Restoration of a Water Wonderland

One of Thomas Hornor’s paintings, which will help guide the Regency waterpark’s restoration.

One of Britain’s finest Regency waterparks is to be restored as part of the biggest development in the history of the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

The innovative system, which saw water flowing around the estate linked by a network of dams, sluices, bridges and cascades was an impressive aspect of the garden, designed by Capability Brown protegé Samuel Lapidge.

By the mid-19th century it had entered a slow decline, with the necklace of lakes finally being drained in 1934. Empty and silted-up lakes still remained, however, with overgrown paths running alongside and their rebirth will be achieved with reference to a series of historic paintings by Thomas Hornor.

The reconstruction of the dams, cascades, weirs and falls is set to be complete by March 2020, along with extensive landscaping and replanting.
The garden offers special rates of entry for groups of 10 people and even lower rates are available this year during April and May.

For further information please call 01558 667149

Hull Hits the Headlines

hull-startHull offers groups a big welcome and in preparation for its year as UK City of Culture 2017, the city is being revitalised and transformed. Brenda Watkinson discovers the choices for groups in the months ahead.

Located on the  coast in the East Riding of Yorkshire, Hull was founded on the banks of the River Humber in the 12th century. It soon established itself as a thriving port through which wool was exported to Northern Europe, and raw materials were imported from the Baltic countries. Trade declined during the 16th and 17th centuries and since then Hull has been a market town, military supply port, trading hub, fishing and whaling centre and industrial metropolis. Its rich past and many contemporary achievements led to its designation as UK City of Culture 2017, and as a result the city has been transformed thanks to the City Council’s huge investment programme aimed at improving the public realm. During 2017 there will be new public art installations – many will use the city’s impressive maritime architecture as a backdrop to add to the experience – and an innovative artistic and cultural programme of events will run throughout the year.

hull2

Exploring Hull

Hull is a great city to discover on foot with its historic Old Town, Fruit Market and shopping zones all within easy reach of each other. A guided tour is an excellent way to learn about the city’s fascinating heritage and for groups of 10 or more, there are several to choose from. In fact, Visit Hull and East Yorkshire offer six Shop Ahoy! packages, each following a standard itinerary but with options available for each element of the visit allowing GTOs to tailor the trip to their groups’ requirements. Packages include coach parking, welcome on arrival, morning coffee, a walking or coach tour with an English Heritage accredited guide, and lunch. For first time visitors, the original Shop Ahoy! package is a good choice taking in the Old Town – home to the Museums Quarter – Hull Marina, Victoria Pier, Trinity Square and many hidden alleyways and courtyards. After lunch, your members will be able to spend the afternoon at leisure exploring either Hull’s free museums in the Museums Quarter, which connects via a pedestrian bridge to the Marina and Hull’s premiere attraction, The Deep, or in the Fruit Market where galleries, restaurants and attractions can be found. For a little retail therapy, head to one of the modern shopping centres or wander through the Hepworth Arcade, a Grade II Listed covered arcade, where Messrs Marks and Spencer opened one of their first penny stores. It’s still home to local traders including the famous, 80-year old, Dinsdale’s Joke and Trick Shop.

As you tour the city, you will undoubtedly hear about William Wilberforce, an MP for Hull and Yorkshire, who was responsible for leading the fight that led to the abolition of slavery. His birthplace is now the Wilberforce House Museum and his former school, Hull Grammar School, is the Hands on History Museum. To find out more about Hull’s important son, the tour Walking with Wilberforce is also offered as a Shop Ahoy! package.
Full-day itineraries are available such as the Craft Odyssey package, which starts with a tour of the Yorkshire Brewing Company and a chance to taste some of their specialist beers. After lunch at the Mission Public House, the two-hour guided Hull Ale Trail takes in the city’s most historic and architecturally important public houses including Ye Olde White Harte, Ye Olde Black Boy and The George. It’s also worth noting that the CAMRA Real Ale Festival Hull will take place from 27th to 29th April 2017. Other full-day itineraries include Discover Larkin, Fishy Foray and Ecclesiastical Architecture.

thedeep

Maritime Hull

At the heart of Hull Marina is the spectacular aquarium The Deep, which tells the amazing story of the world’s oceans through stunning marine life, interactive and audio-visual presentations, and is home to 3,500 fish including magnificent sharks and rays. Discounts apply to groups of 10 or more.

