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Christmas on Canada’s East Coast: A Beginner’s Guide

Posted on December 22nd, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Entertainment, Food, Language, Travel | No Comments »

Christmas in Canada has some pretty solid staples all over: Christmas trees, family gatherings, lots of food, the usual Christmas parties. On the East Coast you can find some deviations to the norm, and some adaptations to what you would typically expect for a Christmas celebration that makes Christmas on the coast all that more interesting. Here are just a few Christmas traditions from the Canadian Maritimes to get you into the holiday spirit!


Photo by Jenny Neal/Flickr

Mummering is something you’ll find in Newfoundland. During the 12 days of Christmas, families and friends will travel in groups dressed in disguises. The goal when mummering is to make sure no one will recognize you and that you use items from your house when dressing up. If you can make yourself taller, slimmer, fatter, bigger (anything at all to confuse those who know you) then that is what you need to do before leaving your home to go mummering. After your disguises are in place, you travel from house to house in your neighbourhood, knocking on doors and asking to be welcomed in. If you are allowed to enter a home, you and your group must perform some sort of entertainment. It can be a dance, or you can tell jokes, or sing a song – really anything you’d like.

When the entertainment is finished, the owners of the home must try to guess your identities before offering you food and drink. They’re allowed to ask each of the mummers questions and feel around their costume for help in deciding who it could be. When all the mummers’ identities have been guessed, and the food and drinks are finished, a newer, larger group is formed (in some cases though not always) and they travel together to another house.

Trees and Christmas Presents!

Eastern Canada has amazing fir and pine trees, so if you are purchasing a real tree at Christmas, which many families do, it would be one of these. It’s quite common to buy Christmas trees around the beginning of December and they are decorated by the family. One thing most people don’t know is that every year, the biggest and best fir tree in Nova Scotia is sent to Boston, USA. This is done in memory and in thanks of the aid received from Boston during the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Presents are generally placed underneath the Christmas tree, and in many homes on Christmas Eve after a rather large family supper you are able to open one Christmas present early.

Yummy Nibblin’s

East Coasters are more likely to eat a big feats of lobsters and shellfish for Christmas dinner than they are to eat the more traditional turkey or ham. Taffy pulls are also quite common during the holiday season, which is usually used as a matchmaking event for single ladies and single gentlemen in the community.

Barley candy and Chicken Bones are popular candies to eat around Christmas time on the East Coast. Barley candy is usually on a stick and is shaped like a Christmas object; Santa, reindeer, snowmen or something equally seasonal. Chicken Bones are a hard pink candy that tastes like cinnamon, though once sucked on long enough they reveal a secret chocolate centre.

Polar Dips

Photo by Jim Sorbie/Flickr

Photo by Jim Sorbie/Flickr

We would be remiss not to mention polar dips on our list, and although it’s more of a New Years Eve tradition, it does happen around the Christmas season. Polar dips make many people cringe just hearing about them, but they are a pretty common occurrence on the coast. Around Christmas and New Year people will get together, sometimes in teams, and jump off a wharf or a pier (or in some cases just simply run) into the Atlantic Ocean. The water is usually ice cold, and bathers are meant to jump in with as little clothing on as possible. Usually these are charity events and a lot of drinking is done right after the polar dip is completed. It’s a chilly way to raise money for others and good fun all around.

How do you celebrate Christmas in your neck of the woods? Let us know in the comments section below. If you’re interested in Canadian culture (and the very specific English spoken in the country), contact us for courses today.

First Footing and Fire Shows: Everything You Need To Know About New Years in Scotland!

Posted on December 11th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Entertainment, Travel | No Comments »

New Year’s Eve is famously celebrated all over the world – New York City drops its ball in Times Square, and countless folks all over North America set off fireworks. But, have you heard of the all day (usually two day!) party in Scotland that’s called Hogmanay? Pronounced “hog-ma-NAY”, this crazy, tradition-soaked, fun-filled revelry can last until the 2nd of January, which luckily is a bank holiday in Scotland. We’ve compiled some must-know facts about Hogmanay, so you’ll know exactly what you’re in for!

