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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Feeling ever so French

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Here's a little reflection on building friendships in a bid to improve our family's French with a major French feast. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Bon appetit! Our celebration of all things French.
"I only want to speak French now," texted 15yo Nell in French during a recent stay with a lovely French family in Provence. Given that she was on a week's cultural exchange a long way from home via the Avignion train this was definitely a very cheering text.

I never did a teenage language swap when I was revising for my French o level but it's obviously the best way to embed another language and to have your eyes opened to the many differences - and similarities - another family might have. Right now I'm trying to improve my own French using Duolingo... but I've got hopes my own kids might be able to be better at speaking languages than I am. And so my two daughters hosted a Provence family (who were friends of friends of neighbours) in 2015. It was fun, Facebook has kept us all in touch and now this year my youngest has already been to Provence to stay with them.  It was a huge success. But also so lovely that when Nell came back her host family sent us gifts including a bottle of wine from vineyards in their village.

Gift from Nell's host family
We took a while to plan our French celebration meal. But on a May Friday we opened the bottle and paired it with a delicious (homemade) French meal of salad, crêpes and bonbons. Inspired by her stay Nell wrote the menu in French, while I tracked down some extra treats at La Ferme on 102 Farringdon Road, London.

Middle class families know all about cultural capital. If their kids mention a tiny snippet from a history lesson the next weekend they are taking a look around the Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, Essex or watching a DVD of the Battle of Britain as preparation before a trip to Duxford to see the old Spitfires. Small wonder that when I knew Nell had to learn French I figured it would be a good idea to send her to France... and it was.

But as the European in/out referendum gets closer I just wish we all knew more about Europe and who lives there. On my brief travels on the continent the newspapers are full of EU politics. But you don't get this information in a British broadsheet. The more we all know about other societies and cultures the easier it is for us all to get on without stigmatising anyone.

It's a bit like having an annoying neighbour. Once you know that person, perhaps because they've invited you round for a cup of tea or you've had a good chat about something you've got in common - or even heard about their passion for the motorbikes they can't stop mending - their midnight showers or strangely early hoovering and mechanical tinkering habits are just quaint idiosyncrasies, not argument sparks. It's easy to dislike or even be fearful of strangers, far harder to dislike the whole family next door/opposite when you've shared a few biscuits and a chat about the roses.

Bon voyage
Whatever the referendum result my eldest is due to move to France for a year soon in a bid to learn French and perhaps more about herself too. She came back from an interview in Paris telling us that a French family she'd stayed with had called the UK "the stone in Europe's shoe". I reckon this says bucket loads about how irritating we've become.  It would be an irony that as the UK gets more resistant to "others" my tiny little family are trying hard to be those others in Europe.

Of course people have very strong views about RemaIN and Brexit, I know that I do. And since the terrible death of Jo Cox,MP feelings are running high - but whatever happens on 23 June my hope is the UK will muddle through. And I'm sure knowing French or any of the other European countries' languages will still be an incredible personal and professional life bonus. Merci mes amis!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Cycling near Salisbury - not a Holland quiet way yet

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Cycling expeditions are now so popular, so what would my 15yo think about going for a long cycle ride with her mum around Salisbury? Words by Nicola Baird.

At the garden of the Ship Inn, Burcombe, Wilts
Cycling is supposed to be safe - but it needs to feel like an adventure else it's just a slog ride from A-B, which I do a few days most weeks around London. I've been longing to go for a really long journey by bike, say London to Amsterdam or London to Paris as organised by people like Simon Izod, but reckon it might be worth trying smaller trips before we sign up to 50 miles a day.

Nell is happy to take a one day cycling trip with me to Salisbury. The plan is for me to do some family history research, cycling the Wiltshire lanes, and also to let Nell explore Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. We're kitted out in high viz which feels unnecessary on London's new super cycle highway running from Farringdon to Blackfriars Bridge. But in Salisbury on National Cycle Network 45 it's essential.

I'm not sure that Wiltshire County Council really understands cycle lanes. The one we use from Salisbury to Wilton - about 3 miles away - mostly offers flat cycling, but there is a horrible section of fast, busy road that is on the A30.

Reflecting on the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral
The TIC in Salisbury provides us with a map but when I ask questions the woman there uses the road names, rather than the cycle route names, which is a bit confusing as this special cycling map doesn't mention we'll be partly on the A30. Luckily I take a left at Quidhampton when I should have taken a right.... and when I discover this mistake I speak out loud asking myself what to do. To my amazement a lady on the other side of the hedge, gardening, pops up and suggests I take a back route up a gravel track by the kennels. Perfect. It's not the quickest way to Wilton but it avoids the A30 and is a really bucolic diversion with beautiful views of undulating Wiltshire countryside.