Continuing on a maritime theme, the whaler’s craft of Scrimshaw is told at Hull’s Maritime Museum. The Museum is housed in the beautiful Victorian Dock Offices in Queen Victoria Square, designed by Christopher G Wray, and originally opened in 1871. The collections are divided into three main categories – whaling, fishing and the merchant trade – and concentrate on Hull’s maritime activities from the late 18th century to the present.

hull-truck-thaetreHull 2017 – UK City of Culture

Hull 2017 is a wide-ranging, multi-art form programme, which will bring 365 days of transformative arts and culture to neighbourhoods citywide. National and local artists, performers and cultural organisations will create an extraordinary variety of work aimed at all audiences whether from Yorkshire, Britain or overseas. There’s something for groups and independent visitors alike and it will re-enforce Hull’s status as a first rate destination for culture lovers and for those wanting to experience something a little bit different.

Amongst highlights is the reopening of the Ferens Gallery, one of Britain’s finest regional art galleries, and it will feature the newly renovated panel painting by Pietro Lorenzetti – Christ between Saints Paul and Peter. Located in the heart of the city centre, the gallery’s forthcoming shows will include five of Francis Bacon’s Screaming Popes series as well as the Turner Prize.

The 2017 line-up of classical and popular music at Hull City Hall and at the refurbished Middleton Hall, part of Hull University, will suit a range of tastes. The Hallé, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic Orchestras will all perform in the city and Opera North will premiere a new commission – and musical installation – that turns the iconic Humber Bridge into a piece of music.

Theatre lovers will be able to enjoy new work at Hull Truck Theatre, including the world premiere of The Hypocrite by award-winning Hull born playwright, Richard Bean (of One Man, Two Guvnors fame), which is a co-commission with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a new production of Richard III.

The 2017 artistic programme is entitled ‘A City for all Seasons’ and has four phases, each with something distinctive and intriguing to say about Hull and its place in the world. The year-long celebration of history, connections, culture and diversity will conclude with a view of Hull’s future as a ‘city reborn’ in the Northern Powerhouse. The first season, ‘Made in Hull’, runs from January to March, and will welcome the world to the city with the aim of shaking up people’s preconceptions.Curated by award-winning documentary film maker Sean McAllister, it will see artists using large scale projection on buildings, illuminated skylines, soundscapes, shop windows and live performance to mark the last 70 years of the city.

hull-cocThis will be followed by ‘Roots & Routes’ (April to June), which will explore Hull’s unique place in a constantly changing world. The summer season ‘Freedom’ (July to September) is an excuse to rip up the rule book, allowing people to create, debate, reflect and re-imagine on their own terms, while ‘Tell the World’ (October to December) looks to the future.

The Maltese Connection

Traditional_Maltese_Boat__Luzzu_12

Malta’s traditional Luzzu fishing boats.

The Mediterranean island of Malta, sitting between Italy and North Africa, is a melting pot of different cultures and influences. Abbe Bates visits to discover what to include on a group trip.

alta is the largest of the Maltese islands, which also include Gozo and Comino. Its strategic position in the Mediterranean means it has had numerous invaders over the centuries, giving it a rich and vibrant history that could fill a visit on its own. When looking at accommodation, it is advisable to use four or five-star hotels for your group, as the standard below that can be patchy. You can get some good value deals and there are a choice of locations, from the resort towns of St Julien’s, Sliema and St Paul’s Bay to the historic capital Valletta. The climate is pleasant all year round, with temperatures dipping to not much below the teens Celsius, even in winter.

The two main languages on the island are English and Maltese, and the Maltese language reflects the different influences on the island, largely Semitic in origin but using the Latin alphabet, with a smattering of French words picked up during Napoleon’s reign and English from its time under British rule.

Grand_Harbour_Aerial_View_2

An aerial view of the Grand Harbour in Valletta.

Valletta and the Knights of St John

Malta’s capital Valletta is a ‘must-see’ whilst on the island and it is certainly worth booking a guide for a walking tour or to join your coach. With its grid-like layout and limestone buildings, it was built in 1566 by the Knights of St John, who play an important part in Malta’s story and still exist today, with modern connections to organisations such as St John’s Ambulance in the UK.    

This Catholic order of hospitallers arrived on the island in 1530 and fought off an invasion by the Ottomans known as the ‘Great Siege’ in 1565 before founding Valletta to help fortify the island, naming it after their leader, Grand Master La Valette.

