A-Z activities

A-Z countries

What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 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.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

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.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Thinking: not thinking on the Seven Sisters cliff tops

A windy walk with friends along the South Downs and over the Seven Sisters offers all sorts of escapes. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). 


The point about walking, perhaps even the joy of walking – for me – is that I stop thinking. The rhythm of puffing up the hills, feet belting out their unfit tune, eyes busy spotting landmarks and flowers, mind dragging up lessons learnt in primary school geography classes as meandering rivers and pebble spits etc emerge combined with finding safe places to park my feet (and keep going) stymy any attempt at thinking.  All the famous walker-writers from the flaneurs of Paris and the Romantic poets to today’s psycho-geography fans seem to think that walking is where the synapses fly. Definitely not mine.

 


And now here I am with two old friends – neither have met each other before – pounding along one of the most beautiful sections of the South Downs way over the 280 ha section of the Seven Sisters Country Park, past Birling Gap and up to Beachy Head. It could be a four-hour thinkathon. Instead it’s a 12km serious muscle workout for the two Londoners (though not super-fit Sally) and a chance to chat and story. 

 


We’ve started about teatime and Storm Francis is blowing-in so that every photo shows the truth of longer lockdown hair – as you open your mouth long strands arrive unbidden. Fortunately this doesn’t stop conversation and chat billows just as wildly as our hair, taking in teaching, schools, masks and long-ago life when I did Sally’s shopping and Gisella ran a regular car boot sale. Four hours later we’ve walked close enough to Eastbourne – where Sally lives – to connect to a pizza app and order a takeaway. Strava has a report too for Sally, a little more accurate than my guestimate text to my family that we’ve “probably done 20,000 paces”.

 


A walk on the Downs is so deceptively tough. The long rises up and steep curves down on chalky grass might help eat up the miles, but you need to be properly fit to manage the gradients without muscle soreness.  Even with a bit of pain and no big-business or book idea dreamt up it is a fantastic walk. As the Downs drop towards the classic view of cottage and cliff, the salty sell of seaweed smacks into your senses and then after crunching over gravel – the car park at Birling Gap – you then join the path up the slope gradually noticing the scent of thistle and grass predominating again. There are sheep and cattle. All shades of green and to our right a grey, stormy sea. 

 

After months in London the big sky and huge theatre landscape makes me feel a bit small. 

Perhaps that’s thinking…

 

And actually thinking is what I don’t want to do because it’s just been announced that the Earth has lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice in less than 30 years – exactly the same time span as I’ve known Sally (and that seems like a blink of an eye). Polar modellers say that 28 trillion tonnes is the equivalent to covering the whole of the UK with a sheet of frozen water 100 metres thick – a huge amount of melted water. Being human it is far, far easier to keep going doing the same things, without reflecting on just what rising temperatures are doing to the planet. Or why and how we must do something now. Read the full Guardian article here.

 

What next?

I know there are XR events coming up: a gathering at Parliament on Tuesday 1 September is billed as an ‘unfuck the system” day. Covid-19 has forced a year-long delay from the planned November meet-up COP or conference of the parties meeting in Glasgow until 2021 (1-12 Nov). Yet again I want to believe that the UNFCCC can get things done… like it did at Paris in 2015. And I want to see governments and individuals making changes too: but first let’s rest my walkers’ legs, eat pizza and chat because thinking ice melt, global warming and climate change is just too painful to think about today.

 

  •       Info about Seven Sisters and the Seven Sisters Country Park, Sussex https://www.sevensisters.org.uk/things-to-do-at-seven-sisters/
  •       You can catch a bus (the Coaster with free WiFi, 12, 12A and 12X) at Eastbourne which stops at the Country Park and then get walking. Or take a bus from Brighton (a bit slower) but it’s a journey with sea views, windmill and a good tour of some lovely Sussex scenes you may already recognise thanks to Eric Ravilous’ art.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

What's going on at Richmond Park?

if you want a taste of the wild, then London has two famous places to go - Richmond Park (to the west) and Hampstead Heath (to the north). But which offers the best experience? Here's a closer look at Richmond Park. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). 

