Pirates, scandal and scenery: 20 reasons why you won’t need to leave Britain in 2018
The world is a big thing, full of amazing places and travel adventures featuring sky-diving, camels and polar bears – possibly at the same time. But there is also a joy to home comforts. And if you plan to linger in the UK in 2018, here are 20 happenings, moments and nuggets of newness which may keep you happy. In no particular order…
1. Go in search of Churchill
Never exactly invisible, even half a century on from his death, Winston Churchill is a figure renewed at the moment, thanks to big-screen depictions of his wit and wisdom. Notably Gary Oldman’s uncannily but respectfully good performance in Darkest Hour – which will appear in British cinemas on January 12, and is likely to earn the actor an Oscar nomination. Follow in heavy footsteps before then with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall (iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms; from £17.25), where many hours, both dark and light, played out in the firestorm of the Second World War.
2. Hide out in the Abbey
A short walk from Churchill’s underground alma mater, Westminster Abbey will be unveiling something fresh and unseen in 2018. Which is pretty good going for a church whose construction began in 1245. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries will take over the building’s medieval “triforium” – a previously unused space, cocooned 70ft above the main floor, which has been concealed from public view for seven centuries. The area will display ecclesiastical treasures from the abbey’s long story, but the undoubted highlight will be the views it offers of the interior of one of Britain’s finest religious structures. Full details to be unveiled in due course at westminster-abbey.org.
3. Hit the (Wuthering) heights
Everyone loves a birthday, and a 200th birthday is a very big birthday indeed. Step forward, then, the spirit of Emily Bronte – the second youngest of the Bronte siblings, and arguably the author of their finest literary offering in 1847’s Wuthering Heights (devotees of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre – feel free to leave an appalled comment below). Emily breathed her first on July 30 1818 – and will be the focus of bi-centennial celebrations throughout 2018 (see bronte.org.uk/bronte-200). One of the centrepoints will be the Parsonage Museum (bronte.org.uk; £8.50), the Bronte family home in Haworth, West Yorkshire, where Britain’s most famous literary sisters lived and wrote.
4. Do the Monster Mash
It was, after all, a graveyard smash. But we digress. Another, rather less fragrant figure than Emily Bronte turns 200 in 2018 – the monstrous creation at the heart of the great Gothic novel Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s epic tale of darkness, despair and the human condition was published on January 1 1818 – and will be the subject of various festivities as the new year unravels. One of these will be the Shelley Frankenstein Festival, a burgeoning tribute to the writer which will offer readings and reenactments in Bournemouth in November (see shelleyfrankfest.org). Why Bournemouth? Shelley lived in the city, on and off – and has certainly spent a good deal of her time there since her death in 1851. She is buried at St Peter’s Church (stpetersbournemouth.org.uk).
5. Read books in the sea
If the written word is vaguely on your 2018 to-do list, you could always make a dash to the Channel Islands – where the Guernsey Literary Festival will stage its sixth edition in the first flushes of the summer (May 10-13; guernseyliteraryfestival.com). Speakers in previous years have included Carol Ann Duffy, Sebastian Faulks, Linda La Plante and Will Self. The line-up for 2018 will include children’s author Ross Montgomery.
6. Turn to the left in Highgate
Emily Bronte will not be 2018’s only bi-centennial. All-time socialist heavyweight champion of the world and general changer of the course of history Karl Marx – born May 5 1818 – also “reaches” the milestone in the next few months. A good enough reason to take a stroll through the very lovely confines of Highgate Cemetery (highgatecemetery.org) in north London, where this fearless warrior of truth/root of all that is wrong (delete according to the rabidity of your political allegiance) is buried? Why not? There’s always a chance that you’ll run into some of the Labour front bench.