There are numerous places to visit on Malta connected to the Knights of St John. St John’s Co-Cathedral, in particular, includes two famous paintings by Caravaggio in its Oratory, as well as a beautiful interior and many of the tombs of the Knights. You can also visit the Grand Master’s Palace, with its Armoury of around 6,000 pieces and impressive State Rooms featuring Gobelin tapestries. Those looking for a religious theme to a tour are, in fact, very well catered for, with over 350 churches across the islands.

For a very good overview of Malta and its history, Malta 5D is a multi-media audio visual show in Valletta that takes about 15 minutes and provides a good starting point to a visit to the islands.

An insight into the nobility of Malta is given at the well-presented Casa Rocca Piccola, a 16th-century palace still lived in by the family

, who will personally escort groups around the site, and also provide Champagne evening tours. Be sure to meet the resident macaw and terrapin in the courtyard!

Picturesque and wide-ranging views can be taken in from the Baracca Gardens over the Grand Harbour and you will find the Saluting Battery here, where daily gun firings are made at 12pm and 4pm.

Grandmasters_Palace_6

The Grand Master’s Palace.

Valletta is European Capital of Culture in 2018, and for more details of events taking place, see the panel on page 44.

Across the harbour, easily accessible on a boat cruise, is the town of Vittoriosa, where the Knights of St John made their home before they built Valletta. You can still see some of the auberges or inns where they stayed. A walking tour will reveal peaceful streets with houses that are slowly being refurbished – look out for the intricate doorknockers in the shape of fish
and dolphins!

Mdina and Rabat

A visit to Mdina is also a highlight of any trip to Malta. On the way, it is worth stopping at one of the oldest villages on the island, Naxxar, and visiting the 18th-century Palazzo Parisio. It was added to during the 19th century and houses some beautifully decorative rooms and deceptively big gardens as well as an adjoining restaurant, Luna.     

Mdina itself has a history dating back more than 4,000 years and was the old capital of Malta before Valletta was built. It is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and is often known as the ‘silent city’, mainly because of its lack of cars and subsequent tranquil atmosphere. Winding your way around its narrow streets, you will find numerous restaurants and cafes, as well as shops selling local crafts including Mdina Glass; from the top of its walls, you get a great view of the island.

naxar

The gardens at Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar.

It is said that apostle St Paul lived in Mdina after he was shipwrecked on the islands, and you will find a number of attractions dedicated to him in neighbouring Rabat, including St Paul’s Grotto, where he is believed to have founded the first Christian community on Malta, and St Paul’s Catacombs, a maze of underground Roman cemeteries that represent the earliest archaeological evidence of Christianity on Malta. Rabat was an important site during the Roman period and you can also visit the Roman villa here, Domus Romana, with its fine mosaics.

Domus_Romana_8

Intricate mosaic patterns at Domus Romana.

When on a trip to Mdina and Rabat, the nearby Meridiana Wine Estate is perfect for groups. The attraction provides a tour, which includes a visit to the fermentation room and underground cellar as well as a wine tasting and lunch, which can be enjoyed either inside or on the outdoor terraces. Here you can sample the red, white and rose wines produced at the vineyard, as well as buying the produce in the on-site shop.

Wartime in Malta

Due to its significant geographic position, Malta played key roles in both World War One and Two, especially as at that time it was under British rule. During World War One, the island effectively became a hospital and cared for hundreds of thousands of injured Allied soldiers including those from the Gallipoli campaign, earning the nickname the ‘nurse of the Mediterranean’. During World War Two, the island suffered another siege by enemy forces, with bombers based in Sicily subjecting it to some of the heaviest bombardments of the war during 1942. This almost crippled the island but it held out and in 1943 became the Allied base for the invasion of Sicily. The whole population was awarded the George Cross by King George V for their bravery during this period.    

salute to the battery

The Saluting Battery in Valletta.

The Malta at War Museum in Vittoriosa gives an insight into daily life on Malta during World War Two through original artefacts from the time, multi-sensory displays and original wartime footage. There is also a viewing of an underground air shelter included with a visit.

Across the harbour in Valletta, the Lascaris War Rooms give an excellent idea of how Allied operations were conducted from Malta during World War Two. The original rooms are housed within a network of tunnels, displayed as they would have looked at the time, and an informative film helps you to understand Malta’s role in the conflict. From the Saluting Battery in Valletta, which includes a restored Artillery Store and Gunpowder Magazine, you can take a War HQ Tunnel Tour too to explore the World War Two underground tunnels further.   