Cycling discovery - an injured snake near Burcombe.
Another lady - this time very old - points us towards Burcombe and at last our cycle ride becomes wonderful. Of course it helps that we find a snake. SNAKE!! A snake on the road. It looks as if it is basking and both of us are a bit nervous to get closer even though it's very small and quite still. I'm guessing it is a young grass snake as this satisfyingly flat route always seems close to a river. Luckily there is a fallen ash branch by the verge so we snap off two long prongs in order to pick up the "injured" snake so it can die safely off the road. If that's not an oxymoron. The road has become a crime scene - after much discussion we decide that the snake has been pecked by a bird and dropped on to the road. Anyway by the time we move it, I think it has died.

This bit of road is quiet - the hedges are high and the cowparsley offers a lacy white verge. You can hear larks and occasionally spot yellowhammer dive into the hedges. On the other side of the hedges, in fields generally rising up and away from the valley floor, are intense fields of yellow oil seed rape. Nearer the villages the farmers have sold or rented their fields for grazing and handsome horses raise their heads as we cycle past. It's slightly like being in an Enid Blyton novel.

We've also seen a man pushing his broken door car; lots of homes named after what they used to be - the old bakery, the old schoolhouse, the haybarn, the old forge. It's a good lesson in modern geography and for us Londoners a sense of bafflement about what people actually do in the countryside when there's nowhere close for them to go and do it. Mind you Wiltshire has lots of pubs.

We take a break at the Ship Inn, Burcombe which has recently redone its riverside garden, and love it.

Barford Inn, Barford St Martin. Nice sun terrace and cosy old-fashioned interior
 At the next village, Barford St Martin the Green Dragon is now known as The Barford Inn. This pub is also very old but it's full of ye olde agricultural equipment, cleverly attached to the ceiling. I'd like to linger but Nell has had enough of pubs and fields so we speed back to Salisbury for a cycling feast of Greek wraps on sale at one of the many Food stalls in the Market Square on a May Bank Holiday Sunday.

There are 1.3million visitors to Stonehenge, but you can still feel alone with the stones.
Besides the cathedral story, Salisbury has plenty of literary links. Charles Dickens based a section of Martin Chuzzlewit here, and it's forever entwined with Thomas Hardy who has tragic Tess of the D'Urbervilles ending up at Stonehenge. Had we the stamina we could have cycled to Stonehenge along the National Cycle Network 45 but neither Nell nor I thought we'd then do justice this 3,000 year old monument (on a site with 5,000 years of history). So our adventure was one day enjoyably lonely cycling on the flat lanes of Wiltshire, and one using a tour bus to mix with one of the UK's most popular tourist sites. It was a good mix for a very short break. But my suspicion is both of us had more fun stopping than we did pedalling along. Clearly we are not naturals for a long cycle ride.

Pluses: the Salisbury - Wilton route has an easy to follow cycle map which makes it easy to see the distance you've cycled. That's about 3 miles. Nell was proud to have cycled at least 15 miles on one day.

Minuses: brave lycra cyclists may be able to cope but the rest of us need drivers to be more cautious on the roads, especially the back lanes. Diesel engines and unseasonably bad weather (ie, climate change) are doing a great deal of damage. Speeding vehicles wreck the efforts by walkers and cyclists to get out of their cars.

Monday, 16 May 2016

In the forest, or in the woods?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Well except when I'm describing trees. I tend to call British collections of trees "woods" whereas the bigger chunks of wooded land found throughout Europe (and in Democratic Republic of Congo or the Amazon) I'd definitely call a forest. Words by Nicola Baird.

Sycamore just coming into leaf (or is it horse chestnut, I'll
have to go back and check).
On a spring day the Ashridge Estate is a beautiful woodland to visit walking distance from Tring train station. At 5,000 acres it's one of the largest areas of deciduous trees owned by the National Trust in England. You can picnic, draw or go for walks, kids are encouraged to try den building or tree ID. Indeed the National Trust seem so keen to get us out and about that you can even hire electric golf buggies if you're not fit to walk in order to take a wood-bath (as the Japanese call it) in the mostly beech woodlands. And then there's also a great cafe which serves cake, tea and BBQ burgers.

Not my dog, my friend's dog enjoying the smells of a big wood
on the Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire.
My dog loves to visit the Ashridge Estate too. And as I've discovered during my explorations there is a fantastic pub in Aldbury village just below the woodland. This means that I can sometimes even lure my partner along for an afternoon walk if it is followed by a pint. Perhaps because it's called The Greyhound Inn it lets well-behaved dogs in one of the bars.