7. Splice the mainbrace, and all that
Never mind round-number birthdays. What of round-number deaths. Well indeed. Who should have slipped off his mortal coil exactly 300 years ago – on November 22 1718, to be exact – than Edward Teach, the buccaneer better known as “Blackbeard”? How did he die? By losing a battle with the king’s men just off Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, just before his severed head was hung from the bowsprit. A bit too gory a tale for children? Maybe. Better to entertain them with a trip to Pirate’s Quest (piratesquest.co.uk), a suitably swashbuckling attraction in Newquay, Cornwall, which has a new family-friendly interactive walk-through experience planned for 2018. This involves escaping pirate hunters to join a crew at Blackbeard’s Tavern – where the seadog in question will definitely still be in one piece. Adults £10.95, children £7.95.
8. Be shocked by a great scandal
Also checking out a convenient round number of years ago was Seymour Fleming, a British aristocrat who gasped her last on September 9 1818. But before she went, she kept the scandal sheets of her era busy with her prolific bed-hopping antics. She married Sir Richard Worsley, the seventh Baronet of Appuldurcombe, in 1775 – but, according to titillating tittle-tattle, is said to have taken 27 lovers behind her husband’s back. She then ran off with the 28th – George Bisset, hubby’s close friend and neighbour, in November 1781. Quelle horreur! Her remarkable story was retold on camera, with Natalie Dormer in the lead role, in the 2015 BBC TV film The Scandalous Lady W. Her former home, Appuldurcombe House – outside Ventnor on the Isle of Wight (appuldurcombe.co.uk; free) – will remember her throughout the year.
9. Sleep where a queen slumbered
Queen Victoria also loved life on the Isle of Wight (though not in the 28-lovers sense). She loved Shropshire too. Pitchford Hall, a Grade I-listed Tudor house, six miles from Shrewsbury, hosted the then-Princess Victoria during a hunting weekend in 1832 – she watched from a treehouse and described the hall as “a curious looking but very comfortable house. It is striped black and white, and in the shape of a cottage”. Why mention this? Because the property’s west wing, newly renovated (and marketed as the “Generals Quarters”), has been made available as accommodation. It sleeps up to 14, with a seven-night stay in May (self-catering) costing from £2,322 in total via Cottages.com (0345 498 6900; cottages.com). The treehouse, by the way, is still there.
10. Look north for culture
Newcastle has had a splendid end to 2017, being named as the top travel destination for 2018 by Rough Guides. A big call? Perhaps – but one which is based on the solid foundations of the Great Exhibition of the North, which the city will be co-hosting with its very near-neighbour Gateshead during the summer (June 22-September 9; getnorth2018.com). This will involve lots of art, fun and good stuff. More on this here.
11. Channel your inner Bear Grylls
Adventure is the name of the game, quite literally, at The Bear Grylls Adventure (beargryllsadventure.com), a new permanent attraction at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham where participants will be able to tackle climbing walls, high-ropes courses and – obviously – have a crack at indoor skydiving. It’s due to open at some point in 2018 (prices yet to be confirmed).
12. Go down to the woods
The National Forest in Derbyshire is already well marked as an enclave of leaves and branches – but it will add to its arboreal credentials in the summer when the Timber Festival (July 6-8; timberfestival.org.uk) sets itself up under the boughs. What will this be, exactly? It will, according to the promotional blurb, be a celebration “of woodland culture in all its forms… an intoxicating experience where music, art, philosophy and sustainability weave together into an unforgettable, exhilarating weekend.” Right. “We’ll be inviting artists, musicians, scientists and thinkers from across the world to dive into the poetry of nature, explore what forests and woodlands can mean to us and our relationship with nature,” the sell adds. Our bet: there will definitely be a campfire.
13. Look at the stars, see how they shine for you
Actually, they don’t. The stars are non-sentient entities with no control over their own existence. But we digress. Again. Britain is increasingly taking care of the places where the night firmament is clearly visible – which means that the 2018 Dark Skies Festival will be bigger than before. It will take in locations in the South Downs, Northumberland, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales during 17 crisp days in mid-winter (February 9-25; darkskiesnationalparks.org.uk). As well as star-gazing, events will include after-dark zip-wiring, walking and gravel-biking – most of which sound like things you should do in the day. But who are we to argue? Wrap up warm.