Photo via Robbie Shade/Flickr

Photo via Robbie Shade/Flickr

First Footing

First footing is a unique tradition that’s celebrated all over Scotland on New Year’s Eve. The custom goes that the first person through your front door in the New Year should be a handsome, dark haired male. He should be carrying food, and fuel. Items that are usually carried include a few pieces of coal, salt, a black bun, and some shortbread.  The visitor should be welcomed with open arms, and a kiss (hey, it is New Year’s after all) and they should be given a ‘wee’ (small) dram of whiskey.

The visitor is meant to bring good luck on your house and all those who live in it for the year to come. If he is fair haired then it’s said to bring bad luck. This tradition might date back to when Viking invaders (generally being blonde) meant that probably anything but good luck was headed your way.

Playing with fire!

Every area of Scotland has added its own elements to their Hogmanay celebration. People in Stonehaven in the North of Scotland swing chicken wire balls, filled with paper and rags, which are attached to 3 meters of rope or chain. At midnight, revelers swing the lit balls of fire around their heads as they parade up and down the High Street. When the parade’s finished any fireballs that remain are thrown into the harbour and a fireworks display unlike any other caps off the night.

Generally fireworks of all sorts can be found all over Scotland come New Years Eve. The Biggar Bonfire is one of the largest and more famous, found just after sundown in a place called Biggar.  There’s also the Flambeaux Procession that takes place in Camrie, close to the Scottish highlands. Every year 8 giant fiery torches travel in procession through the town, before being thrown into the river.

All this fire play harkens back to Pagan festivals of ringing in the New Year. The fire is meant to ward away evil spirits and chase away the bad of the old year.

And of course…

Other traditions that must be carried out before midnight on December 31st include cleaning the house and getting rid of any garbage (or ashes in the fire). You also need to pay all your debts before midnight. Then, last but not least, right after midnight strikes, Robbie Burn’s famous song, “Auld Lang Syne” is sung, and kisses are shared all round.

If Scotland fascinates you, and the idea of New Years in Edinburgh makes you want to jump for joy, why not check out what English courses we have near you now? Start your New Year with a new language!

The Best Canadian Comedies You (Probably) Haven’t Seen

Posted on November 12th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Entertainment, Language | No Comments »

Canada is the land of comedians, though you may not know it. Greats like John Candy, Colin Mochrie and Jim Carrey hail from the Great White North, as does Sean Majumder, and Martin Short. It’s no surprise then, that there are more than a few good quality Canadian comedies that will leave your sides aching and your world view slightly altered.

The comedies that made our list are a little bit strange in their own right; some deal with controversial topics, and some take a topic you didn’t think you could laugh at and turn it on its ear. If you like situational comedy, and you can connect with feeling like an outsider, or trying to make something of yourself and the world around you, then these comedies are a must-watch for your next movie night:

Fido (2006)

We’ve started off the list with one of our most off-kilter options: A zombie comedy. It’s nothing like “Sean of the Dead”, with the premise taking an entirely different turn on the traditional zombie movie cliché. The film is set in a 1950s styled alternate reality, where zombies are used as a sort of servant/slave depending on your need and reason to ‘own’ one. The zombies are fitted with a sort of shock collar, which allows you to control their appetite for human flesh, and essentially bend them to your will.

The film focuses around a family and their zombie, Fido. Without giving too much away, this movie deals with the power of the all-mighty corporation, forbidden love, loyalty, friendship, and the darkness of humanity. It all comes off with a warm fuzzy ending, well… as warm and fuzzy as a zombie comedy can be! A definite conversation starter and an entertaining film you’ll be happy you took the risk to see.

Did we like it? 4.5 out of 5.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)

The title of this film might have tipped you off, but this movie is bilingual. It features dialogue in both of Canada’s official languages; English and French. Two cops, one from English speaking Ontario and one from French speaking Montreal come together to solve a murder. Their two personalities collide in such stereotypical ‘good cop-bad cop’ ways, that you may think the movie will be too cliché and too formulaic, but director Eric Canuel makes sure you never get too comfortable with the police genre stereotypes.

This film has sex, drugs, crude humour, swearing (in multiple languages), and a great storyline that keeps you guessing until the very end. It’s a bit of a dark comedy, so if jokes about murder victims or hockey teams aren’t for you, you might want to give this one a miss. The film itself is shot in darker shades, adding to the atmosphere and helping to contrast the humour found throughout. This film did very well in Canada, and it’s one you should definitely try.

Did we like it? 5 out of 5.

