 15, 2009 No Comments
Broadband – we can’t get enough of it. What was stunningly quick last year is now mind numbingly slow. Most of us will remember dial up internet connections that cost the earth and always lost the connection 10 minutes into an important 11 minute download – meaning another 11 minutes of waiting and paying. In this area of South Wales many homes can get 20Mb broadband meaning some pretty fast web speeds. And of course we all have mobile phones sprouting from our ears.
Surprisingly it’s not the same everywhere as there are some isolated areas of Britain where broadband looks to be many moons away. For instance one of the b&b’s that we use for those of our guests that want to get away from the pressures of the mobile phone and the PC Is The Lion Hotel in Gwytherin.
Gwytherin is a village of 200 people in situated near Llanrwst in Snowdonia, North Wales and is the setting for Ellis Peters’ first Cadfael novel “A Morbid Taste for Bones”. The Lion, a classy 6 roomed b&b and restaurant is also the village pub so a great place to meet up for a pint with the locals after a hard day’s walking or visiting the castles of Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris .
The thing about Gwytherin is that not only does it lack broadband and a mobile phone signal – the normal phone reception suffers when more than a handful of the villagers use their phones at the same time. Little wonder that the red public phone box is also a meeting point for villagers. It’s also conveniently close to the pub and the only phone box that I know that always has a vase of fresh cut flowers.
This lack of signal must be a little annoying for the villagers but for the rest of us this is just perfect for a few quiet days.
February 12, 2008 No Comments
This weekend is a massive sporting weekend on both sides of the Atlantic. You’ve got Superbowl XLII in Phoenix, Arizona .We’ve got the opening matches in the 2008 six nations rugby tournament involving Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy. In both events the media hype for the games is massive with players taking on the status of warrior gods in these clashes of titans.
The build-up is very much the same both sides of the pond and will remain so until a few minutes prior to kick off when it’s time for the National Anthem. In Colorado the crowd will unite with Jordin Sparks (sorry I don’t know her either but she won “American Idol” if that means anything to you) and stand proud in the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. In the rugby matches a sub competition occurs at this point when each nation involved sings its own anthem. It’s a proud moment with the power to bring tears to the eyes. I know I’m not the only one.
For instance take the match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London tomorrow afternoon. This is the one match that every Welshman wants to win. Wales beating England at “Twickers” (say this in a posh English accent) the home of rugby. As the Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland summed up “It’s not just a game of rugby. It’s nation against nation and bragging rights – not for a few days, but for a whole year”. Over in the USA I can imagine that Patriots supporters will have bragging rights for a lifetime if their team wins!
In Twickenham, when the brass band hits the opening chords the thousands of visiting Welshmen will, as one, launch into “Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau” (“Land of our Fathers”) with all their hearts . Then, they’ll be respectfully quiet as the English sing “God Save the Queen” knowing full well that the Welsh Anthem wins hands down with its power to stir the soul. This respectful scene on the playing of the Anthems will also play out in Croke Park, Dublin where Ireland entertain Italy and in Murrayfield, Edinburgh where Scotland play France.
In the singing of the Anthems in all of the above matches I’m sure of one thing – most of the crowd will not know more than one verse of their own National Anthem.
C’mon Wales…… and Go Patriots.
February 1, 2008 No Comments
British Airways have ordered two Airbus A318 aircraft to operate the route from London City airport in London Docklands to New York. This all business class will be a twice daily flight for 32 passengers. Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive said “We will offer a 15 minute check-in for customers in both London and New York. London City’s size means that it is a quick and easy airport to use and, with a maximum of 32 passengers onboard, getting on and off the aircraft will be a smooth process. Once onboard, customers will experience all the benefits of our business class cabin including a fully flat bed.”
Prices have not yet been released but if you want hassle free flying between these cities in 2009 and willing to pay for it I’d suggest that this may be the flight for you.
February 1, 2008 No Comments
The long awaited exhibition of Russian and Russian owned French art from the period around the Russian Revolution opened in London this week. For months the Russian Government threatened to pull the plug on this exhibition until guarantees were put in place by the UK government that would prevent the seizure of some of these paintings by individuals who claimed that they were obtained illegally by the Communists during the revolution. Whatever the origins of some of these paintings, the exhibition is without doubt the Art Highlight of the year for London.
Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Kandinsky, Tatlin, Malevich are all represented in this exhibition and with highlights such as The Dance by Henri Matisse it is sure to draw in the crowds.
So, Art lovers if you’re in London you’ll not want to miss this. The Royal Academy of Art, Burlington House, Piccadilly is hosting the exhibition until the 18th April.
January 31, 2008 No Comments
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.
As a Welshman I can’t say that I understand much of what is being said above any more than I understand why people eat haggis. Washing it down with a wee dram though is a splendid tradition. To all of you celebrating Robert Burns’ birthday, have a great night.
January 25, 2008 No Comments
The 25th of January is St Dwynwen Day here in Wales, Dwynwen being the patron saint of love and friendship, and our equivalent of St Valentine. As with all these old Welsh folk tales passed down by word of mouth over the centuries there are a number of versions. Here’s one.
Dwynwen was the prettiest of the Celtic King Brychan Brycheiniog’s 24 daughters (he also had 11 sons!). At one of the parties that King Brychan held regularly Dwynwen fell in love with a handsome prince called Maelon Dafodrill. However her father refused her permission to marry him as he’d arranged for her to marry another. Maelon was so angry that he raped Dwynwen and left her.
Dwynwen was distraught and fled into the woods. Here, through her tears and grief she prayed to God to help her forget Maelon Dafodrill, before falling asleep under the trees. In a dream she was visited by an Angel with a potion to help her forget her cruel lover as well as turn him into ice. God also granted Dwynwen three wishes. Her wishes were 1.That God thaw Maelon Dafodrill 2. That he met the hopes and dreams of true lovers 3. That she would never marry.
All her wishes were fulfilled and Dwynwen devoted the rest of her life to the service of God and established a church on the small island of Llanddwyn just off the west coast of Anglesey, near the village of Newborough. The remains of the church can still be seen today and the tidal island can be reached on foot.
The popularity of St. Dwynwen’s day seems to have increased greatly over the last ten years in Wales and you’ll find Welsh speakers celebrating it with parties and concerts, although not to the same level as St Valentine’s Day. Why it’s celebrated on January 25th I really have no idea. Here’s a card to all you romantics from all of us here at myguideBritain Cerdyn Santes Dwynwen
January 24, 2008 No Comments