14. Take a walk on the Welsh side
Walking is fine after dark, but better in the daylight, when you can actually see where you are going. This is one of the guiding principles behind the Chepstow Walking Festival (walksinchepstow.co.uk), which will cut a mazy path through rural Monmouthshire between April 4 and 8. Specifically, it will wander the Lower Wye Valley, just as spring is beginning to stretch its legs. Expect daffodils. Lots of them.
15. Find your guitar, let it weep. Gently
The Beatles made a lot of records, but the most significant (arguably – again, add all outraged comments to the box below) was the one which, confusingly, everyone knows as The White Album, even though it is really titled, simply, The Beatles. Still, name-calling aside, this sprawling slab of rock, psychedelia and experimentation – starting with Back In The USSR and ending with Good Night – was released on November 22 1968. Which makes 2018 its half-centenary. How to mark this magical mystery moment? With a trip to The Beatles Story, the museum which acts as one of the keepers of the band’s flame, in Liverpool (beatlesstory.com; £16) – where you can expect the anniversary to be treated with plenty of Ob-La-Di-ing. And Ob-La-Da-ing.
16. Remember a sorrow going west
Liverpool will mark a distinctly more difficult anniversary in 2018. By academic consensus, 1518 was the juncture when the Atlantic slave trade found its bloody stride – this was the first year that captives were shipped directly from Africa to the fledgling colonies in America. How to understand this appalling period in human history, an exact half-millennium on from its fateful acceleration? By heading for the International Slavery Museum (liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism) on the Liverpool waterfront, which charts the era in discomfiting detail – while not forgetting its modern-day counterpart.
17. Catch the Cook on his way out
A ship of a different kind set sail a quarter of a century ago. The first of James Cook’s three epic voyages began on August 26 1768, with HMS Endeavour casting off from Plymouth for a journey which would ebb all the way around the planet, passing the tips of both South America and Africa, and meandering through the islands of the South Pacific. It was the start of a stellar seafaring chapter which would ultimately lead to Cook’s violent death in Hawaii – but not before he had redrawn the map of the world. A worthy subject for study by the British Library? But of course. Exhibition “James Cook: The Voyages” runs until August 28 (bl.uk/events/james-cook-the-voyages; £14).
18. Stumble through the ice and snow
More explorers? Why not? The new year will also mark a milestone for another doomed itinerant Briton. Captain Robert Scott, he of the ill-fated assault on the South Pole, was born on June 6 1868, 150 years ago. His tale is well known, but also well told, at the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute (at the University of Cambridge; spri.cam.ac.uk/museum; free) – which dissects the most dangerous epoch of human exploration, and the determination of the men who went to the furthest edge.
19. Find a fair way of staying in St Andrews
This seaside town on the east coast of Fife is an undeniable oasis when it comes to golf. But as of 2018, it will have an extra note of attraction for those who don’t want to spend a morning whacking a little white ball into a large green space or a medium-sized, sandy yellow one. The Old Course Hotel is all set to open a Kohler Waters Spa – a 25,000 square foot retreat which will be the first of its kind outside the USA. Thirteen treatment rooms, including two couples’ rooms, will focus on hydrotherapy and general relaxation. Rooms at the hotel cost from £150 per night, including breakfast (see oldcoursehotel.co.uk and oldcoursehotel.co.uk/spa/kohler-waters-spa).
20. Go back to the future in Belfast
June will witness a resurrection act in Belfast. The Grand Central Hotel is a name which has a long association with the capital of Northern Ireland – it opened in 1893, and was a bastion of luxury. For a while. Then it was converted into a barracks, was bombarded during the Troubles, and was eventually demolished at the end of the Eighties. But, some 30 years on, the hotel will reemerge. The new Grand Central (hastingshotels.com/grand-central) will not be in the same location, but it will be an epic endeavour – a transformation of former office tower Windsor House into a stylish structure with 300 rooms and a rooftop terrace. The Beatles and the Stones stayed at the first incarnation of the hotel. The second will hope for a similarly starry clientele.