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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.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

1st electric-lit library

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell want to travel the world with a difference. We hope to get a taste of many countries without adding to climate change (with needless emissions from aeroplanes) or having to waste hours of holiday time in airport terminals. We hope our adventures inspire you to take a Grand Tour of your neighbourhood. This post is from Nicola

Cragside House, in Northumberland, is a Victorian masterpiece. The owner Lord Armstrong, known locally as the Geordie Genius, didn't just build a huge house he added every comfort. As a result it was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electric power - in the 1880s. In fact the first ever room to be lit up was the library, and the power was switched on by the youngest member of staff, a 10-year-old boy. Lola was definitely jealous.

Armstrong went on to give his home hydro-powered central heating, a passenger lift, rotating spits to help the cooks in the kitchen, fire alarms, phones, servants' bells and even an electric dinner gong. At the time it was dubbed "the palace of a modern magician" and Armstrong was affectionately described as having "water on the brain". Going round the house now it still seems super-comfortable. There's a Turkish Bath (aka spa); vast rooms with cosy nooks around the fireplaces to warm your toes or read a book and telephones. His passion for modern inventions didn't however stop him from hanging numerous family portraits on the walls or pictures of dying heroes mourned by their dogs.

There's also several lakes which have a wildlife benefit, but were used to keep the hydro system working. They have a very good name, Nelly's Moss, albeit this seems to be refering to a local witch not our six-year-old.

Armstrong made his money building battleships (as well as less harmful objects such as bridges and cranes), but he is best remembered for generosities such as giving Jesmond Dene to the people of Newcastle - it is an amazing park - and his former home, Cragside, is one of the jewels in the National Trust's crown. It was good to see that the NT was selling Save Cash & Save the Planet in the gift shop...

Cragside isn't the only home we've seen recently with it's own power history. At Kettlewell our host, Anna, explained that this Dales village used to have its own electricity supply until it was forced to go on the national grid in the ?1950s. In a flatter part of Yorkshire the house we stayed in had solar panels to heat water and at our Aberdeen stop-off we are looking forward to enjoying the insulating properties of a turf roof.

I keep reading newspapers that maintain that it's getting easier to install solar - for instance planning permission may be dropped - but if the system remains as complex, convoluted and ridiculously expensive as it is now most of us will continue to think that creating your own power, by sun or water, is just a game for the super creative or uber-rich - the Armstrongs of today - rather than a logical local solution which helps tackle climate change.

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