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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.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Mad as snakes

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 whatever the weather. This post is from Nicola (sidewinder shot of the girls helping to complete the longest knitted scarf in Wakefield, one of the Wakefield museum's current projects)

If you know anything about Charles Waterton (1782-1865) – Britain’s first naturalist – then you’ll know he was so eccentric that it’s taken nearly 200 years for us to accept his “crazy” nature ideas. Waterton lived in Wakefield at a big pile called Walton Hall Park. He had 260 acres of parkland, including a lake, which he fenced with a three-mile long wall to protect and provide food and breeding sites for wildlife. He made the first artificial nesting boxes (pipes in the wall for sandmartins, adapted old trees for owls, etc) and paid 6p for live hedgehogs (about a fiver) which he then released into his park. Part of his former home is still preserved for wildlife and nature trails – though much of this area, now known as Anglers Country Park, also had to suffer the idignity of being turned into one of Europe’s deepest opencast mines back in 1974. It’s now reckoned to be the most important inland over-wintering bird site in Yorkshire.

The Waterton Trail around The Heronry are meant to be good ways to enjoy places that Waterton liked to watch nature (though he didn’t get the bonus of a cuppa at Squires Tea Room). Opening times of the Waterton Countryside Discovery Centre are from 01924 303980, or see http://www.wakefield.gov.uk/.

Waterton’s catch phrase may have been “balance; in all things balance: keep thinking balance” but after trips to Guyana and Brazil he used his patented taxidermy skills (not stuffed but hollow) to show the world new species and to create bonkers animals which you can see at the Wakefield Museum http://www.wakefieldmuseums.org/ including the most infamous, The Nondescript. This looks like a human – a monkey from Guyana’s face slotted into a monkey’s bottom.

There’s also a painting, done by his mate Captain Jones in 1824, showing a shoeless Waterton capturing a cayman in the rainforests of Guyana by leaping on to its back. It’s hard to know what shocked Victorians society most. His barefoot habit? Marrying a 17 year old who'd wanted to be a nun? Protecting habitats? Being a scientist who played the most unscientific tricks with The Nondescript, etc?

Waterton is also remembered for his capacity to fall out with many, including Audubon the world’s most famous illustrator of birds and still revered in the US thanks to the huge Audubon Society. He actually threatened to horsewhip the world’s most famous naturalist illustrator claiming that he had got the tips of a rattlesnake’s teeth facing in the wrong direction, and they didn’t climb trees! As Waterton was wrong it is possible that he just found the American Audobon far too poo-faced and therefore couldn’t resist a good row to see what mettle the man was made of, after all Waterton was himself a specialist in tweaking the species.

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