Men with Brooms (2002)

A romantic comedy that revolves around a curling team; it sounds strange and that’s because it is a bit, but it’s also a pretty amazing film.  It starts with the death of a small town’s curling coach, and his dying request for his old team to be reunited and band together to win a championship and bring glory back to their small town ice rink. The motley crew comes together, each member of the team with their own story to contribute, and because of their sordid, and sometimes complicated history, humour ensues. There’s love, there’s anger, and at the core there is a heartwarming underdog story to follow along and root for. With a cast including Leslie Nielson, Molly Parker and Paul Gross, this film delivers on the laughs and in entertainment.

Did we like it? 4 out of 5 stars.

If these films challenged your vocabulary with their Canadian slang, interesting accents, and unique subject matter, why not contact us and see what English courses we have available near you, to help you master Canadian lingo?

A Tourist’s Guide to Toronto

Posted on September 23rd, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Food, Travel | No Comments »

Toronto is one of Canada’s largest cities, and with its proximity to Niagara Falls and the American border, it is one that tourists would be sorely disappointed to miss. Home to so many amazing sights, and a ton of famous people, it’s a city that seems to buzz with activity and energy (even in the winter!)

It doesn’t matter what you’re interested in, because Toronto has a little something for everyone.

Photo by Benson Kuta

Photo by Benson Kuta

What to do in Toronto:


There is so much to do in Toronto that if we made it a bullet list, we would carry on for pages upon pages. If you’re into festivals Toronto has Caribana, a Caribbean/carnival inspired street parade that lasts all weekend, and of course there is TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, where you can hobnob with celebrities and see some cutting edge cinema. And then there’s Pride, a huge party every year, and one that you definitely shouldn’t miss!


If you’re interested in museums on your trip, check out the ROM, the Royal Ontario Museum, which has a number of interesting exhibitions for both adults and kids. It’s a great place to spend the day – you can check out their current exhibitions on fashion and biodiversity or wander around the Entire City Project to look at some amazing photographs of the city’s industrial spaces.

There’s also the AGO, the Art Gallery of Ontario, which at the moment is featuring exhibits by Alex Colville among others. Then there’s Montgomery’s Inn and Spadina House for those of you more interested in Toronto’s history.

Markets and Gardens:

When you’re finished with those, check out the St. Lawrence Market where you can do a little shopping for fresh and homemade goodies. In fact, this place doubles as a solid place to grab some grub when you’re out and about.  You can also check out Edward Gardens, part of the Toronto Botanical Gardens where you can spend your day wandering around in the refreshing greenery of the gardens: it makes a nice break from the concrete landscape of Toronto.

Sport & Recreation:

Why not check out the Hockey Hall of Fame while you’re in the city? It’s perfect for young and old hockey fans, and you’ll be able to take a look at the Stanley Cup (as long as it’s not playoff season, of course). When you’re ready for a day of interesting shopping, patio dining, and incredible bars and restaurants, head over to the Distillery Historic District to find just about everything you could ever want, and more.

You can also check out Paint Nite events, where you essentially get painting lessons while you drink at a local bar located somewhere in the city. It gives you a chance to meet new people and try your hand at creating something nifty. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photo by Matthew Ingram

Photo by Matthew Ingram

What to Eat & Drink in Toronto:

If you like the idea of relaxing with some friends while playing unlimited board games and drinking some delicious coffee and indulging in some yummy snacks, check out Snakes and Lattes. Or if you’re more like myself and enjoy some adult beverages with your board games, try their sister location Snakes and Lagers.

For supremely good espressos and cappuccinos, Boxcar Social has some of the best coffee in the city, and Dark Horse is another staple, with several scattered locations to give you a caffeine fix no matter where you might be.  

Craft beer your thing? Indie Ale House is the place to head for some delicious craft brew. They have four flagship brews that you can sample year-round, as well as some seasonal beers and limited edition drinks that you can try while you’re there. For lunch, dinner or drinks check out the Grand Electric Bar, where you can find pumping hip hop and scaldingly spicy tacos for cheap. With roasted pork tacos, cauliflower tacos, beef cheek tacos, and more on their lunch menu, and tuna ceviche and octopus on the dinner menu, you can’t go wrong – you can even take home a bottle of their famous hot sauce!