For more World War Two connections, in Mosta, the town’s 19th-century Dome houses a replica of the bomb that crashed through the roof in 1942 during the aerial bombardment of Malta, when the church was crowded with people sheltering from the action. Miraculously, it did not explode and no-one was killed.

At Ta’ Qali, a former Royal Air Force station, meanwhile, the Malta Aviation Museum houses a collection of aircraft that includes wartime planes such as the Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX and the Hawker Hurricane IIa.

With all this history on Malta, it is easy to see how you can design an itinerary ideally suited to those with a particular interest in wartime heritage.

Prehistoric temples

Further back into history and the islands of both Malta and Gozo are the sites of imposing prehistoric temples now on the UNESCO World Heritage List along with Valletta and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.     

Reached by a short ferry journey from Malta, the Ggantija Temples are considered the oldest surviving free-standing monuments in the world and are believed to have been built between 3600-3000BC, pre-dating both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. A tour of this site will allow you to marvel at the sheer size and scale of the blocks.

IMG_6848-1

The prehistoric Hagar Qim.

Whilst on Gozo, make sure to visit the picturesque coastal swimming sites and viewpoints such as the Azure Window at Dwejra Point and the Bay of Xlendi. You can also make the trip over to the smaller island of Comino from Gozo, which is car-free so ideal for walkers, and swim in the Blue Lagoon.

Hagar Qim is the main prehistoric site on Malta, dating from a similar period to the Ggantija Temples. A tour will reveal how the stones are aligned for the summer solstice and intriguing features such as table altars. There is an onsite visitor centre showing a short film that gives further insight into the temples. The site overlooks the islet of Fifla and adjacent to it is another temple, Mnajdra. Not far away is another beauty spot, the Blue Grotto, an ideal stop for taking pictures as well as boat trips.

wine estate

Traditional Maltese food and drink at the Meridiana Wine Estate.

Maltese food and drink

Traditional Maltese food is making something of a comeback on the island, and is often described as typical peasant food, with favourites such as ‘pastizzi’ – flaky pastry parcels filled with ricotta or peas – sold in abundance on the streets and in cafes. Dishes such as Lampuki Pie (fish pie), Bragioli (beef olives) and Bigilla (a thick pate of broad beans in garlic) are delicacies to try as is the freshly caught fish on Gozo and in the wonderful restaurants and markets in Marsaxlokk, the largest fishing village in Malta and a great place to spot the traditional Maltese fishing boats, the Luzzus.

As well as the Maltese wine, be sure to sample the local beer on Malta, Cisk (pronounced chisk) too.

Malta events

A host of international events take place on the Maltese Islands every year, including the Malta International Fireworks Festival in April, the Malta Jazz Festival in July and the Malta International Arts Festival in July and August, as well as popular sporting events such as the Malta Marathon in February and the Gozo Half Marathon in April. For more details on events in Malta, visit www.visitmalta.com/en/events

You will also find lots of cultural events including exhibitions, theatre and music planned for 2018 during Valletta’s tenure as European Capital of Culture. Visit www.valletta2018.org for more information.

Jazz_Festival_2009_5

The Malta Jazz Festival.

Planning your visit

I travelled to Malta with Brightwater Holidays, the Fife-based tour operator, who in conjunction with the Malta Tourism Authority provided an excellent introduction to the island, its culture and cuisine.    

We flew with Air Malta, currently planning 30 weekly scheduled flights from seven UK airports to the island during the coming summer season. The airline offers flexible pricing, including one free piece of luggage and 10kgs of hand-luggage per person, as well as a complimentary snack and small bottle of water onboard.

Our guide during the trip was the excellent Josianne Lenicker who provided a varied and interesting commentary throughout our visit.

Brightwater is a major provider of tailor-made travel for groups and arranges holidays for all types, ranging from social groups to National Trust members centres, NADFAS and U3A, to name just a few. The company also works with many incoming overseas groups. It creates programmes to any specification and is happy to provide quotations and suggested itineraries for groups of any size on request – there is no minimum number of participants. Email ellen@brightwaterholidays.com or telephone 01334 657155 to request further details or ask for a group tour quotation.

Full page fax printFACT FILE

CURRENCY Euro

FLIGHT TIME FROM UK 2.5-3hrs

DISTANCE FROM THE UK 2,553 kilometres

POPULATION 423,282

SIZE 316km2 (total area of the Maltese archipelago

Some pictures courtesy of © viewingmalta.com