Richmond Park is famous for the veteran oak trees.
This was one of many that are more than 6 of my arm spans wide. (c) GM
Richmond is just 10 miles from central London but it feels like a world away. Exploring this area over the xmas holiday gave me the opportunity to bike the 7mile (11km) radius of the huge park (hugging the boundary wall). A few days later with my friend Gisella I then walked across the centre from Mortlake station to Richmond overground - logging up 23,400 paces (14km).

Initially visiting was partly a political act: I wanted to see what this strange constituency of Richmond Park was like. It's where the incumbent MP, Zac Goldsmith (Con) lost to his Lib Dem rival, Sarah Olney in the Dec 2019 general election. Professionally Zac lucked out as he was then given a seat in the House of Lords, ensuring that he stays in the Cabinet as Minister of State for the Environment & Rural Affairs.

Richmond Park: After a steep climb, looking back down the
sandy path at Broomfield Hill. (c) NB
Part of the constituency includes the old hunting ground, Richmond Park. This is owned and managed by the Royal Parks, a charity, which looks after 5000 acres across London including Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, St James' Park, Bushy Park, Regent's Park and Kensington Gardens.

Pen Ponds are an easy place to spot wildlife. We saw a variety of
ducks, rails and cormorants. There are meant to be kingfishers. (c) NB
I'm a regular at Hampstead Heath, run by the Corporation of London, so I was surprised that Richmond Park seems very different, although they aren't that far apart as the crow flies. Of course there's no need to choose between them but I definitely noticed:
  • Hampstead is wetter and muddier- you need boots in the winter (Richmond seems better drained)
  • Richmond is cycle friendly (Hampstead virtually bans them)
  • Richmond lets cars everywhere - it's basically a 20mph free for all and the noise and traffic smell ruins the rim of the park, which is exactly the bit pedestrians and cyclists use (Hampstead has no cars, good on you Hampstead)
  • Richmond has 400+ deer and consequent problems with visitors feeding them and then getting into problems/wild animal face offs, especially around rutting season. Spotting deer was a real highlight.
  • Hampstead is full of TV types and intellectuals talking leftie and love chat (Richmond has a different feel) though both parks are of course open to anyone and everyone.
  • Hampstead has swimming ponds (Richmond has hot spots and car parks by every pond)
  • Richmond lets cyclists and walkers share a track which seems to work (it's less stressful walking in Hampstead because no cyclist slinks up on you)
  • Richmond has amazing old oaks, zillions of them. Hampstead has some veteran trees.
  • Richmond is noisy: thumbs down to the endless vehicle traffic and parakeet screeching. Hampstead has parakeets, but it doesn't feel so busy with these green invader birds.

With these lovely routes, even in winter Richmond Park is popular
with walkers and cyclists. Just to the right, on the other side of the trees, you can make
out the road. Although there's now a hopper service to get people round the
park without their own cars (a nice idea) it's hard not to be surprised by how
car dominated this park seems to be. (c) NB
CYCLING: 
I really enjoyed cycling clockwise from Richmond Gate around the park. There's one super steep section but once up the hill there's a bench, kiosk (car park of course!) and plenty of old oaks to recover under. Once you're ready to cycle on, you will be rewarded by amazing views back towards London. The park is really breath-taking. I spent about two hours cycling or staring at the views. If it had been warmer I'd have spent longer under the oak trees.

Tip (getting there): From Richmond station exit left then left on to Sheen Road until the traffic lights. Here turn right up Church Road so that when you meet Richmond Hill (turn left) you haven't had to slog up the most steep part. Keep going until you Reach Richmond Gate. Getting to the park took about 10 mins, mostly in my lowest gear. I don't think I'd ever manage to cycle up a mountain!