Along the paths you often hear families chatting... some call this lovely place a forest, others a wood. In the UK I'm not sure I've ever been into a forest. They exist - there's Nottingham Forest and the gradually expanding forest of newly planted trees in the Midlands. I've been into many woods though - and some have seemed vast. The Ashridge Estate is beautiful but I also love the oak, hornbeam, silver birch and ash woodland (despite its brutalist conifer plantation) at Trent Park.

This sweet note was pinned on to a tree in my local park. Just behind it is
a young sapling which was grown from a cutting taken from the tree that
Anne Frank in Amsterdam used to look at during her incarceration in the
Annexe. It's amazing what stories trees could tell.
(C) aroundbritainnoplane.blogspot.com
But perhaps the best bit of wood is always the one nearest to you - a place to enjoy every season and every weather.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Box Hill makes me think of Switzerland...

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. At certain times of year I hunger for mountains with their spring flowers, clean breezes and magnificent views. Here Nicola Baird hikes up Box Hill thinking it's a bit like Switzerland.

A ridge walk with a hilly view. Box Hill has everything Switzerland
has. Just imagine the motorbike roar as tinkling cow bells.
I love mountains, but I'm a bit scared of heights and cable cars. I don't even know how to ski. So what could be better than a day trip to a beautiful high point in the UK that makes you think you are in the clean mountain air of, say, Switzerland when in fact you are up at the top of 600ft Box Hill in Surrey. 600ft is a perfect height: it feels like you've gone up, but for anyone reasonably fit if

Pilgrim cycles - lovely place for a cuppa and cake.
And calls itself a "climbing cafe, without mountains".
Like Switzerland this area is well served by trains - I arrived on the Box Hill & Westhumble station to find a cycle shop renting bikes, selling maps and serving snacks in the lovely old booking hall. Pilgrims feels idiosyncratic which reminded me of the Swiss obsession for getting outside and doing Olympic type feats (eg, cycling an alp just to get a good cup of black coffee with a view). On my brief walk from the station to the down I was staggered by the number of people in lycra trying out the unforgiving hills that made up part of London's 2012 cycling course.

Not so quiet
Box Hill is a busy place. There are the cyclists, walkers, leisure drivers and scores of motorbikers (fortunately on ZigZag Road rather than the chalk tracks crossing Box Hill). It's managed by the National Trust which seems to do an amazing job keeping every interest group happy. There are cups of tea and fat slabs of cake at the hill top visitor centre; nature trails making use of the wonderful box trees (Mole Gap is where 40% of the country's wild box trees grow) and plenty of opportunity to fly kites, run trails or spot birds and butterflies. Obviously dog walkers love it too.
(4yo girl in angry tears): I want to climb a tree! 
25 mile views from the top of Box Hill.
You can try the strenuous four mile Juniper top walk or just take a stroll to Salomon's Lookout. This was far too busy when I turned up, but it does have amazing views over the Surrey Hills. I followed the steep path down the cliff edge (not realising it was a cliff until I looked back) to reach the famous Stepping Stones crossing the River Mole into Burford Meadow. Except it's spring and the water was too high to spot the stones (luckily there's a bridge too).
(9yo girl beaming as she puffed up the hill): You should see the mud!
Relief map: pale green is flat and dark green indicates steep slopes.
There are also all sorts military hardware on Box Hill - an old fort designed to save the British Empire but now beloved by bats. Far below it are 12 concrete pillars positioned to prevent tanks crossing the river and pounding to the summit. Excitingly I even came across a disused pillbox (fyi: type 24 infantry shell proof)when I got distracted off the main path by the wild garlic (it makes fabulous pesto) growing along the riverbank.
(20something woman): I feel so good after being outside all day. 
In any mountainous country there are inevitably tall tales of fierce people and beasts. But at Box Hill you have Labilliere's grave - the major who insisted he was buried head downwards in 1800 because he felt the world was changing so quickly and in such a topsy turvy way that one day he'd be the right way up... And there's also a Swiss Chalet, a Little Alp and Broadwood's Tower. This is storybook country with fab views. Do go.

(20 something man): I've done 23,000 paces...
OS Explorer 146: Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate
Over to you
Where else in Britain offers a great mountain-style view? Or do you have any ideas about where I can take my family to explore the world without leaving Britain?

Monday, 11 April 2016

Celebrating our National Trails: the joy of a long walk

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. The world has many long walks - from the Great Wall of China to mega trips undertaken by adventurers who know it's all taking the first step. Pete May gets some tips from writer Paddy Dillon about where to go in the UK for his next big walk.

