Britain is big on just about every element that could entice a traveller – history, countryside, literature, food, festivals, gardens, art and entertainment. If the myriad options are overwhelming, take your cue from the official 2017 themes for England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland also more than matches the themes of legendary writers, mythological heroes and more.
England: The Year of Literary Heroes
From Harry Potter to Sherlock Holmes, England has a wealth of literary characters that linger in the memory, and 2017 has some amazing anniversaries of equally amazing writers. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Events will be held across Hampshire from March, including Regency-themed Big Picnics and the touring Mysterious Miss Austen exhibition.
May ushers in the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five, and there will be special Five Go On A Garden Adventure activities across Royal Horticultural Society gardens, as well as picnic parties on August 11 to celebrate what would have been Enid Blyton’s 120th birthday.
And we mustn’t forget the day the boy wizard cast a spell across the globe, with the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling’s first novel, in June. There will be a Harry Potter film concert series from May 11 to 21 in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Glasgow, as well as an exhibition at the British Library from October.
October also commemorates the 125th anniversary of the first Sherlock Holmes publication by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum or eyeball the memorabilia at the Sherlock Holmes Pub in Westminster.
Wales: Year of Legends
Wales abounds with epic stories, and in 2017, the ancient nation is celebrating its myths and legends of the past, present and future. The five themes kick off with ‘love stories’. St Dwynwen’s Day on January 25 honours the nation’s patron saint of lovers. Dwynwen, daughter of king Brychan Brycheiniog, fell in love but was betrothed to another, so she instead devoted her life to God. You can visit the remains of her convent on Llanddwyn at any time, along with Dwynwen’s Well, a place of pilgrimage for young lovers since the 5th century.
Next up is film locations, to coincide with the release of Hollywood movie King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, filmed in Snowdonia. Arthur is said to have killed the giant Rhitta at Mount Snowdon, and Llyn Llydaw is reputedly the lake where the mighty sword Excalibur ended up.
May and June will focus on ‘legends of sport’, when Wales hosts the UEFA Champions League final on June 3, as well as the Women’s Champions League two days before. Summer festivals take off in July, August and September, with Green Man (August 17 to 20) and Festival No.6 (September 7 to 10) ones to watch.
Finally, explore the legendary food of Wales from October through December, from Caerphilly cheese and Glamorgan sausages to craft brews.
Scotland: Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology
Scotland has its own captivating myths and legends, as well as lashings of ancient monuments and World Heritage sites. Celebrate 2017, the year of history, heritage and archaeology, starting with Scotland’s fascinating past.
Historic attractions include centuries-old castles (see them on Scotland’s Castle Trail), museums filled with ancient artefacts (the National Museum of Scotland is particularly good), as well as sites associated with famous Scots (the Robert Louis Stevenson collection at Edinburgh’s Writer’s Museum is worth a look).
See Scotland’s heritage flex its muscles at the Highland Games, where strong men toss the caber (a giant wooden pole) end over end. You can also dance the night away at a traditional ceilidh; be roused by the pipes and drums at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo; and discover the country’s natural heritage at its three geoparks (North West Highlands, Lochaber and Shetland).
Budding archaeologists can gaze in wonder at the 5,000-year-old dwellings at Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar stone circle in Orkney, or walk the route of the Antonine Wall – the most northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain – between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. More recent unearthed treasures are on display at Melrose and Iona abbeys, while Viking treasure glisters at museums across the country.
You don’t have to look far to find legends in Northern Ireland, from the epic characters of TV series Game of Thrones, which is filmed in locations throughout Northern Ireland, to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway, which legend has it was built by the giant Finn MacCool.
For a literary hero, look no further than beloved poet Seamus Heaney. Learn all about him at the new HomePlace arts and literary centre, dedicated to his life and work, or discover the places that inspired The Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis.
More recent history can be found at Titanic Belfast – crowned best visitor attraction in Europe – which tells the story of the ill-fated RMS Titanic.
And as for sporting legends – check out the women’s Rugby World Cup finale on August 26 in Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium.
*Featured image: Castle Stalker in the Scottish Highlands. Image: Getty