Toronto is an amazing place to visit, live, and study, though English is essential for your trip! Why not contact us to see what courses English Classes In has available for you?

5 Amazing Activities in Perth, Australia

Posted on September 4th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Travel | No Comments »

Australia is such a huge country with so much to see and explore. We’ve come up with a list of amazing sights to see in Western Australia’s largest city as well as the state’s capital, Perth. With so much to see and do there, this is just a taste of some of the amazing options you have open to you to explore!

1. Visit Little Creatures.

Little Creatures brewery is a place you must go to in Perth, even if amazing delicious craft beer isn’t your idea of fun.  Little Creatures has been around since about 2000, and started when some friends had an amazing Pale Ale from the US, and decided to try their hand at it. At the Little Creatures in Fremantle (there’s a Melbourne Dining hall and a Geelong brewery as well), you can go on a brewery tour, have a couple with some delicious food inside the Great hall or outside on the back patio, or you can grab a 6 pack to take home with you.

little creatures great hall from their website

2. Spend the day at Kings Park

It’s considered one of the largest inner city parks in the world, and it’s home to some of the most beautiful and diverse species of Australian wildflowers. There are places for you to stop and enjoy a picnic and you can explore the park on a bike, on rollerblades, or even bushwalking if you’d like. You can learn more about the land and its heritage, as well as how to survive in the bush from an Aboriginal guide if you’d like. It’s also one of the best places to see the Swan River, so make sure you bring your camera!

3. Swim  in Cottesloe beach.

Crisp, cold waters so blue it makes you want to dive in before you’ve even hit the sand. Considered the birthplace of surfing in Western Australia,  Cottesloe beach is a beautiful place to relax, swim, read a book and grab some fish and chips. It’s a great way to beat the heat in the summer and a great place to meet locals. It’s one of the most popular beaches in Western Australia, and it’s easy to see why. Swim out to the water marker about 500 meters out, or watch the surfers on the windier, wave-filled days.

800px-Cottesloe_Beach,_Perth,_Western_Australia_(4431664542) by michael spenser

Photo by Michael Spenser

4. Take a trip out to Rottnest Island.

Rottnest Island is a perfect place to go snorkeling, surfing and swimming on some of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. There are 63 beautiful beaches in fact, along with 20 bays and a slew of sea wrecks and amazing coral reefs to explore.  You can even see the quokka, an adorable marsupial found only in Western Australia that seems to be constantly smiling. There are no cars on the island, but there is a bus for you to hop on and off of, as well bikes to rent. The locals call it Rotto, and it’s easy to get there: Ferries leave regularly from Fremantle, Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty and Hillarys Marina.

5. Wander around Fremantle.

If you’re interesting in history, art, or culture Fremantle is an excellent place to spend the day. You can explore museums dedicated to Australia’s maritime history, the original immigrant prisoners and their initial role in establishing Western Australia’s major city of Perth. Walk along the ‘Cappuccino Strip’ to drink in both coffee and beautiful buildings. Stop by the Fremantle market for some interesting fare, be it fruit of a yummy meal. You can also take a ferry down Swan River from Fremantle from Barrack street, to finish off a lovely and educational day of museums, coffee, and beautiful architecture.

Photo by Seanmack

Photo by Seanmack

Does the thought of exploring Australia make you want to book the next ticket out? Or maybe you want to practice your English before your trip? Why not contact us now to see the courses in your area!

5 Fantastic (and Cheap!) Things to do in London

Posted on August 14th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Language, Travel | No Comments »

London seems to exude history and culture at every turn. With so many boroughs with different specialties, it’s easy to find just about anything you could want somewhere in the vast metropolis. One word that can’t usually be used to describe London is ‘cheap’, but where there’s a will, there is a way. We’ve put together a list of things you can do for very little to no money in the city, so you can save your pounds for pints and souvenirs. Check out some of our top recommendations:


1. Walk around the British Museum.


The British Museum has existed since 1753 and is home to over 8 million exhibitions. It is said to have the most extensive and varied collection in the world. It focuses mainly on human culture from the beginning of civilisation until today. The best part? It’s absolutely free! It’s open daily from 10:00 until 5:30 and until 8:30 on Fridays, it’s in a beautiful area of London for walking around, and it’s not the only (free) museum worth checking out.Try the Tate Modern while you’re there – some exhibitions are available at an additional fee, though these are usually no more that £15.