Me, dog and Time Out book of London Walks exploring
Richmond Park on a sunlit December day. (c) GM
WALKING:
Walking was more fun - perhaps because I had my dog with me - but also it gave me the chance to catch up with my friend Gisella.

Nicola and Gisella inspired to pose by an ancient oak
in Two Storm Wood. Bertrand Russell played as a child in the
oaks at Pembroke Lodge. (c) GM
We could have walked in silence, but that would have been hard as there was a lot to discuss, ranging from our children and our jobs to travel and politics. We also went on the most beautiful, bright December day which meant every photo looked amazing - at least Gisella's did! Finding so many veteran trees was amazing. Richmond Park claims to have 1,300 veteran trees of which 320 are ancient. An ancient tree is a perfect habitat for many fungi, invertebrates, lichen and other species. According to the National Trust "one ancient oak has more biodiversity than 1,000 hundred-year-old oaks."

Mesmerised by the camouflaged red deer. (c) GM

Red deer near King Henry VIII mound. (c) GM
Highlights included:

  • Spotting red deer up close
  • Meeting so many veteran oak trees and also the fabulous sweet chestnuts in Sawpit Plantation.
  • Watching a fire engine workshop with hoses at Pen Ponds (potential good training for XR members)
  • Catching the hypnotically lovely scent of witch hazel in secret Isabella Plantation (and using the compost toilets there)
  • Walking the last section from Pembroke Lodge to Richmond Hill towards the best sunset of 2019.

Viewpoint on Richmond Hill with the River
Thames' spectacular curves. (c) GM
Now I know two good routes around the park, and have a basic grasp of its geography I plan to go again soon. I love the way a walk you know seems to get shorter, and if that's the case then I'll have time to pop into the info centres. 24 hours on I'm still feeling jealous of all those Richmond Park wardens and also the riders who must know the park so much more intimately.

Q: Have you been to both these big London parks? Which would you recommend exploring, and why?

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

How wild can you be?

Wilding: the return of nature to a British farm is an amazing book with the potential to change everything about the way we manage nature and it tackles climate change. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). 

The very beautiful cover of Wilding. Now you know
what a turtle dove looks like.
Every now and then a book shakes up your comfy ideas. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, of course; Frances More Lappe's Diet For A Small Planet, most things by Malcolm Gladwell (I know, sorry!) and more recently Robert Macfarlane's Lost Words. And now there's another: Wilding: the return of nature to a British farm by Isabella Tree.

This fantastic book starts with Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell being forced to sell the dairy herd and all the farm equipment to keep the Knepp estate, which is near Horsham, afloat. They were £1.5 million in debt and couldn't make a living on the clay soils around their castle. The soil fertility was so dire that expensive fertilisers were making little headway, other than harm the estate's old oak trees. In many ways this is an oddity of a book - it's by a very privileged woman who marries a castle (well a man with a castle) and then the couple work hard to convince various funding bodies to provide grants to fence the outer boundary so they can return the whole acreage - bar the Repton designed park - into a wild place.

There's still public access for paid-for events (in the Repton park) and also free routes for dog walkers and riders on footpaths/bridleways. As the wilding project develops safari tourism becomes possible - and how lovely. Few of us get access to a big set of fields or understand what the owners/managers are trying to do, other than National Trust properties, so it is exciting to be taken through the wilding approach.

For starters this old idea of doing nothing to manage your land turns out to be nail-bitingly complicated. There is a place in the Netherlands, Oostvaardensplassen, that has managed to do a more extreme version, where herds of horses and deer expand during glut months and literally starve to death in the winter, but in the south-east of England that's not going to be an option in 21st century Britain. See this article about the backlash to starving animals in the Netherlands.

Grazing power
Chapter by chapter Isabella Tree (yes, she's well-named) details how grazing animals can change habitats - actually bringing back soil fertility. At Knepp they've done this with Longhorn cattle and Exmoor ponies. She also discusses how original Britain was surely open grassland with some woodland not solid trees - a scene more familiar to Serengeti safari takers than those of us used to massive agricultural fields farmed by the barley barons. And then how de-canalising a river, basically letting it wiggle and pond and slowing the flow brings insects which bring birds and a great many bird watchers.