Pete May and dog tackle the Thames Path on a very wet day.
AroundBritain No Plane enjoyed celebrating Cicerone’s very useful guides to National Trails at Foyles Bookshop in London. Now the guides include an OS-style mapping booklet that gives you all the mapping you need for the Pennine Way, Coast to Coast, Cotswold Way, Hadrian’s Wall, Offa’s Dyke, Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Great Glen Way, Thames Path and West Highland Way. The dedicated route maps eliminate the need for buying lots of separate maps and can be used in either direction. They were praised by Kate Ashbrook, President of The Ramblers. And all the guides also have very useful accommodation sections and tips on who baggage carriers, if that's what you or your family need.

Cicerone writer Paddy Dillon gave an entertaining talk on walking all the long distance trails of Britain — and he’s now walking them again to revise his guides. Paddy, who grew up with Burnley, first walked the Pennine Way at 16, “when I did absolutely everything wrong, so I could only get better!” He showed pictures of his travels around the UK’s trails and introduced us to some of the more obscure but interesting paths such as the Yorkshire Wolds Way, Peddars Way and North Norfolk Coastal Path, the Pennine Bridleway, the Speyside Way and Glyndŵr’s Way.

By this time I was tempted to tackle the North Norfolk Coastal Path or the Yorkshire Wolds Way this summer.

The next speaker, Ursula Martin of OneWomanWalksWales, got me thinking about how to walk across Wales.

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer Ursula decided to walk 400 miles to her next hospital appointment in Bristol to raise money for cancer charities. She eventually completed 3000 miles along trails like Offa’s Dyke, the Cistercian Way, the Severn Way, the high-level Cambrian Way (“which almost broke me”) and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (“my favourite”). “People’s kindness was overwhelming. I planned to rough camp, but I was given so much stuff, tea, meals, and beds for the night. There was a lot of serendipity.” 

Initially she planned to walk 19 miles a day but then suffered a tendon injury. “In the end I let go of time and distance and just walked.” After her treatment Ursula has been clear of cancer for four years and is now writing a book about her journey. Her next project is to walk and sail through Europe.

A morning spent talking national trails can’t help but inspire some wanderlust for Britain’s vast array of walkways and Cicerone’s very thorough guides are the ideal way to plan your route. 
Over to you
Do share your best long distance routes - have you tried doing a long walk on your own or do you have any tips to tempt your family along?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Why camels give me the hump

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Spotting an unusual van got me thinking about underwear...Words by Nicola Baird 

For the past few weeks a large white van emblazoned with the magical worlds "Camel Milk UK" has been parked near where I live. I've seen this van around the area before although I've yet to find a bottle or carton of camel milk on sale. It's not that hard though, you can just pop to www.camelmilkuk.net to organise.

Waiting for Callback by Perdita and Honor Cargill tackles
camel toe without using such a derogatory phrase.

I know very little about camels, so I was surprised when I mentioned to one of my daughters that in the hilarious YA book I was reading, a character told her teenager to change their outfit rather than going out in an outfit that looked "gynaecological", that my daughter immediately translated this dress mistake as "camel toe".

Camel toe is slang. Slang for the outline of a woman's labia should they be wearing super tight clothing such as leggings or very tight shorts. It's in surprisingly common use. Today I read it in the Guardian's fashion column.

If you look on wikipedia you can compare a woman in hot pants (pity the jobs some models get) with a camel's toe. Or you can search for Kim Kardashian in her allegedly photoshopped flesh-tone Yezzy outfit (designed by her husband Kanye). Either way scrutiny shows that women and camels are different. 

I guess a whale tale - when thong underwear gets exposed thanks to low rise jeans - doesn't look much like a whale either. It's just another of those creepy expressions that belittles what women do and wear.

There are so many animal expressions used to knock an outfit choice, no doubt from all around the world. I can think of two more - dog's dinner; and mutton dressed as lamb. 

What about you, do you know any expressions like this used in other parts of the world? And are they used kindly or with intentional cruelty?

Thursday, 3 March 2016

When did you last plant a tree?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Recently Cicerone Guidebooks kindly gave Around Britain No Plane a very young oak tree. But where to plant it? Words by Nicola Baird 

My new oak tree, safe for a while in a big pot away from the bantams.
If I've got a proper life regret, then it's that I haven't planted enough trees. We all know we should plant more trees - to mop up pollution, provide habitat,  maybe even offer a sense of continuum - it's just that I don't really have anywhere I can put trees. My back garden is titchy and the hens and dog are expert at ruining any planting schemes I might have. And I live in London where the dreaded word subsidence is always linked to trees. Subsidence by the way is allegedly caused by street and garden tree roots undermining your home in their search for nourishment and water.