Photo by Diliff

Photo by Diliff


2. Listen to some interesting public speakers at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.


In the north-east corner of Hyde Park (near the Marble Arch tube stop) you can find an interesting mixture of orators, speaking on any number of topics from religion, to relationships, to politics, and everything in between. You can even participate if you have something to say and are willing to make a public speech of your own. The only caveat is that all topics and discussions must stay within the laws of free speech.  You can find Speakers’ Corners in other parks in London as well (such as Victoria park) though the one in Hyde Park is one of the more famous. While you’re there, why not have a picnic by the lake? Hyde Park itself is an amazing place to spend an afternoon.


3. Watch a movie or a play at The Scoop.


The Scoop is a sunken amphitheatre capable of seating around 1000 people. In addition to the amphitheatre they also have events and showings on the riverside, which is much more public and receives a lot more foot traffic. It’s located near City Hall and close to Tower Bridge and often has some of the most interesting plays and film screens available for free or cheap during the summer. They also host live music and are a great starting or finishing point to a walk around City Hall.


4. Wander around a famous street and buy a few cool souvenirs.

London has some of the most interesting outdoor markets and shopping streets in Europe, many of which are famous. If you’ve ever seen Bedknobs and Broomsticks (one of my favourite Disney movies growing up), you’ll remember the song about Portobello Road. The place is insane on weekends, packed with people and street vendors selling some interesting antiques and clothing. It’s a great place to go shopping for your more eccentric friends. Once you’re finished with Portobello Road, head to Camden Market, where you can find souvenirs of the “Great Britannia” style, bizarre garage sale finds, clothes, jewellery, furniture and some really interesting art pieces and statues.


Camden market is also a mecca for international food stalls; you’ll find Hungarian, Spanish, Moroccan, French, Jamaica, American style BarBQ… you name it and it’s probably there. Last, though definitely not least, check out Brick Lane. This is much more of a food exploration but you’ll find some of the best curries, African, Middle Eastern, and Asian (East and West) food on display here. Brick Lane also has an amazing collection of street art and graffiti, so bring your camera so you can take some really original holiday snaps. You only really need to spend what you want to at any of these venues, and the food is plentiful and not terribly expensive.


Portobello Road 26/05/12 - 26

5. Get a Boris Bike and Explore!


Named for the Mayor who introduced them, Boris Bikes can be found all over the city and don’t cost very much to rent – about £2 per 24 hour period, and £10 per week. You can pick one up at any docking station (you can find them all over the city) and drop them off at any docking station. They work for just about any height and they seem to glide through the streets of London without any effort at all. Pack a lunch and explore the city on a Boris bike, you’ll be happy you did and it’ll save you the tube fair while still giving you some exercise!

Want to learn more about London while learning English? Why not contact us here to see what courses we have available for you!

5 Amazing Activities for Tourists in Edinburgh

Posted on July 7th, 2014 by Heather Keagan in Travel | No Comments »

Edinburgh is home to approximately 450 000 people, a number that almost doubles during one of the world’s famous comedy festivals, Fringe, held in August every year. A place that Sean Connery and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle call home as well as a UNESCO world heritage site, this is a city that pulses with culture, art, and history. Whether you’re heading there for Fringe, or Hogmanay (arguably the biggest New Years Eve Party in Europe with over 100,000 tourists flocking to the city) or any other time of the year, there is so much to see and do, you’ll probably want to extend your trip! Check out our selection of things to do while you’re in this beautiful city:

1. Go to Fringe.

With comedians like David O’Doherty, cabaret acts, theatre performances, musicals, children’s acts, and so many other forms of thespian entertainment available, this extravaganza has become one of the biggest theatrical festivals in the world. Fringe books up fast, and finding accommodations in Edinburgh any time in August is a nightmare unless you’ve booked well in advance. If you want to stay in town, consider the High Street Hostel. It’s in the heart of the city, and has an amazingly friendly and fun atmosphere. Consider booking accommodations (like Aaron Glen Guesthouse) just outside of the city and take a bus in if you find yourself with no rooms available (even couch surfers will need to look at least 3-4 months in advance for hosts). Despite the difficulties you may face in finding accommodation, the festival itself is worth every penny spent. If you’re on a budget you’ll also be able to catch a lot of free acts as well!