The cover has a secretive, zebra-striped bird I've never really considered before, the turtle dove - known to most of us from the gorgeous 12 Days of Christmas carol. And in serious danger of going extinct because its habitat has all but disappeared.

She takes on all the countryside taboos - removing fencing, leaving ragwort, letting Tamworth pigs roam on a walkers' path and, whisper it, wanting to reintroduce beavers. She's not frightened of suggesting that this leave-nature-to-do-its-thing produces better management results than just managing for a particular species. She's also clear that stopping ploughing is a good way to avoid releasing carbon which adds to climate change.

It was the chapter about rivers that made me think hard. As a stand up paddleboarder I'm accustomed to using canals which have straight concrete sides and controlled water flows. Increasingly there are loads of temptations to go out and paddle rivers which I doubt does wildlife much good (especially when birds are nesting or the young are just entering the water). But if rivers are left to be more natural (but not allowed to convert to woodland) they really aren't straight - they're an untidy mess which are no longer navigable. On the plus side this creates habitats, water storage and slows fast water flow averting flood risks. But they're no longer the rivers we know... In the same way that 3,500 acres of Knepp land is becoming a different landscape. It's a Serengeti under the Gatwick flight paths!

Isabella takes this idea of right and wrong landscape further pointing out that most British people think the yardstick for what's normal should be approximately dated from the time when they were studying. So todays' leaders (eg, Boris Johnson is 55) think of the good-old-days as the 1980s - a time when insect and bird populations were crashing. When she showed around older people they recognised the wild flowers, the birds and even some of the insects.

Me too
I would like to rewild, but how can I do this living in the middle of London? My small concession is very lax care of the tree pits along the road where I live. In fact they often win prizes for their summer appearance but the times people have said they look untidy because there's grass and other wild flowers growing at the base of the tree. My logic is that if they were weeded it would simply turn these tiny nature reserves into cat litter trays. And who wants that?

My bit for rewilding is focused on sharing the book with as many people as I can. I read a library copy. And so far have convinced one book club member to buy it, one friend to listen to a podcast about the Knepp project and given a copy to my brother for his birthday (happy birthday Drew!).  I look forward to finding out what these readers think about the ideas Isabella discusses and even more to seeing if this wilding idea gets a bigger grip on the public imagination. Maybe it already has - my first contact with Knepp Castle was on BBC's Countryfile. And wow it looked fun to explore. I can't wait to visit.





Thursday, 13 June 2019

BOOK REVIEW: London is a forest

For anyone who likes exploring London this new book by @thestreettree expert Paul Wood, London is a Forest, offers a new way to look at trees. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). 

Recommended reading: London is a Forest by Paul Wood.
A great guide for exploring London's trees in an intelligent way full of views and viewpoints.
======
LONDON IS A FOREST by Paul Wood (Hardie Grant, £12) 
======

I live in a forest. During May most mornings I was woken by the excited trill of a wren in the tree by my bedroom. Looking out of the window I pick out my favourite trees – usually with the bigger silhouettes. But I like the lollipop tiddlers too, and the way young seedlings suddenly burst up releasing giant-sized leaves from red stalks. 

But this forest isn’t a traditional wild wood of fairy tales. The paths are paved, the tracks are tarmac. It’s busy and polluted. In fact, it’s central London, because London is a forest according to a UN definition. Excitingly London has 8.3 million trees, which is about one tree per person, making it the world’s largest urban forest. 

The well-named Paul Wood’s new book London is a Forest is an absolute must-have. Savouring each chapter, I’m reminded of yet another friend or relative who’d be fascinated by the content. As a result my must-buy-it-for list has now grown so long that I think may be forced to recommend rather than make so many purchases. 

So what’s special about this book? 