Worse for my tree planting dreams, my last purchase was a bowsaw which I intend to use to reduce the height of my giant privet hedge.

But I still long to plant trees. One a day is the Man Who Planted Trees mantra - and I have planted a few, maybe 100. Some highlights include:
  • Acorns taken from trees later felled along the Newbury Bypass which are now growing at my brother's house.
  • The mini orchard (you only need five trees to make an orchard!) in my home's front garden.
  • The new whippet thin hedge saplings planted when I was doing a three month long course with British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, now the TCV.
  • The small native woodland trees my friend Hannah has got me to plant in Wales. Always done when it's freezing.
  • The olive tree that got put in my children's primary school grounds when the playground was remodelled.
  • At Christmas my brother and I had the fun of planting two crazy trees in his garden - a little hazel which has truffles added to the root ball; and a weeping willow which he hopes to use as a picnic den, about 10 years from now...
Where to plant this baby oak?
This obsession with wanting to plant more trees means that I was thrilled to be given an oak sapling in February during a promotion for Britain"s National Trails by Cicerone, the publisher that specialises in long distance travel guides. I love the variety of Cicerone's guides and have The Danube Cycleway by my desk and on the kitchen table there's The Great Glen Way, just in case I have to take off, now... In some ways there is too much choice - Cicerone has 350 guidebooks and as a result has provided me with proper anorak information about Britain's National Trials... for instance 2016 will be:
  • 45 years since Offa's Dyke Path was established
  • 30 years sionce the opening of The Peddars Way and Norfolk coast Path
  • 20 years since TheThames Path became a national trail
  • 51 years since Britain's first national trail - the Pennine Way - was opened.

My husband and kids exploring the oak and hornbeam
woodland of Hatfield Forest, Essex - just beyond
Stansted Airport's runway.
Who will help me plant trees?
Walking and cycling across a long distance route are exactly the sort of times that get you thinking about landscape. Should the UK look so denuded?

Well it probably wouldn't if there were less sheep on the uplands and a different emphasis on land use. But that doesn't mean people aren't still planting trees. And the great thing is that it's possible to have a go yourself, even if you have zero outside space. For example:
  • The Woodland Trust is a fabulous organisation doing a lot of tree planting - thanks to people like you and me (well actually not me, but I hope soon to have a go!). See more about how to plant trees with them on local community land, at schools and even in urban areas, here.
  • The National Forest in Leicestershire is transforming 200 square miles into a huge forest. They rely on volunteers - so if you live in Leicestershire, Staffordshire or Derbyshire, or can make a trip to the Midlands, then you can help them out in their ambitions to plant more trees. See all the info here.
  • You can also look at Trust for Conservation Volunteers website - just type in your postcode - and loads of green (management tasks and tree planting) pop up. Rather sweetly some of these are called green gyms.

Seeing the wood and the trees
I can see a couple of trees from my window as I type this, but amazingly 45% of the land in Russia, more than 50% of Brazil, 31% of Canada and 30% of the US are forested.

In the UK only 11% is forested.

Depending on your point of view woods can be beautiful, calming, wildlife and ecosystem havens. They are also a huge source of our cultural capital - lots of stories hint at the dark deeds that could happen "if you go down to the woods today". That mix of oasis and death trap does perhaps confuse the way we react to the idea of a walk in the woods. I certainly prefer to go into woods with my dog - although he's no friend to the larger animals we meet there (squirrels, munjac deer etc). But in the woods I notice how much calmer I always feel, it's almost as if time stops when I make the effort to touch and smell the bark of a large tree trunk or look up into the canopy.

Devon woodland - a place to stand & stare.
What to see
In winter I love the architectural quality of trees. In spring it's fun to compare the shades of the new green leaves, and see if you can spot love birds quarrelling over which is the best tree. In summer they just offer wonderful shade, and then autumn it's the joy of catching falling leaves and enjoying the array of reds, auburns and yellow displays.

Thank you
So thank you to the trees, and thank you to anyone - like Cicerone - who has ever made it possible for me to plant a tree. As you can see from the photo at the top of the page my baby oak is currently in a pot and at some point is going to need relocating so the roots can get growing properly. But here's to a year of planting many more and enjoying the ones that we know best. Let me know your tree planting stories. Here's a cheer to anyone who manages to plant even one tree, and proper envy and big respect to whoever plants the most!