EdinburghActivities ECI

2. Eat a piece of deep fried pizza.

At first I didn’t even think such a thing was possible, but an old friend of mine says that if you bring it to a chip shop (think greasy spoon place where fried dishes are plentiful) in Scotland, they’ll batter it and deep fry it. Slices of pizza and Mars chocolate bars being the best examples.  It sounds a bit like a heart-attack waiting to happen, but it is also one of the tastiest things you’ll consume, especially if you happen to have had a few pints that evening!

3. Climb Arthur’s Seat.

Edinburgh has 7 hills and Arthur’s Seat is the tallest of them, and is actually an extinct volcano. It’s tall – really tall – measuring in at 251 meters, and it quite a climb so it’s best for able-bodied visitors. It’s rumoured to have connections to Camelot and King Arthur’s court, but the biggest perk is the scenery. It boasts some of the best views of the city, so make sure you bring your camera with you so you can take some stunning panoramas.

Photo by  Kim Traynor

Photo by Kim Traynor

4. Go on a walking tour at night.

Edinburgh has been considered Scotland’s capital since the 15th century, and with all of that history comes gruesome battles, and more than just the odd scary story. Taking a haunted walking tour of Edinburgh at night will send chills up your spine, and will by and large be one of the most memorable parts of your trip. Try Mercat Tours for a selection of spooky and not-as-spooky options.

5. Have a couple of pints in a traditional pub.

Chain pubs all over the UK can’t quite measure up to the history, ambiance and experience of a drink in a truly old tavern. Try The Sheep’s Heid Inn after that hike over Arthur’s Seat. It’s beer and ale selection is well worth the trip, not to mention the scenery of Duddingston Loch.  Other traditional pubs include  Royal Oak, a tiny bar with lots of charm or Sandy’s Bells situated near the University with a wide variety in patronage.

6.Go big for New Years (or Hogmanay).

There’s no ball to drop in Edinburgh for New Years (or Hogmanay as the locals call it) but there is a lot of kissing, drinks and first footing! Just like Fringe, make sure you book your accommodation well in advance if you’re travelling to Edinburgh between Christmas and New Year. There’s a street party held on the 31st that you’ll need to buy a ticket for – they start going on sale in October! On the 29th you can hike with the locals up Calton Hill to see the wicker man (a wood/straw effigy of a man) set on fire. There are so many events and traditions celebrated at this time of the year in Scotland, the experience will likely be unlike any New Year’s Eve party you’ve been to before.

Photo by Robbie Shade

Photo by Robbie Shade

Want to improve your English so you can explore the beauty that Edinburgh has to offer, while charming and impressing the locals? Why not contact English Classes In for English courses in your area?

Top 10 Places to Visit in Scotland

Posted on June 2nd, 2014 by Kev Woodward in Travel | No Comments »

With some of the grandest scenery in the UK, it is hardly surprising that you are interested in visiting Scotland. There are mysterious lakes (called lochs), remote mountains, forests, attractive coastal villages and impressive architecture in the towns and cities so here is our list of top ten places to visit in Scotland:

1. Edinburgh

The capital city of Scotland, like Rome, is built on seven hills. Edinburgh castle stands perched atop an extinct volcano at the top end of the ‘Royal Mile’, which is the main street of the historic centre of the city. This mile long stretch leads you down to the palace of Holyroodhouse, the British monarch’s official residence in Scotland. Outside of the historic centre there are plenty of other places to visit – parks like Arthur’s Seat, quiet Georgian squares, monuments and museums. You will need at least two days to take full advantage of all that Edinburgh has to offer.

Photo by Kim Traynor

Photo by Kim Traynor

2. Tobermory

A late 18th century pretty fishing village on the Isle of Mull. Legend has it that a Spanish galleon, laden with gold coins sank in the harbour. Hunters of the ‘Tobermory Treasure’ have failed to find anything much but it certainly should be on a treasure hunter’s top ten list of places to visit in Scotland!

3. Iona

Iona is a small Island off the south west coast of the Isle of Mull, accessed by a foot passenger ferry service. It is associated with St Columba and his monks who established Iona Abbey around 1500 years ago. It is also the burial place of several kings of Scotland including Macbeth.