There’s a short intro that argues the case for why London is a forest which should be required reading. But the basic content is divided into six meandering trails that pass by the best bits of green London. This isn’t just lush royal parks and Thames-side walks, it’s also via the most venerable, most unusual, and most loved trees. Despite 8.3 million to pick out Paul is able to turn any humble tree into a celebrity - and tell you which angle it looks best from...

I did wonder if reading a book of walks might be a bit dull if it was interlaced with turn left here, right there, but the instructions are provided in a different way, with phone-friendly GPS coordinates. Using the margin for GPS coordinates prevents the text from being plied with instructions. This allows the reader to follow a cohesive thread as the author walks us (or maybe cycles as these are mostly 16+ mile/27km+ routes) from tree to tree taking in trails and London viewpoints from:
·     High Barnet to Barbican
·     Erith to Canary Wharf
·     Epping to London Fields
·     Richmond Park to Westminster
·     Croydon to Deptford
·     Tower Bridge to Heathrow

I’m a north Londoner so there are parts of these chapters that are very familiar to me and others where I’m slightly stuck. But this mix of arboreal anecdote, London knowledge and the author’s asides (mostly about how that tree ended up with that limb damage or was planted there) are fascinating. Not only am I re-remembering walks with friends, but also planning where to go for my next London explore. 

By default I already hug green places as I criss-cross my bit of London, so I know many trees well. But with Paul Wood as a guide there is so much more to learn. Just using one example, the silvery bark-shedding London plane I am now aware that there’s a mix of varieties on Highbury Fields. That the avenue on Kennington Road (western side) in Lambeth harbours badges that name each tree after an astronaut (best viewed from a 59 or 159 bus). And the very oldest London Plane, known as Barney, can be found between the London Wetlands Centre and Barn Elms playing fields. This extraordinary tree has been preserved using a metal cage that its thick branches are now trying to grow through.

Paul Wood’s ability to share an interesting factlet at each tree has been well-honed by his well-followed activity on @thestreettree and subsequent walks and talks. Even on a two-street walk Paul can do far more than name-the-street-trees. He can also tell you about why the local authority planted them, when to expect blooms or fruits/nuts and even the life span. Somehow Paul does this in the most gracious and charming way, rather than harrying us with fact after fact (an occasional sin of experts who know how to categorise).

London is a Forest deserves to become a classic guide to London. At this point of climate crisis it helps us understand what trees thrive in the parks and street scape, at the same time as covering the info about what those trees have seen. My hope is that this book should give encouragement to the many other cities of Britain – and the world – who are considering doubling their tree cover. People know that trees offer valuable services – just a few include their ability to carbon, absorb noise, remove pollutants, reduce flood risk, offer summer shade, improve well-being, look beautiful, provide pollination opportunities and delicious bounty (I’ve even made N4 street tree pear jam). Recent attempts to cost these services to London calculated they are worth more than £6 billion. 

My hunch is that we all need to be more knowledgeable about our trees and at times shout loudly for them. Past threats have often been road expansion and building. On London’s clay soils insurance companies dealing with subsidence claims have a tendency to put their blame squarely on the trees nearest to the subsiding house. If this habit remains unchallenged there is a risk that despite the Government getting us to plant more urban trees we will actually reduce the number. As Paul Wood’s book makes so clear, simply through the amazing variety of trees he introduces us to from the Atlas Cedar (Chiswick) to wingnut (Bermondsey) sometimes it’s not just planting trees that counts, it’s the size of what you plant. Some trees offer far more eco-system services, especially veterans.

London is a Forest will also look good on your book shelves as the cover art work – a green ringed log with the line of the River Thames flowing through it - is stunning. I’ve noticed that recent Hardie Grant books (part of Quadrille), have particularly good covers as well as rather fab nature thinking,so whether you judge a book by its cover, or its content, London is a Forest is a total win. My tip is to go add it to your wish list now.

Other books you might like:


Friday, 29 March 2019

Country Living - and mum - at Alexandra Palace

Here's a recommended trip - visit the Country Living show whenever you can. Here's a review of #clfair spring fair 2019 at Alexandra Palace. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). 

Living the dream: at the Country Living show
(c) Around Britain No Plane
We’ve found something we love doing, mum and me – a trip to the Country Living show.

Each year there are two big shows – at spring and Christmas in a range of venues. This year the spring 2019 Country Living show is at Alexandra Palace, so despite having gone to loads of these shows at the Business Design Centre in Islington, it feels very different and we both love it. I’m really proud of my mum as she’ll be 80 in a few weeks’ time but she’s happy to take a train to London and then switch to the mainline stopping at Alexandra Palace station. We manage to sync arrivals and then use the Country Living courtesy bus (find it just outside the train station and also Wood Green tube) to whisk us up London’s most scenic hill to the show.

Ali Palace was built as a people’s palace and is a regular meeting point for very different tribes. Inside there’s a clear Egyptian theme with a striking palm court entrance. 

Loads of stalls at the Country Living show at Alexandra Palace.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
My last Ali Palace visit was with my husband and two daughters for the musician Frank Turner’s last night of his Be More Kindtour. It is thus very exciting when Mum and my first stop chatting to an exhibitor at Country Living’s show is at a needlework stall boasting a “Be Kind” design hanging at the exact spot where my daughters were dancing in a rather sticky-floored the mosh pit. This sunny March spring day the light streams in from the glass roof and huge round stained glass windows revealing a squeaky clean, covered floor. Much better! Unfortunately I don’t think a sewing kit is a dream gift for my soon-to-be 21-year-old daughter (instead I buy several fab £1 flower garlands for both girls that will surely be a festival hit from Elin Syensson on poppydaisy.com (A48) and my mum does the honourable grandparent thing and gets one for her 9-year-old grandchild) .The Frank Turner gig was back in February so is old news anyway… Now it’s all about the next four days, from 28 -31 March, Ali Palace is taken over by Country Living gentility. 
  
The main tribe on the first day are older women (so much so that I feel in the younger demographic). I’m sure Country Living magazine didn’t start out like this, but that’s how it seems today. You do after all need a house to fill with many of the delights on offer – furnishings, stoves, garden furniture. But what Mum and I are interested in is it worth the planning (2 letters, 3 phone calls, a couple of emails!) and schlep to this year’s show. The answer is a definite yes. 

So cute - holiday draw.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
I live in London, but grew up in the countryside and adore being in homes that have a country feel – crafts, d├ęcor, perhaps a bit of shabby chic but definitely the chance to have-a-go at making and repairing things. If that’s something you love too, then a trip is recommended, ideally with a patient friend or someone who knows you well (a relative!). Mum and I are soon cooing over the Cherolais- and Tercel-cross lambs (triplets or orphans) fed on the hour which do their gorgeous lamby job (sleep, eat, bounce, repeat) extremely well thereby helping their owners from Kirkwood, Lockerbie tempt us to stay at www.realfarmholidays.co.uk in Scotland. Believe me, we are both tempted… (W17)

The makings of a star.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
Opposite is a stall with some very splendid chickens (W19) who seem to be happy to be stroked and are in no way phased by the Brass Band playing in the courtyard.

The main hall (I’m still thinking of Frank’s gig) is rammed with fab stalls run by ladies (mostly) who are keeping artisan skills alive. Show favourites this year include Annie Sloan who specialises in chalk paint, Carved Angel’s jams, Love Beauty & Planet’s vegan bath bombs and Sophie Allport’s bone china mugs – the rabbit designs are perfect for Easter. 

There are seedballs, bee talks, live music, stall holders to talk to and a whole food court with tasty bits to try from flavoured olive oils to brownies.

And from Mum and me an involved discussion about how to use the pre-made screen print designs on sale. I can see this will be my summer obsession.