4. The Trossachs

Popularised by Queen Victoria and the Scottish author Walter Scott, this beautiful area of Scotland marks the boundary between the highlands and the lowlands of Scotland.

5. Whisky Distilleries

These should be on everyone’s top ten list of places to visit in Scotland, unless of course you are teetotal! If you don’t like whisky then you have probably never tried a fine Scottish oak-aged single malt. Distillery visits are interestingand well organised and they usually have a well-stocked souvenir shop as well as whiskies to sample and buy.

6. Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is a short distance north of Glasgow and is a popular tourist destination. You can take a trip on the ‘Maid of the Loch’ a paddle steamer built in 1953. For the energetic, the steamer can drop you off at the start of the path that takes you to the top of Ben Lomond, from where, in good weather, you get magnificent views. But hurry back to the jetty, if you miss the last stop of the steamer it is a very long walk back to the car!

Photo by Wojsyl

Photo by Wojsyl

7. Torridon

Bounded to the south by Loch Torridon and to the north by the beautiful Loch Maree, this is a fabulous place for walkers. Several of the mountains are over 1000m in height and you start your climb almost from sea level. But be warned, the tops of some of Torridon mountain peaks require an extremely good head for heights. Do a search for Liathach and you will see what we mean!

8. Inverewe Gardens

Eighth on our top ten list of places to visit in Scotland is the remarkable Inverewe Gardens. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, Inverewe Gardens was established in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie. It is now in the hands of the National Trust and you can see a wide variety of exotic plants from around the world.

9. Pitlochry

This small town has been welcoming visitors for at least 150 years, including Queen Victoria, and is well geared up to the needs of tourists.

10. The Isle of Skye

No list of top ten places to visit in Scotland would be complete without the inclusion of the romantic and brooding Isle of Skye. Once there, you can watch sea eagles, otters, visit a distillery, a castle, and you may even glimpse the ghost car of Skye if you are lucky!   Have you visited Scotland before? What places would you include on your top ten best places to visit?

The 5 Best Drinks in England

Posted on May 21st, 2014 by Kev Woodward in Food, Travel | No Comments »

Mention drinks and immediately alcoholic beverages spring to mind. Sure, some of the best drinks in England are indeed alcohol based but by no means all of them. What follows is a list, in no particular order, of what we believe to be the five best drinks in England:

1. A ‘nice cuppa’

Photo by Vanderdecken

Photo by Vanderdecken

This just had to make it onto the list! If there is one drink that is quintessentially English it is the cup of tea. But why should such a banal beverage make it on to a ’5 Best Drinks’ list? Simple, a cup of tea is so versatile. When you arrive home, tired after a day out or having had a hard day at work, it is a fantastic energiser. Mash a pot of tea, put your feet up while you drink it and within half an hour, you are as ‘right as rain’ again. On a hot day, nothing refreshes like a cup of tea. The first thing the police suggest when they arrive with bad news is that you sit down and have a ‘nice cuppa’ and, at the scene of a road accident (or other incident involving the emergency services), unless it is far from any houses, before long at least one person will arrive carrying a tray of steaming hot mugs of sweetened tea.

2. Real Ale

Real ale (or cask conditioned beer) is what a true English person would term ‘proper beer’ rather than the fizzy cold version known as keg beer. It has a much richer flavour and a subtlety of taste not found in the mass-produced beers. It is served from a hand pump rather than by pressurising a sealed barrel and is not overly chilled, indeed there are many aficionados of real ale who insist on letting theirs warm up to room temperature as it releases even more of the subtle smells and flavours. The true real ale enthusiast will insist on his or her pint being served flat, with a minimal head in order to benefit fully from the subtlety of this traditional English drink. There are hundreds of small breweries producing thousands of different real ales throughout England, many of which have amusing, risqué or bizarre names such as ‘Wobbly Bob’ and ‘Sneck Lifter’.

3. Elderflower Cordial

This is produced from the flower of the Elder, a bush that produces copious red berries in the autumn that are often turned into a country wine by amateur wine makers. A little of the cordial is diluted to taste using iced water and it goes down well on a hot summer’s day as you read your book whilst lounging in the shade! The taste is delicate with an exquisite floral aroma.