Candles may not be new, but this range from
Home County Candle allows you to pick
a candle inspired by your favourite county. Looking forward
to the soon-to-com Lake District version. And they have
soy wax and wooden wicks. Very special.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
I make two purchases: slightly shamingly, these are both stalls run by men. The first is from the wonderful Home County Candle Co, (D20) launched in Feb 2018, which is tapping into the local pride gene and offers candles from Hertfordshire, Essex, Surrey, Kent etc. Oli tells me that the Hertfordshire candle was the first of the range – it’s bluebell and jasmine scented – and was inspired by the flowers growing at the Ashridge Estate near Tring. With a birch wick, that slightly crackles as the soy wax burns, I’m won over and part with £20. Back home I untie the garden twine around the brown paper box, peel back the gold-star paper and find my perfect candle nestled in straw. It’s just lovely and I’m lucky that my Mum insists she is allergic to candles, else that would have been her Mother’s Day present (it’s on Sunday 31 March) and not the box of Daelmans stroopwafels she requests (F21). To be fair, these are a delicious choice.

The busiest stall at the show on Thursday seems to be Richard Argent’s www.footballcartoonhistories.co.uk (H31a) where women are buying Essex man Richard’s witty prints of our menfolk’s first loves, their football club. Surely the perfect gift for significant birthdays, godsons, sons, etc? Obviously, women like football too but at the Country Living show the visiting tribe are seasoned gift-givers and it’s always good to find something that’s perfect for the hard-to-buy-for man… in my case, my husband.

I loved chatting to the stall holders. Rosie whose That Girl In Green (H19) stall was bursting with sustainability ideas and items for sale such as cushions, fashion, alternatives to clingfilm. Really wish her a great show.

Both Mum and I were impressed by a man demonstrating plug-in massagers. So, tempted that I’m thinking of sending my husband back to the show to buy them. The theory is that use the massager and you won’t need to go to a physio. And maybe we also need the warrior trolley which has a little seat attached? This is a place where ideas you'd never thought turn into must-haves within seconds.

David Jaggs did a very memorable Bright Eyes.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
It was now about 1pm and we decided we needed a sit down and sandwich. We decide there is a real trend for pre-cut screen printing blocks this year while www.DavidJaggs.com plays moody classics on his classical guitar. It’s at this point that we both reckon the Alexandra Palace venue is perfect – there’s more space, there are loads of places to sit down and everyone’s mood seems buoyant.

Discussing tactics at the hook-a-duck stall where you can
win tickets for future Country Living shows. (c) Around Britain No Plane
Mum adds to our happiness by hooking a pink rubber duck which secures her a free ticket to the Country Living winter show and she can choose London, Harrogate or Glasgow. She’s even more pleased with this when I mention that this is where I found her xmas present…

Clare Gogerty talks about her passion for  mindful adventures
promoting her book Beyond The Footpath. (c) Around Britain No Plane
We move on, enjoy more stalls, pass the stove sponsors, and then listen to an interesting talk Clare Gogerty at the Good Life Theatre talking about her soon-to-be-published book, Beyond the Footpath: mindful adventures for modern pilgrims (£14.99). Clare leans on her hazel thumbstick explaining about the ways of walking purposefully. It’s quite spiritual and I check if mum thinks this approach could be translated to her walk with the warrior trolley down to the Co-op. “I was just thinking that too,” is her answer, leaving us both giggling. I do note the title down on my list of books I definitely want to share with my book group.

Summing up
The Country Living show is a wonderful way to spend time with my mum - any mum! The time goes so fast it feels that we leave early – Mum to find the train home and me to teach riding at Trent Park Equestrian Centre which is only a few tube stops away at Oakwood on the Picadilly line. We don’t leave empty-handed either: gifts in the goody grab bag include waffles to taste, Belvoir Elderflower presse, Sensodyne toothpaste (thank you!)  and a vegan shower gel from Love Beauty & Planet. 


  • ·     Country Living show is open until end of the day Sunday 31 March. 
  • ·     F: clfairs, insta and twitter: clfairs Pinterest: cl-fairs #clspringair #stepinsidecl

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