4. Lindisfarne Mead 

This is more readily available in the north east of England but can be found further afield. It was originally made by the monks resident on the island of Lindisfarne off the coast of Northumberland. It is made at St Aidan’s Winery on Lindisfarne and is a fortified sweet wine. Mead is sometimes referred to as ‘the nectar of the gods’ and well deserves its place in the 5 best drinks in England but careful, when you drink it, it slips down rather easily!

5. Pimm’s

Photo by Matt Boulton

Photo by Matt Boulton

Pimm’s was invented in 1823 by James Pimm, a London oyster bar owner, as an aid to digestion. The original was named ‘Pimm’s No. 1 Cup’ and is still made today, whereas other varieties based on other spirits have come and gone. The No 1 Cup is a gin based drink, flavoured with a secret recipe of herbs and fruits, and it goes down nicely on warm days. It is associated with the upper middle classes, who might say that it really should be at number one on this list of 5 best drinks in England.

Have you visited England? Have you sampled some of their drinks? If so, please let us know your thoughts on what you feel are the five best drinks in England!

If you would like to know more about English classes in your area, send us an enquiry today!

Top 10 Places to Visit in England

Posted on May 9th, 2014 by Kev Woodward in Travel | No Comments »


Photo by David Iliff

Any top ten is subjective and ours is no exception! We hope that these will help you to make your decisions about what to see and where to go when visiting England. London is the obvious place with the Tower, Buckingham Palace and a whole host of museums, parks and art galleries. Despite what Londoners think, there is more to England than just the capital city!

1. The Peak District

This was the first National Park that was created in England and is the most visited. Quite rightly so, as it has fabulous scenery that ranges from pretty towns and villages to wild, windswept moorlands. If your interests lie with the ‘Great Outdoors’, this is the perfect place to head.

2. The Eden Project, Cornwall

The Eden Project was one of the many ‘Millennium Projects’ around England. The plan was to build several giant dome-shaped greenhouses termed ‘biomes’ to contain a wide range of flora and fauna. The plant life has now matured and it is a hugely successful attraction – the rainforest biome is particularly spectacular. There is an emphasis on education and it makes a great family day out.

3. Alton Towers, Staffordshire

A former Stately home, with formal gardens including a replica of a Chinese pagoda, has diversified to become England’s premier theme park. There are rides that will suit the whole family from serene swan boats to extreme rides that will terrify you!

4. Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

An impressive castle in the northeast of England that dates back to the 14th century. It was famously used as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. Another great venue for the family!

5. Hadrian’s Wall

Built by the Romans, Hadrian’s Wall is England’s answer to the Great Wall of China. Whilst not being on the same scale, it is possible to walk along some of the sections and there are plenty of excavated and reconstructed Roman remains along its length.

6. The Lake District

A region of mountains and lakes in the northwest of England attracts tourists and outdoors enthusiasts both. Take a boat trip on Windermere, England’s longest lake, wander the rugged mountain tops or spend time visiting Beatrix Potter’s house where she wrote her books for children.

7. Lyme Regis, Dorset

A delightful seaside resort on the south coast known as the ‘Pearl of Dorset’. The harbour wall is called the ‘Cob’ and is an impressive structure that featured in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. During July, there is ‘Red Arrows Day’ on which the RAF aerial display team strut their stuff.

8. Glastonbury, Somerset

Somerset is a flat county but there are several notable ‘lumps’. Glastonbury Tor is one of these. The town of Glastonbury is a pretty place to visit and has attracted many legends – Joseph of Arimethea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur to name but three.

9. York Minster, Yorkshire

York Minster is one of the most impressive of the big cathedrals of England. It was established as a church in the 7th century on the former site of the Roman Basilica. The present building is one of the finest medieval cathedrals in the whole of Europe and was constructed over a period of 250 years during the 13th to the 15th centuries.

10. Lundy Island, Devon

Situated off the north coast of Devon, Lundy Island is a lump of granite at the point where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic. It’s a small, peaceful island where you can relax and recharge your batteries. Activities include walking, diving, climbing, bird watching, fishing, snorkelling, photography and painting. Note that it’s not a family venue – the kids would be bored.

So there you have our top ten places to visit in England, and while they’re not perhaps the best known internationally, they’re still very much worth visiting on your stay.  It would also be worth it to consider ho

w much better your trip would be if you speak the language – contact us today to find a course in your area!


Photo by Adrian Pingstone